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Maximus the Confessor


Commentary on the Our Father

Translated by George C. Berthold

(c) 1985 by George Berthold

Paulist Press, New York


Forgive Us Our Trespasses

As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.


The one who, according to the first contemplative reading of the preceding words, seeks in the prayer according to present history of which we said that "this day" is the symbol, the incorruptible bread of wisdom of which the transgression in the beginning deprived us (as he knows that the only pleasure is the attainment of divine things whose giver by nature is God and whose guardian by will is the free choice of the one who receives them and that the only sorrow is their loss, suggested by the devil but accomplished by whoever grows weary of divine things by relaxing his free will and who does not keep up the love of what is honorable by a firm disposition of will), that person does not at all incline his free choice toward anything visible, and because of this he is not subject to painful things befalling his body.  In truth he forgives, in spiritual detachment, those who sin against him because no one at all can lay his hand on the good he zealously seeks with all his desire and which we believe is by nature unattainable.  And for God he makes himself an example of virtue, if one can say this, and invites the inimitable to imitate him by saying, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."  He summons God to be to him as he is to his neighbors.  For if he wishes that as he forgave the debts of those who have sinned against him, he also be forgiven by God, and it is obviously in detachment from passion that God forgives those who forgive, then also the one who remains in detachment in what befalls him forgives those who have offended him, without allowing the memory of whatever painful that has happened to him to be imprinted in his mind, so as not to be accused of dividing nature by his free will by separating himself as man from any other man.  For since free will has been thus united to the principle of nature, the reconciliation of God with nature comes about naturally, for otherwise it is not possible for nature in rebellion against itself by free will to receive the inexpressible divine condescension.  And it is perhaps for this reason that God wants us first to be reconciled with each other, not to learn from us how to be reconciled with sinners and to agree to wipe away the penalty of their numerous and ugly crimes, but to purify us from the passions and to show that the disposition of those who are forgiven accords with the state of grace.  He has made it very clear that when the intention has been united to the principle of nature, the free choice of those who have kept it so will not be in conflict with God since nothing is considered unreasonable in the principle of nature, which is as well a natural and a divine law, when the movement of free will is made in conformity with it.  And if there is nothing unreasonable in the principle of nature it is likely that the intention moved according to the principle of nature will have an activity habitually corresponding in all things to God.  This will be a fruitful disposition, produced by the grace of the one who is good by nature, for the purpose of giving rise to virtue.


Such, then, is the disposition of the one who asks in prayer for spiritual bread, and the one who out of natural need seeks only the bread of today is disposed in the same fashion.  Forgiving the debtors their debts inasmuch as knowing himself mortal by nature, and waiting each day with uncertainly for what makes him live by nature, he outstrips nature by his intention and voluntarily he dies to the world according to the passage which says, "For your sake we are put to death the whole day, we are considered as sheep of the slaughterhouse."  That is why he pours himself out in libation for everyone so as not to bring away with him the mark of the wretchedness of the present life, in passing into the life which does not grow old and to receive from the Judge and Saviour of all the reward equal to what he had undergone here below.  For a pure disposition in regard to those who have caused pain is necessary for the mutual advantage of both, because of all that precedes and not least because of the force of the worlds which remain to be said and which present themselves in this manner.


And Lead Us Not Into Temptation,

But Deliver Us From Evil.


In these words Scripture makes us see how the one who does not perfectly forgive those who offend him and who does not present to God a heart purified of rancor and shining with the light of reconciliation with one's neighbour will lose the grace of the blessings for which he prays.  Moreover, by a just judgement, he will be delivered over to temptation and to evil in order to learn how to cleanse himself of his faults by canceling his complaints against another.  He here calls "temptation" the law of sin which the first man did not bear when he came into existence, and "evil" the devil, who mingled this law of sin with human nature and who by trickery persuaded man to transfer his soul's desire from what was permitted to what was forbidden, and to be turned around to transgress the divine commandment.  And the result of this transgression was the los of incorruptibility given by grace.


Or again we can also call "temptation" the soul's voluntary inclination to the passions of the flesh, and "evil" the manner of the passionate disposition which fulfills itself in act.  the just Judge will exempt from neither of these things anyone who does not forgive his debtors their debts, even if he uses the words to ask for this in the prayer.  On the contrary, he allows such a man to disgrace himself by the law of sin and leaves the stubborn and immature will to the domination of the evil one, since it has preferred dishonorable passions, whose sower is the devil, to nature, whose creator is God.  He does not prevent hi from voluntarily directing himself to the passions of the flesh nor ransom him from the habit which carries out this passionate disposition in act, because in paying less attention to nature than to formless passions out of his ardor for them, he has ignored the principle of nature.  In the movement of this principle he should know what is the law of nature and what is that of the passions, whose tyranny comes about by a choice of  free will and not by nature.  He should safeguard by reason the nature which of itself is pure and spotless, without hatred or dissension.  He should on the contrary make free will a partner of nature which does not involve itself in anything beyond what the principle of nature gives out, and thereby to reject all hatred of and estrangement from the one who is akin to him by nature.  Thus in saying the prayer he will be heard and will receive from god a double instead of a single grace, the forgiveness of past offenses as well as the protection and ransom from future sins.  God will not let him enter into temptation, nor allow the Evil One to enslave him on the sole basis of his having readily forgiven his neighbor's debts.


5. This is why, to step back and review briefly the import of what has been said, if we wish to be rescued from evil and not enter into temptation, we also should have faith in God and forgive the trespasses of those who trespass against us, "for," it is said, "if you do not forgive men their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you yours."  In this way not only shall we acquire forgiveness for our sins but we shall also be victors over the law of sin without being left behind to undergo the experience of it.  We shall trample underfoot the evil serpent which gave rise to this law from whom we beg to be delivered.  When Christ who has overcome the world has become our leader, he will fully arm us with the law of commandments by which he makes us reject the passions and thus binds the nature back to itself by love.  He sets in movement in us an insatiable desire for himself who is the Bread of Life, wisdom, knowledge, and justice.  When we fulfill the Father's will he renders us similar to the angels in their adoration, as we imitate them by reflecting the heavenly blessedness in the conduct of our life.  From there he leads us finally in the supreme ascent in divine realities to the Father of lights wherein he makes us sharers in the divine nature by participating in the grace of the Spirit, through which we receive the title of God's children and become clothed entirely with the complete person who is the author of this grace, without limiting or defiling him who is Son of God by nature, from whom, by whom, and in whom we have and shall have being, movement, and life...