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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE OPENING WORDS OF THE LORD'S PRAYER
    • THE PREEMINENCE OF GOD
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THE PREEMINENCE OF GOD

 

Who Art in Heaven. - Among all that is necessary for one who prays, faith is above all important: "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering."24 Hence, the Lord, teaching us to pray, first mentions that which causes faith to spring up, namely, the kindness of a father. So, He says "Our Father," in the meaning which is had in the following: "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask him!"25 Then, He says "Who art in heaven" because of the greatness of His power: "To Thee have I lifted up my eyes, who dwellest in heaven."26

 

The words, "who art in heaven," signify three things. First, it serves as a preparation for him who utters the prayer, for, as it is said: "Before prayer prepare thy soul."27 Thus, "in heaven" is understood for the glory of heaven: "For your reward is very great in heaven."28 And this preparation ought to be in the form of an imitation of heavenly things, since the son ought to imitate his Father: "Therefore, as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly."29 So also this preparation ought to be through contemplation of heavenly things, because men are wont to direct their thoughts to where they have a Father and others whom they love, as it is written: "For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also."30 The Apostle wrote: "Our conversation is in heaven."31 Likewise, we prepare through attention to heavenly things, so that we may then seek only spiritual things from Him who is in heaven: "Seek things that are above, where Christ is."32

 

"Who art in heaven" can also pertain to Him who hears us, who is nearest to us; and then the "in heaven" is understood to mean "in devout persons" in whom God dwells, as it is written: "Thou, O Lord, art among us."33 For holy persons are called "the heavens" in the Psalm: "The heavens show forth the glory of God,"34 since God dwells in the devout through faith. "That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts."35 God also dwells in us through love: "He that abideth in charity, abideth in God and God in him."36 And also through the keeping of the commandments: "If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him."37

 

In the third place, "who art in heaven" can pertain to Him who is in heaven, He who cannot be included in the physical heavens, for "the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee."38 And so it can mean that God is all-seeing in His survey of us, in that He sees us from above, that is, from heaven: "Because He hath looked forth from His high sanctuary; from heaven the Lord hath looked upon the earth."39 It also signifies how sublime is God in His power: "The Lord hath prepared His throne in heaven";40 and that He lives without change through eternity: "But Thou, O Lord, endurest forever."41 And again: "Thy years shall not fail."42 And so of Christ was it written: "His throne as the days of heaven."43

 

The Philosopher says that on account of the incorruptibility of the heavens all have considered them as the abode of spirits.44 And so "who art in heaven" tends to give us confidence in our prayer which arises from a threefold consideration: of God's power, of our familiarity with Him, and of the fitness of our requests.

 

The power of Him to whom we pray is implied if we consider "heaven" as the corporeal heavens. God is not limited by any physical bounds: "Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord."45 Nevertheless, He is said to be in the corporeal heavens to indicate two things: the extent of His power and the greatness of His nature. The former of these attributes is contrary to the view that all things happen out of necessity, by a fate regulated by the celestial bodies; and thus all prayer would be vain and useless. But such is absurd, since God dwells in the heavens as their Lord: "The Lord has prepared His throne in heaven."46 The latter attribute, viz., His sublime nature, is against those who in praying propose or build up any corporeal images of God. Therefore, God is stated to be "in heaven" in that He exceeds all corporeal things, and even the desires and intellects of men; so that whatsoever man thinks or desires is far less than God. Thus, it is said: "Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge."47 And again: "The Lord is high above all nations."48 And finally: "To whom then have you likened God? Or what image will you make for Him?"49

 

Familiar intercourse with God is shown through this "in heaven." Some indeed have said that because of His great distance from us God does not care for men, and they cite these words: "He walketh about the poles of heaven, and He doth not consider our things."50 Against this is the fact that God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. This brings confidence to one who prays. First, because of the nearness of God: "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him."51 Hence, it is written: "But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber,"52 that is, into thy heart. Second, because of the intercession of all the Saints among whom God dwells; for from this arises faith to ask through their merits for what we desire: "Turn to some of the Saints,"53 and, "Pray one for another, that you may be saved."54

 

This part of the prayer - that is, "in heaven" - is appropriate and fitting also, if "in heaven" is taken to mean that spiritual and eternal good in which true happiness consists. Because of it our desires are lifted up towards heavenly things; since our desires ought to tend towards where we have our Father, because there is our true home: "Seek the things that are above."55 And again: "Unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that cannot fade, reserved in heaven for you."56 Moreover, from it we are told that, if our life is to be in heaven, then we ought to be conformed to our Heavenly Father: "Such as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly."57 From all this the words "in heaven" are most appropriate in prayer in that they signify both a heavenly desire and heavenly life.

 

 

 

 

 




24. James, i. 6.

 



25. Luke, ii. 13.

 



26. Ps. cxxii. 1.

 



27. Ecclus., xviii. 23.

 



28. Matt., v. 12.

 



29. I Cor., xv. 49.

 



30. Matt., vi. 21.

 



31. Phil., iii. 20.

 



32. Colos., iii. 1.

 



33. Jerem., xiv. 9.

 



34. Ps. xvii. 2.

 



35. Eph., iii. 17.

 



36. I John, iv. 16.

 



37. John, xiv. 23. "And . . . with him" in Vives ed., omitted in Parma ed.

 



38. III Kings, viii. 27.

 



39. Ps. ci. 20.

 



40. Ps. cii. 19.

 



41. Ps. ci. 13.

 



42. "Ibid.," 28.

 



43. Ps. lxxxviii. 30.

 



44. Aristotle, "De Coelo," 1.

 



45. Jerem., xxiii. 24.

 



46. Ps. cii. 19.

 



47. Job. xxxvi. 26.

 



48. Ps. cxii. 4

 



49. Isa., xl. 18.

 



50. Job, xxii. 14.

 



51. Ps. cxliv. 18.

 



52 Matt., vi. 6.

 



53 Job, v. 1.

 



54. James, v. 16.

 



55. Col., iii. 1.

 



56. I Pet., i. 4.

 



57. I Cor., xv. 48.




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