First Petition: Desire for Perfect Knowledge of God

In this connection we must heed the order of desire, as regulated by charity, so that a corresponding order of goods to be hoped and asked for from God may be established. The order of charity requires us to love God above all things. And so charity moves our first desire in the direction of the things that are of God. But desire has to do with future good, and nothing in the future can accrue to God, considered as He is in Himself, since He is eternally the same. Therefore our desire cannot bear on things that belong to God, as they are considered in themselves: we may not entertain the idea that God can acquire some goods He does not already possess. Rather, our love regards these goods in such a way that we love them as existing. However, we can desire, with respect to God, that He who exists forever great in Himself, may be magnified in the thoughts and reverence of all men.

This is not to be dismissed as impossible. For, since man was made for the very purpose of knowing God’s greatness, he would seem to have been created in vain if he were unable to attain to the perception of this attribute, contrary to what is said in Psalm 88:48: “Did You made all the children of men in vain?” If this were the case, the desire of nature, whereby all men naturally desire to know something of the divine perfections, would be fruitless. Indeed, no man is completely deprived of knowledge of God, as we are taught in Job 36:25: “All men see Him.” Yet such knowledge of God is hard to obtain; indeed, it is beyond all human power, according to Job 36:26: “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge.”

Accordingly knowledge of God’s greatness and goodness cannot come to men except through the grace of divine revelation, as we are told in Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Son but the Father; nor does any one know the Father but the Son, and he to whom it pleases the Son to reveal Him.” Hence Augustine says, in his commentary on John, that no one knows God unless He who knows manifests Himself” [In Joannis Evangelium, LVIII, 3].

To some extent God makes Himself known to men through a certain natural knowledge, by imbuing them with the light of reason and by giving existence to visible creatures, in which are reflected some glimmerings of His goodness and wisdom, as we read in Romans 1:19: “That which is known of God,” that is, what is knowable about God by natural reason, “is manifest in them,” namely, is disclosed to pagan peoples. “For God hath manifested it to them,” through the light of reason and through the creatures He has put in the world. The Apostle adds: “For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also and divinity.”

But this knowledge is imperfect, because not even creatures can be perfectly comprehended by man, and also because creatures are unable to represent God perfectly, since the excellence of the cause infinitely surpasses its effect. Therefore in Job 11:7 the question is put: “Can you claim to fathom the depths of God, can you reach the limit of Shaddai?” And in Job 36:25, after affirming, “All men see Him,” the speaker adds, “every one gazes from afar.”

As a result of the imperfection of this knowledge, it happened that men, wandering from the truth, erred in various ways concerning the knowledge of God, to such an extent that, as the Apostle says in Romans 1:21 ff., some “became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened; for, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds and of four-footed beasts and of creeping things.” To recall men from this error, God gave them a clearer knowledge of Himself in the Old Law, through which men were brought back to the worship of the one God. Thus the truth is announced in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” But this information about God was wrapped up in the obscurities of figurative language, and was confined within the limits of one nation, the Jewish people, as is indicated in Psalm 75:2: “In Judea God is known; His name is great in Israel.”

In order that true knowledge of God might spread throughout the whole human race, God the Father sent the only-begotten Word of His majesty into the world, that through Him the entire world might come to a true knowledge of the divine name. Our Lord Himself began this work among His disciples, as He tells us in John 17:6: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world.” But His intention in imparting knowledge of the Deity was not limited to the disciples; He wished this knowledge to be promulgated through them to the whole world. This is why He adds the prayer: “That the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). He carries on His task without intermission through the apostles and their successors; by their ministry men are brought to the knowledge of God, to the end that the name of God may be held in benediction and honor throughout the entire world, as was foretold in Malachi 1:11: “From the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation.”

When we say in our prayer, “Hallowed be Your name,” we ask that the work thus begun may be brought to completion. “In making this petition,” says St. Augustine, “we do not mean to imply that the name of God is not holy, but we ask that it may be regarded by all men as holy; that is, that God may become so well known that men will not judge anything to be holier” [De sermone Domini in monte, II, 5]. Among the various indications that make the holiness of God known to men, the most convincing sign is the holiness of men, who are sanctified by the divine indwelling. Gregory of Nyssa asks: “Who is so bereft of the finer sensibilities as not, on beholding the spotless life of believers, to glorify the name that is invoked by those who lead such a life?” [De oratione dominica, III]. The Apostle speaks in like vein, in 1 Corinthians 14:24 ff. After saying: “If all prophesy, and there comes in one who does not believe, or an unlearned person, he is convinced of all,” he adds: “And so, falling down on his face, he will adore God, affirming that God is among you indeed.”

Therefore, as Chrysostom points out, in teaching us the words, “Hallowed be Your name,” our Lord also bids us, when we pray, to ask that God may be glorified by our lives [In Matthaeum, hom. XIX, 4]. The sense of the prayer is this: “Grant us so to live, that all men may glorify You through us.” God is sanctified or hallowed in the minds of other men through us, to the extent that we are sanctified by Him. Hence when we say: “Hallowed by Your name,” we pray, as Cyprian remarks, that God’s name may be hallowed in us [Liber de oratione dominica, XII].19 Following the lead of Christ, who says: “Be holy, because I am holy,” we beg that we, who have been sanctified in baptism, may persevere in the state in which we began. Furthermore we pray daily to be sanctified in order that we, who daily fall, may wash away our sins by a constant process of purification.

This petition is put first because, as Chrysostom observes, he who would offer a worthy prayer to God should ask for nothing before the Father’s glory, but should make everything come after the praise of Him.

Reference

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1265-1274). Compendium Theologiae: First Petition – Desire for Perfect Knowledge of God, trans. by Cyril Vollert. St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

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