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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI:
Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.: Chapter IX

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter IX.

30. The sixth petition is, “And bring 309 us not into temptation.” Some manuscripts have the word “lead,” 310 which is, I judge, equivalent in meaning: for both translations have arisen from the one Greek word which is used. But many parties in prayer express themselves thus, “Suffer us not to be led into temptation;” that is to say, explaining in what sense the word “lead” is used. For God does not Himself lead, but suffers that man to be led into temptation whom He has deprived of His assistance, in accordance with a most hidden arrangement, and with his deserts. Often, also, for manifest reasons, He judges him worthy of being so deprived, and allowed to be led into temptation. But it is one thing to be led into temptation, another to be tempted. For without temptation no one can be proved, whether to himself, as it is written, “He that hath not been tempted, what manner of things doth he know?” 311 or to another, as the apostle says, “And your temptation in my flesh ye despised not:” 312 for from this circumstance he learnt that they were stedfast, because they were not turned aside from charity by those tribulations which had happened to the apostle according to the flesh. For even before all temptations we are known to God, who knows all things before they happen.

31. When, therefore, it is said, “The Lord your God tempteth (proveth) you, that He may know if ye love Him,” 313 the words “that He may know” are employed for what is the real state of the case, that He may make you know: just as we speak of a joyful day, because it makes us joyful; of a sluggish frost, because it makes us sluggish; and of innumerable things of the same sort, which are found either in ordinary speech, or in the discourse of learned men, or in the Holy Scriptures. And the heretics who p. 44 are opposed to the Old Testament, not understanding this, think that the brand of ignorance, as it were, is to be placed upon Him of whom it is said, “The Lord your God tempteth you:” as if in the Gospel it were not written of the Lord, “And this He said to tempt (prove) him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” 314 For if He knew the heart of him whom He was tempting, what is it that He wished to see by tempting him? But in reality, that was done in order that he who was tempted might become known to himself, and that he might condemn his own despair, on the multitudes being filled with the Lord’s bread, while he had thought they had not enough to eat.

32. Here, therefore, the prayer is not, that we should not be tempted, but that we should not be brought into temptation: as if, were it necessary that any one should be examined by fire, he should pray, not that he should not be touched by the fire, but that he should not be consumed. For “the furnace proveth the potter’s vessels, and the trial of tribulation righteous men.” 315 Joseph therefore was tempted with the allurement of debauchery, but he was not brought into temptation. 316 Susanna was tempted, but she was not led or brought into temptation; 317 and many others of both sexes: but Job most of all, in regard to whose admirable stedfastness in the Lord his God, those heretical enemies of the Old Testament, when they wish to mock at it with sacrilegious mouth, brandish this above other weapons, that Satan begged that he should be tempted. 318 For they put the question to unskilful men by no means able to understand such things, how Satan could speak with God: not understanding (for they cannot, inasmuch as they are blinded by superstition and controversy) that God does not occupy space by the mass of His corporeity; and thus exist in one place, and not in another, or at least have one part here, and another elsewhere: but that He is everywhere present in His majesty, not divided by parts, but everywhere complete. But if they take a fleshly view of what is said, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,” 319 —to which passage our Lord also bears testimony, when He says, “Swear not at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool,” 320 —what wonder if the devil, being placed on earth, stood before the feet of God, and spoke something in His presence? For when will they be able to understand that there is no soul, however wicked, which can yet reason in any way, in whose conscience God does not speak? For who but God has written the law of nature in the hearts of men?—that law concerning which the apostle says: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing them witness, 321 and their thoughts 322 the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another, in the day when the Lord 323 shall judge the secrets of men.” 324 And therefore, as in the case of every rational soul, which thinks and reasons, even though blinded by passion, we attribute whatever in its reasoning is true, not to itself but to the very light of truth by which, however faintly, it is according to its capacity illuminated, so as to perceive some measure of truth by its reasoning; what wonder if the depraved spirit of the devil, perverted though it be by lust, should be represented as having heard from the voice of God Himself, i.e. from the voice of the very Truth, whatever true thought it has entertained about a righteous man whom it was proposing to tempt? But whatever is false is to be attributed to that lust from which he has received the name of devil. Although it is also the case that God has often spoken by means of a corporeal and visible creature whether to good or bad, as being Lord and Governor of all, and Disposer according to the merits of every deed: as, for instance, by means of angels, who appeared also under the aspect of men; and by means of the prophets, saying, Thus saith the Lord. What wonder then, if, though not in mere thought, at least by means of some creature fitted for such a work, God is said to have spoken with the devil?

33. And let them not imagine it unworthy of His dignity, and as it were of His righteousness, that God spoke with him: inasmuch as He spoke with an angelic spirit, although one foolish and lustful, just as if He were speaking with a foolish and lustful human spirit. Or let such parties themselves tell us how He spoke with that rich man, whose most foolish covetousness He wished to censure, saying: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required  325 of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” 326 Certainly the Lord Himself says so in the Gospel, to which those heretics, whether they will or no, bend their necks. But if they are puzzled by this circumstance, that Satan asks from God that a righteous man should be tempted; I do not explain how it happened, but I compel them to explain why it is said in the Gospel by the Lord Himself to the disciples, “Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you p. 45 as wheat;”  327 and He says to Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” 328 And when they explain this to me, they explain to themselves at the same time that which they question me about. But if they should not be able to explain this, let them not dare with rashness to blame in any book what they read in the Gospel without offence.

34. Temptations, therefore, take place by means of Satan not by his power, but by the Lord’s permission, either for the purpose of punishing men for their sins, or of proving and exercising them in accordance with the Lord’s compassion. And there is a very great difference in the nature of the temptations into which each one may fall. For Judas, who sold his Lord, did not fall into one of the same nature as Peter fell into, when, under the influence of terror, he denied his Lord. There are also temptations common to man, I believe, when every one, though well disposed, yet yielding to human frailty, falls into error in some plan, or is irritated against a brother, in the earnest endeavour to bring him round to what is right, yet a little more than Christian calmness demands: concerning which temptations the apostle says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man;” while he says at the same time, “But God is faithful, who will not suffer 329 you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear 330 it.” 331 And in that sentence he makes it sufficiently evident that we are not to pray that we may not be tempted, but that we may not be led into temptation. For we are led into temptation, if such temptations have happened to us as we are not able to bear. But when dangerous temptations, into which it is ruinous for us to be brought and led, arise either from prosperous or adverse temporal circumstances, no one is broken down by the irksomeness of adversity, who is not led captive by the delight of prosperity. 332

35. The seventh and last petition is, “But deliver us from evil.” 333 For we are to pray not only that we may not be led into the evil from which we are free, which is asked in the sixth place; but that we may also be delivered from that into which we have been already led. And when this has been done, nothing will remain terrible, nor will any temptation at all have to be feared. And yet in this life, so long as we carry about our present mortality, into which we were led by the persuasion of the serpent, it is not to be hoped that this can be the case; but yet we are to hope that at some future time it will take place: and this is the hope which is not seen, of which the apostle, when speaking, said, “But hope which is seen is not hope.” 334 But yet the wisdom which is granted in this life also, is not to be despaired of by the faithful servants of God. And it is this, that we should with the most wary vigilance shun what we have understood, from the Lord’s revealing it, is to be shunned; and that we should with the most ardent love seek after what we have understood, from the Lord’s revealing it, is to be sought after. For thus, after the remaining burden of this mortality has been laid down in the act of dying, there shall be perfected in every part of man at the fit time, the blessedness which has been begun in this life, and which we have from time to time strained every nerve to lay hold of and secure.



Inferasinducas, as the Vulgate.


Inferasinducas, as the Vulgate.


Sir. 34:9, 11.


Gal. 4:13, 14. The English version renders “my temptation,” but “your temptation” is the reading of the oldest mss.


Deut. xiii. 3.


John vi. 6.


Ecclesiasticus 27.5.


Gen. xxxix. 7-12.


Susanna 1.19-22.


Job i. 11.


Isa. lxvi. 1.


Matt. 5:34, 35.


Contestante; Vulgate, testimonium reddente.


Cogitationum accusantium; Vulgate, cogitationibus accusantibus.


Dominus; Vulgate, Deus.


Rom. ii. 14-16.


Anima expostulatur; Vulgate, animam repetunt.


Luke xii. 20.


Petit vos vexare quomodo triticum; Vulgate, expetivit vos ut cribraret sicut triticum.


Luke 22:31, 32.


Sinat; Vulgate, patietur.


Tolerare; Vulgate, sustinere.


1 Cor. x. 13.


Trench, giving the essence of Augustin’s discussion, says, “God does tempt quite as truly as the devil tempts; all the difference lies in the end and aim with which they severally do it,—the one tempting to deceive, the other to approve: Satan, to their ruin; God, to their everlasting gain.”


Alford and other modern commentators agree with Augustin in explaining ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ “of evil;” Bengel, Meyer, Schaff, and others (see Revised Version) make the form masculine,—“the Evil One.”


Rom. viii. 24.

Next: Chapter X

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