Yet again the pope has captured the headlines of the mainstream secular press, both in the UK and the USA, as elsewhere. The coverage is generally laudatory, with +Francis presented as courageously facing sacred cows that have had their day, or never should have had a day at all. The issue this time, as you know, is the Lord’s Prayer. Pope Francis feels that “lead us not into temptation” is “not a good translation”. A father does not “push” his child into temptation, but only Satan leads into temptation, and we can fall or not. Well, that’s his case in a nutshell.

Others, Christopher Altieri for example, are addressing this more comprehensively than I can. Some are more shrill than others. The points they raise are salient in the main.

There are just two things I would dare to note.

The first is that, in the biblical understanding of things, God may tempt us, or allow us to be tempted. So in Genesis 22:1a we find an interesting phrase. In the King James version it is translated as

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham…

In the RSV (CE) version it is

After these things God tested Abraham.

In the Jerusalem version it is

It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test.

In all these translations it is clear that the initiative and action is God’s. The temptation/test is for Abraham to slaughter his son Isaac in sacrifice to God. The Book of Job portrays God acting more passively, not no less deliberately, allowing Satan permission to afflict Job.

Be it actively or passively, God tests the faith of his holy ones. That is the key: temptation is always the opportunity to prove our faith before God. If we view temptation implicitly as always an entry hall that leads as good as inevitably to sin then we misunderstand the value of temptation and we condemn ourselves to an utter lack of faith and want of virtue.

Be it actively or passively, God tests the faith of his holy ones. That is the key: temptation is always the opportunity to prove our faith before God.

Perhaps those who fret most about God as testing us are those who fail such tests more often than not, and so doubt their ability ever to resist and so grow in virtue. Christ was allowed to be tempted by Satan, and in so doing he witnessed to the supremacy of God. The Father allowed Jesus to be tempted. This, as with all temptation, is not a curse but an opportunity. And remember, Satan too is subject to the will of God. Nothing happens without God’s will allowing it, be it actively or passively.

In other words, the translation can be justified in biblical terms and has the warrant of unbroken usage since ancient times. Any problem that arises is basically a defect in our understanding. God can test us; God can allow us to be tested according to his will: we are asking God to go easy on us and have mercy on the weakness of our faith, since we are (most of us) no Abraham, no Job, no Jesus Christ.

The martyr to Nazi terror, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in Creation and Fall; Temptation, pp.111ff), has something very insightful to offer us, not least in his christological understanding of temptation:

Why does God give Satan opportunity for temp­tation? First, in order finally to overcome Satan. Through getting his rights Satan is destroyed. As God punishes the godless man by allowing him to be godless, and allowing him his right and his freedom, and as the godless man perishes in this freedom of his (Rom 1.19ff), so God does not destroy Satan by an act of violence, but Satan must destroy himself.

Second, God gives opportunity to Satan in order to bring believers to salvation. Only by knowledge of sin, by suffering and death, can the new man live.

Third, the over­ coming of Satan and the salvation of believers is true and real in Jesus Christ alone. Satan plagues Jesus with all sins, all suffering and the death of mankind. But with that his power is at an end. He had taken everything from Jesus Christ and thereby delivered him to God alone. Thus we are led to the knowledge from which we set out: Believers must learn to understand all their temptations as the temptation of Jesus Christ in them. [my emphasis] In this way they will share in the victory.

But how can the Bible say that God tempts man? It speaks of the wrath of God, of which Satan is the executor (cf. 2 Sam 24.1; 1 Chron 21:1). The wrath of God lay upon Jesus Christ from the hour of the temptation. It struck Jesus be­ cause of the sin of the flesh which he wore. And because the wrath of God found obedience, for the sake of sin, obedience even unto the righteous death of him who bore the sin of the whole world, the wrath was propitiated. The wrath of God had driven Jesus to the gracious God, the grace of God had overcome the wrath of God, the power of Satan was conquered. But where the whole temptation of the flesh, all the wrath of God, is obediently endured in Jesus Christ, there the temptation is conquered in Jesus Christ, there the Christian finds behind the God of wrath who tempts him the God of grace who tempts no one.


God uses temptation to allow us to grow in faith, to grow in grace, and to defeat Satan, and in all those to grow ever closer to Jesus Christ, whom God allowed to be tempted and to suffer for us. Jesus, in his great prayer, is asking that our trial, our testing, be gentle. He is not assuming that we can never be tempted, nor that God would ever spare us from all temptation. Christ endured it and emerged the winner; saint after saint witness to the torment and to the value of temptation.

My second point is more prosaic, and is really for the anglophone world. Even after the banalization of the liturgical vernacular from the 1970s, we kept an “archaic” translation of the Lord’s Prayer, complete with thees and thous. Why? For ecumenical reasons. The authorized version of the Lord’s Prayer has entered the common currency of the English language, and is part of our culture. It also acts as a point of unity in prayer between the different denominations.

My suspicion is that this ecumenical consideration will prove, for the bishops, an immoveable object against which the irresistible force of amendment will founder. So at least for English Catholics, we need not be too alarmed. Move on; there is nothing to see here.


Join the Conversation

  1. I think the Orthodox will be totally appalled at the cavalier nature of the comments from Rome, vis-a-vis the Lord’s Prayer and its ancient understanding and exegesis. Yet another, and totally unnecessary and sadly arbitrary, road block thrown into the road that might lead to eventual reunion. If Rome can, apparently merely on a whim, toss out essential wording of such a central prayer, what else will be up for grabs? From an Eastern point of view, who would want to reunite with such people?

    1. Yes, apart from the obvious ecumenical fallout, you have adverted to another point at issue. What happened to his love for collegiality? With whom has he consulted on this? Or is this an act of papal monarchy? If it is, it has done nothing for petrine primacy.


      1. This might still work in a positive direction. The Orthodox are, understandably, concerned that Catholics give too much deference to the Pope. This might end up giving them the necessary reassurances that there remain limits to the power of the papacy, and that we do not regard the Pope as a “fourth person of the Holy Trinity”. This would not likely bear fruit during the reign of Francis himself, but it might bear fruit in the decades to follow.

        1. That is taking the long-term view, and I can see your point. My fear would centre on the damage caused in the short to medium term. Faith tells us, of course, that the Church will survive, but not in what shape it will survive. Pax!

  2. I will say that I have not seen the brouhaha yet that I would suspect to see from the Evangelical and even Baptist clans here in the blogosphere over the Pope’s desire to “alter” a sacred cow…

    And this is probably a poor sort of comparison Father, but it’s much how I feel when our President here in the States, who I do try to support as best is possible, opens his mouth and we all wish he wouldn’t—
    I’m beginning to feel very much the same about the Holy Father Pope Francis…its as if I want to tell both of these men to please be quiet and just go about your perspectives jobs of leadership without adding any unnecessary fuel to the already raging fires…….sigh

      1. What on earth are you talking about. One is a Christian and one is not. (Trump is the Christian)
        One is a destroyer and one is a builder. (Trump is the builder)
        I would rather have Donald Trump in the Chair of Peter. He has a respect for tradition, Christianity, and he supports Christians. He gets Islam and what it’s about, and he is full of common sense.
        There are no favorable comparisons. This pope is a disaster.

    1. Let Donald Trump be Donald Trump. They aren’t going to “like” him no matter what he says or does. The man knows how to do this. He’s got this, let him be himself. His instincts and words and actions have resulted in a stunning result. I wouldn’t hamper him if I could. Every time he pokes them in the eye, I’m glad. It’s long past time. God bless him, he’s the best thing to happen to Americans and Christians since, well, forever.

      1. We’ll have to agree to disagree. He has done a few good things from a Christian perspective, but these cannot overshadow his shameless and blatant lying and international provocations.

      2. Oh I am trying to let him be him— albeit at times none too easy — He is our President and I will always respect that! And I am pleased with finally the acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital… we take the good with the bad it seems 😇

  3. It was the Pope’s mistake to take ‘Lead us not into temptation’ in isolation from ‘but deliver us from evil’. They’re always paired together, said in one breath as it were: time and again in Catholic liturgy. Dom Hugh, you are so right to emphasise God’s positive purpose in leading us into temptation. We entreat His mercy in the matter – our flesh we know to be weak – yet we equally fear being unwittingly deceived into evil. The cure for that is the see evil for what it is: to know how it is tempting us. We need God to lead us into temptation, to confront and take part in Christ’s victory over it.

    1. Indeed. Saints never run from temptation but face them square on. We should take a leaf out of their book if we truly aspire to be holy.

      Of course our Lord offers the best example of all. He ran from nothing and conquered all.


  4. For this man to change the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, after 2000 years of this prayer uniting Christians in Christendom, is to give new meaning to the word “hubris”. What crust, it is not enough to disassemble the Church, the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments, now he attacks the Gospel. For 2000 years we have understood this prayer, it has been prayed by saints, martyrs, and virtually all Christians to the modern era. No pope before him saw any problem with the Lord’s Prayer! So HE is the first? Have we all lost our minds???
    No two Christians will be able to pray it and know the other will pray the same words. He will have ended that unity. God in heaven, stop him before he goes any further.

    1. It would certainly help matters if he consulted, and read, beyond his own immediate circle. To put it crudely, good leaders use the talents of their entourage to present the best image and achieve the most effective leadership. I am not sure that his current inner circle is up to that task.


        1. There is a well established system which has served all popes in the modern era well. Before writing any sort of official document, all relevant dicasteries and other bodies are consulted and the opinion of suitable consultors are sought on the matter being considered. When a draft has been put together, it is then circulated as appropriate for comment and advice. Most importantly, the final draft is submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Theologian to the Papal Household, formerly the Master of the Apostolic Palace, for approval. Apparently Pope Francis feels duty bound to do none of these things DESPITE his obvious lack of higher academic qualifications in all relevant fields.

          1. It makes me wonder if he thinks the papal office is prophetic/charismatic, and that whatever comes into his mind to do or say is of the Holy Spirit. certainly one would think it more prudent to follow the traditional method of consultation with duly trained experts. That, indeed, is a form of authentic collegiality.

  5. To my mind, the Pope shoots from the hip. If someone as unread in liturgical and Biblical studies as me can see the solid logic of this article, then surely a well-read Jesuit would have got it with even a few minutes reflection based on a lifetime of theological and liturgical studies. Therein lies the clue to the causes other, profound issues facing the Church.

  6. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem–it’s a literal translation of the Latin which is a literal translation of the Greek which was a literal translation of a common Aramaic phrase.


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