The second reading of today’s Office of Readings is from St. Cyprian’s De dominica oratione. Let’s look at this wonderful piece.
In the Church of ancient North Africa, the Our Father was an important tool for the formation of new Christians. It was part of the baptismal rites for adults and was explained to the neophytes, or newly baptized, after Easter as part of the training, or "mystogogical catechisis".
Three great North African writers gave us commentaries on the Our Father, and you probably can guess who they were. There is one from Tertullian (who serves as a link between Greek theology and Latin north Africa), one by Cyprian is a pivotal figure in the development of that particularly African expression of Latin Christianity. Augustine of Hippo has en extended commentary and several sermons about the Our Father. I have more on this in my little podcast, in which you can listen to the Latin as well.
Here is the English and then the Latin original:
Ex tractatu sancti Cypriani episcopi et martyris De dominica oratione
Cap. 1-3 (CSEL 3, 267-168)
Dear brothers, the commands of the Gospel are nothing else than God’s lessons, the foundations on which to build up hope, the supports for strengthening faith, the food that nourishes the heart. They are the rudder for keeping us on the right course, the protection that keeps our salvation secure. As they instruct the receptive minds of believers on earth, they lead safely to the kingdom of heaven.
God willed that many things should be said by the prophets, his servants, and listened to by his people. How much greater are the things spoken by the Son. These are now witnessed to by the very Word of God who spoke through the prophets. The Word of God does not now command us to prepare the way for his coming: he comes in person and opens up the way for us and directs us toward it. Before, we wandered in the darkness of death, aimlessly and blindly. Now we are enlightened by the light of grace, and are to keep to the highway of life, with the Lord to precede and direct us.
The Lord has given us many counsels and commandments to help us toward salvation. He has even given us a pattern of prayer, instructing us on how we are to pray. He has given us life, and with his accustomed generosity, he has also taught us how to pray. He has made it easy for us to be heard as we pray to the Father in the words taught us by the Son.
He had already foretold that the hour was coming when true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. He fulfilled what he had promised before, so that we who have received the spirit and the truth through the holiness he has given us may worship in truth and in the spirit through the prayer he has taught.
What prayer could be more a prayer in the spirit than the one given us by Christ, by whom the Holy Spirit was sent upon us? What prayer could be more a prayer in the truth than the one spoken by the lips of the Son, who is truth himself? It follows that to pray in any other way than the Son has taught us is not only the result of ignorance but of sin. He himself has commanded it, and has said: You reject the command of God, to set up your own tradition.
So, my brothers, let us pray as God our master has taught us. To ask the Father in words his Son has given us, to let him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in his ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognise the words of his Son. Let the Son who lives in our hearts be also on our lips. We have him as an advocate for sinners before the Father; when we ask forgiveness for our sins, let us use the words given by our advocate. He tells us: Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. What more effective prayer could we then make in the name of Christ than in the words of his own prayer?
Evangelica praecepta, fratres dilectissimi, nihil sunt aliud quam magisteria divina, fundamenta aedificandae spei, firmamenta corroborandae fidei, nutrimenta fovendi cordis, gubernacula dirigendi itineris, praesidia obtinendae salutis, quae, dum docibiles credentium mentes in terris instruunt, ad caelestia regna perducunt.
Multa et per prophetas servos suos dici Deus voluit et audiri; sed quanto maiora sunt quae Filius loquitur, quae Dei sermo, qui in prophetis fuit, propria voce testatur, non iam mandans ut paretur venienti via, sed ipse veniens et viam nobis aperiens et ostendens, ut, qui in tenebris mortis errantes improvidi et caeci prius fuimus, luce gratiae luminati iter vitae duce et rectore Domino teneremus.
Qui inter cetera salutaria sua monita et praecepta divina, quibus populo suo consulit ad salutem etiam orandi ipse formam dedit, ipse quid precaremur monuit et instruxit. Qui fecit vivere, docuit et orare, benignitate ea scilicet, qua et cetera dare et conferre dignatus est, ut, dum prece et oratione quam Filius docuit apud Patrem loquimur, facilius audiamur.
Iam praedixerat horam vinire, quando veri adoratores adorarent Patrem in spiritu et veritate, et implevit quod ante promisit, ut, qui spiritum et veritatem de eius sanctificatione percepimus, de traditione quoque eius vere et spiritaliter adoremus.
Quae enim potest esse magis spiritalis oratio quam quae a Christo nobis data est, a quo nobis et Spiritus Sanctus missus est; quae vera magis apud Patrem precatio quam quae a Filio, qui est veritas, de eius ore prolata est? Ut aliter orare quam docuit non ignorantia sola sit, sed et culpa, quando ipse posuerit et dixerit: Reicitis mandatum Dei, ut traditionem vestram statuatis.
Oremus itaque, fratres dilectissimi, sicut magister Deus docuit. Amica et familiaris oratio est Deum de suo rogare, ad aures eius ascendere Christi orationem.
Agnoscat Pater Filii sui verba, cum precem facimus: qui habitat intus in pectore, ipse et in voce; et cum ipsum habeamus apud Patrem advocatum pro peccatis nostris, quando peccatores pro delictis nostris petimus, advocati nostri verba promamus. Nam cum dicat: Quia quodcumque petierimus a Patre in nomine eius dabit nobis, quanto efficacius impetramus quod petimus Christi nomine, si petamus ipsius oratione?