This will be the first in a series of posts on the Lord's Prayer in Pope Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth and in St. Teresa of Avila's book The Way of Perfection. This first post will address, in particular, their respective views of the Kingdom of God.
Their Respective Reasons for Writing
It should be kept in mind that in his Foreword, Benedict XVI describes his book as his personal search “for the face of the Lord” (Ps. 27:28, and as “in no way an exercise of the magisterium,” adding, “Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.” He considers the Lord’s Prayer for what it shows about Jesus’ claim to divinity, about Jesus' claim to be one with the Father, and for what else it tells us about who Jesus is.
Teresa of Avila, on the other hand, writes to encourage her readers toward giving the complete gift of themselves to God, “the surrender of our wills to his, and detachment from creatures,” a surrender that is needed for perfection in contemplation. She draws from the Lord's Prayer more about what our response to Jesus should be.
Their different reasons for writing, as well as the difference between the theological context of our present day and that of sixteenth century Spain, are among the differences between their books about the same prayer. Of course, Pope Benedict is also a theologian and pope, while St. Teresa lived in a day in which women did not learn to read much of the Latin in which Scripture was written. However, that difference is not as important when she is writing about the Lord's Prayer, because it is a portion of Scripture that she would have known deeply from the Mass and from praying the Hours, from what she had learned from priests who were her spiritual advisers, and what she had learned from books. (See the post About St. Teresa of Avila for more background information on that.)
This series of posts will consider both similarities and differences between the two books. Given the nature of the texts, discussions of the differences should not be taken as implying that I believe one of them to be more correct than the other on any point of difference discussed in these posts. Quite often, these are differences of emphasis.
The One Who Comes Throughout the Whole of History
In discussing Jesus' prayer "Thy Kingdom come" in the Lord's Prayer, Pope Benedict states, “the deepest theme of Jesus’ preaching was his own mystery, the mystery of the Son in whom God is among us and keeps his word; he announces the Kingdom of God as coming and as having come in his person.” (pg. 188) The Sermon on the Mount, he says, was thus eschatological in a sense discussed by Charles H. Dodd in the early 20th century. Jesus, who has come, is “the One who comes throughout the whole of history” in an “eschatology in process of realization.” (pg. 188).
Such a concept of an eschatology throughout the whole of history also plays a role in St. Teresa’s understanding of the Lord's Prayer. She explains it more clearly in her discussion of “Give us this day our daily bread” than in her discussion of “Thy Kingdom come." In Chapter 34 of The Way of Perfection, she says that the word “daily” in “daily bread” “seems to mean forever.” That is so, she says, because in asking “give us this day, Lord,” we are asking him to “be ours every day.” She explains [The Way of Perfection 34:1]:
“I’ve come to think that it is because here on earth we possess him [Jesus] and also in heaven we will possess him if we profit well by his company. . . . In saying ‘this day,’ it seems to me, he is referring to one day: that which lasts as long as the world and no longer. And one day indeed!”
What Dodd saw in the early 20th century, and Pope Benedict affirms in Jesus of Nazareth, supports St. Teresa’s view of the Lord’s Prayer in its eschatological aspect, although she draws the concept from “Give us this day our daily bread,” while Dodd and Benedict XVI draw that concept from “Thy Kingdom come . . . on earth as it is in heaven.” What Pope Benedict describes as "the One who comes throughout the whole of history" is not clearly distinguishable from what St. Teresa describes as "that which lasts as long as the world and no longer."
The Kingdom of God
Benedict first addresses the meaning of the “Kingdom of God” as the subject matter of Chapter 3 of Jesus of Nazareth, beginning with Jesus’ preaching recorded in Mark 1:14-15: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 also mention that Jesus went through Galilee preaching “the Gospel of the Kingdom.” In Luke 17:20-21, we are told that Jesus told the Pharisees, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Pope Benedict concurs with a “growing tendency to hold that Christ uses these words to refer to himself: He, who is in our midst, is the ‘Kingdom of God,’ only we do not know him (cf. Jn 1:30).” Considering Jesus’ words in Luke 11:20 (“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you”), Benedict writes that “it is in his action, accomplished in the Holy Spirit. In this sense, it is in and through him that the Kingdom of God becomes present here and now, that it ‘is drawing near.’”
St. Teresa’s writing about the Kingdom of God in The Way of Perfection does not conclude that Christ himself is the Kingdom of God. She is not writing exegetically. Rather, she speaks more specifically of Jesus asking the Father for the Father’s Kingdom to come, and observes that Jesus has shown that He is one with the Father. [The Way of Perfection 27:4] Her writing about prayer describes God as a King or Emperor in his palace, and of a little heaven within each person's soul, which is His throne. Her analytical understanding of the Kingdom of God is thus drawn more from details here and there in various parts of her book, and cannot be found in a specific analysis within her chapter on the phrase "Thy Kingdom come."
Understanding something of the eschatological implications of the Kingdom of God throughout the whole of history, without drawing the specific Christological implications seen in the Holy Father’s book, she writes in Chapter 28 of The Way of Perfection:
“You already know that God is everywhere. It’s obvious, then, that where the king is, there is his court; in sum, wherever God is, there is heaven. Without a doubt you can believe that where His Majesty is present, all glory is present. . . . All one need do is go into solitude and look at him within oneself” [28:2] . . . I have the Emperor of heaven and earth in my house” [28:3] . . . within this little heaven of our soul [28:5] . . . in this palace dwells this mighty King who has been gracious enough to become your Father; and that he is seated upon an extremely valuable throne, which is your heart. [28:9]
Toward the end of Chapter 28, what she has said of the Father as King takes on Christological implications, as she writes:
“But what a marvelous thing, that he who would fill a thousand worlds and many more with his grandeur would enclose himself in something so small! (And so he wanted to enclose himself in the womb of his most Blessed Mother.) In fact, since he is Lord he is free to do what he wants, and since he loves us he adapts himself to our size.” [28:11]
That concept of God as King on the throne of our hearts becomes the basis for her discussion of the petition “Thy Kingdom Come.” In Chapter 31, rather than drawing from Jesus' preaching on the Kingdom of God as does Pope Benedict, St. Teresa mentions Simeon, who said of the child Jesus, in Luke 2:29, “my eyes have seen your salvation.” It was Jesus, she says, who made Simeon understand, and who can make our soul understand. “But it [the soul] sees it is in the kingdom, at least near the King who will give the kingdom to the soul.” [31:2]
It is in Chapter 32 of The Way of Perfection that St. Teresa takes up the phrase “Thy Kingdom Come” specifically in her discussion of The Lord's Prayer. There, connecting the coming of the Kingdom with the prayer that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, she writes: “For once the earth has become heaven, the possibility is there for your will to be done in me.” [32:2]. There, she connects the Kingdom of God in the present not only with the presence of God in the palace of our souls, but also with our ability to do God’s will. In prayer, similarly, she writes:
“Since your Son gave you this will of mine in the name of all, there’s no reason for any lack on my part. But grant me the favor of your kingdom that I may do your will, since he asked for this kingdom for me, and use me as you would your own possession, in conformity with your will.” [32:10]
Pope Benedict XVI, in Jesus of Nazareth, separately discusses the phrase “Thy Will Be Done on earth as it is in heaven." There is nonetheless considerable consistency between them on this point. Pope Benedict writes, “The essence of heaven is oneness with God’s will, the oneness of will and truth. Earth becomes ‘heaven when and insofar as God’s will is done there . . .” (pg. 147). As Jesus is the Kingdom of God, He is also “'heaven’ in the deepest and truest sense of the word – he in whom and through whom God’s will is wholly done.” (pg. 150). Thus, Pope Benedict concludes that what we are praying for is that we will come closer to God so that His will can make us capable of becoming just.
In Chapter 31 of The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa associates the Kingdom of God with the Transfiguration in describing the prayer of quiet. In describing those who are in prayer, happy close to God, so that in saying the “Our Father” once, an hour passes, she writes:
“They are within the palace, near the King, and they see that he is beginning to give them here his kingdom. It doesn’t seem to them that they are in the world. . . . In sum, while this prayer lasts they are so absorbed and engulfed with the satisfaction and delight they experience within themselves that they do not remember there is more to desire; they would eagerly say with St. Peter: ‘Lord, let us build three dwelling places here.’”
That reference to the Transfiguration and three dwelling places mentioned by St. Peter is interesting in the light of the Pope’s discussion of the Transfiguration in Chapter 9 of Jesus of Nazareth. Modern exegesis, considering the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration placed within the Jewish calendar, connects the Transfiguration with the Feast of Tabernacles. Pope Benedict mentions twentieth century historian Jean Daniélou's analysis of the messianic interpretation of that feast in the Judaism of Jesus’ day. The huts of the Jewish feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles) “were thought of, not only as a remembrance of the protection of God in the desert, but also as a prefiguration of the Sukkoth in which the just are to dwell in the age to come. Thus, it seems that a very exact eschatological symbolism was attached to the most characteristic rite of the Feast of Tabernacles, as this was celebrated in Jewish times.” [Pope Benedict, at 314-315, quoting Jean Daniélou’s book Bible and Liturgy, pp. 334f].
Thus, St. Teresa's connection of the prayer of quiet, in which the Father is "beginning to give them the Kingdom," with the Transfiguration offers an eschatological view of the Transfiguration, and recent exegesis finds such a view to be supported in the Jewish eschatological symbolism of the feast of Sukkoth in which the Transfiguration is set.
Also like St. Teresa, Pope Benedict XVI, in Jesus of Nazareth, sees the Transfiguration as “a prayer event” (pg. 310).
While not clear, it is possible that St. Teresa had some awareness that the Jewish concept of the huts of Sukkoth had implications of the Kingdom of God in the age to come. She had one Jewish grandparent, and it was not unusual for 16th century Spanish Jews to become Catholic. Although not necessary to an understanding of her text, she may have learned more as a child about the Jewish feasts mentioned in Scripture than she expressly revealed. The extent of her understanding of the Jewish implications explained by the Holy Father is thus unknown.
While St. Teresa was not writing exegetically, and the exegetical implications of what she wrote are found interspersed with discussions of contemplation, there is remarkable consistency between her understanding of the Kingdom of God and the understanding expressed in Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth. Where they differ is primarily in the Holy Father's conclusion, drawing from recent exegetical scholarship, that Jesus was saying specifically that He is the Kingdom of God and that He is heaven. St. Teresa sees Jesus as having prayed that the Father would give us his Kingdom -- and she describes both God the Father and Jesus as the King of that Kingdom within us. The difference thus lies in whether Jesus and the Father, as one, are the King with our hearts, with our hearts seen as His throne, or whether He is, moreover, the Kingdom of God within us.