This is the third in a series of posts about what Pope Benedict XVI and St. Teresa of Avila wrote about 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. All posts in the series will be in the category Carmelites and Pope Benedict XVI.
As a reminder, Pope Benedict XVI's Foreword says this his writing in Jesus of Nazareth is “in no way an exercise of the magisterium,” adding, “Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.”
These posts discuss both their similarities and differences.
Two Interpretations of “Bread” in Jesus of Nazareth
In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI mentions two principal interpretations of what Jesus meant when he prayed “Give us this day our daily bread.” One interpretations sees our “daily bread” as meaning “what is necessary for existence.” It sees the prayer as a petition for what we need in order to live.
The other interpretation sees the prayer as a petition for what we need for the following day, with an eschatological meaning, asking God to give us today “the bread of the new world – himself.” That interpretation sees in the “bread” that which we receive in the Eucharist, the true bread of life.
In considering the Eucharistic understanding of our daily bread, the Holy Father mentions St. Jerome’s translation in the Vulgate. St. Jerome translated the Greek word epiousios as supersubstantialis (i.e., super-substantial). The Pope also mentions the Church Fathers, who almost unanimously understood the prayer as Eucharistic, without rejecting the immediate meaning of bread as reflecting the need of the poor for the day’s food. Read in the light of Jesus’ preaching on the bread of life, the prayer was seen as pointing to the Logos, Jesus as the Word of God, our food at the eternal wedding banquet.
The Eucharistic Interpretation of “Bread” in The Way of Perfection
In The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa asserts the Eucharistic meaning of “our daily bread” in Chapter 34, addressed to contemplative nuns. In Chapter 37, she also mentions daily bread as meaning the day's food, a meaning that she applies to people who are not contemplative.
Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., discusses St. Teresa's understanding of this in his interpretive notes on Chapter 34 of The Way of Perfection - Study Edition (ICS Publications). There, he mentions St. Jerome’s interpretation in the Vulgate as a likely influence on St. Teresa's understanding of the prayer, just as Pope Benedict mentions St. Jerome's Vulgate and other sources from the Church Fathers supporting the Eucharistic understanding of "daily bread."
Aside from the Vulgate, it is unlikely that the Church Fathers were St. Teresa's direct sources of information. Her known readings from the Church Fathers included the letters of St. Jerome, St. Augustine’s Confessions, and the writings of St. John Cassian. However, those particular writings would not have given her much information on how to interpret the Lord’s Prayer.
It is more likely that St. Teresa’s understanding of “our daily bread” came from clergy she knew, from homilies she had heard, and from her own insights. Her reference to the scholastic term “accidents” in a discussion of daily bread suggests such influences as the Dominican clergy around her. There was a Dominican seminary in Avila, her father’s confessor was a Dominican, and one of her brothers became a Dominican. Moreover, she sought out St. John of the Cross as a Discalced Carmelite partly because of his theological education, and her own confessor at one point was a noted Dominican theologian of her day.
Here is the reference, from The Way of Perfection 34:3, mentioning "accidents":
“Ask the Father, daughters, together with the Lord, to give you your Spouse ‘this day’ so that you will not be seen in the world without him. To temper such great happiness it’s sufficient that he remain disguised in these accidents of bread and wine.”
The scholastic influence is supported by Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh’s interpretive notes on Chapter 34, including this:
“The ‘accidents’ was a scholastic term used to refer to the appearances of bread and wine under which the Lord is present. Teresa urges her readers to realize that he is just as much present as he would be if they saw him with their bodily eyes; they should look at him in faith with the eyes of their souls.”
Nonetheless, her understanding of the exegesis of "bread" is simple. Nowhere is there an indication of a knowledge of the analytical exegesis of Scholasticism. Indeed, her censor corrects an exegetical error in her writing on this subject.
By illustration of a Scholastic view of the Lord’s Prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Lectures on St. Matthew, draws his understanding of multiple meanings of "our daily bread" from the Church Fathers, including St. Cyprian’s commentary and St. Jerome’s interpretation in the Vulgate (two sources also mentioned by Pope Benedict), and also including St. Augustine (a commentary undoubtedly known to Pope Benedict, although not mentioned in his discussion of daily bread in Jesus of Nazareth). In contrast with both Pope Benedict XVI and St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thomas discusses four meanings of daily bread, rather than two. They are:
- Christ, who calls himself the “bread of life” in John 6:48 (St. Jerome’s translation falls within this category).
- God (the Godhead), based on Luke 14:15 (“Blessed is anyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God”) and Ps. 77:25 (“Human beings have eaten the bread of angels”), in which case “give us this day” means to allow us now to enjoy it in the way that is possible in this life.
- God’s commandments, which are the bread of wisdom, as in Proverbs 9:5 (Wisdom says, “Come, eat my bread”).
- Bodily bread, meaning the temporal things that are necessary to sustain life.
Although St. Teresa may have learned something of the exegesis of "daily bread" from a friar knowledgeable about Scholastic terminology, there is no indication in her writing of four meanings of "bread." Unlike St. Thomas, she does not distinguish the eschatological aspect of “bread” from the Eucharistic meaning of “bread” as Christ.
St. Teresa writes, in The Way of Perfection 34:2, “He is teaching us to set our wills on heavenly things and to ask that we might begin enjoying him from here below. . . .” St. Thomas had written, about what he considered the second meaning of “bread,” “So ‘Give us this day,’ that is, so that we may be able to enjoy it in the kind of way that is possible in this life.” However, while St. Thomas distinguishes that meaning from the Eucharistic meaning of bread, St. Teresa is writing within a discussion of the Eucharistic meaning. She does not follow his distinction, and probably was not aware of it. Thus, while she may have learned something of the exegesis of the Lord's Prayer from the clergy in her environment, it was never anything so analytical or sophisticated as what the clergy could have read from St. Thomas.
In Chapter 34 of The Way of Perfection, in her application of the prayer to contemplative nuns, St. Teresa actually rejects the interpretation of “daily bread” as meaning bodily bread to be eaten. Instead, she writes, at 34:2:
“I don’t want to think the Lord had in mind the other bread that is used for our bodily needs and nourishment; nor would I want you to have that in mind. The Lord was in the most sublime contemplation (for whoever has reached such a stage has no more remembrance that he is in the world than if he were not, however much there may be to eat), and would he have placed so much emphasis on the petition that he as well as ourselves eat? It wouldn’t make sense to me. He is teaching us to set our wills on heavenly things and to ask that we might begin enjoying him from here below; and would he get us involved in something so base as asking to eat?”
The discussion in which she rejects the interpretation of “daily bread” as bodily bread was actually crossed out by the censor in St. Teresa’s first draft. The censor, according to Fr. Kavanaugh, wrote in the margins: “Christ our Lord asked for everything that pertained to the sustenance of both body and soul, material bread and the Eucharist. And this is what the church asks for in the litany.” In this respect, St. Teresa’s censor corrected her by holding to the same two interpretations given by Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth.
"Bread" as a Day's Food in The Way of Perfection
Chapter 34 of The Way of Perfection does not offer all that St. Teresa has to say about “daily bread.” She returns to the subject in Chapter 37, where she does interpret "our daily bread" as meaning a day's food, when applied to the prayers of people in the world who are not contemplative.
In Chapter 37, she speaks of how the Lord’s Prayer should be applied to people “who still live here on earth.” While contemplatives should seek heavenly things, she writes that those who live in the world may pray for bread to eat so that “they live in conformity with their state in life,” as “they must be sustained and must sustain their households.” She even calls such prayers “just and holy” as are other prayers for things they need. (37:2).
While she writes, in Chapter 34, that she believes that Jesus was in a deep state of contemplation when he gave his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, and that he thus must have had only a Eucharistic meaning in mind, she says in Chapter 37 that she had wondered why Jesus did not explain it further. She had concluded that the prayer was intended for general use so that each person “could petition according to our own intention, be consoled, and think that we have a good understanding of the prayer.” Thus, she concludes that Jesus left the petition for daily bread in an obscure form in order to make it applicable to everyone.
In short, she does not entirely reject either of the two readings mentioned by Pope Benedict and by her censor; rather, she concludes that one reading applies to the prayer of contemplatives, while the other applies to the prayer of people who are in the world and need to provide for themselves and their families.
St. Teresa’s idea, that Jesus intended the Lord’s Prayer to have different meanings according to the state in life of the person who prays it, seems to be her own insight. She casts it as the result of her own meditation. While her censor crossed out her discussion in Chapter 34 that would read the prayer as referencing only the Eucharist, he did not delete her discussion in Chapter 37.
Our Daily Bread: The Divinity of Jesus
Pope Benedict XVI, writing in the context of present day Biblical criticism, necessarily emphasizes the Scriptural evidence of the divinity of Christ. St. Teresa, writing for 16th century contemplatives, emphasizes His humanity. Both, of course, would hold that Christ is both fully God and fully man. The difference in their emphasis is seen in their respective discussions of what Jesus meant in praying “Our Father” and “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Benedict XVI discusses the prayer in the context of Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life in John 6. The Church Fathers’ understanding of “bread” as Eucharistic drew from that discourse. He writes, “The theme of bread has an important place in Jesus’ message – from the temptation in the desert and the multiplication of the loaves right up to the Last Supper.” Moreover, “The great discourse on the bread of life in John 6 discloses the full spectrum of meaning of this theme.” (Jesus of Nazareth, pg. 155) There, after miraculously feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fishes, Jesus went away with his disciples, who mentioned that Moses had given them manna in the desert to eat. Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When they asked him to give them that bread, he said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
The multiplied bread relates back to manna in the wilderness and also points forward “to the fact that man’s real food is the Logos, the eternal Word.” (pg. 155) The Logos becomes bread for man when he has taken on human form. It is the incarnate Lord who gives himself to us in the Eucharist.
In Chapter 2 of Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI speaks of the image of “bread” in Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In the first of three temptations, the devil tempted Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but . . . by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”
In Chapter 8 of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict returns again to Jesus’ use of the concept of “bread.” There, Benedict XVI compares Moses with Jesus. God showed Moses only God’s back. Benedict XVI writes, “Only the one who is God sees God – Jesus” (pg. 265 citing John 1:18).
In describing how Jesus went beyond Moses, Pope Benedict returned to the bread of life discourse of John 6. “For as Jewish thought developed inwardly, it became increasingly plain that the real bread from heaven that fed and feeds Israel is precisely the Law – the word of God.” Mentioning Proverbs 9:5, which describes the wisdom present in the Law as bread (the Scriptural basis for St. Thomas’ third meaning of “bread”), Pope Benedict describes the Torah, when viewed as bread from God, as a shadow, showing us God’s back. In comparison, Jesus is quoted in John 6:33 as saying, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus then explained, “I am the bread of life.” Pope Benedict writes, “The Law has become a person.”
Reading “Give us this day our daily bread” in that context, the Eucharistic reading of “bread” meaning Christ thus relates to St. Thomas’ third interpretation of “bread” as God’s commandments in that the Law (bread as the Law) has become a person (bread as Christ, the Word of God, who is present in the Eucharist). Benedict XVI explains that bread as God's commandments is thus surpassed by Christ as the Bread of Life.
In presenting that explanation of Jesus as the Word of God and as the Bread of Life, Pope Benedict thus presents Jesus as Divine -- as God.
In saying, with the disciples, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray for Christ, the Word made Flesh, in the Eucharist.
Our Daily Bread: The Humanity of Jesus
In The Life of St. Teresa of Avila, Chapter 22, St. Teresa explains how she came to see that if we are to please God, we should rejoice in Jesus’ humanity. There, she writes that she studied the lives of several saints who became great mystics, and they traveled that road. Among them, she names St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernard, and St. Catherine of Siena.
In her discussion of the Lord’s Prayer, St. Teresa no doubt shares the fruit of some of her meditations upon Christ’s humanity. In Chapter 27 of The Way of Perfection, in discussing the word “our” in “Our Father,” she writes (27:2):
“O Son of God and my Lord! How is it that you give so much all together in the first words? Since you humble yourself to such an extreme in joining with us in prayer and making yourself the Brother of creatures so lowly and wretched, how is it that You give us in the name of Your Father everything that can be given?”
Jesus, who is God, prays to the Father with us, “Our Father.” He is made flesh and prays with us as part of that “Our.”
In Chapter 33, she begins her discussion of daily bread. Near the end of 33:1, she writes:
“Now then, once Jesus saw the need, he sought out a wonderful means by which to show the extreme of his love for us, and in his own name and in that of his brothers he made the following petition: ‘Give us this day, Lord, our daily bread.’”
She sees special emphasis in the repetition in the phrase, which again draws her attention to Jesus’ humanity (33:4):
“I have noticed how in this petition alone he repeats the words: first he says and asks the Father to give us this daily bread, and then repeats, ‘give it to us this day, Lord,’ invoking the Father again. It’s as though Jesus tells the Father that he is now ours since the Father has given him to us to die for us; and asks that the Father not take him from us until the end of the world; that he allow him to serve each day.”
Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.’s footnote explains that the Castilian version said, “Give us our daily bread this day. In the following paragraph, St. Teresa stresses Jesus' humanity further:
“Since by sharing in our nature he has become one with us here below – and as Lord of his own will – he reminds the Father that because he belongs to him the Father in turn can give him to us. And so he says, ‘our bread.' He doesn’t make any difference between himself and us . . . .”
In a Eucharistic understanding of “bread,” therefore, Jesus, who is Divine and whose real presence is in the very Eucharist for which we pray, also reflects His humanity, in that He prays with us “Give us” although the thing prayed for is His very self. Reflecting on this, St. Teresa concludes that Jesus is praying that the Father will give Jesus to us in the Eucharist and not to take Him from us until the end of the world.
In this petition, the differences between Pope Benedict XVI's and St. Teresa of Avila's respective insights into the Lord's Prayer differ more than in the aspects of the same prayer mentioned in earlier posts in this series. However, they still complement each other, sometimes in surprising ways. It is possible to imagine them in conversation with each other, each of them having something of value to contribute in response to what the other has to say on this aspect of the Lord's Prayer. In combination, Pope Benedict's insights into the Divinity of Christ and St. Teresa's insights into His humanity supplement each other in a way that, it seems to me, draws out more fully the meaning each of them had in mind.