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Origen on Prayer
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CHAPTER XVIII

AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN OUR DEBTORS

And forgive us our Debts as we also have forgiven our Debtors, or as Luke has it, And forgive us our Sins, for we also ourselves forgive everyone in Debt to us. Concerning debts the Apostle also says: Pay your debts to all—to whom you owe tribute, tribute, to whom fear, fear, to whom taxes, taxes, to whom honor, honor: owe no man anything save mutual love.

We owe therefore in having certain duties not only in giving but also in kind speech and corresponding actions, and indeed we owe a certain disposition towards one another. Owing these things, we either pay them through discharging the commands of the divine law, or failing to pay them, in contempt of the salutary word, we remain in debt. The like reflection applies to debts toward brothers, to those who in the religious sense have been born again with us in Christ, as well as to those who have a common mother or father with us.

We also have a certain debt toward fellow citizens, and another toward all men in common, in particular toward guests and toward men at the age of fatherhood, and another toward such as it is right that we should honor as sons or as brothers. He, therefore, who does not do what is a debt to be discharged to brothers remains a debtor for what he has not done. So, too, should we fail in what falls, at the prompting of the charitable spirit of wisdom, to human beings also at our hands, our indebtedness becomes the greater. Indeed, we also have debt in personal concerns—to use the body in a certain way, so as not to wear out the flesh of the body through love of pleasure, and on the other hand to treat the soul with a certain care, and to take forethought for the keenness of the mind, and for our speech that it be without sting and helpful and not trifling. Whenever we fail to perform what we owe, even to ourselves, the heavier does our debt become.

Besides all these, being above all a creation and formation of God, we owe it to preserve a certain disposition towards Him with love that is from a whole heart and from a whole strength and from a whole mind, and if we fail to achieve this we remain God’s debtors, sinning against the Lord. And who in that case shall pray for us? For if a man sinning sin against a man, then shall they pray for him: but if he sin against the Lord, who shall pray for him? as Eli says in the first book of Kings.

Moreover, we are debtors to Christ who bought us with His own blood, just as every house slave is also debtor to his purchaser for the sum of money given for him. We have also a certain indebtedness to the Holy Spirit: we are paying it when we do not grieve Him in whom we were sealed unto a day of redemption, and when, without grieving Him, we bear the fruits demanded of us, He being present with us and quickening our soul.

And even though we do not know precisely which is our individual angel that looks upon the face of the Father in heaven, it is at least manifest to each of us upon reflection that we are debtors to him also for certain things. And inasmuch as we are in a world theater both of angels and of men, one must know that as the performer in a theater owes it to say or do certain things in sight of the spectators, and if he fails to perform this is punished as having insulted the whole theater, so we, too, owe to the whole world, to all the angels and the race of men alike, those things which, if we have the will, we shall learn of wisdom.

Apart from those more general debts, there is a certain indebtedness to a widow who is being provided for by the church, a second to a deacon, another to an elder, while that to a bishop is heaviest of all—being demanded by the Savior of the whole church and avenged if not paid. As already said, the Apostle mentions a certain common debt between husband and wife, when he says: Let the husband pay his indebtedness to the wife and wife likewise to the husband, and continues Deprive not one another.

But what need is there, when readers of this writing select their own examples from the record, for me to speak of all the things we owe which we either fail to pay and so come to be restrained or else pay and come to be free? Suffice it to say that it is impossible while in this life to be without debt at any hour of night or day. In owing, a man either pays or else withholds the indebtedness. He may either pay or withhold in this life. Some indeed owe no man anything; others pay off most and owe little; others pay little and owe more; and a man may conceivably pay nothing and owe everything.

And besides, he who pays all so as to owe nothing may at sometimes effect his object if he prays for forgiveness for previous indebtedness, inasmuch as such forgiveness may reasonably be thought obtainable by one who has for sometime made it his ambition to reach the position of having no obligation unpaid and thus owing nothing. Our very activities in transgression leave their impression within our mind and become the indictment against us on which we shall be brought to trial when, as it were, the books that have been indicted by us all shall be brought forth, in the time when we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ that each may receive what he has earned through the body according to his conduct whether good or bad.

It is also in reference to such indebtedness that it is said in the Proverbs: Give not yourself in certainty to your shame, for if the man shall not have ability to pay, they shall take your bed that is under you. But if we owe to so many, it is certain that men owe to us also. Some owe to us as to human beings, others as to fellow citizens, others as to fathers, some as to sons, yet others as wives to husbands or as friends to friends. Whenever, accordingly, any of our very numerous debtors have behaved too remiss in the matter of payment of there dues to us, our more charitable course will be to bear them no grudge and to remember our own indebtedness and how often we have failed to discharge them not only towards men but also towards God himself.

Remembering what as debtors we have not paid but withheld during the time which it was our duty to have done this or that for our neighbor had run by, we shall be gentler toward those who have fallen in debt to us in turn and have not paid their indebtedness, especially if we do not forget our transgressions against the Divine and the unrighteousness we have spoken against the Height either in ignorance of the truth or else in displeasure at the misfortunes that have befallen us.

But if we refuse to become gentler towards those who have fallen in debt to us, our experience will be that of him who did not remit the hundred shillings to his fellow servant and of whom, according to the parable set down in the gospel, though already pardoned, the master exacts in severity what had already been remitted, saying to him: Wicked servant and slothful, was it not right for you to pity your fellow servant as I also pitied you? Cast him into prison until he pay all that is owed. And the Lord continues: So shall the heavenly Father do to you also if you forgive not each his brother from your hearts.

It is however on profession of penitence that we are to forgive those who have sinned against us, even though our debtor often does so; for He says: If your brother sin against you seven times a day and seven times turn and say, “I repent,” you shall forgive him. It is not we who are harsh towards the impenitent, but they who are wicked to themselves, for he that spurns instruction hates himself. Yet even in such cases we should seek in every way that healing arise within him who is so completely perverted as not even to be conscious of his own ills but to be drunken with a drunkenness more fatal than from wine, from the darkening of evil.

When Luke says Forgive us our Sins he means the same as Matthew, since sins are constituted when we owe and do not pay, though he does not appear to lend support to him who would forgive only penitent debtors when he says that it is enacted by the Savior that we ought in prayer to add: for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us. And it would seem that we have all authority to forgive the sins that have been committed against us as is clear from both clauses: as we also have forgiven our debtors; and for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us. But it is when a man is inspired by Jesus as were the apostles, when he can be known from his fruits to have received the Spirit that is Holy and to have become spiritual through being led by the Spirit after the manner of a Son of God unto every reasonable duty, that he forgives whatsoever God has forgiven and holds those sins that are irremediable, and as the prophets served God in speaking not their own message but that of the divine Will, so he too serves the God who alone has authority to forgive.

In the Gospel according to John the language referring to the forgiveness exercised by the apostles runs thus: Receive the Holy Spirit: whosoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them: whosoever’s you hold, they are held. Anyone taking these words without discrimination might blame the apostles for not forgiving all men in order that all might be forgiven but holding the sins of some so that they are held with God also on their account.

It is helpful to take an example from the Law with a view to understand God’s forgiveness of sins through men. Legal priests are prohibited from offering sacrifice for certain sins in order that the persons for whom the sacrifices are made may have their misdeeds forgiven; and though the priest has authority to make offerings for certain involuntary or willful misdeeds, he of course does not presume to offer a sacrifice for sin in cases of adultery or willful murder or any other more serious offence.

So, too, the apostles, and those who have become like apostles, being priests according to the Great High Priest and having received knowledge of the service of God, know under the Spirit’s teaching for which sins, and when, and how they ought to offer sacrifices, and recognize for which they ought not to do so. Thus Eli the priest, knowing that his sons Hophni and Phineahas are sinners, with a sense of his inability to cooperate with them for forgiveness of sins, confesses his despair of such a result in his words:

If a man sins against a man, then shall they pray for him, but if he sin against the Lord, who shall pray for him? I know not how it is, but there are some who have taken upon themselves what is beyond priestly dignity, perhaps through utter lack of accurate priestly knowledge, and are proud of their ability to pardon even acts of idolatry and to forgive acts of adultery and fornication, claiming that even sin unto death is absolved through their prayer for those who have dared to commit such.

They do not read the words: There is sin unto death; not for it do I say that a man should ask. Nor should we omit to mention the resolute Job’s offering of sacrifice for his sons, with the words: Perhaps my sons have had evil thoughts in their minds toward God. Though the sinful thoughts are doubtful and at worst have not reached the lips, he offers his sacrifice for them.

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