The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas

THE THIRD PETITION: “Thy Will Be Done on Earth as It Is in Heaven.”

The third gift which the Holy Spirit works in us is called the gift of knowledge. The Holy Spirit not only gives us the gift of fear and the gift of piety (which is a sweet affection for God, as we have said); but He also makes man wise. It was this for which David prayed: “Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge.”[1] This knowledge which the Holy Spirit teaches us is that whereby man lives justly. Among all that goes to make up knowledge and wisdom in man, the principal wisdom is that man should not depend solely upon his own opinion: “Lean not upon thy own prudence.”[2] Those who put all their trust in their own judgment so that they do not trust others, but only themselves, are always found to be stupid and are so adjudged by others: “Hast thou seen a man wise in his own conceit? There shall be more hope of a fool than of him.”[3]


Out of humility one does not trust one’s own knowledge: “Where humility is there is also wisdom.”[4] The proud trust only themselves. Now, the Holy Spirit, through the gift of wisdom, teaches us that we do not our own will but the will of God. It is through this gift that we pray of God that His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And in this is seen the gift of knowledge. Thus, one says to God “let Thy will be done,” in the same way as one who is sick desires something from the physician; and his will is not precisely his own, because it is the will of the physician. Otherwise, if his desire were purely from his own will, he would be indeed foolish. So we ought not to pray other than that in us God’s will may be done; that is, that His will be accomplished in us. The heart of man is only right when it is in accord with the will of God. This did Christ: “Because I came down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me.”[5] Christ, as God, has the same will with the Father; but as a Man He has a distinct will from the Father’s, and it was according to this that He says He does not do His will but the Father’s. Hence, He teaches us to pray and to ask: “Thy will be done.”[6]


But what is this that is asked? Does not the Psalm say: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased [has willed], He hath done?”[7] Now, if He has done all that He has willed both in heaven and on earth, what then is the meaning of this: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? To understand this we must know that God wills of us three things, and we pray that these be accomplished. The first thing that God wills is that we may have eternal life. Whoever makes something for a certain purpose, has a will regarding it which is in accord with the purpose for which

he made it. In like manner, God made man, but it was not for no purpose, as it is written: “Remember what my substance is; for hast Thou made all the children of men in vain?”[8]

Hence, God made men for a purpose; but this purpose was not for their mere pleasures, for also the brutes have these, but it was that they might have eternal life. The Lord, therefore, wills that men have eternal life. Now, when that for which a thing is made is accomplished, it is said to be saved; and when this is not accomplished, it is said to be lost. So when man gains eternal life, he is said to be saved, and it is this that the Lord wills: “Now, this is the will of My Father that sent Me, that every one who seeth the Son and believeth in Him may have life everlasting.”[9] This will of God is already fulfilled for the Angels and for the Saints in the Fatherland, for they see God and know and enjoy Him. We, however, desire that, as the will of God is done for the blessed who are in heaven, it likewise be done for us who are on earth. For this we pray when we say “Thy will be done” for us who are on earth, as it is for the Saints who are in heaven.


In the second place, the will of God for us is that we keep His Commandments. When a person desires something, he not only wills that which he desires, but also everything which will bring that about. Thus, in order to bring about a healthy condition which he desires, a physician also wills to put into effect diet, medicine, and other needs. We arrive at eternal life through observance of the Commandments, and, accordingly, God wills that we observe them: “But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments.”[10] “Your reasonable service . . . that you may prove what is the good and the acceptable and the perfect will of God.”[11] That is, good because it is profitable: “I am the Lord thy God that teach thee profitable things.”[12] And acceptable, that is, pleasing: “Light is risen to the just; and joy to the right heart.”[13] And perfect, because noble: “Be you therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”[14] When we say “Thy will be done,” we pray that we may fulfill the Commandments of God. This will of God is done by the just, but it is not yet done by sinners. “In heaven” here signifies the just; while “on earth” refers to sinners. We, therefore, pray that the will of God may be done “on earth,” that is, by sinners, “as it is in heaven,” that is, by the just.[15]


It must be noted that the very words used in this petition teach us a lesson. It does not say “Do” or “Let us do,” but it says, “[Let] Thy will be done,” because two things are necessary for eternal life: the grace of God and the will of man. Although God has made man without man, He cannot save man without his cooperation. Thus, says St. Augustine: “Who created thee without thyself, cannot save thee without thyself,”[16] because God wills that man cooperate with Him or at least put no obstacle in His way: “Turn ye to Me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn to you.”[17] “By the grace of God, I am what I am. And His grace in me hath not been void.”[18] Do not, therefore, presume on your own strength, but trust in God’s grace; and be not negligent, but

use the zeal you have. It does not say, therefore, “Let us do,” lest it would seem that the grace of God were left out; nor does it say, “Do,” lest it would appear that our will and our zeal do not matter. He does say “Let it be done” through the grace of God at the same time using our desire and our own efforts.

Thirdly, the will of God in our regard is that men be restored to that state and dignity in which the first man was created. This was a condition in which the spirit and soul felt no resistance from sensuality and the flesh. As long as the soul was subject to God, the flesh was in such subjection to the spirit that no corruption of death, or weakness, or any of the passions were felt. When, however, the spirit and the soul, which were between God and the flesh, rebelled against God by sin, then the body rebelled against the soul. From that time death and weaknesses began to be felt together with continual rebellion of sensuality against the spirit: “I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind.”[19] “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.”[20]

Thus, there is an endless strife between the flesh and the spirit, and man is continually being brought lower by sin. The will of God, therefore, is that man be restored to his primal state so that no more would the flesh rebel against the spirit: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”[21] Now, this will of God cannot be fulfilled in this life, but it will be fulfilled in the resurrection of the just, when glorified bodies shall arise incorrupt and most perfect: “It is sown a natural body; it shall rise a spiritual body.”[22] In the just the will of God is fulfilled relative to the spirit, which abides in justice and knowledge and perfect life. Therefore, when we say “Thy will be done,” let us pray that His will also may be done regarding the flesh. Thus, the sense of “Thy will be done on earth” is that it may be done “for our flesh,” and “as it is in heaven” means in our spirit. Thus, we take “in heaven” for our spirit, and “on earth” as our flesh.[23]

By means of this petition we arrive at the happiness of those who mourn, as it is written: “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.”[24] This can be applied to each of the threefold explanations we have given above. According to the first we desire eternal life. And in this very desire we are brought to a mourning of soul: “Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged.”[25] This desire in the Saints is so vehement that because of it they wish for death, which in itself is something naturally to be avoided: “But we are confident and have a good will to be absent rather from the body and to be present with the Lord.”[26] Likewise, according to our second explanation–viz., that we will to keep the Commandments –they who do so are in sorrow. For although such be sweet for the soul, it is bitter indeed for the flesh which is continually kept in discipline. “Going, they went and wept,” which refers to the flesh, “But coming, they shall come with joyfulness,” which pertains to the soul.[27] Again, from our third explanation (that is, concerning the struggle which is ever going on between the flesh and the spirit), we see that this too causes sorrow. For it cannot but happen that the soul be wounded by the venial faults of the

flesh; and so in expiating for these the soul is in mourning. “Every night,” that is, the darkness of sin, “I will wash my bed [that is, my conscience] with my tears.”[28] Those who thus sorrow will arrive at the Fatherland, where may God bring us also!

(For “Questions for Discussion” see Chapter 6.)


1. Ps. cxviii. 66.

2. Prov. iii. 5.

3. “Ibid.,” xxvi. 12.

4. “Ibid.,” xi. 2.

5. John, vi. 38.

6. “Now, this is what we implore when we address lhese words to God: ‘Thy will be done.’ We have fallen into this state of misery by disobeying and despising the divine will. Now, God deigns to propose to us, as the sole corrective of all our evils, a conformity to His will which by our sins we despised. He commands us to regulate all our thoughts and actions by this standard. And to be able to accomplish this is our aim when we humbly say this prayer to God: ‘Thy will be done’ ” (“Roman Catechism,” “Lord’s Prayer,”Chapter xli, 8).

7. Ps. clxxiv. 6.

8. Ps. lxxxviii. 48.

9. John, vi. 10.

10. Matt., xix. 17.

11. Rom., xii. 1-2.

12. Isa., xlviii. 11.

13. Ps. xcvi. 11.

14. Matt., v. 48.

15. “When, therefore, we pray, ‘Thy will be done,’ we first of all ask our Heavenly Father to enable us to obey His divine commands, and to serve Him all the days of our lives in holiness and justice. Likewise that we do all things in accord with His will and pleasure, that we perform all the duties prescribed for us in the sacred writings and thus, guided and assisted by Him, so conduct ourselves in all things as becomes those ‘who are born, not of the will of flesh but of God’ ” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 12).

16. “Super Verbum Apost.,” XV.

17. Zach., i. 3

18. I Cor., xv. 10.

19. Rom., vii. 23.

20. Gal., v. 17.

21. Thess., iv. 3.

22. I Cor., xv. 44.

23. “When we say, ‘Thy will be done,’ we expressly detest the works of the flesh, of which the Apostle writes: ‘The works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, lust, etc.’ (Gal., v. 19); ‘if you live according to the flesh you shall die’ (Rom. viii. 13). We also pray God not to permit us to yield to the suggestions of sensual appetite, of our lusts, of our infirmities, but to govern our will by His will” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 14).

24. Matt., v. 5.

25. Ps. cxix. 5.

26. II Cor., v. 8.

27. Ps. cxxv. 6.

28. Ps. vi. 7.

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