The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas – THE SIXTH PETITION
“And Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”
There are those who have sinned and desire forgiveness for their sins. They confess their sins and repent. Yet, they do not strive as much as they should in order that they may not fall into sin again. In this indeed they are not consistent. For, on the one hand, they deplore their sins by being sorry for them; and, on the other hand, they sin again and again and have them again to deplore. Thus it is written: “Wash yourselves, be clean. Take away the evil of your devices from my eyes. Cease to do perversely.”
We have seen in the petition above that Christ taught us to seek forgiveness for our sins. In this petition, He teaches us to pray that we might avoid sin–that is, that we may not be led into temptation, and thus fall into sin. “And lead us not into temptation.”
Three questions are now considered: (1) What is temptation? (2) In what ways is one tempted and by whom? (3) How is one freed from temptation?
WHAT IS TEMPTATION?
Regarding the first, it must be known that to tempt is nothing other than to test or to prove. To tempt a man is to test or try his virtue. This is done in two ways just as a man’s virtue requires two things. One requirement is to do good, the other is to avoid evil: “Turn away from evil and do good.” Sometimes a man’s virtue is tried in doing good, and sometimes it is tested in avoiding evil. Thus, regarding the first, a person is tried in his readiness to do good, for example, to fast and such like. Then is thy virtue great when thou art quick to do good. In this way does God sometimes try one’s virtue, not, however, because such virtue is hidden from Him, but in order that all might know it and it would be an example to all. God tempted Abraham in this way, and Job also. For this reason God frequently sends trials to the just, who in sustaining them with all patience make manifest their virtue and themselves increase in virtue: “The Lord your God trieth you, that it may appear whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, or not.” Thus does God tempt man by inciting him to good deeds.
As to the second, the virtue of man is tried by solicitation to evil. If he truly resists and does not give his consent, then his virtue is great. If, however, he falls before the temptation, he is devoid of virtue. God tempts no man in this way, for it is written: “God is not a tempter of evils, and He tempteth no man.”
HOW IS ONE TEMPTED?
The Temptations of the Flesh.–Man is tempted by his own flesh, by the devil and by the world. He is tempted by the flesh in two ways. First, the flesh incites one to evil. It always seeks its own pleasures, namely, carnal pleasures, in which often is sin. He who indulges in carnal pleasures neglects spiritual things: “Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence.”
Secondly, the flesh tempts man by enticing him away from good. For the spirit on its part would delight always in spiritual things, but the flesh asserting itself puts obstacles in the way of the spirit: “The corruptible body is a load upon the soul.” “For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.” This temptation which comes from the flesh is most severe, because our enemy, the flesh, is united to us; and as Boethius says: “There is no plague more dangerous than an enemy in the family circle.” We must, therefore, be ever on our guard against this enemy: “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.”
The Temptations of the Devil.–The devil tempts us with extreme force. Even when the flesh is subdued, another tempter arises, namely, the devil against whom we have a heavy struggle. Of this the Apostle says: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places.” For this reason he is very aptly called the tempter: “Lest perhaps he that tempteth should have tempted you.”
The devil proceeds most cunningly in tempting us. He operates like a skillful general when about to attack a fortified city. He looks for the weak places in the object of his assault, and in that part where a man is most weak, he tempts him. He tempts man in those sins to which, after subduing his flesh, he is most inclined. Such, for instance, are anger, pride and the other spiritual sins. “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.”
How the Devil Tempts Us.–The devil does two things when he tempts us. Thus, he does not at once suggest something that appears to us as evil, but something that has a semblance of good. Thereby he would, at least in the beginning, turn a man from his chief purpose, and then afterwards it will be easier to induce him to sin, once he has been turned away ever so little. “Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light.” Then when he has once led man into sin, he so enchains him as to prevent his rising up out of his sin. The devil, therefore, does two things: he deceives a man first, and then after betraying him, enthralls him in his sin.
Temptations of the World.–The world has two ways of tempting man. The first is excessive and intemperate desire for the goods of this life: “The desire of money is the root of all evil.” The second way is the fears engendered by persecutors and tyrants: “We are wrapped up in darkness.” “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” And again: “Fear not those that slay the body.”
How Is One Freed from Temptation?–Now we have seen what temptation is, and also in what way and by whom one is tempted. But how is one freed from temptation? In this we must notice that Christ teaches us to pray, not that we may not be tempted, but that we may not be led into temptation. For it is when one overcomes temptation that one deserves the reward. Thus it is said: “Count it all joy when you shall fall into divers temptations.” And again: “Son, when thou comest to the service of God, . . . prepare thy soul for temptation.”
Again: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life.” Our Lord, therefore, teaches us to pray that we be not led into temptation, by giving our consent to it: “Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human.” The reason is that it is human to be tempted, but to give consent is devilish.
But does God lead one to evil, that he should pray: “Lead us not into temptation”? I reply that God is said to lead a person into evil by permitting him to the extent that, because of his many sins, He withdraws His grace from man, and as a result of this withdrawal man does fall into sin. Therefore, we sing in the Psalm: “When my strength shall fail, do not Thou forsake me.” God, however, directs man by the fervor of charity that he be not led into temptation. For charity even in its smallest degree is able to resist any kind of sin: “Many waters cannot quench charity.” He also guides man by the light of his intellect in which he teaches him what he should do. For as the Philosopher says: “Every one who sins is ignorant.” “I will give thee understanding and I will instruct thee.” It was for this last that David prayed, saying: “Enlighten my eyes that I never sleep in death; lest at any time my enemy say: I have prevailed against him.” We have this through the gift of understanding. Therefore, when we refuse to consent to temptation, we keep our hearts pure: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.” And it follows from this petition that we are led up to the sight of God, and to it may God lead us all!
(For “Questions for Discussion” see Chapter 6.)
1. Isa., i. 16.
2. “We should implore the divine assistance in general under all temptations, and especially when we are assailed by any particular temptation” (“Roman Catechism,” “Lord’s Prayer,” Chapter XV, 15).
3. Ps. xxxiii. 15.
4. Gen., xxii: Job, i.
5. Deut., xiii. 3.
6. James, i. 13.
7. “Ibid.,” i. 14.
8. Wis., ix. 15.
9. Rom., vii. 22-23.
10. Matt., xxvi. 41.
11. Eph., vi. 12.
12. I Thess., iii. 5.
13. I Peter, v. 8.
14. Cor., xi. 14.
15. Tim., vi. 10.
16. Job, xxxvii. 19.
17. II Tim., iii. 12.
18. Matt., x. 28.
19. James, i. 2.
20. Ecclus. ii. I .
21. James., 12.
22. I Cor., x. 13.
23. Ps. lxx. 9.
24. Cant., viii. 7.
25. Aristotle, “Ethics.” III, 1.
26. Ps. xxxi. 8.
27. Ps. xii. 4-5.
28. Matt., v. 8.