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    painting of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

    Pardon Our Debts

    The Church Father Tertullian teaches about asking for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.

    By Tertullian

    August 14, 2022
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    • Darryl Connolly

      I find this article insightful in seeking forgiveness and possibly leading towards reconcilliation. One question I have about Tertullian; although he has great things to say concerning forgiveness, should believers hold him in such esteem for things we agree with, such as forgiveness, but what about the other things he taught, in regards to women wearing head coverings, beliefs about marriage, and angels being inferior to humans? If a theologian, philosopher, or thinker holds to 9 questionable ideas, but 1 good one, does he gain acceptance and regard for the one? I wonder what others think.

    It is consonant then that, having observed the liberality of God, we should also beseech his mercy. For what will food profit us if its reason is to render us a bull for sacrifice? The Lord knew that he alone was without wrong, so he taught us to pray: “Pardon us our debts” (Matt. 6:9–14).

    A confession is a request for pardon, because whoever asks pardon confesses a wrongdoing. So it is shown that penitence is acceptable to God, because he desires this, rather than the death of a sinner (Ezek. 8:23). A debt, in scripture, is an image of a wrongdoing, because wrongdoing always owes a debt to judgment and is avenged by it; neither does it avoid the justice of restitution unless restitution be given, just as the master remitted the debt of his servant. For the lesson of the entire parable points this out. Our profession that we too “pardon our debtors” is consonant with the fact that the same servant, who was set free by his master but would in turn not spare his debtor, was on this account brought before his master and sent to torture until he should pay the very last cent, that is the very slightest wrongdoing (Matt. 18:23–26). And elsewhere, in keeping with this clause of the prayer, he says: “Forgive and it will be forgiven you” (Luke 6:37). And when Peter asked him whether he should forgive his brother seven times he said, “Rather, seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21). Thus he cast the law in better form, because in Genesis vengeance was reckoned seven times in the case of Cain, and seventy times seven in that of Lamech (Gen. 4:24).

    painting of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

    Edward Lear, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, ca. 1858, oil on canvas

    By mindfulness of the instructions is the way to heaven paved for prayers. And the chief of them is that we should not go up to the altar of God before resolving whatever there might be of offense or discord contracted with the brothers (Matt. 5:23–24). For how can one approach the peace of God without peace, how seek the remission of debts whilst retaining them? How shall one who is angry with his brother placate the Father, when all anger is forbidden us from the beginning? For even Joseph, when he sent his brothers to fetch their father, said: “And do not grow angry on the way” (Gen. 45:24). His advice was meant for us, that we should not travel in anger on the way made up of prayer toward the Father, for elsewhere “way” denotes the practice which is ours. Consequently the Lord, in expanding and clarifying the law, equates anger toward a brother with homicide (Matt. 5:22–23). He will not even allow the expression of an angry word. The apostle warns us not to be angry beyond sunset (Eph. 4:26), but how rash it is either to spend a day without prayer whilst delaying the satisfaction due to a brother, or to waste prayer by continuing in anger.

    The intent of prayer should be free not from anger alone but from all manner of perturbation of the soul, as it should be sent forth from the same sort of spirit as that to which it is sent.


    From Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, On the Lord’s Prayer, translated by Alistair Stewart-Sykes (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004).

    Contributed By

    The Church Father Tertullian (AD 155–220) was from Carthage and wrote doctrinal and apologetic works. He is known as the Father of Latin Christianity, since his were the first major church writings in Latin.

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