Fratelli Tutti, an Encyclical that Unfolds the Kingdom Prayer The Our Father

By now the Catholics and the world at large have heard about the Encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti and many, in fact, have already reacted to it, most with enthusiasm while a few also with reservation. In this paper I wish to show how the Encyclical is unique in so far as it spells out a summary of the Gospel values, as contained in the prayer that the Lord taught, the Our Father. In this sense the Encyclical is revolutionary as the values upheld in the letter are ever relevant for the contemporary times.

The Spirit of Fratelli Tutti

Since the Council of Nicea (325 CE), there have been a growing preoccupation in Catholic teaching with doctrines and dogmatic expressions, with exceptions, though. However, the core of Fratelli Tutti (FT) is the biblical command of loving God and the neighbour, including the nature (Lk 10:25-28; Dt 6:4-5; Lev 19:18).

Inspired by the words and spirit of Saint Francis that involves a love that transcends any imaginable barrier between humans, Pope Francis dedicated his Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship (FT 2). For St Francis the motto, Fratelli Tutti, imbedded peace, and the driving force for accompanying the poor, the abandoned, the sick and the outcast, all those at the margins, irrespective of any imaginable borders (FT 2), that is ever vital to church’s service towards the contemporary world.

The Pope cites the example of the Saint visiting the Sultan Malik-el-Kamil of Egypt, despite the barriers of geographical distance, race, religion or the perils of the prevailing crusade. This, in turn, holds out the Christian ideal of Fratelli Tutti, emphasizes the Pope (n 3). It is the expression of the all-inclusive love without renouncing his own Christian identity. St Francis relativised doctrines and dogmatic disputes to the spread of the love of God (1Jn 4:16). That is the essence of a fraternal society, based on the Fatherhood/Motherhood of God. Saint Francis’ words, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father” (FT 4), the Pope reminds, calls for the love of God and the neighbour. When religious conflicts and political wars raged, Francis was free of any agenda of wielding control and power over others, the common temptations.

This vision of human fraternity and social friendship is another name for the divine household of God, in Christian terminology.[1] As the Pope underlines, this has been his primary concern in his teachings and apostolic endeavours, emphasising the different aspects, such as human dignity, human rights, justice to creation, interreligious harmony, peace and solidarity, motivated by the conviction, “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called to live together as brothers and sisters” (n 5).

The driving force of the Encyclical is the universal scope of the ideal of fraternal love with its openness to every human person without any exception, more so in the prevailing culture of “ignoring and eliminating others” that can be overcome only by the Kingdom-vision of fraternity and social friendship, through a dialogue among all people of good will (n 6). The Pope illustrates the prevailing pandemic of Covid19, as an instance of the need for all humans to work together with the ideal of fraternity and social friendship (n 7). What is unnegotiable is the dignity of every human person, with the implied social friendship, for, all belong to a “single human family, as fellow travellers, sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.” (n 8)

The kingdom-vision of fraternity and social friendship cannot tolerate any myopic or aggressive nationalism or extremism, resentful of others (n 11). Against such narrow outlook each generation should have recourse to the path of goodness, love, justice and solidarity. The Encyclical is not just a goody spiritual talk, but discusses the utter disregard for the common good by the promoters of individual interests, in the name of global market where the powerful promoters of corporate interest, diminishing the ‘identity of the weaker and poorer regions, making them more vulnerable and dependant (n 12).

Amid such conflicting interests where the powerful seek nothing but the elimination of any opposition, FT asks how to recognize our ‘neighbour’ fallen on the wayside of development, where the distance between humans are ever on the increase on an alarming proportion (n 16). Human persons are no more seen as of paramount value to be cared for or respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, who are not yet useful (the unborn), or no longer needed – like the elderly (n 18).

“When the dignity of the human person is respected, and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive (n 22). In the contemporary societies one comes across “numerous contradictions that lead us to wonder if the equal dignity of all human beings, solemnly proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, is truly recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every situation” (n 22).

The Pontiff continues to discuss the inequality meted out to different human groups such as women, guest workers, children and others. He laments the fact that in today’s world a sense of belong to a single human family, the core of the biblical message and the fulcrum of Jesus’ ministry, is fading and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia (n 30). What we experience is a ‘comfortable and globalized indifference,’ forgetting the reality that all are in the same boat! The Encyclical refers specifically to the absence of the respect for human dignity on the borders, created by political regimes, as well as certain liberal economic approaches, preventing free movement of migrants (n 37).

It is imperative that our age, with its unparalleled developments in awareness and rapid physical moveability, develops the ability to sit down and listen to others transcending narcist tendencies and caring and welcoming others. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) is a question that resounds not only all through the Bible but also at every avenue of human encounters.

Biblical Outlook

The very divine revelation in the Old Testament begins with the Hebrew experience of God’s concern for their state of slavery and misery: “I have seen their affliction and I have heard their cry,” is God’s message to Moses (Exo 3:7). God wants to lead them to a land “flowing with milk and honey” (3:8), which is to say God wants them to live in well-being, and dignity, without being discriminated, along with a special service to the nations.

Even if ethnocentric attitudes are not absent in the Bible, more so at the initial stages, the defining Philosophy of the Bible is universalism. Already in the book of Genesis we see how Abraham is called to be a blessing to the nations (12:3). The former slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews, are reminded by God that they are liberated and going to be made a chosen people through the impending covenant so that they shall be to God “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6), that is, they will be a kingly, priestly and a holy nation at the service of God to all nations. This verse is almost verbatim repeated by St. Peter reminding the new community, the followers of Jesus Christ, that they “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light (1Pt 2:9). Prophet Isaiah expresses this call in a nutshell: “you shall be a light to the nations” (42:6; 49:6). Later in the New Testament, Jesus will prescribe this role as the defining mission of the new community: “you are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). This, the Lord spells out further through the images of salt and leaven.

The foundation of this service role is the love command of loving God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4), as well as the counterpart of it, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18). In the New Testament Jesus declares them as the sum of the Jewish/Christian life (Lk 10:27-28; Mt 22:37-38; Mk 12:29-31). The love command is not restricted to fellow citizens, but extends to all as we see in Tobit’s advice to his son: “And what you hate, do not do to anyone.  … Give of your bread to the hungry, and of your clothing to the naked. Give all your surplus to charity… (Tob 4:15ff.).

Obviously, this love command in the Bible, permeates the socio-economic life as well. One is not to wrong a stranger or oppress him/her (Ex 22:21). When the Israelites crossed over to Canaan under Joshua, all have their portion of land (Cf. Josh 13-19). The situation is ideally portrayed under Solomon’s reign, “every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (1King 4:25). Deuteronomy prescribes that there should be no poor among them (15:4). The Jubilee year prescribed liberty to all the inhabitants of the land (Lev 25:10). If one had sold one’s land or if one made oneself a slave, the land is to be returned to the original owner and the slave set at liberty in the Jubilee year (Lev 25:13ff). There has to be a concern for the poor and the sojourners (Lev 19:10) for the land belongs to Yahweh (Lev 25:23). Jubilee year is an acceptable year of the Lord (Is 61:2) when all can live in peace and equity (Lev 25:10).

However, in the course of time the ideal situation become corrupt due to human selfishness, and all the prophets condemn the exploitation of the poor. Prophet Amos was shocked by the ever-growing inequality between the rich and poor ((5:21-24). Amos is a typical example of the prophetic indignation at the social disparity and exclusion. Under the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746) the Northern Kingdom, Israel reached its material power and prosperity, at the expense of the poor. There was no justice in the land (3:10), the poor were afflicted, exploited, even sold into slavery (2:6-8; 5:11). They have rejected the Torah of the Lord, and have not kept his Statues (2:4). They have deserted the divine plan for bringing them out of Egypt. Judges were corrupt (5:12). It is in this background that Amos appears on the scene (6:1-7). Israel is not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore, they shall now be the first of those to go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away (6:7).

Isaiah protests to the daughters of Zion: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people by grinding the face of the poor?” (3:14-15).   Isaiah warned both Israel and Judah that their failure to follow God’s commands would result in woe, the impending exile (Is 28:1-29; 29:1-14; Cf. also Jer 4:7, 16 et al).

The primary concern of the prophetic experience is not an anxiety about the right worship to God, but how God’s people are treated (Amos 9:14-15). They constantly chastise Israel for moving away from the vocation of love and compassion (Amos 2:5; Jer 26:18; Micah 3:12, et al). The pages of the prophetic writings are filled with the divine love and, equally, the divine disappointment. This divine pathos[2] is the core of the prophetic institution and only in the light this divine pathos, along with the biblical covenant theology, can we understand the spirit of FT!

Even as the first Isaiah predicted exile as the punishment for the prevailing injustice, the deutero Isaiah consoles the people in exile assuring they are God’s chosen people, and saying “fear not I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God” (41:10). Isaiah refers to the Persian emperor Cyrus as the messiah (anointed one) whom God has chosen as the instrument to let the people return to their land (45:1: ff.).

Eventually, the Trito Isaiah speaks of God’s anointed who will bring the good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, set free those in prison, and thus, “proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (the Jubilee year)” (61:1-2). It is this prophecy that Jesus makes as his ‘manifesto,’ in the Lukan gospel (4:18-21), and qualified as the Kingdom of God in Mark (1:14), Mathew (4:23) and in John, indirectly though, qualifying the Kingdom as doing the deeds of light (3:21). Interestingly, John insists on the place of Jesus’ baptism, as “Bethany beyond the Jordan” (close to Jericho), where Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land (Jos 3:16). Jesus’s ministry of ushering in the acceptable year of the Lord, begins with his baptism in the Jordan, at the same place where Joshua and the Israelites crossed over to the land “flowing with milk and honey.”

Without going into an exhaustive analysis of the ministry of Jesus to show how it was the spelling out of the acceptable year of the Lord, the paper intends to show that the prayer that Jesus taught, the Our Father, is an unfolding of the Kingdom reality.

The Our Father

The Our Father is the basic Christian prayer and it contains in a nutshell the Christian spirituality as well as the Christian world-view. It distils the essentials of Christian faith that must orient the life of every Christian, as it uncovers God’s will for a Christian. It is the gist of the biblical revelation, showing at the same time how it is not a mere verbal recital, but the framework of life and action, the model of Jesus’ own ministry, with its primary concern for justice and compassion. In this sense, the Our Father can be qualified as the Christian Manifesto.

Already it has been shown how the Reign of God, the Kingdom, that Jesus inaugurated had certain sociological character right from the beginning. Jesus created (epoiesen) (Mk 3:14) a new community at the beginning of his ministry, to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim and to cast out demons (Mk 3:14-15). This is more specifically spelt out in Lk 4:18-19, “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” and thus “to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). In fact, Luke defines this as the identifying mark of the Messiah as he narrates Jesus’ response to the question of John the Baptist, if he were indeed the Messiah (Lk7:22), and again from Jesus’ response to Herod who wanted to kill him: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course” (13:32). The Our Father outlines this kingdom life-style, even as the encyclical FT, the leading themes of which are the spelling out of the concerns of the Our Father.

Our Father (Abba ho Pater)

Abba, the Father: The very address of God, reminds us that God is the Father of all, and not the monopoly of any particular religion. God taught prophet Jonah how every nation and every human person is dear to God (Jonah 4:9-11). As such, God is accessible to all who come to God. The intimacy and universality of God is the characteristic ring as one recites the prayer. St. Cyprian, already in the third century Christian era, had taught how the Our Father is a prayer for humanity and not just for the church or the individual.[3]

By addressing God as “Our Father,” the prayer indicates how God is a sort of Householder of all creation and of humanity, Protector, Saviour, Redeemer and Liberator of humans.[4]  As in the Old Testament, the Our Father inhibits God’s concern for the poor and all those who suffer from injustice in any form, that destroys the integrity of the divine household. This, in turn, is the focus of the Encyclical as well. To remove the resources meant for the parents, brothers and sisters, neighbours in the widest sense, under whatever pretext, is going against the wish of God, the Householder. It is idol worship.

Based on the biblical tradition, Dominic Crossan argues, “to call God “Father in Heaven” is to call God “Householder of Earth.”[5] The Father as householder of the home is the model, metaphor, and microcosm for God as Householder of the world. At the same time, it is, from the biblical perspective, the affirmation that the inequality that destroys the integrity of the household dishonours the Householder.

‘Our Father in heaven’ has two parts. The first focuses on the divinity of God, on the one hand, and the latter half at the same time on our humanity. In the first part of the prayer the pronoun ‘your’ predominates, while in the second part the pronoun ‘our’ predominates. The divinity concerns about “your Name, your Kingdom and your Will.” The latter, humanity, has the focus on daily bread, forgiveness of debts and the need of not being led into temptation as well as the rescue from the evil one.

Hallowed be your name

Biblically, holiness is the retrieval of the in illo tempore, the original time when all things came from God. It refers to the creation story, when all the world was distributed fairly and equitably by God (Gen 1:1-2:4a), reflected in the sabbath year regulation in Lev 25:2b-7 and again in the Jubilee mandate in Lev 25:8-55, ensuring justice, a fair distribution for all, “the justice of an equitable household.”[6]

In Greek jubilee is translated as forgiveness, i.e., debt release, remission, freedom, liberty. Jubilee is the time to re-establish the original equality and fraternity with fair and equitable distribution of the resources. It is retrieving the divine concern for distributive justice and restorative righteousness and thus human holiness becomes a participation in the divine character.

 Thy Kingdom Come 

Biblically, we come across the first promise of the kingdom in 2 Sam 7:12-14. Though the text speaks directly about Solomon, it has a tinge of the Messianic Kingdom in so far as it refers to an everlasting Kingdom. In fact, the letter to the Hebrews 1:5 takes the text as referring to the Messiah Son.

Daniel in the mid second century BCE, speaks of the Kingdom of God that would stand forever (2:44). The Kingdom is mentioned three times in Daniel chapter 7. Both the Hebrew word malkuth and the Aramaic malkutha, emphasize the process of reigning rather than the territory, even as the Greek equivalent basileia underlines not so much where God rules as how God rules the world. “It dreams of an earth when the world would be, if the biblical God actually sat on the imperial thrown down below,” comments Dominic Crossan.[7]  That is what is inaugurated by Jesus at the Nazareth Synagogue (Mk 1:14-15; Lk 4:19; Mt 4:23). But what did Jesus mean as to its content, mode and the method of its coming?

On one occasion Jesus warned: “Unless your holiness (justice) surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:20). They taught dogmas that were human precepts but their hearts were far from God (Mk 7:6-7). Jesus used the example how the Pharisees misused the Korban for their own advantage, in violation of God’s concern about sharing resources with those in need. They created a religion based on their own norms, chastising those who did not follow them as irreligious (Mk 2:23ff). They set aside God’s commandment in the interest of keeping their own traditions (Mk 7:9). As a result, injustice has become sanctioned as a religious act. In no way can God identify with them because all his commands are just (Ps 119:172; Cf Is 10:1-4). In the Bible God’s commands consistently identify with the implementation of justice among people. It is identifying with God’s creative purpose in history. It is the affirmation human rights and equal access to the resources of the earth. That is what Jesus inaugurated at the Nazareth Synagogue (Lk 4:19). That is what Jesus asks us to pray for and the encyclical Fratelli Tutti is a visualization of it for the contemporary times.

Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven

God’s will is inseparable from his plan for the world. Hence, the immediate addition, on earth as it is in heaven. Dominic Crossan has pointed out how God’s name and God’s kingdom come to a climax in “will.”[8] God’s name is God’s honour for justice and righteousness. That is established by the advent of God’s Kingdom. That advent was the will of God. This has to be repeated on earth and this is the subject matter of the next three triads of the Prayer, bread, debt and temptation.

Give us our Daily Bread

Jesus’ ministry had something to do with eating and drinking. No wonder, he was mocked at as ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ (Lk 7:33-34), apart from the various bread-multiplication stories to feed the hungry. In fact, he characterized the ‘eschaton’ as a marriage feast (Mt 22:2). When the disciples ‘prudently’ ask the Master to send the crowd away so that they could go and buy food for themselves, Jesus rebukingly asks them that they give the people something to eat (Mk 6:37), emphasizing their responsibility in feeding the people as well. What is to be underlined is the role of the disciples all through the feeding miracles, suggesting their intimate association with the feeding.

The transformation of the earth involves also a fair distribution of bread so that all have something to eat. A perceptive reader cannot fail to notice the parameters between the multiplication story (Mk 6:41) and the Eucharistic scene (Mk 14:22), took-blessed-broke-gave, implying the mission of feeding, even in the central liturgical act of the church. Equitable distribution of food for all is integral to the Kingdom.

It is common knowledge how the world produces enough food to reach to all humans, if it were distributed according to the Divine Justice, “when food is seen as God’s consecrated gift.”[9] The petition, give us our daily bread, has to be seen from the divine justice. Sharing of the same bread and of the same cup in the Last Supper is already present in the Lord’s prayer.

Commenting on the phrase, “our daily bread,” basing himself on the Greek expression of it, Dominic Crossan argues that the meaning is: “enough for today, but also with the assurance of the same for tomorrow. It is a request that our daily bread be never again exceptional or conditional as in the past, but always normal and unconditional in the present and the future.”[10]

Though the Pope does not directly refer to the equitable distribution of food in FT, it is included in the themes of the issues of hunger as well the dignity of all especially those at the margins (Cf FT 61).

Forgive us our debts: It has already been noted how the Leviticus prescribed Jubilee was the occasion when debts were remitted so that all could live in peace and equity. In fact, all through the covenantal theology of the Bible there is the spirit of debt forgiveness and freedom from slavery even by outsiders like Cyrus (Is 45:1; Ezra 1:1ff). In the context of the cry of the poor, after return from the Babylonian exile, Nehemiah’s decree is instructive: “I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us leave off this interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the hundredth of money, grain, wine, and oil which you have been exacting of them” (Neh 5:10-11). The reason for the debt release is the very character of God who brought Israel out of the forced labour (Ex 20:22-23:33; Dt 15:13-14; Jer 34:13-14).

The petition for the forgiveness of debt is only a spelling out of the biblical justice, distributive and restorative righteousness of the biblical God. It is the very character of the divine Householder. “But for God to forgive us our literal debts, we must owe God literal debts, so what are these literal debts?” asks Crossan.[11] According to John Howard Yorder, “In the Our Father, then Jesus is not simply recommending vaguely that we might pardon those who have bothered us or made us trouble, but tells us purely and simply to erase debts of those who owe us money; which is to say, practice the jubilee.”[12]

FT described this atmosphere in terms of political love, expressed in those acts of charity “that spur people to create more sound institutions, more just regulations, more supportive structures.” (n 186) The end is that one’s neighbour will not find oneself in poverty.

Lead us not into temptation: This petition can be understood better from the Lord’s own temptation at the beginning of his ministry (Mt 4:1-11). The triple temptations concern about power (power to turn the stone into bread), prestige (prestige of being held by the angels) and possessions (possession of all the kingdoms of the world). These were the basic temptations of the church at all times, and the Lord overcame them by quoting the texts from the book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13 and 6:16). Deuteronomy is the book that gives the basic command of Loving God with an undivided heart and mind and strength (4:5). The temptations are causing one to have a divided heart between God and one’s own interests. The Kingdom happens only when we trust the Lord with an undivided heart and soul.


The Abba Prayer that Jesus has given us “is both a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope not just for Christianity, but for the world,” observes Crossan.[13] It is a prayer from the heart of Judaism, through Christianity to the conscience of the earth.[14] This exactly is the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti is doing. Though FT explicitly does not say so, it is a spelling out of the petitions of the Our Father for the contemporary world, so that it can be transformed into the anticipation of the Kingdom already now. What the prophet Isaiah foretold that the future Messiah would do, “will teach us his ways that we may walk in his paths” (Is 2:2), is continued through his servant, Pope Francis.

[1] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer (New York,

NY: Harper One, 2010).

[2] Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, Modern Classics, 2001), 29.

[3] St. Cyprian, The Lord’s Prayer, (translated and edited Roy J. Defarai, The Fathers of the Church 36, New York, NY: The Fathers of the Church Inc.1958), 132.

[4] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 42.

[5] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 41.

[6] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 69.

[7] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 78.

[8] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 115.

[9] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 130.

[10] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 138.

[11] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 154.

[12] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: W.B.Eerdmans Pub., 1972), 66.

[13] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 182.

[14] Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 182.

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