Augustine and the Te Deum

I’ve asked my priest about the Te Deum, and he hasn’t been very helpful.

Haydock’s Catholic bible commentary has this to say on 1 John 1:8.

Ver. 8. Not that we say or pretend we have no sin;[4] thus truth would not be in us, and we should even make God a liar, who has declared all mankind guilty of sin. We were all born guilty of original sin; we have fallen, and still frequently fall into lesser sins and failings. We can only except from this number our Saviour Christ, who, even as man, never sinned, and his blessed Virgin Mother, by a special privilege, preserved from all kind of sin: and of whom St. Augustine[5] says, “that for the honour of our Lord, when we speak of the holy Virgin Mary, he will have no mention at all made of any sin.” (Witham)

Augustine also said:

He, moreover, who says that any man, after he has received remission of sins, has ever lived in this body, or still is living, so righteously as to have no sin at all, he contradicts the Apostle John, who declares that If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Observe, the expression is not we had, but we have. --St. Augustine, On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness.

But in the Te Deum we ask God to vouch safe to keep us this day without sin.

Does that mean without any sin at all?

And if that is what we mean, why doesn’t God ever seem to answer the request?

And if it isn’t possible for Him to grant such a request immediately, why do we ask?

And why do we specify a time (this day)?

Aren’t we supposed to pray in faith, and how can we do that if we ask the impossible?

1 John 1:8 is referring to our past (all of our past, up to the present moment). If we say we have not sinned in our past, we are deceiving ourselves.

The Te Deum is a prayer for the future (for the rest of the day, because do not worry about tomorrow, sufficient for the day are its worries). Our goal should always be to live the rest of the day without sinning again. And it is certainly possible to do so, because God gives us all the grace we need to live sinlessly each day. Our failure to do so is because we choose not to cooperate completely with His grace. Nevertheless, we must confess our sins, and resolve with the help of His grace to sin no more.

But if it is possible to get through a day without any (even venial) sin, wouldn’t Augustine have been wrong here?

He, moreover, who says that any man, after he has received remission of sins, has ever lived in this body, or still is living, so righteously as to have no sin at all, he contradicts the Apostle John, who declares that If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Observe, the expression is not we had, but we have. --St. Augustine, On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness.

It’s referring to the past up to the present. In the future, we have the hope of righteousness. Galatians 5:5

Also, a few lines later John says he is writing his epistle “so that you may not sin.” 1 John 2:1. And still later he exhorts us, “No one who knows him sins.” 1 John 3:6

Don’t most commentators take the Greek verb tense in passages like 1 John 3:6 to mean that one who knows God doesn’t habitually practice sin?

And if you went to confession and received absolution today, and you start tomorrow off by asking God to vouch safe to keep you without sin–and tomorrow night (or next week, or a year from now) you can truly say you are without sin, wouldn’t Saint Augustine have been wrong when he wrote this?

He, moreover, who says that any man, after he has received remission of sins, has ever lived in this body, or still is living, so righteously as to have no sin at all, he contradicts the Apostle John, who declares that If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Observe, the expression is not we had, but we have. --St. Augustine, On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness.

He made a point of telling us to observe that “the expression is not we had, but we have.”

It seems to me that if you’re right here, the good doctor was wrong when he wrote that.

And if you’re wrong (and the good doctor is right), I still don’t see why we ask God to do the impossible when we say the Te Deum, or how we can have any faith when we say it.

And that’s the same question I had when I started.

Can anyone help?

It is possible to go the rest of the day without sinning. The Bible never says it is impossible for us to stop sinning. We are exhorted throughout the New Testament to “sin no more.” (John 8:11) Jesus isn’t giving us an impossible commandment. We are a new creation in Him that is fully capable of living righteously, even without sin.

The below website has links to commentary from the Church Fathers and councils on each passage of Scripture. I think it will help with your questions on 1 John.

clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/bhq.htm#l

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