The Italian  version of this aphorism has been pusblished in “ilDialogo”, 2013 december 29.


God, father and bread


What did “pa” mean for our ancients? ([i]) They meant: “the one who procures bread” hence “father”, with its derivatives from “master” to “power” and “fatherland”, is “the place where who gives you the bread lives”, the nourishment, but also who defends and helps. This two words, father and bread, were loaded, in the centuries, with transcendent and religious meanings. Think, for “father, to “Iovis pater” derived from Iuppiter¸ that is Yup-piter for the Romans, to “God Father” of the Christian Trinity, to pita(r) from the Sanskrit with connections to the Semitic.

It is not matter of purely etymological curiosity, because the cognition of the history and of the evolution of the words drives us directly to the roots, even if superficiality, hurry, relativism of actual times make us renounce to understand today.

The ascertainment of the root “pa” and its derivatives can rouse, among others, three observations:

a) in the antiquity, “at least from Akkadians to Christ”, the figure of father assumes meanings of sociological and juridical nature. Especially in Jewish-Semitic circle, “father” is chief of a clan, of a family, the meaning of that is, through the Latin “pater familias”, that besides  the auctoritas he is invested  also by potestas with consequent responsibilities. Think to Moses, prophet and lawgiver, who in the Tables of the Law, receives the fourth Commandment “honour thy father and thy mother”, in order warrant a duty of obedience inherent in to honouring.

The concept is however dates back to fourteenth century b.C., period of Moses, and it is localized in the Middle-Eastern area, particularly the Mesopotamian one, that is the melting-pot in which the origin of the western civilization boilec. The father figure is dominant in the life,  all actions and miracles, in the crucifixion and the resurrection of the Messiah. Remember that in Luke Gospel, 11.1, to the request  of a disciple: «Jesus Christ, teach us to pray…», Christ replies: «When you pray, say: “Our Father, hallowed be Thy name, give us this day our daily bread…», that point out, in particular importance, the connection between father and bread, in the important meaning  of the Sanskrit word “pa”. Also Paul apostle tackles the problem of the  relations within the family and in the “Epistle to the Ephesians”, 5,21,  (also to the Colossians 3,18) exhorts the neo-Christians of Ephesus: «The wives are subjected to the husbands as to the Lord; in effect the husband is chief of the wife … », a patriarchal and male chauvinist idea justified by juridical and social cares, but being a “chief” requires also the duty: «and you, husbands, love your wives», in which is obvious that love deletes hierarchical relation and, to follow, Paul says again, in 6,21, the fourth Commandment of the Mosaic Table: «Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because that is just». In the Lucas Gospel, 15,11, is also reported the parable of the “prodigal Son”, that exalts the figure of the merciful father, pleased by the finding a son who he though lost and who, for the return, commands festivities for a collective joy of the clan. We can also remember, out the  pre-Christian Hebraic, two particularly touching poetic representations. Hector, the real hero of the Iliad, before the battle in which he will succumb against Achilles, greets the wife Andromache and the son Astyanax , in who he sees the prosecution of his warlike virtue, and addressing prayers to “passionate Jupiter”: «Do… that some says “The father was not as much strong”, that we can consider one of the greater prayers of the humanity, expression of a paternal generosity, that is over every social relation and brings back the supremacy of an instinctive ius sanguinis (blood right), preeminent on the pride of the chief. To the tenderness of Homer compares, in a relation not from father to son, but from son to father, the sublime poetry of Virgil, when he exalts the figure of Aeneas, who burdens on his own shoulders with the father Anchises, to escape from firing Troy;

b) the prayer “Our Father”, as Jesus taught it to us, in the version of Evangelist Luke, has contents going up to pre-Christian age. We ask us: did Mary, mother of Jesus, pray? The answer must be certainly positive. And  whom did she, “the handmaid of the Lord”, address her prayers? Obviously to her Lord and, as all the mothers, certainly taught Jesus her Hebraic prayers. We can suppose, with good reason, that Jesus, teaching his disciples the “Our Father” borrowed  some parts of the prayers of Mary, included also in the Quiddish synanogal  and in the Shemaneh Eshreh. What does not surprise, because Christ himself, how the Evangelist Mark reports, 5,17, has warned: “Do not think that I am here to abolish the Law and the Prophets, I am not here to abolish, but to carry out». The prayer Our Father can be included in this salvific plan;

c) the preceding points stimulate also the question: when Christ taught the prayer of Our Father, to which bread did He refer? Evidently to material bread, to the “pa” of the Semitic-Sanskrit word, that is to food to feed, to what that serves  to everyday sustenance, that has the bread like food basic. But, only this? We Cannot but see an harbinger and a very strict connection with the institution of the Eucharist, in which the Christ of the Last Supper identify and personify. Again Luke, in 22,19, remembers the last gesture: «Then, taken a bread, He gives grace, broke it and gives it to them saying: “This is my body that has been given for you». The “pa” of the ancients has found its exaltation and ending in the Eucharistic miracle.

(Translation by Giulia Bonazza)

([i])  See: “ilDialogo”, 2001, october, 10, article “PA