The Seven Last Words of Christ: Meditating on the First Word

And Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” —Luke 23:34

There are “Seven Words” (or pronouncements) which Christ uttered while elevated upon the cross, which may be likened to seven rich and verdant leaves springing forth upon a mystical vine [the cross itself being this spiritual vine]. Again, the wood of the cross may be likened to the frame of a lyre, and these Seven Words imagined to be the seven strings extended upon it.

The first words of the crucified Jesus were when He said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” O leaf, wonderfully green and vibrant! How marvelously these words of mercy befit the incarnate Word of the eternal Father! For the good Master here does exactly what He taught. He prays not only for His friends and supporters, but for His enemies and for those who persecute and torment Him. O reader, treasure this precious leaf zealously within the depths of your heart! Then, whenever you are afflicted by any enemy, you will be able to summon to your mind the memory of the abundant sweetness of the supremely merciful Jesus. You will be able to use this saying as a powerful shield against any insults which may be directed against you, and any aspersions cast upon you. The divine Spouse prayed for those who killed Him: will you not pray for those who insult and criticize you?

Let us examine this prayer of Christ more diligently. “Father,” He says. Why does He place the name “Father” here? Children typically use the word “Father” when asking for some affectionate favor, because by doing so they bring to mind the natural bond of paternal love which unites them with their parent. Thus Jesus, the compassionate and merciful Lord, although He knew that His voice was always heard by the Father, chooses to use this intimate form of address here, in order to make manifest to us how much sincerity and love we should feel in praying for our enemies. It is as if He says, “Father, through the paternal and filial love by which we are eternally one, I pray for these, my killers. Remember Your love for Me, and forget the sins of my foes!”


Jesus, saving victim; Jesus, atoning sacrifice; Jesus, safe refuge for the anguished and afflicted! For the sake of the human race, You have redeemed the captive; You have led us forth from the sorrows of our earthly exile; You have taken our guilt upon Your own sacred shoulders! And not only this, but You have united us to God Himself In an eternal and indissoluble union. The chains You did not refuse, nor the scourges, nor the blows. You did not flee from the gallows of the malefactor, Nor did You seek to escape receiving the holy wounds By which our wounds are healed. When You were held to the cross, And the enemy snarled savagely against You, When the hammer struck, and the nail pierced Your holy flesh, When pain and anguish overwhelmed You, Then You implored the Father with suppliant prayer, That He should forgive even those who crucified You, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This article is taken from a chapter in The Seven Last Words of Christ by St. Bonaventure and Arnold of Bonneval, which is available from TAN Books.



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