O GOD, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The address of this famous fixed collect from Morning Prayer is complex. God is addressed as the author of peace and the lover of concord; the one in knowledge of whom ‘standeth’ our eternal life; and the one whose service is perfect freedom. Since the first two of these attributes are coordinated synonyms, the address really is one of many examples of the Prayer Book’s fondness for groups of three.
Since ‘peace’ and ‘concord’ are close synonyms, the distinction they suggest lies not in themselves but rather in the two aspects of God named in relation to them. That is, God is both the ‘author’ and also is the ‘lover’ of peace. God loves all that he has made, as distinguished from that which he has not made, namely the defect of being that detracts from creation. God loves all that he has made but not all that man mars. Since the Author and Lover of concord is one, perfect, simple, infinite being, the distinction between God as author of peace and as lover of concord is, admittedly, only in our perspective. We are not able to keep wholly in our minds the unity, perfection, and absolute and infinite simplicity of God, so we speak as if he had parts or aspects in himself when in fact all in God is simply God.
God is also the one whom to know is life: ‘in knowledge of [him] standeth’ or consists ‘our eternal life’. If we have knowledge of God, then no doubt peace and concord are already growing in us. If we have not such knowledge, then peace and concord have departed. This presumes that the ‘knowledge’ in question is not merely intellectual or theological: after all, the devils also know and believe in God on that level, but without benefiting eternally. ‘Knowledge’ here must include the following element, namely ‘service’.
This final element in the address contains one of the Prayer Book’s most striking, lapidary phrases: ‘whose service is perfect freedom’. No phrase more succinctly and comprehensively distinguishes classical Christianity from man’s – and particularly modern man’s – rebellion. ‘Service’ is equated directly with ‘freedom’, against all the assumptions and sentiments and assertions of our contemporaries. On the one side are ranged peace, concord, knowledge, eternal life, and freedom, all flowing from service to God. On the other side stand the satanic will, self-assertion, and the defective liberty that in fact chain us to all that opposes our peace, life, and true liberty. This phrase summarizes the central paradox of the Christian life: we gain by giving, we live by dying, we free ourselves by serving, we love by detaching. Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it abides alone. But perfect freedom and the richest harvest come from self-abandonment to divine Providence.
This same phrase, ‘whose service is perfect freedom’, lies at the center of the collect and is the hinge that joins the address to the petition. The petition, as befits a collect for peace, speaks almost entirely in negative terms: we ask for protection ‘through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord’. Consider the terms in the petition: ‘assaults of our enemies’, ‘defence’, and ‘power of…adversaries’, ‘might’. This is the language of worldly conflict. This is the language of God’s servants besieged in this world and calling upon God for the aid of his might against the assaults of enemies and the power of adversaries.
The pray-ers of this collect presume to petition God as ‘thy humble servants’. The presumption is vindicated, not by our intrinsic merits or humility, but by the qualities assumed by the address and aspired to in its elements. We are God’s ‘humble servants’ because of his peace and concord, because we have attained some degree of knowledge of him, and, above all, because we have implicitly enlisted in his liberating service.