In This Issue:
From the Director
What is prayer? Is it asking God to give us our daily bread, or is it fellowship with God? Is the aim to get health and happiness from God or to grow into conformance with his will? Is it a public, vocal practice, normally done in a worship service, or a private, internal matter? Or both? Classic writings on prayer can be very illuminating on what people have thought about prayer and how they have practiced it over the centuries, and perhaps it can shed light on limitations of thinking and practice in our era. For the next few months, I hope to highlight certain classic writings on prayer.
The first classic is On Prayer by Tertullian (155-222 A.D.), who has been called the "great founder of Latin Christianity." For Tertullian, prayer replaced temple sacrifice. It was essentially spoken petitions. Individual petitions could be added to the Lord's Prayer; the more diligent also added Psalms. Prayers were apparently normally to be said standing, with hands raised, though for modesty not too loftily elevated, nor the sound of the voice too loud. Those praying should kneel or prostrate themselves, at the least in the first prayer of the day. Women were to dress modestly and have a covered (veiled) head. And no prayer was complete if divorced from the kiss of peace, "which is the seal of prayer." No particular daily hours for prayer have been prescribed, according to Tertullian, though he says that the third, sixth, and ninth seem in scripture to be more solemn than the rest.
For Tertullian, prayer is essentially a worship service or liturgy. There is no mention of prayer as private, continuous, a means of fellowship with God or sanctification, or the like. (Future classic writings will vary greatly on this view.) I wonder if there was a notion of a "private devotional life" in the early church?
For those who are interested in reading and discussing the classics on prayer that I highlight, we have set up a discussion thread.
"O God, Our Help in Ages Past" by Isaac Watts
Featured Book Group
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
"On the Incarnation" by St. Athanasius has been called the "Mere Christianity" (in reference to C.S. Lewis) of the ancient world. C.S. Lewis wrote an introduction for one edition of the book (1944) and praised it over all contemporary books and stated that he was "reading a masterpiece." It's straightforward and easy to read. St. Athanasius presents the whole of Christian theology, from the creation to the cross. The book answers a lot of questions I think Christians struggle with, such as: why did Christ have to die on the cross—if Christ was God, couldn't He have chosen another way? In many ways it is also the foundation for theology in the ancient Church, and it is still a staple in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Featured ClassicAgainst Heresies by Irenaeus (c. 120–202)
Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. One far superior to me has well said, in reference to this point, "A clever imitation in glass casts contempt, as it were, on that precious jewel the emerald (which is most highly esteemed by some), unless it come under the eye of one able to test and expose the counterfeit. Or, again, what inexperienced person can with ease detect the presence of brass when it has been mixed up with silver?"
Read this classic at the CCEL
Classic Reflections On the Lord's Prayer
In summary, how many utterances of the prophets, the Gospels, the apostles—how many discourses, examples, parables of the Lord, are touched on! How many duties are simultaneously discharged! The honour of God in the "Father;" the testimony of faith in the "Name;" the offering of obedience in the "Will;" the commemoration of hope in the "Kingdom;" the petition for life in the "Bread;" the full acknowledgment of debts in the prayer for their "Forgiveness;" the anxious dread of temptation in the request for "Protection." What wonder? God alone could teach how he wished Himself prayed to. The religious rite of prayer therefore, ordained by Himself, and animated, even at the moment when it was issuing out of the Divine mouth, by His own Spirit, ascends, by its own prerogative, into heaven, commending to the Father what the Son has taught.
Read this classic at the CCEL
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