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7. Of the Catholic Spirit of their devotions

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER X. Of the Prayers and Psalmody of the Church

7. Of the Catholic Spirit of their devotions

The church, receiving the acknowledged truth that in every place he that feareth God and doeth righteousness is accepted of Him, restricted her devotions to no particular tongue. It was indeed a disputed question, at a very early period, in what language Christ and his apostles performed their devotions? Whether in the Greek, or Hebrew, or Syro-Chaldaic. But it was not accounted essential that the devotions of the church should be performed in the same language. Accordingly there are extant examples of prayers and of spiritual songs which were uttered in the vernacular tongue as early as the second and third centuries. Celsus indeed urged it as a grave objection against the Christians, that they introduced into their prayers certain strange and barbarous expressions, having reference probably to such terms as Amen, Hallelujah, Hosanna, etc. To which Origen replied, that both Greeks and Romans, in prayer, spoke in their own native tongue; each, in his own dialect, offering prayer and praise to God as he is best able. And the Lord of all languages listens to each supplicant praying in his own tongue, but hears, as it were, one voice expressed by different signs, and in various sounds. Similar sentiments are expressed by other writers. 

No prescribed time or place for prayer was required by the church. Nor was any rule given respecting the direction of the eye, the bending of the knees, or position of the hands. Neither was there any established form of prayer or praise for general use. With the single exception of the instructions given in the Apostolical Constitutions for the private use of the Lord's prayer, there is no instance of any synodical decree respecting it until the sixth and seventh centuries. Every church, whether national or individual, prescribed its own mode of worship. In many instances, the prayers of the church were merely submitted to the examination and approbation of the bishop. Beyond all question, the use of a liturgy and ritual was at first wholly voluntary. This subject is discussed at length by Bingham, who maintains that a liturgy, and set forms of prayer were used from the beginning, but admits that each church was at liberty to form their own liturgy, and that the prayers were probably uttered memoriter, and continued for one or two centuries by tradition, before they were committed to writing. 

Respecting the number of prayers offered in public, no general rule was given. It was customary, however, to begin and close religious service with prayer. Here, as in other things, the same simplicity was advocated by Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian, Irenaeus, Origen, etc. But the Latin and Greek churches, in time, greatly departed from the spirit and taste of the primitive church.

Contra Celsura, lib. vii. p. 402.

Euseb. Orat. de Laudibus Constant. M. p. 706: Chrysost. Homil. in Joh. p. 13.

Concil. Gerund, c. 10. A. D. 517: Concil. Tolet. iv. c. 9. 3. A. D. 633.

Bk. 13. c. 5.

Spittler's Kirchengesch. S. 246: Huge's Gesch. des deutschen. Kirchen-und Predigtwisens. Th. i. S. 254.
(No tag #5 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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