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9. Of the Lord's Prayer

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

9. Of the Lord's Prayer. 

The opinions of the learned even to the present day are greatly divided respecting the design of our Lord in giving this prayer. Three several theories have been advanced on this subject.

  1. That the Lord Jesus did not give this as a prescribed form. But only to illustrate that spirit of filial love and reverence in which all prayer should be offered to God. It was given to teach the nature and appropriate subjects of prayer.
  2. That it was a prescribed form, to be used, not only by his disciples, but by believers in every age and country, like the prescribed form in which baptism is to be administered.
  3. That it is an epitome of the Jewish liturgy which was at that time extant. The several parts of this prayer are supposed to be the very words in which the several prayers of the Jewish service began; and that the whole was embodied by our Lord as a substitute for so many long and unmeaning prayers.

The historical facts connected with the use of the Lord's prayer, may be stated as follows.

  1. It was not in use in the church in the age of the apostles. Not the remotest hint is given in the history of the apostles that this prayer constituted any part of their religious worship. The apostle is silent on this point even in 1 Cor. 14, where he is treating of their devotions. In the absence of written testimony, we are, indeed, directed to uncertain tradition to supply its place. But in every view of the subject the assertion that this prayer was used, either by the apostles, or their immediate successors, must be regarded as arbitrary and groundless.

    Justin Martyr, the earliest of the fathers, says that the presiding officer offered prayers and thanksgivings, *, and that the people responded, Amen. By the * it may be understood that he spoke in as clear and audible a voice as he could, "totis viribus,' or, more properly, as Tertullian expresses it, ex proprio ingejiie, according to the best of his ability. At the same time Justin, in several places, seems distinctly to allude to the Lord's prayer. He speaks of God as the Father*. which is of similar import with the expression: "Our Father in heaven."

    Irenaeus distinctly quotes from our Lord's prayer, but gives no intimation , of its being used in public worship; and Clemens Alexandrinus many times alludes to it in like manner. The authority of the Apostolical Constitutions is irrelevant, as belonging to a later period.

  2. Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, fully concur in testifying to the use of the Lord's prayer in the second and third centuries.

    Tertullian declares it to be not only a form prescribed by Christ for all ages, but asserts that it contains the substance of all prayer, and is an epitome of the whole gospel. Cyprian repeats much the same sentiments, acknowledging Tertullian as his guide and instructor, and often explaining more fully the sentiments of that author. He calls the Lord's prayer, 'Our public and common prayer.' Origen also has a long treatise on the same subject, in which he says that this was a prescribed form containing all that the true Christian ever has occasion to pray for. Authorities, without number, to the same effect may be accumulated from writers of the fourth and fifth centuries. 

  3. The use of the Lord's prayer in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries was restricted to the faithful only, and was denied to catechumens. By Chrysostom it was styled * the prayer of the faithful.

The reason of this exclusion was, in general, that none but christian believers had the true spirit of adoption, so that they could sincerely say, 'Our Father which art in Heaven.' Another reason was that the petition, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' was understood in a mystical sense, as relating to spiritual gifts, and appropriate especially to be used in the communion service, at which no catechumen, or profane person, was permitted, under any pretext whatever, to be present. 

The ancient liturgies of the Greek church connect with the Lord's prayer a doxology, which has been ascribed to Basil and to Chrysostom, recognizing the doctrine of the Trinity as implied in the prayer, "Thine is the kingdom, power, and glory. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both now and forever, world without end." The doctrine revealed in this doxology, none but the faithful were permitted to know. The doxology which is given in Matthew, at the close of the Lord's prayer, was unknown to Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, and Cyril of Jerusalem. But it was extant as early as the middle of the fourth century. Neither this doxology, nor that above mentioned is supposed by writers to have belonged to the original text.

Believers were expected to repeat this prayer three times daily. They who were baptized were also required to repeal it, together with the creed, immediately upon coming out of the water. It was also repeated in the celebration of the Lord's supper, and of marriages, funerals, ordinations, etc.

The modern custom of some Protestants, of repeating the Lord's prayer twice in the course of a sermon, has no precedent in the primitive church.

The most ancient prayers of the church which have come down to us are contained in the Apostolical Constitutions. These forms may have been in use as early as the end of the fourth century. Among these are prayers for the catechumens, for candidates for baptism, for penitents, for demoniacs, prayers for them that sleep [in death], morning and evening prayers, and prayers to be used on the sabbath. 

As a single example of these forms of prayer, one is inserted below, which was offered at the conclusion of the Lord's supper:* – Const VIII. 14. 15.

J. A. Schmid, Oratio Dominica historice et dogmatice proposita. Heimstad. 1723. 4: J. Ge. Walch, De usu orationis Dominicae apud veteres Christianos. Jenae, 1729. 4: S. Walch, Miscellanea sacra. Amstelod. 1744. 4. p. 58–80: Jo. Ern. Ostermann, Commentatio de communi Chiistianorum precatione. Viteb. 1710. 4: Jo. Ge. Steinert, De peculiari indole precum Domini nostri, quarum in N. T. fit raentio. Ossit. 1817. 4.

Apol. i. p. 222, edit. Oberth.

Apol. i. p. 212–220.

Adv. Haeres. lib. v. c. 17.

Paedag. lib. iii.

De Oratione Dominica, c. 1–9.

De Orato Domin. p. 139: Bingham, 13. c. 7. § 1: Compare Opp. edit. Oberth. torn. i. p. 366–388.

Opp. edit. Oberth. torn. iii. p. 408–593.

Augustin. Epist. 89. ad Hilar, p. 407: Chrysostom. Horn. 42, 276. 44. p. 288: Cyril, Hieros. Catech. mystag. v. p. 298.

Chrysost. Hom. 2. in 2 Cor. p. 740: Hom. 62. p. 934: Augustin. Serm. 42: Walch. Miscellan. sacr. p. 69: Bingham, bk. 13. c. 7. § 9.

Tertullian, De Orat. Dom. 371: Gregor. Nyss. Hom. 10 in ep. ad Coloss. p. 1385.

Adv. Haer. iv. c. 18: Tertull. De Orat. c. 6: Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. p. 376: Origen, De Orat. p. 523–36: Cyrill. Hierosol. Catech. mystag. v. c. 15.

Tertullian. De Orat. c. 8: Griesbach. Comment, crit. in Gr. Mjitthaie textum, p. 71: Paulus. Comment, i. p. 576: Kuinoel, in libros N. T. histor. vol. i. p. 181,2: M. Roediger, Synopsis. Evang. 1829. 8. p. 231: Alexander Halisius. Summa. theol. P. 2. § 4: Torbesii. a Corse. Instruct, histor. Theol. lib. i. c. 18: Opp. P. 2. Fol. p. 32, 33.

Constitut. Apostol. lib. vii. c. 24. p. 372: Tertullian. De Orat. c. 19: Concil. Gerund. A. D. 517. c. 10: Concil. Tolet. iv. A. D. 633. c. 9.

Constitui. Apostol. lib. vii. c. 44. p. 385: Chrysostom. Uomil. 6. in ep. ad Coloss.

Gregor. the Great, Epist. lib. ix. ep. 12: Jerome, Dial, contra Pelag. lib. iii. c. 3: Justin. Apostol. i. p. 125: Cyril of Jerusalem, Cateches. inystag. v. c. 5: Augustin. Epist. ad Paulin. 59. p. 308,

Aposi.Constitut. lib.viii. c.6. p. 397, 98: Chrysostom. torn. x. p. 435, ed. Bened.: p. 516, ed. Francofurt.

Apost. Consiit. viii. c. 8: Goari Eurholog. Gr. p. 397.

Apost. Constit. lib. viii. c.9–11: Chrysost. Hom.8. in E p. ad Cor.

j\post. Constit. c. 8. 9: Chrysostom. Horn, in 2 Cor. p. 673.

Apost. Constit. c. 41. p. 423, 24.

Constit. lib. vii. c. 47, 48. p. 388, 9.

Constit. lib, vii. c. 36. p. 379, 80.

The following are the remarks of Lord Chancellor King on this subject: "As to these prescribed forms, there is not the least mention of them in any of the primitive writings, nor the least word or syllable tending thereunto that I can find, which is a most unaccountable silence, if ever such there were, but rather some expressions intimating the contrary: as that famous controverted place of Justin Martyr, who, describing the manner of the prayer before the celebration of the Lord's supper, says, 'that the bishop sent up prayers and praises to God with his utmost ability,* (Apolog. ii. p. 92), that is, that he prayed with the best of his abilities, invention, expression, judgment, and the like. 1 am not ignorant that there is another sense given 'according to his ability.'* But I must needs say, that I generally, if not always, found this phrase to include personal abilities. Thus, as to the explanation of Scripture, Origen writes that he would expound it, 'according to his ability,'* (Com. in Matth. torn. xvii. p. 487, vol. i.), and that he would comment on that Parable of the blind man that was healed near Jericho, mentioned in Luke 15:35 (Com. in Matth. torn. xvi. p. 429, vol i.) *. And soon the Parable concerning the husbandmen (Ibid. torn. xvii. p. 463), *; and on the marriage of the king's son (Ibid. torn. xvii. p. 474), *; and that he would search out the sense of the Gospel of St. John (Com. in Johan. torn. i. p. 5, vol. ii.), *. Now what doth Origen intend by his searching out the sense and expounding the meaning of the Scriptures to the utmost of his power and ability? Is it a bare reading and transcribing of other men's works, or an employment of his own abilities and studies, to find out the sense and meaning of them? Certainly every one will think the latter to be most probable."

"So as to the argumentative defence of the truth, Origen promises he would answer the calumnies of Celsus, according to his power, * (Contra Celsmn, lib. i, p. 2); and that he would defend and confirm his arguments against Celsus, according to his power, * (Ibid. lib. i. p. 36), and demonstrate the reasonableness of the christian religion, according to his power, * (Ibid. lib. vi. p. 2(i5), and dispute against Celsus, according to his power, * (Ibid lib. vii. p. 332). Now, whether Origen's defending the power, consisted in a reading, or in a bare transcribing out of a book, the written arguments of other men, or in an employment of his own abilities, inventions, and expressions, is no difficult matter to determine."

"1 have not found one place, wherein this phrase of * doth not comprehend personal abilities; and several scores more might I cite, where it is so to be understood, which I shall omit, and mention only one more, spoken by Origen with respect to this duty of prayer, where it must of necessity imply personal abilities, and that is in his book De Oratione (§ 2. p. 134), where he prescribes the method and parts of prayer, the first whereof was doxology; wherein, says he, he that prays must bless God according to his power, *; where * must signify the performer's abilities of judgment and expression, because it is not spoken of prescribed words, but of a prescribed method of prayer; as if any one should desire me to inform him how, or in what method, he must pray; I tell him, as Origen doth in this place, that first he must begin with an invocation of God by his titles and attributes; then he must proceed to praise God for his mercies and benefits, confessing withal his ingratitude and unfruitfulness; then beg pardon for past sins, strength against future, and conclude all, with praising God through Christ, and that he must do all this according to the utmost of his ability. What could any one imagine that I should intend by this advice of following this method to the utmost of his power, but the exerting of his own abilities, understanding, memory, invention, expression, and the like, since I direct him not to any prescribed words, but only to the observation of those general heads and parts of prayer?"

"So that the minister's praying *, or according to the utmost of his ability, imports the exerting his gifts and parts in suitable matter and apt expressions; and that the primitive prayers were so, appears yet further from a passage in Origen, who thus explains that verse in Matt. 6: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathens do:– 'But when we pray, let us not battologise, that is, use not vain repetitions, but theologise: but we battologise, when we do not strictly observe ourselves, or the words of prayer, which we express, when we utter those things which are filthy, either to do, speak, or think, which are vile, worthily reproveable, and alienated from the purity of the Lord.' (* De Oratione, § 10.) Surely this caution had been needless, of strictly observing the words that they uttered; and this fear had been groundless, of expressing themselves undecently, or sinfully, if they had a prayer-book to recur to; but that they had no such prayer-bock appears yet more evidently from Tertullian, who, describing their public prayers, says that, looking up to heaven, they spread abroad their hands because innocent; uncovered their heads because not ashamed; and without a monitor, because they prayed from the heart. (Illuc suspicientes Christian! manibus cxpansis, quia innocuis, capite nudo, quia non erubescimus, denique sine monitore, quia de pectore oramus. Apolog. c. 30, p. 703). Now, what is yo be understood by praying from the heart will best appear from inquiring into what is opposed to it, viz., the praying by a monitor. Now, the praying by a monitor, as is acknowledged by all, was praying by a book; but thus Tertullian affirms the primitive Christians prayed not: We do not pray, saith he, with a monitor, reading our prayers out of a book. No, but on the contrary, we pray de pectore, from the heart, our own heart and soul dictating to us what is most proper and suitable to be asked, having no need of any other monitor besides."

"Hence their prayers were suited to their emergencies, and present circumstances, as Tertullian writes, that having premised the Lord's Prayer, we may offer up accidental requests and petitions' (praemissa legitima et ordinaria oratione, accidentium jus est desideriorum. De Orat. p. 659), of which occasional requests we find some instances, as in the 16th epistle of Cyprian, where that father assures IMoses and Maximus, two Roman confessors, that he remembered them in his public prayers with his congregation (Et quando in sacrificiis precem cum plurimis facimus. Epist.ld, § 1, p. 44). And in another epistle, when he congratulates Pope Lucius upon bis return from banishment, he assures him < That he did not cease in his public prayers tobless God for so great a mercy, and to pray Him that was perfect to keep and perfect in him the glorious crown of his confession.' (Hie quoquein sacrificiis atque in orationibus nostris non cessantes Deo– gratias agere, et orare pariter, ac petere. utqui perfectus estatque perficiens, custodiat et perficiat in vobis confessionis vestrae gloriosam coronam. Epist. Iviii. § 2, p. 163 ) And so, when the church of Carthage sent a sum of money to the bishops of Numidia for the redemption of some christian captives, they desired those bishops to 'remember them in their public prayers.' (In mentem habeatis in orationibus vestris et eis vicem boni operis in sacrificiis et precibus repraesentetis. Epist. Ix. § 4, p. 167.) So that their prayers could not be stinted, invariable forms, because they could add new petitions, as their occasions and circumstances did require." – King, Second Part of the Enquiry into the Constitution Discipline, Unity, and Worship of the Primitive churchy chap. 2, § 7.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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