Tertullian On Prayer:


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(Written: Ca. 200 A.D.)


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Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicized as Tertullian, (Ca. 155-230 A.D.)

Tertullian was an early Church Leader, the first to write in Latin.  In his writing he often took stands against different heresies.  

Later in life he converted to a sect known as the "Montanists" which had three new "prophets" (one man and two women) who some contend were considered to be equal to Scripture, and who also rejected the Trinity (if this is in fact the case, it would have made them not a "sect" - "schismatics", but a non-Christian "cult" - "heretics").   Others insist that they were in fact orthodox, the prophecies being Biblical-type exhortations only.  Either way, the group was a reaction against the growing worldliness and laxity in the established church.

Apparently the Montanists were not rigorous enough for Tertullian, who broke with them to found his own sect.  He was considered at the time to be a "schismatic" (member of a separate sect), not a "heretic" (cult member).

We post here some the writings of Tertullian as a leading apologist of his time.  They are useful historical sources on Christian practice in his era (155-230 A.D.). 

 Despite his schism, Tertullian continued to fight heresies, especially Gnosticism; and by the doctrinal works thus produced he became the teacher of Cyprian, the predecessor of  Augustine of Hippo, who is considered to be the chief founder of Western Christian theology.

Excerpts from "On Prayer" by Tertullian

Chapter 23. Of Kneeling

...Similarly, too, in the period of Pentecost; which period we distinguish by the same solemnity of exultation. But who would hesitate every day to prostrate himself before God, at least in the first prayer with which we enter on the daylight?

At fasts, moreover, and Stations, no prayer should be made without kneeling, and the remaining customary marks of humility; for (then) we are not only praying, but deprecating, and making satisfaction to God our Lord.  

Touching times of prayer nothing at all has been prescribed, except clearly "to pray at every time and every place."

Chapter 24. Of Place for Prayer

But how "in every place," since we are prohibited (from praying) in public?

In every place, he means, which opportunity or even necessity, may have rendered suitable: for that which was done by the apostles (who, in jail, in the audience of the prisoners, "began praying and singing to God") is not considered to have been done contrary to the precept; nor yet that which was done by Paul, who in the ship, in presence of all, "made thanksgiving to God."

Chapter 25. Of Time for Prayer

Touching the time, however, the extrinsic observance of certain hours will not be unprofitable—those common hours, I mean, which mark the intervals of the day—the third, the sixth, the ninth—which we may find in the Scriptures to have been more solemn than the rest.

The first infusion of the Holy Spirit into the congregated disciples took place at "the third hour." Peter, on the day on which he experienced the vision of Universal Community, (exhibited) in that small vessel, had ascended into the more lofty parts of the house, for prayer's sake "at the sixth hour." -Acts 10:9

The same (apostle) was going into the temple, with John, "at the ninth hour," when he restored the paralytic to his health.  

Albeit these practices stand simply without any precept for their observance, still it may be granted a good thing to establish some definite presumption, which may both add stringency to the admonition to pray, and may, as it were by a law, tear us out from our businesses unto such a duty; so that—what we read to have been observed by Daniel also, in accordance (of course) with Israel's discipline—we pray at least not less than thrice in the day, debtors as we are to Three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: of course, in addition to our regular prayers which are due, without any admonition, on the entrance of light and of night.

But, withal, it becomes believers not to take food, and not to go to the bath, before interposing a prayer; for the refreshments and nourishments of the spirit are to be held prior to those of the flesh, and things heavenly prior to things earthly.

Chapter 26. Of the Parting of Brethren

You will not dismiss a brother who has entered your house without prayer.  —"Have you seen," says Scripture, "a brother? you have seen your Lord;" —especially "a stranger," lest perhaps he be "an angel."

But again, when received yourself by brethren, you will not make earthly refreshments prior to heavenly, for your faith will forthwith be judged. Or else how will you—according to the precept Luke 10:5—say, "Peace to this house," unless you exchange mutual peace with them who are in the house?

Chapter 27. Of Subjoining a Psalm

The more diligent in prayer are wont to subjoin in their prayers the "Hallelujah," and such kind of psalms, in the closes of which the company respond... __________________________________________________________

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(Text of Tertullian's "On Prayer" is in the Public Domain.)  Commentary and Layout: Copyright © 2007 S.G.P. All Rights Reserved.  __________________________________________________________

Related Pages:


Image: Drawing of Tertullian. Tertullian of Carthage

Ca. 155-230 A.D.  

Augustine of Hippo wrote that before Tertullian's death, he returned to the bosom of the established Church (De Haeresibus, lxxxvi).  Some historians consider this to be unlikely.

His sect, the Tertullianists, still had in the time of Augustine a basilica in Carthage, but in that same period also returned back to the established Church.  ______________

Prayer: 200 A.D.

Kneeling, prostration, for daily prayer; fasting.

"On the Lord's Day (i.e. Sunday) we consider it improper to fast or to kneel; and we also enjoy this freedom from Pascha until Pentecost" (Tertullian, "On the Crown", ch. 3).  

St. Peter of Alexandria (3rd cent—cf. his Canon XV in the Rudder), and the Apostolic Constitutions (Book II, Ch. 59) also say the same thing.

Subsequently, the First Ecumenical Council made this legally binding by a special canon obligatory for the entire Church: "Since there are some persons who kneel in church on Sundays and on the days of Pentecost, with a view to preserving uniformity in all parishes, it has seemed best to the holy council for prayers to be offered to God while standing" (Canon XX).

Christian prayer at sunrise and sunset.

In Orthodox Churches one kneels (or prostrates) during the week (to show repentance for sins) but not in Church on Sunday, the celebration of the Resurrection (to show thankfulness for forgiveness of sin through Christ's triumph over death).

Here Tertullian is saying there are no scripturally required "times of prayer" but that we are to pray always and everywhere.

He recommends following (as "not...unprofitable") the Jewish traditional (and the Apostle's New Testament) practice of observance of prayer at the Third, Sixth, and Ninth hours of the day (our 9:00 A.M., Noon, and 3:00 P.M.).  These (with others) are observed by the Orthodox Churches.

These times are the ones used in The Prayer Foundation Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours.

The Christian practice of prayer before meals.

A Christian practice of prayer before going to the (public) bath.

A Christian practice of prayer for/with visiting Christians at their departure from a Christian home.

A Christian practice of making a blessing of "Peace to this house" when visiting a home, based on Luke 10:5.

Use of Psalms in prayer (see also: Athanasius: Praying the Psalms; Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours). ______________