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Relating through Prayer

Identity Formation in Early Christianity


Maria Louise Munkholt Christensen

This book analyses early Christian texts on prayer. These texts provide a rich perspective on the formation of Christian identity in the early church. The primary sources investigated are the four earliest known treatises on prayer in Christian history, written by Clement, Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian in the beginning of the third century. Prayer and identity have both individual and collective expressions, and theological treatises reveal an interplay between these phenomena. The book examines the relational character of Christian prayer: how prayer establishes a relationship between the individual and God; how other social relations are reinforced by prayer in direct and indirect ways; and how individual Christians are connected to their own self in prayer.

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Prayer was ubiquitous in antiquity, and it is hard to find an early Christian text with no reference to prayer at all. Christian ideas of prayer developed under heavy influence from Judaism and Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. This study examines how prayer was understood in early Christian theology, and what function prayer had in the life of the early Christian congregations. The aim is to shed light on the effect of prayer on Christian identity formation in ante-Nicene Christianity and point to prayer as a multifaceted phenomenon that aligned and linked individual and collective Christian identity. Concrete prayer practice is allusive, but the link made between prayer and Christian life is available to us in early Christian texts.

In some studies on early Christianity, prayer is mentioned as a feature that had an important and formative effect on Christians and their communities. This is often taken as something more or less self-evident, for instance when Karen King, in a discussion of Gnostic ethics, notes en passant that prayer was one of the means by which people of antiquity tried to reach freedom from passions and demonic influences, as well as to achieve spiritual development.2 The present study sets out to investigate this link between prayer and being Christian. It investigates the historical effects of the Christian theology and instructions of prayer. The primary sources from which conclusions will be deferred are instructive, normative and theological in character. It is the four earliest treatises on prayer in...

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