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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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2 Contexts and authors


The purpose of this chapter is to draw a historical frame around the present study and introduce the Christian euchological treatises from the third century. The context is important because identity has to do with the social world in which the individual is embedded: “Compared to self and self-concept, identity is an even more social conception as it indicates a specific location within some form of social structure.”152 Identity studies force us to recognize that self-categorizations and social identities are “relative, varying, context-dependent properties.”153 In other words, contexts are important for identity.

The task of analysing the context and presenting the sources will be carried out in the following manner: Firstly, the contexts of the four authors will be depicted. Secondly, the philosophical ideas of prayer from the period will be outlined. Thirdly, a summary of Christian prayer in the first three centuries will be presented, together with a treatment of its relation to Jewish prayer. Fourthly, the Christian authors, as well as their way of constructing prayer and the structure of their euchological treatises will be dealt with. Finally, the concrete use and audience of the four treatises will be investigated.

2.1 A tale of three cities: Alexandria, Carthage and Caesarea Maritima

2.1.1 General considerations

E.R. Dodds dubbed late antiquity “an age of anxiety,” but even more than this it was an age of spirituality, piety and prayer.154 Just by taking into ←55 | 56→consideration all the...

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