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Relating through Prayer

Identity Formation in Early Christianity

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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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3 The relationship established with God in prayer

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We shall now focus on the four euchological treatises by Clement, Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian. The following paragraphs focus on the image and idea of God that arises from the reflections on prayer in the four treatises and on the human possibility to approach God in prayer. It was a widespread belief among Christians in late antiquity that it was possible to communicate with God. Christians did not disregard the human-divine relationship; on the contrary, they embraced it and allowed themselves to be defined by it. This chapter investigates how the early Christian authors handled the ambiguity of the Christian God who was believed to be both personal and beyond-personal; furthermore, the human-divine relationship offered in the treatises will be investigated. Such issues are theological in nature. Nevertheless, they are likely to have influenced the historical development of Christian identity, because of the above-mentioned correlation between identity and the symbols with which one associates oneself. For a believer, it is natural to expect that the way one understands God and one’s relationship with God has an effect on the way one understands and presents oneself.

The chapter is divided into two main parts: The first main part is an analysis of the Christian understanding of God in the four treatises on prayer by Clement, Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian. The following themes are dealt with in relation to prayer: God’s name, the role ascribed to Jesus Christ and the Spirit, Trinitarian ideas, and finally God’s will and...

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