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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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4 Prayer and the multiaxial relationships of Christians


“What we can say is that [prayers] are all multifaceted dialogues - between the speaker and God; the speaker and him or herself; the speaker and any intended or imagined (over)hearer (human beings, angels, and demons) - which are intended to be heard, or overheard, by others.”826

4.1 Introduction – the agents of prayer

The following chapter investigates the many relations – besides the relationship with God – that are either encouraged or discouraged in the treatises on prayer. Many of these relations are seen as having an effect on the outcome of prayer. These important relations are with both human and supernatural beings such as angels and the deceased, even the heavenly bodies are mentioned in one instance as agents in relation to prayer. It is for this reason that the title of the chapter mentions “multiaxial relationships.” Multiaxial expresses the fact that the person praying is stepping into a relationship not only with God, but with more agents found on both a horizontal and a vertical axis. The praying Christian thus finds himself/herself as centre in a biaxial or even multiaxial “system.” Most predominant is the relationship with other Christians. A correct relationship between the individual Christian and his/her fellow-Christians is presented as extremely important for the endeavour of praying and is of positive significance for the effect of prayer. Contrary, pagans, Jews and heretics are agents from whom the “true Christians” to some degree must dissociate themselves, and whose practices represent a...

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