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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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6 Conclusion


Christian instructions on prayer and theology of prayer had an influence on Christian identity in the early church. This conclusion seems highly probable based on the application of modern identity theories in the preceding analysis of early Christian sources. In the analysis, we have seen how treatises on prayer presented normative views, and from these we can to some extent infer the prominence ascribed to prayer, and how prayer was potentially forming Christian identity both on a collective and on a personal level. Instructions about prayer in many ways reflected ideal Christian identity.

When regarding the early Christian texts through the lens of modern identity theories, we encounter several ways in which prayer worked to delimitate, define and empower Christian communities and hence influence Christian collective identity. Firstly, the language used in and about prayer tended to be slightly different among Christians, Jews and pagans. Early on Christian authors favoured προσευχή (instead of εὐχή) about prayer and εὐχαριστῶ (instead of εὐλογῶ) in prayer. Therefore already on the level of semantics, prayer was a defining issue that created different religious identities in late antiquity, although the Christian prayer par excellence, the Lord’s Prayer, was not particularly Christian in its vocabulary. The investigated treatises testify to an idealization of the Lord’s Prayer among Christians – if not as prayer-formula as such, then at least as a core teaching of Christianity and as a main catechetical text. The address “Our Father” and its familial implications functioned in itself as a confession and became a...

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