Tertullian On Prayer

Prayer is a hard thing for me get my head around. And so while I have a hard time getting my head around everything Tertullian says below, I find much of it eloquent, powerful and true:
Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God...

Its only skill is to call people back from the gates of death, give strength to the weak, heal the sick, exorcise the possessed, open prison doors, free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, bemuses robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports the faltering, sustains those who stand firm.

All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

8 thoughts on “Tertullian On Prayer”

  1. I hate Tertullian's misogyny, but I love the part about how "every creature prays." It reminds me of a portion of Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno:
    "For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
    For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
    For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
    For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
    For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer."

  2. And I don't mean that Tertullian's misogynistic here, but he's infamous for saying some truly awful things about women in his "De Cultu Feminarium." You'd think as a Lutheran I'd be more prone to remembering that people can say both awful and beautiful things...

  3. I applaud you for finding comfort and truth in Tertullian's words. It's been my experience that most people in the Church of Christ have trouble acknowledging anything Catholics say/do as true or praiseworthy. (Or he may have been Orthodox, I'm not sure.)

    I, myself, have had trouble understanding prayer. It's something I struggle with every single time I pray.

    On a side note, Tertullian's words remind me of the song that was formulated after St. Francis of Assisi's words: "All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices, let us sing: Alleluia! Alleluia!"


  4. You do know that the icon is of St Basil? Inscription at the top will always say who is portrayed.

    Tertullian is not a saint, in the west or the east, so you won't find an icon of him, to my knowledge. Good quote, though.

    BTW, you might enjoy the series on universal salvation here: http://afkimel.wordpress.com/

    You'll have to scroll down a lot to pick up the beginning of the series, which really goes back to a discussion on St Isaac of Syria. He doesn't have it organized on the sidebar other than in categories; you could try "Hell & Universalism." Fr Aidan is not as prolific a blogger as he used to be, but he's always thoughtful. He journeyed from the Episcopal Church through RC and is now Orthodox. He also lost his oldest son to suicide almost a year ago; the sermon he preached at his son's funeral is quite something, reposted recently for Pascha.


  5. Tertullian was pre-Catholic, pre-Orthodox. He liked the Montanist movement, which was eventually rejected as a heresy, which is why he's never been made a saint.

    (Wikipedia's article on Montanism is surprisingly not awful. Read it if you want more information, and it has some further reading material.)

  6. Hi Richard. I think I'm getting old. By the time I've had a chance to reflect on your posts these days, the conversation's moved on!

    You've got me thinking about prayer as an attachment behaviour. One of our most basic psychological and emotional needs is to be held in mind by a significant other. So many of us don't get to experience this fully and reliably in our infancy. Dealing with the fallout can be the work of a lifetime and cause untold damage to others - an inability to trust, to empathise, to wait patiently... So many community-enhancing skills can be compromised - all because we didn't experience ourselves through the loving lens of another.

    So could this be part of what prayer's all about? To hold one another in mind. To be held in the minds of others. To allow that exercise to seep into our conversation and actions. To echo the divine attachment that holds us all in everlasting arms. To become nurturing communities.

Leave a Reply