Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Ethical/On Prayer/Of the Power of Prayer

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Ethical, On Prayer by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Of the Power of Prayer

Chapter XXIX.—Of the Power of Prayer.

For what has God, who exacts it ever denied[1] to prayer coming from “spirit and truth?”  How mighty specimens of its efficacy do we read, and hear, and believe! Old-world prayer, indeed, used to free from fires,[2] and from beasts,[3] and from famine;[4] and yet it had not (then) received its form from Christ. But how far more amply operative is Christian prayer! It does not station the angel of dew in mid-fires,[5] nor muzzle lions, nor transfer to the hungry the rustics’ bread;[6] it has no delegated grace to avert any sense of suffering;[7] but it supplies the suffering, and the feeling, and the grieving, with endurance: it amplifies grace by virtue, that faith may know what she obtains from the Lord, understanding what—for God’s name’s sake—she suffers. But in days gone by, withal prayer used to call down[8] plagues, scatter the armies of foes, withhold the wholesome influences of the showers. Now, however, the prayer of righteousness averts all God’s anger, keeps bivouac on behalf of personal enemies, makes supplication on behalf of persecutors. Is it wonder if it knows how to extort the rains of heaven[9]—(prayer) which was once able to procure its fires?[10] Prayer is alone that which vanquishes[11] God. But Christ has willed that it be operative for no evil: He had conferred on it all its virtue in the cause of good.  And so it knows nothing save how to recall the souls of the departed from the very path of death, to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to purge the possessed, to open prison-bars, to loose the bonds of the innocent. Likewise it washes away faults, repels temptations, extinguishes persecutions, consoles the faint-spirited, cheers the high-spirited, escorts travellers, appeases waves, makes robbers stand aghast, nourishes the poor, governs the rich, upraises the fallen, arrests the falling, confirms the standing. Prayer is the wall of faith: her arms and missiles[12] against the foe who keeps watch over us on all sides. And, so never walk we unarmed. By day, be we mindful of Station; by night, of vigil. Under the arms of prayer guard we the standard of our General; await we in prayer the angel’s trump.[13] The angels, likewise, all pray; every creature prays; cattle and wild beasts pray and bend their knees; and when they issue from their layers and lairs,[14] they look up heavenward with no idle mouth, making their breath vibrate[15] after their own manner. Nay, the birds too, rising out of the nest, upraise themselves heavenward, and, instead of hands, expand the cross of their wings, and say somewhat to seem like prayer.[16] What more then, touching the office of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed; to whom be honour and virtue unto the ages of the ages!


Footnotes[edit]

  1. Routh would read, “What will God deny?”
  2. Dan. iii.
  3. Dan. vi.
  4. 1 Kings xviii.; James v. 17, 18.
  5. i.e. “the angel who preserved in the furnace the three youths besprinkled, as it were, with dewy shower” (Muratori quoted by Oehler).  [Apocrypha, The Song, etc., verses 26, 27.]
  6. 2 Kings iv. 42–44.
  7. i.e. in brief, its miraculous operations, as they are called, are suspended in these ways.
  8. Or, “inflict.”
  9. See Apolog. c. 5 (Oehler).
  10. See 2 Kings i.
  11. [A reference to Jacob’s wrestling. Also, probably, to Matt. xi. 12.]
  12. Or, “her armour defensive and offensive.”
  13. 1 Cor. xv. 52; 1 Thess. iv. 16.
  14. Or, “pens and dens.”
  15. As if in prayer.
  16. This beautiful passage should be supplemented by a similar one from St. Bernard: “Nonne et aviculas levat, non onerat pennarum numerositas ipsa? Tolle eas, et reliquum corpus pondere suo fertur ad ima. Sic disciplinam Christi, sic suave jugum, sic onus leve, quo deponimus, eo deprimimur ipsi:  quia portat potius quam portatur.” Epistola, ccclxxxv. Bernardi Opp. Tom. i. p. 691. Ed. (Mabillon.) Gaume, Paris, 1839. Bearing the cross uplifts the Christian.]