Monday, February 22, 2010

Did the Early Christians Offer Prayers to Jesus Christ?

Dear Lady,

You write:

"Dear Prof. Foster,
Which are the first episodes of prayers addressed to Christ?"

In answering your question, I will assume that prayer to Christ was not a first century practice. Even certain systematic theologians like Owen Thomas have pointed out that traditional Christian prayer follows the schema of "to the Father, through the Son and in [i.e. through] the holy spirit." See Thomas' _Theological Questions: Analysis and Argument_ (Wilton, Connecticut: Morehouse-Barlow, 1983. P. 71).

Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred between the years 98-117 CE, may possibly indicate that Christians invoked Jesus Christ in his time (To the Ephesians 20). However, one could no doubt understand his words as a reference to believers praying to the Father through the Son qua High Priest and Intercessor. While the middle recension of the Ignatian letters evidently does not contain the reading that explicitly speaks of praying to God through Christ, another recension does speak of the Son interceding for worshipers of God in his capacity as High Priest. At any rate, Ignatius of Antioch may well have advocated or espoused prayer to Christ.

Some slightly ambiguous evidence is also available for us in the Epistles of Pliny the Younger, who is known for writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan in 112/113 CE regarding Christians in Asia Minor, who would sing psalms to the Lord Jesus Christ quasi Deo. Did such hymns also include prayers to the Son of God? It is possible that this may have been the case, though I don't think one can say for certain, based on Pliny's letters alone (see the letters of Pliny X.96.7).

Origen too addresses the subject of prayer in De Oratione 15.1. There, he insists that, properly speaking, prayer should be addressed to "God the Father alone," although he also invokes Christ, "the very Logos himself." Nevertheless, in Contra Celsum 5.4, Origen demonstrates that he does not believe prayer in the absolute sense should be directed toward God's Son. See Jaroslav Pelikan's _The Christian Tradition_ 1:198-199.

You might also want to reference Arnobius of Sicca's Adversus nationes 1.36.

I hope these thoughts are helpful.

Best regards,

Professor Foster


Char B said...

Professor Foster:

What is prayer?

Edgar Foster said...

Dear Char B:

I do not have a fully worked out definition of my own for the term "prayer." I have usually been satisfied with the definition "reverent or worshipful address to God."

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Tertullian quoted PLINY in his 1st Apology Book 1, Chap 2: "to sing hymns to Christ AND GOD..." Latin "carmenque Christo ET DEO..."

Hyper- Trinitarian J.B. Lightfoot could not handle this and decided to change the modern critical text of Tertullian to "canendum Christo UT DEO" English "sing to Christ AS GOD..."

Whereas Pliny Lib. X, 96: C. "carmenque Christo QUASI DEO..." English: "sing to Christ AS IF to a god"

The usual Trinitarian tampering with the ANF to make them more "Orthodox"?


Edgar Foster said...

I'm not sure why Lightfoot would have changed Tertullian's quote of Pliny. It could be that the Latin text of Tertullian allows for the reading "ut deo" and "et deo." Even if we assume that the reading is plausible, that still does not tell us why Lightfoot might have altered it. Maybe this is an example of "Trinitarian tampering with ancient texts." If time permits, maybe one of us could check a critical Latin text for Tertullian's Apology or consult which probably has such a critical text.

Best regards,


Matt13weedhacker said...

Hi Edgar!

I have to say, you just have to read any of "Bishop" Lightfoot's works to see his absolute aversion to anything non-trinitarian. He is no doubt a very skilled and learned scholar that's for sure. But, his work on the Ignation Epistles for example, shows his extremely arrogant and dismissive attitude. Many words inserted in brackets throughout to make the text more paletable to the "trinitarian ORTHODOX."

He certainly adopts trinitarian readings wherever possible in his translations of the ANF, even when its based on very weak textual evidence, Polycarps letter to the Phillipians Chapter 12:6,7; "dominum nostrum et deum Iesum Christum" the "et deum" or "and God" is missing in some but present in other latin MSS, the earliest MSS dated 11th-13th Centuries. Not to mention his dishonest and deliberate omission of "filius" the Latin word for "Son" in the very same verse, from the phrase "the Son of God Jesus Christ" making it into "the God Jesus Christ".

As for Tertullian and Pliny's quote he believed he was doing the right thing of course, because Tertullian got wrong, you see! Although he lived a thousand years closer to the actual writing. But he was just trying to harmonise the two texts, but "conveniently" eliminating evidence against the trinity at the same time.