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Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was born at Carthage, of
heathen parentage, apparently about A.D. 160. Some time about
196 he became a convert to Christianity, and, being (as a practising
barrister) a man of excellent education and skilful in the presentation 
of a case, began almost at once to write in defence of the
Faith. His apologetic treatises, in which he protests with earnestness 
and vigour against the official persecution of Christianity,
and defends its reasonableness against the attacks of both Jews
and pagans, belong apparently to the three or four years immediately 
following his conversion. In succeeding years he turned
his attention to the defence of the traditional Faith against
heretical misunderstandings and perversions, and of established
Christian discipline against what he regarded as dangerous relaxations. 
His writings over a period of perhaps twenty-five
years thus deal, in no superficial manner, with every one of the
subjects which interested the Church in his day: and as he was
(with the doubtful exception of Minucius Felix, who in any case
has little to say about Christian theology) the earliest Christian
writer of Latin, he is the author (or at least the earliest recorder)
of the theological terminology still in use in the Latin-speaking
Churches and their vernacular-speaking offspring.

At some time, perhaps ten years after his conversion, Tertullian
became interested in Montanism. This movement, which
originated in Asia Minor about the year 170, claimed that a new
revelation, not subversive of but supplementary to traditional
Christianity, had been given through a fresh outpouring of the
Holy Spirit upon one Montanus and two women, his companions. 
To the more serious abnormalities of this sect (which we
know of from other informants) Tertullian makes no reference,
nor does he seem to have been aware of them: but he was from
the first attracted by the rigorism of its disciplinary system, and


eventually (perhaps about 213) separated himself from the Church
of Carthage and became the hostile critic both of it and of the
Church of Rome. He claims however, at all times, that the
Montanist revelations in no way contradict the traditional faith,
though they do (he says) supply it with additional offensive and
defensive armament. Certainly he himself was as orthodox in
theology after his departure from the Church as he was while
within it.

In spite of this (except for St Cyprian, who valued them highly)
his writings were always somewhat under a cloud. They were
read, certainly, but were quoted (if at all) with some sort of
apology. Their survival through the Middle Ages must be regarded 
as almost a miracle. Towards the end of the fifth century
Pope Gelasius forbade the reading of them, and all copies seem
to have disappeared from the libraries of Italy. The few manuscripts 
of Tertullian which now exist seem to be derived from
copies preserved in libraries north of the Alps, one of them once
the property of the monastic house of Cluny, and it is not
unlikely that it was Bernard of that house who rescued this
manuscript from obscurity and supplied transcripts of it to
several other houses of that order.

The present treatise depends on three authorities, none of them
comprising the entire work. The first printed edition, by Martin
Mesnart at Paris in 1545, containing chapters 1-19, was made
from a manuscript now lost, but which seems to have been a copy
of the already mutilated original of the eleventh-century codex
Agobardinus (now at Paris). This, our oldest extant authority,
contains a number of Tertullian's works, and of the present
treatise chapters 1-20; in the first sentence of chapter 21 the copyist,
following his original, which had lost a number of pages, passed
on (without apparently noticing any discrepancy) to the middle
of a sentence near the beginning of a different work On the Dress of
The end of the book is known only from a Milanese
manuscript, formerly at Bobbio, which contains chapters 9-29,
with a separate title and table of contents as though this were
a complete work Concerning Divers Kindred Matters; the overlap,
of course, as well as the concluding chapters, shows that this also


is part of the homily or tract On the Prayer. This manuscript was
discovered by Muratori, and published for the first time at Padua
in 1713. Very much of our legacy from both Christian and pagan
antiquity depends on such slight threads as these.

The tract or homily On the Prayer is among the earliest of
Tertullian's writings, those composed while he had not yet become 
interested in Montanism—far less had taken the decisive step
of separation from the Church. The attempt to give a precise
date to each one of our author's works is probably bound to fail,
there being too few references by which to attach them to contemporary 
events. It is, however, possible with some plausibility
to arrange them in the order in which they were written, and we
shall not be far out if we place this present work rather high in the
list, among those written during the early years of the third
century. It is known to have been preceded by at least one of the
two books On the Dress of Women (to which he refers in chapter
20) and by most of the apologetic treatises. The contrast between
the finished style of these earlier works, and what one cannot but
call the unkemptness of some sections of the tract On the Prayer,
suggests that this is a homily rather than a treatise, and indeed not
the homily fully written out, but notes to help the preacher's
memory. Also, in these sections, the sequence of ideas is so
speedy, and telling thoughts are so briefly alluded to, as to make
one wonder whether even the most intelligent of congregations
could have picked up the preacher's meaning without a good deal
of incidental expansion and explanation. And lastly, the expression 
'O blessed ones' seems to suggest the hearers of a sermon
rather than the readers of a book, while the concluding doxology
also is more common in speech than in writing.

The title of the book, De Oratione, means strictly On the Prayer,
and the reference is in the first instance to the Lord's Prayer. But
as the work proceeds, its scope expands, coming to include prayer
in general, and private prayers in particular. Again in some sections 
its subject is the public prayers of the Church, both those
which, at the end of the preliminary service of scripture-reading
and instruction, and after the departure of the unbaptized and
those under discipline, the congregation offered as common prayers


for the Church and the world, and that other, which apparently
could be referred to par excellence as 'the prayer', the prayer of
consecration of the Eucharist.

The homily begins, as we have said, with an expository
commentary on the Lord's Prayer, on which we may remark
that it succeeds in saying the obvious things in the obvious way:
yet that if these things were worth saying (as the frequency with
which they were repeated by later writers shows that they were)
they needed, and no doubt received, more extended and impressive 
enforcement than is here actually set down (chapters 1-9).
Then, after a short transitional passage (chapter 10) on further
things which we are authorized to pray for, the homilist considers
the conditions of acceptable prayer, namely freedom from resentment 
and other perturbations of soul (chapters 11 and 12). Next
comes a series of observations, for the most part very brief, but
in one case exhaustively and systematically planned, on practices
and observances connected with the public prayers of the Church
(chapters 13-27). Here Tertullian takes the opportunity of riding
some of his own favourite hobby-horses, or of arguing against
other people who wish to ride theirs, and we may be permitted
to doubt whether most of this formed part of the original homily;
if it did, we can only say that the preacher allowed himself to
digress into subjects which (by contrast with the beginning and
the end of the book) are comparatively trivial, and at such length
as to overthrow the balance of his sermon and to put its directly
religious teaching very much in the shade. We may then perhaps
think that this (by far the longest) part of the book records the
answers given to questions raised at various times, and was added
to the homily on publication. These questions are concerned with:

washing the hands before prayer (13);

lifting up and spreading out the hands during prayer (14);

taking off the overcoat during prayer (15);

sitting down immediately the prayers are ended (16);

moderation of the voice in prayer (17);

the new practice of refusing the kiss of peace at the end of the
prayers when a person is keeping a fast of private devotion (18);


those who on station days decline to receive the holy com-
munion for fear of breaking their fast (19);

women's dress (20);

the new claim that growing girls, and women who have made
public profession of virginity, need not, like other women, cover
their heads during the prayers (21, 22);

the new practice of not kneeling for the Church prayers on
Saturdays (23);

the place and time of prayer (24, 25);

prayer with one's guest or one's host (26);

Alleluia, and other ornaments of prayer (27).

Chapters 24-7, which reintroduce the more strictly religious
aspect of things, may conceivably have formed part of the original
homily, and provide a natural transition towards its concluding
paragraphs, in which (chapter 28) the claim is made that the
prayer (by which, as an odd phrase or two show, the author here
means the eucharistic prayer of consecration) is the 'spiritual
sacrifice' of the New Covenant; and the preacher concludes his
sermon (chapter 29) with an encomium of the power and
efficacy of Christian prayer. Thus the book ends on the high
religious and rhetorical level on which it began.

The question has been asked, what were the source or sources
from which Tertullian may have derived his exposition of the
Lord's Prayer, and the suggestion was made (and was at one time
widely accepted) that he was making use of a commentary (now
lost) on St Matthew's Gospel which Theophilus of Antioch is
known to have written (about A.D. 175). Of this one can but say,
first, that it is somewhat precarious to assume a known writer's
indebtedness to a work of whose contents we know nothing at
all; and that even if the suggestion were accepted, nothing is
gained by it and no one is any the wiser. Secondly, the extant
writings of Theophilus (namely, a treatise in three books intended
to prove that Christianity is in its essence older than the heathen
religions and philosophies, and therefore possesses the prerogative
of truth) show little kinship either in matter or in manner with this


or any other of Tertullian's works. And thirdly, the ideas which
Tertullian here suggests are such as might have occurred to anyone
of reasonable intelligence, and consequently there is no need to
suppose that he borrowed them from anyone at all. Tertullian
was one of the ablest men of his generation, Christian or heathen,
and was competent to be a lender rather than a borrower of
ideas; certainly he was more qualified to teach Theophilus than
Theophilus to teach him.

Little more than a generation later, St Cyprian, Bishop of
Carthage from 248 to 258, who writes on the same subject, had not
only read Tertullian's work, but kept it by him as he wrote. He
repeats many of the thoughts here suggested, serving them up in
more literary Latin, and with such expansions as to convert
sermon notes into a formal treatise. Cyprian, as he himself was
proud to say, looked upon Tertullian as his very revered teacher
—which was the best of reasons for improving upon his work:
and since the master's defection to Montanism caused later
generations to regard all his works with suspicion, it was through
the disciple that his thoughts on the Lord's Prayer became
the common property of Christendom, appearing again and
again in later writers, and even in official expositions of liturgical

The text of the Lord's Prayer commented on by Tertullian
differs in several minor particulars from any other version known
to us, but especially in that he has inverted the order of the second
and third clauses. The prayer as he rehearses it is as follows:

Father who art in heaven : hallowed be thy name : thy will be done
in heaven and in earth : thy kingdom come: give us to-day our daily
bread: forgive us our debts [for] we also forgive our debtors: lead
us not into temptation, but remove us from the evil.

That the changed order is not due to a mere slip of memory
appears from Tertullian's own argument, in which he shows how
the one clause depends on the other, as well as from his recapitulation, 
where he repeats the words 'name', 'will', 'kingdom', in
that order. Complicated theories have been evolved in explanation 
of this, notably the suggestion that the shorter form of the
Prayer given by St Luke (11. 2-4), which was current in the


second century and as late as St Augustine,1 and is to be found in
the English Revised Version,2 was variously expanded for Church
purposes independently of St Matthew's fuller version, and that
in one of its forms the clauses appeared in this order. This cannot
be ruled out as impossible: though it is equally possible that the
change of order is due to Tertullian himself, who saw the connexion 
of thought in this way and altered the text accordingly.
We are not unfamiliar with the minister who alters the Church
Service to suit his own theories: and there was much more
liberty in that respect in the second century than there is supposed
to be now.

Some of the observances and Church usages alluded to in
chapters 13 to 27 call for a few words of explanation.

Concerning the public prayers of the Church, it is to be observed 
that in the second and third centuries the only regular
Church services were those for the administration of Baptism
and the Eucharist. The former, of course, would only be used as
occasion arose: and there are already indications of a tendency
(at least in the case of adult persons) to confine it to Easter and
Pentecost. The Eucharist, throughout the whole of Christendom,
was celebrated every Sunday, and there was an obligation (as in
theory there still is) on all Christians to be present. What is now
called 'non-communicating attendance' was (except for the
innovation deprecated by Tertullian in chapter 19—and this in
any case does not refer to Sundays) unknown in the early Church:
the supposition was that anyone sufficiently in a state of grace to
be present at the service was spiritually competent to offer his
oblation and to receive the sacrament. A custom strange to our
modern ideas, but in common use in the African Church (and
no doubt some others) in the third century, was for each communicant, 
after receiving the sacrament during the service, to
carry it home (in the species of Bread only) wrapped in a napkin,

1 St Augustine, Enchiridion 116, explains how St Luke by his very omissions
reinforces the connexion of the clauses recorded by St Matthew.

2 Father, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; give us day by day our
daily bread: and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone that
is indebted to us: and bring us not into temptation.


with the intention of taking a small portion at the beginning of
every meal: Tertullian in chapter 19 recommends this as a
solution of an unnecessary difficulty which some people were

The eucharistic service was in two sections. The first of these,
a service of Bible-reading and instruction, might be attended by
non-Christians: and at the end of it, after the dismissal of unbaptized 
persons and those under discipline of penance, the congregation 
(now exclusively Christian) stood to pray, for the
whole state of the Church and the world.2 The remainder of the
service, the Eucharist proper, began with the offertory, each
head of a family presenting a loaf of bread and a small flask of
wine: its characteristic prayer was the long Prayer of Consecration
(known variously as the anaphora, the oblation, or the canon),
which at least as early as the third century consisted of thanksgiving, 
oblation, the memorial of the saving acts of Christ,
a prayer for consecration, and an intercession for the Church and
its members.3 This second prayer is referred to by Tertullian in
chapter 19 as 'the prayers of the sacrifices', and he probably has
it in view in chapter 28, describing it as 'the spiritual oblation'
and a 'sacrifice of prayer'.

The original Christian posture in public prayers (copied from
Jewish practice) was to stand, especially on Sundays, though
apparently on other days (at least in the African Church) the
congregation knelt. Tertullian refers in chapter 23 to a small
minority who wished to stand on Saturdays as well as Sundays.
The general tendency seems to have been in the other direction,
for in the fourth century it became necessary for the Council of

1 Elsewhere he uses it as an argument against marriage with heathens: 'What
will your husband suspect you are eating at the beginning of every meal?'
(Ad Uxorem 5.)

2 A relic of these prayers still stands in the Latin Mass: see a note on § 18.

3 This intercession is for the Church alone, and not for those without. During
the 1914-18 war the practice was introduced of interpolating references to
various mundane matters before the Prayer for the Church. The place for such
things is after the Creed (see the previous note): the Church rule is that after
the Offertory the world is shut out and only the People of God prayed for.


Nicaea (325) to forbid kneeling in church at least on Sundays
and on the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost.1

We have said that the Eucharistic service was divided into two
parts, of which the second began with the offertory. Actually
the end of the first part or the beginning of the second was
marked by the ceremony of the kiss of peace (often referred to
briefly as the pax), an act and token of Christian fellowship. Its
justification, if any had been needed, would have been found in
the apostolic injunction, 'Greet ye one another with a holy
kiss.'2 Tertullian refers to this in chapter 18. When he calls the
pax the seal of the prayer he apparently regards it as the conclusion
of the first set of prayers, those for the Church and the world;
others regard it as the beginning of the Offertory, and both may
be right.

On Sundays, as we have remarked, there was a general obligation 
to be present at the Eucharist. In Africa, in the third century,
as in Egypt in the fourth, Saturdays also were liturgical days. In
Rome it seems probable that from the beginning the Eucharist
might be celebrated on any day. Wednesdays and Fridays in each
week were fast days, though apparently only Good Friday ('the
day of the Passover', chapter 18) was a fast of universal obligation:
it was not unknown for individuals to undertake a fast of private
devotion. The so-called 'station days' were fasts of public,
though not of obligatory, observance: they apparently began

1 The Eastern Churches retain the custom of standing. In the West the
custom was lost in the Middle Ages, when the congregation, instead of taking
notice of the action of the service, engaged (either in polite conversation or) in
their own private devotions, for which they knelt down. At the Reformation
the Church of England, for local reasons, retained the practice of kneeling for
prayer: the continental Reformed Churches reintroduced standing, which is
still their custom. In the established Church of Scotland standing was the rule
until, within living memory, congregations took to crouching forward on their
seats in imitation of English Nonconformists.

2 The above was the position of the pax, in all Churches of which we have
information, at the beginning of the third century. At some time before
the end of the fourth century the Roman Church transferred the ceremony
to the end of the Canon, just before the Communion, where it still remains.


with an all-night vigil, and ended with the Eucharist, or at least
the first or the second part of it. Tertullian derives the expression
from the military term statio, which means the sentinel's turn of
duty: others suggest that there was a procession from one church
to others, and that 'station' indicates the pause at each of them—
though this could hardly have been possible in times of persecution
or until there came to be many churches within a small radius, so
that probably Tertullian is right.

Towards the end of chapter 22 Tertullian refers to certain
women who have made a profession of life-long virginity. This
was a practice highly approved of in Christian circles—though
exceptionally offensive to both the Jewish and the pagan mind.
Such women continued to live an ordinary life in their father's
house, and it is Tertullian's claim that they ought to be in no way
distinguishable in dress or deportment from other women of their
age. Actually it was not long before they obtained such privileges
as a special place in church: though it was not until late in the
fourth century that they began to live together under the rule of
a superior.

From all this it appears that this short book, besides what it may
suggest of help in the way of godliness, gives an insight into the
mind of a man of strong opinions who was not afraid to express
them, as also into the life of a community some at least of whom
were not indisposed to make experiments, however little their
mentor is prepared to afford them encouragement. The time was
soon to come when he, as a Montanist, was to try to enforce
many new practices, on the ground that, 'Our Lord Jesus Christ
said, "I am the truth", not "I am the custom" '.




Codex Agobardinus, formerly the property of Agobard,
Bishop of Lyons (816-840), now at Paris (B.N. fonds latin
1622). Contains §§1-20. At §21, per ecclesias quas, the
copyist, not observing that a number of pages had dis-
appeared from his original, passed on with no break to
De Cult. Fem. i. 5, disposita utensilitas.


The editio princeps, by Martin Mesnart, Paris, 1545. Contains
§§1-19. The rest was either missing from the editor's
manuscript, or was omitted as being imperfect. This
manuscript was evidently copied from the already mutilated
archetype of A.


Codex Ambrosianus (G. 58), ninth or tenth century: formerly
at Bobbio. It begins at §9, with the title INC. TERTULLIANI

subjects. In the latter part of the treatise, where A and B
fail, it is the sole authority.



Sigismundus Gelenius, Basel, 1550, claims to have had
access to many manuscripts, one of them, by far the most
accurate, fetched from the far end of Britain. But it does
not appear whether the present treatise was in any of these


Jacobus Pamelius, Antwerp, 1579.


Franciscus Junius, Franeker, 1597.


Nicolaus Rigaltius, Paris, 1634.


The edition of L. A. Muratori, Padua, 1713, who discovered 
D and introduced many of his own conjectures.
For the latter part of the work this ranks as editio princeps.


M. J. Routh, Oxford, 1832.


Franciscus Oehler, Leipsic, 1853.


Augustus Reifferscheid, Vienna, 1890.


G. F. Diercks, Bussum, 1947.

Other notes and conjectures


Latinus Latinius, Rome, 1583.


Joseph Scaliger, in the margin of a copy of Junius, kept
in the University Library at Leiden.


Fulvius Ursinus, Frankfort, 1603.

One or more unnamed scholars in Miscellaneae Observationes, Amsterdam, 1733.


William Hartel, Vienna, 1890.


Aemilius Kroymann, Innsbruck, 1894.

In the Latin text, italics or pointed brackets <> indicate conjectures 
for which there is no MS. authority: square brackets
[ ] indicate words which should probably be omitted.

In the translation, pointed brackets serve the same purpose as
italics in the English Bible; italics are used here for scriptural


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Ernest Evans(ed), Tertullian's Tract on the Prayer. © S.P.C.K. 1953.  Reproduced by permission of SPCK.

Edited and translated by Canon Ernest Evans, 1953.  Transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2002.   Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.

This page has been online since 13th December 2002.

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