Tertullian, On Prayer.  Chapters 28-29.  From the Liturgy of the Hours

A portion of Tertullian on Prayer is included in the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours.  As such, there are quite a number of versions around of these few paragraphs, in many languages.  The Latin text used is that in the Latin Officium Lectionis. It is from CCL 1, 273-274, and is On Prayer.

The Officium lectionis, Office of Readings, is the substantial morning office from the Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgia Horarum. The office of readings is: Prayers, psalms, and canticle, a scriptural reading, and a patristic or later reading.

Our passage is the reading for Thursday in the third week of Lent: chapter 28-28 from De Oratione, CCL 1, 273-274. It is on pages 195-197 in the LITURGIA HORARUM, volume 2, Vatican Press 1971. (In the revised edition of 2000, it is pp. 205-207 of volume 2.) For the whole in English, see THE DIVINE OFFICE, volume 2, Lent and Eastertide, Collins 1974, on pages 162-164.  (These details, and the second version kindly supplied by Fr. Michael Blain, of www.stmichaels.wellington.net.nz).  

This one is from the Vatican website.  I understand the translation was written by and is copyright International Committee on English in the Liturgy (1975).

The spiritual offering

Prayer is the spiritual offering which has abolished the ancient sacrifices. 'What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?' says the Lord. 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams; I have no desire for the fat of lambs or the blood of bulls and of goats. Who looked for these from your hands?' We learn from the gospel what God has asked for. 'The hour will come,' we are told, 'when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. God is spirit, and so this is the kind of worshipper he wants.'

We are the true worshippers and the true priests: praying in spirit, we make our sacrifice of prayer in spirit, an offering which is God's own and acceptable to him. This is the offering which he has asked for, and which he has provided for himself. This is the sacrifice, offered from the heart, fed on faith, prepared by truth; unblemished in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, which we must bring to God's altar, in a procession of good works, to the accompaniment of psalms and hymns. It will obtain for us from God all that we ask.

What will God deny to a prayer which proceeds from spirit and truth, seeing it is he who demands it? How great are the proofs of its efficacy which we read and hear and believe. The old prayer, no doubt, brought deliverance from fire, wild beasts and hunger, and yet it had not received its form from Christ: how much more fully efficacious then is Christian prayer!

It does not station the angel of the dew in the midst of the fire, nor block the mouths of lions, nor transfer to the hungry the peasants' dinner. It has no special grace to avert the experience of suffering, but it arms with endurance those who do suffer, who grieve, who are pained. It makes grace multiply in power, so that faith may know what it obtains from the Lord, while it understands what for God's name's sake it is suffering.

In the past prayer induced plagues, put to flight the hosts of the enemy, brought on drought. Now, however, the prayer of righteousness turns aside the whole wrath of God, is concerned for enemies, makes supplication for persecutors. Is it surprising that it knows how to squeeze out the waters of heaven, seeing it did have power even to ask for fire and obtain it? Prayer alone it is that conquers God. But it was Christ's wish for it to work no evil: he has conferred upon it all power concerning good.

And so its only knowledge is how to call back the souls of the deceased from the very highway of death, to straighten the feeble, to heal the sick, to cleanse the devil-possessed, to open the bars of the prison, to loose the bands. of the innocent. It also absolves sins, drives back temptations, quenches persecutions, strengthens the weak-hearted, delights the high-minded, brings home wayfarers, stills the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, rules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports the unstable, upholds them that stand.

The angels too pray, all of them. The whole creation prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray, and bend their knees, and in coming forth from their stalls and lairs look up to heaven, their mouth not idle, making the spirit move in their own fashion. Moreover the birds taking flight lift themselves up to heaven and instead of hands spread out the cross of their wings, while saying something which may be supposed to be a prayer. What more then of the obligation of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed: to him be honour and power for ever and ever.

A reading from the treatise of Tertullian On Prayer

Prepared by Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas

Here is another version.  The passage is translated (Copyright 1973) by the sisters at the Society of the Sacred Cross, my understanding is that they translated it from the French of the LECTURES CHRETIENNES POUR NOTRE TEMPS, copyright 1970 by Abbaye d'Orval Belgium.

Prayer is the spiritual sacrifice which abrogates the old sacrifices.

'What, to me,' says God, 'is the multitude of your sacrifices? I have had
enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not
delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.' (Isa 1,11). On
the other hand, the Gospel teaches us what the Lord is seeking. 'The hour is
coming, he says, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit
and truth... for God is Spirit' ( Jn 4.23-24), and it is for such worship that
he seeks. We are true worshippers and true priests when we pray in spirit
and thus offer to God, in sacrifice, our prayer, as the victim which he has
reserved for himself and which is agreeable to him; the victim, indeed,
which he asked for and prepared. This victim, offered from the bottom of the
heart, nourished by faith, brought up in truth, unblemished and innocent,
honest, pure, crowned by love, we must lead to the altar of God with a train
of good deeds, among psalms andhymns; and it will obtain for us everything
from God.

Could God refuse anything of prayer which goes up to him in spirit and in
truth, when it is he himself who has called for it? We read, we hear, and we
believe so many testimonites to what prayer can effect. Already of old
prayer brought deliverance from fire, from wild beasts, and from famine,
even though it had not received its form from Christ. How much greater,
therefore, is the effectiveness of Christian prayer! It does not send angels
to extinguish flames, it does not shut themouths of lions, it does not bring
food to the starving, it does not suppress any of the passions of the senses
through a gift of grace; but it teaches patience to those who are
experiencing suffering and gives them the faith which reveals to them what
the Lord has in store for those who suffer for the name of God.

In olden times, prayer removed scourges, overthrew enemy armies, caused
rains to cease. Now, genuine prayer removes the anger of God, watches over
the enemy and prays for persecutors. Why should it be surprising that prayer
can send down from heaven the water (of baptism) if it was able to obtain
tongues of fire? Only prayer can vanquish God. It was Christ's will that it
should be incapable of doing harm, but all powerful to do good...

[omitted passage, Fr. Blain's "quick translation of the latin:
'Prayer really does know how to call back the souls of the departed
from the journey of death, to set up the feeble, to heal the sick, release
those possessed, open prison doors, break the chains of the innocent. It
also washes away our mistakes, holds back temptations, wipes out
persecutions, comforts the dejected, thrills the generous, guides the
pilgrims, comforts the tearful, confronts the robbers, nourishes the poor,
directs the rich, picks up the fallen, holds up those who are sliding,
steadies those standing.]

[All the angels pray of course] Every creature prays. Domestic animals and
wild beasts pray and bend the knee. When they emerge from their stables or
their lairs, it is not for nothing that the air vibrates with their cries.
Even the birds which fly in the sky spread their wings in the form of a
cross and say something that resembles prayer. What more is there to say in
homage to prayer? The Lord himself prayed, and to him be the honour and the
glory for ever and ever.

This page has been online since 12th October 2001.

Return to the Tertullian Project About these pages