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Ignoring Patristic exegesis of the Lord's Prayer

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  • Jeffrey B. Gibson
    ... Here is a draft of what I ve written as an answer to my question. Comments and criticisms and suggestions for improvement are welcome. Jeffrey ********
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 27, 2008
      In an post to Crosstalk and some other Lists I asked:

      > > If someone asked you to tell them all about what commentators/scholars
      > > have said/say about the Lord's Prayer, what reasons would you give for
      > > prescinding from outlining what Patristic (and Medieval, Reformation,
      > > and most 19th century) commentators said/say?
      > >
      > >
      Here is a draft of what I've written as an answer to my question.
      Comments and criticisms and suggestions for improvement are welcome.



      Scholarly study of, discourse about, and commentary upon, the prayer of
      Jesus found in the New Testament at Mt. 6:1-13 and Lk. 11:2-4 is not a
      modern phenomenon. It is something that has been engaged in since at
      least the third century CE, beginning, so far as we know, in the Latin
      West somewhere between the years 200 and 206 with the apologist and
      anti heretical writer Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus
      (Tertullian - ca.160 - ca.220 AD) who, in an address to catechumenates
      on how properly to pray entitled De Oratione (On Prayer), provides an
      expository commentary upon the Prayer. It is continued there in a
      short treatise entitled De dominica oratione (On the Prayer of the
      Lord) that was composed in 252 CE, under the influence of Tertullian’s
      exposition, by Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus (Cyprian – c. 200-258), a
      bishop of Carthage between c. 246 and 258, who is the first known person
      to use the title “the Lord’s Prayer” of the Prayer, and then sometime
      shortly before 235 in the Greek speaking church by the famous Biblical
      commentator, scholar, and theologian Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea
      (ca. 185-ca. 254 CE) whose treatise peri Euxh (On Prayer) contains
      detailed explanations of the Prayer’s features amidst discourse on a
      variety of other topics related to theological and practical issues
      surrounding petitionary prayer.
      It also takes place frequently in the fourth and fifth centuries (a)
      in certain of the catechetical works of Ambrose (see book 5 of his De
      sacramentis ) and Theodore of Mopseustia
      (see his 11th Catechetical Homily) and Augustine (Enchieiridion 7, 115,
      117), (b) in various tractates, sermons, letters, and even hymns from
      the pens of Isidore of Pelasium ( Ep. iv), Augustine (Ep. 130 [Epistle
      to Proba] 9, 18- 10, 20; Sermone 56-59; On the Gift of Perseverance
      3.6; Peter Chrysologus (Sermons 67-72); John Cassian (Conferences
      IX.i8-24); John Chrysostom (Homllies on Matthew 19); and Gregory of
      Nyssa (On the Lord’s Prayer); (c) in biblical commentaries by Jerome
      (Commentariorum In Evangelium Matthaei Libri Quattuor, PL vol. 26, coll.
      15-218D), Ephrem the Syrian (Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron),
      Cyril of Alexandria (Commentary on Luke), Titus of Bostra (Homily on
      Luke), Augustine (De Sermone Domine in Monte [On the Lord’s Sermon on
      the Mount] 2:4.15-11.39); and (d) in an exposition of “the Sacred
      Liturgy and Communion” found in the work entitled Mystagogiae (On the
      Mysteries) by Cyril of Jerusalem (see Book 5, Catechetical Lecture
      And as Kenneth W. Stevenson shows in his wonderfully detailed
      history of the use and interpretation of the Prayer throughout Christian
      history, The Lord’s Prayer: A Text in Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress
      Press, 2004), it continued unabated in the East and the West in
      numerous sermons, catechisms, expositions, liturgical treatises, and
      exegetical studies, aids to prayer, and devotional commentaries
      produced by bishops and priests, monks and cardinals, liturgists and
      deacons, chancellors and provosts and deans of centers of learning,
      abbots, students, catechists, pastors, preachers, reformers and counter
      reformers, abbots, mystics, and heads of mendicant and teaching orders
      throughout all the centuries subsequent to this age down until (and well
      into) our own.
      Nevertheless, our focus here shall be limited to what scholars since
      the beginning of the 20th century have been saying about the Prayer.
      And this is not because what pre modern writes and commentators have
      said about the Prayer is uninteresting. It is because what they had to
      say is more often than not irrelevant when it comes to speaking to the
      sorts of questions about the Prayer that have come to the fore in the
      last hundred years or so when, spurred by the rise and the discoveries
      of the Religionsgeschicte Schule and the contributions to knowledge of
      the meaning of ancient texts that were gained through the application to
      them of historical critical methodologies, students of the Prayer (as
      well as the Bible as a whole) came to realize that the old perception
      that -- to use words of Krister Stendal from his justly famous article
      on “Biblical Interpretation” in Volume 1 of the Interpreters Dictionary
      of the Bible (Abingdon ) -- “the Bible contains revelation that could be
      grasped in the clear form of eternal truth unconditioned and
      uncontaminated by historical limitations,” could no longer be maintained
      and that grasping both what a Biblical text meant, as well as what it
      might mean, could only be determined by reading that text from within
      the historical and cultural and religious context in which it had been
      produced .
      For -- as is evidenced in such things as Tertullian’s statement
      that “there is comprised in the prayer an epitome of the entire Gospel”
      (ut re vera in oratione breviarium totius evangelii comprehendatur, De
      Oratione 1..35), by the fact, noted by Karlfried Froehlich in “The
      Lord’s Prayer in Patristic Literature” (Princeton Theological
      Studies), that many of the 3rd through the 5th century expositions of
      the Prayer were preached as catechetical homiles given either to
      baptizands on Easter Eve or to the newly baptized during Easter Week,
      and, as Stevenson documents in Chapter 5 through 8 of his historical
      survey of the interpretation and use of the Prayer, how it was read from
      then onwards primarily as a “symbol” of the Christians’ “adoption by
      God” and was used throughout the Late Patristic East and West, the
      Middle, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Enlightenment and into
      “modernity” almost by its commentators and expositors solely as a
      springboard for sermons about theological problems of free will and the
      life of grace, virtues and vices, and the extent of human weakness, as
      a means of edifying the people of God, as a vehicle for expressing one’s
      personal piety, or as the basic tool, along with the Creed and the
      Decalogue, for teaching Christian doctrine and achieving a “Christ
      centered life” – before the end of the 19th century, the Prayer was
      viewed primarily as a compendium of, and a means of teaching and
      meditating upon, theological doctrines that in theme and content and
      emphases are demonstrably post New Testament.
      Moreover, as was demonstrated 100 years ago by Otto Dibelius in the
      doctoral dissertation that he wrote under the eminent Church historian
      Adolf von Harnack (Das Vaterunser: Umrisse zu eiren Geshcichte der
      Gebets in der Alten und Mittleren Kircke [Geissen, 1903], exegesis of
      the Prayer during this period was arbitrary since it was more interested
      in finding the place of the prayer within the context of a presumed
      unified biblical witness than in discovering any unique meaning it might
      have had, and worked from the logically circular hermeneutical
      assumptions not only that Scriptura sui ipsius interpres (Scripture is
      its own interpreter) – a principle which both in principle and in
      practice ignores historical and cultural context and dismisses it as
      irrelevant, but that the particular scriptures that were – and came
      almost universally – to be used to interpret of the Prayer and its
      single petitions were those used in the early liturgy, especially in the
      lessons read at Baptism and the Eucharist.

      Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon)
      1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
      Chicago, Illinois
      e-mail jgibson000@...
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