Definition of Terms:
The use of creeds and liturgical prayers developed in the early church as a way to articulate and affirm core beliefs and doctrines, while also providing a standardized form of worship. Creeds like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed were formulated to counter heresies and establish a common understanding of Christian beliefs. Recited prayers, often known as liturgical prayers, allowed believers to participate collectively in worship and express their faith in a consistent manner.
Repetitious prayer can be found throughout Scripture, as it was a common feature of the ritualistic Jewish Synagogue worship. Many examples are found in the book of Psalms, which contains various prayers and songs that are repetitive in nature. For instance, Psalm 136 repeats the phrase “His steadfast love endures forever” at the end of each verse as a form of praise and thanksgiving. In Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, the angels are depicted in both passages as continually repeating the phrase “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” to worship God.
The leper in Mark 1:40-42 repeatedly implores Jesus, saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” The blind beggar Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52 repeatedly calls out to Jesus, saying, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” The leper and Bartimaeus both demonstrate humility and a belief in Jesus’ power to heal them, highlighting the importance of persistence in faith. Jesus Himself demonstrates persistence and humility in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46), where He prayed the same words repeatedly, asking God to let the cup of suffering pass from him if possible, but ultimately submitting to God’s will.
In Luke 18:1-8, the persistent widow keeps coming to the unjust judge for justice against her adversary. Even though the judge initially refuses, he eventually grants her request because of her persistence. In Matthew 15:21-28, a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus seeking help for her demon-possessed daughter. At first, Jesus doesn’t respond to her. The disciples ask Jesus to send her away, but she persists in her plea. Jesus then explains that He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but she continues to beg for help and identifies herself with the dogs who eat scraps from their masters’ table. Jesus finally praises her faith and grants her request, healing her daughter. Both passages emphasize persistence and faith in different ways. In Luke 18, the focus is on persistent prayer, while in Matthew 15, Christ’s delayed response to the Canaanite woman’s request provided her with an opportunity for sanctification as she is able to demonstrate an act of true humility.
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4) is one of the most well-known examples of a repetitious prayer. Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples as a model for how they should pray. It has been recited and repeated by Christians throughout history. It has been an essential part of Christian liturgy and private devotion since the early Church and has been the subject of many Church Fathers’ Commentaries. The Didache, also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” dates from the 1st century and contains instructions for Christian life, including guidelines for prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.
The Apostles’ Creed is one of the oldest and most widely used Christian creeds, but its precise origin and early records are not entirely clear. It was likely developed during the early centuries of Christianity and gradually formed as a statement of faith, reflecting the core beliefs of the early Christian community.
One of the earliest references to elements of the Apostles’ Creed can be found in the works of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130–202 AD), an early Christian theologian. In his work “Against Heresies,” written around 180 AD, Irenaeus referred to the rule of faith, which is a statement of essential Christian beliefs. Another early reference is from Tertullian (c. 155–240 AD), a Christian writer from Carthage. In his work “The Demurrer Against the Heretics,” he mentioned a baptismal creed that closely resembles the later Apostles’ Creed.
The earliest known complete form of the Apostles’ Creed, very similar to the one used today, appears in a work known as the “Old Roman Creed” or the “Roman Creed.” This creed was likely used in the church of Rome and has been found in various early writings and manuscripts. It served as a template for the later Nicene Creed, formulated at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
Other early prayers can be found in the works of the Church Fathers. A Prayer of Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer) is found in Chapter 9 of the Didache during the Eucharistic celebration. St. Clement of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Clement), offers a prayer for peace and unity in Chapter 60. In the early Christian apocryphal text called “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” there is a prayer of repentance and baptism in Chapter 28. Hippolytus of Rome includes a prayer of thanksgiving during the Eucharistic liturgy in his work “Apostolic Traditions”.
Recited prayers and hymns are also found in some of the earliest liturgies. Liturgies were developed in the early Church to provide structured forms, a set order of prayers, readings, hymns, and rituals, in order to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments. Liturgies established a consistent and organized format to help participants engage more effectively and to promote a sense of unity. Liturgies also served as a means of instructing catechumens in the core doctrines of the faith, enabling both the literate and illiterate to learn and internalize key aspects of the faith, ensuring that essential beliefs and practices were passed down faithfully.
The Divine Liturgy of Saint James is one of the earliest known Christian liturgies. It includes the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest) hymn near the beginning of the liturgy, praising God’s glory and majesty. Early Liturgies of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria contain the “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord, Have Mercy) prayer. It is commonly found in the Penitential Rite, usually after the Confession of Sins and before the Gloria or the Collect. Early liturgies often included a section for the Prayers of the Faithful, where the congregation would offer intercessions for various needs. These prayers were typically located after the sermon or homily, and they allowed the community to voice their petitions and concerns.
A common modern objection to repetitious prayer is based on Matthew 6:7-8, where Jesus says;
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus was condemning the use of empty, meaningless, or vain repetitions in prayer. He warned against praying like the Gentiles who thought that they would be heard for their many words. The focus here is not on repetitious prayer itself, but on the heart attitude and intentions behind it.
When Jesus mentioned that the Gentiles “heap up empty phrases” in Matthew 6:7, He was referring to certain pagan religious practices common during that time. In many ancient pagan religions, repetitive prayers or incantations were believed to be effective in manipulating or appeasing their gods to gain favor or blessings.
These prayers were often characterized by meaningless and rote repetitions, where the focus was more on the quantity and precise wording of the prayer rather than the sincerity or devotion of the worshiper. People would believe that the more they repeated the words or phrases, the more likely their prayers would be answered. These prayers were a form of superstition, which is an attempt to bend the will of God to your own wants and desires.
Jesus contrasted this approach with the true nature of prayer to the one true God, which should be genuine, heartfelt, and focused on a personal relationship with Him. He emphasized this by giving his disciples the “Our Father” prayer, which approached God as a loving father rather than relying on a formulaic or mechanical approach to prayer.
Reciting scripted prayers can offer various spiritual, moral and psychological benefits to individuals and communities. Scripted prayers are carefully crafted, offering clearly articulated intentions that often encourage humility and charity. Scripted prayers often contain deep and meaningful insights, helping individuals to reflect and contemplate on their beliefs, values, and relationships. Using scripted prayers can create a sense of connection to past traditions, fostering a sense of continuity and historical identity. Engaging in these prayers can be a form of meditation, reducing stress and anxiety, while promoting a sense of belonging and unity within communities.
“And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!'”
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'”
Church Father Quotes:
Augustine of Hippo:
“The verse is repeated so often, ‘For His mercy endures forever,’ in order that forgetfulness of God’s benefits may be driven away by the continuous frequency of that verse, by which it is well beaten, as it were.” –Expositions on the Psalms, regarding Psalm 136
“It was not once only that He delivered to us those holy laws, but at different times; for He repeated that prayer also, and gave it with its petitions to His disciples.” –Homily 19 on the Gospel of Matthew
Origen of Alexandria:
“For who who prays can, in a short time, lay the foundations of prayer so deep, as not often to be compelled to utter words similar to those which he has already used?” –On Prayer
Tertullian of Carthage:
“Moreover, if we are enjoined to pray without ceasing, and on all occasions, we must necessarily pray repetitively.” –On Prayer
“How many times a day ought we to pray? As often as we have our spiritual sacrifices: for in these sacrifices prayer is the usual companion.” –The Chaplet
Cyprian of Carthage:
“It is by praying without ceasing that we ask insistently for what cannot be obtained by a single prayer. We pray continually and with perseverance, so that every day we may obtain from God fresh favors.” –Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer
Clement of Alexandria:
“Repeating the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ thrice daily is not vain repetition, but a wholesome reminder.” –The Instructor
“The Lord has taught us to pray, not in many words, but in few, lest our minds should wander in the multitude of words.” –Exhortation to the Heathen
Gregory of Nazianzus:
“This is the habit that I would like to see in you: to pray everywhere, when working, eating, and drinking, to sleep on it, rise up with it.” –Orations on Theological Subjects
Basil the Great:
“One who repeats the same things frequently does not do so out of forgetfulness of the old words, but he confirms his own memory, acquires familiarity with what is good, and banishes from his mind every thought that is evil.” –Homilies on the Psalms
“This confession, which we make in baptism, we make also, by God’s grace, in good works, and in the confession of the faith, and in prayers.” –On the Holy Spirit
Eduard Schweizer (1913–2006), Swiss biblical scholar
Schweizer does not feel battalogeo is a reference to repetition, but to nonsense. He argues that the Jews of that era felt that the pagans had forgotten the true name of God, and that their prayers were thus filled with long lists of meaningless words in an attempt to ensure the true name of God would at some point be mentioned. Jesus himself repeats prayers, such as at Matthew 26:44, and in two verses he gives a prayer to be repeated. Rather this verse is read as a condemnation of rote prayer without understanding of why one is praying. –Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
R.T. France (1938–2012), British biblical scholar & Anglican cleric.
France notes that in this era Gentile prayer was portrayed as repeated incantations that had to be perfectly recited, but where the spirit and understanding of the prayer were secondary. –France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.