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12. Attitude and Gestures in Singing and Prayer

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER X. Of the Prayers and Psalmody of the Church

12. Attitude and Gestures in Singing and Prayer. 

  1. Standing. In the Eastern church it was customary, as it still is with Mohammedans, Arabians, and the Parsees of Persia, to stand in prayer. Many examples of this custom occur also in the Scriptures: Gen. 18:22, 19:27, 2 Chron. 20:13, 1 Sam. 1:26, Job 30:20, Luke 18:11, 13, Matt. 6:5, Mark 11:25. And from the writings of Basil, Chrysostora, and the Apostolical Constitutions, it would seem that this was the usual attitude, and not an exception to the general rule, as has often been asserted. To kneel in prayer, during the entire season of pentecost, was expressly forbidden. According to Origen, the eyes and the hands should be lifted up to heaven, that the body may indicate the elevation of the soul. But he allows exceptions in case of infirmity, and according to circumstances. He also insists that it is necessary for one to kneel when he prays for the forgiveness of his sins. But he is here speaking not of public, but of private prayer. The author of Questions and Answers to the Orthodox, which some erroneously have ascribed to Justin Martyr, asserts that the custom which is observed through the days of pentecost was of apostolic origin, and refers to a passage from Irenaeus, which is lost, in proof of the assertion. Epiphanius, Jerome, Augustine, and Basil, also concur in sanctioning the custom of standing in prayer. And it is particularly worthy of remark, that penitents were denied this privilege, it being the prerogative and right only of believers and consistent professors of religion.

    In singing, this was regarded as the only proper and becoming attitude. 

  2. Kneeling. Abundant authority for this is also found in the Scriptures: Gen. 17:3, 17, Num. 16:22, Josh. 5:14, 2 Chron. 20:18, Luke 22:41, Acts 7:59, 60, 9:40, 21:5, Eph. 3:14. The act of kneeling was thought peculiarly to indicate humility before God; to exhibit a sinner who had fallen away from him, and ia need of divine grace and mercy. Accordingly it was uniformly required of all who had fallen under censure of the church for their offences, as an indispensable condition of their restoration to their former covenant relations. Basil denominates it the less penance, in distinction from prostration, which was called the greater penance.

    It must indeed be admitted that it was very common both to kneel and to stand in prayer. But the assertion that kneeling was the uniform posture in prayer, in all acts of worship except on the sabbath and festive occasions, is an unwarranted assumption. The most important authorities from the fathers are given in the index. 

  3. Bowing the head. This was a kind of intermediate attitude between standing and kneeling. Occasionally the inclination of the body is also mentioned. The bowing of the head was especially required in connection with intercessory prayers and the receiving of the benediction. 
  4. Prostration upon the ground. This is occasionally mentioned, but was not required as a rule of worship. It was chiefly appropriate to deep humiliations and expressions of shame or sorrow upon some very remarkable occasion, but was not the general practice of the church. 

    Sitting in prayer, according to Bingham, was never allowed in the ancient church. It was universally regarded as an irreverent and heathenish posture in these devotions.

  5. The lifting up of the hands. This was a common rite in pagan worship, but with the christian fathers it was peculiarly significant as an emblem of the cross, designed to assist them in holding in lively remembrance Christ crucified. Occasionally the hands were clasped together in prayer.

In regard to the covering of the head, the church strictly observed the rule given by the apostle, 1 Cor. 11, requiring the men to be uncovered, and the women to wear their appropriate covering in prayer. In this their custom was directly opposed to that of both Jews and Gentiles. With them, to appear with the head covered, denoted freedom and independence. But the Christian, as the servant of the Lord, appeared uncovered, in token of his humility and dependence.

From the period of the second century it was customary, both in the Eastern and Western church to pray facing towards the east, contrary to the custom of the Jews who prayed towards the west, 1 Kings 8:4, 2 Chron. 29:6, Dan. 6:10. The altars of the christian churches were situated towards the east, and the dead were buried so that the eye might be turned in the same direction. The reason for all this seems to have been derived from the ceremonies of baptism, in which they were accustomed to turn towards the west as the region of darkness, where the prince of darkness might be supposed to dwell and solemnly to renounce the devil and his works; and then to turn about to the east and enter into covenant with Christ. They might, therefore, very naturally suppose that in prayer they ought to direct themselves to God in the same manner in which they first entered into covenant with him. 

Of the time for prayer. Christ and his apostles give no specific instructions, but generally, to pray at all times, and in every place. But it became, in the second and third centuries, a prevalent sentiment in the church, that every Christian ought to pray three times a day; at the third, sixth and ninth hour, corresponding to the hours of nine, twelve and three o'clock. For the observance of these hours they had certain mystical reasons drawn from the doctrine of the trinity. The third being emblematical of the trinity, and the sixth and ninth being formed by repetitions of three.  But Tertullian and Cyprian both urge the propriety of morning and evening prayer, at the rising and setting of the sun, in remembrance of the sun of righteousness whose absence we have so much occasion to deplore, and in whose light we must rejoice. The Apostolical Constitutions also prescribe the offering of prayers five, six, and even seven times a day. 

As a specimen of the ancient psalmody of the church, the following hymn from Ambrose is inserted, with bishop Mant's version of it. – 0pp. T. II. H. a

Aeterna Clirisli munera
Et riiartyrurn victorias,
Laudes ferentes debitas,
Laelis canamus mentibus.

Ecclesiarum principes,
Belli triumphales duces,
Caelestis aulae milites,
Et vera mundi himina.

Terrore victo saeculi
Spretisque poenis corporis.
Mortis sacrae compendio,
Vitam beatam possident.

Traduntur igni martyres,
Et bestiarum dentibus,
Armata saevit ungulis
Tortoris insani manus.

Nudata pendent viscera,
Sanguis sacratus funditur,
Sed permanent inimobiles
Vitae perennis gratia.

Devota sanctorum fides,
Invicta spes credentinm;
Perfecta Christi caritas,
Mundi triumphat principem.

In his paterna gloria,
In his voluntas filii,
Exsultat in his Spiritus,
Caekira repletur gaudiis.

Te nunc, redemtor, quaesumus,
Ut ipsorum consortio
Jungas precantes servulos.
In sempiterna saecula. Amen.

Bishop Mantes Version.

Lord, who didst bless thy chosen band.
And forth commissioned send.
To spread thy name from land to land,
To thee our hymns ascend.

The princes of thy church were they.
Chiefs unsubdued by fight.
Soldiers on earth of heaven's array,
The world's renewing light.

Theirs the firm faith of holy birth.
The hope that looks above.
And, trampling on the powers of earth.
Their Saviour's perfect love.

In them the heavens exulting own
The Father's might revealed.
Thy triumph gain'd, begotten Son,
Thy Spirit's influence sealed.

Then to thy Father, and to Thee,
And to thy Spirit blest,
All praise for these thy servants be
By all thy church add rest.

The most ancient hymn of the primitive church extant, is that of Clement of Alexandria, which is given below.

Fraenum pullorum indocilium,
Penna volucrum non errantium,
Verus clavus infantium,
Pastor agnorum regalium,
Tuos simplices.
Pueros congrega,
Ad sancte laudandum
Sincere canendum
Ore innoxio
Christum puerorum ducem.
Rex sanctorum,
Verbum, qui domas omnia,
Patris altissimi,
Sapientiae rector,
Laborum sustentaculunn,
Aevo gaudens,
Humani generis
Servator Jesu,
Pastor, arator,
Clavus, fraenum,
Penna coelestis
Sanctissimi gregis,
Piscator hominum.
Qui salvi fiunt,
Pelagi vitii
Pisces castos
Unda ex infesta
Dulei vita Inescans.
Sis dux, ovium
Rational ium pastor:
Sancte, sis dux,
Rex puerorum intactorum.
Vestigia Christi,
Vita coelestis,
Verbum perenne,
Aevum iutiuitum,
Lux aeterna,
Fons misericord iae,
Operatrix virtutis,
Honesta vita,
Deutu laudantium Cbriste Jesu
Lac coelesle
Duicibus uberibus
Nymphae Gratiarum,
Sapientiae tuae expressum,
Ore tenero
Mammae rational is
Roscido spiritu
Laudes simplices,
Hymnos veraces,
Regi Christo,
Mercedes sanctas
Vitae doctrinae,
Canamus simul.
Canamus simpliciter
Puerum valentem,
Chorus pacis,
Christo geniti,
Populus modestus,
Psallamus simul Deum pacis.*

Paed. Lib. Ill

Joach. Hildebrand, De Precibus veterum Christianorum. Helmst. 1735. 4: De invocatione et precibus. Ibid.: Rituale orantium. Ibid. 1740. 4: Abr. H. Deutchmann, Ritus antiqui precum. Viteb. 1695. 4: Jac. Thomasii, ritu vet. Christianorum precandi versus Orientem. Lips. 1670. 4: Adami Recheuberg, De * orantiutn. Lips. 1688. 4: Chr. Christ. Sturm, De ritu veterum sublatis manibus precandi. Jenae, 1761. 4: Aug. Nath. Hiibner, Disseriat. de genuflexione. Halae, 1711. 4: J. J. Ch-f-g. De crucis signaculo precum christianarum comiie destiuato. Lips. 1759. 4: Godofr. Wegner, De orationibus jaculatoriis. Regiomont. 1708. 4: J. Biirger, De gestibus precantium vet. Christianorum. 1790. 8.

Tertuliian, De Orat. c. 11–23. ed. Oberth. torn. ii. p. 22–39.

Comp. Hug. Grotii adnotat. ad Math. 6: 5.

Tertuliian. De Corona mil. c.3: Concil. Nicaeu. A. D. 325. c.20.

De Orat. c. 31. ed. Oberth. torn. iii. p. 580.

Epist. 119. c. 15.

De Spirit, S. c. 27.

Augustin. 3. in Ps. 36: Jo. Cassian. De instit. rer. lib. ii. c, 12.

Apost. Consiit. lib. viii. c. 9, 10; Hermae Pastor. P. 1. vrs. 1 Clemens Rom. 1 Ep. ad Cor. §48: Tertull. ad Scapul. c. 4 Origen. De Orat. c. 31: Euseb. h. e. lib. ii. c. 23: lib. v. c. 5 De vita Constant. M. lib. iv. c. 61: Chrysostom. Homil. 18. in 2d Epist. ad Cor.: Augustin. De civit. Dei. 22. c. 8: Caesar. Arelat. Homil. 34: Prudent. Cethemer hymn ii.

Chrysostom. Homil. 28, 29: Constit. Apost. lib. viii. c. 6.

Socrat. h. e. lib. iii. c. 13. c. 37: Theodoret. h. e. lib. v. c. 18, 19.

Origen, De Orat. c. 15: Chrysostom. in Ps. 140: Euseb. vit Constant, lib. iv. c. 15.
(No tag #12 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Constitut. Apost. lib. vii. c. 44: Cyrill. Hierosol. Catcehes. Mystag. i. c. 2. 4. 9: Bingham, Antiq. vol. v. p. 275–80: Jerome. Comment, in Amos 6:14.

Tertuliian. De Orat. e. 19: De Jejun. c. 10: Cyprian. De Orat. Dom. p. 386 (ed. Oberth.): Chrysostom. Hom. 4: De S. Anna.

Lib. ii. c. 59: lib. viii. c. 34: Jo. Cossian. De Institut. lib. iii. c. 2-4.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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