Sola Oratio: a book review

The Reformers railed and raged against abuses they found in the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. They also were each devout men of God who prayed, believing how you approached God mattered. It is now 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the Wittenberg door. Thomas McPherson and Paraclete Press have come out with a booklet on the Prayers of the Reformers, with one hundred prayers, from twelve reformers, spanning three centuries.

prayers-of-the-reformersMcPherson is committed to preserving the prayers of ancient saints(he worked on another volume for Paraclete, Essential Celtic Prayers, perhaps more to follow).The focus here is specifically on the magisterial Protestant Reformers (and proto-reformers), so no Carmelites, Jesuits, Jansenists or Anabaptists. The twelve pray-ers are John Wycliffe, John Huss, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, Thomas Cranmer, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, John Knox, Theodore Beza and Lancelot Andrews.

McPherson’s introduction highlights how these prayers declare confidence in God’s supreme authority, their dependence on Him for everything, our need for illumination through the Spirit and the Word, their ongoing trust in God, and the telos of God’s glory (7-10).  This is followed by brief paragraph-long biographies of each of these reformers, The prayers follow chronologically by each reformer (contemporary authors, presented chronologically by the year of death—the order of the list above): a hundred prayers in just over a hundred pages (pp 17-123).

A book like this is selective and not exhaustive. You could fill up volumes of prayers from either Luther and Calvin alone (they wrote almost half of the prayers in this book), or you could crib Thomas Cranmer’s entire Book of Common Prayer and call it a day.  Still, these prayers are well chosen, capturing the essence of protestant spirituality. Often McPherson includes a scripture reference ahead of each prayer, revealing what portion of scripture the prayer was reflecting upon. There are several prayers afre various, several about on the Lord’s Prayer (notably Tyndale), devotional prayers, prayers of discipleship, prayers to prayer when facing persecution and various difficulties, prayers for morning and evening, etc. I was surprised on how much I appreciated Zwingli’s prayers (three in volume, 22-27) and Beza’s supplication on bearing the cross (113).

Here are some prayers from Cramner, Luther and Calvin:

O Lord Jesus Christ, you are the bright sun of the world—ever rising, never setting—who with one look gives life: preserving, nourishing, and making joyful all things that are in heaven and on earth. Shine brightly, I pray, upon my heart, that the darkness of sin may be driven away by your inward light, and that I, without stumbling or offending you in any way, may walk in the pure light of day all my life. Grant this, O Lord, for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign for evermore. Amen -Thomas Cranmer (68, For the Light of Christ)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that you would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you. For into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen. -Martin Luther (34, Morning Prayer)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have graciously kept me this day; I prayer that you would forgive me all the sins and wrongs I have done, and graciously keep me this night. For into your hands I commend myself, my body  and soul, and all things.  Let your holy angel be with me., that the evil foe may have no power over me. -Martin Luther, (35, Evening Prayer)

My God, my Father and my Savior, you have been pleased to preserve me by your grace through the night and you have brought me to this new day. Grant that I may use it entirely in your service, that I may think, say, and do nothing but to please you and to obey your holy will. May all my actions be to the glory of your name and to the service of others. And just as you cause the sun to shine on the world to give physical light, let your Holy Spirit illumine my mind to guide me in the way of righteousness. In everything I do, let my goal and intentionalways be to walk reverently and to honor and serve you., relying only on your blessing for my well being, and undertaking only what is pleasing to you. -JohnCalvin (84-85, A prayer for a new day).

There are other powerful prayers here. However, despite the quality selection and the book’s brevity, this is not a user-friendly volume, or at least not as user-friendly as it could be. There is no table of contents or index. That means that if you are looking for a particular prayer, scriptural theme, or topic, you have to flip through the book to find it. In an e-book format, this is not a big deal and certainly, the industrious reader can make their own index of meaningful prayers, but a scriptural or thematic index (or just a list!) would be helpful. I also wish that there were notes (footnotes or endnotes) which provided the sources of these prayers (i.e. what of the reformers’ works they come from).  I don’t think these notes need to be obtrusive, but when I read a moving prayer or quotation in a collected volume, I like to track it back to the source, which is difficult here.

These qualms aside, I think this makes a beautiful gift book, perfect for devotional reading and a great way to celebrate 500 years of ecclesia semper reformanda. I give this book three-and-a-half stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

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