Prayer, Christian Attitudes of
Prayer, Christian Attitudes Of.
1. The first Christians prayed standing, with hands outstretched and raised towards heaven. Their face was turned towards the east. The proof of this appears everywhere in the primitive monuments. The frescos, sarcophagi, tombstones (especially those of the Roman catacombs), the painted glasses which are found there in abundance, the old mosaics with which the old basilicas were ornamented, etc., represent both sexes, especially women, in that attitude (Aringhi, passin, and especially 2, 285). These figures are generally called orantes. They are distinguished by the rich elegance of their garments; they wear long tunics or dalmatics with wide folding sleeves, trimmed with embroideries and purple borders; they are adorned with collars, bracelets, and other jewelry (Bottari, tab. 19, 153). These splendid garments might at first seem in contradiction with the well-known modesty of the women of the early Church; but in thus adorning their image the aim of the artist was not to show what they had been in life, but what glory surrounded them in heaven. In the sepultures of all kinds, the orante, generally standing between two trees-the emblem of Paradise-was the symbol of the soul who had become the bride of Jesus Christ, and as such was admitted to the celestial banquet. This explains the magnificence of the garment of St. Priscilla, represented as an orante in the cemetery of her name (Perret, Catacombes, vol. 3, tab. 3). Thus we find St. Praxedis, in a beautiful Roman mosaic, covered from head to foot with precious stones (Ciampini, Vet. Monum. vol. 2, tab. 47). In a celebrated vision St. Agnes had appeared to her parents, a week after her marttyrdom, clothed in precious robes, and, to use the Bollandists' expression, autro textis cycladibus induta. This text became the type of most of the images of the young martyr: the most beautiful specimen is a gilded glass, published by Boldetti (Cémet. tab. 3, fig. 3, p. 194). Several of these female orantes, who were probably noble Roman matrons, as if fatigued by a prolonged prayer, have their arms supported by men, who, by their garments, must be supposed to be servants (Bosio, p. 389, 405; Aringhi, 2, 17), which reminds us of Moses supported by Aaron and Ilur in a similar manner (Ex 17:12).
We know this custom not only by the pictures, but also by the written monuments of Christian antiquity. The Christians, says Tertullian (Apol. 30), while praying, raise their eyes to heaven, stretch out their hands, because they are innocent; they pray bareheaded, because we have not to blush-" Illuc suspicientes (in caelum) Christiani manibus expansis, quia innocuis, capite nudo, quia non erubescimus." To pray with uplifted hands is an attitude natural in the man who addresses himself to the Deity; it is a supplicatory posture which is found in all nations, even pagan, as among the Egyptians, where we meet it in funerary monuments; among the Etruscans there are in the Museo Campana two statues of Chiusi in terra- cotta, which have the arms raised in that way; among the Romans, as we see by the reverse of a number of imperial medals, especially those of Trebonianus Gallus, the praying figure is accompanied with the legend "Pietas Augg." (Mionnet, Rarete des Medailles Romaines, 2, 13). But Tertullian remarks that the attitude as well as intention of the faithful was quite different from those of the pagans. "As to us," says this father, "we do not content ourselves with raising our hands, we stretch them in memory of the passion of our Lord." They meant to imitate the posture of Christ on the cross, as did several martyrs at their execution, for instance, St. Montanus, disciple of St. Cyprianus (Ruinart, p. 235), and SS. Fructuosus, Augurius, and Eulogius (Usuard. 12:Kal. Febr.): "Manibus in moldum crucis expansis orantes." Several other fathers gave expression to the same idea. It is therefore easy t) tell the Christian orantes from similar pagan pictures. The latter raise their hands vertically, the curve of the elbow forming a right angle, while the arms of the Christians are almost in a horizontal position. Tertullian (De Orat. 13) describes this difference most minutely, to remove all idea of idolatrous imitation: "We do not raise our hands with ostentation, but with modesty, with moderation." Now, the priest alone observes at mass this rite of venerable antiquity, which has preserved its primitive character in the liturgy of the Church of Lyons, for there the priest expands completely his arms in the form of a cross while reciting the oration which immediately precedes the elevation. It is to be observed that in the primitive Church the catechumens prayed standing like the rest of the congregation, with this difference, that the latter held their face somewhat raised to heaven (Tertull. De Coron. 3), while the former inclined slightly their heads, not having obtained yet, by baptism, the divine adoption, the title of children of the Father who is in heaven.
2. The practice of standing erect in prayer was not exclusive, and the first Christians sometimes prayed kneeling. We have an example of it in the Acts (Ac 21:5): "And we kneeled down on the shore and prayed;" and another in the life of St. James Major, whose knees, by dint of prolonged praying, had become as callous as those of a camel; and another, of great celebrity, in the acts of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius (Ruinart, 7:10, ed. Veron.). In less ancient times this custom becomes more frequent. We know by the testimony of Eusebius (Vit. Constant. 4, 21, 61) that Constantine often bowed his knees to offer his praver to God. St. Jerome writes to the virgin Demetrias, "Frequently the solicitude of thy soul prompted thee to bend thy knees;" and to Marcella (Epist. 23: De aegrot. Blesillae), "She bends her knees on the naked soil." It is likely that the custom of kneeling was borrowed by the Christians from the Hebrews. We read in the Scripture that Solomon, while dedicating his Temple to God, knelt down on both knees (1Ki 8:54), and that Daniel thrice a day knelt down in prayer (Da 6:10). It is said also that St. Stephen, while suffering martyrdom (Ac 7:59), knelt down and prayed for his murderers. St. Luke tells us that our Redeemer in the garden of Gethsemane prayed in this humble posture (Lu 22:41). It is natural that. in conformity with this divine example, the Christians should have adopted this way of praying as a mark of affliction, a demonstration of sadness and sorrow. This is what we are led to conclude from these lines of Prudentius, one of the most trustworthy interpreters of Christian antiquity (Cathem. hymn. 2, 50):
"Te voce, te cantu pio Rogare curvato genu Flendo et canendo discimus."
This is also shown by the custom of the primitive Church in the liturgical practice. The Church had directed from the earliest time that prayers should be said standing on Sundays and during the paschal period, in sign of joy, and kneeling all the rest of the year in sign of penitence. This rule was already in force at the time of Justin (Quaest. ad orthodox. resp. 115); it is mentioned by Tertullian (De Coron. milit. 3), and stated by St. Jerome in that curious passage where he speaks of St. Paul (Comment. Epist. ad Ephes. Prooem.): "St. Paul stayed at Ephesus until Pentecost, that time of joy and victory when we bend not our knees, nor bow to the ground, but when, resuscitated by the Lord, we raise ourselves to heaven." The same custom became a canonic law at the Council of Nicaea (Can. ult.). It is interesting to read what Pamelius, in his notes on the treatise of Tertullian (De Coron. c. 3, n. 38), and Suicer (Thesaur. eccles. s.v. γόνυ) wrote on the subject of this manner of praying common to the Jews and Christians. We have no pictures at all representing Christians on their knees, which speaks in favor of those who assert that the or-antes are images of the glorified soul. In conformity with the apostolic prescriptions the men attended public prayers in the churches bareheaded and the women veiled. In some churches of Africa the virgins had exempted themselves from this custom. Tertullian recommends it anew to their observance in his treatise Do velandis virginibus.
We must add, as a general observation, that the fathers endeavored, with all their might, to exclude from the prayers of the faithful all gestures and exterior practices bearing some strong features of paganism. Thus Tertullian (De Orat. 12) blames sternly such Christians as, in imitation of the pagans, thought fit to make their pravers acceptable to God by putting down their penulae. SEE ATTITUDES.