Cyprian on the Lord's Prayer: Catechist to Luther and Benedict XVI

Who taught the Pope to pray? Well, probably his mother, but he admitted in his weekly Wednesday audience last week:

I particularly like [St. Cyprian’s] book on the “Our Father” which has helped me to understand and pray better the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Well, it seems that he is not the only one. Martin Luther also appears to have held Cyprian’s catechesis on the Our Father in high esteem–although he does not acknowledge it! His Small Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer bears a marked resemblence to Cyprian’s book. Compare the following:

St Cyprian: 12. After this we say, “Hallowed be Thy name;” not that we wish for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beseech of Him that His name may be hallowed in us.
Luther’s Small Catechism:God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may become holy among us also.

St Cyprian: 13. There follows in the prayer, Thy kingdom come. We ask that the kingdom of God may be set forth to us, even as we also ask that His name may be sanctified in us.
Luther’s Small Catechism: The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.

St Cyprian: 14. We add, also, and say, “Thy will be done, as in heaven so in earth;” not that God should do what He wills, but that we may be able to do what God wills. For who resists God, that He may not do what He wills? But since we are hindered by the devil from obeying with our thought and deed God’s will in all things, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us.
Luther’s Small Catechism: The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. [This is done] When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end.

I first encountered the similarity when I was a seminary student. It was a real eye-opener and no mistake. Far from introducing a new doctrine, Luther was doing nothing else than repeating the ancient catechesis of this African bishop and martyr.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Pastor Weedon’s reference in the comments, we can see that Augustine followed Cyprian’s line entirely. Was this because of the African connection? Or was this “catechism” well established already in the ancient world? Did Luther come to it via Augustine, or via Cyprian, or was it (again) an established catechetical line in the late Medieval period? Any way, here’s Augustine, from his “On the Lord’s Prayer”, probably written about 150 years after Cyprian.

Therefore is it said, “Hallowed by Thy name.” This we also ask of Him that His name may be hallowed in us; for holy is it always. …But we wish what is good for ourselves, that His holy name may be hallowed, that that which is always holy may be hallowed in us.

“Thy kingdom come.” Come it surely will, whether we ask or no. …But that ye may know that in this prayer also we pray for ourselves and not for God (for we do not say “Thy kingdom come” as tho we were asking that God may reign), we shall be ourselves His kingdom if, believing in Him, we make progress in this faith.

“Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth.” The third thing we pray for is that His will may be done as in Heaven so in earth. And in this, too, we wish well for ourselves. For the will of God must necessarily be done. …“Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth”; as, in them, so in us also.


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