Luther’s fourfold (fivefold?) garland of prayer

Chris at the Lutheran Zephyr has a clear and helpful summary of some of Martin Luther’s teachings on prayer, particularly his commendation of the “fourfold garland” method of prayer and his emphasis on making use of the materials contained in the catechism.

As Chris says, in “A Simple Way to Pray,” Luther advised his barber “Master Peter” to take a verse of scripture, or one of the commandments, or a portion of the creed and make a “fourfold garland” of prayer out of it, consisting of a teaching, a thanksgiving, a confession, and a prayer (i.e., a petition). Not only does this provide ample material for prayer, but it provides a way to “internalize” the words of the Bible or the catechism.

I sense that Chris may be taking a friendly dig at some of our blogospheric cohorts when he writes that “Simplicity is very important for popular prayer practices, as most Christians are not going to consult liturgical books to follow a form of personal daily prayer that was developed in monastaries and intended to be used as corporate prayer.” As valuable as the Daily Office no doubt is, I have to agree that, at least as far as I’m concerned, this is true, and I’ve made frequent recourse to Brother Martin’s prescription.

If I can be a bit presumptuous, I’ve found it helpful recently to add a strand to the garland, namely a question: since I’m often unsure what a verse of the Bible or part of the creed means or how it pertains to my life or even if it’s true, I ask God as part of my prayer. Not that I get–or even expect–an answer, but I think it’s good to give voice to what we’re uncertain about and not to piously pretend that we’ve got this all down pat.


One thought on “Luther’s fourfold (fivefold?) garland of prayer

  1. Thanks for this post! Friendly dig? Subconsciously, perhaps. 😉

    However, those words were originally written for a presentation at my congregation in a series on the daily prayer tradition of the church. My topic within the series was personal devotional practices and their connection to the broader prayer tradition of the church. My hope was to highlight to a group of people who often comment about the confusing page turns of the Evening Prayer service that the corporate daily offices are not necessarily the model for personal prayer practices. These liturgies have their place, but that place is not necessarily in one’s home devotion.

    Also, Frank Senn, both in his massive Christian Liturgy: Evangelical and Catholic and in his The People’s Work: A Social History of the Liturgy speaks of the development of popular medieval prayer practices (the rosary and the Way of the Cross, among others) as responses, in part, to the complicated clergy-led liturgies of the day.

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