Does Liturgical Prayer Directed to Jesus Diminish his Mediatorial Role?

Some scholars have argued that that it was a mistake for the church to adjust the liturgies (in response to Arianism) to include more prayer directed to Jesus. According to scholars like Jungmann and T. F. Torrance, this shift was a mistake because that tended to displace Jesus as the human mediator, allowing priests, the saints, and Mary to fill the void.

Jungmann’s thesis

Though he acknowledges early prayers to Jesus, Josef Jungmann made the case that church liturgies became more ad Christum (and less per Christum) because of an overreaction to Arianism in the 4th century. (in The Place of Jesus Christ in Liturgical Prayer)

In response to Jungmann’s thesis, this paper will survey some of the earliest evidence for prayer to Christ in the church, including in the liturgies, and will outline some of the scholarly critique of Jungmann on this issue (for example, reactions of Bryan Spinks, Paul Bradshaw, Albert Gerhards, and Graham Redding).

One way that German liturgical scholar Albert Gerhards criticized Jungmann was by pointing out that Jungmann had overgeneralized the Eastern church regarding the liturgical changes, though he was right about the Western church. Gerhards also criticizes Jungmann for drawing conclusions primarily from the Church Order of Hippolytus in that there were other liturgies from that period. (A. Gerhards, ‘Zu Wem Beten?’)

T. F. Torrance’s Appropriation of Jungmann

T. F. Torrance appropriated the views and work of Jungmann to support his theology of the sole priesthood of Christ. Torrance believed that the exclusive emphasis on the divinity of Christ and the under-emphasis on the human priesthood of Christ promoted an Apollinarianism in the liturgy. Torrance stated, relying on Jungmann, “[R]ight on into the Middle Ages and beyond, as Jungmann reveals, liturgical prayers addressed directly to Christ as God have the effect of thrusting him up into the awful mystery of Godhead, with the result that the humanity and mediatorship of Christ recede more and more into the background, and the poor creature at worship is confronted immediately with the overwhelming majesty of almighty God.” (in Theology of Reconciliation)

This paper will respond to Torrance as well, acknowledging his concern, but also arguing that the divine/human priesthood of Christ can be preserved in public worship (and even highlighted) without removing any prayer to Christ. Prayer can and should be both to Christ and through Christ. Here’s one supporting argument: In Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, James Torrance (brother of T.F. Torrance) highlights favorably some of the conclusions of the Commission on Trinity Doctrine Today. One conclusion is the explanation of the way in which Christian worship is Trinitarian: 1. We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. 2. We pray to each of the three persons. 3. We glorify the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as when we sing the doxology at the end of the Psalms.

3 thoughts on “Does Liturgical Prayer Directed to Jesus Diminish his Mediatorial Role?”

  1. Issue Already Answered
    The thesis is flawed. We certainly acknowledge that Jesus is fully God and fully man, and a trinitarian basis is crucial for membership in the ETS. On the other hand, if Jesus wanted us to pray to Him, He would have taught it. Jesus taught us to pray in the Model Prayer. Our Father who art in heaven . . .

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