Mysteries of the Lord’s Prayer:
Wisdom From the Early Church
by john gavin, s.j.
cua, 192 pages, $24.95
So familiar is the Our Father, and so often is it prayed that it has become a kind of rote invocation whose meaning is secondary to the simple recitation of its words. Yet, when one looks closely at the several petitions, it is clear that the words carry a depth of meaning that leads one into the mysteries of faith. In this small but weighty book, John Gavin, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, draws on a company of early Christian writers, such as Origen of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Augustine of Hippo, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and others, who dealt with the theological and spiritual aporiai, or “difficulties,” the prayer presents to those who make it their own. For example, how can human beings call God “Father”; how can God grow in holiness (“hallowed be thy name,” not “thy name is hallowed”); are there limitations to God’s will (“thy will be done”), to mention several of the difficulties he discusses.
Gavin highlights words and phrases in the prayer that, on close examination, carry overtones that elude a cursory reading. For example, the Our Father begins not with “My Father,” but “Our Father,” the “our” indicating that prayer is communal. Its words are not those of an individual but of the fellowship of believers, said Cyprian. The prayer is public and communal, and we pray not for one person but for all, “because we are a whole people together as one.” Why should we pray that the name of God be hallowed? asked Augustine. “It is holy.” Peter Chrysologus responds that in praying, “thy name be holy,” we are asking that God’s name be holy in us, and in that way the holiness of God becomes present in the world.
Jesus told his followers to “pray like this” (Matt. 6:9), and the Didache adds the doxology, “Because yours is the power and the glory forever.” The Our Father, concludes Gavin, is a compendium of the gospel that leads to everlasting life.
—Robert Louis Wilken
Published twenty years after the first appearance of The Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton’s updated edition takes account of subsequent research inspired by his meticulous and revelatory history of the neo-pagan religion of Wicca. Since Hutton’s book practically inaugurated an entire new field—the history of neo-paganism—the author is necessarily selective in his coverage. However, this expanded edition retains the freshness of the original, a classic of the historiography of religion that raises questions far beyond the confines of its subject matter.
The book traces the history of the various elements that went on to create Wicca, a religion confected by Gerald Gardner and others in 1940s England—the only entirely new religion, as Hutton observes, that England has ever given the world. The Triumph of the Moon grapples with deep questions of authenticity, religious invention and reinvention, and the very definition of religion itself. While Hutton politely eviscerates cherished origin myths of neo-paganism, the book is far more than just an exercise in historical debunking. Hutton lays bare a complex truth that proves a more compelling human story than the wildest fictions about neo-pagan witchcraft. This book is essential reading for those interested in the history of religion. Once they have read it, they may never view the history of religion the same way again.