It is often said that prayer moves the hand of God. Tertullian would concur with this idea, but express it perhaps even more radically.  Because sin had created such a terrible separation between God and his creation, Tertullian would argue that all of God’s benevolent activity on earth is now dependent upon human prayer.  Tertullian explained his thinking, like many other church fathers, using the ideas and terminology of the philosophers.

In classical Greek thought, it was generally recognized that there was more to this world than just physical matter. Things don’t just come into existence on their own. Something had to create the physical world and something must continually sustain it.  This something is what makes the tissue of the brain think; it's what makes trees grow; it's what causes hearts to beat.  The term they adopted to explain this something was Logos.

Most church fathers felt that this Greek understanding of the Logos was very similar to the way Christians understood Jesus (and based on Jn 1:1, Jesus was often referred to as the true Logos).   In his work The Apology  (ch 21) Tertullian writes to his pagan contemporaries:  “It is abundantly plain that your philosophers regard the Logos . . . as the Creator of the universe.  In the same way, we believe that the material world is animated by logos. This logos by which God made all and sustains all is manifest as Word, Reason, and Power. As the Word he brings revelation.  As Reason he creates order. And as power he makes things perfect. We have been taught that He proceeds from God and is the Son of God.” (my translation)

So Jesus (the Logos) is the animating power of Creation. He is Word, Reason and Power.  And yet Tertullian will argue that  in order to do his stuff on earth– the Logos requires human prayer.  His essential point is that humanity, particularly the church, works with God through prayer in sustaining and renewing the Creation .

In the opening passage of "On Prayer" (a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer) Tertullian again describes the Logos as Word, Reason and Power and notes that it is through these expressions that the Logos created the world, and by which it is sustained and guided. He says that these are also the components of the Lord’s Prayer: “the prayer which is instituted by Christ is made up of three parts: out of word, by which it is spoken, out of spirit, by which it is powerful, out of reason, in that it reconciles.” (On Prayer 1, Stewart-Sykes,, 41) Tertullian goes on to say that prayer is an instrument that the Logos uses to carry out his work.  The Logos does not operate in the world independently of human activity.  The church at prayer is one of the primary means by which the Logos accomplishes his purpose of sustaining and renewing all things.

Without prayer, the Creation languishes in futility.

Although these ideas may seem shocking to some people, they are in fact rather intuitive. Jesus commanded his followers to pray “Let your will be done.”  Would he tell us to pray for something that's automatically going to happen anyway?  Could it be that Jesus commanded us to pray because prayer is necessary for the accomplishment of God’s purposes on earth?

In this series we've talked about the idea of efficacy, citing some ancient and modern theologians who have argued that prayer is nothing more than our surrender and assent to the will of God. They would say that God's going to do what God's going to do, and prayer is just the way we align our hearts and minds to his work. Tertullian (perhaps with my concurrence :)  had a different perspective.  We can summarize his thoughts on the efficacy of prayer in this way: Prayer releases the life-giving power of the Logos amidst his Creation. It is an invitation that women and men extend to God, asking him to intervene in our world according to his just and righteous character.  Prayer is more than just agreement with God’s will.  It is the human endeavor that activates the will of God (as revealed in heaven) here on the earth.