Mennonite Prayer Books

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Collections of prayers by Mennonite authors for use by Mennonite preachers in public worship or in private devotions were first published in Holland. Hans de Ries (1553-1638), the noted Waterlander preacher of Alkmaar, was probably the author of the first prayer collec­tion, a group of 11 prayers attached as an appendix to the Waterlander confession of faith prepared by him and Lubbert Gerrits and published at Amster­dam in 1610 and 1618 as Corte Belijdenisse des Geloofs (numerous reprints). This collection of "eenige aandachtige Gebeden" was added to the hymnal edited by de Ries called Gesangh Boeck, published in 1643, also (with 3 additional prayers) to a book by Jan Gerrits, Vijf stichtelijke Predicatien, published in 1650. It also appeared in Korte Belijdenisse des geloofs, published at Amsterdam in 1700. The second collection was by a Flemish preacher, François de Knuyt, who added a small prayer collection to his Corte Bekentenisse onses Geloofs, first printed at Amsterdam in 1618 (many reprints). The third Dutch prayer collection, containing 18 prayers, was by Leenaert Clock, published in Dutch in 1625, entitled Forma eenigher Christelijker Ghebeden, the first distinct prayer book. This was translated into German and as Formulier etlicher Gebäthe appeared as an appendix to the first German Mennonite confession of faith, the Prussian confession of 1660 (Elbing?) with only 13 of the 18 prayers, and T. T. van Sittert's first German edition of the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, published at Amsterdam in 1664, which had the full 18 prayers of Clock's Forma. Through these two books, both of which were often reprinted, Clock's collection became the standard "prayerbook" model for all German Mennonites and their de­scendants. However, neither Dutch nor German Mennonites have used any of these prayer books since the middle of the 19th century.

The Clock collection, enlarged by 2-20 prayers, was made a part of the Swiss Brethren devotional book, Güldene Aepffel in Silbern Schalen (Basel? 1702, 1742, and Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1745), where the title became simply Etliche christliche Gebett without the Formulier heading. A second Swiss Brethren devotional book of ca. 1715, Send-Brieff von einem Liebhaber Gottes wort, took over 12 of the Clock prayers from the Güldene Aepffel and added 3 new prayers taken from Johann Arndt's Paradiesgärtlein of 1612, and gave the whole a new title, Gebeten auf allerhand Anliegen und Nothen gerichtet. It also added an 8-page Schönes Gebett made up of parts of two Clock prayers and the prayer of Hans Reist (which had been published in booklet form about 1700).

But the outstanding German Mennonite prayer book was Die ernsthafte Christenpflicht, darinnen schöne, geistreiche Gebätter, darmit sich fromme Christenherzen zu allen Zeiten und in allen Nothen trösten. The first edition was at Kaiserslautern in 1739, followed by at least 10 other edi­tions in Europe to 1852, and at least 24 editions in America between 1745 and 1940. It finally became the prayer book of the Amish. Early editions contained 36 prayers, later increased to 50 and finally 53. It is used by the Amish as the exclusive source of prayers for the minister to use in public worship, as well as being a private devotional book. Its prayers come from varied sources, the Formulier (later editions contain all its prayers), Caspar Schwenckfeld's Deutsches Passional of 1539 repre­sented by five prayers, Johann Arndt's Paradiesgärtlein, with 3 (from the Send-Brieff), and others.

The last Swiss prayer book was Kleines Handbüchlein, darinnen Morgen- und Abendgebetter, of which six European editions are known from 1786 in the Palatinate to 1867 at Biel, Switzerland, with two American imprints of 1835 and 1872. It con­tained 12 prayers, 8 from the Formulier.

The Elbing Katechismus of 1778, later called the "Waldeck Catechism," with many reprints, con­tained a collection of 14 prayers for children. The 1727 edition of the Christliches Gemüthsgespräch by Gerhard Roosen has an appendix of 28 prayers which was not included in later editions.

It is worth noting that none of the Dutch or German prayer collections have ever been translated into English. English-speaking American Mennon­ites have never produced nor used prayer books in public worship, and seldom, until recent times, in private or family worship.

Non-Mennonite prayer books used by Mennonites include Johann Habermann's Gebetbuch, first pub­lished in 1567, which was used by Mennonites chiefly in the smaller form, Der kleine Habermann, Johann Arndt's Paradiesgärtlein, first published in 1612, Johannes Zollikofer's Neueröfneter himmlischer Weichrauchsschatz of 1691, and Johann Friedrich Starck's Tägliches Handbuch of 1727. But the most popular prayer book of this character among Mennonites was doubtless the Geistliches Lustgärtlein, which appeared at least as early as 1787, and in later editions was called Neu vermehrtes geistliches Lust­gärtlein frommer Seelen. Several times the Ernsthafte Christenpflicht appeared in combination with part of the Lustgärtlein, the last time at Scottdale in 1915 for the express use of the Amish.


Friedmann, Robert. "Mennonite Prayer Books, Their Story and Their Meaning." Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries. Goshen, 1949: 176-202, on which the above article is based.

Knipscheer, F. S. "Geschiedenis van het stil en het stimmelijk gebed bij de Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1897): 77-120; (1898): 55-77.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Mennonite Prayer Books." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 30 May 2024.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1959). Mennonite Prayer Books. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 211-212. All rights reserved.

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