Category Archives: Luther

New books: What Martin Luther thought about prayer beads

I’m reading Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year by Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens. It’s a great little book with Owens’ outstanding introductory essay, in which something about Martin Luther caught my attention:

Though the rosary was widely used by the late Middle Ages, it was not officially sanctioned by the pope until 1520.

During the Reformation, Luther did not abandon the rosary, though he shortened the Ave Maria to this form: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou and the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” In this way he eliminated the plea for Mary to pray for the supplicant. He advised his followers to use the rosary as an aid to meditation.

The more iconoclastic Reformers, including Calvin, forbade the use of prayer beads altogether. They concentrated their attention on scriptural texts and devotional printed matter….Thus prayer beads, along with other sensory aids to devotion like religious statuary, paintings, and stained-glass windows, were condemned as “popish.”

In the Church of England, however, the rosary survived, though its practice faded over the next few centuries. England’s Catholic minority continued to support the practice, and some Anglicans today still pray the rosary instead of or in addition to Anglican prayer beads.

For more information on the book, see Praying With Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year.

I reviewed the book at

-Colin Foote Burch

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