Home  »  Respectfully Quoted  »  Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1472
AUTHOR: Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)
QUOTATION: God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed;
Give me courage to change things which must be changed;
And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
ATTRIBUTION: Attributed to REINHOLD NIEBUHR.The A.A. Grapevine, January 1950, pp. 6–7; also June Bingham, Courage to Change, p. iii (1961), where the version differs somewhat: “O God, give us serenity to accept what cannot be changed, courage to change what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Alcoholics Anonymous has used this prayer, with minor changes in wording, since about 1940. According to the first source, Dr. Niebuhr said, “It may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don’t think so. I honestly do believe that I wrote it myself.”

The Anglican publishing house, Mobray of London, for more than a century has identified it as a General or Common Prayer of fourteenth-century England, according to a reader of American Notes and Queries, June 1970, p. 154. He added that “Reinhold Niebuhr has acknowledged, more than once, both in seminar and publicly that he was not the original author of the Serenity Prayer.”

In Ausblick von der Weibertreu by Christoph Duncker, p. 1 (1973), the following lines are attributed to a Johann Christoph Oetinger, deacon in Weinsberg from 1762 to 1769: “Gib mir Gelassenheit, Dinge hinzunehmen, die ich nicht ändern kann, Den Mut, Dinge zu ändern, die ich ändern kann, und die Weisheit, das eine vom andern zu untersheiden,” which can be translated as above. Another reader of American Notes and Queries, October 1969, p. 25, gives a nearly identical quotation and states that it can be traced to Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702–1782), German theologian and theosophist, without giving a source.

Whatever the original source or wording, Niebuhr and A.A. have made the prayer well-known in the United States.