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01.5.0 Tertullian’s Writings’ Impact on Modern Theology

If you’re a modern day Orthodox Christian, whether you know it or not, Tertullian has had a powerful influence on what you believe. So it might be worth your while to take a look at who this character was. Major foundational pieces of the Orthodox Christian church such as the use of the word Trinity and the concept of sacraments are traced to this man.

Most of what we know about Tertullian comes from authors a century or more after Tertullian’s life. You might be surprised to know that not only was he not only not a prophet or apostle, but there is a dispute as to whether or not he was ever ordained even as a priest. According to Britannica, the encyclopedia, he was born 155 A.D. most probably to a family of position and wealth. “Tertullian received an exceptional education in grammar, rhetoric, literature, philosophy, and law. Little is known of his early life.”i

He most probably was born a pagan as Britannica lists his parents as pagan.

“During the next 20 to 25 years—i.e., from his early 40s to mid-60s—Tertullian devoted himself almost entirely to literary pursuits. Developing an original Latin style, the fiery and tempestuous Tertullian became a lively and pungent propagandist though not the most profound writer in Christian antiquity. His works abound with arresting and memorable phrases, ingenious aphorisms, bold and ironic puns, wit, sarcasm, countless words of his own coinage, and a constant stream of invective against his opponents. Yet, he could be gentle and sensitive, as in a treatise to his wife (Ad uxorem), and he could be self-critical and reflective, as in his treatise on patience (De patientia), a virtue that he admitted was conspicuously absent from his life.”ii

So basically what we have here is an intelligent, well educated man with good writing skills in the late second and early third century A.D. Somewhere along the line he became a committed believer. But just as interestingly, sometime before 210 A.D. this man stopped adhering to the Orthodox Christian faith and began following a view of Christianity called Montanism. So Orthodox writers who cite his references to the great “truths” that he presented are careful to point out that they follow him in his days before his conversion to Montanism!

If he is anything, Tertullian is a theologian, someone who studies God, and presents the conclusions of that study. So it must be emphasized that when Tertullian writes it is as a man who has had varying viewpoints of Christianity, He is not a prophet, one who speaks for God, or an apostle, one who is sent forth by God. He may have achieved the status of a pastor, we don’t know, but his importance in history are definitely his theological writings. But the theological writing that are cited as useful to Orthodox theologians today are those of him when younger, not the writings from his perpectives as an older man, which is usually when one is usually considered to be wiser.

The Tertullian Project is a website that’s devoted to this man. THE THEOLOGY OF TERTULLIAN by Robert E. Roberts is in this site and explains Tertullian’s positions in good detail.

Rather than give you a theological synopsis of Tertullian’s writing I am going to let you see his actual written ideas so you can form your own opinion. Here are some snippits of Tertullians writing. This following citation “is sometimes designated the only pre-Nicene treatise on any of the sacraments;…”iii

“A treatise on our sacrament of water, by which the sins of our earlier blindness are washed away and we are released for eternal life will not be superfluous.… [2] vipers and asks, as it is true of serpents in general, are found in dry and waterless places. [3] but we, little fishes, are born in water after the manner of our [?????], Jesus Christ; nor can we be otherwise saved, except by abiding prominently in the water.”

This was written between 200 and 206 AD. Notice that it is purely the authors logic and reasoning that he is presenting here.

Next lets look a little at the context of Tertullian’s use of the word “Trinity”:

“As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.”iv

This bit of writing, I think, shows how intricate the thinking is in Tertullian’s writing. Intricate, yes, but definitely hard to follow. Yet Tertullian is cited for these and other references as if he is a prophet of some kind, a revealer of “progressive revelation”, and even though the concept of the Trinity stated here is not the concept it became, this reference is given as proof as to the universality of the concept.  However, it is never that simple; the Catholic Church does not called this process “progressive revelation,” rather it calls it development of doctrine. A post on this process will be published in the near future.  Still Tertullian’s writings appear to have an incredible amount of status on scriptural things for someone writing personal arguments on understanding Christian concepts.

Some say the Apostle Paul is hard to follow at times. To me, Paul has nothing on Tertullian.

Tertullian might be called a prude, He advocated against the circus, the theater and other worldly entertainments:

“Are we not, in like manner, enjoined to put away from us all immodesty? On this ground, again, we are excluded from the theatre, which is immodesty’s own peculiar abode, where nothing is in repute but what elsewhere is disreputable. [2] So the best path to the highest favour of its god is the vileness which the Atellan gesticulates, which the buffoon in woman’s clothes exhibits, destroying all natural modesty, so that they blush more readily at home than at the play, which finally is done from his childhood on the person of the pantomime, that he may become an actor. [3] The very harlots, too, victims of the public lust, are brought upon the stage, their misery increased as being there in the presence of their own sex, from whom alone they are wont to hide themselves: they are paraded publicly before every age and every rank–their abode, their gains, their praises, are set forth, and that even in the hearing of those who should not hear such things. I say nothing about other matters, which it were good to hide away in their own darkness and their own gloomy caves, lest they should stain the light of day. [4] Let the Senate, let all ranks, blush for very shame! Why, even these miserable women, who by their own gestures destroy their modesty, dreading the light of day, and the people’s gaze, know something of shame at least once a year. “ v

Tertullian really takes a strong stance here, a puritan is you will.  All worldly entertainment, including plays and the circus are to be avoided.

Next let’s look ar Tertullian’s reference to baptism as a sacrament, sacramentum in latin, which he used as a reference to a mystery of the church, which is how he described what happens in baptism, and more precisely in the rite of water baptism.

“HAPPY iS our sacrament Of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed (in the faith), but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith. The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and basilisks themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes, after the example of our IXq,s204>S Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water! ”vi

In the above passage Tertullian refers to the Cainite heresy which evidently has carried away a not insignificant numer of Christians:

“the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism”

Tertullian appears to be arguing here that the power of baptism is somehow in the water, i.e. holy water!  He certainly is writing against the Cainite heresy, a form of gnosticism that was pervasive at the time of the early church, but in his attempt to help he basically is writing new doctrine, IE, sacraments.

It is apparent that Tertullian’s writings form the basis of the rise of Roman Catholicism with the trinity, sacraments, and so forth. Yet he was a man educated in the finest worldly traditions who applied that education to form reasoning to explain the basis of faith. To me that implies bias to explain Christianity in terms of his worldly education. This is certainly admirable as it appears he is seeking God and to explain God’s business in terms of the education of the day. But to raise this effort to the level apostleship or prophecy, ie, bring new light or speaking for God in these matters is beyond the credit anyone should give Tertullian.

It needs to be proclaimed that Tertullian was a prolific writer by trade, and he wrote thought provoking essays on Christianity to be sure. But I haven’t found anything where even Tertullian believed he was acting as an Apostle or Prophet. Yet he is sometimes referred to as an early part of the “development of doctrine” of Christianity. And his writings are certainly treated as such. As such Tertullian is part of the fork in the river where traditional Christianity diverts from original Christianity.

ihttps://www.britannica.com/biography/Tertullian

iiIbid

iiiTHE FAITH of the EARLY FATHERS, volume 1, William a Jurgens, liturgical press, Collegeville Minnesota copyright 1970, P. 126

ivNew Advent, Against Praxeas, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0317.htm

vhttp://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-09.htm#P924_369498

viOn Baptism by Tertullian, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian21.html

December 6th, 2017 Posted by | Movements | no comments

14.1 The Borgias – Wealth, Power, Influence, and the Highest Position in the Roman Catholic Church

“Sex…Power…Murder…Amen” is how the series, The Borgias, opens.

The reason that it is relevant here in the website on original Christianity and the developments since is that it sets the stage for the Reformation.  By most accounts, the dealings of the Borgias, some of whom were popes, were not abnormal to the times.  They may have been the most excessive, but they were very much just carrying on the tradition of Rome and the papacy in the times building up to the Reformation.

Showtime has been airing its extravagant historical timepiece starring Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia who became Pope Alexander VI.  It has a number of actors that I think are well suited to the pomp and power roles that dominate this series.  Colm Feore, Simon McBurney, Steven Burkoff, and Derek Jacobi are some of the recognizable faces (to me at least) playing these power figures.  I think it is very well acted.

The show is full of intrigue, sex, murder, deceit, corruption, and political maneuverings in Rome and Europe.  The sexual aspects of the show are over the top.  There are depictions of sex between the pope and multiple partners as well as allusions to homosexuality, pederasty, bestiality, incest etc.  Poison as a weapon has been a theme, at least in the few shows I watched, but there is also a lot of bloody swordplay, nasty daggers, and the like.

Of course the setting is world class Roman luxury, one palace after another being the home to these Christian leaders who somehow have also sworn a vow of poverty.  I see a complete sense of opposites in the whole convoluted working of the time as we see top church leaders who have sworn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience gorging themselves in luxury, abandoning themselves in sexual wantonness, and living the deception of trying to look like obedient servants while constantly maneuvering for their own advancement and political conquest.

And there is the enigmatic element of these corrupt men at times appearing to have a conscience, sometimes even appearing to do the right thing.

Of course, this is a show that has basis in fact.  Rodrigo, Casare, Lucretia, the Cardinals, etc were actual people.  Supposedly, while a lot of the details are conjectured from what is known about how these people lived, the major facts are accurate, i.e., Borgia allegedly bought the papacy, made moves based on political expediency, had lovers, children, and so forth.

I say allegedly because the Catholic Church’s view of the rise by Borgia to Pope Alexander VI is a milder version.  They present some challenges, but they do not deny that he bought the papacy, indicating a large level of greed and corruption present in the papacy.  At the very least, they admit corruption in the election to the papacy of Alexander IV on account of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza’s desire for a better position:

“That he obtained the papacy through simony was the general belief (Pastor, loc. cit.) and is not improbable (Raynaldus, Ann. eccl. ad an. 1492, n. 26), though it would be difficult to prove it juridically, at any rate, as the law then stood the election was valid. There is no irresistible evidence that Borgia paid anyone a ducat for his vote; Infessura’s tale of mule-loads of silver has long since been discredited. Pastor’s indictment, on closer inspection, needs some revision, for he states (III, 277) that eight of the twenty-three electors, viz. della Rovere, Piccolomini, Medici, Caraffa, Costa, Basso, Zeno, and Cibò, held out to the end against Borgia. If that were true, Borgia could not have secured a two-thirds majority. All we can affirm with certainty is that the determining factor of this election was the accession to Borgia of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza’s vote and influence, it is almost equally certain that Sforza’s course was dictated not by silver, but by the desire to be the future Pontiff’s chief adviser.”[i]

The drama in the show is soap opera-ish on an epic scale and seems to center around details in the affairs of these people beyond the scope of written history.  All in all it is a re-enactment where literary license is taken to reconstruct dialogues, meetings, trysts and the like between the many characters.

That the show depicts a carnal, corrupt, and even evil Christianity is the tragedy.  In fact, the show does not seem content to merely depict the sins in the Borgia’s lives, it relishes in them. It glorifies each deadly plot, each sexual affair, each political conquest.  True Christianity is nowhere to be found.

Sadly, there is little evidence to refute that the Borgias were the harshest example of a Catholic Church fallen away from original Christianity (with its emphasis on genuine spirituality) to an organization that embraced world power and all the evils involved.

[i] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01289a.htm

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

May 24th, 2011 Posted by | Movements | no comments

The Real Meaning of Easter

In 00.3 The History of Easter we looked at how Easter got its name from the Germanic goddess Eostre, whose springtime festival was popular.  Evidently, Eostre liked rabbits and thus the Easter bunny tradition began.  Eggs are symbolic of new life which is what happens in spring and Easter eggs are also part of this pagan tradition. That rabbits can lay eggs is a little crazy, but that is part of the tradition.

A number of people object to the pagan aspects of Easter; the name, the Easter bunny, the eggs, and so forth.  They say that when eat Easter eggs you are participating in pagan traditions.  Paul wrote specifically about this kind of thing in first Corinthians chapter 10. Let’s start with the context:

Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

The context is idolatry and eating foods sacrificed to idols.  We can see from these verses that in Corinth you could go somewhere and be offered food that was sacrificed to an idol (demon). You could also buy these foods. Paul is very clear that the sacrifice that we participate in is memorialized in the communion service, and the bread and wine of that ritual are the only foods that we should be partaking of when it comes to something that is sacrificed to a supernatural power.

But Paul has a lot more to say on this topic:

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

First he says that all things are lawful. That’s a very interesting perspective. Because Paul is saying that it is not unlawful for Christians to eat these foods. But the second thing that he says is that not all things are expedient, they don’t edify.  And if they don’t edify we shouldn’t be partaking in them. So he sets a guideline that we should consider our neighbors in partaking of foods that may have been offered idols.

There are a lot of examples of things that are lawful but not expedient.  For example, let’s take smoking cigarettes. Cigarettes are legally sold in every state of the union in the United States. At the same time, public service messages are continually broadcast, and health warnings are printed on each package because smoking cigarettes is an unhealthy practice; it’s just not a good thing to do.  Smoking is lawful, but not expedient.

A more dramatic example is that prostitution houses are legal in some places in Nevada. However, prostitution is clearly a sin in biblical terms. Even secular counselors advise that using prostitutes shows real problems with intimacy and attachment.  Prostitution is lawful, but not expedient.

An example more closely aligned to our context is chocolate.  Chocolate is delicious, and some advertise that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health benefits.  But, chocolate has theobromine, a caffeine like substance.  It also is high in fat and sugar.  Eating a little chocolate may be fine, but eating very much or late at night is lawful, but not expedient.

Let’s look at what Paul writes next:

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.  (1 Corinthians 10:25-33)

Paul says that if you buy some food that may have been offered idols, the first thing is to not even ask. Just eat it. But if somebody says that the food has been offered to idols, don’t eat it to set the example for the other person.  Do it for the glory of God, so that people may receive the Lord.

So what does this have to do with Easter eggs, Easter bunnies and so forth. Well, some say that if you eat Easter treats you are eating foods dedicated to the German goddess Easter. I’m going to suggest to you that it might be wise in that situation to not participate in any treats, at least around those people.  But, for the most part where Easter is celebrated and people die eggs and put out jelly beans and chocolate bunnies and such (remember there are chocolate crosses also), these foods are not being offered to the goddess Eostre,  they are being put out to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore they are not being sacrificed to a goddess even though the tradition was borrowed from a pagan tradition.

As a grandfather, I went through some of these issues with my kids, and now I see it with my grandchildren. As there are a zillion children participating in Easter egg hunts, and eating Easter eggs and so forth it is pretty daunting to try to explain to your children that even though there are other Christian kids doing this, it is pagan and that you shouldn’t do it. I’m going to say to you that there is no problem giving kids the chance to hunt for Easter eggs and eat a few jellybeans and chocolate bunnies and such because those foods are put out in celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

The Resurrection Is the Real Meaning of Easter to Christians

The day that Christians call Easter is a day commemorated to celebrating the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, in payment of our sins, giving us the opportunity for eternal life with him, and that he is going to come back, and that we will join him, and be with them for all eternity!

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; (John 11:25)

Easter is part of a Christian’s worship, and more specifically it is part of the witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  Being a witness of Jesus’ resurrection is the primary mission of being a disciple of Christ:

beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:22)

The resurrection was the main point that the apostles and disciples preached in original, primitive Christianity:

And as they spake unto the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, being sore troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (Acts 4:1-2)

It can be argued that the great power that came to primitive, original Christianity came because they focused their preaching on the resurrection:

And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)

The resurrection is the core message of Christianity, it is the first test of orthodoxy:

men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:18 ASV)

Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be abolished is death. For, He put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him. And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.  (1 Corinthians 15:12-28 ASV)

In the above verses death is called the last enemy.  Overcoming death is a focal point of Christian ministry:

except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day. (Acts 24:21 ASV)

Jesus Broke the Death Barrier

The greatness of Christianity is the resurrection.  Its not the others haven’t been raised from the dead previously; Lazarus and others were raised.  But they still died eventually.  Jesus rose from the dead never to rise again.  Jesus is the firstborn from the dead.   He is the first man to break the death barrier forever:

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)

So here we have death, this awful thing where life just ceases.  We feel the loss of our loved ones when they die. We experience sadness, grief, and mourning.  We know that unless the Lord comes for us in our lifetime we will have to face death.  Even if we get raised from the dead in this life we still face that death.

But Jesus has paved a new path giving us a new life that is eternal where we never have to face death again.  It is life eternal with the Lord, with an incorruptible body without pain.  How awesome!

That’s what we celebrate on Easter: victory over death.

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

May 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Movements | no comments