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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Tertullian XI: Just a Few More Topics

I have several topics I’m going to briefly cover here even though there’s enough material for some of these to create individual posts. But I think a dozen Tertullian posts is enough. The reason why I’ve had so much to say about him is that Tertullian is writing for a different reason than prior authors. The Apologists such as Justin Martyr wrote to defend their faith against Pagan and Jewish criticism. Irenaeus was concerned with countering heresy. Clement wanted to help Christians negotiate conflicts between living within the Church and as Roman citizens. Tertullian writes from within the Church, to the Church, to explain what it means to be a good Christian. He covers more topics and in greater depth than anyone who came previously. It’s a new direction for Christian writing and I think noting this and what he says is important to illustrate a direction the Church would eventually go in. Unfortunately, by briefly covering a bunch of subjects this post is going to be a bit clunky. Anyone who’s read this blog for very long knows I like to cover things in some depth.

First I want to mention a few things I’m not going to talk about. Tertullian wrote an Apology which I didn’t find terribly different from those of the second century. Roman Gods were demons or famous men, Moses predates Greeks who borrowed their ideas from him, the only accusation against Christians which sticks is their name, etc. He also wrote against the Jews with, again, fairly standard themes. His Prescription Against Heretics and other heresiologies, while providing some interesting concepts on philosophy and the Trinity, don’t provide any information on heresy which Irenaeus failed to cover. In his various writings he shares previously offered thoughts on the Resurrection of the Body.

However he does bring up other issues I’ve not seen before. I’ll briefly (and insufficiently) touch on some of these.

Martyrdom

Tertullian’s with everyone else on Martyrs being especially blessed and believing they may ascend to Heaven more quickly than the normal believer. In contrast to Clement, he opposes fleeing from persecution but advocates standing your ground and accepting Martyrdom. His treatise (written as a letter), Of Flight in Persecution (de fuga in persecutione) addresses this specific theme:

“For if persecution proceeds from God, in no way will it be our duty to flee from what has God as its author; a twofold reason opposing; for what proceeds from God ought not on the one hand to be avoided, and it cannot be evaded on the other. It ought not to be avoided, because it is good; for everything must be good on which God has cast His eye.” Of Flight in Persecution, IV

As usual, when there’s something in scripture Tertullian disagrees with, he finds a way around it. Despite Christ advising the Apostles to flee in the Gospels, such as in Matthew, X.23, this does not apply to Christians of his day. That was advice given to the very first Christians, Christ’s companions, so they might live to preach and spread the Word of the Gospel. The Word has been spread so this advice no longer applies (this isn’t his only reason for contradicting Jesus’ advice but I won’t cover all of them or I will need a separate post). (Of Flight in Persecution, VI-X)

As he finishes up, Tertullian equates fleeing persecution with denying Christ, “You have confessed Him; so also, on the account of your unwillingness to confess Him before many you have denied Him. … The refusal of martyrdom is denial.” (Of Flight in Persecution, XII) “He who fears to suffer, cannot belong to Him who suffered.” (Of Flight in Persecution, XIV)

Idolatry

It will surprise nobody that Tertullian condemns idolatry, as does every other Christian author. There are many reasons given for this ranging from the Ten Commandments to a general, “this is what the Roman do – worship stone and wooden images.” However Tertullian goes further than previous authors in his treatise On Idolatry (de idololatria).

Writing during an early stage of his career, Tertullian contradicts his later opinions of philosophy and advocates that it’s permissable for a Christian to learn from, but not teach, pagan literature, “Learning literature is allowable for believers, rather than teaching; for the principle of learning and of teaching is different. If a believer teach literature, while he is teaching doubtless he commends, while he delivers he affirms, while he recalls he bears testimony to, the praises of idols interspersed therein.” (On Idolatry, X

Where this really gets interesting is when Tertullian tells Christians that they can engage in no profession which might somehow contribute to Idolatry. Is a Christian involved in the production or trade of incense? Then he is guilty of idolatry for these are used in ceremonies. Do you raise livestock which may be used in the ceremonies? Train gladiators who may participate in the games? “No art, then, no profession, no trade, which administers either to equipping or forming idols, can be free from the title of idolatry …”

One of Tertullian’s most famous works, The Shows (de spactaculis) is really an extension of this theme. Shows, the theater, the circus, and games are all dedicated to the Roman Gods. These are, then, idolatrous, and Christians are forbidden from participating in or attending them. Demons and evil spirits feast on these events and the blood spilled there.

Pleasure

This is a theme which I was really tempted to devote a post to. However Tertullian’s thoughts are simple enough that I don’t really need to, it just would have been one of the more entertaining topics to talk about. In essence, any passions are to be guarded against. Pleasure is no exception and must be avoided, particularly strong feelings, which may lead to desire, which may lead to covetousness, and so on. The Shows, XV-XVII

Related to this – or maybe not but it’s notable enough that I have to mention it someplace – is where he mentions that when assessing what is acceptable behavior, Christians should not search scripture to avoid what is forbidden. Instead, they should read scripture with an eye on what is specifically permitted and only engage in these behaviors:

“For if it shall be said that it is lawful to be crowned on this ground, that Scripture does not forbid it, it will as validly be retorted that just on this ground is the crown unlawful, because the Scripture does not enjoin it. What shall discipline do? Shall it accept both things, as if neither were forbidden? Or shall it refuse both, as if neither were enjoined? But ‘the thing which is not forbidden is freely permitted.’ I should rather say that what has not been freely allowed is forbidden.The Chaplet (de corona), II.

To be fair, the above must be a rhetorical device. After all, I don’t believe scripture ever specifically gives a person permission to, for example, trim a hangnail or try on a pair of sandals to see if they fit but I can’t imagine he thinks these sorts of activities should be forbidden. It does, however, show the lengths he was willing to go to argue against what he felt was an overly permissive Church and loose living by Christians.

The Vengeful God

Tertullian’s God is not the gentle God of love but a fierce, vengeful God. Tertullian intersperses his thoughts on this in a variety of areas. Some earlier authors proposed that all souls will eventually be saved, if appropriately purified. Tertullian’s God is not so forgiving. From fear comes love and obedience. “Foolish man[Marcion], do you say that he whom you call Lord ought not to be feared, whilst the very title you give him indicates a power which must itself be feared? But how are you going to love, without some fear that you do not love?” Against Marcion, I.XXVII

God has a responsibility to punish, “Moreover, it would be a more unworthy course for God to spare the evil-doer than to punish him, especially in the most good and holy God, who is not otherwise fully good than as the enemy of evil, and that to such a degree as to display His love of good by the hatred of evil, and to fulfil His defence of the former by the extirpation of the latter.” Against Marcion, I.XXVI

This concept is not precisely new, it’s just that Tertullian goes beyond any previous author in discussing it, to the extent of contradicting “turn the other cheek” in favor of “an eye for an eye.” “Eye for eye does our God require; but your god does even a greater injury, (in your ideas,) when he prevents an act of retaliation. For what man will not return a blow, without waiting to be struck a second time.” Against Marcion, II.XXVIII

Several times he comes very close to saying that God actually created evil, rather than this being a result of free will, as most other authors say. God creates a penal evil; evil which is actually divine retribution, “Of the latter class of evils which are compatible with justice, God is therefore avowedly the creator. They are, no doubt, evil to those by whom they are endured, but still on their own account good, as being just and defensive of good and hostile to sin. In this respect they are, moreover, worthy of God.” Against Marcion, II.XIV

The Last Days (of Rome)

Tertullian also provided a twist on The Last Days. He stands with the majority (to be honest I can’t think of an exception) of prior authors in believing that the Last Days are near. However several times he asserts that man will know that the Apocalypse has arrived when the Roman Empire comes to an end. “For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth — in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes — is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire.” Apology, XXXII

and:

“A Christian is enemy to none, least of all to the Emperor of Rome, whom he knows to be appointed by his God, and so cannot but love and honour; and whose well-being moreover, he must needs desire, with that of the empire over which he reigns so long as the world shall stand — for so long as that shall Rome continue.” To Scapula, II

This is a new and interesting take on the Last Days. It was a common theme in post-Nicaean Christianity. Once Christianity became, not just legitimate but the official religion of the Empire, a reason for the Empire’s existence became so the Word of God could be more easily spread to all (Roman) people. Once the Word had been sufficiently spread, the Empire’s purpose would be fulfilled and it could end. Hydatius seems to share this viewpoint. Tertullian is the only pre-Nicene author I’ve read who believes this. He seems to be well ahead of his time with this concept.

Matter

By this time the idea that God created matter, rather than working with preexisting matter, seems to have been well on the way to becoming established. Justin Martyr, writing 60 years earlier, believed that God used unformed matter (First Apology, X) but every later author that I recall felt otherwise. Still, it appears that some Christians continued to believe as Justin had. Tertullian’s treatise, Against Hermogenes was written against a Christian whose sole crime was believing that God used pre-existing matter to create the universe.

In some ways I felt this was a weak treatise overall. One of Tertullian’s foremost thoughts is that if God had not created matter, Hermogenes was stating that matter had more power. Earlier Christians had often denounced Roman Gods as mere objects of stone or wood and discussed how sculptors would have demonstrated power over them by being able to mold their matter as they saw fit. The same should hold true for God molding the world. Still, by devoting an entire treatise to the subject of matter, Tertullian advances this discussion considerably. One important development is when he counters Hermogenes’ assertion that if God created matter he must also have created evil. First and simplest is his statement that Hermogenes’ argument that matter was both good and evil and the world is stuck with evil because God did the best with what he had to work with is a denial of God’s omnipotence and changes the very nature of God. (Against Hermogenes, I) Additionally, it provides an excuse for men to do evil; if they are created from evil matter, how are they to blame for their actions? (Against Hermogenes, XII)

The Soul

My Original Sin and Purgatory posts already discuss some aspects of the soul. Beyond these two ideas (and the necessity of baptism) I think it’s important to mention that in his Treatise on the Soul (de anima), as with other topics, by the sheer amount of time and depth of argument which Tertullian is willing to invest, he moved the conversation related to the soul’s nature significantly forward.

Among the issues he discusses is a firm denial that the soul is divisible, as philosophers and some earlier Christians believed. 1 The soul is created at conception. He is the first author I recall who states that the soul is delivered into a woman by semen and men can feel this happen, ” … I cannot help asking, whether we do not, in that very heat of extreme gratification when the generative fluid [semen] is ejected, feel that somewhat of our soul has gone from us?” Treatise on the Soul, XXVII

One of his main points throughout this treatise is that the soul is corporeal. It has weight and substance, though this is different from man’s physical body. It must be as it rules men and moves them and how could something without substance cause motion? Within this treatise Tertullian states that all men are created equal intellectually but their environment results in different results. He mentions health, bodily condition, what nation and beliefs one is born into, and exposure to education, “How much more will those accidental circumstances have to be noticed, which, in addition to the state of one’s body or health, tend to sharpen or to dull the intellect!” Treatise on the Soul, XX

Proof of Christ’s Divinity

Tertullian uses a new strategy in trying to prove that Christ was the promised Messiah, the Savior. When looking for quotes on the nature of Christ I came across this passage which I think is illuminating:

“I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. ‘Whosoever,’ says He, ‘shall be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed.’ Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.On the Flesh of Christ, V

There are two points from this passage. One is that man should not be ashamed of his flesh (though of course he should not adorn it either). The other is a rhetorical device of Tertullian’s which fits with the modern saying, “That story’s too crazy not to be true/for someone to have made up.” Tertullian uses this regularly as proof of the reality of Christ. What good would it have been for the prophets to declare (as some heretics state they did, for example in Isaiah) that Christ was to be born of a young woman? Young women have kids all the time. But for someone to be born of a virgin? This shows the miraculous intervention of God. He uses a similar argument regarding Christ’s resurrection. That he died is one thing for all men die. But to be resurrected?

There’s actually a third point but I already covered it in my post on the nature of Christ. Christ was willing to subject himself to every humiliation which man might undergo, to the point of being hung from a tree, pronounced as a curse in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 21.23

Prior to Tertullian, every author I’ve read tried to make sense of the virgin birth and resurrection by explaining the Old Testament prophecies in such a way as to predict Christ. Tertullian does this plenty but here he tries something new. I thought the “too crazy not to be due to God’s intervention” strategy was impressive. The guy was harsh, absolute and aggressive but he could also be brilliant.

Miscellaneous

There are various points which I found interesting but aren’t that significant. For example, it appears that during the early third century, while Mary was definitely a virgin when she bore Christ, there was no requirement that she remained a virgin afterward (Doctrine of Perpetual Virginity), as Tertullian relates that it is certain that Christ had brothers. On the Flesh of Christ, VII

Also, as what was and was not scripture continued to be defined, Tertullian is critical of the Shepherd of Hermas but places a great deal of value on The Epistle of Barnabas. (On Modesty, XX

One item is, I think, notable for its lack of mention. It’s obvious, I hope, from what I’ve written that Tertullian was very ascetic, particularly regarding sexual activity. However I do not believe he ever mentions or hints at any sort of monasticism, either eremetic or cenobitic. I can’t say whether this means that no type of ascetic activity was taking place or just that he believes that a Christian should be a member of the larger community but I found this interesting.

I think it’s important to note that of the authors I’ve read, Tertullian shows more familiarity with the New Testament than anyone who preceded him. In particular he relies on the Pauline letters but he also quotes from the Gospels and Acts quite often. Earlier Christians relied more heavily on the Old Testament, particularly to provide evidence from prophets foretelling the coming of Christ.

That’s it for topical posts about Tertullian. I’ll have one more short post as a summary (this one ended up much longer than I hoped it would be, over 3,000 words) and then I can move on to someone or something else.

1 Platonists, for example, believed in a soul containing three natures where only the intellectual or logical nature would survive death while the emotional and desirous/appetitive parts would cease to exist. Early Christians often had trouble describing what the soul is or how it functioned. Many pretty much ignored the subject beyond stating that man had free will and the soul would be resurrected and either saved or punished.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-083-1.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (entire), Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004). ISBN: 1-56563-084-X.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian: I. Apologetic; II. Anti-Marcion; III. Ethical. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Part Fourth: Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 3: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, etc. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 6: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2014 in Religion

 

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Why I’m not a(n) Historian

I’ve recently been involved in an off-blog e-mail exchange with someone who initially contacted me thinking I’m a historian. This is not the first time this has happened but this morning, while being snowed in for about the 5th time this winter, seems like a good time to explain why I am not in more detail. I have always tried very hard not to give this perception and have commented frequently that I am not, never have been, and likely never will be a historian. I’m going to try to rank my reasons in order of importance. 1

1. I cannot read source material in its original language. This is the elephant in the room. All I can read is translations. Not only that but any time you read a translation, you’re reading the translator’s interpretation of the source. I comment on sources a lot. I enjoy reading them and have reached the point where, rather than read multiple secondary sources and THEN read the primary/contemporary sources, I’d rather read the sources first, then find out what modern historians think about them. This is, I think, an important evolution in my knowledge of history, that I’m comfortable enough in my own assessments to do this. It is likely the one area which causes the most misconceptions that I may be a historian. I’m not. Unless I can read, assess, and interpret the earliest extant version of source material for myself, not through the eyes of others, I am not a historian. This is more than a rule for me; it’s a law. 2

2. I haven’t been trained. I think I’ve learned a fair amount on my own (not to say that others haven’t been kind enough to help me) but there’s a lot to be said for formal education. You are required to submit work to an authority who will return this to you after providing a critical assessment. You will need to hone your craft through a fairly rigorous review process. This is also a reason why advanced degrees matter. This isn’t as much of a go/no go criterion as number 1. I do think someone without a degree can become a historian. You can submit publications for review, work with historians on projects and observe and learn from their methods, etc. You certainly can learn a new language(or a very old one). It’s not a “you’re dead on the spot if you can’t do this” type of qualification like the inability to read sources but for me it’s pretty strong. I can read books on historical methodology and I’ll learn a lot. But without another party evaluating what I’ve done a big part of the process is missing.

3. I’m not paid for it. I think labels and titles have some importance (if I believed otherwise this post wouldn’t exist). Before I got myself a real job I used to be a horse trainer. I used to tell amateurs all the time that if they knew horses very well they could probably train their horse as well as I could, it just would take longer. I was riding 10 or more horses a day, doing this 12-14 hours/day six days a week. The sheer number of experiences I had with horses, each with his/her own little idiosyncrasies, meant I could figure out what was going on and what to do more quickly. What I could get done in 90 or 120 days would probably take them 6-8 months. If these amateurs chose to do this that didn’t make them horse trainers but people who trained a horse or two. There’s a difference between someone who derives his or her income from something and someone who does not. In this case one is a historian, the other (even if he/she can read sources and has been trained) is someone who does history. I will not get 100% agreement on this one, but I think the fact that someone believes that what you do has economic value means something. For me, if I’m not getting paid for it, I’m not a member of a profession.

When I started this post I thought I’d have a much longer list but once I began thinking on it I decided that just about everything I had fit under one of these categories. For example, part of being a historian is being a member of the profession which means you’re submitting material for publication, review, and critique. This actually fits under #2 (receiving assessments and critiques), at a different point in one’s career.

Also, I haven’t listed things which might make you a good vs a bad historian. The best example of this I can think of is professional development. I would say that a good historian tries to stay current. He or she will attend professional conferences, remain current on developments in his or her area(s) of expertise, etc. Someone who fails to do this does not necessarily cease to be a historian, he or she just likely isn’t a very good one.

I have reached the point where I think I can assess the validity of a historian’s argument and his/her methodology. I take some pride in this and it’s taken me a long time to reach this point. It’s a nice skill though I still have a lot to learn about it. But it doesn’t make me a historian.

1 By history I mean assessing the past using written source material (including inscriptions and art). Archaeologists are involved with studies all the time which they evaluate and interpret, frequently without a single textual piece of evidence. For me, while there’s a ton of overlap and members of each profession should at least be conversant with the others’ methods, this does not make an archaeologist a historian (though some people are both).

2 I don’t want to imply that a historian, in writing, must have personally read every single source on a topic to construct an argument, just that he or she must be able to go back to a source to assess it if they find another historian’s interpretation questionable.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2014 in Amateur Tips

 

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Tertullian X: Women

Tertullian has often been called a misogynist, even by professional historians. I dislike labels of this sort. First, they’re prejudicial. This is an extremely value-laden term generally used when a strong emotional reaction is the desired outcome. This detracts from analysis. Labels are often used in place of argument. My disagreement with the use of labels is along the same lines as my discomfort with an overuse of models: it indicates a mindset of looking at something which has already been categorized. And sometimes – this is what really pisses me off – a writer will bring something up, label it, and never offer a reason why it fits under the label. That’s either lazy or sloppy, sometimes both, and the author’s treating me like a child. I don’t like it. Now I understand that part of the written word, really all language, is the necessity of identification and categorization. But I expect better from historians who should be sure to offer analysis. 1

For my money, being as my dictionary (Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2005) defines mysogyny as, “hatred of women, esp. by a man.”, I don’t think Tertullian meets that standard. He definitely has a view towards them which comes across that way sometimes however he is very positive towards widows and virgins and writes affectionately to his wife. An, er, radical view of women and their role (at least compared to previous authors)? Absolutely. Misogynistic statements? I’d say he has at least one of these which I’ll discuss below. Outright hatred? He doesn’t go that far, not in a systematic way.

Now that I have that out of the way, it’s hard(impossible?) to deny that Tertullian had a negative opinion of women, or at least many roles which appear to have sometimes been taken by them. He wrote multiple treatises which were directed primarily toward women. In most of these he’d throw a qualifier in that everything he was saying also applied to men but over 90% of the text would be talking about women. For example, in On the Apparel of Women (De cultu feminarum) he spends a lot of time talking about women doing their hair, using makeup, wearing jewelry, etc.and how all of this is the opposite of humility which God commands. In II.VIII he includes men in a fairly short chapter, saying they should not dye their hair, be overly concerned with their beard, shave their body hair and so on. But this is one chapter out of 22 in two books. Based on what I’ve read, while Tertullian believes that all Christians are in need of guidance and correction, women are more in need of these than men.

There are quite a few places where he places restrictions on what women can do, such as teaching or even speaking in Church, performing baptism, and of course their dress. An interesting aside to his prohibitions on women teaching and performing baptisms is that this seems to indicate that, in at least some churches, they were performing these roles; otherwise, why would he feel the need to prohibit them?

On the Apparel of Women is the treatise which paints Tertullian as really being negative toward women. In his opening, after a passage discussing how Eve is guilty of the First Sin of Mankind and therefore all Human perdition he adds:

“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert — that is, death — even the Son of God had to die.” On the Apparel of Women, I.I

He’s not done. Men are not responsible for their own lust. If a woman is the cause, then she shares in the guilt:

“For that other, as soon as he has felt concupiscence after your beauty, and has mentally already committed (the deed) which his concupiscence pointed to, perishes; and you have been made the sword which destroys him: so that, albeit you be free from the (actual) crime, you are not free from the odium (attaching to it)” On the Apparel of Women, II.II

Even if women are beautiful, though he tries to say that this isn’t their fault, he believes it is better for them not to be, even within their own home:

“As if I were speaking to Gentiles, addressing you with a Gentile precept, and (one which is) common to all, (I would say,) “You are bound to please your husbands only.” But you will please them in proportion as you take no care to please others. Be ye without carefulness, blessed (sisters): no wife is ‘ugly’ to her own husband. She ‘pleased’ him enough when she was selected (by him as his wife); whether commended by form or by character. Let none of you think that, if she abstain from the care of her person, she will incur the hatred and aversion of husbands. Every husband is the exactor of chastity; but beauty, a believing (husband) does not require, because we are not captivated by the same graces which the Gentiles think (to be) graces …” On the Apparel of Women, II.IV

These are the points where he goes above and beyond what most authors seem to believe. As I said above, he is quite restrictive on women’s roles in the Church and strongly believes women should be veiled and their heads covered whenever they are in public but he is not alone in making these types of comments. However his “guilt of Eve” statement goes beyond what others have written and I can’t argue with anyone who says that this is misogynistic. Theophilus of Antioch and Clement talk about Eve’s sin, however they do not make statements about how all women are contaminated by Eve. 2 Justin and Clement are specific in stating that women are as capable of virtue as men while Irenaeus introduces the concept that Mary redeemed Eve’s sin. 3

What was the impact of this? A common theme during the Medieval period was one where women were sexually insatiable and acted as Eve had, as seductresses. As Eve seduced Adam into sin with an apple, women seduce men into sin sexually. Tertullian’s the earliest author to write on this at length. As with other areas, I can’t say that Tertullian was the source of this attitude but it seems likely that he had some lasting effect. At the very least, the author of the Didascalia Apostolorum appears to echo many of his sentiments, though as that was probably written in Syria a couple of decades later it’s hard to say whether this was based on direct transmission or reflects a broader change in attitudes. 4

NOTE: This will be my last Tertullian post (I think) where I talk about a single subject. I have one more “cleanup” post where I’ll discuss some other issues he wrote on (hopefully none of those topics will become something I feel compelled to offer as a separate post) and then a final summary. I think 12 Tertullian posts is enough. I can’t help wondering what I’ll do with Augustine when I get there but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Also, in my first post I mentioned putting up one final, huge post which would contain everything, mainly for my own use. I’ve decided not to. It’s over 20,000 words and everything in it will have already been covered. I’ll just save it to a Word document for my reference.

1 For an example of this sort of labeling, see, Davis, Stephen J., The Cult of St. Thecla: A Tradition of Women’s Piety in Late Antiquity, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2008), p. 52. Benjamin H. Dunning in Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (2011), tackles this issue head on, “Scholars have paid a great deal of attention to the question of whether the North African theologian Tertullian of Carthage was a misogynist.” p. 124 with discussion of this topic on pp. 124-150, or all of Chapter 5.

2 Theophilus, To Autolycus, XXVIII; Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen, I

3 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, XXXIII; Clement spends a fair amount of time on this, Stromata, IV.VIII and XIX. For Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.XII.4, “… so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevetherless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.”

4 As a caution to those less familiar with the medieval period, while the anti-women rhetoric could sometimes be severe, it likely had less impact than its volume would imply. Women bore children, ran households; peasant women worked the fields, cared for livestock and did the housework. Just living was too hard for most people to worry about these sort of things. Even Tertullian was married and wrote affectionately to his wife.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-083-1.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (entire), Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004). ISBN: 1-56563-084-X.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian: I. Apologetic; II. Anti-Marcion; III. Ethical. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Part Fourth: Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 3: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, etc. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 6: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Religion, Society and Social Structure

 

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Medieval Prisons

NOTE: My apologies to anyone who may have wondered what was going on when an earlier version of this showed up a couple of days ago. I hit the “publish” instead of “save draft” button by mistake.

Most of us have probably seen something in the movies where; Our Hero is captured by The Bad Guys, gets thrown into some dank, windowless pit where his only contact with the outside world is when a slot opens up once a day and food, usually with maggots in it (protein!) is shoved at him. This before the Hollywood/New Zealand form of divine intervention rescues him so he can save the world/girl/his companions/the day. This is our medieval prison, right?

Wrong, at least according to a book I’ve just finished, The Medieval Prison by G. Geltner. In this book Geltner sets out to dispel some misconceptions about medieval prisons, using a case study approach for Italian prisons in Venice, Florence, and Bologna. I want to mention that this will not be a book review. I don’t know enough about late medieval Italy or medieval prisons to be able to assess the soundness of the information. I can say that I enjoyed it, it’s well written and his arguments, as constructed, seem solid. What I want to do is share some of the information Geltner provides because I found it interesting.

According to Geltner, the process of developing prisons, rather than having a few cells to hold people for trial or execution, began around 1250. Initially this was through the adaptation of existing structures by adding cells, as time went on structures were built designed to be used as prisons. These first prisons were primarily for debtors. By the early 14th century they began to hold other criminals though even by the end of this survey, in the 15th century, the vast majority of prisoners either owed someone money or were being held for trial.


Painting of the 14th century Florence prison Le Stinche, likely the first facility built
specifically to be a prison in Europe. By Fabio Borbottoni, image from Wikimedia Commons.

These prisons were located in the center of cities, near administrative centers. This resulted in them, and their prisoners, not being completely removed from the urban life of their respective cities. Visitors were allowed freely, they could speak to people through windows, and the debtors were often allowed to leave the prison by day to beg to both support their prison stay and help pay down their debt. These prisons were far more open, the atmosphere much more relaxed, than today’s American prisons which have largely been moved outside of the cities and are in many ways hidden.

Prisoners were one of the classes of people which it was considered appropriate for the wealthy to support. It was expected that the prisoner would pay for food and the salaries of those who worked in the prison. Those who were too poor to do so relied on benefactors. Those with money paid to improve their living conditions and it was from these higher paying prisoners that prisons could turn a profit. There seem to have been no restrictions, other than a prohibition on weapons, on what type of personal property a prisoner could possess, including a luxurious bed.

The incidence of illness, disease, and death while in prisons was fairly low. Geltner says, “… the medieval prison’s current image as a ‘hellhole,’ a view still shared and occasionally even perpetuated by medieval, let alone modern, historians, is simply untenable.” (101) Escapes were rarely attempted even though these prisons were pretty easy to break out of. Geltner believes one reason for this is that, except for the wealthier residents, conditions within the prison were likely no worse than they would have faced outside as violence rarely occurred and they had food and a place to sleep. Additionally, if someone escaped, where would he (or she) go? If a prisoner today manages to escape, if he or she evades capture a bus ticket will take them thousands of miles in a couple of days and there are large metropolitan areas to lose oneself in. These options were not available to medievals and while these three cities were large by medieval standards, they would have been dwarfed by a medium size modern city. An escaped prisoner would have had a tough time avoiding being found.

This is not to say that prisons were paradises. Freedoms were restricted which would have been burdensome for the wealthy, boredom was a problem, and torture was a legitimate way of extracting information. While many prisoners were allowed to roam at will within the walls and some were even allowed outside, some were chained. However the vision of a dank tower into which someone was thrown and never seen again does not seem to have been the situation here.

Sentences were fairly short. There was public perception that penal or punitive incarceration was wrong and that prisons should be reserved for debtors. Authorities got around this by fining people for unlawful behavior, then jailing them when they were unable to pay the fine. However even this could backfire if the prisoner was so poor that he couldn’t pay the debt or even prison expenses such as food and employee salaries. There was some thought that it was useless to imprison destitute debtors as they would never be able to pay anyway. Unpaid debt was typically covered by a benefactor after a sentence of two years at the most and prisoners were commonly freed on religious days.

I’ve stuck with general information with this post. Geltner provides a fair amount of specific details on topics such as penalties for specific crimes, mortality numbers (which were quite low) and financial figures. I think it’s also important to remember that Geltner’s survey covers a very small portion of the medieval world and that Italy was somewhat unique in its development. I’m not convinced that what he says about Italian prisons in the Late Middle Ages can be applied to England, France, or Germany.

In any case, I found this to be an enjoyable book and I learned a fair amount from it. Medieval prisons, at least in Italy, weren’t the worst places in the world. They were located in the centers of cities where urban residents could see and interact with prisoners, and were concerned for their well-being. Prisoners remained a part of their world, not hidden away from sight, and were considered deserving of pity and assistance. Prisons had hospital wards and free legal aid was often available. This is not the image of a medieval prison found in the movies. It’s also much more interesting.

Geltner, G., The Medieval Prison: A Social History. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2008). ISBN: 978-0-691-13533-5.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Society and Social Structure

 

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Tertullian IX: Sex

This post is more about Adultery and Fornication than sex but I thought I’d do something to raise site traffic (grin). Besides, as obsessed as he is with the topic, I thought I should have a Tertullian sex post. Brace yourselves folks, this will be hot! (OK, I just lied)

If you’ve managed to read through my previous Tertullian posts it won’t surprise you to see that he considers sex outside of marriage to be a Very Bad Thing. Heck, he’s on the verge of calling marriage a Bad Thing. In fact I’m going to have a later post explaining how he considers anything which might be pleasurable to be a Bad Thing so evidently sex is only OK if you don’t enjoy it. There are a lot of Bad Things in Tertullian’s world.

Fornication and Adultery hold a special place in Tertullian’s scale of badness. These sins, which as he considers them the same (at least from the perspective of severity), I’ll just call fornication from this point on, are part of his triad of Sins Which Are Truly Abominable. The other two are Idolatry and Murder.

I sort of chuckled when I read my notes and rather than try to explain why, I’ll offer an image which will also serve as a nice example of how I write notes. As a hint, it takes a LOT for me to jot down something like, “T. sort of goes wild in this one.” I don’t remember exactly but I suspect that at the time I was reading this, I had a mental image of him writing furiously with foam dripping from his mouth.

Notes I took while reading Tertullian
I could almost quit writing this post now and save us all some time as the main ideas I’ll be covering are all here.

I’ll be taking all of my quotes from his treatise, On Modesty(de pudicitia). That’s not to say that this is anything close to the only place he writes about this. The man is obsessed with sex (I can apply a personal, judgmental characteristic to someone because I’m not a historian and can get away with it). He writes about it a lot, or at least about “not sex” a lot.

His inspiration for On Modesty comes from the Pope, Callixtus I (probably, Tertullian never provides a name). Callixtus decided to allow fornicators back into the Church. Tertullian, er, disagrees:

“I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus – that is, the bishop of bishops – issues an edict: “I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.” O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, ‘Good deed!'” On Modesty, I

Tertullian’s argument is anything but subtle. He opens with a vehement condemnation which ends with:

But since they[Adultery and Fornication] are such as to hold the culminating place among crimes, there is no room at once for their indulgence as if they were moderate, and for their precaution as if they were greatest. But by us precaution is thus also taken against the greatest, or, (if you will), highest (crimes, viz.,) in that it is not permitted, after believing, to know even a second marriage, differentiated though it be, to be sure, from the work of adultery and fornication by the nuptial and dotal tablets: and accordingly, with the utmost strictness, we excommunicate digamists, as bringing infamy upon the Paraclete by the irregularity of their discipline. The self-same liminal limit we fix for adulterers also and fornicators; dooming them to pour forth tears barren of peace, and to regain from the Church no ampler return than the publication of their disgrace.On Modesty, I

His discussion continues as he talks about which sins may and may not be remitted by the Church:

“We agree that the causes of repentance are sins. These we divide into two issues: some will be remissible, some irremissible: in accordance wherewith it will be doubtful to no one that some deserve chastisement, some condemnation. Every sin is dischargeable either by pardon or else by penalty: by pardon as the result of chastisement, by penalty as the result of condemnation. … And it remains to examine specially, with regard to the position of adultery and fornication, to which class of sins they ought to be assigned.” On Modesty, II

Tertullian is careful to note that while there are sins which the Church cannot offer remission for, God may choose to pardon them. This next passage is also interesting for the first mention I’ve come across of Mortal Sins. This is a place where the Ante-Nicene Fathers not including the Latin is a negative as it would be interesting to see Tertullian’s precise phrasing and whether this is an interpretation of the translator:

“As regards us, however, who remember that the Lord alone concedes (the pardon of) sins, (and of course of mortal ones,) it will not be practised in vain. For (the repentance) being referred back to the Lord, and thenceforward lying prostrate before Him, will by this very fact the rather avail to win pardon, that it gains it by entreaty from God alone, that it believes not that man’s peace is adequate to its guilt, that as far as regards the Church it prefers the blush of shame to the privilege of communion.” On Modesty, III

His main argument in support of his position is that Adultery is placed following Idolatry and before Murder in the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). This placement indicates that these three sins are those which the Church does not have the authority to remit. (On Modesty, III)

Tertullian writes as if Callixtus is overturning accepted practice where these sinners are dead to the Church, “But for the adulterer and fornicator, who is there who has not pronounced him to be dead immediately upon commission of the crime?” They are to be immediately expelled from fellowship and denied Communion, “No sooner has (such a) man made his appearance than he is expelled from the Church …” (On Modesty, VII)

He uses Acts, XV.28-30 as scriptural evidence for his assertion. Here the Apostles, in writing to Syrian Gentiles tell them:

“When first the Gospel thundered and shook the old system to its base, when dispute was being held on the question of retaining or not the Law; this is the first rule which the apostles, on the authority of the Holy Spirit, send out to those who were already beginning to be gathered to their side out of the nations: ‘It has seemed (good),’ say they, ‘to the Holy Spirit and to us to cast upon you no ampler weight than (that) of those (things) from which it is necessary that abstinence be observed; from sacrifices, and from fornications, and from blood: by abstaining from which ye act rightly, the Holy Spirit carrying you.'” On Modesty, XII

Then comes the argument where, IMO, Tertullian gets himself in trouble. In 1 Corinthians, V.1-5 Paul argues that those who are sexually immoral are to be handed over to Satan. However in 2 Corinthians, II.5-11, Paul says that the judgment of the Church on Earth is supreme and possesses the power of forgiveness. On Modesty, XIII

Tertullian spends the next five chapters of this treatise arguing that Paul doesn’t mean what the mainstream Church thinks he means. I won’t walk you through the entirety of his argument; I’m not sure I completely follow it myself. However the term “special pleading” is sometimes used to describe when a modern historian goes to extreme lengths to justify a questionable position (be careful to actually read the argument though – sometimes this label is used for a valid, but complex argument). I think this applies to Tertullian here. The reality is that as with so much in the Bible, the argument can be made either way. It was up to the Church to work it out.

As he closes his argument, he lists these “unpardonable” sins:

“But there are, too, the contraries of these[remissible sins]; as the graver and destructive ones, such as are incapable of pardon – murder, idolatry, fraud, apostasy, blasphemy; (and), of course, too, adultery and fornication; and if there be any other ‘violation of the temple of God.'” On Modesty, XIX

Tertullian even seems to wonder if perhaps Apostasy is a lesser sin than fornication, at least when it occurs under torture:

“Which pardon is, in all causes, more justly concessible – that which a voluntary, or that which an involuntary, sinner implores? No one is compelled with his will to apostatize; no one against his will commits fornication. … Which has more truly apostatized – he who has lost Christ amid agonies, or (he who has done so) amid delights? he who when losing Him grieved, or he who when losing Him sported?” On Modesty, XXII

I think this particular topic is important for a couple of reasons. First; it sheds some light on Tertullian’s Montanist conflict with the mainstream Church, “the Psychics” as he calls them. Early in the treatise he offers the clearest explanation I’ve seen in all his writings of why he is separated from the Church (though it’s not clear whether this is an official separation or by choice). He has learned and grown and has become aware that the majority view is in error. As with all of his writings, he discusses this as if it is the absolute truth; another case where I wonder if he actually felt less definitive personally and is writing this way as he has been trained in a Stoic method of argument. But all I can go by is what’s written:

“This too, therefore, shall be a count in my indictment against the Psychics; against the fellowship of sentiment also which I myself formerly maintained with them; in order that they may the more cast this in my teeth for a mark of fickleness. Repudiation of fellowship is never a pre-indication of sin. As if it were not easier to err with the majority, when it is in the company of the few that truth is loved! But, however, a profitable fickleness shall no more be a disgrace to me, than I should wish a hurtful one to be an ornament. I blush not at an error which I have ceased to hold, because I am delighted at having ceased to hold it, because I recognise myself to be better and more modest.” On Modesty, I

There are a couple of additional things he mentions, sort of in passing, which I found interesting. Tertullian is the earliest author I can recall to mention the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. By using Pontifex Maximus as Callixtus’ title (see above), he has appropriated the Roman title for the Priest of Priests. He discusses the Shepherd of Hermas as being found apocryphal repeatedly by church councils (Chapter X); the first mention of ecumenical gatherings I’ve seen, though there’s nothing to indicate what this meant, how they were gathered, or even if it meant members under the direction of a single Church (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, etc.) coming together to discuss matters of importance.

Most important for future developments is the concept of mortal sin. Various modern denominations list different items as mortal sins; murder, suicide, abortion, apostasy, etc. And even this designation does not necessarily mean the person may not eventually be accepted back into the Church (or possibly not even excommunicated). As far as I know, this Treatise of Tertullian’s is the first introduction of the concept. This is a pretty big deal.

Coogan, Michael D., ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition With the Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010). ISBN:9-780-195-28955-8.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-083-1.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (entire), Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004). ISBN: 1-56563-084-X.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian: I. Apologetic; II. Anti-Marcion; III. Ethical. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Part Fourth: Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 3: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, etc. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 6: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Religion

 

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Tertullian VIII: Repentance and Penance

Initially this was going to be part of the very complex post I mentioned recently however I decided I could split it up and make it more readable.

One of Tertullian’s shorter treatises is On Repentance(de paenitentia). In contrast with much of his other material, where he seems to be writing to convince someone of something, this is more expository. He seems to be explaining something which is generally accepted practice within the Church. Still, as he’s the first Christian author I’ve seen address this in this sort of detail, I wanted to mention what he has to say as I think it represents an evolution in the development of these concepts.

Now you don’t need to be particularly knowledgeable about Christianity, or have read a pile of source material, to understand that from its earliest days the Church was concerned with sin. The concept of receiving a single baptism for the remission of sins goes back to Paul; it’s unclear just what sort of baptism he received but he was baptized. But what happens when you sin after baptism? You’ve already received the giant forgiveness promised you, suppose you screw up later? The very early Church accepts this as a possibility. As early as The Didache Confession is mentioned, though it appears to have been a public confession told to the entire group. 1

Tertullian discusses Confession however in this treatise he adds a couple of new twists, or maybe a twist and a half. Repentance; the sinner being truly sorry for his sins, has at least been strongly implied as being necessary for the Confession to be acceptable to God. I just don’t recall anyone stating this as baldly and in as much detail as Tertullian. He terms this a second repentance and applies conditions; a second repentance is possible, but is a third? Tertullian says not. He believes that repeatedly engaging in the same sinful behavior implies a lack of repentance and that this repeated sinning will not be forgiven:

“It is irksome to append mention of a second — nay, in that case, the last — hope; lest, by treating of a remedial repenting yet in reserve, we seem to be pointing to a yet further space for sinning. Far be it that any one so interpret our meaning, as if, because there is an opening for repenting, there were even now, on that account, an opening for sinning; and as if the redundance of celestial clemency constituted a licence for human temerity. Let no one be less good because God is more so, by repeating his sin as often as he is forgiven. Otherwise be sure he will find an end of escaping, when he shall not find one of sinning. We have escaped once: thus far and no farther let us commit ourselves to perils, even if we seem likely to escape a second time.” On Repentance, VII (italics from the ANF text)

What is new with Tertullian is the idea that the Christian must somehow demonstrate his or her repentance, through some sort of penitential act. He or she must accept a ritual humiliation, before God and his or her brethren, in order for this second repentance to be accepted.

“The narrower, then, the sphere of action of this second and only (remaining) repentance, the more laborious is its probation; in order that it may not be exhibited in the conscience alone, but may likewise be carried out in some (external) act. This act, which is more usually expressed and commonly spoken of under a Greek name, is ἐξομολόγησις, whereby we confess our sins to the Lord, not indeed as if He were ignorant of them, but inasmuch as by confession satisfaction is settled, of confession repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased. And thus exomologesis is a discipline for man’s prostration and humiliation, enjoining a demeanor calculated to move mercy. With regard also to the very dress and food, it commands (the penitent) to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and drink but such as is plain, — not for the stomach’s sake, to wit, but the soul’s; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fastings, to groan, to weep and make outcries unto the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God’s dear ones; to enjoin on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his deprecatory supplication (before God).” On Repentance, IX

As Tertullian doesn’t go into the type of detail for this topic as he does with many others, my sense is that he is describing accepted practice rather than introducing an innovation, though I can’t be certain of this. As I have not read of this practice of physical penitence before (I always want to caution people that as much of this material as I’ve read over the past couple of years, it’s very possible that I missed earlier mentions) I think it’s an interesting evolutionary “marker.” At least in Carthage in the middle of the Third Century, Confession was still offered to the community, not to a designated individual, and in order for post-baptismal sin to be acceptable, penitential acts must be publicly performed. Many of these acts; sackcloth and ashes, wailing for forgiveness, and dietary restrictions were used for penance until very recently (and I suspect still are used in some sects).

I’m also sorry I didn’t review On Repentance before my post on Baptism. In Chapter VI he has stronger statements than I used in that post on the necessity of delaying baptism until the individual is truly ready to receive it.

1 The Didache, IV and particularly XIV, “On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure.” You can also look at 1 John, I.9 and James, IV.16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Basically, these three texts which first officially mention confession were probably all written around the end of the first century. 1 John is less explicit that this means a confession to others rather than to God however from the context (a discussion of Christian fellowship) it appears to me that this is the case.

Coogan, Michael D., ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition With the Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010). ISBN:9-780-195-28955-8.

Kleist, James A., trans., The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Epistles and the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, The Fragments of Papias, The Epistle to Diognetus, Ancient Christian Writers Number 6. New York: Newman Press (1948). ISBN:0-8091-0247-1.

Osborn, Eric, Tertullian, First Theologian of the West. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1997). ISBN: 978-0-521-52495-7.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-083-1.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (entire), Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004). ISBN: 1-56563-084-X.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian: I. Apologetic; II. Anti-Marcion; III. Ethical. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Part Fourth: Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 3: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, etc. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 6: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tertullian VII: The Nature of Christ and Flesh

Tertullian’s writings spend a lot of time focusing on sin. It may be surprising then to find that he considers flesh to be blameless, without sin (other than what Adam gave it). Sin is vested in the soul and will. Something done without volition is not sinful. God created the flesh of man and it is good; a suitable vessel for the soul. Before his disobedience, Adam’s flesh was without sin; it is not inherently sinful or evil. If it was not good why would man be bodily resurrected? Most importantly, if it was not good, why would God have sent his son to dwell in it?

On the Flesh of Christ (de carne Christi) is largely an anti-heretical text written against various groups such as the Valentinians and Marcions who deny that Christ assumed the flesh as he would not have so demeaned himself. Keep in mind these groups believed that matter and/or flesh was corrupt or evil and that only the spirit was good. In this treatise Tertullian says that when Christ assumed the aspect of man he assumed all aspects of man including a fleshly existence and everything that comes with it. Tertullian isn’t quite as explicit as I’ll be but his inference is pretty clear. Do babies get diarrhea and poo all over their mothers? Then Christ as a baby may have messed all over his mother. Do Human bodies get sweaty and smell bad? Then Christ got sweaty and smelled bad. Is dying by crucifixion a shameful death? Then Christ died a shameful death.

In unlocking the door to man’s salvation, the Son of God was willing to accept every single aspect of the Human condition. Christ became hungry, he may have snored, he had excretory functions, and when he was hung from a tree he suffered. He did not have to do all of this, he chose to do all of this for man’s salvation. The denial of this by heretics, that Christ would not have subjected himself to such ignominy, is also a denial of man’s resurrection. And that Christ was able to assume the flesh and yet be wholly without sin, shows that in and of itself, flesh is sinless.

As with his other arguments, Tertullian builds this theme piece by piece and I’ll try to capture a sense of this by offering some quotes. Keep in mind that his thoughts on this are not confined to this one treatise. Tertullian uses his various themes in various places.

“’Away,’” says he[Marcion], ‘with that eternal plaguey taxing of Cæsar, and the scanty inn, and the squalid swaddling-clothes, and the hard stable. … Spare also the babe from circumcision, that he may escape the pain thereof; nor let him be brought into the temple, lest he burden his parents with the expense of the offering; nor let him be handed to Simeon, lest the old man be saddened at the point of death.'” On the Flesh of Christ, II

and:

“Come now, beginning from the nativity itself, declaim against the uncleanness of the generative elements within the womb, the filthy concretion of fluid and blood, of the growth of the flesh for nine months long out of that very mire. … Of course you are horrified also at the infant, which is shed into life with the embarrassments which accompany it from the womb … Christ, at any rate, has loved even that man who was condensed in his mother’s womb amidst all its uncleannesses, even that man who was brought into life out of the said womb, even that man who was nursed amidst the nurse’s simpers. … If Christ is the Creator’s Son, it was with justice that He loved His own (creature) … Well, then, loving man He loved his nativity also, and his flesh as well. … Inquire again, then, of what things he spoke, and when you imagine that you have discovered what they are will you find anything to be so ‘foolish’ as believing in a God that has been born, and that of a virgin, and of a fleshly nature too, who wallowed in all the before-mentioned humiliations of nature?On the Flesh of Christ, IV

also:

“The sufferings attested His human flesh, the contumely proved its abject condition. Would any man have dared to touch even with his little finger, the body of Christ, if it had been of an unusual nature; or to smear His face with spitting, if it had not invited it (by its abjectness)? Why talk of a heavenly flesh, when you have no grounds to offer us for your celestial theory? Why deny it to be earthy, when you have the best of reasons for knowing it to be earthy? He hungered under the devil’s temptation; He thirsted with the woman of Samaria; He wept over Lazarus; He trembles at death (for ‘the flesh,’ as He says, “is weak”); at last, He pours out His blood.” On the Flesh of Christ, IX

I hope these are enough quotes to show where Tertullian was going with this.

A second point within this treatise relates this to the lack of inherent sinfulness in flesh. First he describes the heretical argument for why Christ must have only appeared to have been present in the flesh:

“But since Apelles’ precious set lay a very great stress on the shameful condition of the flesh, which they will have to have been furnished with souls tampered with by the fiery author of evil, and so unworthy of Christ … The world, then, must be a wrong thing, according to the evidence of its Creator’s repentance; for all repentance is the admission of fault, nor has it indeed any existence except through fault. Now, if the world is a fault, as is the body, such must be its parts — faulty too; so in like manner must be the heaven and its celestial (contents), and everything which is conceived and produced out of it. And ‘a corrupt tree must needs bring forth evil fruit.’ The flesh of Christ, therefore, if composed of celestial elements, consists of faulty materials, sinful by reason of its sinful origin; so that it must be a part of that substance which they disdain to clothe Christ with, because of its sinfulness, — in other words, our own.” On the Flesh of Christ, VIII

However by taking a fleshly body, Christ has removed the stain of sin from it:

“In the flesh, therefore, we say that sin has been abolished, because in Christ that same flesh is maintained without sin, which in man was not maintained without sin. Now, it would not contribute to the purpose of Christ’s abolishing sin in the flesh, if He did not abolish it in that flesh in which was the nature of sin, nor (would it conduce) to His glory. For surely it would have been no strange thing if He had removed the stain of sin in some better flesh, and one which should possess a different, even a sinless, nature! Then, you say, if He took our flesh, Christ’s was a sinful one. Do not, however, fetter with mystery a sense which is quite intelligible. For in putting on our flesh, He made it His own; in making it His own, He made it sinless.

Flesh in and of itself is not sinful. It can carry sin. Adam gave it sin. But Christ has removed it. Through Christ, man’s flesh can become sinless, worthy of resurrection.

I’m not sure how influential this theme was on the development of Christianity. Did the Pelagians pick up on it and use it to declare that men could live completely sinless lives? Did Augustine oppose Tertullian when he wrote against the Pelagians or did he perhaps show that you can’t use this treatise without also considering Tertullian’s thoughts on Original Sin? I’ll be looking for this as I move forward.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this theme is that for once, Tertullian shows a glimpse of empathy toward people who weren’t him. Humans aren’t a complete messed up bucket of sins; the capacity for good is a part of every person’s being, incorporated into their flesh by a perfect God who creates nothing which isn’t good. This capacity for good is so much a part of man that God saw it as a fit attire for his son. It’s nice that he’s willing to provide this hopeful message regarding the Human condition. Without this treatise, I think someone reading Tertullian could be forgiven for thinking that he believes the Human Race is a pathetic, sinful mess.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-083-1.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (entire), Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004). ISBN: 1-56563-084-X.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian: I. Apologetic; II. Anti-Marcion; III. Ethical. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Part Fourth: Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 3: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, etc. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 6: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2014 in Religion

 

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