Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The year was 160. Today we remember Tertullian, the renegade Church Father. The reading is from Tertullian.

It is the 27th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 160.

Listen. We are three days away from the 3rd season and the spiffed-up version of this show. And so I find myself trying to write in the old model you have come to know and then trying to think in terms of what the show will look like in a few days.

And frankly, Tertullian of Carthage is one reason we are moving towards a new format (that, and a desire to stay fresh). You see, I told you before that he was from North Africa. I told you he was born in 160 may have seemed a little anti-intellectual and didn't like the Greeks, which was good for our drive-by look. Today, I will introduce you to Tertullian's thoughts by working through a couple of phrases and words associated with him.

Here we go:

The first is Carthaginian. He was from the North African city right across the Mediterranean from the toe of Italy's boot. It was indeed the "second city" of the Early Church, and there was no love lost between them and the Romans… especially the Greek Romans. But not the African Romans. Because everyone was called "Romans."

He is considered the first significant theologian (or Church Father, if you will) write in Latin. Writing in Latin in his day may have been like asking an editor to write my next book in emojis. That would be vulgar and ridiculous. But Tertullian believed that the Greek language coupled with Greek philosophy was perverting Christianity.

This is why he said (in translation), "What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?". In using Latin, he took two essential Greek words and tweaked them.

The first was the word "Sacramentum." This, which he especially tied to Baptism, took the place of the Greek "Mysterio." They carry similar connotations of "mystery," but a "Sacramentum" was an oath taken by a Roman soldier to show allegiance and belonging.

The second was "Trinitatis" instead of the Greek "Triad.". In his Latin exposition on the Trinity (the word he coined!), he is perhaps the first to argue for both the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

The next one is "traducianism," and it might seem obscure. It had to do with how theologians believed souls were created. Were they created a new by God at the moment of… well, that's a tricky question. And when God created a new soul, why on earth would he imbue it with original sin? So Tertullian attempted to free God of the guilt by claiming that the parents create a new soul, creating from their dirty souls. Thus God is spared being implicated in evil….this is "traducianism," two souls sprouting a new one.

The last thing to know about the thought of Tertullian, at least for this show, is that he is one of the earliest voices calling for religious freedom across the Roman Empire. His apologetic was based on freedom of conscience and the idea that no divinity would want forced worship. The American Founding generation, as have others, used his 3rd century thought on religion for their Enlightenment projects. Thomas Jefferson even transcribed a good bit of Tertullian and did it in Latin. Which by his time, just meant he was pompous.

Later, Christians would disavow Tertullian for his involvement with the Montanists. This was a super-spiritual group that some claim raised the Holy Spirit's work above the Father and Son. For many in the early church and later Roman Catholic tradition, they would push him away for his claim that the Holy Spirit could oppose Church bishops and official church teaching.

We don't know what happened to Tertullian. Perhaps he was martyred? Maybe, as some suggest, he lived to a ripe old age. Nonetheless, today we remember the Carthaginian, Latin, Traducianist, and Montanist, who is celebrated with a feast day across the church on the 27th of April

Two thoughts:

first: the doctrine of original sin is tricky. For those in the Augustinian and Reformation branches, it is considered more or less a settled issue (see: "Total Depravity"). Still, the church has been wrestling with the implications of our understanding of this doctrine for millennia.

Second: When a group decided that one member of the Trinity is superior to the others, it tends to make for a lopsided, wonky, or ersatz form of Christianity.

The reading for today comes from Tertullian, a concise quote that served as his answer to why he trusted in the Gospel of Jesus said:

"It is certain because it is impossible."

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher "Carthago Delenda Est" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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