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Father Tertullian is remembered for his religious contribution as the father of ancient Latin theology. He happened to be among the pioneers if not the very first church leader of his time to write his ideas in Latin language. He placed himself at the center of controversies through his writing that he did in defense of many Christians who faced persecution. As such, he created an immense impact and influence on the early church and still trades the same influence today. Tertullian was born about 145 AD to Roman centurion parents in Carthage. He was trained be Greeks to become a practicing lawyer in Rome before he came back home. His works reveal that he must have converted to Christianity in his thirties. He occasionally criticized his conversion terming it as a moment that he could not image the true life of a Christian without a radical conversion. Before his conversion, he mocked the religious Roman society through various acts of disloyalty and promiscuity. However, he admits in his books to have been psychologically disturbed by the testimonies of Christians who were killed for their faith particularly in the arena. It is hence believed that it is these testimonies that triggered his conversion to Christianity.
If there is one thing popular about Tertullian is his stand for truth in the gospel. This is a remarkable point that makes Tertullian an important early father and reason h should be the center of interest. Tertullian had unchangeable sense of the truth and challenged churches to stand independently and not collude with the authority for gains outside faith. He argued that Christians should be guided by a good conscience that is sensitive to idolatry of any manner be it in business, or literature, or administration. He hence pushed for truth among believers in exchange of custom that he believed was the source of idolatry. He hence said, “Our Lord Christ has surnamed Himself Truth, and not custom”. In his view, Christians must then be alert not to be conformed to earthly customs but seek the truth. He then deemed the virtues of Christianity as being meek, peaceful, and pure. On the contrary, customs were viewed wild and furious for believers that would only arose anger and lust. As such, he said what a Christian should not speak, he/she should equally not hear.
Tertullian served as a presbyter at Carthage where he devoted his lifetime to serving God and the ministry of Christ. He made several notes in apology to the Romans for his previous life as a way of reconciling his past and streamlining his life to the virtues of the gospel. He also wrote several books in defense to the orthodox Christianity against the political oppression of the day. He pioneered exhortations for the church he served in. Tertullian life and ministry occurred at a time when the church was viewed with high expectations about the believer’s faith and the doctrine’s promises. This was a time when people were getting anxious about the return of Christ in its first era to which His return was highly expected. Unlike modern Christianity where the preaching is precise about the return of Christ, the days of Tertullian had prejudged perception about the coming of Christ, time he is expected and the rewards for those who stayed put with Him. The earlier church was framed according to Tertullian to this manner. He often argued that the church leadership by then was becoming adamant and complacent since it sort refuge in the circular world and failed to take stand on its values and principles of life. He spoke frankly about the forfeiting of Christian faith for the sake of physical protection through capitulation. He thought that as Christians wait for the coming of Christ, they should not substitute their faith in God who supersedes all with dependency on the political structure of the day. This was one bold thing that a religious leader would risk mentioning to the political system of the day. His reference organ was the Roman Empire that consistently martyred Christians and used a lot of military force on the people. Like other apostles, Tertullian opposed worldly powers and its system such as the education and social ranking that suppressed the Christian faith. Moreover, He declared Christian discipleship exogenously incompatible with the political setting ups like the military thereby extremely discouraging believers from joining such service units.
Tertullian joined the Christian movement when nearly all books and scripts were written in Greek language. He hence desired to bring a change in the system by providing alternative language for those who never spoke or understood Greek. He however was very fluent in Greek language, both written and spoken. He chose this path to make a difference from his predecessors since he understood that translating the gospel to other languages such as Latin would give a wider platform for spreading the gospel across the globe. Many of his works were then written in Latin and translated his previous writing to Latin from Greek. This was mainly focused at meeting the spiritual demand of the steadily increasing Christians in the west who were only familiar with the Latin language. This marked a diverse change in his Christian mission that gave him the title, “Tertullian, the Father of Latin Christianity.” Tertullian’s passion for the faith then grew stronger like that of Apostle Paul. He traversed Latin areas and western spreading the Greek-dominated gospel into a more amicable Latin language that could be reached by many as opposed to Greek. He achieved this by creating Latin translation technology, which multiplied his efforts in the west. His effort also acted as a foundation through which the gospel was spread via other languages across the globe. In his religious believe, he is known for conforming to the realism of the faith without little itch or disconnect. He served God with all his might and often referred to Him with various acronyms. He is recorded as the first person to refer to God as “Person” or “Substance” just to make people feel closer to God and faith than never before.
Tertullian had fiery temperament that is evident in the tones used in his writings. In describing Tertullian’s tone, Phillip Schaff describe him as a foaming mountain torrent rather than that calm river with a religious view. Tertullian in himself confessed of his temper stating that he worked around the clock to subdue it but never achieved much of his plan. He overwhelmingly displayed his convictions without holding back. This exposed the kind of man he was. However, some religious scholars believe this is not the case for a man who served his faith. As much as his personal attributes could at times override his responsibility and societal expectation of him, Tertullian never failed the faith that he served. He is assumed to have written his work in temperament tone since he desired to stress his points but not to show his temper. He was known for his calm face that would not contradict his thoughts. It is also important to consider the moment and time to which Tertullian lived. Living between the aggression and persecution by the political structures, Tertullian had to conform to the defense of the day. He hence faced accusation than praises for the good he did. His polemics may hence not have blood as reported by historian Schaff. Tertullian hence survived a number of planned persecutions whose cause cannot be strongly justified. He faced excommunication form the Roman Catholics and heathens. As a man of faith, Tertullian reports to have found resilience and comfort on his ministry by striding harder to his targets of pluralism of the gospel.
Tertullian chose to join the charismatic Montanist sect. This was upon realization of the growing concern he had over church leadership. His union with the Montanists was based on many unifying views that they both shared and their unifying objectives concerning Christianity and church leadership in particular. They also agreed about their expectation and redefinition of the Christian moralism and the urge to keep early Christian hope according to the gospel. This depicted Tertullian as well as the Montanists agrees on their view for the coming of Christ.They jointly focused on making Christians understand the place of their faith and the need to keep dating their hope about the return of Christ. However, this collective responsibility would change later after Tertullian’s death. The Montanists changed their view of the same circumstances thereby becoming hard and radical about the Christianity. Some even went wayward to oppose some of the doctrines brought by Tertullian and to which they collectively adhered. This is what makes the difference between Tertullian and the Montanists. Where Montanists’ stand on issue of importance about faith cannot be justified because of their twits, which of Tertullian remains the same as a man who made up his points and stood by it to the end. His teachings about faith and Christianity hence remain relevant today since he never twisted in his views about recurring situations. He has hence been affiliated strong believes of true faith to the likes of Apostle Paul.
Tertullian is also remembered for his key role in transforming the church from an oppressed minority to a vibrant majority in the Roman society. Through his book, the “Apology,” Tertullian defended the church and created a path for its future actions. He defended the ministry by rebuking the state on rampant oppressions of the Christians. He championed for the religious freedom for believers regardless of their religious affiliation. He also openly referred to the church as the house of worship and argued that these houses must be kept out of touch and intrusion by none-believers. He believed that the term “church” referred to a building and not a group of worshippers according to Apostle Paul’s gospel.
However, Tertullian is also not exempted from blames and accusations according to his doctrines and teachings. Being the founder of the Latin Christianity, Tertullian is blamed for the misfortunes of the Roman Catholic Church. He constantly opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church thereby creating a ridge that tumbled the institution over its followers and doctrines of fellowship. He engineered the philosophy that beat the Roman Catholic Church by stating that customs without truth is just merely time-honored error. In criticizing the Roman Catholic, he also stated that scriptures to be valued among the communities must support good traditions. About baptism, Tertullian preached against it arguing that it makes no sense to baptize children who are not mature enough to repent their sins and have full belief in the faith acquired. He hence preserved baptism to adults who would describe and appreciate their place in Christianity. He too was held on controversial position about what he preached and what he practiced. He advocated for celibacy as the righteous interpretation of 1 Corinthians chapter 7 even though he was married.
The condemnation of Tertullian was varied on two major issues. The most controversial of all is his association with the Montanist movement. This group was accused of outlawed practices that a man of faith like Tertullian would not be expected to associate with. His second condemnation was his opinion on intellectualism. Nonetheless, many scholars today argue that the Montanists had no moral authority therefore could not oppose association with Tertullian. Moreover, they benefited from the association since it only worked to their defense after the death of Tertullian. However, Tertullian’s beliefs on intellectualism remain controversial being that he served a wrong symbol for a course he never believed in. Tertullian trained as a lawyer and it is argued that his academic qualification and experience was the rock upon which he built his religious career. He was hence expected to support education and acquisition of individuals with skills to better their lives. He instead stood avert with intellectualism and opposed it in many standards. This saw him being opposed by many intellectuals who viewed him as a joker among other things. Many as being blasphemous and impractical in his practice accused him. Moreover, true Christianity from scriptures supported acquisition of knowledge with the bible putting it clear that people suffer because of lacking knowledge. Therefore, Tertullian being radical on intellectualism assumed him assumed by many scholars being avert to human changes. Other scholars termed intellectualism as a fruit of salvation that must be enjoyed by believers upon receiving Christ. Despite his opposition, Tertullian remains a remarkable church father for his contribution in faith. He pioneered changes that live to date. Perhaps his condemnation was raised due his uniqueness and practice of Christianity in a way that was not familiar with the early believers. He hence took up the challenge and lived to create a foundation a future gospel movement that is felt today.
Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Cleveland Coxe, and Allan Menzies, Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994). 34-45
Tertullianus, Quintus Septimius Florens, and J. H. Waszink. The Treatise against Hermogenes (Leominster, England: Newman Press, 1956). 71-79
Stephanie E. Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah ʻAvodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways between Christians and Jews (Leiden: Brill, 2012). 145
Eric Francis Osborn, Tertullian, First Theologian of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003). 245-260
Tertullian, Peter Holmes, and Sydney Thelwall, The Sacred Writings of Tertullian (Altenmünster: Jazzybee Verlag, 2012).n 48-89
F. A. Wright, Fathers of the Church, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactanius, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine. A Selection from the Writings of the Latin Fathers (New York: Dutton, 1929). 67
Todd D. Still and David Wilhite, Tertullian and Paul (New York, NY: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2013). 78
Tertullianus and William P. Le Smith. Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage: To His Wife an Exhortation to Chastity Monogamy (Leominster, England: Newman Press, 1956). 58
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