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J. L. González, Athens and Jerusalem Revisited: Reason and Authority in Tertullian

J. L. González, Athens and Jerusalem Revisited: Reason and Authority in Tertullian

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Published by diadass
in: Church History 43 (1), 1974, pp. 17-25
in: Church History 43 (1), 1974, pp. 17-25

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Published by: diadass on Oct 05, 2010
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AthensandJerusalemRevisited:ReasonandAuthorityinTertullian
JUSTO
L.
GONZaLEZ
QuidergoAthenis etHierosolymis?quidacademiaeetecclesiae?quidhaereticisetchristianis?Deprasecriptionehaereticorum7.9Veryfewancient Christianwriters havebeen asmaligned byposterityasTertullian has been.Thisisunderstandable,for Tertullianmade little effort toendear himselfto eitherhiscontemporariesor his future readers. Hisconversionto-manystillsay "lapseinto"-Montanismwas not calculatedtomakehimpopularwithCatholic historians. His so-calledlegalismhasbecomea favoritestraw manforProtestant writers. Thedisappearanceof bothMontanism and theancient Africanchurchdestroyedthetwologicalcommunities where hisnamemighthave beenvenerated.In the sixteenthcenturyanumberof scholarsbecamesufficientlyinterested inhimtoproduceeditionsof hisworks;butalthoughhisrhetoricalabilityattractedsome attentionfromthehumanists,theyfound hismannerandspirittoouncouth.Protestantrigoristswhooughttohavewelcomedhisstringency rejectedhimbecauseof hisemphasison tradition.Catholicpole-micistswho couldbeexpectedto welcome such anemphasisignoredhimbecause ofhisapparentdenial of theauthorityof traditioninbecomeingaMontanist. Ra-tionalist scholars whooughtto haveenjoyedhiswitandhisunflinching logicwereunabletosympathizewiththeseemingly illogicalconsequencesofthatlogic.Theresult ofthesevariousbiaseshas been asurprising agreementonagenerallynegativeevaluation ofTertullian asa thinkerand as aperson.At nopointhas Tertullian been moremalignedthan inthatwhichhastodowith the issuesof faith and reason. Thismaybe seeninthefactthat the oftquotedphrasecredoquaiabsurdum-Ibelieve becauseit isabsurd-usuallyat-tributed tohimis nowhereto be foundin his works.Althoughthisisusuallyrecognizedbymodernscholars,manystillinsist thatthephrase,whilenothis,isacorrectsummaryofhisattitude.'Accordingto thisview,Tertullianwasstauch-lyopposed,notonlytophilosophy,the mother of allheresies,butalsotoreason,her handmaiden.Thissupposed oppositiontoreason hasbeenpicturedasan at-
1. F.Loofs,LeitfadenzumStudiurnderDogmengeschichte,6thed.(Tiibingen:MaxNiemeyer,1959), p.118:"Dasihmnachgesagte'credo, quiaabsurdum'istzwarapok-
ryh;aberTertullianhatahnlichsichausgesprochen:Crucifixus...[thenfollows the
crucialtextofDe Came Christi5]."G.Bardy,"Tertullien,"DictionnairedeTheologieCatholique(Paris:LetouzeyetAne1903-1946),"Cen'estpaslitt6ralementleCredoquiaabsurdum,maisc'enest1quivalent."G.J.deVries,BijdragetotdepsychologievanTertullianus(Utrecht:Kemink enzoon,1929),p.50: "Het'credoquiaabsurdum'mogedanlegendairzijn,hetgeeftdeninhoudvanhetbovenstaande[credibleest, quiaineptumest]goedweer."H.A.Wolfson,ThePhilosophyoftheChurchFa-thers(Cambridge:HarvardUniversityPress,1970),1:102-106,interpretsTertullianalongthe samelines,and thenproceedstoshowhowTertulliancontradictshimself.Thiscould well beanindicationnotofcontradictioninTertullian,but ofanerrorininterpretation,
Mr.Gonzdlez isassociateprofessorofworldchristianityinCandlerSchoolofThe-ology,EmoryUniversity,Atlanta,Georgia.17
 
CHURCHHISTORY
temptto make faithmore meritoriousby makingitmoreunreasonable,2ortomakeitstronger byforcingitto strivetoaccepttherationallyunbelievable.3As aresultofthiscommoninterpretationof Tertullian's stanceonthe issuesof reasonandauthority,he hasbeendepictedas aflashybutsuperficialthinker,incapableofsystematicthought:"...henevercreatedany system.Infact,helacked the essentialqualification,abalancedmind,whichwould enablehim toar-rangethedifferentarticlesoffaithinlogicalorderand toassigntoeach ofthemitsproper place."4Giventhisvantage point,Tertullian'sentirecontributionto thedevelopmentofwesterntheologyisseen asconsistingmostlyinanumberoffortunateformulaeand felicitousphrases.Oneisremindedof the ancient fable about thedonkeythatwaseatinggrassandunwittinglyhappenedtoplaya flutethat waslyinginthepasture.Theproblemwithapplyingsuchanimageto Tertullian isthat hesomehowmanagedtoplaytheflutemuchtoooften!Suchasimplisticinterpretationcould notlongremainunchallenged.Tertul-lian'sworksaretoounflinchingintheirownkindoflogicto allowfor it.Althoughherejectedtheauthorityofphilosophytocorrect the "ruleoffaith"-whatever thatmayhavebeen-heneverthelessarguedthatthe soulhasa naturalknowledgeofsomeelementsofChristiantruth,5and he made useof Stoicandeven Platonicelementsinconstructinghisowntheology.Therefore,inrecenttimes severalscholarshavepointedto therationalelementsinTertullian'stheology.6Othershaveshownthat heborrowedextensivelyfromtheveryphilosopherswhom heblamedforhaving givenrisetoheresy.7Therehave been numerousstudiesofparticularaspectsofTertullian'stheology,andthey usuallyshow thecoherencewhich ruleshisthoughtonwhateverhappenstobethesubjectof thestudy.8WhatIshallattempttodo hereis togoonestepfurtherandshow,notmerelythat Tertullianhaswhat Tillichcalls"asharprationalmind",butratherthathehasaclearunderstandingofreason-ofitsnature,functionand limits-and thatwithinthatunderstandingof reason he remainsstrictlyrationalandsystematic.Hopefully,thiswill then servetoclarifytherelationshipbetweenreasonandfaithassourcesofauthorityforTertullian.Todo thisIshall firstex-
2.A. C.McGiffert,AHistoryofChristianThought(NewYork:CharlesScribner'sSons,1954),2:16:"Themoreunreasonableitappearstous,soTertullianseemstothink,thegreaterthemeritof ourfaith."Asiourcesfor thisassertion,MeGiffertmentionsAdv.Marcionem2.2 and 5.5.But todraw suchaconclusionfrom thesetexts wouldrequireagreatdealof unreasonable(andmeritorious)faithin McGiffert!
3.J.L.Neve,AHistory ofChristianThought(Philadelphia:Muhlenberg,1946),1:93:"Faithisconsentin astateof absoluteobedience. Themore unreasonablethearticlesoffaithare,themoreopportunitythereis for faithtodevelopitsstrength."4.J.Quasten,Patrology (Utrecht:Spectrum,1953),2:320.5.Detestimonio animaepassim.Seealsothe excellent discussionbyJ.Lortz,TertullianalsApologet(Munster:Aschendorff,1927),1:224-248.6. Forinstance,PaulTillich,ACompleteHistoryofChristianThought(NewYork:Harper&Row,1968),Pt.1,p.38,creditsTertullianwith"asharprational mind."7.C. deL.Shortt,TheInfluence of PhilosophyontheMindofTertullian(London:ElliotStock,1933);F.Refoul1,"Tertullienetlaphilosophie,"RevuedesSciencesReligieuses30(1956):42-45,argues-asIshallinthispaper-thatTertullianis not an anti-ra-tionalist.Hedoesnotseemtothink,however,thatthisargumentcanbemadewhileinsistingonthe coherenceof Tertullian'sthought.For theinfluenceof Platonism onTertullian,see J.H.Waszink,"ObservationsonTertullian's TreatiseAgainstHermo-genes,"VigiliaeChristianae9(1955):129-147.8. TwoexcellentexamplesofthisareTh.Brandt,TertulliansEthik:ZurErfassungdessystematischenGrundanschauung(Gutersloh:Bertelsmann,1928)and V.Nauman,"DasProblemdesBoseninTertullianszweiten BuchgegenMarcion:EinBeitragzurTheodizceTertullians,"ZeitschriftfurkatholischeTheologie58(1934):311-363.
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ATHENSANDJERUSALEMamine thecrucialtext inDecarneChristi5,from which themythof the credoquiaabsurdumhas arisen.Then,takingAdversusPraxean10asmy startingpointandsupportingmyinterpretationn anumberof othertexts,IshallattemptoclarifyTertullian'sunderstandingofreason.Finally,Ishallattempttooutlinewhat thismeans forthe issue ofauthoritynTertullian,especiallyasitrelates tohisconversion oMontanism.Thetextwhich hasgivenrisetothe"credoquiaabsurdum"s clear and con-cise:"Crucifixusst deifilius;nonpudet, quia pudendumst.Etmortuusestdeifilius;credibleest,quiaineptumest.Etsepultusresurrexit;certumest,quiaimpossible."9Fromthis textit isclearthat,althoughTertullianneverliterallysaid"credo,quiaabsurdum",hedidsayitsequivalent:"credibileest,quiaineptum",10nd"certumest,quiaimpossibile."Therefore,fone isto claimthatthecommonn-terpretationof Tertulliantypifiedbythe"credo,quiaabsurdum" sincorrect,thismustbedone,notbysimplyassertingthathe never didsaysuch athing-as a matter offact,hepracticallydid-butby showing,tobeginwith,thatthistext,placedinitspropercontext andcorrectlyunderstood,ntendstoconveyneitherasweepingcondemnationfreason,nor ageneralpraiseofabsurdity.Letusthenplacethistext within itspropercontext. Thepurposeof De carneChristiistorefutethose whodisparageheflesh,andespeciallytsresurrection.Inasense,itisthefirstpartofawholewhosesecondpartisDeresurrectionemortuorum.1Tertullian'sopponentshereareMarcion,Apelles,Basilides andValentinus.However,inthe first fivechaptersofDecarneChristi-whicharethecenter of ourconcern here-he isbasicallyrefutingtheviews whichheas-signstoMarcion.This issignificant,or thismeans thatthe mainthrustof theentiresectionisnot,as has often beenassumed,owardthediscontinuitybetweencreationandredemption,natureandgrace,reasonandrevelation,butratherto-wardtheircontinuity.Here Marcionsthechampionofdiscontinuity.TertullianisarguingthattheGodrevealedinJesusisalsotheGodrevealed increation,andthatthefleshofJesusisthe same ashuman createdflesh.Itwouldindeedbestrangeif heweretryingtoprovethispointbyclaiminghatChristianreasonisopposedonaturalreason,andthatthisoppositions suchthatnaturalabsurdityconstitutesChristianproof!This ispreciselywhatheis notdoinginspiteofthemany opinionso thecontrary.After twochaptersof introductionull ofthepathosandethoswhichAris-totlecommendedandother authoritieson rhetoricclaimed werespecially fittingintheintroduction,Tertulliangetsdown to business nchapter
3.12
Therehe out-
9.De carneChristi5.4."The sonof Godwascrucified;itshames onenot,because itisshameful.And thesonof Goddied;it isbelievable,becauseit isfoolish(absurd).Andhavingbeenburiedheresurrected;it iscertain,because itisimpossible."(Anumberofmanuscriptsinclude"prorsus"before"credibile",butthis doesnotappearinthebestmanuscripts.Inanycase,itwouldn'taffectmyargumentinanysignificantmanner.)10."Ineptum,"althoughnotquitetheequivalentof"absurdum",comesclose to it.Itdoesnotcarrytheconnotationoflogicalimpossibility;butitdoesmeanfoolishorinappropriate.11.E.Evans,Tertullian'sTreatiseonthe Incarnation(London:S.P.C.K., 1956),p.x,andTertullian'sTreatiscontheBesurrection(London:S.P.C.K.,1960),p.xiv,showsthat whatwe have hereisanactioprimaand anactiosecunda,as was commonin for-ensicpractice.Healso showshoweachofthesetwotreatisesfollowstheprescribedrulesofrhetoric, althoughinaveryimaginativefashion.On thesameissue,seeR.D.Sider,AncientRhetoricandtheArtofTertullian(London:OxfordUniversityPress,1971).Onpp.27-28,SiderexaminestherhetoricalstructureofDecarneChristi.12.Sider,pp.13-14.
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