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Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the north-wind's breath,
And stars to set-but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, oh Death!
OPINIONS OF TERTULLIAN.
AMONG the ancient ecclesiastical authors, usually called the Fathers, some of whom wrote in Greek and others in Latin, Tertullian holds a distinguished rank. He is the earliest Latin Father of any note, having been preceded according to the testimony of Jerome, only by Victor and Apollonius, of whom little is known. He was a native of Carthage in Africa, and was born about the middle of the second century after the christian era, but whether of gentile, or of christian parents, has been disputed. He was a man, says the author just referred to, of a "sharp and vehement temper ;" he was a prolific writer, but his style is harsh, turgid and often obscure. He was admitted to the rank of presbyter, but whether in the church of Carthage, or Rome, is matter of some doubt. He embraced the opinions of Montanus, which he calls the "New Prophecy," as Jerome says, from wounded pride and sensibility, having been ill treated by the Roman clergy. He is reported, observes the same author, to have lived to a very advanced age. The time of his death is unknown. Some suppose it to have taken
place very early in the third century, and others, among whom is Tillemont, as late as the year 245 of our era. The date generally assigned, however, is A. D. 220, or about that period. The Latin Fathers who lived after his time, while they deplored his fall, as his adoption of the errors of Montanus was called, admired his genius, and notwithstanding the ruggedness of his style, were extravagantly fond of his writings. Cyprian, we are told, never passed a day without reading a portion of his works, in calling for which he was accustomed to say, "give me my Master.”
Neither Tertullian, nor the other Fathers, were very accurate critics, yet their works afford much interesting and valuable information concerning the condition, sentiments, and usages of Christians at the time they wrote. Their opinions respecting controverted doctrines have been regarded with an absurd reverence. It matters not what those opinions were, since as Protestants we submit our understanding to no human guides, and acknowledge no authority in matters of religion but the Bible. Trinitarians, as it is well known, have usually claimed the Fathers as favoring their hypothesis of three persons in one essence. We should feel little uneasiness, if it were so. But what is the fact? Will any one, at the present day, be hardy enough to affirm, that the modern doctrine of the trinity, as usually explained, was known to the Fathers for three centuries after the birth of Christ? He must be a bold man, who asserts this. The trinity of the Fathers, if it can be called such, as the learned are fully aware, differed
essentially from the modern popular doctrine. To instance one or two features, the Fathers generally before the council of Nice, A. D. 325, admitted the strict and proper inferiority of the Son to the Father. Some of them, among whom was Justin Martyr, the earliest of the Greek Fathers, of whose writings any acknowledged remains are extant, contended expressly that the Father and Son constituted two distinct beings, and such appears to have been the general belief of the learned converts at the time he wrote, that is, about the year 140, and for a century and a half afterwards. When they said that the Son was of the same substance with the Father, they did not mean to assert that he was the same being, but only that he partook of a like nature, just as one man partakes of a like nature or essence with another because they both belong to the same species or order of beings. That the Father and Son partook of one numerical essence, or were, in fact, bne being, was never affirmed, nor meant to be affirmed by them. They supposed that the Son was voluntarily begotten or made, a little before the creation of the material universe, that before that time he had no real and personal subsistence, but only existed as an attribute of God, his reason or wisdom, which attribute was afterwards converted into a real being. This is what they meant by the generation of the Son, whom, as we have said, they considered a distinct being from the Father, inferior to him and subject to his will.
These facts, we repeat, are well known to those who have read the Fathers of the second and third centuries.
These Fathers had corrupted the simple doctrines of the gospel by undesignedly blending with them the absurd notions of the later Platonists, in the belief of which they had been educated, but they had not yet proceeded so far as to deny the supremacy of the Father, and the inferior and subordinate nature of the Son. They had proceeded far enough, it is true, to alarm the minds of plain and unlettered Christians, multitudes of whom still adhered to the great doctrines of Unitarianism in its simplest form. But they stopped far short of the modern doctrine of the trinity. They were strictly and properly Unitarians. They believed in the preexistence of the Son, but that he was in any proper sense equal with the Father, that he was one in essence with him, that he formed one of three distinctions in the same substance, was far from their thoughts. This was an innovation of later times. Tertullian says expressly, that there was a time when God was neither Father nor Judge, for he could not be a Father before the existence of the Son, nor Judge before the existence of sin; but there was a time, he adds, when sin was not, and the Son was not. * This surely is not the language of a Trinitarian. We might multiply quotations, were it necessary, to prove that he held the doctrine of the strict inferiority of the Son. Passages which teach this doctrine abound throughout his writings.
We proceed to take notice of Tertullian's opinion on
* Adv. Hermog. c. 3.
one or two other points, though the brevity we have prescribed to ourselves, especially on subjects not strictly of a practical character, will not allow us to dwell on them. He is a strenuous asserter of the freedom of the human will. We discover in his writings no trace of the doctrine of predestination, nor is it consistent with the views he entertained of human liberty. With regard to the alleged corruption of man's nature by the fall, he expresses himself in a manner which would fail of satisfying the modern advocates of the doctrine. He admits a partial corruption, but says, as his words are translated by Dr. Kaye,* the present Bishop of Lincoln, "Still there is a portion of good in the soul; of that original, divine, and genuine good, which is its proper nature. For that which is derived from God, is rather obscured than extinguished. It may be obscured, because it is not God; but it cannot be extinguished, because it emanates from God. As therefore light, when it is intercepted by an opaque body, remains, though it is not seen; so the good in the soul, being weighed down by the evil, is either not seen at all, or is partially, and occasionally visible. Men differ widely in their moral characters, yet the souls of all form but one genus; in the worst there is something good; in the best there is something bad. Thus the divine nature of the soul bursts forth in prophetic anticipations, the consequences of its original good.-As
* Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries, Illustrated from the writings of Tertullian. Ed. Sec.