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Tertullian - The Blood of Christians is Seed

Passage from Apologeticus pro Christianis (Apology), 48 - 50 - the concluding chapters

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Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Latin (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is by T.H. Bindley.

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Relevant books
available at Amazon

Studies

 

Eric Francis Osborn
Tertullian, First Theologian of the West

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Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study
Timothy David Barnes

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Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures
Paul Foster
(A helpful chapter)

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The Early Christian World
P.F. Esler, with a helpful chapter by David Wright

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Tertullian and the Church
David Rankin

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 Ancient Rhetoric and the Art of Tertullian (Oxford theological monographs)

Robert D. Sider

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David E. Wilhite

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Translations

 Tertullian (The Early Church Fathers)
Geoffrey D. Dunn

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 Disciplinary, Moral And Ascetical Works
R. Arbesmann, E.J. Daly, and E. A. Quain, eds.

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 Tertullian: Apologetical Works, & Minucius Felix: Octavius
Emily J. Daly, trans.

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 28. Tertullian: Treatises on Penance: On Penitence and On Purity (Ancient Christian Writers)
W.P. Le Saint, trans.

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 13. Tertullian: Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage: To His Wife, An Exhortation to Chastity, Monogamy (Ancient Christian Writers)
W.P. Le Saint, trans.

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 Christian and Pagan in the Roman Empire: The Witness of Tertullian (Selections from the Fathers of the Church)
Robert D. Sider, ed.

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 Tertullian, Cyprian, And Origen On The Lord's Prayer (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press Popular Patristics Series)
Alistair Stewart-Sykes, ed.

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 24. Tertullian: The Treatise against Hermogenes (Ancient Christian Writers)
J.H. Waszink, trans.

 

CHAPTER XLVIII.

The philosophical speculation on the transmigration of souls is admitted, but our doctrine of the resurrection of the body scouted, and the mystery of our present existence forbids a hasty rejection of our belief respecting the future, though Nature illustrates it. On this subject revelation must suffice.

 Come now, if any philosopher should affirm, as Laberius says was the opinion of Pythagoras, that a man is made out of a mule, or a snake out of a woman, and by the force of eloquence should twist all arguments to establish such a theory, would he not gain assent and bring about a belief in the opinion, even to the point of abstinence from animal food? And any one who held this view would be persuaded to abstain on the ground that he might in eating beef be feasting on one of his ancestors. But if a Christian holds out the assurance that a man will be re-formed out of a man, and Caius himself from Caius, will he not be assailed by the people rather indeed with stones, than with gauntlets? As if any argument that holds good for the re-entrance of human souls into bodies did not also demand their recall into the same bodies; since restitution consists in being what one was before. For if they are not the same as they were before, namely, human, and clothed with the same body, then they are not in that case the same as they were. Further, how shall they be said to have returned, when they will not in that case be themselves? Either, having become something else, they will not be themselves; or, remaining identical, they will not be derived from any other source. If we wished to disport ourselves on this point there would be opportunity for many jests and much waste of time, as to what kind of beast any one might seem to be turned into. But keeping rather to the lines of our own pleading, we lay down, and it is surely more worthy of belief, that a man will be restored from a man, any given person from any given person, but still a man; so that the same kind of soul may be reinstated in the same mode of existence, even if not into the same outward form. Yet, as the very reason for the restoration is to be found in the appointed judgement, it is certainly necessary likewise that the same person, who once existed, should be presented, that he may receive from God the judgement whether of good or of evil desert. And hence the bodies also must be present, because the soul alone cannot suffer at all without a material substance, that is, the flesh; and because souls generally have incurred whatever it is their due to suffer from God’s judgement not without the flesh, within which all their actions were performed. ‘But how,’ you say, ‘can matter be again presented after its dissolution?’ Consider thyself, O man: and thou will find that this fact is credible. Reflect what thou wast, before thy life began : surely nothing; for thou wouldst remember it hadst thou been anything. Since therefore thou wast nothing before thy life began, and likewise wilt become nothing after thy existence ceases; why canst thou not again be brought into existence from nothing by the will of the same Originator Who willed thy first existence out of nothing? Nothing new will happen to thee! Thou, who wast not, wast made; when again thou shalt not be, thou shalt again be made. Shew first, if thou canst, the method by which thou wast made, and then seek to know how thou wilt be re-made. And yet surely thou shalt more easily be made that which thou hast once been, since without difficulty thou hast been made what thou wast never before. There will be a doubt, perchance, about the power of God, Who formed the great body of this world from that which was not, no less than from a deathlike vacuity and emptiness, and animated it with a spirit that gives breath to all souls, and stamped it throughout with types of man’s resurrection as a witness to us. The light which dies daily shines again; and the darkness comes and goes in a like variation : the stars which die out live again : the seasons constantly succeed each other: fruits perish and again return: the very seeds, unless they decay and dissolve, do not spring up in greater fruitfulness : all things are preserved by perishing, all things are restored from death. Shalt thou, a man—a name so noble, didst thou but understand thyself, learning even from the Pythian inscription,—who art the lord of all things that are continually dying and rising again,—shalt thou so die as to utterly perish? Into whatever substance thou shalt have been resolved, whatever material means shall have destroyed thee, absorbed thee, effaced thee, or reduced thee to nothing, it shall restore thee again. To Him belongs that very ‘nothing,’ Whose is also ‘the whole.’ ‘Then we must be constantly dying and rising again,’ thou sayest. If the Lord of all had so appointed, thou wouldst experience, however unwillingly, that law of thy being. But as it is, He has appointed it to be no otherwise than as He has declared. That same Reason Which constructed the universe out of diversity, so that the whole consists of antithetical substances brought under unity,—of vacuity and solidity, animate and inanimate, comprehensible and incomprehensible, light and darkness, even life and death,—has also so disposed the whole course of existence according to an appointed and divided plan; according to which the first part of it, in which we are living, reckoned from the Creation, flows on to its end in the age of Time; and the following part, which we look for, extends into infinite Eternity. When therefore the end and mid-boundary which yawns between shall have come, so that even the fashion of this world, itself equally a thing of Time, may be transformed, which is spread like a curtain before the system of Eternity; then shall be restored the whole human race for the adjusting of the account of its deserts, whether of good or of evil, incurred during that temporal period of its life, and thereafter for the payment of its debt throughout the measureless perpetuity of Eternity. There is therefore neither death absolute nor recurring resurrections; but we shall be the same as we are now, and thereafter no other : the worshippers of God ever with God, clothed upon with the proper substance of Eternity; but the wicked, and those not perfect towards God, in the punishment of fire equally lasting, and possessing in its very nature, which is divine, the supply of incorruptibility. The philosophers know the difference between hidden and ordinary fire. Thus that in common use is far different from that which ministers God’s judgement, whether it strikes as lightnings from heaven, or belches forth from the earth through mountain-tops; for it consumes not what it burns, but renews even whilst it destroys. So the mountains remain though always burning; and he who is struck from heaven is preserved, since he is not now reduced to ashes by any fire. And this will be a proof of eternal fire, an example of a judgement continually feeding its own punishment. Mountains burn and endure : what of the guilty and of the enemies of God?

CHAPTER XLIX.

Why do you censure us for holding tenets which are at least harmless, if not positively beneficial?

These are tenets which in our case alone are called presumptions, but in the case of philosophers and poets sublime flights of knowledge and important conjectures. They are the wise, we the foolish : they are deserving of honour, we of ridicule; nay, and of more, even of punishment. Let it be granted now that our theories are false, and properly termed presumptions, yet they are necessary; if foolish, they are yet useful; since those who believe them are compelled to become better men, through fear of eternal punishment and in hope of eternal consolation. It is therefore inexpedient that those things should be called false, or regarded as foolish, which it is expedient should be presumed to be true. On no charge whatever ought that to be altogether condemned which is beneficial. In yourselves, consequently, exists this presumption, which condemns what is useful. Likewise neither can our beliefs be foolish; or at any rate, even if false and foolish, they can in no way be harmful; for they resemble many other tenets to which you mete out no punishments, and which, though vain and fabulous, go unaccused and unpunished, because harmless. But judgement ought to be pronounced against errors of this kind, if at all, by derision, not by swords and fires and crosses and wild beasts; in which unjust cruelty not only the blind populace exults and insults, but some of your own selves also, who aim at popularity through injustice, make your boast; as if all your power over us were not derived from our own will. Assuredly I am a Christian, only if I wish to be one : you then will only condemn me, if I wish to be condemned; but since whatever power over me you possess, you only possess at my will, it follows that your power over me is derived from my will, and not from your authority. Likewise the vulgar also vainly rejoice at our sufferings; for in the same way, the joy, which they claim for themselves, is ours, since we prefer to be condemned rather than to fall away from God: on the other hand, they who hate us ought to grieve instead of rejoicing at our attainment of the object of our choice.

CHAPTER L.

Our sufferings are our triumph. Our endurance in your view redounds to our discredit; the fortitude of others to their honour. You may gain popularity by your injustice, but our sufferings and practical example continually attract new converts.

‘Why then,’ you say, ‘do you complain that we attack you, if you are willing to suffer; when you ought to love those at whose hands you suffer what you desire?’ We are, certainly, willing to suffer; but it is in the same way as a soldier desires war. No one endures war willingly, since alarm and risk are involved in it: the battle nevertheless is carried on with every nerve; and he who complains of it, yet rejoices in it when victorious, because he is acquiring glory and spoil. It is our battle to be summoned to your tribunals, there to contend for the truth at the risk of our lives. It is our victory, too, in that we obtain that for which we contend. This victory gains for us both the glory of pleasing God, and the spoil of eternal life. But we are overwhelmed; yet only when we have won our cause; therefore we conquer, when we are slain; and in fact we escape, even when we are overwhelmed. You can call us then, if you like, ‘faggot-men,’ and ‘half-axle-men,’ because we are bound to the stock of a half-axle, and surrounded with faggots when we are burned. This is the robe of our victory, this is our triumphal vestment, in such a chariot do we celebrate our triumph. Naturally, therefore, we displease those whom we vanquish; for on those grounds we are deemed desperate and reckless men. But this very desperation and recklessness, with you, in the cause of glory or fame, uplifts the banner of valour. Mucius cheerfully left his right hand upon the altar: what a noble-spirited deed! Empedocles gave his whole person to the Aetnean fires of Catina : what strength of mind! Some virgin foundress of Carthage wedded the funeral pile for her second nuptials : what a commendation of chastity! Regulus suffered tortures in his whole body, lest his own single life should be spared in exchange for many enemies: what a brave man, and a victor even in captivity! Anaxarchus, when brayed with a pestle like barley, kept saying, ‘Pound, pound away at the bag of Anaxarchus, for you pound not Anaxarchus himself:’ what a great-souled philosopher, to even jest upon his own, and such a death! I pass over those who bargained for fame with their own swords, or some other milder kind of death; for lo, even rivalries of tortures are crowned by you. An Athenian harlot, when the executioner was weary, at last spit out her own tongue, which she had bitten off, in the face of the cruel tyrant, that she might also spit out her own voice, and with it the possibility of confessing her accomplices, in case she should succumb and wish to do so. Zeno Eleates, when consulted by Dionysius as to the advantage gained from philosophy, replied ‘A contempt of death;’ and when subjected by the tyrant to scourgings, continued to express his opinion up to the point of death. Certainly, the scourgings of the Spartans, embittered by the presence of relatives who encouraged them, conferred a reputation on the family for endurance, in proportion to the quantity of blood which they extracted. Here is a glory, licensed, because of human origin; which is attributed neither to the presumption of recklessness, nor to the persuasion of despair, in its contempt of death and every kind of cruelty; which is as much allowed to be endured for country, territory, empire, or friendship, as it is forbidden to be suffered for God! And yet you cast statues, and write inscriptions, and engrave titles, for all those men to last into eternity: and as far as you can, by means of monuments, you yourselves afford them a kind of resurrection from the dead. If he who hopes for this fact from God, suffers for God, he is deemed insane. But pursue your course, excellent governors, and you will be more popular with the multitude if you sacrifice the Christians to their wishes. Crucify, torture, condemn, crush us. For the proof of our innocence is found in your injustice. It is on this account that God suffers us to suffer this. For quite recently, when you condemned a Christian woman to the beastly lust of men instead of to an actual wild beast, you confessed that a stain upon chastity is accounted more heinous with us than any torture or any death. Yet no cruelty of yours, though each were to exceed the last in its exquisite refinement, profits you in the least; but forms rather an attraction to our sect. We spring up in greater numbers as often as we are mown down by you : the blood of the Christians is a source of new life. Many amongst yourselves have exhorted to the endurance of pain and death, as for example Cicero in the ‘Tusculan Disputations,’ Seneca in his book ‘On Chances,’ Diogenes, Pyrrho, and Callinicus. Yet they by their words secured not so many disciples as the Christians have gained by their practical example. That very obstinacy which you assail is the teacher. For who is not aroused by the sight of it to enquire what the inward motive can be? who, when he has enquired, does not adopt it? and who, when he has adopted it, does not choose to suffer, in order that he may acquire the whole grace of God, and also obtain all pardon from Him by the yielding up of his blood? For all sins are pardoned by this act. Hence it is that, at the moment of your sentencing us, we give thanks: and since there is an antagonism between divine and human things, when we are condemned by you, we stand acquitted by God.


 



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Tertullian
Apology
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church
The blood of Christians is seed
The persecution of Christians by the Romans
Migne Latin
Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus
Patrologia Latina

 

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