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Leaves have their time to fall,
And stars to set-but all,
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 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.
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 no soul is without sin, neither is any without the seeds of good.”
* Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries, Illustrated from the writings of Tertullian. Ed. Sec.
With regard to the efficacy of the death of Christ, Tertullian, like most of the early Fathers, expresses himself in general and indefinite terms, bearing a near resemblance to those employed in the scriptures. We hear nothing of “ infinite atonement,” and other similar phrases so current in modern times; nor do the notions conveyed by these phrases appear ever to have occurred to his mind.
As a witness to the extensive diffusion of Christianity in his time, we quote Tertullian with pleasure. Speaking of the patience of Christians under the sufferings inflicted by their persecutors, in refutation of the charge of disloyalty and disaffection to the Emperors, he observes;
6 Not that we are destitute of the means of resistance, if our christian principles allowed us to resort to them. Though we date our existence only from yesterday we have filled every part of your empire ; we are to be found in your cities, your islands, your camp, your palaces, your forum.-So great is our numbers that we might successfully contend with open
but were we only to withdraw ourselves from you, and to remove by common consent to some remote corner of the globe, our mere secession would be sufficient to accomplish your destruction, and to avenge our cause. You would be left without subjects to govern, and would tremble at the solitude and silence around you, at the awful stillness of a dead world.” Again, " The most distant regions have receiv
ed the faith of Christ. He reigns among people whom the Roman arms have never yet subdued; among the different tribes of Getulia, and Mauritaniain the furthest extremities of Spain, and Gaul, and Britain,-among the Samaritans, Dacians, Germans and Scythians—in countries and islands scarcely known to us by name.” “The language,” as Bishop Kaye, of whose translation we have again availed ourselves, well observes, “is declamatory ; yet such a representation would not have been hazarded, unless it had been realized to a considerable extent, in the actual state of Christianity.”
CLAIMS OF CHRISTIANITY TO OUR CAREFUL ATTENTION
With whatever boldness, infidelity and profaneness may obtrude themselves upon our notice, we hazard nothing in saying, that they no longer give a reputation for wit or wisdom. They are not associated with the idea of superior understanding, acuteness, or liberality of mind.
Christianity is generally treated with respect --with cold respect perhaps; but it is entitled to something more than this. Leaving out of view its claims to a supernatural origin, we say, it is entitled to something It is entitled, certainly, to our careful attention
VOL. 1.-NO. I.