Tertullian on Halloween and Fall Festivals

I know, I know…Tertullian didn’t write about Halloween, but what if he did? Growing up, the only local congregations who had Fall Festivals were Catholic Churches. Now, everyone has them. For me, no, but I reckon, to each his or her own.

HALLOWEEN

A contemporary paraphrase of Tertullian’s third century A.D. work ‘Concerning the Shows’ using poetic license revisions indicated in all capital letters.

Ye Servants of God, about to draw near to God. that you may make solemn consecration of yourselves to Him, seek well to understand the condition of faith, the reasons of the Truth, the laws of Christian Discipline, which forbid among other sins of the world, the pleasures of HALLOWEEN.

[T]he faith of some, either too simple or too scrupulous, demands direct authority from Scripture for giving up HALLOWEEN, and holds out that the matter is a doubtful one, because such abstinence is not clearly and in words imposed upon God’s servants. Well, we never find it expressed with the same precision, “Thou shalt not CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN, thou shalt not TRICK OR TREAT; ”  But we find that that first word of David bears on this very sort of thing: “Blessed,” he says, “is the man who has not gone into the assembly of the impious, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of scorners.” Though he seems to have predicted beforehand of that just man, yet divine Scripture has ever far-reaching applications: after the immediate sense has been exhausted, in all directions it fortifies the practice of the religious life, so that here also you have an utterance which is not far from a plain interdicting of HALLOWEEN.For some things spoken with a special reference contain in them general truth

Lest any one think that we are dealing in mere argumentative subtleties, I shall turn to that highest authority of our “seal” itself. When entering the water [SPRINKLING BAPTISTS TAKE NOTE!], we make profession of the Christian faith in the words of its rule; we bear public testimony that we have renounced the devil, his pomp, and his angels.beyond all doubt that will carry with it the conclusion that our renunciatory testimony in the layer of baptism has reference to HALLOWEEN, which, through their idolatry, have been given over to the devil, and his pomp, and his angels.

In the matter of their origins, as these are somewhat obscure and but little known to many among us, our investigations must go back to a remote antiquity, and our authorities be none other than books of heathen literature. This goes also to taint the origin: you cannot surely hold that to be good which has sprung from sin,.. . .

The polluted things pollute us. You will hate, O Christian, the things whose authors must be the objects of your utter detestation. we cannot partake of God’s feast and the feast of devils.

For even suppose one should enjoy HALLOWEEN in a moderate way, in my view, a man pronounces his own condemnation in the very act of taking his place among those with whom, by his disinclination to be like them, he confesses he has no sympathy. It is not enough that we do no such things ourselves, unless we break all connection also with those who do.

And in regard to the wearing of masks, I ask is that according to the mind of God, who forbids the making of every likeness, and especially then the likeness of man who is His own image? The Author of truth hates all the false; He regards as adultery all that is unreal. Condemning, therefore, as He does hypocrisy in every form, He never will approve any putting on of voice, or sex, or age; He never will approve pretended loves, and wraths, and groans, and tears.

In how many other ways shall we yet further show that nothing which is peculiar to HALLOWEEN has God’s approval, or without that approval is becoming in God’s servants? If we have succeeded in making it plain that they were instituted entirely for the devil’s sake, and have been got up entirely with the devil’s things this simply means that in them you have that pomp of the devil which in the “seal” of our faith we abjure. We should have no connection with the things which we abjure, whether in deed or word, whether by looking on them or looking forward to them; but do we not abjure and rescind that baptismal pledge, when we cease to bear its testimony?

Why may not those who go into the temptations of HALLOWEEN become accessible also to evil spirits? For no one can serve two masters. What fellowship has light with darkness, life with death?

We ought to detest these heathen meetings and assemblies, if on no other account than that there God’s name is blasphemed. Not that there any harm is likely to come to you from men: nobody knows that you are a Christian; but think how it fares with you in heaven. For at the very time the devil is working havoc in the church, do you doubt that the angels are looking down from above, and marking every man, who speaks and who listens to the blaspheming word, who lends his tongue and who lends his ears to the service of Satan against God? Shall you not then shun those tiers where the enemies of Christ assemble, that seat of all that is pestilential, and the very super incumbent atmosphere all impure with wicked cries?

Grant that you have there things that are pleasant, HALLOWEEN CANDY. Nobody dilutes poison with gall and hellebore: the accursed thing is put into condiments well seasoned and of sweetest taste. So, too, the devil puts into the deadly draught which he prepares, things of God most pleasant and most acceptable. Everything there, then, that is either brave, noble, loud-sounding, melodious, or exquisite in taste, hold it but as the honey drop of a poisoned cake; nor make so much of your taste for its pleasures, as of the danger you run from its attractions.

With such dainties as HALLOWEEN CANDY let the devil’s guests be feasted. The places and the times, the inviter too, are theirs. Our banquets, our nuptial joys, are yet to come. We cannot sit down in fellowship with them, as neither can they with us.

You have your joys where you have your longings.

Even as things are, if your thought is to spend this period of existence in enjoyments, how are you so ungrateful as to reckon insufficient, as not thankfully to recognize the many and exquisite pleasures God has bestowed upon you? For what more delightful than to have God the Father and our Lord at peace with us, than revelation of the truth than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give, true liberty, a pure conscience, a contented life, and freedom from all fear of death? What nobler than to tread under foot the gods of the nations-to exorcise evil spirits-to perform cures-to seek divine revealings-to live to God? These are the pleasures, these the spectacles that befit Christian men-holy, everlasting, free. Count of these as your HALLOWEEN CELEBRATION, fix your eyes on the courses of the world, the gliding seasons, reckon up the periods of time, long for the goal of the final consummation, defend the societies of the churches, be startled at God’s signal, be roused up at the angel’s trump, glory in the palms of martyrdom.

Post By Joel Watts (10,110 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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7 thoughts on “Tertullian on Halloween and Fall Festivals

  1. From “Of the Soldier’s Crown” by Tertullian

    “….he awaiteth the free gift of Christ…

    “If no Scripture hath determined this TRICK OR TREATING, assuredly custom hath confirmed it, which, doubtless, hath been derived from tradition. For how can a thing be used unless it be first delivered to us? But, thou sayest, even where tradition is pleaded, written authority ought to be required. Wherefore let us enquire whether none, save a written tradition, ought to be received. Certainly we shall deny that it ought to be received, if there be no precedents to determine the contrary in other observances, which, without any Scripture document, we defend on the ground of tradition alone, and by the supports of consequent custom…

    “For these and such like rules OF HALLOWEEN, if thou requirest a law in the Scriptures, thou shalt find none. Tradition will be pleaded to thee as originating them, custom as confirming them, and faith as observing them. That reason will support tradition, and custom, and faith, thou wilt either thyself perceive, or learn from some one who hath perceived it. Meanwhile thou wilt believe that some reason there is, to which submission is due.”

  2. I’ve read a lot of Tertullian. I’ve not just read “On Shows”, but read it as an audiobook. I know perfectly well that he’s protesting Christian involvement in a particularly revolting form of pagan human sacrifice (his own besetting temptation), and against incorporating other entertainment-like pagan acts of worship into Christian life. He provides proof that the customs he protests are indeed forms of pagan worship and not just secular entertainment, and that such worship is not something archaic and forgotten.

    He’s not talking about protesting the celebration of a Christian festival. He’s certainly not claiming that a Christian festival is pagan, without any historical proof.

    The more one looks into the actual history and practices of celebrating Halloween, instead of trusting to misconceived academic legend, the more you see it associated with Christian mask customs, Christian alms procession customs, and Christian fall festivals thanking God for the harvest and praising the saints and martyrs. Contemporary secularization of the festival is more responsible for its distasteful aspects than its actual religious origins. Halloween is a hallowed vigil of the Lord that celebrates His faithful ones and the spiritual warfare we all must face. To let that be stolen away from us — that is what we should protest.

    Furthermore, since Tertullian, if anything, loved and respected celebrating the saints and martyrs a little too much (since that love led him to draw away from the Church, as being too forgiving of those who lapsed), your quotes are opposite his point of view.

    My quotes are mostly meant to be funny — but if you read the material surrounding them in “On the Crown”/”On the Soldiers’ Crown”, you will find that there’s a good deal that’s also to my point in what I haven’t quoted.

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