Category Archives: Tertullian

“the earliest creed is…” moving on…

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I keep hearing this tired refrain:

“‘Jesus is Lord’ is the earliest creed.”

They are pulling this phrase from 1 Corinthians 12.3 although they seem to miss the first part of said verse.

But, honestly, it isn’t.

There are more “creeds” than that in Scripture. The New Testament, a collection of early works assembled later, contains references to traditions pre-dating Scripture (the same canon later assembled by the same church that developed the creeds).

Let me name a few. There is the Christ hymn in Philippians 2.5–11. John 6.52–58 has some resemblance to an early eucharistic liturgical celebration. There is also 1 Timothy 3.16, which while not Pauline (shoot me, but it is Pseudo-Pauline) shows a creedal presence. Let us not forget Matthew 28.19–20 as well. Hebrews 1.1–3 seems creedal-ness, but I will admit that may be stretching it just a bit.

Revelation is liturgical. Hebrews is homiletic. Both do so to point to a belief that Jesus is Lord and what that means. It is not simply “say ‘Jesus is Lord’ and you are in like flinn.” In other words, even if “Jesus is Lord” is a creed, it is never without explanation and understanding.

So, how do the creeds and symbols develop? From the baptismal confessions. Indeed, baptism and creeds go together.

From St. Irenaeus:

1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

2. To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in

one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, 4, 1-2)

From Tertullian,

“Now, with regard to this rule of faith-that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend-it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son,and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.” (Tertullian, the Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter XIII)

St. Hippolytus, in preserving to us the Apostolic Tradition (c. 215) preserves older traditions as well. This is the baptismal formula:

Then, after these things, let him give him over to the presbyter who baptizes, and let the candidates stand in the water, naked, a deacon going with them likewise. And when he who is being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus:

Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty?

And he who is being baptized shall say:

I believe.

Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say:

Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Admittedly, the Apostolic Traditions’ worth will be dependent upon the side in the scholarly debate you fall. For me, I’ll go down the middle and say that while it may be assembled later (say, like several books throughout the canon, and the canon itself) it does contain earlier recollections.

To sum, the first creedal statements focus on two things simultaneously: Who Jesus is and what did he do?  We see this developed through the baptismal confessions exactly because we are being baptized into Christ. It is only right to ask the new believer “do you know what you are doing?” and require that they actually tell you.

We can argue all the day long about creeds and litmus tests and the such, but we really shouldn’t argue whether or not creeds were in the early church — they were, before Scripture, and it equalized everyone. We can’t even argue that the Trinity is somehow a 4th century creation. Well, you can, if you want to appear ignorant of history and all.

Check out these from Logos and Accordance.

Tertullian on Interpreting Scripture

…Now there are two conditions of prophetic announcement which I adduce, as requiring the assent of our adversaries in the future stages of the discussion. One, that future events are sometimes announced as if they were already passed. For it is consistent with Deity to regard as accomplished facts whatever It has determined on, because there is no difference of time with that Being in whom eternity itself directs a uniform condition of seasons. It is indeed more natural to the prophetic divination to represent as seen and already brought to pass, even while forseeing it, that which it foresees; in other words, that which is by all means future. As for instance, in Isaiah: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks (I exposed) to their hands. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” For whether it was Christ even then, as we hold, or the prophet, as the Jews say, who pronounced these words concerning himself, in either case, that which as yet had not happened sounded as if it had been already accomplished. Another characteristic will be, that very many events are figuratively predicted by means of enigmas and allegories and parables, and that they must be understood in a sense different from the literal description. For we both read of “the mountains dropping down new wine,” but not as if one might expect “must” from the stones, or its decoction from the rocks; and also hear of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but not as if you were to suppose that you would ever gather Samian cakes from the ground; nor does God, forsooth, offer His services as a water-bailiff or a farmer when He says, “I will open rivers in a dry land; I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the box-tree.” In like manner, when, foretelling the conversion of the Gentiles, He says, “The beasts of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls,” He surely never meant to derive His fortunate omens from the young of birds and foxes, and from the songsters of marvel and fable. But why enlarge on such a subject? When the very apostle whom our heretics adopt, interprets the law which allows an unmuzzled mouth to the oxen that tread out the corn, not of cattle, but of ourselves; and also alleges that the rock which followed (the Israelites) and supplied them with drink was Christ; teaching the Galatians, moreover, that the two narratives of the sons of Abraham had an allegorical meaning in their course; and to the Ephesians giving an intimation that, when it was declared in the beginning that a man should leave his father and mother and become one flesh with his wife, he applied this to Christ and the church. (Adv Marc 3.5)1

And with that, he goes one to defeat Marcion.

  1.  Tertullian, “The Five Books against Marcion,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; trans. Peter Holmes; vol. 3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 3324.

Tertullian on the why of Matthew 1.1 #advent14ccumwv

tertullian matthew 1.1

Tertullian is the John Wesley of the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Tertullian and St. John Chrysostom on Isaiah 45.7

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Mic...
The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo (Photo credit: Wikipedia) WHY DO THEY HAVE BELLY BUTTONS!

The verse in English, Hebrew, and Greek (LXX):

I make the light, I create the darkness;
author alike of wellbeing and woe,
I, the LORD, do all these things. (REB)

יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃ ס

Ἐγὼ ἡ κατασκευάσας φῶς, καὶ ποιήσας σκότος, ὁ ποιῶν εἰρήνην, καὶ κτίζων κακά· ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς, ὁ ποιῶν πάντα ταῦτα.

This is an interesting discussion to have, considering the the nature of evil.

3.1 Seeing therefore, too, these cases occur in persecutions more than at other times, as there is then among us more of proving or rejecting, more of abasing or punishing, it must be that their general occurrence is permitted or commanded by Him at whose will they happen even partially; by Him, I mean, who says, “I am He who make peace and create evil,”—that is, war, for that is the antithesis of peace. But what other war has our peace than persecution? If in its issues persecution emphatically brings either life or death, either wounds or healing, you have the author, too, of this. “I will smite and heal, I will make alive and put to death.” “I will burn them,” He says, “as gold is burned; and I will try them,” He says, “as silver is tried,” for when the flame of persecution is consuming as, then the stedfastness of our faith is proved.1

St. John Chrysostom says somewhat the same thing. He breaks away sin from evil, suggesting that evil (natural disasters and other things that chastise us) is in fact God ordained.

5. There is then evil, which is really evil; fornication, adultery, covetousness, and the countless dreadful things, which are worthy of the utmost reproach and punishment. Again there is evil, which rather is not evil, but is called so, famine, pestilence, death, disease, and others of a like kind. For these would not be evils. On this account I said they are called so only. Why then? Because, were they evils, they would not have become the sources of good to us, chastening our pride, goading our sloth, and leading us on to zeal, making us more attentive. “For when,” saith one, “he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned, and came early to God.” He calls this evil therefore which chastens them, which makes them purer, which renders them more zealous, which leads them on to love of wisdom; not that which comes under suspicion and is worthy of reproach; for that is not a work of God, but an invention of our own will, but this is for the destruction of the other. He calls then by the name of evil the affliction, which arises from our punishment; thus naming it not in regard to its own nature, but according to that view which men take of it.2

Thoughts?

  1. Tertullian, “De Fuga in Persecutione,” in Fathers of the Third Century, ANF.
  2. John Chrysostom, “Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (ed. Philip Schaff; trans. T. P. Brandram; vol. 9; A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 9182.

Tertullian – Whose image is this?

Miniature clay tablets from Babylon, considere...
Image via Wikipedia

From the DailyGospel.org:

At the beginning of the world all things were made by the Word of God «and without him nothing came to be» (Jn 1,3). Now man, too, had his existence from the Word of God because of the principle that there should be nothing without that Word. «Let us make man,» God said before he created him, and added, «with our hand» to express his pre-eminence so that he might not be compared to the rest of creation. «And God,» says Scripture, «formed man» (Gn 2,7)…

»And God formed man from the clay of the earth.» He now became man who was hitherto clay… That poor, paltry material, clay, found its way into the hands of God, happy enough at being merely touched by them. But why this honor? Was it that, without any further labor, the clay had instantly assumed its form at the touch of God? The truth is, a great matter was in progress out of which the creature  under consideration was being fashioned. It is honoured whenever it experiences the hands of God, when it is touched by them, and pulled, and drawn out, and moulded into shape. Imagine God wholly absorbed in it: in his hand, his eye, his labor, his purpose, his wisdom, his providence and, above all, in his love, which was dictating the lineaments of this creature. For whatever was the form and expression given to the clay, Christ was in God’s thoughts as one day to become man, because the Word, too, was to be both clay and flesh even as the earth was then.

This is the meaning of the Father’s first words to his Son: «Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness» (Gn 1,26). God made man, the creature which he moulded and fashioned, in the image of God, in other words of Christ… Thus, that clay that was even then putting on the image of Christ who was to come in the flesh, was not only the work but the pledge and surety given by God.

 

I dunno… Tertullian with all that talk of the progress of shaping a man and all…wonder what he would have thought of evolution…

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