Tertullian on Environmentalism

Do I think Tertullian was what we could consider Green by today’s standards? I don’t know – who cares? He was advocating using nature for what God had intended – and not to worship false gods in false ways. Neither did he want people to use it to worship God in a false way.

As we join Tertullian, he is dismissing strongly the use of ‘crowns’ on Christian heads – material, not spiritual – because they are of pagan invention. For him, just leave the flowers in the field where they belong. (Take him in context)

For it is the flowers of the field which are the peculiar, at least the chief, material of crowns. Either smell, you say, or colour, or both together. What will be the senses of colour and smell? Those of seeing and smelling, I suppose. What members have had these senses allotted to them? The eyes and the nose, if I am not mistaken. With sight and smell, then, make use of flowers, for these are the senses by which they are meant to be enjoyed; use them by means of the eyes and nose, which are the members to which these senses belong. You have got the thing from God, the mode of it from the world; but an extraordinary mode does not prevent the use of the thing in the common way. Let flowers, then, both when fastened into each other and tied together in thread and rush, be what they are when free, when loose—things to be looked at and smelt. You count it a crown, let us say, when you have a bunch of them bound together in a series, that you may carry many at one time that you may enjoy them all at once. Well, lay them in your bosom if they are so singularly pure, and strew them on your couch if they are so exquisitely soft, and consign them to your cup if they are so perfectly harmless. Have the pleasure of them in as many ways as they appeal to your senses. But what taste for a flower, what sense for anything belonging to a crown but its band, have you in the head, which is able neither to distinguish colour, nor to inhale sweet perfumes, nor to appreciate softness? It is as much against nature to long after a flower with the head, as it is to crave food with the ear, or sound with the nostril. But everything which is against nature deserves to be branded as monstrous among all men; but with us it is to be condemned also as sacrilege against God, the Lord and Creator of nature.

….We first of all indeed know God Himself by the teaching of Nature, calling Him God of gods, taking for granted that He is good, and invoking Him as Judge. Is it a question with you whether for the enjoyment of His creatures, Nature should be our guide, that we may not be carried away in the direction in which the rival of God has corrupted, along with man himself, the entire creation which had been made over to our race for certain uses, whence the apostle says that it too unwillingly became subject to vanity, completely bereft of its original character, first by vain, then by base, unrighteous, and ungodly uses? It is thus, accordingly, in the pleasures of the shows, that the creature is dishonoured by those who by nature indeed perceive that all the materials of which shows are got up belong to God, but lack the knowledge to perceive as well that they have all been changed by the devil. But with this topic we have, for the sake of our own play-lovers, sufficiently dealt, and that, too, in a work in Greek… (The Chaplet)

Read him in context…

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5 Replies to “Tertullian on Environmentalism”

  1. Amen, “As we rediscover Tertullian today, we acknowledge his historical importance, his alien setting and his strongly individual mind. It is plain that in him the Western mind (‘der abenlanische Geist’) finds its first Christian expression. ‘In Western Christianity everything seems to commence with Tertullian: the technical language of Christians, theology, interpretation of scripture and other manifestations of a religion which in part already settled and in part on the move.’ (C. Moreschini, Aspetti della dottrina del martirio in Tertulliano, Compostellanum, 35 -1990-, 55.) This continunity is qualified by our estrangement from his world, where a surfeit of gods gave him a setting which is alien to our secular scene.” (Eric Osborn, Tertullian, first theologian of the West; Cambridge, 1997…2003 first paperback edition)
    Fr. R.

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