Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tertullian Apology, ad martyrem, de anima

They think the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which the people are visited. If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, "Away with the Christians to the lion!"'
Tertullian, Apology 40
Tertullian (160 - 225 AD), the controversial Father of Latin Christianity, was a Christian author who lived in the city of Carthage and was crucial in the formulation of the doctrine of Trinity. He later became a Montanist.
Carthage also became a center of early Christianity. Tertullian rhetorically addressed the Roman governor with the fact that the Christians of Carthage that just yesterday were few in number, now "have filled every place among you —cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods." (Apologeticus written at Carthage, c. 197). It is worth noting that Tertullian omits any mention of the surrounding countryside or its network of villas not unlike colonial hacienda society.
At Tertullian's time Christianity was forbidden religion in the Roman Empire with waves of persecution rising and falling from emperor to emperor. Septimus Severus (145 - 211 AD) gave an edict in 202 AD that allowed Jews and Christians to worship their God but conversion to those religions was punishable by death.
Apologeticus (or Apologeticum) is Tertullian's most famous work, consisting of apologetic and polemic; In this work Tertullian defends Christianity, demanding legal toleration and that Christians be treated as all other sects of the Roman Empire. It is in this treatise that one finds the phrase: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).

This work is ostensibly addressed to the provincial governors of the Roman Empire, more specifically the magistrates of Carthage- "that the truth, being forbidden to defend itself publicly, may reach the ears of the rulers by the hidden path of letters"— and thus bears resemblance to the Greek apologues.

It is structured as an appeal on behalf of the Christians and pleads “for toleration of Christianity, attacking pagan superstition, rebutting charges against Christian morality, and claiming that Christians are no danger to the State but useful citizens”.

Its readership is likely to have been composed of Christians, whose faith was reinforced through Tertullian's defense against rationalizations and rumours and who “would have been hugely enheartened by Tertullian’s matchless confidence in the superiority of the Christian religion”.
Read the entire article from wikipedia
Apologeticus is of crucial importance for our understanding of the background to the passion of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity and their friends. It provides authentic contemporary documentation about the situation of Christians in the city of Carthage at his times and about the attitudes and perceptions of the Roman authorities towards adherents to this forbidden religion.

ad martyrem
Link to Tertullian's letter ad martyrem

DATE of the letter
A date AD 197 before persecution has been suggested and the last paragraph of the letter taken as a reference to the deaths after the conspiracy of Albinus. Spartian. in vit. c. 12, "After having slain numberless persons on the side of Albinus, among whom were many chiefs in the state, many women of rank, all their goods were confiscated—then many nobles of the Spaniards and Sualli were slain."

British classisist Timothy David Barnes (b.1942) is a recognized expert on Late Antiquity and especially on the chronology of Tertullian times. He has suggested the year AD 197 arguing that the letter is written after Tertullian had heard of Albinus fate that year but before the writing of Apologeticum.  T.D.Barnes, Tertullian: a literary and historical study' Oxford Clarendon Press, 1971. (Revised 1985).
(I am grateful to docent A.-M. Laato for pointing out the view of  T.D. Barnes)

Addressed to the prisoners?
Tertullian may have written the letter to Christian prisoners during the Severian persecution of 203-204. To test this possibility I have marked with bold statements in the letter that could be related to the text on St. Perpetua and St. Felicity.
They are not many
1. stepping on the head of Devil, snake, who is to flee from the martyrs.
2. special mentioning of women martyrs, compared to famous women in classical heritage of Greece and Rome and Carthage.

The men and women given as examples to martyrs
Mutius (Gaius Mucus Scaevola)
Heraclitus (oxen dung)
Peregrinus (Proteus)
Dido (Queen of Carthage)
The wife of Asdrubal (The Battle of the Crimissus)
Regulus (Roman general Marcus Atilius Regulus First Punic War)
Cleopatra (bear?)
the Athenian harlot (cf. Apologeticus c. 50)
the Lacedaemonians (Bomonicae, boys whipped in front of the altar of Diana Orthia in Sparta)

Writer of the frame text in the document?
Suggestion that Tertullian wrote the frame around the authentic documents of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity (if she had the vision assigned to Saturus?) requires diligent comparison of the Latin language and content with Tertullian's writings. My elementary knowledge of Latin is not enough for that.

T.D. Barnes examines the arguments for and against Tertullian as the author of the frame (Barnes 1971, 91) but finds no conclusive evidence.

de anima
Tertullian's treatise On Soul de anima refers to St Perpetua.

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