Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Tertullian, Against Praxeas by Sergio Tangari

Tertullian

Tertullian, Against Praxeas[1]

In his letter Against Praxeas, Tertullian defends the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.  He acknowledges that the heresy to be refuted is caused by Satan himself.  The heresy of Praxeas, “He says that the Father Himself came down into the virgin, was Himself born of her.  Himself suffered, indeed was himself Jesus Christ”.  These “tares” of Praxeas, force Tertullian to both explain the church’s position on the doctrine, and secondly move him to deal with the misapprehensions of the opposing view.

The Church’s Position

First, there is The Church’s Position.  There is only one God, but in the economy (i.e., the distinct roles each member of the triune Godhead fulfills) of the Godhead is the Son who proceeds from the Father, who created all things, who was sent into the virgin by the Father, and from the Father through the Son the Holy Spirit is sent.  Tertullian asserts that this rule of faith is not new, but rather has been handed down to the church from its inception.  The unity is one of substance (i.e., of nature—divine,), and the three-ness constitutes the persons Father, Son, and Spirit (i.e., one of identity—distinctions).

Objection Raised

Second, there is Praxeas’ Objection.  Although the following objection did not originate with Praxeas, the allegation raised against the church’s view of the Trinity, is that it leads people to either bi-theism (i.e., two Gods) or tri-theism (i.e., three Gods), whereas their view of God leads them to the true worship of the one God.  Moreover, they assert that their view maintains the sole monarchy of God, whereas the church’s view destroys it.  Tertullians’ essential response is that the unity of the monarchy is not destroyed, but rather it is preserved, if the Son and the Spirit are indeed sharers of the one monarchy.

 Varied Responses to Heresy

Third, there is Tertullians’ Varied Responses to the Heresy.  One response to the heresy is that the unity of the Godhead and the supremacy and sole government of the divine being are not impaired according to Catholic doctrine.  Tertullian argues that since the Son is derived from the substance of the Father, does only the will of the Father, and is given all power from the Father, then the Monarchy is not destroyed from the faith.  Moreover, since the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, the monarchy ends up not being destroyed, but rather, it is preserved.  Furthermore, the fact that the Son will restore the monarchy back to the Father, demonstrates the clear distinction of persons within the Godhead.  Henceforth, those who are claiming to preserve the sole monarchy are actually destroying it, because they are overthrowing the very arrangement and dispensation employed by God.

 Clarification of the Trinity

Fourth, Tertullian clarifies the Catholic rule of faith concerning the Trinity.  He argues that the Father, Son, and Spirit are a unity of substance, but are three distinct persons.  The Father is seen as the entire substance, the Son and the Spirit are derivations of that whole.  The distinction of persons can be seen in that the Father begets, and the Son is begotten, and the Son sends another Paraclete.  The distinction of persons is further seen in the names of Father, Son, and Spirit. 

 Monarchian Position not Coherent

Fifth, he shows the incoherence of the Monarchian position that maintains the Father is the Son and vice versa.  He does this by distinguishing being from having.  Tertullian argues that in order for a father to be one, he must first have a son.  Likewise, in order for a son to be one, he must first have a father.  Moreover, how can I be my own son, or be my own father?  The logic is faulty, and yet the Monarchian responds with “nothing is impossible with God!”   Tertullian’s challenge is to consider whether or not God has really done it.  For he reasons that God really could have made man with wings to fly, but reality does not bear it out, nor does the Monarchian argument for that matter.

 Scripture Must Ground Our Positions

Sixth, Tertullian then challenges Praxeas to biblically ground his position.  He then distorts a passage to make his point concerning the distinction between the Father and Son, “The Lord said unto Himself, I am my own son, today I have begotten myself “.  If this is the case, then God is a deceiver, an imposter, and a tamperer with His word.  But since the contrary obtains, the position asserted by Praxeas is egregiously false.

 Textual Evidence for Plurality of Persons

Seventh, he then demonstrates the scriptural basis for the plurality of persons (Gen.1: 3, 26-27; 3:22; Jn.1: 1, 3, 9), and the unity of substance within the Godhead as a remedy to combat polytheism (Ps.45: 6-7; Isa.45: 14-15; Jn. 1:1; etc.), and then chastises Praxeas for not accepting the clear declarations of scripture.

 Further Evidence From Both OT and NT

Eigth, Tertullian continues with scripture passages in the OT (Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:13, 11; Num. 12:6-8; 1 Cor.13: 12; Mk. 9:4; Mt. 17:3; etc.) and in the NT (Jn.1: 1-2, 18; 4:12; 1 Cor.9: 1; 1 Tim. 4:16; etc.) demonstrating the Fathers’ invisibility and the Sons’ visibility.  Moreover, he deals with OT manifestations of Christ, with titles that both the Son and the Father share depicting their deity, and he abundantly shows how in Johns’ Gospel, the distinction of persons between the Father and Son obtain.

Tertullian not only sees that the doctrine of the Trinity is the great divide between Christianity and Judaism, but he also sees the Monarchian doctrine as blasphemous, and as such, damnable.

Many well-meaning professing believers today fall under the error of Praxeas punting to “nothing is impossible with God” God is “mysterious” and a host of other responses that undermine the clarity of Scripture concerning God’s nature and the distinction of persons within the Trinity.  While mystery obtains (e.g., Christ’s incarnation) it’s the duty of disciples to not take the Name of the LORD our God in vain (i.e., misrepresenting His Character or Being).

The doctrine of the Trinity is in fact one of the pillars of Christendom distinguishing it from all other beliefs, and it is foundational to understanding so much of Scripture.

(SDG)

[1]  Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, Pp.597-627, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

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Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 4_THE LATIN APOLOGISTS OF THE THIRD CENTURY [pp.38-45]

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After considering some of our Eastern Apologetic Fathers, a look at some of the Latin apologists reveal men who were very practical most likely because most of them were converted Lawyers.  Among them was Marcus Minicius Felix [p.39-40] who was well versed in classical philosophy, letters and expresses himself in a pleasant Ciceronian manner.  There are more prominent ones, which we will consider.

Perhaps the most famous of these men is Tertullian a prominent speaker for the Carthaginian Church at the beginning of the 2nd century.  He was converted about (AD 193) and wrote profusely in defense of Catholicism until his lapse into Montanism (AD 207).  He was a skilled lawyer in the practice of the Roman courts.  [Pp.40-43]

The Apology (AD 197) is perhaps his finest work where he employs his juridical skills to defend Christianity raising questions like: “Why are Christians exclusively convicted for their name without a trial?”  In it he also notes how absurd charges brought against Christians of infanticide, sexual promiscuity, and atheism, issues of which he refutes with wit and sarcasm.  After refuting the charges that Christians are evil, he proceeds to demonstrate their goodness.

This book is the most powerful and moving of its kind, it throbs with a fierce love of truth and virtue, it’s filled with intensely passionate and searing argumentation that’s biting and clearly this African raised the Roman court to new heights of eloquence.

In his work Prescription of Heretics reveals his forensic talents, arguing that Christ gave over His revelation to the Church so that it may be taught by its authorized spokesmen.   For Tertullian getting at the truth equaled being at a Church that could claim to have continuity with the Apostles.  Heretics are not entitled to appeal to Scripture, because those were given to the Church.  This shows that he was a Papist whose hermeneutics were exclusive.

Concerning the issue of Faith and Reason he viewed the latter as foe not a friend because he wanted to liberate Christianity of the straightjacket of all metaphysical systems whenever God’s revelation was in danger of being trumped by human speculation.

This stalwart of the Faith is to be highly commended for his faithfulness to his convictions and the Church.  Agree or disagree with his ecclesiology, Tertullian is a serious thinker worthy to be read.

Cyprian of Carthage was its Bishop who wrote several works: [pp.43-45]  On the Vanity of Idols (247) where he seeks to apologetically demonstrate that idols are not divine, and that there is only one God; On the Unity of the Catholic Church (251) which is pastoral in its tone and directed against schism, not unbelief.  Here he mentions the moral miracle of the Church’s universality, it’s inner cohesion and marvelous fecundity.  In his Testimonies are three books which best typify the literature of the early Church.

The Writers of the 3rd Century were exceptional, energetic and talented.  Their focus and genius was on the practical rather than on the speculative aspects of apologetics.  This again is instructive for too often the apologetics being practiced don’t aim at winning the affections, but purely the intellect.  To make Disciples of Christ we are called to do both [P.45].

Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 3_THE LATIN APOLOGISTS OF THE THIRD CENTURY [pp.38-45]

images

After considering some of our Eastern Apologetic Fathers, a look at some of the Latin apologists reveal men who were very practical most likely because most of them were converted Lawyers.  Among them was Marcus Minicius Felix [p.39-40] who was well versed in classical philosophy, letters and expresses himself in a pleasant Ciceronian manner.  There are more prominent ones, which we will consider.

Perhaps the most famous of these men is Tertullian a prominent speaker for the Carthaginian Church at the beginning of the 2nd century.  He was converted about (AD 193) and wrote profusely in defense of Catholicism until his lapse into Montanism (AD 207).  He was a skilled lawyer in the practice of the Roman courts.  [Pp.40-43]

The Apology (AD 197) is perhaps his finest work where he employs his juridical skills to defend Christianity raising questions like: “Why are Christians exclusively convicted for their name without a trial?”  In it he also notes how absurd charges brought against Christians of infanticide, sexual promiscuity, and atheism, issues of which he refutes with wit and sarcasm.  After refuting the charges that Christians are evil, he proceeds to demonstrate their goodness.

This book is the most powerful and moving of its kind, it throbs with a fierce love of truth and virtue, it’s filled with intensely passionate and searing argumentation that’s biting and clearly this African raised the Roman court to new heights of eloquence.

In his work Prescription of Heretics reveals his forensic talents, arguing that Christ gave over His revelation to the Church so that it may be taught by its authorized spokesmen.   For Tertullian getting at the truth equaled being at a Church that could claim to have continuity with the Apostles.  Heretics are not entitled to appeal to Scripture, because those were given to the Church.  This shows that he was a Papist whose hermeneutics were exclusive.

Concerning the issue of Faith and Reason he viewed the latter as foe not a friend because he wanted to liberate Christianity of the straightjacket of all metaphysical systems whenever God’s revelation was in danger of being trumped by human speculation.

This stalwart of the Faith is to be highly commended for his faithfulness to his convictions and the Church.  Agree or disagree with his ecclesiology, Tertullian is a serious thinker worthy to be read.

Cyprian of Carthage was its Bishop who wrote several works: [pp.43-45]  On the Vanity of Idols (247) where he seeks to apologetically demonstrate that idols are not divine, and that there is only one God; On the Unity of the Catholic Church (251) which is pastoral in its tone and directed against schism, not unbelief.  Here he mentions the moral miracle of the Church’s universality, it’s inner cohesion and marvelous fecundity.  In his Testimonies are three books which best typify the literature of the early Church.

The Writers of the 3rd Century were exceptional, energetic and talented.  Their focus and genius was on the practical rather than on the speculative aspects of apologetics.  This again is instructive for too often the apologetics being practiced don’t aim at winning the affections, but purely the intellect.  To make Disciples of Christ we are called to do both [P.45].