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Scope of the Subject—The Son is of the substance of the Father—The Logos: Reason, Wisdom, and Word—Is the Son co-eternal with the Father ?—The Son as the Agent of the Father in creation and in revelation—The humanity of Christ—Tertullian’s treatment facilitated by his anthropology—The need of defending this aspect of the Person of Christ against the heretics— Two points to be established: (1) That nativity was possible to God; (2) That it was becoming to Him—The preparation of Christ for the experience of the incarnation—The marks in the flesh of Christ of its origin—Christ took, not only human flesh, but a human soul—The argument from prophecy—The sinlessness of Christ—The death of Christ —Its reality closely related to the reality of His humanity—Prophecies of the death of Christ in the Old Testament—The resurrection of Christ an article of the Rule of Faith—The relation between the resurrection of Christ and that of believers—The purpose of the life and death of Christ—Was it revelation ?—Was it redemption ?—The absence of a forensic statement of the Atonement in Tertullian—Such a view incompatible with his view of man’s agency in salvation—The curse that rested upon Christ was that of the Jews, not of God—The purpose of the resurrection of Christ—His exaltation and session at the right hand of God.

WE have already considered Tertullian’s view of the internal relations of the Trinity.1 Our present purpose is to develop his doctrine of the Son. The Son is of the substance of the Father, is the Agent of the Father in the creation of the world, and is the supreme means of the self-revelation of God prior to and in the incarnation. He became incarnate, being as such both God and man. He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, and is exalted to the right hand of the Father. He is coming again to judge the world. That is the substance of Tertullian’s Christology, which we may consider more in detail.

The Son is of the substance of the Father. With the Father He existed before the creation of the world. It has been asserted that Tertullian did not think of the Son as eternally existing, but as coming into being solely in view of the creation of the world. That conclusion, however, seems to have been |p167 derived from some isolated statements in Tertullian’s writings, without due allowance being made for the force of other statements.

It is plain from the following passage that Tertullian regarded the Son as being of one substance with the Father. ‘We hold that the Word, and Reason, and Power, by which we have said God made all, have spirit as their proper and essential substratum, in which the Word has in-being to give forth utterance, and Reason abides to dispose and arrange, and Power is over all to execute. We have been taught that He proceeds forth from God, and in that procession He is generated; so that He is the Son of God, and is called God from unity of substance with God. For God, too, is a spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun it is still part of the parent mass. The sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun; there is no division of substance, but merely an extension. Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled’ (Apologeticus, c. 21).

It is plain, too, that Tertullian has the notion of Reason and Word corresponding to lo&goj e0ndia&qetoj and lo&goj proforiko&j, though he does not use these Greek terms. His treatment of this distinction in Adversus Praxean, c. 5, shows clearly that the distinction which he had in mind when he spoke of Reason and Word was precisely the distinction between the immanent and the proceeding Logos.

Using the analogy of human consciousness or reason, and word or speech, Tertullian shows that the same are found in God. ‘Whatever you think there is a word, whatever you conceive there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind, and while you are speaking you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which is this very reason whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are producing thought by means of that converse with your word. Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second with you. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has Reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word’ (Adversus Praxean, c. 5). When we seek, further, to discover whether the Son, whom Tertullian identifies with the Reason and Word of God, is coeternal with the Father, we find some ambiguous expressions |p168 which seem to imply that there was a time when the Son did not exist; e.g. he speaks of ‘God’s own dispensation (dispositio), in which He existed before the creation of the world up to the generation of the Son.’2 Divorced from its context, this seems to be a clear statement that there was a time prior to the existence of the Son. But when we remember that dispositio means (as Bishop Bull shows in his Defence of the Nicene Creed) ‘the mutual relations in the Godhead,’ and when we find Tertullian going on to say: ‘For before all things God was alone—being in Himself and for Himself universe and space and all things. Moreover, He was alone because there was nothing external to Himself but Himself. Yet not even then was He alone, for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say His own Reason,’ we feel that there is in such a statement not so much a failure to apprehend the eternal relations of the Persons in the Godhead as a laxity of expression which would not have been possible to Tertullian had he been writing subsequently to the Council of Nicaea.

Again he says: ‘God had not Word from the beginning,’ but counterbalances this with the assertion: ‘But He had Reason even before the beginning, because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence, as being its own substance.’

Moreover, he states: ‘For although God had not yet sent His Word, He still had Him within Himself, both in company with, and included, in, His very Reason’ (Adv. Praxean, c. 5).

Nevertheless, Tertullian regarded the work of the creation of the world as being essentially the Son’s. He claims that the philosophers agree with him in ascribing creation to the Logos, but he works out his own theory mainly from the Scriptures (with the approval of tradition). Prov. viii. 22-30 provides him with a starting-point. This passage, which was afterwards pressed into the service of Arianism, is expounded by Tertullian, and it may safely be said that he avoids the conclusions which the Arians later drew from it. He says, it is true: ‘Then, therefore, does the Word also Himself assume His own form and glorious garb, sound and vocal utterance, when God says, “Let there be light.” This is the perfect nativity of the Word, when He proceeds forth from God, formed by Him |p169 first to devise and think out, and afterwards begotten to carry all into effect.’3 But this must be taken in conjunction with what precedes and what follows it. Tertullian had already said that God pleased to put forth the things which He had planned and ordered within Himself in conjunction with His Wisdom’s Reason and Word,4 and afterwards he says: ‘Thus does He make Him equal to Him; for by proceeding from Himself He became His first-begotten Son, because begotten before all things; and His only-begotten, too, because alone begotten of God in a way peculiar to Himself. ’5

The Son is also the Agent in revelation. The Father is Himself invisible. He is ‘the almighty, invisible God, whom no man hath seen nor can see; He who dwelleth in light unapproachable, who dwelleth not in temples made with hands, from before whose sight the earth trembles, and the mountains melt like wax; who holdeth the whole world in His hands like a nest, in whom is every place, but Himself is in no place.’6

Tertullian even goes so far in this direction as to affirm— what apparently contradicts much that he says elsewhere— that God (the Father) is the remote, passionless God of the philosophers: ‘Whatever attributes, therefore, you require as worthy of God must be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable and placid and (so to speak) the God of the philosophers.’7

Yet the Scriptures affirm that in olden times the Lord was seen of men and spoke with them. The explanation is that it was the Son who was seen of men, and even He could only be seen in dreams and visions, for He was not yet incarnate. The appearances in the Old Testament were images or enigmas of the incarnation wherein the Son was later to reveal the Father in a human life.8

Nor was it as the Agent of revelation alone that the Son was known in the Old Testament times. He was the Agent of Judgement from the very beginning. ‘It is the Son, therefore, who has been from the beginning administering judgement, throwing down the haughty tower and dividing the tongues, punishing the whole world by the violence of waters, raining upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone, |p170 as the Lord from the Lord. For He it was who at all times came down to hold converse with men, from Adam on to the patriarchs and prophets, in vision, in dream, in mirror, in dark saying; ever from the beginning laying the foundation of the course which He meant to follow out to the very last. Thus was He ever learning, even as God, to converse with men upon earth, being no other than the Word which was to be made flesh.’9

The Son became incarnate, being as such God and man. The Son is, as it were, a ray from the Father, and ‘this ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united. The flesh formed by the Spirit is nourished, grows up to manhood, speaks, teaches, works, and is the Christ.’10

Of the mode of the incarnation, Tertullian writes: ‘The Word, therefore, is incarnate; and this must be the point of our inquiry: How the Word became flesh—whether it was by having been transfigured (transfiguratus), as it were, in the flesh, or by having really clothed Himself (an indutus carnem) in flesh. Certainly it was by a real clothing of Himself in flesh (imo indutus). For the rest, we must needs believe God to be unchangeable, and incapable of form, as being eternal. But transfiguration is the destruction of that which previously existed.’11 Thus it is not to be affirmed of God that He was transfigured. ‘God, however, neither ceases to be what He was, nor can He be any other thing than He is.’12

The result of the incarnation is the conjunction of two natures in one Person. It is not a compounding of two substances into a third, which is neither one nor the other.13 In an earlier statement Tertullian used a phrase which might indicate that he regarded the outcome of the incarnation as a blending or mixture of the human and the divine. ‘This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in, His birth God and man blended together’ (Homo deo mixtus).14That view, whether it is really implied in the phrase or not, |p171 is definitely opposed in Adv. Praxean; ‘For if the Word became flesh by a transfiguration and change of substance, it follows at once that Jesus must be a substance compounded of two substances—of flesh and spirit—a kind of mixture, like electrum, composed of gold and silver; and it begins to be neither gold (that is to say, spirit) nor silver (that is to say, flesh)—the one being changed by the other, and a third substance produced.’15 Jesus, according to this, would not be God, because He has ceased to be Logos; nor would He be man, because He has not become flesh. Being compounded of both, He is neither the one nor the other, but a third substance, distinct from both. ‘But the truth is, we find that He is expressly set forth as both God and man. We see plainly the twofold state, which is not confounded, but conjoined in one Person—Jesus, God, and man.’ Each of the natures conjoined in Him retains its own peculiar properties. ‘The Spirit, on the one hand, did all things in Jesus suitable to itself, such as miracles, and mighty deeds, and wonders; and the flesh, on the other hand, exhibited the affections which belong to it.’ Had the result of the incarnation been a tertium quid there would be no distinct proofs apparent of either nature. But Jesus, being both, manifested the peculiar properties of each.

THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST.—Though Tertullian’s doctrine of the true divinity of Christ is, as we have seen, a noble attempt to express the relation of the Son to the Father, and comes very near to being a satisfactory statement of that relation, it is in his treatment of the true humanity of Christ that his thought is most clear and original. In this he was helped by his anthropology. The Alexandrians, with their threefold division of the nature of man into body, soul, and spirit, were embarrassed by the relation of the soul and the spirit in Christ. Tertullian adopted the twofold division of man into body and soul, and this made it considerably easier for him to express the true humanity of Christ. Man being body and soul, the problem was simply to prove that Christ |p172 was possessed of a human body and a human soul. The question as to whether He had a fuxh&, or anima (the principle of animal existence), in addition to body and spirit, did not arise. Unquestionably to Tertullian Christ had a human body, else He could not have redeemed the human body; equally He had a human soul, or He could not have redeemed the human soul. In Irenaeus there is some approach to a recognition of the human soul in Christ, but it is uncertain and obscure. Tertullian worked out the idea in accordance with his clear doctrine of the soul as the controlling element in the nature of man.

The humanity of Christ was, in Tertullian’s day, the aspect of His Person which had to be defended most carefully against the heretics. Marcion, Valentinus, and the Gnostics in general, had strongly impugned it. ‘Let us examine our Lord’s bodily substance,’ he says, ‘for about His spiritual nature all are agreed. It is His flesh that is in question. Its verity and quality are the points in dispute.’16 The two points to be established are: (1) That nativity was possible to God; and (2) That it was becoming to Him.17

(1) Everything is possible to God if He wills it, and so it was possible for Him to be born. If it be said that God could not be born, because that would necessitate His losing His own state and condition, or that He could not become man, because a being who is without end is incapable of change, Tertullian retorts that the analogy of the human and the divine does not hold here. ‘But nothing is equal with God. His nature differs from the condition of all things.’18 To support this extravagant statement Tertullian refers to angels, which took real human bodies and discarded them again, and to the Spirit, which assumed the body of a dove and departed from it, and the only answer he can suggest to the perfectly natural question—‘What became of the discarded bodies?’ —is, that if his opponents knew how they were made out of nothing, they would also know how they returned to nothing.

(2) When all that can be said against the humble, and worse than humble, conditions of human birth as it was regarded by the Gnostics, has been said, it cannot be held to be unworthy of God. Man is the creature of God, and to be born is a condition of the nature which God has given him. It is natural |p173 and worthy that Christ (the Son of God) should love man (the (creature of God). This love is the motive of the incarnation. As the conception of man as the creation of God invests him with a noble dignity, and makes him worthy of being the object of divine love, so the love of Christ for man is a sufficient reason why He should love man in his entirety, and with all the concomitant circumstances of his birth.

But Tertullian only allows that the circumstances of human birth are demeaning as a supposition which does not nullify the possibility of human birth to God. His own view of the course of nature is one of veneration. It is a thing mysterious and wonderful, to be regarded with awe. He speaks of ‘hanc venerationem naturae’ and ‘illa sanctissima et reverenda opera naturae.’19

Moreover, there is another aspect to be borne in mind when considering the question of what is worthy of God. That is the principle that the wisdom of God is foolishness with men. This principle is manifested, not in the worship of the true God, nor in the inculcation of right and moral conduct, but in the fact that God was born, and born of a virgin, and that He wallowed in the humiliation of human nature. It is manifested still more (as we shall see) in the crucifixion and death of Christ.

Tertullian is emphatic on the point that the flesh of Christ was truly human. Apelles, a follower of Marcion, had put forward the theory that His flesh, though resembling the flesh of human beings, was in reality of sidereal substance. It was like that flesh which the angels took when they appeared in human form, and thus was not subject to nativity. But that theory will not satisfy Tertullian. He contrasts the reason for their assumption of flesh with the reason for Christ’s doing so, and shows that a theory that would meet their case would not meet His. ‘Never did any angel descend for the purpose of being crucified, of tasting death, and of rising from the dead.’20 But that was the purpose of Christ’s coming, and the crucifixion and the incarnation are indissolubly joined together. Without the former the latter could not occur. ‘Between nativity and mortality there is a mutual contract.’21 What is subject to death must be subject to birth, for it has entered |p174 into a condition of which both these are necessary accompaniments. ‘For one who was to be truly a man, even unto death, it was necessary that He should be clothed with that flesh to which death belongs. Now that flesh to which death belongs is preceded by birth.’22

The truth of the matter is that the flesh of Christ was exactly like our own. Tertullian lays down as a principle, which he has followed hitherto, the rule that everything which is derived from anything else, however much it may differ from the source of its origin, yet bears the marks of that source.’23 On this principle the human body testifies to its derivation from earthy materials, e.g. flesh and blood from earth and water, muscles from clods, and bones from stones. But all these marks of earthy origin were evident in Christ. So evident were they that to those who saw Him in the flesh they obscured the Son of God, and manifested simply the corporeal substance of man. The impression which Jesus made on the people who saw Him in the flesh was invariably the impression that He was a man. More than that, Tertullian maintains that even when compared with men He was without comeliness and beauty of form. Though He was ‘fairer than the children of men,’ that was in respect of spiritual grace alone. In physical condition He had no form or comeliness, ‘but was marred and despised above all,’ a ‘very worm and no man, a reproach of men and an outcast of the people.’24

It was, however, not simply human flesh that Christ took, but a human soul. It consists with Tertullian’s theory of the nature of the human soul that Christ could not have assumed humanity in any real sense unless He assumed a human soul. The soul is the controlling principle in the nature of man. Without the soul there is nothing but a carcass. Not even sense experience is possible to man without the soul, for it is the soul that gives meaning to the perceptions of the senses. All rational thought, all self-consciousness, all knowledge of God, is the activity of the soul. How, then, could Christ have taken human nature without assuming that which is its most distinctive property?

The truth is that the two components of human nature, flesh and soul, are found unconfusedly in Christ. ‘But in Christ we find the soul and the flesh expressed in simple, |p175 unfigurative terms; that is to say, the soul is called soul, and the flesh, flesh; nowhere is the soul termed flesh or the flesh soul’ (De Carne Christi, c. 13).

Tertullian is always fond of the argument from prophecy, and he turns it to account in this direction. It was foretold by the prophets that Christ should come in the flesh, and by the process of human birth. He was to be the Christ, and Jesus; and Isaiah and the Psalms speak of His humiliation. ‘He is like a servant, like a root out of a dry ground. He hath no form or comeliness’ (Isa. liii.). ‘He is a very worm and no man, a reproach of men and an outcast of the people’ (Ps. xxii. 6). ’25

THE SINLESSNESS OF CHRIST.—There is, however, one distinction to be borne in mind. The flesh and soul of Jesus were truly like our own, but He was sinless. It is not necessary to deny the reality of Christ’s flesh, after the manner of Alexander,26 in order to maintain that He abolished sin in the flesh. ‘What has been abolished in Christ is not “sinful flesh” (carnem peccati), but “sin in the flesh” (peccatum carnis);not the material thing, but its condition; the flaw, not the substance.’27 The flesh of Christ resembled the flesh of Adam in its nature, but not in the corruption which it received from Adam. Tertullian recognized that it was essential to hold to the identity of the flesh of Christ with that of humanity, since ‘it would not contribute to the purpose of Christ’s abolishing sin in the flesh if He did not abolish it in that flesh in which was the nature of sin.’28 How it was possible for Christ to take man’s flesh, and yet not to partake of its sinfulness, is a question into which Tertullian does not really enter. He is content to affirm the fact that Christ truly possessed human flesh, and that He was sinless, and to state that in the very act of taking our flesh He made it sinless. ‘Do not, however, fetter with mystery a sense which is quite intelligible. For in putting on our flesh He made it His own; in making it His own He made it sinless.’29

THE DEATH OF CHRIST.—The reality of the death of Christ follows from the reality of His humanity. He truly suffered, ‘for He suffered nothing who did not truly suffer; and a phantom could not truly suffer.’30 He really died, and His death is |p176 the very foundation of the gospel. ‘Christ’s death, wherein lies the whole weight and fruit of the Christian name, is denied, although the apostle asserts it so expressly as undoubtedly real, making it the very foundation of the gospel, of our salvation, and of his own preaching.’31

Here also Tertullian makes much of the prophecies of the Old Testament. He expounds such passages as ‘The Lord reigneth from the tree’; ‘For unto us a child is born, to us is given Him whose government is upon His shoulder’; ‘Come, let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof (i.e. His body)’; ‘They pierced My hands and My feet’; ‘Save me from the lion’s mouth’; ‘His sepulture was removed from the midst of them.’ By a more or less allegorical interpretation he makes all these passages refer to Christ, who shut up the kingdom of death by dying upon a tree, who carried upon His shoulder the excellence and power of His new glory, the cross, whose body was the fruit of the tree, whose hands and feet were pierced, and so on.’32 He also finds in Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, and in the brazen serpent, types of the death of Christ. It was so important and yet so incredible an event that bare prophecy would not suffice; it was so grand that it needed to be viewed, so to speak, in shadow. Isaac was a type of Christ, in that when he was to be offered up as a sacrifice by his father he himself carried the wood for his own death. So likewise Christ carried the cross on which He suffered. Joseph was a type of Christ, inasmuch as he is spoken of as a bullock with the horn of a unicorn. Jesus was ‘a bullock in both of his characteristics: to some as severe as a Judge, to others gentle as a Saviour.’ The horns of the bullock are types of the extremities of Christ’s cross. The horn of the unicorn is the midway stake of the cross. Moses prayed in a sitting posture, with outstretched hands, because ‘the shape was necessary of that very cross through which Jesus was to win the victory.’33

The allegorical interpretation of Scripture is here evident. But what is of more importance to note is the utter failure of Tertullian to enter into the significance of the sacrifice of Isaac as an offering to God, or of the suffering of Joseph at the hands of his brethren, or of the prayer of Moses as an intercession. The last of the types which he uses shows a clearer perception of an inner relation between the type and |p177 the anti-type. ‘Why, once more, did the same Moses, after prohibiting the likeness of everything, set up the golden serpent on the pole, and as it hung there propose it as an object to be looked at for a cure? Did he not here also intend to show the power of our Lord’s cross, whereby that old serpent the devil was vanquished, whereby also to every man who was bitten by spiritual serpents, but who yet turned with an eye of faith to it, was proclaimed a cure from the bite of sin, and health for evermore? ’

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.—That Christ rose again from the dead is among the propositions set forth in the Rule of Faith. As such, of course, it was accepted by Tertullian. The only question that arises in connexion with this doctrine is the bearing which the reality of Christ’s flesh has upon the theory of the resurrection of the flesh. As we have already seen, Tertullian held very firmly the view that the flesh shares in the resurrection. The fact that Christ rose from the dead is used by him to support that theory.

‘Jesus,’ he says,’ is still sitting there (in the court of heaven), at the right hand of the Father, man, yet God—the last Adam, yet the primary Word—flesh and blood, yet purer than ours, who shall descend in like manner as He ascended, the same both in substance and form, as the angels affirmed, so as even to be recognized by those who pierced Him.’34 That is the earnest and pledge of the resurrection of the flesh. What Christ took upon Him when he assumed our nature, that He carried into heaven, and whither He has taken the flesh which He assumed, thither shall the flesh which He has redeemed follow. ‘Be not disquieted, O flesh and blood, with any care in Christ; you have acquired both heaven and the kingdom of God.’35

While the resurrection of Christ is the pledge of the resurrection of believers, it belongs to Tertullian’s view of the subject of resurrection that unless the body rose there could be no resurrection, even for Christ. ‘Now if His death be denied, because of the denial of His flesh, there will be no certainty of His resurrection. For He rose not for the very same reason that He died not, even because He possessed not the reality of the flesh, to which as death accrues, so does resurrection likewise.’36 In fact, the two things stand or fall together. |p178 ‘Similarly, if Christ’s (resurrection) be nullified, ours also is destroyed. If Christ’s (resurrection) be not realized, neither shall that be for which Christ came.’37

THE PURPOSE OF THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CHRIST.—We have already seen that the birth, life, and death of Christ are, according to Tertullian, inseparably connected in one great purpose. What that purpose was it is now necessary to determine.

Was it to reveal the Father? There is no development of this idea in the writings of Tertullian, though he was not unaware of it. There is no elaborate doctrine of the Logos as the revealer of the Father such as is found in the writings of Clement and Origen, because there is not the same philosophical background. Tertullian did not regard the Father as unknowable, without attributes or qualities, as those writers did. He appreciated the knowledge of God derived from the observation of the works of His hands, from the witness of the Old Testament writers, and from the testimony of the soul, and, as a natural result, the revelational function of the Logos sank out of sight. But there are indications that he recognized the function bf Christ, as the revealer of the Father, as one side of His activity, though not as the main purpose of His coming. He says of Christ, ‘He had to announce to the world the mighty purpose of the Father, even that which ordained the restoration of man.’ He speaks of Christ as the Revealer of the Father. In the Old Testament He was the Lord who there appeared to men. He was the visible, as contrasted with the invisible God. And in His incarnate life He gave the fullest revelation of God, but that was not the chief purpose of the incarnation.

Was it to redeem man? No doubt that was the main purpose of His coming, in the opinion of Tertullian. ‘What, in your esteem, is the entire disgrace of my God, is, in fact, the sacrament of man’s salvation. God held converse with men, that man might learn to act as God. God dealt on equal terms with men, that men might be able to deal on equal terms with God. God was found little, that man might become very great.’38

This redemptive purpose distinguished the coming of Christ to earth from the coming of angels. They came to announce |p179 and reveal. He came to redeem and restore. ‘Man’s salvation was the motive, the restoration of that which had perished. Man had perished; his recovery had become necessary. Christ, however, having been sent to die, had necessarily also to be born, that He might be capable of death.’39

It was in order to defeat the devil on his own ground that Christ became man. Tertullian has not developed any theory of the redemption of man from the devil, but he says that the devil was the author of man’s sin. He had instigated man to sin, and it was consistent with God’s goodness that the devil should be overcome by man himself. ‘He acted consistently with His own purpose, deferring the devil’s destruction for the selfsame reason that He postponed the restitution of man. For He afforded room for a conflict, wherein man might crush his enemy with the same freedom of his will as had made him succumb to him (proving that the fault was all his own, not God’s), and so worthily recover his salvation by a victory, wherein also the devil might receive a more bitter punishment, through being vanquished by him whom he had previously injured, and wherein God might be discovered to be so much the more good, as waiting for man to return from his present life to a more glorious paradise, with a right to pluck of the tree of life.’40

This last passage prepares us to find—what in other passages is stated explicitly—that the purpose of Christ’s life and death was not only the salvation of men from the power of the devil in the present life, but also to secure their entrance into heaven and participation in eternal life. ‘For he (Jacob) had seen Christ the Lord, the temple of God, and also the gate by whom heaven is entered. . . . But there is now a gate provided by Christ which admits and conducts (to heaven).’41 ‘For we shall, according to the apostle, be caught up into the clouds to meet the Lord.’42

How Christ has redeemed men from their sins is admirably expressed in De Fuga in Persecutione, c. 12 ‘Why, in this very standing of yours, there was a fleeing from persecution, in the release from persecution which you bought ; but that you should ransom with money a man whom Christ has ransomed with His blood, how unworthy is it of God and His ways of acting, |p180 who spared not His own Son for you, that He might be made a curse for us, because “cursed is he that hangeth on a tree,” Him who was led as a sheep to be a sacrifice, and, just as a lamb before its shearers, so opened not His mouth, but gave His back to the scourges, nay, His cheeks to the hands of the smiters, and turned not away His face from spitting, and was numbered with the transgressors, and was delivered up to death, nay, the death of the cross. All this took place that He might redeem us from our sins. The sun ceded to us the day of our redemption, hell re-transferred the right it had in us, and our covenant is in heaven; the everlasting gates were lifted up that the King of glory, the Lord of might, might enter in, after having redeemed man from earth, nay, from hell, that he might attain to heaven. What now are we to think of the man who strives against that glorious One, nay, slights and defiles His goods, obtained at so great a ransom, no less, in truth, than His most precious blood.’ The whole passage and its context is an eloquent statement of the appeal of Christ’s sacrifice. It states the fact that by the blood of Christ men have been ransomed and redeemed from the life of sin which they have led in the world, which is subject to the dominion of the spirits of wickedness (the angelic powers), and the end of which is everlasting death. But it does not discuss the question to whom the ransom is paid.

It would be natural to expect that we should find in Tertullian, with his legal training, a forensic statement of the atonement wrought by Christ, but no such statement is to be found in his writings, or, indeed, to be detected in the background of his thought. He uses the term satisfacere, it is true, but never in the sense of vicarious satisfaction. With him it means invariably the amends which men make for their own sins by confession, repentance, and good works.

REPENTANCE.—Repentance finds its pattern in God, who, hastening back to His own mercy, rescinded the sentence of His first wrath and offered pardon to men. It finds its purpose and fruition in the salvation of men. It is preliminary to the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of men. It purges men’s minds and hearts of error and ignorance, and abolishes former sins. The motive is the fear of God, the Judge who in justice apportions to men reward and punishment for their good and evil deeds. Sin is what God bids us abstain from; |p181 good is what God commands. To repent of sin is to offer satisfaction to God. ‘Repentance is the price at which the Lord has determined to award pardon. He proposes the redemption of release from penalty at this compensating exchange of repentance.’ Genuine repentance is assured of pardon, but it must be accompanied by a change of conduct. In practice many receive baptism, the seal of repentance, without the inner change of heart, but they do not receive the pardon of God, because they have not genuinely repented. Their repentance has been without its instrumental agent, i.e. fear.

With regard to post-baptismal repentance, Tertullian is unwilling to declare it impossible or vain, but, on the other hand, he is equally unwilling that it should be deemed a light thing. So he takes up the position that it is desirable that there should be no need for repentance after baptism, but that if such need should unfortunately arise, there is a possibility of a second and last repentance.43 The assaults of the devil are doubly strong when a man has renounced him and his works. ‘These poisons of his, therefore, God foreseeing, although the gate of forgiveness has been shut and fastened up with the bar of baptism, has permitted it still to stand somewhat open. In the vestibule He has stationed repentance the second, to open to such as knock ; but now, once for all, because now for the second time; but never more, because the last time it had been in vain.’

The willingness of God to pardon this second time, Tertullian supports from Scripture. The letters to the seven Churches and the parable of the Prodigal Son are called in as evidence.

This second repentance is to be accompanied by outward manifestations. It must issue in public confession. The purpose of such confession is not to acquaint God of our sins, as if He were ignorant of them, but to satisfy God. ‘Of confession repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased.’ Confession is a discipline calculated to move mercy. It leads the penitent to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to fast, to groan, weep, and roar, and roll at the presbyters’ feet, and so exchange for the sins he has committed the severity of self-castigation,|p182 and thus by temporal mortification discharge eternal punishments.

It is evident from the foregoing treatment of repentance that Tertullian held a view of the sinner’s satisfaction of God which is incompatible with the conception of vicarious satisfaction of the divine justice by Christ. At the same time, he attached great importance to the sufferings of Christ. Against Marcion and his phantom Christ he maintained the reality of Christ’s sufferings, without which the whole work of God would have been nugatory. ‘For He suffered nothing who did not truly suffer, and a phantom could not truly suffer. God’s entire work, therefore, is subverted.’ 44 There are passages which indicate that Tertullian regarded the death of Christ as the ground of salvation; e.g. ‘Christ’s death, wherein lies the whole weight and fruit of the Christian name,’ 45  ‘I have delivered unto you (says the apostle) how that Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day’46; ‘Christ . . . the offerer of His own life for the people’ 47; ‘It is Christ who gave Himself up for our offences,’ 48 ‘No other cause was the source of Christ’s descent than that of setting sinners free’ 49; ‘We are not our own, but bought with a price, and what kind of price? The blood of God’ 50 ‘The flesh was redeemed with a great price, the blood, to wit, of the Lord and Lamb’ 51; ‘For this is the virtue of the Lord’s blood, that such as it has already purified from sin, and thenceforward has set in the light, it renders thence-forward pure, if they shall continue to persevere walking in the light’ 52; “She heard her justification by faith through her repentance pronounced in the words, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” by Him who had declared by Habakkuk, “The just shall live by his faith.” ’53 These isolated references indicate that Tertullian was not unaware of the divine side of the work of salvation, and counterbalance the apparent overemphasis of the virtue of repentance. It must be remembered that there was no demand in the age of Tertullian for any definite consideration of the great question of justification by faith. That subject had faded away for the time from |p183 the minds of men, but the consideration of the question of repentance was imperative.

The purpose of the resurrection of Christ is plainly stated by Tertullian, as we have already seen. The resurrection of Christ is indissolubly linked with the resurrection of believers. ‘For just as they who said that there is no resurrection of the dead are refuted by the apostle from the resurrection of Christ, so if the resurrection of Christ falls to the ground, the resurrection of the dead is also swept away. And so our faith is vain, and vain also is the preaching of the apostles.’54  In thus giving the resurrection of Christ such prominence Tertullian agrees with Paul. But he does not, like Paul, develop the implications of the resurrection of Christ in the mystical union of Christians with their risen Lord. The nearest approach which he makes to the realization of Paul’s doctrine of the Christian life ‘in Christ’ is his comment on Paul’s use of the image of the earthy and the heavenly. There he says that the exhortation of Paul—‘ as we have borne the image of the earthy so let us also bear the image of the heavenly ’—‘ relates not to any condition of the resurrection life, but to the rule of the present time . . . wishing us to walk as he himself was walking, and to put off the likeness of the earthy, that is the old man, in the works of the flesh.’ 55  Beyond that he does not follow Paul in this direction, and perhaps it is not to be expected of him, for Tertullian had little of the mystic in his make-up.

We may compare with the above passage the following from Scorpiace, c. 9: ‘Besides, by confessing in Christ he confesses Christ, too; since by virtue of being a Christian he is in Christ, while (Christ) Himself also is in him.’

THE EXALTATION OF CHRIST.—In the exaltation of Christ to the heavens, and His session at the right hand of the Father, He retains the flesh which He had assumed in the incarnation. This naturally is consistent with Tertullian’s theory of the resurrection of the flesh. But it enables him to hold the belief that in the exaltation of Christ His humanity is exalted. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father—man, yet God. In His exaltation is the pledge of man’s entrance into both heaven and the kingdom of God.56


1. p.166 n.1 Chapter VI.

2. p.168 n.1 Adv. Praxean, c. 5.

3. p.169 n.1 Adversus Praxean, c. 7.

4. p.169 n.2 Ibid., c. 6.

5. p.169 n.3 Ibid., c. 7.

6. p.169 n.4 Ibid., c. 16.

7. p.169 n.5 Adv. Marcionem, II., c. 27.

8. p.169 n.6 Adv. Praxean, cc. 14-16.

9. p.170 n.1 Adv. Praxean, c. 16.

10. p.170 n.2 Apologeticus, c. 21.

11. p.170 n.3 Adv. Praxean, c. 27.

12. p.170 n.4 Ibid.

13. p.170 n.5 Ibid.: ‘videmus duplicem statum non confusum sed conjunctum in una persona, Deum et Nominem Jesum.’

14. p.170 n.6 Apologeticus, c. 21.

15. p.171 n.1 Adv. Praxean, c. 27. ‘Si enim Sermo ex transfiguratione et demutatione substantiae caro factus est, una jam erit substantia Jesus ex duabus, ex carne et spiritu mixtura quaedam, ut electrum ex auro et argento; et incipit nec aurum esse, id est, spiritus, neque argentum, id est, caro, dum alterum altero mutatur, et tertium quid efficitur.’

16. p.172 n.1 De Carne Christi, c. 1.

17. p.172 n.2 Ibid., cc.3, 4.

18. p.172 n.3 Ibid., c. 3.

19. p.173 n.1 De Carne Christi, c. 4.

20. p.173 n.2 Ibid., c. 6.

21. p.173 n.3 Ibid., c. 6.

22. p.174 n.1 De Carne Christi, c. 6.

23. p.174 n.2 Ibid., c. 9.

24. p.174 n.3 Ibid., c. 9.

25. p.175 n.1 De Carne Christi, c. 16.

26. p.175 n.2 An unknown writer to whom Tertullian refers.

27. p.175 n.3 De Carne Christi, c. 16.

28. p.175 n.4 Ibid.

29. p.175 n.5 Ibid.

30. p.175 n.6 Adv. Mamcionem, III., c. 8; cf. De Carne Christi, c. 5.

31. p.176 n.1 Adv. Marcionem.

32. p.176 n.2 Ibid., c. 19.

33. p.176 n.3 Ibid., III., c. 18.

34. p.177 n.1 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 51.

35. p.177 n.2 Ibid.

36. p.177 n.3 Adv. M arcionem, III., c. 18.

37. p.178 n.1 Adversus Marcionem.

38. p.179 n.2 Ibid., II., c. 27.

39. p.179 n.1 De Carne Christi, c. 5.

40. p.179 n.2 Adversus Marcionem, II., c. 10.

41. p.179 n.3 Adversus Marcionem, III., c. 24.

42. p.179 n.4 Ibid.

43. p.181 n.1 This second repentance, however, gives way in his later writings to a second baptism, martyrdom, by which a man may atone for post-baptismal sins.

44. p.182 n.1 Adv. Marcionem, III., c. 18.

45. p.182 n.2Ibid., III., c. 3.

46. p.182 n.3 Ibid.

47. p.182 n.4 Ibid., II., c. 26.

48. p.182 n.5 Scorpiace, c. 7.

49. p.182 n.6 De Idololatria, c. 3.

50. p.182 n.7 Ad Uxorem, II., c. 3.

51. p.182 n.8 De Pudicitia, c. 6.

52. p.182 n.9 Ibid., c. 19.

53. p.182 n.10 Adv. Marcionem, IV., c. 18.

54. p.183 n.1 Adv. Marcionem, III., c. 8.

55. p.183 n.2 Adv. Marcionem, V., c. 10.

56. p.183 n.3 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 51.


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