T.D.Barnes on the
Apologeticum - an excerpt.
(From Tertullian, chapter 8, pp.107-112.)
The Apologeticum gains its powerful effectiveness from two main characteristics : its virtuosity, and its sharp relevance to the circumstances in which its author was living. Tertullian applied the techniques of contemporary rhetoric to the defence of Christianity, reinforcing his message with every literary adornment which could increase its appeal.a He took all that he could use from his Greek predecessors : not their flabby oratory, their earnest and touching naivety, or their jejune expositions of Christian life and philosophy, but whatever concrete facts or names would further his design. He took their disparate themes and fused them together. Instead of a separate defence of Christianity and refutation of paganism, Tertullian combined the two in a characteristically aggressive fashion.b He would reply to every charge : the crimes which the Christians were accused of committing in secret were in fact openly perpetuated by pagans. Christians were considered criminal, silly, damnable and contemptible. Tertullian set out to make the accusers blush.1
Unlike the Ad Nationes, the Apologeticum ransacks the Greek apologists for apt illustrations. From Justin comes a misconception : Simon the magician (Acts 8. 9 ff.) honoured as a God at Rome with a statue and the title 'sanctus deus'.2 Theophilus provided a proof that Moses lived before the Trojan war, that Christianity therefore has a respectable claim to antiquity.3 From Tatian came the additional detail that Moses was the exact coeval of Inachus, King of Argos.4 From Apollinaris apparently derives the miracle of the 'Thundering Legion'.5 Tertullian plundered his own works too. The matter of the Ad Nationes has been refashioned and rephrased entirely.6 In addition, Tertullian alludes to the conclusions of the De Spectaculis,7 adapts a sentence from the De Idololatria,8 takes over some theological ideas formulated in the Adversus Judaeos,9 and draws heavily on his Ad Martyras for the peroration.10
Pagan authors were also put to good use. The cases of Pliny and Tacitus are well known.11 Suetonius supplied the useful fact that Augustus, the founder of the empire, refused to be called 'dominus'.12 Varro may have supplied some information which the Ad Nationes had omitted.13 When philosophical opinions were canvassed, an appeal could be made to Cicero's Tusculan Disputations or Seneca's Fortuita.14 Tertullian scoured the literature of the ancient world in search of titbits : he could retail any number of scandals concerning pagan philosophers15 and he discovered that, contrary to patriotic invention, the Gauls had actually sacked the Capitol in Rome.16 Further, since Christianity was related to Judaism, Josephus could furnish relevant information.17 Finally, if evidence could not be found, its existence could at least be postulated. Pilate must have reported the true facts about the crucifixion to Tiberius, who in turn communicated them to the Senate; and a letter of Marcus Aurelius might be found which ascribed the miraculous de liverance of his army to the prayers of the Christians.18 The mysterious darkness which covered the earth while Jesus hung upon the cross (Mk. I5. 33, etc.) posed a problem. The date coincided with no eclipse of the sun.19 If disbelievers looked, however, they could find a record of the event - 'in arcanis vestris.'20 The massive erudition was not designed as mere ostentation. Those who were familiar with the Sophistic Movement of the second century would not have expected less from an expert orator. Tertullian had shown himself at least the equal of an Apuleius.21
The Apologeticum reflects the circumstances of its composition in Carthage. The exordium addresses the magistrates on the hill of the Byrsa which dominated the city, and cites a recent case : Christians were savagely harassed in a trial in the 'secretarium' of the proconsul and given no opportunity for defence.22 Perhaps Tertullian can supply the want by writing. But he is not writing for the proconsul alone. Admittedly, careful distinctions are sometimes drawn. Tertullian refers to the senatus consulta and the imperial mandata by which the proconsul was bound and to the verdict which he read , 'de tabella'.23 And the peroration reverts to the theme ; go to, good magistrates! the people will love you for torturing and killing Christians' 24 Throughout, however, Tertullian seeks to divide all his educated readers from the blind prejudices of the mob, who were not likely to read the Apologeticum.25 The second person plural most frequently comprises not magistrates alone, nor pagan society in general, but the cultured classes. Which is highly significant : the triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire is marked by the literary eminence of its protagonists.
Were pagans converted by the Apologeticum? The answer cannot be divined. Its effect on Christians, however, was deep and immediate. If Tertullian appeared to invoke Roman magistrates and to address the pagan world, most of his statements were also designed to encourage Christians. They felt confidence in a spokesman who could prove their respect ability, both social and intellectual, by his very existence.26 He damned by ridicule the aspersions which daily assailed them, he filled them with a strong sense of moral superiority. If they heeded Tertullian, they need no longer believe themselves outcasts from normal society. when good and honest men meet together - 'non est factio dicenda sed curia'.27
Tertullian' s readers recognized the contemporary world which he set before their eyes. Soldiers were a familiar sight, posted in every province to track down robbers and bandits.28 They sometimes abused their position and practised blackmail on the Christians.29 After the victories of Septimius Severus, the remnants of opposition were being hunted down.30 Any inhabitant of Carthage was expected to denounce traitors and public enemies. Carthage had rejoiced at the end of civil strife.31 Now even some who had most ostentatiously celebrated were being denounced :32 an imperial procurator had arrived (or would soon arrive) to supervise the confiscations.33 If the Christians remained sober, that did not diminish their loyalty. Was it Christians who supported Avidius Cassius (in 175), Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus ? Was it Christians who lay in ambush for emperors or strangled Commodus (on 3 1 December 192) ? Was it Christians who broke into the imperial palace and murdered Pertinax (in March 193) ?34 On the contrary, they pray continually to God for his safety and welfare: they desire the Empire to be safe, the world at peace, the armies powerful, the Senate loyal and the populace content.35 And what reward do they receive from their fellow men ?Whenever a public calamity occurs, if there is an eclipse or an earthquake, if there is famine or plague, the cry goes up 'The Christians to the lion'.36 How ungrateful! The world owes its protection from evil spirits to the prayers of Christians. If they wished to be spiteful, they could easily withdraw that protection.37 Let the presiding deities of Carthage be put to the test. Let someone be produced who inhales the divine power by sniffing at an altar or cures himself by belching or utters oracles panting, someone who is believed to be possessed by Caelestis or Asclepius. Then let a Christian address him. If Caelestis and Asclepius do not at once confess that they are mere demons, the impudent Christian will deserve to be killed on the spot.38
Pagans resent the aloofness of Christians and assert that they are unprofitable in business. Sheer misrepresentation. Since they must live, they need the forum, the meatmarket, baths, inns, shops and factories, market-days and the normal inter course of commerce. Christians, it is true, do not attend pagan rituals or the amphitheatre, dine in public at the feast of Liberalia, wear garlands or buy incense. Yet they purchase food and flowers, even costly Arabian perfumes for burying their dead. As for the loss to temple revenues, that must be admitted. But it is counterbalanced by the Christians' charity to the needy and their unusual honesty in paying taxes.39 Those who can genuinely complain that they lose money from the spread of Christianity are all despicable : panders and pimps, assassins, poisoners and magicians, soothsayers, wizards and astrologers'40 And what loss to the state could be greater than the extermination of large numbers of innocent and honest citizens whose only crime is their faith ?41
Christians are incessantly harassed. But do their enemies really know what sort of community they are persecuting ? The slanders commonly believed are plausible only because pagans are themselves guilty of greater immorality: a recent case proves that Christians hold chastity dearer than life itself.42 In the sphere of religion, the same contrast obtains. Pagan religion, not Christian, practises human sacrifice, and in Carthage to this very day the priests of Bellona mutilate themselves.43 The pagan Gods are as immoral as their worshippers, who treat them with scant respect.44 Tertullian describes the contrasting purity ofthe Christian conception of God and of their whole way of life.45 Christians form a community united by faith, by discipline and by a common hope. They meet to pray to God, and they pray on behalf of the world. They read the scriptures, they listen to edifying sermons, and they rigorously exclude anyone who breaks the rules. At the meetings there preside venerable old men, chosen for their probity not their wealth. Christians con tribute funds once a month or whenever they wish, without any compulsion. The money does not provide banquets or drinking parties, but goes to support the needy, orphans and the aged, shipwrecked travellers, and Christians who for their faith are working in the mines, exiled on inhospitable islands or confined in prison. Their care for one another can only be offensive to those who hate their neighbours. Unlike their enemies, they share everything except their wives. What more natural than that such a community should eat together ? Their common meals have a name which signifies 'love' in Greek. Prayer comes first : then they eat just enough to satisfy their hunger and drink no more than modesty permits. For they know that during the night God may speak to them. After the meal, the scriptures are discussed, everyone present being called upon to say what he can. Finally a prayer closes the meeting, and the Christians return quietly and soberly to their homes.46
Footnotes (not checked)
Footnotes have been renumbered. Unfortunately I overlooked the first two, which are therefore given letters.
a. R. Heinze, Bericht über die Verhandlungen d. kön.
sächs. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Leipzig, Phil.hist. Kl. LXII (1910), 281 ff.
b. R. Braun, Hommages à J. Bayet (1964), 114ff.
1. Apol. 4. 1 : nec tantum refutabo quae nobis obiciuntur, sed etiam in ipsos retorquebo qui obiciunt . . . uti erubescant accusantes; 4. 2: respondebimus ad singula, quae in occulto admittere dicimur, quae illos palam admittentes invenimus. As the final clause, the Fuldensis apparently had 'quae palam adrnittentes inveniuntur', cf. C. Becker, Tertullians Apologeticum.. Werden und Leistung (1954) 125.
2. Apol. 13. 9, cf.Justin, Apol. I. 26. 2.
3. Apol. 19. 1 * ff., cf. Theophilus Ad Autolycum III. 20 ff.
4. Apol. 19. 3, cf. Tatian, Orat. ad Graecos 39.
5. Apol. 5. 6, cf. Eusebius HE V. 5. 4.
6. Becker, above, 33 ff.; 162 ff.; 195 ff.
7. Apol. 38. 4 (Barnes p. 54).
8. Apol. 35. 4 (Barnes pp. 53/4).
9. Apol. 21. 4 ff, cf. Trankle, o.c. lxvi f.
10. Barnes, pp. 218/9; 227/8.
11. Barnes, pp. 201/2.
12. Apol. 34. 1 , cf. Suetonius, Div. Aug. 53. 1. For use of Suetonius elsewhere, Barnes pp.95; 198.
13. Apol. 24. 8 expands the Varronian list in Ad Nat. II. 8. 6.
14. Apol. 50.14.
15. Apol. 46.10 ff.
16. Apol. 40.8 (Barnes p. 205).
17. Apol. 18. 5 ff., cf. A. Vitale, Musee Belge XXVI (1922), 63 ff.
18. Apol.5.2; 21. 24; 5.6.
19. F. Boll, P-W VI. 2360; P. de Labriolle, La reaction paienne (195o), 204 ff.
20. Apol. 21. 19.
21. Barnes, p.212.
22. Apol. 1. 1 : Romani imperii antistite . . . quod proxime accidit, domesticis iudiciis nimis operata infetatio sectae huius. For 'domestica iudicia', cf. Heinze, o.c. 292; J. Lortz, Tertullian als Apologet I (1927), 63; for the role of municipal officials in arresting Christians, Barnes, pp. 143/4.
23. Apol. 2. 14; 2. 20.
24. Apol. 50. 12.
25. For Tertullian's variable use of the second person, note Apol. 44. 2 f.: vestros enim iam contestamur actus, qui cotidie iudicandis custodiis praesidetis, qui sententiis elogia dispungitis (i.e. magistrate). . . . de vestris semper aestuat carcer, de vestris semper metalla suspirant . . . (i.e. pagans in contrast to Christians).
26. Barnes p.69.
28. Apol. 2. 8.
29. Apol. 7. 3, cf. De Fuga. 13. 3.
30. Historia Augusta: Severus. 12. 1 ff. Available in Penguin as Lives of the Later Caesars
31. Barnes p. 88.
32. Apol. 35. 11.
33. H.Dessau, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, (1892-1916) 1421 (pp.33/4).
34. Apol. 35. 9: unde Cassii et Nigri et Albini? unde qui inter duas laurus obsident Caesarem ? unde qui faucibus eius exprimendis palaestricam exercent ? unde qui armati palatium irrumpunt, omnibus Sigeriis atque Partheniis audaciores ? de Romanis, nisi fallor, id est de non Christianis.
The passage requires detailed elucidation. Parthenius and Sigerius plotted the murder of Domitian (Dio LXVII. 15. 1, cf. Suetonius, Dom. 17. 2). Pertinax was killed on 28 March 193 when armed soldiers (equites singulares and pretorians) invaded the palace with drawn swords (Dio LXXIV. 9. 2; Herodian II. 5. 2; HA, Pert. 1 1. 4 ff.). Commodus was first poisoned (without fatal results) by his concubine Marcia, then strangled by the athlete Narcissus (Dio LXXIII. 22-4f.; Herodian I.17.8 ff.; HA, Comm. 17. 2). By a process of elimination, therefore, 'qui inter duas laurus obsident Caesarem' should refer to the conspiracy against Commodus in 182 by his relatives Ummidius Quadratus, Lucilla and Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus (Dio LXXIII. 4. 4 f.; Herodian I. 8. 3 ff.; HA, Comm. 4. 1 ff.). But 'inter duas laurus' may present a difficulty, cf. F. Grosso, Rendiconti Acc. Naz. dei.Lincei8 XXI (1966), 140 ff. Tertullian evidently did not expect his readers to consider Marcia a Christian.
35. Apol. 30.4; 32. 1; 39.2.
36. Apol. 40.1 f.
37. Apol. 37. 9.
38. Apol. 23. 4 ff.
39. Apol. 42. 1 ff.
40. Apol. 43. 1.
41. Apol. 44. 1 ff.
42. Apol. 9. 1 ; 50.12.
43. Apol. 9. 2 ff.
44. Apol. 13. 1 ff.
45. Apol. 17. 1 ff.
46. Apol. 39. 1 ff.
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