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This legendary black author challenged the Catholic Church in 200AD against dumping unwanted babies

June 18, 2019 at 04:30 pm | History

Etsey Atisu

Etsey Atisu | Staff Writer

June 18, 2019 at 04:30 pm | History

Tertullian

Born Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus at about 150 AD and described as one of the most fascinating leaders in all church history, Tertullian (as he was popularly known) grew up to challenge a lot of the things around him, fighting to restore sanity among doctrines that Christians believed in, especially against some of the decisions of the Catholic church.  

Being the educated man that he was, he wanted things to be done right, helping Christians challenge things that he did not think were right. This was why he went head to head with the Catholic church at the time, challenging its decision to leave out unwanted babies in the cold, by the river, or at a temple.

This decision by the Romans did not stop anybody who wanted to have those children from doing so but the fact was that many times, the abandoned children were mauled by animals or died from exposure. Tertullian could not sit around and allow such a thing to persist, leading to his revolt against the Church.

Already, during his lifetime in the area of North Africa, there was a plant that was commonly used to cause abortion, which was actually a huge industry at the time with people selling it all over the Roman Empire.

Today, discussions in this regard have resurrected in the church.

Photo Credit: Urban Faith

Knowledge of the life of Tertullian is based almost wholly on documents written by men who lived more than a century after him and from obscure references in his own works. On this basis, a general outline of his life has been constructed, but most of the details have been continually disputed by modern scholars.

His parents were pagan, and his father may have been a centurion (i.e. a noncommissioned officer) in an African-based legion assigned to the governor of the province. After completing his education in Carthage, he went to Rome, probably in his late teens or early 20s, to study further and perhaps begin work as a lawyer.

Famously known for the question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”, Tertullian grew up in Carthage, Tunisia – the city considered second in importance only to Rome in his time.

By 40, Tertullian got interested in Christianity and was converted. He exuberantly embraced the gospel and ably used his legal skills to defend Christianity from pagan attackers.

According to Christianity.com, “If he ever came to speak at your church you would probably never forget him. He was passionate, articulate, totally committed. He boldly taunted the might of the Roman empire, courageously defended oppressed believers, and harshly reprimanded compromising Christians.”

In later life, Tertullian lost favor with much of the Church, especially because he temporarily took up with a group called the Montanists (what we would probably call a puritanical-charismatic sect today).

Though conservative in his worldview, Tertullian originated new theological concepts and advanced the development of early Church doctrine. He is perhaps most famous for being the first writer in Latin known to use the term Trinity (Latin: trinitas).

According to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Tertullian’s trinity not a triune God, but rather a triad or group of three, with God as the founding member”. A similar word had been used earlier in Greek, though Tertullian gives the oldest extant use of the terminology.

Other Latin formulations that first appear in his work are “three persons, one substance” as the Latin “tres personae, una substantia“, (‘consubstantial’, in English), itself from the Koine Greek “treis hypostases, homoousioi“). 

He wrote his understanding of the three members of the trinity after becoming a Montanist.

Unlike many Church fathers, Tertullian was never recognized as a saint by the Eastern or Western Catholic tradition churches. Several of his teachings on issues such as the clear subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father, and his condemnation of remarriage for widows and of fleeing from persecution, contradicted the doctrines of these traditions.

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