Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 3, 2006

The First Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical year and begins to prepare us for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. In celebrating the Incarnation (God becoming man), the Church recognizes the importance and goodness of material creation and its union with the spiritual world in the person of Jesus Christ. By studying the Fathers of the Church, we have seen that the great theologians continually defended the goodness of the physical world, in contrast to the Gnostics (and others) who believed that the spiritual was always opposed to the physical.

We have a unique perspective on this battle in the early Church through the eyes of our next theologian: Tertullian. Tertullian was born around 160 A.D., in Carthage (North Africa, in modern-day Tunisia), and was a lawyer by profession. As a young man, he converted to Christianity and was ordained a priest around the year 200. He is often referred to as the Father of the Latin Church because he wrote no longer in Greek, but in Latin, vigorously defending Catholic practice and theology against pagans and heretics.
Unfortunately, his important role in the foundation of Latin Christianity began to suffer. Within a few years, Tertullian himself joined a heretical group known as “Montanists,” and he definitively separated from the Church by 213. From this point, he wrote even more strongly against the Catholic Church he had once loved and defended. Although the Montanists were moral rigorists, even their practice was not strict enough for him, and Tertullian eventually founded his own sect. According to St. Jerome, Tertullian died at a very old age, around 240 A.D., at Carthage.

Even though his later writings are heretical, Tertullian provides an important body of work detailing heresy and Catholic thought, as well as employing certain words and phrases in Latin that are still in use today. St. Cyprian of Carthage (early third century) relied heavily on Tertullian’s theology, which later influenced St. Augustine. We will spend a few weeks exploring Tertullian’s contribution to Latin theology.
Of his early works, the Apology defends Christians against the claims and attacks of the Roman Empire in its persecution of the early Church. After reading his excessive rhetoric, we might wonder if the Romans were even more outraged and determined to destroy the Christians. After mocking, to a certain extent, the false claims made against Christians (such as those of cannibalism, incest, and other shameful practices), Tertullian begins to describe the actual beliefs and practices of the Christians.

“We are neither ashamed of Christ – for we rejoice to be counted His disciples, and in His name to suffer” (Apology, ch. 21). He continues to describe the person of Jesus Christ: “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” (ibid). But, the Second Person of the Trinity then proceeded forth from God, “Descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united” (ibid).

This, however, is only the first coming of Christ. “A second [coming], which impends over the world, now near its close, in all the majesty of Deity unveiled” (ibid). Nevertheless, the Empire still counts Christians as enemies, even though they simply worship God. Why?

“They pay no vain, nor false, nor foolish honors to the emperor; that, as men believing in the true religion, they prefer to celebrate their festal days with a good conscience, instead of with common wantonness” (ch. 35). He finally turns the persecutions on their heads, because “[Christians] conquer in dying; we go forth victorious at the very time we are subdued” (ch. 50), so much so, that we read that famous phrase at the conclusion of his work: “The seed [of the Church] is the blood of Christians” (ibid).

We will continue with Tertullian next week; have a blessed first week of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to welcome the Christ-Child. May God bless you!