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!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 10, 2006

Drawing closer to the great Solemnity of Christmas, we have already arrived at the Second Sunday of Advent, with only two full weeks to prepare for the coming of Christ. The theology of Tertullian will continue to assist us in our preparations, while we continue to examine his orthodox writings. The ancient maxim, “Corruptio optimi pessima” or “The corruption of the best is the worst,” held true with Tertullian. His faithful writings provide a sure and true guide to theology, whereas his heretical writings only bewilder and surprise.

In his work The Prescription Against Heretics, Tertullian continues the important work of establishing the authentic rule of belief against those who taught contrary to the teachings of the Apostles, handed on through the authority of the Church. This rule of faith “prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word…; that this Word is called His Son, and … at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ” (On Prescription Against Heretics, ch. 13).

The source, he says, for this rule of Faith is the teaching of the Apostles, who were directly sent by Jesus Christ. In turn, the Apostles bore witness to this Faith by their preaching and miraculous deeds, in order that the churches founded by them in every city would preserve this same Faith. “Indeed, it is on this account only,” Tertullian teaches, “that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. … Therefore the churches, although they are so many and great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring)” (ibid., ch. 20).

Furthermore, “it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches – those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God” (ibid., ch. 21).

The simple historical truth of apostolic succession (a continuous connection to the apostles and the churches which the founded) is the most eloquent defense of the truth of the Catholic Faith.

More than defending the truth and historicity of the Church, however, Tertullian is also known for the development of Latin terminology and systematic theology to describe the Sacraments. On Baptism begins with beautiful words of hope and confidence: “Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life!” (On Baptism, ch. 1).

In this treatise we discover a systematic explanation of the Sacrament of Baptism, beginning with its prefigurement in the Old Testament (the parting of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the waters of the great flood), the correspondence of the exterior sign (washing with water) to the interior grace (cleansing of sin and recreation in the Holy Spirit), an answer to objections, and the effects of Baptism.

Examining his treatise On Prayer is a fitting way to conclude this week’s article, because Tertullian explores the Lord’s Prayer, which he says is an “epitome of the whole Gospel” (On Prayer, ch. 1). As proof, he summarizes: “The honor of God in the ‘Father;’ the testimony of faith in the ‘Name;’ the offering of obedience in the ‘Will;’ the commemoration of hope in the ‘Kingdom;’ the petition for life in the ‘Bread;’ the full acknowledgement of debts in the prayer for their ‘Forgiveness;’ the anxious dread of temptation in the request for ‘Protection.’ What wonder? God alone could teach how He wished Himself prayed to” (ibid., ch. 9).

What is the value of such properly Christian prayer? “It supplies the suffering, and the feeling, and the grieving, with endurance; it amplifies grace by virtue. … Prayer is the wall of faith: her defensive and offensive armor against the foe who keeps watch over us on all sides. And, so we never walk unarmed” (ibid., ch. 29).

May we persevere in prayer as we watch for the coming of Christ! Have a blessed week!