Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/Against Praxeas/Elucidations
(Sundry doctrinal statements of Tertullian. See p. 601 (et seqq.), supra.)
I am glad for many reasons that Dr. Holmes appends the following from Bishop Kaye’s Account of the Writings of Tertullian:
“On the doctrine of the blessed Trinity, in order to explain his meaning Tertullian borrows illustrations from natural objects. The three Persons of the Trinity stand to each other in the relation of the root, the shrub, and the fruit; of the fountain, the river, and the cut from the river; of the sun, the ray, and the terminating point of the ray. For these illustrations he professes himself indebted to the Revelations of the Paraclete. In later times, divines have occasionally resorted to similar illustrations for the purpose of familiarizing the doctrine of the Trinity to the mind; nor can any danger arise from the proceeding, so long as we recollect that they are illustrations, not arguments—that we must not draw conclusions from them, or think that whatever may be truly predicated of the illustrations, may be predicated with equal truth of that which it was designed to illustrate.”
“‘Notwithstanding, however, the intimate union which subsists between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, we must be careful,’ says Tertullian, ‘to distinguish between their Persons.’ In his representations of this distinction he sometimes uses expressions which in after times, when controversy had introduced greater precision of language, were studiously avoided by the orthodox. Thus he calls the Father the whole substance—the Son a derivation from or portion of the whole.”
“After showing that Tertullian’s opinions were generally coincident with the orthodox belief of the Christian Church on the great subject of the Trinity in Unity, Bp. Kaye goes on to say: ‘We are far from meaning to assert that expressions may not occasionally be found which are capable of a different interpretation, and which were carefully avoided by the orthodox writers of later times, when the controversies respecting the Trinity had introduced greater precision of language.’ Pamelius thought it necessary to put the reader on his guard against certain of these expressions; and Semler has noticed, with a sort of ill-natured industry (we call it ill-natured industry, because the true mode of ascertaining a writer’s opinions is, not to fix upon particular expressions, but to take the general tenor of his language), every passage in the Tract against Praxeas in which there is any appearance of contradiction, or which will bear a construction favourable to the Arian tenets. Bp. Bull also, who conceives the language of Tertullian to be explicit and correct on the subject of the pre-existence and the consubstantiality, admits that he occasionally uses expressions at variance with the co-eternity of Christ. For instance, in the Tract against Hermogenes, we find a passage in which it is expressly asserted that there was a time when the Son was not. Perhaps, however, a reference to the peculiar tenets of Hermogenes will enable us to account for this assertion. That heretic affirmed that matter was eternal, and argued thus: ‘God was always God, and always Lord; but the word Lord implies the existence of something over which He was Lord. Unless, therefore, we suppose the eternity of something distinct from God, it is not true that He was always Lord.’ Tertullian boldly answered, that God was not always Lord; and that in Scripture we do not find Him called Lord until the work of creation was completed. In like manner, he contended that the titles of Judge and Father imply the existence of sin, and of a Son. As, therefore, there was a time when neither sin nor the Son existed, the titles of Judge and Father were not at that time applicable to God. Tertullian could scarcely mean to affirm (in direct opposition to his own statements in the Tract against Praxeas) that there was ever a time when the λόγος, or Ratio, or Sermo Internusdid not exist. But with respect to Wisdom and the Son (Sophia and Filius) the case is different. Tertullian assigns to both a beginning of existence: Sophia was created or formed in order to devise the plan of the universe; and the Son was begotten in order to carry that plan into effect. Bp. Bull appears to have given an accurate representation of the matter, when he says that, according to our author, the Reason and Spirit of God, being the substance of the Word and Son, were co-eternal with God; but that the titles of Word and Son were not strictly applicable until the former had been emitted to arrange, and the latter begotten to execute, the work of creation. Without, therefore, attempting to explain, much less to defend, all Tertullian’s expressions and reasonings, we are disposed to acquiesce in the statement given by Bp. Bull of his opinions (Defence of the Nicene Creed, sec. iii. ch. x. (p. 545 of the Oxford translation)): ‘From all this it is clear how rashly, as usual, Petavius has pronounced that, “so far as relates to the eternity of the Word, it is manifest that Tertullian did not by any means acknowledge it.”’ To myself, indeed, and as I suppose to my reader also, after the many clear testimonies which I have adduced, the very opposite is manifest, unless indeed Petavius played on the term, the Word, which I will not suppose. For Tertullian does indeed teach that the Son of God was made and was called the Word (Verbum or Sermo) from some definite beginning, i.e. at the time when He went out from God the Father with the voice, ‘Let there be light’ in order to arrange the universe. But, for all that, that he really believed that the very hypostasis which is called the Word and Son of God is eternal, I have, I think, abundantly demonstrated.” (The whole of Bp. Bull’s remark is worth considering; it occurs in the translation just referred to, pp. 508–545.)—(Pp. 521–525.)
“In speaking also of the Holy Ghost, Tertullian occasionally uses terms of a very ambiguous and equivocal character. He says, for instance (Adversus Praxean, c. xii.), that in Gen. i. 26, God addressed the Son, His Word (the Second Person in the Trinity), and the Spirit in the Word (the Third Person of the Trinity). Here the distinct personality of the Spirit is expressly asserted; although it is difficult to reconcile Tertullian’s words, ‘Spiritus in Sermone,’ with the assertion. It is, however, certain both from the general tenor of the Tract against Praxeas, and from many passages in his other writings (for instance, Ad Martyras, iii.), that the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost formed an article of Tertullian’s creed. The occasional ambiguity of his language respecting the Holy Ghost is perhaps in part to be traced to the variety of senses in which the term ‘Spiritus’ is used. It is applied generally to God, for ‘God is a Spirit’ (Adv. Marcionem, ii. 9); and for the same reason to the Son, who is frequently called ‘the Spirit of God,’ and ‘the Spirit of the Creator’ (De Oratione, i.; Adv. Praxean, xiv., xxvi.; Adv. Marcionem, v. 8; Apolog. xxiii.; Adv. Marcionem, iii. 6, iv. 33). Bp. Bull likewise (Defence of the Nicene Creed, i. 2), following Grotius, has shown that the word ‘Spiritus’ is employed by the fathers to express the divine nature in Christ.”—(Pp. 525, 526.)
(The bishop of Rome, cap. i. p. 597.)
Probably Victor (a.d. 190), who is elsewhere called Victorinus, as Oehler conjectures, by a blunderer who tacked the inus to his name, because he was thinking of Zephyrinus, his immediate successor. This Victor “acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus,” and kept up communion with the Phrygian churches that adopted them: but worse than that, he now seems to have patronized the Patri-passion heresy, under the compulsion of Praxeas. So Tertullian says, who certainly had no idea that the Bishop of Rome was the infallible judge of controversies, when he recorded the facts of this strange history. Thus, we find the very founder of “Latin Christianity,” accusing a contemporary Bishop of Rome of heresy and the patronage of heresy, in two particulars. Our earliest acquaintance with that See presents us with Polycarp’s superior authority, at Rome itself, in maintaining apostolic doctrine and suppressing heresy. “He it was, who coming to Rome,” says Irenæus, “in the time of Anicetus, caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics (viz. Valentinus and Marcion) to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the Apostles.” Anicetus was a pious prelate who never dreamed of asserting a superior claim as the chief depositary of Apostolic orthodoxy, and whose beautiful example in the Easter-questions discussed between Polycarp and himself, is another illustration of the independence of the sister churches, at that period. Nor is it unworthy to be noted, that the next event, in Western history, establishes a like principle against that other and less worthy occupant of the Roman See, of whom we have spoken. Irenæus rebukes Victor for his dogmatism about Easter, and reproaches him with departing from the example of his predecessors in the same See. With Eleutherus he had previously remonstrated, though mildly, for his toleration of heresy and his patronage of the raising schism of Montanus.
(These three are one, cap. xxv. p. 621. Also p. 606.)
Porson having spoken Pontifically upon the matter of the text of “the Three Witnesses,” cadit quæstio, locutus est Augur Apollo. It is of more importance that Bishop Kaye in his calm wisdom, remarks as follows; “In my opinion, the passage in Tertullian, far from containing an allusion to 1 John v. 7, furnishes most decisive proof that he knew nothing of the verse.” After this, and the acquiescence of scholars generally, it would be presumption to say a word on the question of quoting it as Scripture. In Textual Criticism it seems to be an established canon that it has no place in the Greek Testament. I submit, however, that, something remains to be said for it, on the ground of the old African Version used and quoted by Tertullian and Cyprian; and I dare to say, that, while there would be no ground whatever for inserting it in our English Version, the question of striking it out is a widely different one. It would be sacrilege, in my humble opinion, for reasons which will appear, in the following remarks, upon our author.
It appears to me very clear that Tertullian is quoting 1 John v. 7 in the passage now under consideration: “Qui tres unum sunt, non unus, quomodo dictum est, Ego et Pater unum sumus, etc.” Let me refer to a work containing a sufficient answer to Porson, on this point of Tertullian’s quotation, which it is easier to pass sub-silentio, than to refute. I mean Forster’s New Plea, of which the full title is placed in the margin. The whole work is worth thoughtful study, but, I name it with reference to this important passage of our author, exclusively. In connection with other considerations on which I have no right to enlarge in this place, it satisfies me as to the primitive origin of the text in the Vulgate, and hence of its right to stand in our English Vulgate until it can be shewn that the Septuagint Version, quoted and honoured by our Lord, is free from similar readings, and divergences from the Hebrew mss.
Stated as a mere question as to the early African Church, the various versions known as the Itala, and the right of the Latin and English Vulgates to remain as they are, the whole question is a fresh one. Let me be pardoned for saying: (1) that I am not pleading for it as a proof-text of the Trinity, having never once quoted it as such in a long ministry, during which I have preached nearly a hundred Trinity-Sunday Sermons; (2) that I consider it as practically Apocryphal, and hence as coming under St. Jerome’s law, and being useless to establish doctrine; and (3) that I feel no need of it, owing to the wealth of Scripture on the same subject. Tertullian, himself says that he cites “only a few out of many texts—not pretending to bring up all the passages of Scripture…having produced an accumulation of witnesses in the fulness of their dignity and authority.”
To those interested in the question let me commend the learned dissertation of Grabe on the textual case, as it stood in his day. I value it chiefly because it proves that the Greek Testament, elsewhere says, disjointedly, what is collected into 1 John v. 7. It is, therefore, Holy Scripture in substance, if not in the letter. What seems to me important, however, is the balance it gives to the whole context, and the defective character of the grammar and logic, if it be stricken out. In the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate of the Old Testament we have a precisely similar case. Refer to Psa. xiii., alike in the Latin and the Greek, as compared with our English Version. Between the third and fourth verses, three whole verses are interpolated: Shall we strike them out? Of course, if certain critics are to prevail over St. Paul, for he quotes them (Rom. iii. 10) with the formula: “As it is written.” Now, then, till we expurgate the English Version of the Epistle to the Romans,—or rather the original of St. Paul himself, I employ Grabe’s argument only to prove my point, which is this, viz., that 1 John v. 7 being Scripture, ought to be left untouched in the Versions where it stands, although it be no part of the Greek Testament.
- Kaye, pp. 504–596.
- Ch. iii. compared with ch. xviii.
- Vol. i. p. 416, this Series.
- Vol. I. p. 569, this Series.
- Eusebius, B.V. cap. 24. Refer also to preceding note, and to Vol. I. p. 310, this Series.
- Vol. II. pp. 3 and 4, this Series, also, Eusebius, B.V. Cap. iii.
- p. 516.
- “A New Plea for the Authenticity of the text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses: or, Porson’s Letters to Travis eclectically examined, etc. etc. By the Rev. Charles Forster, etc.” Cambridge, Deighton, Bell & Co., and London, Bell & Daldy, 1867.
- See Milman, Hist. Lat. Christ., i. p. 29.
- See Bull’s Works, Vol. V., p. 381.
- Where it is Psalm XIV.