Monday, December 3, 2012

Tertullian De Anima (On Soul)

Early 3rd century Carthage was a hub of Mediterranean civilization. Roman's had rebuilt the city so utterly destroyed in the Punic Wars. In Late Antiquity it had grown into a major urban centre with a population estimated at about half a million. In addition to commerce - North Africa was the main source of wheat to Rome and produced more olive oil than Italy - Carthage was a renown centre of learning attracting students from near and far.

Tertullian (165 - 220 AD) had solid education and was well versed in classical Greek and Roman culture. After converting to Christianity he became an ardent defender of the new religion so fiercely persecuted by the Roman authorities. His Apologicum gives a vivid picture of the battle of spirits that was going on at his times. Unlike his compatriot St. Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage, Tertullian was never called a saint nor given the honorary title of Church Father because of the many views he held that were rejected as unorthodox by the Church.

Ptolemy of Alexandria and Tertullian of Carthage
In his treatise on soul and other writings Tertullian gives us a splendid snapshot of what was moving in the minds of people in Late Antiquity and their views about the cosmos, visible and invisible. What is different is the use of Biblical argumentation as guide and the rejection of pure Philosophical thinking as source of knowledge about the world.

Tertullian's Latin texts on religion were written not long after Claudius Ptolemy (90-168 AD) had written in Greek on Astronomy in nearby Alexandria. Much in the same way as Almagest was destined to be definitive source on planetary movements for over thousand years, third century writings in Latin and Greek influenced Theology - and still do so today, consider, for example the teaching on Trinity discussed by Tertullian in his writings.

We can see in both from Tertullian and Ptolemy how anthropocentric the world view was. The cosmos had physical place for human souls after death and the future of the world is heaven and hell in Christian writings. The movements of Sun, moon and planets are intimately related with human existence, birth, death, health and sickness, war and peace, rulers and common people alike as expressed in Astrology, the science of those days.

All this prevailed and was accepted as logical and natural until Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei and their colleagues began to tell about their observations on what is up there. Astronomy changed first and Theology is changing.

De anima
Tertullian wrote a treatise on Soul - de anima - which is his authentic text. The discussion contains many interesting points not discussed here. Chapter LV gives us a glimpse how an educated Christian living in early 3rd century Carthage used Bible to understand the world in which he was living. For Tertullian knowledge was not to be obtained by Philosophy but rather he underlined the importance of the Scriptures and uses them to argue his case.

The treatise describes four compartments in the world we humans live.
1. Earth of the living
2. Hades secret recess deep underground (physically so), prison were souls are waiting for resurrection
3. Paradise - a VIP lounge for waiting the Heavens to open; only for martyrs.
4. Heaven that will open with the coming of Christ

The word infernum, hell, appears in connection with the descend of Christ (also in Nicene creed) but seems not to connect with Hades.

It is interesting that according to Tertullian the Stoic philosopher Endymions wrote that souls of the dead are around the Moon.

Tertullian's text
Chapter LV.-The Christian Idea of the Position of Hades; The Blessedness of Paradise Immediately After Death. The Privilege of the Martyrs.

By ourselves the lower regions (of Hades) are not supposed to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world, but a vast deep space in the interior of the earth, and a concealed recess in its very bowels;

inasmuch as we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth, that is, in the secret inner recess which is hidden in the earth, and enclosed by the earth, and superimposed on the abysmal depths which lie still lower down. 

Now although Christ is God, yet, being also man, "He died according to the Scriptures," and "according to the same Scriptures was buried" [as a real human being. The formula appears 100 years later in Nicene creed.]

With the same law of His being He fully complied, by remaining in Hades in the form and condition of a dead man; nor did He ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth, that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.

(This being the case), you must suppose Hades to be a subterranean region, and keep at arm's length those who are too proud to believe that the souls of the faithful deserve a place in the lower regions.

These persons, who are "servants above their Lord, and disciples above their Master," would no doubt spurn to receive the comfort of the resurrection, if they must expect it in Abraham's bosom. But it was for this purpose, say they, that Christ descended into hell [infernum], that we might not ourselves have to descend thither.

Well, then, what difference is there between heathens and Christians, if the same prison awaits them all when dead?

How, indeed, shall the soul mount up to heaven, where Christ is already sitting at the Father's right hand, when as yet the archangel's trumpet has not been heard by the command of God, -when as yet those whom the coming of the Lord is to find on the earth, have not been caught up into the air to meet Him at His coming, in company with the dead in Christ, who shall be the first to arise?

To no one is heaven opened; the earth is still safe for him, I would not say it is shut against him. When the world, indeed, shall pass away, then the kingdom of heaven shall be opened.

Shall we then have to sleep high up in ether, with the boy-loving worthies of Plato; or in the air with Arius; or around the moon with the Endymions of the Stoics?

No, but in Paradise, you tell me, whither already the patriarchs and prophets have removed from Hades in the retinue of the Lord's resurrection.

How is it, then, that the region of Paradise, which as revealed to John in the Spirit lay under the altar, displays no other souls as in it besides the souls of the martyrs?

How is it that the most heroic martyr Perpetua on the day of her passion saw only her fellow-martyrs there, in the revelation which she received of Paradise, if it were not that the sword which guarded the entrance permitted none to go in thereat, except those who had died in Christ and not in Adam? A new death for God, even the extraordinary one for Christ, is admitted into the reception-room of mortality, specially altered and adapted to receive the new-comer.

Observe, then, the difference between a heathen and a Christian in their death: if you have to lay down your life for God, as the Comforter counsels, it is not in gentle fevers and on soft beds, but in the sharp pains of martyrdom: you must take up the cross and bear it after your Master, as He has Himself instructed you.

The sole key to unlock Paradise is your own life's blood. You have a treatise by us, [de Paradiso is one of Tertullian's lost works], in which we have established the position that every soul is detained in safe keeping in Hades until the day of the Lord.
Anti-Nicean fathers Vol III Translation Holmes 1870

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