Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Enduring Wisdom: Tertullian

In my readings about Tertullian I was amazed by his wisdom (here for an old post and background; here and here for more quotes).  He was one of the great apologists for Christianity in the Roman world and left an extensive body of Latin writings about Christianity. This is impressive given that in Tertullian’s day it was at best unfashionable, and at worst downright dangerous to be Christian. His sense of faith was apparently much greater than his sense of fear.  He’s known for his quippy one-liners that seemed to flow from his pen in great abundance. It’s amazing that it all still seems so relevant.


 Christians are made, not born. - Apologeticum 18

We multiply whenever we are mowed down by you; the blood of Christians is seed. - Apologeticum 50

Man is one name belonging to every nation upon earth. In them all is one soul though many tongues.  - De Testimonio Animae 6:3

Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading. - Adversus Valentinianos 1:4

Truth does not blush - Adversus Valentianos 3:2

It is certain because it is impossible. De Came Christi 5:4

He who flees will fight again - De Fuga in Persecutione, 10

It is certainly no part of religion to compel religion. - Ad Scapulam 2:2

He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies. - ?

We are equally forbidden to wish ill, to do ill, to speak ill, to think ill of all men. The thing we must not do to an emperor, we must not do to any one else. - Apologeticum 36:4

Reason without goodness is not reason, and goodness without reason is not goodness. Adversus Marcionem II 6:2

Nothing that is unjust can be good, and everything that is just is bound to be good. Adversus Marcionem 11:4

There is no public entertainment which does not inflict spiritual damage.  De Spectaculis 15:3

Nothing that is evil is necessary. Adversus Marcionem IV 29:4

There is power also in brevity. Adversus Marcionem V 15:1

Daily, every moment, prayer is necessary to men. De exhortatione castitiatus 10:2

But Christians and now more than ever, pass their times not in gold but in iron. De Cultu Feminarum II 13:6

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Metaphorical Martyrdom

Henryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902)
Christian Dirce*
oil on canvas, 1897
National Museum Warsaw

Originally published as a guest blog at Millennialstar


Tertullian was born the son of a Roman Centurion in Carthage around 150 AD. As a member of a higher social class, he received an excellent education and was trained as a lawyer. He indulged in all the trappings of his day, including the pastime of watching gladiatorial combat and games where criminals were tortured or eaten alive by wild animals. Historian Roger Pearse, curator of the Tertullian project, said:

. . . among the sights he saw, was that of Christians being executed this way. He was struck with the courage with which stupid and contemptible slave men and little slave girls faced a hideous death, against all nature; and after investigating, became a Christian himself . . . 

Tertullian said the blood of Christian martyrs was the seed of the church.** It certainly seems to be the precipitant that converted him to Christianity from the paganism of his fathers. For many early Christians, martyrdom was the ultimate proof of their faith. Whether martyrdom was sought out or forced on them, the courage demonstrated by thousands of Christians in the face of unspeakable tortures has fortified the faith of Christians for two thousand years.  

But, as Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome, opportunities for martyrdom diminished—much to the chagrin of some.*** Christianity was suddenly an asset rather than a liability. Although the centuries certainly provided opportunities for Christians to die for their beliefs, it was never on the scale seen in Tertullian's day.  

Mormons have had more than their share of opportunities for persecution and martyrdom in our short history.  As with the blood of the early Christians, the blood of latter-day saints has been the seed of the Mormon Church. We therefore identify better than many Christians with the idea of martyrdom for the faith. 

Thankfully, opportunities to die for our faith have all but disappeared in Western society.**** However, there are now ample opportunities for Mormons and other Christian communities to be united like never before in a new kind of virtual martyrdom. This metaphorical martyrdom comes swiftly if any dares to publicly profess the tenets of the faith that have been firmly entrenched for six thousand years. To describe sexual immorality as sin is to instantly become socially marginalized and vilified as worst example of humanity imaginable. The calls for christianos ad leones are immediate and sustained from intolerant activists clamoring for tolerance, from the secular media, and from the ever-present arbiters of political correctness. Labelled intolerant or hater, those unwilling to compromise God’s standards are sent to their social death like recidivist criminals that are beyond reform. 

Having seen so many examples of this new type of martyrdom, it's hard not to be intimidated. Minding your own business is safer and easier than exposing yourself to the fury. The live and let live mantra rolls off the tongue easier today than ever before. But there is no safe place as we watch the tide slowly erode the small piece of ground on which the church has always resided. To stand down is to serve other gods, as was so eloquently 
taught by Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Ever courageous and uncompromising, Paul said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (
Romans 1:16).  He refused to stand down—even knowing the price he would pay. On the eve of his final arraignment before Nero, he wrote to Timothy from prison saying "all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).” He would make his case before Nero, but knew what fate awaited him (see 2 Timothy 4:6-8).

I would never try to minimize the heavy price paid by the martyrs of our faith by equating it with the hateful ridicule the secular world heaps upon vocal believers today.  But there are parallels, and they are instructive. We would do well to ask ourselves if we have the same faith and courage of the martyrs of old. President Thomas S. Monson’s 
advice in 1986 seems very pertinent to us today:

Of course we will face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval. Courage becomes a living and an attractive virtue when it is regarded not only as a willingness to die manfully, but as the determination to live decently. 

As we successfully embody the principles of the gospel and outwardly live decently it gets noticed. We must therefore be prepared for the persecution it spawns to test the mettle of our faith.

* This picture is a depiction of Nero watching a Christian woman killed in a re-enactment of the Greek myth of Dirce, who was killed by being tied to the horns of a bull. In the First Epistle Clement to the Corinthians, Clement refers to Christian women martyred for their faith as Dircae: “Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircae, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with steadfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward (chapter VI). "
**”The blood of Christians is seed” (Apologeticum, chapter 50)
*** During the 5th Crusade, St Francis of Assisi went to the Egypt and met with the Sultan el-Kamil (the nephew of Saladin) during a ceasefire at the siege of Damietta. Francis intentionally crossed Saracen lines into what was thought to be certain death, where he was taken to the Sultan, and warmly received. Several days later, he left the Sultan thoroughly charmed, but unconverted. Francis' quest for martyrdom was unsuccessful and the battle resumed. 
**** This article suggests that there are still thousands of Christians killed for their faith worldwide each year.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guest Blog @ MMM: Warnings from Outer Space

Take a look at my latest guest blog at MMM here.  Fellow Canuck N. Eldon Tanner nailed it in his General Conference classic from 1972.  He was so forty-years-ahead-of-his-time that its eerie.  This could easily fit into Discovery Channel’s lineup for 2014. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Predator Crouching at Your Door

Cain and Abel - Titian
oil on canvas, 1542-1544
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
The seemingly arbitrary rejection of Cain’s offering and acceptance of his brother Abel’s offering outlined in Genesis 4 has long been a source of contention for non-believers.  They say this passage speaks of a capricious God that is unpredictable and vindictive. 

Yet though we readily recognize the Messianic symbolism of Abel’s offering, the Mosaic law did allow for bloodless offerings. It was more the attitude that accompanied Cain's offering, than the nature of the offering, which made it unacceptable.  This is taught with greater clarity in the Pearl of Great Price than in any translation of the Bible or it’s accompanying commentaries. 
And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering; But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. (Moses 5:18-21)
It is argued that Cain had a bad attitude from the start, but when he (and to a lesser extent, his offering) was rejected, he lost it completely.  To say he ‘was very wroth’ in our vernacular is understatement. One commentary translates this phrase literally as “it burned with Cain exceedingly”. 

The account in Genesis describes things rapidly going downhill from this point. But before that point of no return, there was a moment when God reached out to Cain.  I found it helpful to consider other biblical translations of Genesis 4:7 which describes this moment.

If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
If you do well, will you not be accepted?fn And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

The metaphor of sin crouching at the door, like an unseen predator that would devour him, is incredibly powerful.  Perhaps it was meant to foreshadow the role Cain would play in the destruction of his brother. In this regard, the ESV and NIV are particularly useful. But even in his outreach, God respects the agency of Cain.

But once again, the Pearl of Great Price is critical in understanding the process by which we make ourselves (and our offerings) acceptable to God. 
If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except though shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;   (Moses 5:23)
Ultimately, Cain 'rejected the greater counsel which was held of God’ (Moses 5:25) and remained ‘wroth, and listened not anymore to the voice of the Lord’ (Moses 5:26). This was no crime of passion, but rather obstinate rejection of the outreached hand of the Lord, preferring instead to ‘glory in his wickedness’ (Moses 5:31in the company of Satan. It is the first recorded Faustian pact in history. Cain didn’t become Perdition by falling victim to some unseen predator lurking in the doorway. He chose it. 

Although Cain’s fall was foreseeable, it was still preventable: do well and be accepted, otherwise sin lies at the door.