Tertullian and Heresy

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Thesis on Tertullian's relationship to heresy

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Tertullian a montanist heretic?


A Paper Presented toDr. D. Jeffrey BinghamDallas Theological Seminary


In Partial Fulfillmentof the Requirements for the CourseRS102 Summation of Christian Doctrine


bySean DoughertyApr 2013Box #736

INTRODUCTIONThe purpose of this paper will be to discuss the nature of heresy in relation to Tertullian. Due to his ties to the Montanist tradition, Tertullian has been investigated by historians attempting to locate him in a category that allows the church to approach him in the most helpful light. Through the course of these attempts much light has been shed on exactly what the nature of the Church is in relation to heresy as well as how one understands early North African Christianity. In addition to this, Tertullian biographers and theologians have also reflected their contemporary contexts by discussing how one can approach such a confusing figure. While the corpus of Tertullians extant writings has grown over time, the major shift in relation to Tertullian has been caused by the modern shift in todays understanding of heresy in general. As the lines have become blurred over exactly what heresy is by those who wish to blur the nature of orthodoxy, Tertullian has been reinterpreted in a much more genteel manner. Though not always the case with other misunderstood figures, Tertullian warrants another look. His writings do not show a man desiring to claim special authority over the church or of a schismatic who joined a cult but of a man who desired the Church to remain pure. His writings show a man who fought hard for that purity, even when it scandalized him. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that Tertullians orthodoxy as a Montanist is unquestioned and that his ecclesiological praxis allied him with North African Montanists.DEFINITION OF HERESYIn a pursuit to better understand the nature of heresy and how the charge is leveled against Tertullian, it is important to investigate the etymological and ontological ideas behind it. In order to do this well, it must be understood that the pursuit does not really allow one to know with certainty the salvation of the parties involved. Because salvation is not founded on epistemological demands, but on spiritual regeneration leading to a relationship with Jesus Christ, there is difficulty in this topic because a poor relationship with Christ does not always mean no relationship with Christ. Also, heresy can only be discussed by those related to the Church in some way. Those without a relationship to the Church through fellowship, baptism, and communion are outside of the scope of this discussion. Someone who would not be confused as a member of the Church should not be investigated on charges of heresy because heresy necessarily relates to corruption of the teachings of the Church. Authors such as Jonathan Wright believe that heretics have been wrongly pictured as despicable people who revel in destroying the Church.[footnoteRef:2] There is merit to this. However, this entire endeavor remains perilous because the damage that true heresy has upon the Bride has real destructive consequences. Someone who knows only heresy and the false idol constructed behind it will not be taught about Christ. How much error is enough to be considered heresy? That is not something that this author has a complete answer for. At the very least, we can learn from the Fathers of our faith to help us understand the nature of heresy so that Tertullians relationship to Montanism can be properly understood. [2: Jonathan Wright, Heretics: The Creation of Christianity from the Gnostics to the Modern Church (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 5.]

Biblical ViewThrough the prophetic words of the Apostles, the most sure source of knowledge concerning heresy can be found in the pages of Scripture. To begin, the most basic etymological meaning of the Greek word is to choose.[footnoteRef:3] It relates to the education system in that students chose which school of thought they would enter into embodied by which teachers they studied under.[footnoteRef:4] This system extended to the Rabbinical schools, as seen in the sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The nature of a sect is that those in it choose to participate in its philosophy. Not until the first century A.D. does one see a negative connotation of this word.[footnoteRef:5] [3: Heinrich Schlier, , Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 180-83.] [4: TDNT, 181.] [5: Ibid.]

Now, some see the nature of discussion around factions/sects in the New Testament as totally different compared to later discussions of because later discussions of heresy, beginning in the second century, begin to possess vitriolic rhetoric toward those who pervert the Truth.[footnoteRef:6] To McGrath, heresy in the NT did not have the pejorative connotation that later became associated with the term.[footnoteRef:7] This seems to ignore the harsh warnings of Paul and Peter in Gal 5:20 and 1 Pet 2:1. First, the very idea that false teaching and heresy were different seems to miss Peters direct correlation of the two. While the New Testament discussion clearly relates false teaching with lusts of the flesh, this does not seem to completely alter the idea of being that which is opposite than the . [footnoteRef:8] To reduce heresy to social divisiveness and intellectual rivalry (as if those things can somehow be separated from the greater danger of false teaching) seems to neuter it of the destructive power which the Apostles warn against.[footnoteRef:9] The spirit of social divisiveness attested by the Apostles is the same spirit at work among the later heretics who deny their teachers in pursuit of a perverted Christianity. The Apostles have a clear understanding that there are sects which masquerade for true Christianity, as seen in 1 Cor 11:19: for there must be factions () among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. Paul paints an obvious picture of being that which is a non-genuine form of faith. This is similar to a contemporary view of heresy, although todays idea has more qualifications because the accrual of time demands explanation of terms. [6: Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 36-7.] [7: Ibid., 37.] [8: TDNT, 182-83.] [9: McGrath, Heresy, 37.]

However, Luke seems to present a mixed view of this term, in that he defines it according to the groups of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which are acceptable (Acts 5:17, 15:5, 26:5), and he uses it negatively in relation to the Way (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22). Specifically, in Acts 26:5 Luke presents Paul using to describe the Pharisees as being a party within the religion of Judaism. So, Luke uses this term in a manner that allows for legitimate sects co-existing under the same religion. However, a little before it in Ch. 24 the same word refers to the Nazarenes and the Way to which Paul belongs. In this context the sect is seen as harmful and dangerous to Judaism. In observing Luke, one sees a stark contrast to the epistolary use of the term. This can be accounted for by recognizing Lukes historiographical purpose in the letter of Acts and understanding that he uses the term the way that the Jewish aggressors use it, but not the way it relates to Christianity.[footnoteRef:10] [10: Ibid., 182.]

Peter and Paul seem to use the term Christianly in that what may be acceptable to an extent in Judaism is not acceptable in Christianity. The unity of the Body under the authority of its Rabbi, Jesus Christ, is of supreme importance to its health.[footnoteRef:11] Galatians 5:20 presents , along with a long list of other activities which show who will not be an heir of the Kingdom, as that which is not to be tolerated among believers once it is recognized. There is an obvious negative connotation associated with the term here. [11: Matt 23:6-12.]

While some argue became negative over time, it does not seem that way because in the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. the term is used positively by Constantine and Licinius.[footnoteRef:12] The term in the greater Roman Empire at this time seemed to still possess neutrality. However, to Christian counterparts this term had already taken on a highly negative meaning, as seen throughout works of Ignatius and Justin Martyr, among others.[footnoteRef:13] So, by the time that Tertullian is confronted with the Montanist question, heresy has a very vivid imagery and very serious consequences. [12: Eusebius, The Church History, 10.5.2.] [13: TDNT, 183.]

What do Paul and Peter stress in their use of ? Although the term itself is only used three times in the epistles all in a manner related to this idea of separation from the Body each time it presents an unhealthy idea which corrupts the pure. While many define heresy biblically according to the nine uses of the term in the New Testament, it seems to ignore the many references to the same ideas present in Pauls letters to Timothy and in Johns epistles. In 2 Tim 3:10-16, Paul exhorts Timothy to continue following his teaching, opposing impostors who will only attempt to deceive the faithful. This warning seems to be the very idea of heresy that Peter warns against destructive teaching which comes from among the faithful but in reality is foreign. This teaching must be avoided at all costs for the sake of the Bride.In 1 John, one of Johns purposes is to correct deceptive teaching which has crept into the Church (1 John 2:26). He seems to present these false teachers as those who went out from us (1 John 2:19). Some of the marks of these people who left the Church are those who deny Jesus as Messiah, and he identifies them as antichrists (1 John 2:18, 22-23). Again, in 2 John he describes these antichrists in a different manner, but they still operate in relation to those who are separate from the Body. They are those who deny the flesh of Christ (2 John 7-9). This relates directly to his warning about the spirit of the antichrist in 1 John 4:2-3. These false teachings are beyond the teaching of Christ (2 John 9). While these passages may not use the terminology of that would allow one to easily categorize them as such, it seems apparent that the same ontological idea of heresy lies in them. The Apostles want the Church to remain true to the teaching of Christ which others will attempt to pervert for many different reasons.Second Century DefinitionThe Church of the second century saw an explosion of perverted teachings which it fought in order to ensure the true teachings of Christ would be passed onto the faithful. Men such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian himself developed lists of heresies and attempted to trace them back to their roots in juxtaposition to the faithful lineage of the orthodox bishops.[footnoteRef:14] Amongst the apologists of this period there was always an eye toward what the truth was because that was the entire purpose of intense scrutiny. The difficulty lies in how the Faith developed in its early years and how some false teachings, such as Valentinianism, were allowed to remain in the Church at first only to be attacked later.[footnoteRef:15] [14: Pheme Perkins, Schism and Heresy: Identity, Cracks, and Canyons in Early Christianity, The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought (New York: Routledge, 2010), 229.] [15: Ibid., 230.]

However, the treatment of these heresies once again seems to deny the idea that a core teaching of Christianity existed, a teaching which would have come from Jesus through the Apostles. In an effort to highlight the legitimate diversity in early church practice and teaching, there seems to be an abandonment of the idea that not all diversity is equal and healthy. When some of these heresiologists make errors due to bad sources and misinformation, the tendency seems to be for scholars to discount the possibility that the rest of the teaching being described can be a perversion of fundamental truth in need of refutation.[footnoteRef:16] The grace afforded to the heretic is not given to the one attempting to defend Christianity. The reason the current postmodern approach is problematic lies in its understanding of the formation of heresy. Just because heresy is not immediately labeled as false teaching does not mean it should never be. That would ignore the fallibility of bishops whose job is to protect the flock from wolves. [16: Ibid.]

So, if false teaching was allowed to exist at first, such as Pheme Perkins suggests the Valentinians were, this does not mean that these diverse expressions of the faith are compatible.[footnoteRef:17] To act as if heretics were once ontologically orthodox before people mislabeled them pejoratively misses the entire point of what a heresy is. If it was easy to recognize, then it would not have been deceptive. So, even though the early church struggled to react quickly to teachings exposed as false later does not mean they fully imbibed those teachings. The Bauer thesis that later heresies of Gnosticism and Monarchianism are not really heresies at all, but instead were orthodox until the Roman Empire imposed itself upon Christianity has been proved wrong by literary and archaeological evidence.[footnoteRef:18] While Valentinus may have been orthodox himself, the fact that his students were gnostic still proves that Valentinianism was dangerous in its effect on the Church. [17: Ibid. It is important to note that Pheme Perkins does not agree with the idea that Valentinians were truly orthodox; but that she does in fact agree with my idea that although there is in fact a true faith which heretics pervert, the first 100 years of the church can be difficult to understand in strict terms of orthodoxy.] [18: McGrath, 73-6. For the Bauer thesis see Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, particularly pgs 33-38. There Bauer makes clear the idea that no one can be trusted in their condemnations of others because people only attempt to subject others to their authority. Truth in this theory is nothing more than a social construct. This work seems to have had direct or indirect impact on the way scholarship today views heresy.]

Ontological HeresyTo combat these heretics, apologists of the second century put together works addressing these heresies head on so that others might not fall prey to their dangerous effects. While their view of heresy may have been subjective in that they do not possess the sole authority of what is orthodox and what is not, that does not make the heresies they defined fully subjective in their nature. As to the difference between ontological heresy and subjective heresy in this paper, it can be understood as the difference between what actually heresy is and what the community defines as heresy. For instance, with Valentinianism Phoebe Palmer argues that it did not become defined as a heresy until after it some period of time which it was accepted in the church. Therefore, one might view all heresy as subjective and up to the whims of the contemporary church which defines what heresy is. However, though subjectivity in what the church views as heresy exists, Valentinianism can still be called heretical ontologically because it is fundamentally opposed to the orthodox conception of God. Though it may have taken some time for the church to understand the language the Valentinus used was heretical this does not mean his views were ever in concord with the Christian faith. Once Valentinus views were properly understood they were subjectively and ontologically heretical, but before they were declared heretical they were simply ontologically heretical. One of the charges to the shepherds of the Church is to pay attention to their own doctrine while patiently correcting those opposed to that which has been passed on (1 Tim 4:6-16; 2 Tim 2:2, 23-26). So, with Tertullians relationship to Montanism, Tertullian could be labeled as a Montanist by the community of faith (if he even was) and not be an ontological heretic. Another possibility would be that Montanism itself in Asia Minor would be heretical ontologically, but the North African form of Montanism only be heretical subjectively. Due to the nature of language and transmission of ideas only some of Montanisms teaching may have travelled across the Mediterranean. So in an attempt to delve into the nature of heresy in the Churchs first few hundred years of existence the desire has been to approach a solid definition of what ontological heresy is. While the approach toward heresy does affect ecclesiology, the definition of heresy has always had a basic idea of that which damages the Church. McGraths definition seems to fit the tenor of the biblical witness and be expressed by early theologians: A heresy is a doctrine that ultimately destroys, destabilizes, or distorts a mystery rather than preserving it.[footnoteRef:19] His focus upon the idea of mystery as opposed to using the language of truth is to preserve the idea that good doctrine does not explain the entirety of the truth expressed because no one could fully express the Godhead in words. This also preserves the idea that the cannot be fully identified by a list of statements, but that it lies in the relationship that a man or a woman has with his Redeemer. One cannot see the relationships substance, but only how that relationship can be explained. Thus, mystery rightly describes how one relates to God and how one explains Him. To define heresy in this manner allows for boundaries to be established that may be less described as walls and more as zones. There are boundary zones that the community of the faithful have received from Jesus Christ himself through the Apostles which can be navigated safely if one is sure to venture back into clear territory time and again. Due to the nature of the understanding faith as mystery, this allows men such as McGrath, Athanasius, Augustine, Stanley Hauerwas, and Charles Gore diversity of expression whilst remaining within orthodoxy. However, others define heresy as power plays of the elite who wish to root out all competitors.[footnoteRef:20] To those who subscribe to the latter definition, heresy does not exist outside of authority of enforcement. Whether it be a bishop, elder or emperor, the only reason a heresy exists is due to declaration. Its existence is not ontological but only subjective. According to this view of heresy, ruling out anything would be against the spirit of Christianity. In that case, happenstance often played a starring role in how the Church developed.[footnoteRef:21] This would have to ignore the early formulation of a core, unified teaching centered on the Incarnate Christ.[footnoteRef:22] [19: McGrath, 31. ] [20: Wright, 6.] [21: Wright, 8.] [22: D. Jeffrey Bingham, Development and Diversity in Early Christianity. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 1 (March 2006): 63-4. Also see Michael J. Svigel, Second Century Incarnational Christology and Early Christianity (PhD dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2007). ]

MONTANISMIn relation to Montanism, a few issues need discussion. First, the claims of the prophets of the movement need to be understood. Second, the growth of the movement needs to be examined to determine whether or not it was a homogenous identity, especially as it can be understood in North Africa. Finally, the orthodoxy of the movement needs to be examined.The New Prophecy ProphetsThe three main prophets associated with Montanism were Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla. The first, from whom the movement receives its name, comes from a pagan background and lived in the mid-second century. Around 165 Montanus began to have ecstatic experience in which he he began raving, chattering, and speaking nonsense, prophesying contrary to church tradition and custom from the beginning.[footnoteRef:23] This incoherent babbling was claimed to be a new prophecy that would guide the Church in new truths. While a full list of these prophecies no longer exists, one can piece together the subject of them from the copious amounts of writings against Montanism today. [23: Eusebius, 5.16.4.]

The only problem with this enterprise is that these Anti-Montanist writings were written over the span of centuries, leaving the current subject of Montanism in relation to Tertullian less clear. Tabernee demonstrates that the accrual of time in this instance only adds to the confusion of the nature of Montanism.[footnoteRef:24] Not only does Montanism appear to be a shifting and evolving movement over time, geographically speaking it seems to have different emphases and teachings. When it comes to understanding the movements original claims, the best a scholar can do is give a few declarations and then try to extrapolate from the known to the unknown. Some of the facts that survive with significant attestation are: Maximillas prediction of future wars,[footnoteRef:25] the same prophetess prediction of no subsequent prophets,[footnoteRef:26] the prevention of second marriages,[footnoteRef:27] rigorous fasting,[footnoteRef:28] the eschatological fulfillment of the New Jerusalems descent upon Pepuza,[footnoteRef:29] and the collection of the writings of the prophets.[footnoteRef:30] These beliefs and practices seem to be uniform across Montanism over the centuries. [24: William Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy and Polluted Sacraments (Boston: Brill, 2007), xxxiii-xxxv.] [25: Eusebius, 5.16.10.] [26: Epiphanius, Panarion, 48.2.4.] [27: This can be attested to in Epiphanius, 48.9.1-7 as well as in Tertullian, De Monogamia.] [28: Eusebius, 5.18.2.] [29: Ibid.] [30: Muratorian Canon, Lines 80-85.]

Geographic UniformityHowever, even some of these beliefs took on different forms in their prescriptions, and not all Montanists viewed prophecy the same. The very fact that Tertullian claims acceptance of Montanism by the Roman bishop at one point seems to argue that Montanism was not as aggressively prescriptive in its earliest stages.[footnoteRef:31] The real danger of Montanism seems to come from other accusations which surface over time. Some arguments from various sources like Pseudo-Tertullian, such as that the prophets glorified themselves over Christ or with the Father, remain suspect when one reads a Montanist like Tertullian who defends the fullness of the Trinity and Montanist prophecy.[footnoteRef:32] The last great charge against the Montanists that can possibly be traced to the prophets themselves is the division between the Paraclete and the Holy Spirit.[footnoteRef:33] Though scholars today doubt the authenticity of classical authors claims against heretics, it seems equally dubious to dismiss writings as unfounded simply because they paint an overly negative picture of their opponents. The specific form of Montanism that Eusebius and Epiphanius condemn in their quotes may not have all of its roots in Montanus prophecies, but that does not mean their sources had fashioned lies in order to denounce the heresy. It could very well have occurred that Eusebius sources encountered later Montanists that had gone beyond the original prophets intentions and distorted the Godhead along the way.[footnoteRef:34] [31: Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 1.] [32: Pseudo-Tertullian, Against All Heresies, 7.2.] [33: Ibid.] [34: Another theory is that the later Montanists were the inevitable descendants of the Montanists hermeneutic. That is for another work to decide, but has interesting possibilities.]

As for North African Montanism, the best one can view it is through the writings of Tertullian. Due to the anti-Christian nature of North African polytheism via persecution, Christianity in and around Carthage took on a very severe character which can be displayed through Tertullians rigoristic tendencies.[footnoteRef:35] Though persecution was sporadic throughout the Roman Empire until Decius reign, North African Christianity experienced successive and brutal persecution toward the end of the second century.[footnoteRef:36] Tertullians own commitment to martyrdom and separation from society seem to stem from the Churchs experience of persecution. Throughout his works there is an obsession with the purity of the faithful.[footnoteRef:37] One sees the widespread rigorism in North Africa when Cyprian also speaks about rigorist bishops a generation before himself who would not allow any lapsed back into the church.[footnoteRef:38] [35: Francois Decoret, Early Christianity in North Africa, trans. Edward Smither (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2009), 19-22.] [36: David Rankin, Tertullian and the Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 10.] [37: It includes, but is not limited to The Shows, To Scapula, On Modesty, and On Repentance.] [38: Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 15. Cyprians very dealing with rigorist bishops reflect the catholicity that Tertullian would have been a part of even in his caustic period.]

So, when the rigorism of Montanism makes its way to North Africa it finds a natural home amongst fellow rigorists. In the midst of persecution and martyrdom, the high praise of a rigorist commitment to Christ finds fullest expression in martyrdom. The seeds of later discord within the Carthaginian church over martyrdom seem to have root in the rigorists who already view the world with distrust.[footnoteRef:39] Decret shows that even Tertullian himself, prior to Montanism, set Christianity against the world and demanded believers choose between one or the other.[footnoteRef:40] Worldliness could be seen in dress, idolatry, plays, games, and other activities allowing for so vast a gathering of heathens.[footnoteRef:41] While one should not overstate Tertullians impact upon the church, their popularity allowed for their transmission to later generations. The North African church at the end of the second century already possessed a rigorism that pre-disposed it to Montanistic tendencies. Therefore, it seems probable that the heretical aspects of Montanism that may have plagued other regions would be absent in North Africa as it concentrated on the disciplinary aspects of the New Prophecy. The concern for how a Christian interacted with the world predominated Carthage and western North Africa at the time due to the intense persecutions. While unorthodox views of prophecy and the Godhead may have also been present, one does not see that in any form of Tertullians or even Cyprians writings at a later time. The loose nature of the movement lends even more to the possibility that Tertullians Montanism is an orthodox form. [39: Tertullian, Ad Nationes, 2.1. Tertullians anti-secular stance in his pre-Montanist days here surely would not lack support from those around him who would later identify themselves as Montanist. ] [40: Decret, Early Christianity, 23.] [41: Tertullian, The Shows, 3.]

The Orthodoxy of MontanismOnce the door is open to accept new authoritative revelation outside of the apostolic witness, there no longer remains an objective barometer to gauge the authenticity of that revelation. The danger of Montanism was not necessarily in the substance of the prophecies themselves, but in the consequence of what Montanists believed the nature of prophecy was. If a Montanist held to prophecy as that which comes directly from the Spirit and supersedes the apostolic witness then they entered into blasphemy.[footnoteRef:42] As already shown, not all Montanism viewed prophecy the same. Tertullians view (which must necessarily be seen as the North African view) emphasizes the apostolic tradition as superior and the foundation of all future revelation.[footnoteRef:43] Even though On Fasting 1 contains Tertullians own perception of condemnation by non-Montanists, this does not mean Montanism itself has been excommunicated by the church. There are no formal decrees against Montanism that can be displayed, and Powell believes the language suggests a popular accusation rather than an official ecclesiastical sentence.[footnoteRef:44] A regional fight seems to be more probable in view of Tertullians language later in On Fasting: [42: Tabbernee, 110.] [43: Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian (New York: Routledge, 2004), 21-2. Also see Tertullians treatment of scripture in De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 15-18, 38. Even though this writing is from his pre-Montanist phase, it still gives insight to his high view of scripture as needing direct descent from the apostles. Throughout his defense of Montanism against Praxeas, he solely uses scripture to explain an orthodox view of the Trinity. This would validate a continuity between his pre- and post-Montanist views of authority. Any New Prophecy would have to be subject to the traditions already laid down.] [44: Douglas Powell, Tertullianists and Cataphrygians, Vigiliae Chrstianae, 29 (1975), 36.]

Besides, throughout the provinces of Greece there are held in definite localities those councils gathered out of the universal Churches, by whose means not only all the deeper questions are handled for the common benefit, but the actual representation of the whole Christian name is celebrated with great veneration. (And how worthy a thing is this, that, under the auspices of faith, men should congregate from all quarters to Christ![footnoteRef:45] [45: Tertullian, On Fasting, 13.6-7.]

Tertullian clearly places Montanism within the auspices of the universal church and amongst those committed to Christs name. If Montanism had been formally condemned as heretical throughout the churches, then he would have no reason to view the meetings of his adversaries in a positive light.TERTULLIANIn moving to directly discuss the man Tertullian, it must be kept in mind that his purpose was not to create tradition. In fact, his very purpose in confronting critics of Montanism was to display the sects scriptural (and therefore apostolic) foundations. Tertullian allowed himself to jump over the current practices of the church because of his view of tradition. His view of the rule of faith allows him room to delineate different practical teachings of the apostles than what those around him understood.[footnoteRef:46] If the Paraclete began by adulterating the rule of faith then it would follow that the Paraclete would be an adversary spirit.[footnoteRef:47] However, Tertullians understanding of Montanism does not evidence any heretical teaching on the nature of the Triune God or of the Son. Through Tertullians defense of Montanism and its praxis, one sees an orthodox man who desires for the purity of the Church. [46: Tertullian, On Monogamy, 2.] [47: Ibid.]

Tertullians view of the ChurchIn discussing Tertullians relationship to orthodoxy, where one should begin is what he thinks of the Bride of Christ. Throughout his writings, one sees a view of the Church as the sponsa Christi and its primary adjective being its virginity.[footnoteRef:48] For this attribute to be at the forefront of the concern for Tertullian in his writings against the Psychics, it highlights a few important features. [48: Tertullian, On Modesty, 1. ]

First of all, Tertullian speaks of a single Bride. In no place does he refer to the church as separated into two different bodies. While one might say that this would allow for his view of a legitimate body (Montanists) and illegitimate body (Psychics), this would overlook the entirety of Tertullians appeal to his detractors. As David Rankin has shown from On the Soul On the Veiling of Virgins, and An Exhortation to Chastity, Tertullian commonly references the entire community of Christ as one body inclusive of those who have different practices than he wants.[footnoteRef:49] The purpose of the treatises that he writes is to explain why the Montanist praxis exalts Christ in its purity of conviction. In justifying the practices of Montanist believers, he attacks those who laxly allow immorality in the Church. The purity of the Bride is at stake. However, if the Psychics remain outside of Tertullians conception of the Church, then why does he attempt to convince them of his form of discipline? Why does he appeal to the purity of Christ if they do not make up a portion of the Body of Christ? Powell rightly notes that the deplorable edict mentioned in On Modesty is read in the virgo et sponsa Christi, yet that Tertuallian never indicates his comments toward the sponsa Christi are ironic or satirical.[footnoteRef:50] Tertullians entire conception of the Church remains a moot point if the people he argues with are not included within the Bride of Christ that he so concerns himself with. He desires Montanistic purity to reign in the Church, not to convince others that the Montanistic Church reigns supreme. [49: Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 35-7.] [50: Douglas Powell, Tertullianists and Cataphrygians, 33-5.]

In Adversus Praxean, his argument based upon the parable of the wheat and tares in Matt 13 also shows his purpose remains fixed upon the purity of the Church itself.[footnoteRef:51] While it is true that he considers the tares to be sown by the devil and of a different stock than the pure Christian, he admits that the tares are those within the boundaries of the Church. His purpose in refuting Praxeas is to open the eyes of those around him to the danger of deceitful men who hold to false doctrine, and in doing this to save the Body from those who wish to corrupt it fully. At no time does it seem that Tertullian views himself as being a part of a different Body completely separated from those who hold differing views. His view of the Church allows for tares among the wheat, and the fact that he views one field being worked speaks to the unity of Body which Tertullian remains a part of. [51: Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 1.]

Secondly, the fact that Tertullian views the Bride of Christ as a pure virgin substantiates the reason why goes to such length to fight those who allow for actions that he views to be immoral. The practice of second marriage, which Tertullian dedicates an entire treatise to as On Monogamy, highlights Tertullians view of holiness in relation to Christ. He could not separate the idea of future sanctification from the pursuit of present sanctification. For the Church to allow repentance after fornication and adultery allows sin to increase without penalty.[footnoteRef:52] His desire for no repentance after committing these acts stems from his literal understanding of the Bride as a virgin. There are no scriptural grounds to allow for anything other than purity. To admit repentance is to abolish morality in his mind. [52: On Monogamy, 1. ]

According to Rankin, the immanent eschatology of Tertullian contributes directly to this unbending attitude toward sin.[footnoteRef:53] If Pauls view of Christ presenting his virgin bride, the church, spotless and unblemished at the last accurately explains Tertullians mindset, then it rightly follows that his serious view of the virginity of Christ causes his views of discipline. The eschatological foundation of his strict views present a man who seriously desires to defend the Church from those who desire to stain the Bride. Tertullian cannot afford to wait and see where the new regulations take the Church because the true Church is only made up of those who persevere to the end.[footnoteRef:54] If the end is upon the Church, then action must be taken to ensure that the faithful remain committed to Christ and the tares do not plant more and more seeds within the Body. [53: Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 92-7.] [54: The Prescriptions Against Heretics 3.]

Tertullians view of the Church does not allow for poor teaching to go unchallenged, but it does allow for poor teaching to be the norm within the Church. While he desires for the false teaching to be uprooted from the church, this idea necessarily requires Tertullian to not re-plant himself in another place to ensure his own purity. While he may see tares surrounding him (as he alludes to in Adv. Praxean, 1), this requires his continued commitment to the one, holy, apostolic church as passed down from the apostles. For him to be excommunicated (or for him to excommunicate himself) would destroy the premises of his works in that he adamantly desires for the purity of the Bride to remain. If the Bride consists purely of Montanists, then there would be no reason to proclaim the unity of churches across the Mediterranean who openly reject his views on discipline.[footnoteRef:55] [55: Tertullian, De Virginibus Velandis, 2. We see a very explicit affirmation of unity within the churches abroad by Tertullian here. If this unity between himself, a Montanist, and those who do not hold to the custom of veiling exists, then it follows that Tertullian remains within the orthodox church in Africa itself.]

Tertullians PraxisFrom Tertullians view of the Church in relationship to his eschatology, one can easily understand the foundation for his high view of holiness. However, what must be confronted more directly at this point is his Praxis. The great claim against Tertullian can be found in Augustine De Haeresibus: Therefore, the reason Tertullian became a heretic was not for this, but because in joining the Cataphrygians, whom he had earlier demolished, he also began to condemn, contrary to Apostolic teaching, second marriage as debauchery. Later, having separated from them too, he established congregations of his own.[footnoteRef:56] Augustines understanding of Tertullian here comes directly from Tertullians praxis, and it demands an explanation if one is to defend Tertullian against the charge of heresy. Rankin begins the defense by dismantling Augustines understanding of Tertullians situation.[footnoteRef:57] This tactic successfully reinforces the thesis of this paper in an important manner. For Tertullian to be considered a heretic, he would have to be condemned by his contemporaries. For Augustine to label Tertullian a heretic even though Tertullian himself remained in communion with the catholic church of his day shows more about Augustines view of heresy than Tertullians ontological status in relation to the church. [56: Augustine, De Haeresibus, 86.] [57: Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 36-7.]

Tertullians praxis does not cause him to be a subjective heretic because he never left the church, as has been shown above. Rankin claims that Augustine must have projected the Tertullianists heresy back into Tertullians day because Cyprian himself does not reject his Master.[footnoteRef:58] This conclusion seems sound. Once Tertullian himself is read in a catholic light, the rhetorical grenades that he lobs at his opposition only makes sense when viewed from the great praxeological division between the two camps. Augustines claim depends necessarily upon Tertullians separation from orthodoxy like the Tertullianists who come from him. From his writing there follows no reason that he would have already left the church, but in the same token his praxis might cause his disciples to lose a vision for the catholic church as one, holy, and apostolic. Tertullians trajectory surely leaves room for separation from the church if it does not give heed to the sins that engulf it, but that does not mean he himself ever had the audacity to separate himself from the Bride of Christ in rebellion against those who hold to the rule of faith. [58: Ibid., 37. Cyprian referring to Tertullian as his master shows the great debt he owes to the Latin father. For him to heap such praise upon a heretic would set an ecclesiological precedence that Cyprian would not be able to ignore in his fight with the Novatian schismatics.]

While Rankin believes that the basis for apostolic authority in Tertullians later years lies in discipline and the exercise of potestas, it seems more accurate to see continuity in Tertullians doctrinal qualifications of the faith, even in his later years.[footnoteRef:59] In Adv. Praxean, the rule of faith still stands prominent as the touchstone of what Christianity is.[footnoteRef:60] He did not need to change his litmus test for orthodoxy to a praxeological one of discipline and power because he always links praxis to orthodoxy.[footnoteRef:61] The person proves the faith.[footnoteRef:62] His dependence on orthodoxy as connected to praxis divulges the importance for purity in the church. This can be seen from the connection of his commentary on Galatians in Peters dispute with Paul between The Prescriptions, 23-24 and Against Marcion, IV, 3. Both present Peter in the same light. With Adv. Marcion being an obvious Montanist text and The Prescriptions being most likely a pre-Montanist text, it is important to show that Tertullians focus on Peters error lies in his being censured simply for inconsistency of walk in both of the texts.[footnoteRef:63] Tertullians focus was on the orthodox teaching of Peter on the practice of circumcision his orthodox praxis. Peters teaching is not the concern, and the fact that his actions did not line up with this teaching deserved reproof but not excommunication. [59: Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 101.] [60: Adv. Praxean, 2.] [61: The Prescription Against Heretics, 3.] [62: Ibid.] [63: The Five Books Against Marcion IV, 3.]

So, Tertullians praxeological concern does not change once he becomes a Montanist. This is an important point because it demonstrates that he does not change his definition of orthodoxy after he embraces Montanus teachings. Praxis for Tertullian always put him at odds with those who approached discipline with a soft hand. It would even seem that Tertullians strict praxis pushed him toward Montanism because it validated his prior convictions. However, nowhere does his praxis entail illegitimacy of the presiding bishops who practice lax discipline.[footnoteRef:64] Their laxity disgusts him because of its allowance for the promulgation of tares amongst wheat, but this does not mean ipso facto all non-Montanist bishops and laity are tares to Tertullian. In sifting through the caustic rhetoric, one must be careful not to jump to conclusions that cannot be fully substantiated by explicit, contemporary statements. [64: Powell, Tertullianists and Cataphrygians, 37.]

Tertullians relationship to MontanismAnother important aspect of Tertullians orthodoxy is his relationship to Montanism. As with any ideological camp, there are those who join the movement without truly knowing some of the dangerous elements associated with it. If the accusations by Pseudo-Tertullian already mentioned above against the Montanists hold water then it would require an explicit connection in Tertullians writings for one to think that he had any clue that Montanism supported the heretical notion of Montanus as giving greater revelation than the apostles. Tertullians reliance on the apostolic teaching in Against Marcion and Adv. Praxeas signifies their place as the foundation of the church. Also, the notion that Tertullian held to a Montanistic separation of Paraclete and Holy Spirit as explained in Pseudo-Tertullian discounts the obviously orthodox statement in Adv. Praxean: For he says, I will pray the Father and he will send you another advocate, the Spirit of truth. Thus [he calls] the Paraclete other than himself[footnoteRef:65] Therefore, the primary two heretical charges in Pseudo-Tertullian hold no weight. [65: Adv. Praxean, 9.]

Finally, the point that Tertullian himself knows of only two objections to Montanism their views of fasting and monogamy displays that all the other later accusations of heresy must be regarded as pertaining to a non-North Africa or later Montanism. [footnoteRef:66] As to those two accusations, their relevancy to the orthodoxy of Montanism and Tertullians ecclesiology has already been discussed. The nature of Montanism as an ontological heresy in some veins does not necessarily cause Tertullian to be an ontological heretic. His Montanist theology did not cause him to be a subjective heretic until later writers associate him with later, heretical Montanists. The acceptance of him by his contemporaries and Cyprian ensure his subjective orthodoxy against those claims. His ontological orthodoxy can then be ensured through our own reading of his writings that display a man committed to the purity of the Body and the Triune God. [66: On Fasting, 1.]

CONCLUSIONSo, in discussing Tertullians relationship to orthodoxy as a Montanist it has been argued that his commitment to apostolic orthodoxy never wavered. The accusations of later writers such as Augustine do not possess enough weight in and of themselves to place him outside of orthodoxy. Tertullians commitment to Montanism does not either because of the difficult nature of heresies in their subjective forms. It is precisely the delineation of heresy between ontological and subjective that ensures one pause when labeling an opponent as a member of a certain camp. When confronted with the high notion of holiness and purity in Tertullians writings, one cannot help but sympathize with his call for commitment to most strict measures of discipline in order to ensure that the church remains one, holy, and apostolic until the return of the bridegroom. Without the clear language of separation in his writings it would be presumptuous to lay the condemnation of heresy upon a man so full of theological insight and upon a man so convicted on the need to teach rightly the rule of faith.Bibliography

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