This is the first of what I hope to be a continuing series of paraphrases of the church fathers. Ever since college I have had a fascination with historical theology, and particularly the writings of the ante-Nicene and Nicene church fathers. The English translations that I have, however, were translated in the late 19th century, and thus employ many archaisms and language which, to modern readers, can be difficult to fully absorb. Thus, I wanted to paraphrase some sections in more updated language.
A disclaimer- I don’t have sufficient linguistic skills to devise a new translation from the source translations, nor do I intend these to be a paraphrase in the sense of dynamic equivalence. Rather, it is meant to be more of a personal appropriation of the meaning; thus, the paraphrase will probably be more inclined towards themes and phrasing that resonates more with me. I have attempted to capture the spirit of the writing in question, with the caveat that any interpretation like this is bound to carry the marks of my own linguistic fingerprints. As such, it is probably more of a personal exercise and meditation than anything else.
This particular entry is by Tertullian, termed in the American edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers as the ‘Founder of Latin Christianity.’ Tertullian (Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus) lived and wrote near the end of the 2nd century, and was a rather prolific writer. By most accounts he was a presbyter, although this is sometimes disputed. He seems to have been born a pagan and was educated in rhetoric and law, but after witnessing several Christian martyrdoms, he was so overcome by the courage and lack of fear in those being executed that he converted. Tertullian was a man of severe temper, and his writings betray an intellect that was as sharp as it was intolerant of that which he deemed false. Thus his writings display a matter-of-factness that demolish his opponents’ arguments piece by piece.
Yet such a nature was not a stranger to affection, and the strength of his temper was matched by the ardor of his devotion to God; such a devotion formed the foundation of his writings, both apologetic and polemical. In these his style is not made barren by his temperment; rather, he employs a rhetorical flair that breathes life into his work centuries later.
Tertullian marks the beginning of a rather fruitful period of Latin theology born out of North Africa. While centuries later relatively few Christians were to be found there, in Tertullian’s day N. Africa was a nursery of Christianity in the west, blossoming in the bishoprics of Tertullian’s spiritual disciple Cyprian and later the great St. Augustine. Tertullian is the first Latin writer in which a developed understanding of the Trinity is articulated, and in many ways he forms a bridge into St. Augustine’s more developed theology.
Ultimately, Tertullian was his own undoing, as his exacting nature did not allow him to remain in communion with the Church. In a historic irony, it was his foundation of theology which he laid for Latin Christianity that became his ruin- he was unsettled by the compromise he perceived in the Church allowing the lapsed to return to communion; his theological successor Augustine would encounter Donatists (N. Africans themselves) who felt the same way. Yet despite Tertullian’s lapse, it would be unjust to not accord him his due. As the editor of the American edition of his works notes: Let God only be their judge; let us gratefully acknowledge the debt we owe them.
This particular writing comes from De Resurrectione Carnis. (On The Resurrection of the Flesh) In this excerpt Tertullian is sketching out the reasons why the flesh (or animal nature) of humanity is not to be despised, but rather to be embraced as a gift full of dignity and honor as bestowed by God. Ultimately, the flesh is of highest value because of the Incarnation- the flesh of man cannot be understood without the intent of the Son to become incarnate. Thus, rather than being the prison of the soul as Tertullian’s adversaries asserted, it was, by participation in Christ, the abode of God. The complete translation can be found here.
What about our bodies?
Our bodies are wondrous because God made them. Their humble beginning in clay and dirt found its way into God’s hands and at the touch of God sang for joy.
Not simply because they were given shape and form in God’s hands, but because they were created for a higher purpose. Every bone, every ligament, every nerve, every vein was made by God’s wisdom, God’s purpose, and above all, God’s love.
It wasn’t an afterthought or a half-hearted creation either.
Because when God first made our bodies, God wasn’t just thinking about hands and feet and noses and eyes and minds; God was also thinking about Christ.
Christ Jesus, who would become like us; Christ, the Eternal Word of the Father, would take our flesh, our face, our hands, our feet. After all, God said to the Son, “Let’s make humankind in our image, after our likeness.”
So God fashioned us in the image of God, the image of Christ the Word. And the Word who was God, and who was the image of God, became human, wrapped in the very body which bore his image because Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, being made in human likeness.
Therefore, the body which in its beginning put on the image of Christ was the same body which Christ would put on, being not only the craftsmanship, but the anticipation and promise of God.
I would appreciate any feedback, critique, suggestions, etc.
For much more information on Tertullian, I would suggest visiting tertullian.org