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Wednesday's Audience - On Tertullian

5/31/2007 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Accomplished a Great Step in the Development of the Trinitarian Dogma"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 31, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Wednesday at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The Pope continued his catechesis on the Apostolic Fathers. Today's reflection focused on Tertullian.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With today's catechesis we return to the series that we stopped in honor of the trip to Brazil, and we continue to talk about the great personalities of the ancient Church: They are masters of the faith for us even today and witnesses of the perennial actuality of the Christian faith.

Today we speak about an African, Tertullian, who at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third inaugurated Christian literature in Latin. With him we see the beginning of theology in that language.

His work bore decisive fruits, and it would be unforgivable to undervalue them. His influence is developed on many levels: linguistically and in the recovery of the classic culture, and the singling out of a common "Christian soul" in the world and the formulation of new proposals for living together.

We don't know the exact date of his birth or his death. We know that he was from Carthage, that he lived near the end of the second century, and that from his parents and pagan teachers, he received a solid formation in rhetoric, philosophy, law and history. He converted in Christianity, being attracted -- it seems -- by the example of the Christian martyrs.

He began publishing his most famous writings in A.D. 197. But because of a too individualistic research of the truth together with his intemperance of character -- he was a rigorous man -- he gradually left communion with the Church and joined a sect of Montanism. But the originality of his thought united with an incisive efficacy of language assured him a high position in ancient Christian literature.

Most noteworthy are his apologetic writings. They show two principal intents: that of confounding the grave accusations that pagans were hurling against the new religion, and that of a more missionary nature -- to communicate the message of the Gospel in dialogue with the culture of that time.

His most famous work, "Apologeticus," denounces the unjust actions of the political authorities toward the Church. He explains and defends the teachings and customs of Christians; he lists the differences between the new religion and the principal philosophical currents of the time; he shows the triumph of the Spirit, who pits the violence of persecutors against the blood, suffering and patience of the martyrs. "As refined as it is," he writes, "your cruelty serves no purpose: On the contrary, for our community, it is an invitation. We multiply every time one of us is mowed down: The blood of Christians is a seed" ("Apologeticus" 50:13).

Martyrdom and suffering for the truth are victorious in the end and more effective than the cruelty and violence of totalitarian regimes.

But Tertullian, like all great apologists, at the same time speaks of the need to communicate the essence of Christianity in a positive way. To do this he adopts the speculative way to show the rational foundations of Christian dogma. He studies them in a systematic manner, and begins with the description of "the God of the Christians." "He whom we adore," he writes, "is one God."

He goes on to say, using the antitheses and paradoxes that are characteristic of his language: "He is invisible, even if you see him, untouchable, even if he is present through grace; unintelligible, even if human sense can perceive him, therefore he is true and great!" (ibid., 17:1-2).

Tertullian also accomplished a great step in the development of the Trinitarian dogma; he gave us, in Latin, the terms adequate to express this great mystery, introducing the terms "one substance" and "three Persons." In a similar way, he also greatly developed the correct language to express the mystery of Christ, Son of God and true Man.

The African also speaks about the Holy Spirit, showing his personal and divine character: "We believe that, according to his promise, Jesus Christ sent by means of his Father the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of all those who believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (ibid, 2:1).

There are also in the African's writings numerous texts on the Church, which Tertullian always refers to as "mother." Even after joining Montanism, he never forgot that the Church is the Mother of our faith and of our Christian life.

He also speaks about the moral conduct of Christians and the life to come. His writings are important because they reflect the living tendencies of the Christian community about Mary most holy, the Eucharist, matrimony ...

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