Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tertullian, Bishop of Carthage

I see that Acharya has become a team member of Debunking Christianity.

According to her profile,

“Acharya S is a scholar classically educated in archaeology, history, mythology and languages. Acharya specializes in religion and mythology, critiquing and comparing them, and providing unique insights into their origins. Although born into a Christian (Congregationalist Protestant) family, Acharya does not subscribe to any particular religion, nor is she a hardcore "atheist." Acharya is the author of the controversial books The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold and Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled. She is also the author of the number 1 ranked article on the net on the ’Origins of Christianity.’ Among other less flattering things, Acharya S has been called "the ranking religious philosopher of our era" and ‘the voice of reason amidst global chaos.’"

According to her own website,

"Acharya S deserves to be recognized as a leading researcher and an expert in the field of comparative mythology, on a par with James Frazer or Robert Graves--indeed, superior to those forerunners in the frankness of her conclusions and the volume of her evidence."

As a specimen of her unrivaled scholarship, in the “number 1 ranked article on the net on the origins of Christianity,” consider the following:

“For example, early Church Father Tertullian (@ 160-220 C.E.), an ‘ex-Pagan’ and Bishop of Carthage, ironically admits the true origins of the Christ story and of all other such godmen by stating in refutation of his critics, ‘You say we worship the sun; so do you.’65 Interestingly, a previously strident believer and defender of the faith, Tertullian later renounced Christianity66.”


Of course, Tertullian, although he was raised in Carthage, was never the bishop of Carthage. Rather, Cyprian is the early church father who occupied the see of Carthage.

Tertullian never renounced Christianity. Rather, he broke with "catholicism" by becoming a Montanist.


  1. A non-scholar scholar huh? I guess Archaic S would make a fine addition to "Debunking Christianity" then. After all they have Derek Sansone.

  2. This is why I always find it amusing to see people (esp. online) announcing themselves to be scholars, as if that adds any credibilty to their work. Because, you know, when I do research on a problem, the first place I go is online to any geocites page; and then when the person says he or she is a scholar without any of the relevant creditials or CV posted, without any of the peer reviewed journals, with only the html of the author saying "X is a scholar," it is no wonder my credulity level goes up. Letters behind the name aren't everything, but I say let the already established and recognized scholars be the ones to determine who else is a scholar in that field.

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  4. Would you mind going into a little more detail about your statement that Tertullian "never renounced Christianity but broke w/ 'catholicity' a Montanist"?
    Doesn't becoming a Montanist mean apostasy? I guess I'm not following you.


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  6. Montanism was not a break with the Christian faith, but only a break with the Catholic faith. It was a schismatic, charismatic, rigorist version of Christianity, much like certain legalistic varieties of Pentecostalism we see today.

    One can disapprove without equating it with apostasy.

    Although he may have been misguided in some respects, Tertullian was a devout Christian.

  7. I am no historian, so I just consulted the Catholic encyclopedia article about Tertullian, and it attributes him as a priest at the church of Carthage.

    It also says:
    After writing more virulently against the Church than even against heathen and persecutors, he separated from the Montanists and founded a sect of his own. The remnant of the Tertullianists was reconciled to the Church by St. Augustine.

    Personally, I don't have the background to judge her choice of words against this encyclopedia entry, but it sounds the issue is semantic, rather than of any real quality.

  8. The distinction between a priest and a bishop is not semantic. She was obviously confusing Tertullian with Cyprian, which is a pretty elementary blunder.

    Naturally a Catholic encyclopedia is going to regard schism as akin to leaving the true faith, since Catholicism regards the Catholic Church as the true church.

    Since she isn't Roman Catholic, there's no reason she would assume that viewpoint.

    Again, she was trying to score a point by suggesting that a one-time Christian apologist recanted the Christian faith. This Tertullian never did.

  9. I am not here to defend her, I was just curious as to whether or not the issue was trivial.

    I sent her an email and alerted her to your critique, but I can't say she will come here to defend herself.

    As far as the Roman Catholic idea, would you just tell me if you agree or disagree with the two sentences I bolded as being factual and historically correct?

    I find myself agreeing pretty strongly with James Gibson about the general tendency to aggrandize or conflate ones knowledge/authority with credentials. It is just as true [if not more so] in science as in theology or history that you have "credentialed idiots", most of the ones I run into just happen to be defending one creationism theory or another. [i'm not implying all creationists are idiots, just that most of the idiots i run into are creationists, so there's no false syllogism]

    Do you think that these difference between Catholicism and Montanism are accurate? In general, I have read (in Bruce Shelley's Church History) that Montanus is the real reason that the canon was "closed" and people rejected "special revelation" from that point on. Do you think this is true?

    I suppose I have a hard time understanding why the words of a man who never met Jesus (except one supposed supernatural encounter) -- Paul, who only quotes Jesus' words once [words spoken to others as a man to another], which doesn't appear in the gospels...

    Why does he get the "final say" in theology? I have never understood how to separate authority from tradition from "inspiration" from "God-willed canon" etc. That was only one of the troubling issues that led to my apostasy, I suppose.

  10. Danny,

    I don't deny the factual characterization of the Catholic article you referenced.

    The question at issue goes to the theological significance of Tertullian's split with the church.

    Catholicism naturally takes a dim view of schism. Since, however, she is not a Roman Catholic, there is no reason she would assume that sectarian viewpoint.

    Moreover, even Catholicism distinguishes between heresy and schism.

    There's no historical evidence that Tertullian ever recanted the Christian faith.

    The initial pressure to formalize the canon is usually attributed to Marcion rather than Montanus. Montanism came on the scene a bit later. It's a factor, but a secondary factor.

    BTW, the fact that the early church lacked a formal canon doesn't mean that it didn't have a canon. It simply took the canon for granted as a fixture of its liturgical life. There were also some regional variations.

    No one but Marcion supposes that Paul has the "final say" in theology. We have the entirety to the NT, as well as the OT. The NT writers are coequal in dogmatic authority.

  11. Steve,

    Thanks for your response. I'm working on a reply to your "questionnaire cont'd". I put down some laminate floors in my living room and dining room...by myself, so I've been busy.

    I suppose what I mean by "final say" is in the sense that: 1) the canon was closed (rather than open to further "prophets"), 2) Paul wrote about 2/3 of what came to be the NT, 3) Paul's falling-out with James over legalism, and the passages in James dealing with legalism, find almost universal sympathy amongst Xians as, "James was still caught up in Judaism" [loosely speaking]

    Why did Paul's theology propagate and survive, rather than the Gnostics? Rather than James and that of the Christians in Jerusalem?

    In the latter case, we have a good reason to understand the schism between the Jewish Xians and the Jews that occurred when the Xians abandoned the city during Titus' siege, and the Jews who stayed behind never forgave them. [I read about this in Shelley]

    In the former case, we have lots of speculation, but the fact that Paul addressed Gnostic issues so early on, the sheer number of Gnostic gospels produced, and the relative authority of the names attributed to those gospels, tell us something: both systems existed side-by-side for a while, and one became dominant. IN speculating over reasons, I can't help but revert to the time of Constantine (see my back-and-forth with Calvindude over the significance of Constantine's gift to Miltiades HERE) for insight.

    Anyway, I think there are so many open-ended questions in dealing with the NT canon and early Xianity that it really comes down to preferred modes of interpretation, within the framework of existing facts, but you can swing from a Bart Ehrman-influenced view to a staunch conservative view.