Lesson 7B Preview: Selections from Clement’s “Exhortation to the Heathen” and Tertullian’s “Prescription Against Heretics”; Michael Haykin’s audio lecture “Tertullian and Constantine”; Video on The History of Carthage
Excerpts from Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Heathen
Chapter I.—Exhortation to Abandon the Impious Mysteries of Idolatry for the Adoration of the Divine Word and God the Father.
Amphion of Thebes and Arion of Methymna were both minstrels, and both were renowned in story. They are celebrated in song to this day in the chorus of the Greeks; the one for having allured the fishes, and the other for having surrounded Thebes with walls by the power of music. Another, a Thracian, a cunning master of his art (he also is the subject of a Hellenic legend), tamed the wild beasts by the mere might of song; and transplanted trees—oaks—by music. I might tell you also the story of another, a brother to these—the subject of a myth, and a minstrel—Eunomos the Locrian and the Pythic grasshopper. A solemn Hellenic assembly had met at Pytho, to celebrate the death of the Pythic serpent, when Eunomos sang the reptile’s epitaph. Whether his ode was a hymn in praise of the serpent, or a dirge, I am not able to say. But there was a contest, and Eunomos was playing the lyre in the summer time: it was when the grasshoppers, warmed by the sun, were chirping beneath the leaves along the hills; but they were singing not to that dead dragon, but to God All-wise,—a lay unfettered by rule, better than the numbers of Eunomos. The Locrian breaks a string. The grasshopper sprang on the neck of the instrument, and sang on it as on a branch; and the minstrel, adapting his strain to the grasshopper’s song, made up for the want of the missing string. The grasshopper then was attracted by the song of Eunomos, as the fable represents, according to which also a brazen statue of Eunomos with his lyre, and the Locrian’s ally in the contest, was erected at Pytho. But of its own accord it flew to the lyre, and of its own accord sang, and was regarded by the Greeks as a musical performer.
How, let me ask, have you believed vain fables and supposed animals to be charmed by music; while Truth’s shining face alone, as would seem, appears to you disguised, and is looked on with incredulous eyes? And so Cithæron, and Helicon, and the mountains of the Odrysi, and the initiatory rites of the Thracians, mysteries of deceit, are hallowed and celebrated in hymns. For me, I am pained at such calamities as form the subjects of tragedy, though but myths; but by you the records of miseries are turned into dramatic compositions.
But the dramas and the raving poets, now quite intoxicated, let us crown with ivy; and distracted outright as they are, in Bacchic fashion, with the satyrs, and the frenzied rabble, and the rest of the demon crew, let us confine to Cithæron and Helicon, now antiquated.
Chapter II.—The Absurdity and Impiety of the Heathen Mysteries and Fables About the Birth and Death of Their Gods.
Explore not then too curiously the shrines of impiety, or the mouths of caverns full of monstrosity, or the Thesprotian caldron, or the Cirrhæan tripod, or the Dodonian copper. The Gerandryon, once regarded sacred in the midst of desert sands, and the oracle there gone to decay with the oak itself, consigned to the region of antiquated fables. The fountain of Castalia is silent, and the other fountain of Colophon; and, in like manner, all the rest of the springs of divination are dead, and stripped of their vainglory, although at a late date, are shown with their fabulous legends to have run dry. Recount to us also the useless oracles of that other kind of divination, or rather madness, the Clarian, the Pythian, the Didymæan, that of Amphiaraus, of Apollo, of Amphilochus; and if you will, couple with them the expounders of prodigies, the augurs, and the interpreters of dreams. And bring and place beside the Pythian those that divine by flour, and those that divine by barley, and the ventriloquists still held in honour by many. Let the secret shrines of the Egyptians and the necromancies of the Etruscans be consigned to darkness. Insane devices truly are they all of unbelieving men. Goats, too, have been confederates in this art of soothsaying, trained to divination; and crows taught by men to give oracular responses to men.
And what if I go over the mysteries? I will not divulge them in mockery, as they say Alcibiades did, but I will expose right well by the word of truth the sorcery hidden in them; and those so-called gods of yours, whose are the mystic rites, I shall display, as it were, on the stage of life, to the spectators of truth. The bacchanals hold their orgies in honour of the frenzied Dionysus, celebrating their sacred frenzy by the eating of raw flesh, and go through the distribution of the parts of butchered victims, crowned with snakes, shrieking out the name of that Eva by whom error came into the world. The symbol of the Bacchic orgies is a consecrated serpent. Moreover, according to the strict interpretation of the Hebrew term, the name Hevia, aspirated, signifies a female serpent.
Demeter and Proserpine have become the heroines of a mystic drama; and their wanderings, and seizure, and grief, Eleusis celebrates by torchlight processions. I think that the derivation of orgies and mysteries ought to be traced, the former to the wrath (ὀργή) of Demeter against Zeus, the latter to the nefarious wickedness (μύσος) relating to Dionysus; but if from Myus of Attica, who Pollodorus says was killed in hunting—no matter, I don’t grudge your mysteries the glory of funeral honours. You may understand mysteria in another way, as mytheria (hunting fables), the letters of the two words being interchanged; for certainly fables of this sort hunt after the most barbarous of the Thracians, the most senseless of the Phrygians, and the superstitious among the Greeks.
Perish, then, the man who was the author of this imposture among men, be he Dardanus, who taught the mysteries of the mother of the gods, or Eetion, who instituted the orgies and mysteries of the Samothracians, or that Phrygian Midas who, having learned the cunning imposture from Odrysus, communicated it to his subjects. For I will never be persuaded by that Cyprian Islander Cinyras, who dared to bring forth from night to the light of day the lewd orgies of Aphrodité in his eagerness to deify a strumpet of his own country. Others say that Melampus the son of Amythaon imported the festivals of Ceres from Egypt into Greece, celebrating her grief in song.
These I would instance as the prime authors of evil, the parents of impious fables and of deadly superstition, who sowed in human life that seed of evil and ruin—the mysteries.
The Exhortation continues…
SELECTIONS FROM TERTULLIAN
Translated by the Rev. Peter Holmes, D.D.
CHAP. I.–INTRODUCTORY. HERESIES MUST EXIST, AND EVEN ABOUND; THEY ARE A PROBATION TO FAITH.
THE character of the times in which we live is such as to call forth from us even this admonition, that we ought not to be astonished at the heresies (which abound) neither ought their existence to surprise us, for it was foretold that they should come to pass; nor the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause is, by affording a trial to faith, to give it also the opportunity of being “approved.” Groundless, therefore, and inconsiderate is the offence of the many who are scandalized by the very fact that heresies prevail to such a degree. How great (might their offence have been) if they had not existed. When it has been determined that a thing must by all means be, it receives the (final) cause for which it has its being. This secures the power through which it exists, in such a way that it is impossible for it not to have existence.
CHAP. IV.–WARNINGS AGAINST HERESY GIVEN US IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. SUNDRY PASSAGES ADDUCED. THESE IMPLY THE POSSIBILITY OF FALLING INTO HERESY.
But let us rather be mindful of the sayings of the Lord, and of the letters of the apostles; for they have both told us beforehand that there shall be heresies, and have given us, in anticipation, warnings to avoid them; and inasmuch as we are not alarmed because they exist, so we ought not to wonder that they are capable of doing that, on account of which they must be shunned. The Lord teaches us that many “ravening wolves shall come in sheep’s clothing.” Now, what are these sheep’s clothing’s, but the external surface of the Christian profession? Who are the ravening wolves but those deceitful senses and spirits which are lurking within to waste the flock of Christ? Who are the false prophets but deceptive predictors of the future? Who are the false apostles but the preachers of a spurious gospel? Who also are the Antichrists, both now and evermore, but the men who rebel against Christ? Heresies, at the present time, will no less rend the church by their perversion of doctrine, than will Antichrist persecute her at that day by the cruelty of his attacks, except that persecution makes even martyrs, (but) heresy only apostates. And therefore “heresies must needs be in order that they which are approved might be made manifest, both those who remained steadfast under persecution, and those who did not wander out of their way into heresy. For the apostle does not mean that those persons should be deemed approved who exchange their creed for heresy; although they contrariously interpret his words to their own side, when he says in another passage, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good;” as if, after proving all things amiss, one might not through error make a determined choice of some evil thing.
CHAP. V.–HERESY, AS WELL AS SCHISM AND DISSENSION, DISAPPROVED BY ST. PAUL, WHO SPEAKS OF THE NECESSITY OF HERESIES, NOT AS A GOOD, BUT, BY THE WILL OF GOD, SALUTARY TRIALS FOR TRAINING AND APPROVING THE FAITH OF CHRISTIANS.
Moreover, when he blames dissensions and schisms, which undoubtedly are evils, he immediately adds heresies likewise. Now, that which he subjoins to evil things, he of course confesses to be itself an evil; and all the greater, indeed, because he tells us that his belief of their schisms and dissensions was grounded on his knowledge that “there must be heresies also.” For he shows us that it was owing to the prospect of the greater evil that he readily believed the existence of the lighter ones; and so far indeed was he from believing, in respect of evils (of such a kind), that heresies were good, that his object was to forewarn us that we ought not to be surprised at temptations of even a worse stamp, since (he said) they tended “to make manifest all such as were approved;” in other words, those whom they were unable to pervert. In short, since the whole passage points to the maintenance of unity and the checking of divisions, inasmuch as heresies sever men from unity no less than schisms and dissensions, no doubt he classes heresies under the same head of censure as he does schisms also and dissensions. And by so doing, he makes those to be “not approved,” who have fallen into heresies; more especially when with reproofs he exhorts men to turn away from such, teaching them that they should “all speak and think the selfsame thing,” the very object which heresies do not permit.
CHAP. VI.–HERETICS ARE SELF-CONDEMNED. HERESY IS SELF-WILL, WHILST FAITH IS SUBMISSION OF OUR WILL TO THE DIVINE AUTHORITY. THE HERESY OF APELLES.
On this point, however, we dwell no longer, since it is the same Paul who, in his Epistle to the Galatians, counts “heresies” among “the sins of the flesh,” who also intimates to Titus, that “a man who is a heretic” must be “rejected after the first admonition,” on the ground that “he that is such is perverted, and committeth sin, as a self-condemned man.” Indeed, in almost every epistle, when enjoining on us (the duty) of avoiding false doctrines, he sharply condemns heresies. Of these the practical effects are false doctrines, called in Greek heresies, a word used in the sense of that choice which a man makes when he either teaches them (to others) or takes up with them (for himself). For this reason it is that he calls the heretic condemned, because he has himself chosen that for which he is condemned. We, however, are not permitted to cherish any object after our own will, nor yet to make choice of that which another has introduced of his private fancy. In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ. If, therefore, even “an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel” (than theirs), he would be called accursed by us. The Holy Ghost had even then foreseen that there would be in a certain virgin (called) Philumene an angel of deceit, “transformed into an angel of light,” by whose miracles and illusions Apelles was led (when) he introduced his new heresy.
Tertullian’s Carthage and the early Christian roots in North Africa (in this case present day Tunisia) are the focus of this video. Note as the narrator describes the Christian history of Carthage he touches on the 7th century Islamic suppression of Christianity, in part accomplished through the strategic building of mosques. Should we ask Mayor Bloomberg of NYC to watch this video?
Another Michael Haykin bonus – two major figures in Christian history discussed in one audio lecture: Tertullian and Constantine. His focus is on Tertullian in the first hour lecture, and then he shifts to Constantine in the second hour. (There are brief breaks in the tape’s recording. Bear with it, the recording does pick up again.)
For a biographical overview of Constantine click here .
A Quote for Your Consideration: “For whatever is not drawn from Scripture is not theology at all, but human speculation, and that after all is nothing else than error and delusion…” (John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, 32).
Questions for discussion:
1. Clement relates the fable of Eunomos and the Pythic grasshopper? What is his purpose in telling this story? How did goats and crows serve the pagan priests, according to Clement?
2. Clement wrote that there were the “prime authors of evil” who sowed the seed of ruin into human life. Who would you imagine were these “authors”?
3. In Tertullian’s Prescription Against Heretics, he cites Paul’s recommendation on how to respond heretics? What does Paul tell us to do?
4. What is Tertullian’s opinion of philosophy? What are the key points in his argument? How did Paul view philosophy?
(The above reconstruction is the work of the Landeskriminalamt – (LKA) is the German term for the State Investigation Bureau in Germany, a subsidiary of the State Police which is itself a part of the Ministry of the Interior.)
5. How did Tertullian use the lives of Perpetua and Felicity to teach Christian truths? (See video on Carthage.)
6. While viewing the Secret Quest video, which of the speakers’ ideas were notably similar to the gnostic doctrines Olson presents as typical of second century gnostics.
7. How did Tertullian view Christians who fled from persecution? How did Church leadership view Tertullian’s perspective?
8. Haykin mentions God sometimes “writes straight lines with crooked pens” – what does this mean for understanding Tertullian’s career? How does his work Against Praxeas enable us to understand better Tertullian’s contributions?
9. Haykin extracts from Scripture and its second century interpreters a second century doctrine of the Holy Spirit: cite some of the aspects of the Holy Spirit as understood by the early church. What were the “risks” in this doctrine of the Holy Spirit for the early church?