Thursday, 7 May 2015

Richard Tomsick: Unholy reminiscences by Christians in Carthage: Tertullian’s Theology of Alienation

In his earliest disciplinary works, aimed at recent converts and catechumens alike, Tertullian faced the difficult, albeit self-appointed task of creating a rubric of behavior that virtually prohibited Christians from engaging in social and cultural activities of Carthage. In doing so, he announced a new theology of sin based on such activities, and, consequently on the association and participation by Christians in such activities.  If followed, such proscriptions would further isolate the Christian community at a time when alienation (and the identification qua Christian that would follow) was perilous, given recent persecutions.
The fact that Tertullian thought it necessary to create this disciplinary apparatus suggests the widespread ‘misbehavior’ of his audience. I will argue that the new converts, who until recently were adult pagans themselves, did little to modify their behaviors for a variety of reasons.

Questions of his authority aside, I will examine Tertullian’s method of instruction as well as his motivations in defining bright lines for Christian behavior, including his sincere belief in the importance of baptism, and his desire for the salvation of souls.  “Unholy Reminiscences” in the title of this short communication is a reference to a line from ad Martyras, when Tertullian reminded Christians in prison awaiting death that they were at last free from the distractions of society and the memory of sinful activities.

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