Tertullian (d. c. 220) vs. “Faith Alone”

Tertullian (d. c. 220) vs. “Faith Alone” April 2, 2024

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But even if the stimulus of her repentance proceeded from her faith, she heard her justification by faith through her repentance pronounced in the words, Your faith has saved you, by Him who had declared by Habakkuk, The just shall live by his faith. [Habakkuk 2:4] (Against Marcion, Bk. IV, ch. 18)

This verity of the gospel then stands unimpaired: I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but rather to fulfil them. [Matthew 5:17] He also dissipated other doubts, when He declared that the name of God and of the Good belonged to one and the same being, at whose disposal were also the everlasting life and the treasure in heaven and Himself too — whose commandments He both maintained and augmented with His own supplementary precepts. (Against Marcion, Bk. IV, ch. 36)

For each individual lives by his own faith, nor is there exception of persons with God; since it is not hearers of the law who are justified by the Lord, but doers, according to what the apostle withal says. (On Exhortation to Chastity, ch. 7)

In so many words he says: Since you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. [Colossians 3:1-2] Accordingly, it is in our mind that he shows that we rise (with Christ), since it is by this alone that we are as yet able to reach to heavenly objects. These we should not seek, nor set our affection on, if we had them already in our possession. He also adds: For you are dead — to your sins, he means, not to yourselves — and your life is hid with Christ in God. Now that life is not yet apprehended which is hidden. In like manner John says: And it does not yet appear what we shall be: we know, however, that when He shall be manifest, we shall be like Him. [1 John 3:2] We are far indeed from being already what we know not of; we should, of course, be sure to know it if we were already (like Him). It is therefore the contemplation of our blessed hope even in this life by faith (that he speaks of)— not its presence nor its possession, but only its expectation. Concerning this expectation and hope Paul writes to the Galatians: For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. [Galatians 5:5] He says we wait for it, not we are in possession of it. By the righteousness of God, he means that judgment which we shall have to undergo as the recompense of our deeds. It is in expectation of this for himself that the apostle writes to the Philippians: If by any means, says he, I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect. [Philippians 3:11-12] And yet he had believed, and had known all mysteries, as an elect vessel and the great teacher of the Gentiles; but for all that he goes on to sayI, however, follow on, if so be I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ. Nay, more: Brethren, (he adds), I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing (I do), forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of blamelessness, whereby I may attain it; meaning the resurrection from the dead in its proper time. Even as he says to the Galatians: Let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap. [Galatians 6:9] Similarly, concerning Onesiphorus, does he also write to Timothy: The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy in that day; [2 Timothy 1:18] unto which day and time he charges Timothy himself to keep what had been committed to his care, without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ: which in His times He shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, speaking of (Him as) God. It is to these same times that Peter in the Acts refers, when he says: Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets. [Acts 3:19-21] (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, ch. 23)

. . . the children of believers were designed for holiness, and thereby for salvation; . . . (A Treatise on the Soul, ch. 39)

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Photo credit: Portrait of Tertullian, by André Thevet (1584) [source] [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: Tertullian denied the novel Protestant doctrine of “faith alone” or sola fide, like — scholars tell us — all of the Church fathers did. His soteriological thought was Catholic.

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