On Honoring Caesar (Tertullian)

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts       Tertullian’s (145-220 AD) Apology is an outstanding early defense of Christianity.  I’ve written on Tertullian before, but here and now I want to highlight a section (chap. 31-34) where Tertullian said that Christians neither hated Caesar nor dishonored him.  Rather, they prayed for him and gave him high honor, as the Scriptures commanded.

“[Do you think that we care nothing for the welfare of Caesar?] …Most clearly the Scripture says, ‘Pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.’ …We respect in the emperors the ordinance of God, who has set them over the nations.”

“…Why dwell longer on the reverence and sacred respect of Christians to the emperor, whom we cannot but look up to as called by our Lord to his office?  So that on valid grounds I might say Caesar is more ours than yours, for  our God has appointed him.  Therefore, as having this propriety in him, I do more than you for his welfare, not merely because I ask it of Him who can give it…but also because, in keeping the majesty of Caesar within due limits, and putting it under the Most High, and making it less than divine, I commend him the more to the favor of Deity, to whom I make him alone inferior.”

“But I place him [Caesar] in subjection to one I regard as more glorious than himself.  Never will I call the emperor God….  If he is but a man, it is his interest as man to give God his higher place.  Let him think it enough to bear the name of the emperor.  That, too, is a great name of God’s giving.  To call him God, is to rob him of his title.  If he is not a man, emperor he could not be.  Even when, amid the honors of triumph, he sits on that lofty chariot, he is reminded that he is only human.  A voice at his back keeps whispering in his ear, ‘Look behind thee; remember thou art but a man.'”

“I am willing to give the emperor this designation [lord], and when I am not forced to call him Lord as in God’s place.  …For I have but one true Lord, the God omnipotent and eternal, who is Lord of the emperor as well.”

In other words, though early Christians absolutely refused to call Caesar Lord (as in “Most High God”), they did call him lord (as in “Your Majesty”), they did pray for him, and they did show him honor.  They did not mock him, ridicule him, or make jokes about him – instead they showed him respect.  Therefore, Tertullian argued, rather than be charged with treason, Christians should have been commended for showing such great honor to Caesar.  Indeed, Christians from the past can teach us lessons for today.

(This is a re-post from June 2014)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Advertisements

Abortion, Murder, and the Early Church

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      In the ancient Roman Empire human life was generally not highly valued.  Some Greco-Roman religions involved child sacrifice, shedding of blood, and other inhumane acts.  Roman citizens typically didn’t speak out against the brutal killing methods displayed in the arenas – in fact, people flocked to see humans mercilessly slay each other or be torn apart and eaten by ferocious animals.  Some people even practiced different forms of abortion; for example “exposing” was aborting an infant by letting him die in some “off-the-beaten path” place.

Tertullian (d. 22o AD) discussed this inhumanity as he defended the Christian faith in his treatise called Apology.  One thing he mentioned was the fact that there were rumors of Christians acting inhumanely (i.e. killing and eating children).   If this was true, he argued, why does the Roman Empire punish Christians for doing things that are acceptable in broader society?  However, it was not true, and Tertullian noted that it was terribly unjust, unfair, and even contrary to Roman law to punish Christians with no concrete evidence of these rumored crimes.

The truth, Tertullian said, is that Christians value human life far more than others in society.   All murder is forbidden in the Christian religion:

“In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance.  To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.  That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (ch. IX).

Later, Tertullian explained how Christians love one another, their neighbors, and even their enemies.  (And as we saw a few days ago, Christians even pray for and honor Caesar.)  The rumors are false, he said; Christians are good for society in that they value human life far more than others around them.  Rather than do harm, Christians do good.  Therefore, Tertullian asserted, the Roman Empire should neither punish Christians or outlaw Christianity.

Tertullian, Apology, found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3.

rev shane lems
hammond, WI
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)

Tertullian on Honoring Caesar

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts       Tertullian’s (145-220 AD) Apology is an outstanding early defense of Christianity.  Lord willing, I’ll comment more on this in the near future.  For now, I want to highlight a section (chap. 31-34) where Tertullian said that Christians neither hated Caesar nor dishonored him.  Rather, they prayed for him and gave him high honor, as the Scriptures commanded.

“[Do you think that we care nothing for the welfare of Caesar?] …Most clearly the Scripture says, ‘Pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.’ …We respect in the emperors the ordinance of God, who has set them over the nations.”

“…Why dwell longer on the reverence and sacred respect of Christians to the emperor, whom we cannot but look up to as called by our Lord to his office?  So that on valid grounds I might say Caesar is more ours than yours, for  our God has appointed him.  Therefore, as having this propriety in him, I do more than you for his welfare, not merely because I ask it of Him who can give it…but also because, in keeping the majesty of Caesar within due limits, and putting it under the Most High, and making it less than divine, I commend him the more to the favor of Deity, to whom I make him alone inferior.”

“But I place him [Caesar] in subjection to one I regard as more glorious than himself.  Never will I call the emperor God….  If he is but a man, it is his interest as man to give God his higher place.  Let him think it enough to bear the name of the emperor.  That, too, is a great name of God’s giving.  To call him God, is to rob him of his title.  If he is not a man, emperor he could not be.  Even when, amid the honors of triumph, he sits on that lofty chariot, he is reminded that he is only human.  A voice at his back keeps whispering in his ear, ‘Look behind thee; remember thou art but a man.'”

“I am willing to give the emperor this designation [lord], and when I am not forced to call him Lord as in God’s place.  …For I have but one true Lord, the God omnipotent and eternal, who is Lord of the emperor as well.”

In other words, though early Christians absolutely refused to call Caesar Lord (as in “Most High God”), they did call him lord (as in “Your Majesty”), they did pray for him, and they did show him honor.  They did not mock him, ridicule him, or make jokes about him – instead they showed him respect.  Therefore, Tertullian argued, rather than be charged with treason, Christians should have been commended for showing such great honor to Caesar.  Indeed, Christians from the past can teach us lessons for today.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Prayer: Not As The Hypocrites…

I’ve been enjoying Christopher Hall’s study of the early church’s worship.  Though I don’t agree with every point, and though I think sometimes Hall’s comments seem to get in the way of his explanations, this book is an insightful glimpse into the early Christian church and her worship of the triune God.  Here’s one section worth noting.

“The church fathers took Jesus’ instructions to retire to one’s room to pray alone very seriously (Mt 6:5-15).  They seem reluctant to have individuals pray publicly, at least in terms of public, spontaneous prayer, because of the danger of using prayer as a method of self-promotion.  The fathers viewed with wariness exaggerated posturing, speaking loudly in prayer as though we needed to catch God’s notice, and any attempt to draw attention to oneself rather than God in prayer.”

“Tertullian, I think with a hint of humor, advises us to use a ‘subdued’ voice in prayer, rather than a loud one.  ‘For, if we are to be heard for our noise, what large windpipes we would need!  But God is the hearer – not of the voice – but of the heart.’  ‘It is characteristic of the shameless man to be noisy with his cries’ (Cyprian).

[Cyprian:] “‘He does not need to be clamorously reminded, for he sees peoples’ thoughts…Hannah prayed to God, not with clamorous petition, but silently and modestly – within the very recesses of her heart.  She spoke with hidden prayer, but with open faith.  She spoke with her heart, not her voice.’”

“We don’t need to shout to wake a sleepy deity.  God is always listening and watching.  To be truthful, it is we who possess the hardened eardrums and have blinders on our eyes.  ‘Be constant in both prayer and reading,’ Cyprian exhorts, ‘First, speak with God; then let God speak with you.  Let him instruct you in his teachings, let him direct you.’”

“The fathers wisely understood that God is the audience of our prayers, not our family, the members of our small group, the larger congregation or TV spectators.  This is not to say that the fathers forbade public prayer – Tertullian acknowledges that Paul and Silas sang in prison, with wonderful results (Acts 16:25-34).  It is to say that the fathers understood that pride often undetectably infects even the most holy actions.  Human beings adore center stage and the spotlight.  We can deceive ourselves too easily, imagining that we are talking to God when we are only talking to ourselves, sometimes about ourselves” (p. 87-8).

Christopher A. Hall, Worshiping with The Church Fathers (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

shane lems

Tertullian’s Summary of the Lord’s Prayer

Almost every good commentator says that the Lord’s Prayer is a summary of so much apostolic teaching.  Tertullian (d. 220 AD) said the same.  What things does the Lord’s Prayer contain in summary form?  Tertullian gives a concise example.

“The honor of God in the ‘Father,’ the testimony of faith in the ‘name,’ the offering of obedience in ‘will,’ the commemoration of hope in the ‘kingdom,’ the petition for life in the ‘bread,’ the full acknowledgement of debts in the prayer for their ‘forgiveness,’ the anxious dread of temptation in the request for ‘protection.'”

That is an excellent summary – it is true that the Lord’s prayer contains so many aspects of the Christian life.  If we stop and think of the depth of this prayer, it truly is a gem of our faith.

Above quote taken from “On Prayer,” Chapter 9 (in ANF III page 684).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

For Students of Prayer

 One way to grow in our Christian sighs and prayers is to assume our life long position as students – by learning from wise teachers.  Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful when studying the Lord’s Prayer or prayer in general.  (Note: these are not in any special order; I also realize there are other great books on prayer – these are some I’ve read.  Feel free to comment on your favorites).

John Bunyan, Prayer (Puritan Paperbacks).  This is a classic.

Matthew Henry, A Method for Prayer.  There are also three sermons/lectures about prayer as an appendix.  I enjoy this book, though I do wish it were in modern language.

William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life.  This is a creative (sometimes too creative!) and helpful commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, with some decent application.

Wilhelmus a Brakel has a big section on the Lord’s Prayer in volume three of his magnum opus, The Christian’s Reasonable Service.   This will give you tons upon which you can meditate.

N.T. Wright wrote one on the Lord’s prayer in the later 90’s that is worth reading, even if (like me) you don’t buy into his portentous revisions of justification and covenant(s).

Thomas Watson wrote a great book on the Lord’s Prayer.  Of course, if you’ve read this blog even a few times before, you know I’m quite partial to Watson.

R. C. Sproul has a relatively new commentary on the prayer of our Lord.  One usually can’t go wrong with Sproul.

Don’t forget Calvin’s section on the Lord’s Prayer in The Institutes.  This is quite personal for me – I didn’t know much about prayer until Calvin taught me.

I also have benefited from Charles’ Spurgeon’s collection of sermons on prayer called (at least my edition), The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life.

The last section of Abraham Kuyper’s excellent work on the Holy Spirit also deals with Christian prayer.  This is Kuyper at his poetic best.

We can’t forget the patristics!  Cyprian wrote a treatise (number IV in the Ante-Nicene Fathers) on the Lord’s Prayer.  Furthermore, in volume III of the ANF Tertullian has a brief commentary on the Lord’s Prayer (III.iii).  These are downright fun to read (and I mean that in a good way).

Of course, most Reformation confessions have a section on the Lord’s Prayer: the Westminster Catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism, and Luther’s Large Catechism all have commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer.  This also means that commentaries on these catechisms will have commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer.  (And don’t neglect the different Christian traditions’ prayer books like the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican tradition or Starck’s Prayer-Book in the Lutheran tradition.)

Finally, I don’t have time/space to list all the good commentaries on Matthew 6.5-13 & Luke 11.1-4 (along with other scriptures about prayer). 

Studying these will help one at least begin to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5.17).

shane lems

sunnyside wa