Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Christian Enjoyment

Spring Break. Grandchildren. Short post.

Tertullian lived and wrote his Apology before Constantine, during the time when Christians in the Roman empire regularly received reactions ranging everywhere from neighbors’ frown to lion’s gaping smiles. He starts his defense of the Christian faith with a tentative joke: you Romans seem threatened by Christians, but surely you’re not a afraid of a little book. So Tertullian starts right out by turning the tables; it may be the Christians getting killed, he argues, but the Romans act like they think they’re the weaker force. Your accusations are groundless, Tertullian points out, and show your ignorance of Christianity. Why are you afraid to learn the truth about us since you value knowledge? Your judgments are immoral, since you punish us for admitting who we are but let us go if we deny our faith in Christ. Why do you reward lies when you value truth? It must be that you’re afraid of the word “Christian.” But why do you act in fear of the name of Christ, when you Romans value courage?

I often think Christianity must be easier in times of persecution. The lines are clearer, for one thing. Tertullian can claim that no person convicted of theft or murder was also guilty of the crime of admitting to being a Christian. But Tertullian’s fellow Christians, as strictly moral as he describes them, weren’t dour, joyless, curmudgeons who looked down on fun and pleasure. You Romans call us useless, he says, but we make and buy and sell and enjoy all the pleasant things of the marketplace. We don’t go to the games or the brothels or the temple feasts to buy them. But we contribute stuff, money, and pleasure to the Roman economy, so what’s the problem? This week, this Christian is enjoying his grandkids. And, yes, I’m contributing extra money to the marketplace.

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