In his general audience today, Benedict XVI resumed his series of catecheses on leading figures of the early Church, turning his attention to Tertullian. He is known as the first great Christian author to write in Latin and was born in Carthage around the year 150.
Addressing a throng of 32,000 people gathered for the audience, the Pope noted how Tertullian, "yielded vital fruits that it would be inexcusable to undervalue." His influence extended "from language and the recovery of classical culture to the identification of a shared 'Christian soul' in the world and the formulation of new prospects for human coexistence."
Tertullian "converted to Christianity because it seems he was attracted by the example of the martyrs. ... However, an overly individual search for the truth as well as the intemperance of his character gradually led him to abandon communion with the Church."
In his apologetic writings, Tertullian set two objectives for himself: "refuting the terrible accusations made by pagans against the new religion and, in a more constructive and missionary sense, communicating the Gospel message in dialogue with the culture of his time."
Tertullian also "made a significant contribution to the development of Trinitarian dogma," said the Pope. "Using Latin, he gave us a language appropriate for expressing this great mystery, introducing the terms 'one substance' and 'three Persons'."
"No less important," the Pope added, "is Tertullian's Christology," as well as his writings "on the Holy Spirit, ... on the Church (which he always recognizes as mother), ... on the moral conduct of Christians and on the life to come, ... on Mary, ... on the Sacraments, ... on the Petrine primacy and on prayer."
Pope Benedict focused in on the hopeful tone of the theologian’s writings, "In particular this apologist exhorted Christians to hope, which according to his writings is not just a virtue in itself but something that invests every aspect of Christian life. Thus the resurrection of the Lord is presented as the foundation for our own future resurrection and represents the principal object of Christians' expectations."
Tertullian "remains an interesting witness of the early Church, when Christians found themselves as the real protagonists of 'new culture' in the encounter between classical heritage and the evangelical message." His work "evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian values."
Another important affirmation of Tertullian, is that "Christians cannot hate even their own enemies" from which arises the "ineluctable moral consequence" that non violence is "a rule of life. And the dramatic relevance of this teaching today," the Pope concluded, "is also evident in the light of the animated debate over religions."