Tertullian’s Christians Conquer Empire reworded
This is a rewording of yesterday’s blog.
“To the Rulers of the Roman Empire:
“… If we are commanded to love our enemies, as I have pointed out earlier, whom do we Christians have to hate? If we are forbidden to retaliate when we are injured, lest we become as bad as those who injured us, then who can suffer injury at our hands? Think about how things are already. You often inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because you want to and partly in obedience to your laws. How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand and attacks us with stones and torches! …
“We are banded together and ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, yet what single case of revenge can you point to? You cannot, even though it would be easy, if we considered it right to repay evil for evil, to get plenty of vengeance in a single night with a torch or two.
“In fact, if we wanted to act like open enemies, instead of using sabotage for revenge, would we lack the strength to do so in either numbers or resources? We originated only recently, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places … tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. The fittest and most eager warriors would be people like us, people who gladly give ourselves to being slain by the sword. If our religion did not consider it better to be slain than to be slay, we would overwhelm you even if you had greater forces.
“Actually, we could overcome you even without weapons and without rising up in revolt. We could win the battle with you just by leaving your empire out of ill will. If such a multitude of people broke away from you and moved to a remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, good or bad, would cover the empire with shame! In our very leaving, vengeance would be inflicted! … You would have to seek subjects to govern! You would have more enemies than citizens remaining!
“Right now, it is the immense number of Christians that make your enemies so few. Almost all the inhabitants of your various cities are followers of Christ. Nonetheless, you choose to call us enemies of the human race rather than what we are: enemies of human error.
“In addition, who would deliver you from those secret enemies, the ones you cannot see? They are always busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health! Who would save you from the attacks of those spirits of evil that we cast out without asking for reward or wages. This alone would be revenge enough for us, that from now one we left you as the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of considering what you owe us for this important protection, and though we cause you no trouble whatsoever, and not even considering how necessary we are to your well-being, you prefer to consider us enemies. We are enemies, but we are not enemies of people, just enemies of human error.” (Tertullian, Apology37)
“But keep pressing forward with zeal, good presidents! You will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish. Kill us; torture us; condemn us; grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. That is why God allows us to suffer like this.
“Lately, though, you condemned a Christian woman to the leno rather than the leo (the pimp rather than the lion). By this, you prove that you know that a taint on our purity is more terrible than any punishment or death.
“Your cruelty does not do you any good, though. It is a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.
“Many of your writers encourage people to be courageous and bear pain and death. Cicero does so in The Tusculans; Seneca does in his Chances; Diogenes, Pyrrhus, and Callinicus do the same. Nonetheless, their words do not make as many disciples as the Christians because we do not teach by words, but by our deeds. The very “stubbornness” that your prosecutors complain about is how we teach others.
“Think about it. Who that thinks about our stubborn stand for Christ is not moved to find out the source of it? Who, after finding out why we are so stubborn for Christ, does not embrace our doctrines? And when they have embraced them, don’t all of them want to suffer in order to fully partake of God’s grace? They want to obtain complete forgiveness from God in exchange for their own blood! Martyrdom secures the remission of all offenses. This is why we give thanks, right on the spot, when we are sentenced! The divine and human are always opposed to each other; so, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Most High.” (Tertullian, Apology, ch. 50)
Addendum: Similar Quotes
Here are quotes quite similar to Tertullian’s above, from both earlier and around the same time period:
Don’t you see [Christians] exposed to wild beasts for the purpose of persuading them to deny the Lord, yet they are not overcome? Don’t you see that the more of them that are punished, the greater the number of the rest becomes? This does not seem to be the work of man. This is the power of God. These are the evidences of his appearance.
Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus all over the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; instead, the more such things happen, the more others—in even larger numbers—become faithful and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For if someone were to cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it would grow up again and yield other branches, flourishing and fruitful. Even so, the same thing happens with us.
It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful.