Tertullian has rightly been called the Father of Latin Christianity and the founder of Western Theology. He was the first theologian who ever used the Latin word trinity (trinitas) in his writings and that is a big deal! It’s even more impressive when you consider that not even Jesus Himself ever used the word trinity. None of the disciples of Christ ever heard him speak the word trinity! He never said it even once before His crucifixion or after His resurrection! No wonder the Reunion organizers felt Tertullian deserved some kind of award! His thinking may not have been biblical but it was definitely original.
Tertullian Wasn’t a Saint!
Tertullian was Augustine’s predecessor. Historians tell us he eventually joined the Montanist movement that swept through the early church. The Montanists were similar to Charismatics and Pentecostals and were regarded as a bit too extreme for most people. Although Tertullian was a very important theologian he was never granted sainthood! He wasn’t even recognized as a true church father by the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Catholic church. He really aggravated both churches by his insistence that Jesus was subordinate to the Father! This was seen as a direct assault on the trinity and it definitely hurt his book sales.
The Awards Committee felt Tertullian made such an impact on Christianity that an official award was long overdue. He was like one of those famous actors who make a lot of memorable films but never quite win an Academy Award. He wasn’t an official “Church Father” but he definitely deserved some recognition at the Allstars Reunion! Everyone knew Tertullian was at least a Church Uncle! His speech on the “Parables Jesus Forgot to Teach” was an instant hit and was destined to become a classic.
Some Call Him a Heretic!
Moderator: Tonight we want honor a theologian everyone has heard of! Tertullian was never officially honored as a Church Father but we all know he really is one. He was always something of a wild card as theologians go. Most Christians think he is so famous that he must have been the real deal! His critics call him a heretic but his fans just call him Uncle Turtle. The Awards Committee has voted to give him the Trinitas Award for the Best Brand Name Ever! Let’s give a warm welcome to our controversial but always interesting colleague, Tertullian!
Audience: Generally warm applause with a few holdouts here and there. Some theologians were clearly unhappy to see Tertullian get any recognition at all.
Some Call Him Uncle Turtle
Tertullian: Thanks everyone! It feels good to get some official recognition but I’m a bit uncomfortable about being called a “Church Father”. I’d like it better if Jesus hadn’t said, “Call no man on earth father for one is your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) I do enjoy being a “Church Uncle” though so please just call me Uncle Turtle. Winning this award is sure more pleasant than getting excommunicated! (Modern scholars recognize that Tertullian was not a Trinitarian in the way it is taught today).
I remember when we first started kicking around our new ideas about the threeness of God. I knew this wasn’t going to go over very well with the average believer on the street. When I wrote Against Praxeas I tried to make that clear. “The simple, indeed (much less will I call them ignorant and uneducated), who are always the majority of believers, are startled at the arrangement (of the Three in One) the very rule of faith directs them away from the world’s many gods toward the one and true God…”
Trinitas (Trinity) is a Great Brand Name!
I knew our new theological “arrangement” that formed God into a tri-personal being was going to be a tough sell. I figured such a big idea called for a new “brand name”. Trinitas has a nice ring to it and was the best Latin word for the job. The rest is history! Once believers began using the word trinity I knew we had a winner on our hands. Trinity sounds so spiritual and scholarly that it’s hard to resist! It’s also so hard to define that people who don’t understand it go along with it anyway!
My adversaries should stop arguing with me about co-equality but we can talk about that another time. For now all I can say is thank you for this terrific award! May God bless all of you except for “you know who” over there in the corner. He is still glaring at me after all these years! I really hope he comes to his senses someday and quits being so argumentative!
Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes