Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tertullian and the Parables (part 3)


I found this pic here
Tertullian often blames Greek philosophy for the errors of the Gnostics, as indicated by his famous words about Athens and Jerusalem in The Prescription against Heretics (Chapter 7). The extended excerpt below helps explain more fully what the "what indeed does Athens have to do with Jerusalem" quote means (it's always good to place such pithy short quotes into their larger contexts, especially in light of renditions such as the amusing one in the image above):

Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,”and “unprofitable questions,” and “words which spread like a cancer?” From all these, when the apostle [i.e. Paul] would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against . . . He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.

In the same vein, Tertullian also demonstrates his disdain for the allegorical interpretations of the Gnostics in his interpretation of the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. He blames Plato for the Gnostics’ error of separating the corporeal aspects of existence from the spiritual in their erroneous interpretation of the parable:

It is from this philosophy that [the Gnostics and Valentinians] eagerly adopt the difference between the bodily senses and the intellectual faculties,—a distinction which they actually apply to the parable of the ten virgins: making the five foolish virgins to symbolize the five bodily senses, seeing that these are so silly and so easy to be deceived; and the wise virgin to express the meaning of the intellectual faculties, which are so wise as to attain to that mysterious and supernal truth, which is placed in the pleroma.


Tertullian concludes that both the interpretation of this parable and the philosophy behind it are faulty and asks, “Why adopt such excruciating means of torturing simple knowledge and crucifying the truth” (A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 18)?

The next few posts will discuss in more detail Tertullian's interpretations of specific parables.

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