Tertullian on the Offering

Tertullian on the Offering

Tertullian (c. 155—c. 240) was the most prolific early Christian writer in the West up until the 4th century. He was a well-educated scholar, schooled in the rhetoric that was the specialty of Roman Africa, where his home city of Carthage was located; according to the church historian Eusebius, he was a lawyer by training. He has been called the “father of Latin Christianity” and the “founder of Western theology” because of his vast influence in the early church.

The excerpt below is from his most important work, his Apology, a defense of Christianity. The first paragraph is an account of Christian worship, with an emphasis on the character and good deeds of Christians. But he pays particular attention to the offering in the rest of the passage. Note carefully the connection he makes between giving, Christian love, and the unity that should exist in the family of God. Those same traits should inform our contribution in the assembly.

I will now show you the proceedings with which the Christian association occupies itself; I have proved they are not wrong; so now I will make you see they are good. We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This violence that we do Him pleases God. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation. We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful. In any case, with those holy words we feed our faith, we lift up our hope, we confirm our confidence; and no less we reinforce our teaching by inculcation of God’s precepts. There, besides, exhortation in our gatherings, rebuke, divine censure. For judgment is passed, and it carries great weight, as it must among men certain that God sees them; and it is a notable foretaste of judgment to come, if any man has so sinned as to be banished from all share in our prayer, our assembly, and all holy intercourse. Our presidents are elders of proved character, men who have reached this honor not for a price, but by character; for nothing that is God’s goes for a price. 

Even if there is a chest of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in entrance-fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest coin – or whenever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering. You might call them the trust funds of piety. For they are not spent upon banquets nor drinking-parties nor thankless eating-houses; but to feed the poor and to bury them, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. 

Such work of love (for so it is) puts a mark upon us, in the eyes of some. “Look,” they say, “how they love one another” (for themselves hate one another); “and how they are ready even to die for one another” (for themselves will be readier to kill each other). Yes, their indignation at us for using among ourselves the name of “brothers” must really, I take it, come from nothing but the fact that among them every name of kinship so far as affection goes is false and feigned. But we are your brothers as well, by the law of our common mother nature – even if you fall short of being men because you are bad brothers. But how much more fittingly are those both called brothers and treated as brothers who have come to know one Father God, who have drunk of one Spirit of holiness, who from one womb of common ignorance have come with wonder to the one light of Truth! But on this very account, perhaps, we are regarded as having less claim to be held true brothers, that no tragedy makes a noise about our brotherhood, or that the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. 

So we, who are united in mind and soul, have no hesitation about sharing property. (Apology, 39.1-11)


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