Wombs and Sources of the Faith

From “Prescription Against All Heresies,” 20-21 (ca. 200)

Our Lord Jesus Christ… whatever faith he taught, whatever reward he promised, what he was, what he had been, how he was fulfilling his Father’s will, what he was laying down as man’s duty. He declared all this either openly to the people or privately to the disciples, twelve of whom he had specially attached to his person and destined to be the teachers of the nations.

One of them was struck off. The remaining eleven, on his return to his Father after the resurrection, he ordered to go and teach the nations, baptizing them into the Father and into the Son and into the Holy Ghost. At once, therefore, the apostles (whose name means “sent”)…having obtained the promised power of the Holy Spirit to work miracles and to speak boldly, set out through Judaea first, bearing witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and founding churches, and then out into the world, proclaiming the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations.

Again, they set up churches in every city, from which the other churches afterwards borrowed the transmission of the faith and the seeds of doctrine and continue to borrow them every day, in order to become churches. By this they are themselves reckoned apostolic as being the offspring of apostolic churches.

Things of every kind must be classed according to their origin. These churches, then, numerous as they are, are identical with that one primitive apostolic Church from which they all come. All are primitive and all apostolic. Their common unity is proved by fellowship in communion, by the name of brother and the mutual pledge of hospitality-rights which are governed by no other principle than the single tradition of a common creed.

On this ground, therefore, we rule our prescription. If the Lord Christ Jesus sent the apostles to preach, none should be received as preachers except in accordance with Christ’s institution. For no one knows the Father save the Son and he to whom the Son has revealed him, nor is the Son known to have revealed him to any but the apostles whom he sent to preach — and of course to preach what he revealed to them.

And I shall prescribe now that what they preached (that is, what Christ revealed to them) should be proved only through the identical churches which the apostles themselves established by preaching to them both by the living voice, as one says, and afterwards by letters.

If this is so, it follows that all doctrine which is in agreement with those apostolic churches, the wombs and sources of the faith, is to be deemed true on the ground that it indubitably preserves what the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, It follows, on the other hand, that all doctrine which smacks of anything contrary to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God must be condemned out of hand as originating in falsehood.

Tertullian (155-200) was a North African scholar and theologian, the first major theologian to write in Latin. He was an important apologist for the Christian faith and wrote extensively against heresies, especially Gnosticism. He pioneered the use of numerous influential theological terms, and was the first to use the term Trinity in speaking of God. His Prescription Against All Heresies was an important treatise of his early period, directed mostly against the Gnostics and Marcionites.

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