Concerning Prayer, Patience, Repentance

Prophet Joel

Prophet Joel

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

by Tertullian: Disciplinary Works

Concerning Prayer

The treatise De oratione from about A.D. 198-200 is addressed to catechumens. It begins with the idea that the New Testament has introduced a form of prayer unprecedented in the Old Testament, in tenor and spirit, superior by its privacy, its faith and confidence in God, its brevity; all these characteristics appear in the Our Father, itself an epitome of the whole gospel. There follows (ch. 2-9) the earliest surviving exposition of the Pater Noster in any language. The author adds a number of practical counsels. Nobody should approach God without being reconciled to his brother and free from all anger and perturbation of mind (ch. 10-12). This requires above all true purity of heart, not the washing of hands, at least in all instances (ch. 13-14). The writer condemns the custom of taking off the cloak during services and of sitting down when the orations are ended (ch. 15-16), a posture scored as irreverent under the eye of the Living God. He recommends that we worship with elevated hands and subdued voice (ch. 17), actions symbolizing modesty and humility. No one should exclude himself from the kiss of peace after devotions, not even one fasting, because it is the seal of prayer...Tertullian discusses at great length whether virgins ought be veiled in church and urges it strongly (ch. 20-22). It is customary to kneel on fast and station days and for the morning invocation, but this is not to be observed on Pascha and Pentecost (ch. 23)...We should never receive or bid farewell to a guest without raising our thoughts to God with him. Every supplication might well end, in accordance with a laudable custom, with the Alleluia or a responsory psalm (ch. 26-27). The last two chapters (ch. 28-29) extol prayer as a spiritual sacrifice and praise its power and efficacy.

Concerning Patience

Patience has its origin and prototype in the Creator, Who scatters over just and unjust equally the brightness of His Light. Christ gives us even greater example in His Incarnation and life, His sufferings and death. It is especially through obedience to God that we can attain this perfection. Impatience is the mother of all sins and the devil is its father. The virtue under discussion precedes and follows faith, which cannot exist without it. In the loss of property, in provocations and insults, in bereavements and lapses. Impatience results most frequently from the lust of vengeance. We are bound in duty to suffer adversity, great or small, and the reward is happiness. Tertullian then praises the blessings of patience, which takes the lead in every species of salutary discipline, ministers to repentance and creates charity. It strengthens the body and enables it to bear with all constancy continence and martyrdom. Heroic examples appear in the Old and the New Testament, for instance, Isaiah and Stephen. The value, the effects and the beauty of this virtue are beyond comparison. "Where God is, there is His foster-child, namely patience. When God's Spirit descends, patience accompanies Him indivisibly" (ch. 15). The last chapter warns the reader that Christian patience differs radically from its pagan caricature, the stubborn perseverance in evil.

Concerning Repentance

De paenitentia possesses exceptional importance for the history of ecclesiastical penance, especially since the author wrote it while still a Catholic...The treatise falls readily into two parts, the former of which deals with that penance to which the adult candidate for baptism is bound before its reception (ch. 4-6), the latter with a 'second' penance, which God in His mercy 'has set up in the vestibule, to open the door to such as knock, but only once, because this is already the second time" (ch. 7). This clearly testifies to the existence of a remission after the sacrament of initiation...Let no one be less good because God is more so, by repeating his sin as often as he is forgiven. Otherwise be sure he will find an end of escaping, when he shall not find one of sinning. We have escaped once (sc. in baptism); let us commit ourselves to perils no farther, even if we seem likely to escape a second time (ch. 7).

From this passage it appears that Tertullian, feeling responsible for the souls of his readers, hesitates to recommend this second penance for fear they might become guilty of presumption. On the other hand, he admonishes them not to go to the other extreme and despair:

"If any do incur the debt of a second penance, his spirit is not to be forthwith cut down and undermined by despair. Let it by all means be irksome to sin again, but let not to repent again be irksome: irksome to imperil one's self again, but not to be again set free. Let no one be ashamed. Repeated sickness must have repeated medicine" (ch. 7).

The second penance of which Tertullian speaks in this treatise is that followed by ecclesiastical reconciliation. To obtain this, it is necessary for the sinner to undergo the εξομολόγησις or public confession and disciplinary acts, of which ch. 9-12 treat.

"...This act, which is more usually expressed and commonly spoken of under a Greek name, is exomologesis, whereby we confess our sins to the Lord, not indeed as if He were ignorant of them, but inasmuch as by confession repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased. And thus exomologesis is a discipline for man's prostration and humiliation, enjoining a demeanor calculated to move mercy. With regard also to the very dress and food, it commands the penitent to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and drink but such as is plain,--not for the stomach's sake, to wit, but the soul's; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fastings, to groan, to weep and make outcries, unto the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God's dear ones; to enjoin on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his deprecatory supplication before God (ch. 9).

The mention of prostration before the presbyters indicates that this penance was an ecclesiastical institution. It ended with official absolution, because Tertullian asks those who 'shun this work, as being a public exposure of themselves, or else defer it from day to day': 'Is it better to be damned in secret than to be absolved in public?' The last chapter (12) pictures the eternal damnation in hell of those who abandon their own salvation by not using this second planca salutis. From these considerations it is evident that in this treatise the author had in mind the forgiveness of grave sins. (Source: Patrology by Johannes Quasten)

Who was Tertullian?

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, a native of Carthage in Africa, was born about 155 A.D. His father was a centurion of the proconsular cohort. Both of his parents were pagans. He was an expert in law and gained a reputation for himself as an advocate at Rome. After his conversion about 193 A.D., he settled in Carthage, and enlisted at once all this knowledge of law, literature, and philosophy on the side of the Christian faith. According to Jerome, he became a priest. He never refers to his clerical status, but his unique position and his preponderant role of teacher could hardly be explained had he remained a layman. Between the years 195-220 A.D., he carried on his literary activity. The great number of writings which he composed during this time have had a lasting influence on Christian theology.

Except for Saint Augustine, Tertullian is the most important and original ecclesiastical author in Latin...All his writings are polemic. He does not tell the reasons for his conversion. Evidently it was not a careful comparison of the various philosophical systems which led him to the faith, as was the case with Saint Justin. It seems that the heroism of the Christians in times of persecution influenced him more than anything else, because he writes in one of his treatises: 'everyone in the face of such prodigious endurance feels himself, as it were, struck by some doubt, and ardently desires to find out what there is at the bottom of this matter; from the moment that he discovers the truth he forthwith embraces it himself'. Truth was the great object of his defense of Christianity, and of his attack on paganism and heresy.



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George