Tertullian & Race

Interestingly, Clemens of Alexandia identified three religious groups within man, Jews, Greeks and Christians, from where Christians became known in some pagan circles as the “third race” (tertium genus). Tertullian writes something fascinating in this regard:

“We are indeed said to be the “third race” of men. What, a dog-faced race? Or broadly shadow-footed? Or some subterranean Antipodes? If you attach any meaning to these names, pray tell us what are the first and the second race, that so we may know something of this “third.” … Granted, then, that the Phrygians were the earliest race, it does not follow that the Christians are the third. For how many other nations come regularly after the Phrygians? Take care, however, lest those whom you call the third race should obtain the first rank, since there is no nation indeed which is not Christian. Whatever nation, therefore, was the first, is nevertheless Christian now. It is ridiculous folly which makes you say we are the latest race, and then specifically call us the third. But it is in respect of our religion, not of our nation, that we are supposed to be the third; the series being the Romans, the Jews, and the Christians after them. Where, then, are the Greeks? or if they are reckoned amongst the Romans in regard to their superstition (since it was from Greece that Rome borrowed even her gods), where at least are the Egyptians, since these have, so far as I know, a mysterious religion peculiar to themselves?” (Ad Nationes 1.1.8 )

It is clear that Tertullian regards race as something distinct from religion, yet other and narrower than humanity. This is contra the idea that we find so prevalent in our Cultural Marxist age and Church that race is a “social construct” or that there is only “one race — The human race”. Also Tertullian sees race and nationhood as something physical rather than spiritual, thus he mentions the corporeal appellations like “dog-faced,” and “shadow-footed” to describe different races. Tertullian also clearly connects the concepts of race and nationhood contra the alienist idea of propositional nationhood.

Implicit in Tertullian’s words is the idea that all nations of men can be Christian but the fact that all nations can be Christian (and are Christian according to Tertullian) does not disprove that the nations cease being nations or that they are now all the same nation. To insist that the Christian is a race, Tertullian seems to be telling us is to slip into Gnostic categories. Christians are not a race but a religion and when races convert to Christianity, as they all will someday do, this will not negate the races or nations they already belong to. It will simply cause those races and nations to glorify God as one body with many parts glorifies God.

Hat Tip Hubert Languet for the quote.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

3 thoughts on “Tertullian & Race”

  1. Fascinating little commentary there, Pastor Bret.
    The seething, hateful diatribes of the Alienists about the “heresies” inherent in any theological viewpoint incorporating a firm grasp on race realism lose no small measure of their already negligible forcefulness when we realize that it is in fact they who are defending a “new and divisive” position.

    What an unenviable predicament they’ve gotten themselves into: having to defend falsehoods and deny reality.

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