In his writings against the heretics, Tertullian condemns all sorts of heresies singling out Philosophy as the parent of heresies. In the litany of condemnation, Tertullian spares no school of thought; his broad brush of criticism sweeps through the Pre-Socratics, Socratics, Stoics, and the Epicureans all the way to the Aristotelians. He declares that Philosophy provides the slippery slope through which God could easily be dispensed and everything pertaining to the nature of the divine could unwittingly be misconstrued. (Tertullian 7,2). Tertullian points out that Philosophy is bound to be problematic and unsatisfactory because it goes on ad infinitum questioning each and every part of existence. He refers to the inquiry as ‘endless’ and the questioning as ‘unprofitable’. (Tertullian7,7). As a result, it is hard to see if there is any fruitful solution that anyone can find through philosophical investigation.
In the successive attacks against Philosophy as the root of heresy, Tertullian had the following to say about some of the schools of Philosophies:
The idea of a mortal soul was picked up from the Epicureans, and the denial of the restitution of the flesh was taken over from the common tradition of the philosophical schools. Zeno taught them to equate God and matter and Heraclitus comes to the scene when anything is being laid down about a god of fire. Heretics and Philosophers perpend the same theme and are caught up in the same discussions.
Looking carefully at the above quotation, Tertullian makes it appear as if Philosophy is the biggest enemy of Christianity. The direct implication here is that it (Philosophy) attacks the foundation of Christian belief as founded in the resurrection of the body. Saint Paul in the epistle to the Corinthians makes it clear that if there is no resurrection then our faith is in vain. As indicated herein, both the Philosopher and the heretic coincidentally agree on issues that scandalize and vandalize faith in God. According to Tertullian, this is inappropriate since matters of faith are governed by the Holy Spirit and are not supposed to be victimized by philosophical investigations. Consequently, he asks the famous allegorical question: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem ?” (Tertullian 7,9).
After dismissing Philosophy is such a radical fashion, Tertullian goes ahead to reaffirm that faith is the absolute guarantor of salvation. He says that there should not be any more questions, doubts or investigations after the individual has believed in Jesus Christ. (Tertullian, 7,13). Further investigation into the matters of faith is nothing other than utter confusion that disrupts the believer. The believer ought to find sufficient answers in the sacred scripture and in exercising faithfully all that pertains to good standards of Christian living.
It is no doubt that Tertullian put up a spirited fight against the heretics. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI in one of the public audiences commends Tertullian by saying that he achieved two great things, namely, refuting “the grave accusations that pagans directed against the new religion” and proclaiming ‘the Gospel message in dialogue with the culture of the time”. In all fairness, he defends the act of faith as something beyond the human reason. He succeeds in dismissing all the heretical forces that militate against the Christian faith. However, it is troubling that he dismisses Philosophy in general. This goes again the general understanding that the grace of God does not operate in a vacuum but rather, as St. Thomas Aquinas’ clearly states: ‘builds on nature’. Ironically, the hard stance taken by Tertullian on this issue makes him susceptible to a form of fideism which in itself is a philosophy. His absolute rejection of Philosophy is similar to the proverbial act of throwing the baby away with the bathwater. If experience is anything to go by, then it has shown us that Athens has everything to do with Jerusalem .