Reading: Tertullian's Appeal to Scapula for Mercy
Retrieved from http://www.tertullian.org/articles/dalrymple_scapula.htm and edited for clarity by Robert Zomermaand.
Q. SEPT. TERTULLIAN,
PRESIDENT OF AFRICA,
And His COUNCIL.
OF a truth, we Christians do not greatly fear or dread anything which we undergo from those who do not know us; because when we joined this sect, we by our confession of faith in Jesus bound ourselves to let go of our very lives in the warfare that comes our way. We look for the reward which God promises to the faithful, and we also fear his warnings to those who live another way. Furthermore, we strive against your utmost cruelty, crowding before you even when not summoned, and happier on being found guilty than when we are dismissed. Therefore, we have sent you this little book, not because we are afraid for ourselves or our well-wishers, but that we fear for you and for all our foes.
This is the rule of our faith, that we love those who hate us, and that we beg God to bless those who afflict us. That is the goodness which is peculiar to us. All men love those who love them, Christians alone love those who hate them. We, who bewail your lack of knowledge, who mourn over the wanderings of mankind, who foresee what will befall, and see daily its beginnings, we must break forth, and, after this way, put in writing the things which you will not give us permission to speak before you.
We worship the One God, whom, by nature, you all know, at whose lightning and thunder you all shiver, whose loving-kindnesses gladden all of you. There are other beings whom you believe to be gods, and whom we know to be demons. But it belongs of right unto mankind, that every one may worship as he thinks best; nor does the religion of any man harm or help another. Neither indeed is it the business of religion to compel religion, which ought to be taken up willingly, and not against the will: a willing mind is looked for even from him who sacrifices. Therefore, if you indeed compel us to sacrifice, that would do nothing for your gods. They do not want the worship of those who are unwilling to worship them. God is not so; and He, who is true, deals all things rightly unto the profane and unto his own; and, therefore, he has set a day of everlasting judgment for those whom he loves, and for those whom he loves not.
You think us sacrilegious, and yet you have never found us to be guilty of theft, much less of sacrilege; while those who do plunder temples, do also swear by your gods and worship them. Such men are not Christians, nevertheless they are found to be sacrilegious. It would be too long for me to unfold in how many other ways all your gods are scoffed at, and made light of by their worshippers themselves.
Again, we are branded with the name of men untrue to the State. No Christian, however, was at any time found in fellowship with Albinus, or Niger, or Cassius; while the man who but yesterday, swore by the genius of the Caesars, who, for their health, made and became bound to make sacrifices, and who had often doomed the Christians to die, even they were found untrue to the Caesars. Christians have no hatred or ill-will at any man, and least of all at Caesar; for knowing him to be set up by their God, they must needs love him, and show him homage, and wish his welfare, and the welfare of the Roman state, while the times which now are shall last, and so long shall that state last: Thus do we give worship unto Caesar, so far and in such a way as is lawful for us and is fit for him, as a man next to God, and having from God whatever he has, and as only less than the true God. This he himself ought to wish, for he is greater than all others, in that he is less than the one and the true God. So also is he greater than your gods, for he bears sway over them. Furthermore, we indeed sacrifice for the health of Caesar; but we do this unto our God and his, and after that way which He hath willed, by the invocation of him in the way of supplication only. For He, the maker of the world, stands in no need of any sweet smells, or of the blood of anything; these are the food of demons. As for demons, we not only abhor them, but we overcome and draw them forth daily, and we drive them out of men, as is known unto very many of yourselves. We, of all others, most fitly beseech God for the health of Caesar, seeing that we ask of Him who can bestow it; and, in truth, it may be plain enough to you, that we behave ourselves after the rules of heaven-taught restraint, since being so many, and reckoned nearly the most in every city, we nevertheless, live in stillness and moderation, better known, perhaps, singly than as a body. And we are known in no other way than as men who have laid aside their former sins. But far be it from us, that we should fret at what we wish to bear, or that we should plot anything to seek that retaliation ourselves which we look for from God. Nevertheless, as we have said already, we must mourn for this, that no city which has shed our blood shall be held guiltless. Thus, while Hilarion was President, the multitude called out together, speaking of the threshing-floors where we bury our dead, "No threshing-floors;" and there were none, for the harvest was never brought in! Moreover, in the rain of last year it was seen what ought to befall mankind, as in old times a flood came for the unbelief and evil deeds of men. And what those fires threatened, which, not long ago, hung over the walls of Carthage throughout the night. Those who witnessed it know it; and the former thunder, what tidings it brought, they know whose hearts were thereby hardened. All these are the demonstrations of the impending wrath of God, which it is our duty, in whatever way we can, to set forth and foretell, and meanwhile to implore Heaven that the evil may reach no farther. But they who misunderstand such proofs shall feel, at the right time, that it will reach over all, and be the great and the last evil. Again, the sun, with his light almost put out, in the district of Utica, was indeed portentous. That could not have been owing to any eclipse, for he was then in his altitude and house. You have astrologers, ask of them!
We might also lay before you the end of some Presidents, who, at last, came to know, that, in their afflicting of the Christians, they had sinned. Vigilius Saturninus, foremost in this city amongst our persecutors, became blind; and, in Cappadocia, Claudius Herminianus, being angry that his wife had gone over to our sect, wrought much ill to the Christians. But, wasted by the plague, forsaken of his friends in his own house, and, while yet alive, swarming with worms, he said: "Let no one know of this, lest the Christians be glad over me." And then, having seen his transgression, in that by torture he had made some to fall off from the faith, he died almost a Christian; and Caecilius Capella, at the overthrow of Byzantium, called out, "Now, Christians, be glad."
SCAPULA, you may think, that there are men of this kind, whom no evil has overtaken at this time. Nevertheless we wish that your sickness, which followed soon after Mavilus of Adrumentum was sentenced by you to fight with lions, may have been only a warning. Yet now, when, in a like time, it has come back, may not blood have put in its claim? Think, however, of what is to come. ---- We do not mean to frighten you, whom we do not fear. My single wish is, that we Christians could shield all men from evil, by admonishing them, "not to war against God." You may do the duties of your station, and yet remember humanity, were it but for this, that you also are under the rule of another; and what else has Caesar prescribed unto you, but that you ought to doom to death those who acknowledge that, by the laws, they are worthy of death, and that you ought, through tortures, elicit a like acknowledgement from those who withhold it?
Tertullian goes on to further lay out his case for mercy for the Christians in the courtroom of Scapula. It is a very moving thing to hear him calling for Scapula to acknowledge that the Christians are not a danger, but are friends to the Emperor.