Christ's Birth of a Virgin Who Became a Wife: Flesh and Speech in Tertullian's De Carne Christi

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Abstract

This article explores the powerful efficacy of Tertullian's theological discourse in his treatise De came Christi. Departing from the conventional wisdom of evaluating early Christian theological texts according to their adherence to formal rhetorical models, which makes them vulnerable to postmodern criticism, this article advocates an alternative approach. It analyzes Tertullian's arguments by relating them directly to his central topic of discussion: the flesh of Christ. Tertullian's insistence on the physical concreteness of Christ's flesh, which connects Christ's human birth inseparably with his death and resurrection, serves to underscore what he calls "the law for our resurrection" (ch. 1). The article demonstrates that the physical concreteness of Christ's flesh so dominates Tertullian's theological discourse that it underlies even his well-known use of paradox. An example is found when Tertullian makes the truth of Christ's resurrection following his crucifixion dependent on how it mocks wordly wisdom (ch. 5). The article reveals specifically how a view of Tertullian's discourse as pivoting on the concreteness of Christ's flesh sheds light on his arguments regarding Christ's birth of a virgin (chs. 17-23). For Tertullian, Christ's flesh can only lay down the law for humanity's bodily resurrection if the divine Word heeds the "law of the opened body" (ch. 23) by undergoing a fully human birth. In his logic Christ's exit into this world, which opened his mother's womb, caused Mary to change from virgin to wife. Since Christ's birth is thus itself a signum contradicibile, Tertullian's discourse is stripped of its former dependence on paradoxes to describe its salvific novelty, gaining a new-found accuracy instead.

Christ's Birth of a Virgin Who Became a Wife: Flesh and Speech in Tertullian's De Carne Christi

in Vigiliae Christianae

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