6. Tertullian: “Prayer Alone Conquers God”
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6 Tertullian: “Prayer Alone Conquers God” As the sun rose upon the white beaches near the North African city of Carthage, Perpetua and her friends walked along the palm-lined streets toward the tombs. It seemed an odd place to hold their first day of class, but that’s where the instructor had told them to meet. She had many questions. At the age of twenty-one, it seemed like everything in her world was changing: first marriage, then pregnancy, and now a new religion. Her husband wasn’t happy about this, nor was her father. But her brother was rather passionate he when told her about Jesus. He made the message so clear. Her neighbors Saturninus and Secundulus, and even two of her slaves, Revocatus and Felicitas, had also believed. With these friends by her side, she was growing in confidence that this was the life she wanted to live. The group exited the north gate of the city, walking through the ancient gardens of Megara, toward the burial grounds of the Christians. There they saw a gray-haired man standing in front of a tomb, with a handful of people sitting on the ground in front of him. Saturninus had told her a bit about the instructor. It was a bit unusual that this training was being conducted by a church administrator (called a “senior”) 163 rather than a priest or a deacon. But this man had earned a reputation for his sharp mind and his brilliant oratory. His name was Tertullian. As Perpetua and her friends sat down to join the group, Tertullian began to speak. You all know that according to Trajan’s mandate eighty years ago, it is still technically legal for the authorities to punish any Christian brought before them. Whereas we have enjoyed seasons of peace, it would seem that our rulers (for whom we daily pray) wish to harass us once again. The Emperor Septimus Severus has decreed that no Christian may speak or write in such a way designed to bring about conversion to the Christian faith. Our governor Hilarianus has been particularly zealous to put this order into effect. Each and every day, someone in our midst is being arrested. Our brothers and sisters have been tortured before trial, exiled to remote islands, decapitated, thrown to wild beasts in the amphitheater, torn to shreds by iron hooks, burnt alive, and crucified. We are gathered today at the resting place of our brother Speratus who, when pressed to make an offering to the emperor, declared: “The empire of this world I know not; but rather I serve that God whom no man has seen.” Over the next several months, your commitment to the Christian faith will be tested. I will be teaching you on the prayer which the Lord has taught us, on repentance, and on baptism. If you persevere to the end, you will be received into the Christian church through the washing in water. Should it so happen that you are arrested before your training is completed, that washing may be in your own blood. Perpetua could sense the other students shudder as Tertullian spoke. Their nervousness was palpable. And yet something about this new faith excited her. It gave her life a sense of purpose. “Those who have nothing to die for,” she thought, “probably don’t have much to live for.” The months passed and Perpetua attended her classes without fail. In the fall of the year 202, she gave birth to a son, and even though her husband and her father still refused to become Christians, they listened politely as she explained all the things that she was learning. Her father, however, was particularly worried for his daughter. He warned her that she was taking a risk. No one could predict when or who among the Christians would be arrested. As the word was getting ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN 164 out that the prominent young Perpetua was now a follower of Jesus, he feared that the authorities would choose to make an example out of her. Then it happened. One morning she was on her way to class with the same group of friends that had accompanied her on that first day. A soldier detained them in the street, informing them that they had been accused of evangelizing and that Hilarianus had given an order for their arrest. Early the next morning, Perpetua’s father came to see her in prison, pleading with her to...


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