Tertullian of Carthage (c160-c220 CE) has never been one of my favorite Early Church figures, but I have to admit I enjoyed reading his On the Flesh of Christ as part of class this quarter. Tertullian's gritty descriptions of the Jesus' physicality resonated with a certain campy cord in me, as though I were listening to an old drag queen tell a story for shock value, playing on her audience's discomfort. (The discomfort was real in Tertullian's listeners, but more because of their shock at the idea that God would condescend to put on inferior flesh.)
On a future iteration I would like to stop and think about how Tertullian's account of Jesus' flesh might speak to a queer audience constantly bombarded with messages of deep suspicion for the flesh. But for now, what follows is a discussion of Tertullian's incarnational theology as expressed in On the Flesh of Christ.
In the first few centuries of its existence, Christianity could be characterized as a religion whose teachings were not yet completely formalized and whose adherents periodically found themselves to be the victims of persecution and martyrdom. What follows is an exploration of Tertullian's On the Flesh of Christ and its exposition of the role of incarnation in the proper understanding and promotion of Christianity. A careful reading of the text reveals two major themes: first, that the bodily resurrection of Christ establishes "the law for our own resurrection" (important to those risking martyrdom); and second, that the virgin birth of Christ becomes the source for the recapitulation of humanity.