Tertullian2One of the biggest concerns around the idea of free-will is that it leaves too much to chance. If humanity, by the exercise of free will, can alter the course of history, then there can be no guarantee that in the end God’s purposes for his creation will prevail.  

Tertullian recognized the risk that God had assumed by giving humanity free will, yet he had complete confidence that even though many humans would choose to oppose God’s commands and purposes, in the end, God’s will for creation would triumph.   This assurance was based upon two premises: the goodness of God, and the fundamental goodness of man.

In the previous post, we cited a passage where Tertullian argues: “God is wholly good, because in all things He is on the side of good." (ANF 3, 308) Elsewhere he says, “The goodness of God must be eternal and unbroken. It is stored up and kept ready in the treasure house of his nature underlying everything that he does and causes to happen. (ANF 3, 287, updated) And the goodness of God is rational: “All the properties of God ought to be as rational as they are natural. I require reason in His goodness, because nothing else can properly be accounted good than that which is rationally good; much less can goodness itself be detected in any irrationality.” (ANF 3, 288)

Tertullian also believed that humans, who are created in the image of God, are good and rational creatures. In contrast to later teachers (like Augustine), Tertullian believed that even as sin had tainted and corrupted the human race,* all people still reflect the original image, beauty and rationality of God. In Tertullian’s view, every human is born both rational and free, and this is to God’s credit.   He says:

This way of making man bears witness to God's goodness and his rationality, for in our God these always work together . . . It was necessary that there should exist something worthy of knowing God. And could anything be thought of so worthy, as God's own image and likeness? This too is beyond doubt both good and rational. So it was necessary that God's image and likeness should be given free will and the ability to do things for themselves. (Evans, Against Marcion, 102-103, updated)

Tertullian wondered how God could be satisfied by the worship of irrational, base and corrupt humans. Would it somehow honor him if he programed some of these vile creatures to worship him against their natural inclinations?  Tertullian believed that the honor, freedom and dignity of humanity is what made their faith and worship meaningful to God.  He gave “completeness to His creatures both as rational and good.” (ANF 3, 303) Thus, when these good and rational people choose to worship him, he is pleased.

Tertullian beleived that people are "hard-wired" to seek God.  He reasoned that when God’s goodness and his justice are made manifest to people, they will naturally be drawn to him. To be sure, people still have the ability to reject this revelation. Not all will be saved.  But Tertullian’s confidence was that multitudes, by free choice, will choose to worship the Creator. The good will triumph and God will be successful, not because of control or coercion, but because of the innate rationality of the human race and the compelling appeal of God’s righteous character.

In the next post we’ll look at Tertullian’s vision for prayer as collaboration between God and humanity toward the fulfillment of his purposes.


*See "On the Soul" 39-40