The Blood of Martyrs Is the Seed of the Church?

Martyr being led to be burnt at the stakeIf you are a Christian, there is a decent chance you've heard Tertullian1 quoted as saying, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church." I could not find that exact quote in my Logos library, but perhaps this is its basis:

Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.2

The more succinct (oft-quoted) version is inspirational…and on the surface seems logical.

Or does it?

For instance, Christians do not fare well in many Islamic countries, and there is no indication that the persecution is causing a large, hidden increase in the body of Christ in those nations. If anything, recent news from the Middle East, whether it be in countries "freed" by the U.S. (e.g. Iraq), ones where civil war has broken out (e.g. Syria), or places where the "Arab spring" has "sprung" (e.g. Egypt), seems to be of an increase in persecution of Christians and, correspondingly, a decrease in their number (whether by death or by fleeing).

I suspect we American Christians romanticize persecution. No, we don't want to suffer it, but as we've seen an ostensibly Christian nation become less-and-less faithful and more-and-more immoral, it sure seems like a "tough love" good kick in the butt would help. You know, to quote the band Cinderella, you "don't know what you got (till it's gone)." We take our blessings for granted, and God becomes secondary to the very things we should be thanking Him for. If only our faith would cost us everything (including our lives) then maybe we'd prioritize things correctly.

Or at least stop pretending we believe when we don't.

Am I saying that Tertullian is wrong? No, just that his statement doesn't always hold. This is something I've thought for a while, and it came back to mind when I read this tonight:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied (Acts 9:31, English Standard Version).

See, having peace didn't intrinsically hurt the church…and I think assuming the only way we can grow (in size and/or faith) is to be persecuted is wrong.

However, the American church may be failing because we lack something else that quote from the ninth chapter of Acts mentioned.

We do not fear the Lord.

May God provide the U.S. body of Christ whatever we need to get our act together, peace or persecution.

And proper fear of the Lord.

P.S. Tertullian is another example of why we have to be cautious about having an almost Apostle-level trust of the early church fathers. Near the quote I shared above he wrote:

That very obstinacy you rail against is the preceptress. For who that contemplates it, is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? and when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fulness of God’s grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood? For that secures the remission of all offences. On this account it is that we return thanks on the very spot for your sentences. As the divine and human are ever opposed to each other, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Highest.3

Perhaps it is better than believing if you die in jihad you will get to heaven, but it's still wrong to think somehow dying for your faith will allow you to "obtain from God complete forgiveness."

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).


1 Tertullian lived around 160 to 225 A.D. (the exact dates appear unknown).
2 Tertullian. (1885). The Apology. (S. Thelwall, Tran.) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (p. 55). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
3 Ibid.


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Comments

  1. I do have one thought.

    Dying for one’s faith, *true* martyrdom, *does* allow one compete remission from one’so sins. The Catechism says:

    2473    Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. (CCC)

    The difference between the Christian and the terrorist is that there is nothing *brave* about jihad, whether it be being killed as part of an armed formation or blowing oneself apart in a crowd of innocents. There’s no “act of fortitude”.

    On the other hand, the Chadian former non-Christian beheaded on the beach in Libya, hands bound, kneeling among his brothers in faith…now, *thats* and act of fortitude.

    You risk commuting the error of our Peotestant brethren by too narrow a reading of Scripture. Paul’s note

    But you are *absolutely right* to call out the complacency of the U.S. Church, in *all* its separated woundedness, for sitting idly by , taking our blessings for granted. To tsk tsk and hand-wring about people being killed is no response. Nor is saber-rattling and cheat-thumping.

    Those 21 who died on that beach *are* the seed of the Church…but not here. Seed only flourishes where it falls; sowing by media may sterilize it too much. It will take *American* martyrs, martyred *here*, to have the impact Tertullian called out. And while I hope to not see it, I realize it may come. And I pray that I could have the fortitude to embrace it if it comes for me.

Your thoughts?