Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Does Tertullian Mean By the Letter to the Galatians Being 'Principalum'

In Book Five of Against Marcion, in the material which is traditionally used to justify the claim that the Marcionite canon was 'Galatians-first' (the parallel material in Epiphanius derives certainly from the same source Tertullian used) we hear the Latin Father begin this topical study of the Marcion Apostolikon by saying:

Principalem adversus Iudaismum epistulam nos quoque confitemur quae Galatas docet. [5.1]

This is translated as "the epistle which we also allow to be the most decisive (principalem) against Judaism, is that wherein the apostle instructs the Galatians."

But once we open ourselves up to the likelihood that Tertullian was loosely copying something written by someone before him (likely Irenaeus) in either Greek or Syriac (comp. Against the Valentinians, Against the Jews, Against Marcion Book Three etc) the question naturally emerges - did principalum here mean originally 'first in order' in the gospel? In other words, did Irenaeus agree with Ephrem the Syrian and the author of the Syriac Siniaticus that the canon was Galatians first?

I quickly went through some of Tertullian's use of the term principalis in his writings.  Tertullian often uses principalis to translate Matthew's reference to 'the greatest and first () commandment." (Matt 22:39)  The Vulgate has this as "Hoc est maximum, et primum mandatum."

on the subject of the superiority of love above all these gifts, He even taught the apostle that it was the chief commandment (principali praecepto), just as Christ has shown it to be: "Thou shalt love the Lord with all thine heart and soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thine own self." [5.8]

The Vulgate however does not use this term.  It translates the passage as "secundum autem simile illi diliges proximum tuum tamquam te ipsum maius horum aliud mandatum non est."  Interestingly however Tertullian elsewhere describes the commandment as 'the first precept' (principali praecepto):

Very properly, then, did he sum up the entire teaching of the Creator in this precept (principali praecepto) of His: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Now, if this is the recapitulation of the law from the very law itself, I am at a loss to know who is the God of the law. I fear He must be Marcion's god (after all). [5.14]

Similarly we see in other parts of Against Marcion the same idea:

He therefore consulted him about the attainment of eternal life. Accordingly, the Lord, being Himself the same, and introducing no new precept other than that which relates above all others (principaliter) to (man's) entire salvation, even including the present and the future life, places before him the very essence of the law----that he should in every possible way love the Lord his God.[4.25]

When afterwards "a certain man asked him, `Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? '" (Jesus) inquired whether he knew (that is, in other words, whether he kept) the commandments of the Creator, in order to testify that it was by the Creator's precepts that eternal life is acquired. Then, when he affirmed that from his youth up he had kept all the principal commandments (principaliora), (Jesus) said to him: "One thing thou yet lackest: sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." [4.36]

But (once for all) let Marcion know that the principle term (principalem) of his creed comes from the school of Epicurus, implying that the Lord is stupid and indifferent; wherefore he refuses to say that He is an object to be feared. [5.19]

Other examples of Tertullian's use of the term include:

Thus saith the Lord God: Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, perfect in beauty" (this belongs to him as the highest (principis) of the angels, the archangel, the wisest of all); "amidst the delights of the paradise of thy God wast thou born" (for it was there, where God had made the angels in a shape which resembled the figure of animals). [2.10]

Everything will be open to suspicion which transgresses a rule. Now the primary order (principalis gradus) of all things will not allow that the Father should come after the Son in recognition, or the Sender after the Sent, or God after Christ. [3.2]

But what could so well befit the Creator's Christ, as to manifest Him in the company of His own foreannouncers? ----to let Him be seen with those to whom He had appeared in revelations?----to let Him be speaking with those who had spoken of Him?----to share His glory with those by whom He used to be called the Lord of glory; even with those chief servants (principalibus) of His, one of whom was once the moulder of His people, the other afterwards the reformer thereof; one the initiator of the Old Testament, the other the consummator of the New? [4.22]

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