“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Moss - Ancient Christian Martyrdom cover w/drop shadow The statement above, attributed to Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155 – c. 240 AD), is one that I’ve heard most of my life, especially having sat through my share of missionary presentations at church from a very early age. But did Tertullian actually write it? For such a well-known quotation, it is decidedly difficult to pin down. Using all the powers of the Research window in Accordance, I found well over 80 instances of those exact words, in that exact order, in various titles. Most sources attributed the saying to Tertullian, but some pointed to Jerome, Augustine, or the very generic “ancient saying.” In all those quotations, even when attributed to Tertullian, I only found one source that correctly pointed to Tertullian’s Apology 50:13.

Looking in vol. 3 of The Ante Nicene Fathers, I tracked down this statement:

“The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”

Obviously, the more famous version of the quotation is either a paraphrase or from an entirely different translation of Tertullian’s original Latin. Regardless, the source statement was extremely difficult to track down and differed significantly from the popular expression.

All of the above came from simply wanting to use Tertullian’s statement about martyrdom as an introductory thought for this post about Candida Moss’ book Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions, a volume in The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. And going through all that investigation for a famous quotation by a well known historic figure and finding something different than what I had always heard, in a way, illustrates a major point that Moss is trying to make in her book. That is, she is questioning the traditional history of martyrdom in the Early Church and the role it held in the growth of the Christian faith.

If you’re familiar with the Historical Jesus movement of the 20th century, perhaps you can consider this work a search for “Historic Martyrdom of the Early Church.” Moss attempts to peel away the layers of legend and rhetoric to get at the actual events and the impact they had on the life of the growing church. Most would agree that stories can get embellished as they are told, but it’s the conclusions of Moss, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, that will be controversial for some. Regardless, of whether the reader will agree or disagree with Moss, I would suggest that her work provides an important contribution to the ongoing discussion relating to the impact and growth of the Early Church.

Moss - Ancient Christian Martyrdom screenshot

Click/tap the image above for a larger view of Moss’ Ancient Christian Martyrdom in Accordance (additional primary texts are not included).

Accordance readers will discover that references to many ancient sources such as Eusebius, Irenaeus, Philo, Polycarp and others are hyperlinked, allowing the reader to open primary sources alongside Moss’ book (assuming the Accordance user has these texts in his or her personal Accordance Library) quickly and easily.

Ancient Christian Martyrdom
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