“To me he is a born arguer, who talks himself, rather than thinks himself, into extreme positions, and is too dazzled by his own eloquence to recede from them.”
Public figures come to mind – politicians, celebrity evangelists, talking heads and “experts” of various species – but we know his sort in private life as well. At parties and on social media he is a one-man plague. Often one suspects the verbosity is alcohol-fueled, but without question he is drunk on his own loquacity. In Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion (1950), Msgr. Ronald Knox is writing of Tertullian (c. 155-c. 240 A.D.), the early Christian theologian from Carthage, best known for a misquotation: Credo quia absurdum. I first learned of him, rather heretically, in 1973, while reading William Gaddis’ The Recognitions.
Enthusiasm is the sprightliest volume of religious history you will ever read. Knox is witty and learned and can’t resist a good story or satirical dig. His prose is a model for budding and burned-out writers alike, as is his friend and biographer’s, Evelyn Waugh. Here he continues with Tertullian:
“Tertullian is racy; alone, perhaps, among the Fathers, he has the makings of a journalist; but he is always nagging. Bremond, in a penetrating phrase, complains that the Jansenists are always writing against somebody; and the aigreur [bitterness, sharpness] which distinguished them is the salient quality of this African rigorist. He is often cheap; to accuse the psychici (that is, the members of the Church universal) of ‘marrying oftener than they fast,’ because they only keep one Lent, and allow widows to remarry, is obviously cheap. Sometimes he comes refreshingly near the border-line of blasphemy . . . He is never profound, never opens a new window on some aspect of theology; he will stick to his brief . . . there is something of undergraduate irresponsibility about him.”