An Analysis of Tertullian and Rushd's Stances

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What’s the place of reason in belief? Make sure you use at least two to three thinkers from the course materials

Analysis of Tertullian and Ibn Rushd’s stances on faith and reason has led me to the conclusion that reason certainly has its place in belief when that belief is not contradictory to the wisdom of one’s religious beliefs; however, the role that reason plays when it contradicts religious beliefs is less clear. Tertullian and Rushd take different stances on what one should do once such a contradiction occurs, and this likely has to do with their methods of interpreting scripture. Personally, I am unsure as to whether Scripture ought to be interpreted literally, as Tertullian prefers, or allegorically, as Rushd prefers. That being said, I find Tertullian and Rushd’s arguments equally compelling, and I will leave it to the readers to decide for themselves whether they find either position convincing.

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In class, it seems as though we discussed Tertullian’s position as though he believed there was no place for reason in faith. I would argue that this is a misinterpretation of Tertullian’s stance. When he asks, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” (Tertullian 77), Athens and the Academy are merely a synecdoche for all of Greek Philosophy. It is misleading to equate reason with Greek Philosophy; in fact, it is likely that Tertullian would agree that reason has its place in belief as long as that reason does not directly contradict the wisdom of his religious beliefs. This conclusion is drawn from Tertullian’s use of Colossians 2:8: “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.” As a renowned Christian theologian, Tertullian would certainly know that Paul wrote this because the Colossian Church had been infiltrated by heretical beliefs that were contrary to Scripture. Paul’s conscription is not against philosophy (or reason) in general; it is simply a warning that the church should not let itself be fooled by philosophies which are in clear contradiction to the “wisdom of the Holy Ghost.”

That being said, I think Tertullian would agree that reason has its place in faith when the two are compatible. It is only when the two are conflicting that Tertullian would overlook reason and err on the side of faith and Scripture—especially because he was a strict legalist when it came to interpreting the Bible. For him, it is in these circumstances that believers must appear to be “fools” to the wisdom of the world, and rather live by God’s wisdom.

Rushd, however, takes a different approach when scriptural truth and demonstrative truth appear to conflict. While Tertullian is willing to accept that the Truth may be contradictory to what we can reason, Rushd believes that “Demonstrative truth and scriptural truth cannot conflict” (Rushd 104). Thus, he reasons, “If the apparent meaning of Scripture conflicts with demonstrative conclusions it must be interpreted allegorically” (Rushd 104). Thus it is clear that Rushd would err on the side of reason, and reinterpret his beliefs so they are consistent with demonstrative truth. Clearly, Rushd would argue that reason always has its place in faith, whether it be in affirming the faith, or in correcting it and informing the believer to interpret one’s religion differently.

I stand with both Tertullian and Rushd in that faith and reason can work together, but again—the uncertainty is the particular role that reason plays once a contradiction occurs. I believe that religious individuals today are equally likely to take Tertullian’s stance of overlooking reason and affirming the literal understanding of the faith, or to side with Rushd, believing that faith and reason will never contradict, therefore scripture must be reinterpreted to obey this rule.

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