Tertullian’s Error: A Too Individualistic Search For Truth

In a Wednesday audience on Tertullian the Holy Father begins by identifying two factors that led to Tertullian’s falling away from the communion of the Church: “a too individualistic search for the truth,” and an “intransigent character.” I don’t know Tertullian well enough to know exactly what the Holy Father meant, but I find the idea of “a too individualistic search for the truth” interesting. The truth of the Faith has as its object a common good and can only be properly sought as such. I am reminded of De Koninck’s reply to the sixth objection in On the Primacy of the Common Good:

The practical happiness of the community is not, per se, ordered to the speculative happiness of the singular person, but to the speculative happiness of the person considered as a member of the community. (In VII Politic., lect. 2. (P. de Alvernia complevit.)) For it would be contradictory for a common good to be, per se, ordered to the singular person as such. It is very true that the speculative life is solitary, but it remains true also that even the highest beatitude, which consists in the vision of God, is essentially a common good. This apparent opposition between the solitary life and the common good which is the object of this good is explained by the fact that this happiness can be considered either from the part of those who enjoy it, or from the part of the object of enjoyment itself. The object is, of itself, communicable to many. Under this aspect, it is the speculative good of the community. The practical common good must be ordered to this speculative good which reaches persons as a common good. The independence of persons from each other in the vision itself does not prevent the object from having that universality which means, for any created intellect, essential communicability to many. Independence, far from excluding or abstracting from communicability, presupposes the latter.

Contempt for the common good is rooted in a lack of humility, and, in fact, the Holy Father concludes his audience by pointing to that as the deepest root of Tertullian’s error:

One sees that in the end he lacked the simplicity, the humility to integrate himself with the Church…

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