Blood of the martyrs?
Yesterday, in a typically garbled allusion, I typed these words:
It was said -- perhaps by Eusebius -- that the blood of the martyrs watered the seeds of the church.Joshua Snyder (aka Western Confucian) corrected me:
[I]t was the heretic Tertullian, God bless him, who said it: "sanguis martyrum semen christianorum." (Posted July 26, 2007 at 9:44 pm)Joshua's passing reference to Tertullian as a 'heretic' is an ungarbled allusion to Tertullian's Montanism, a mid-second-century Christian sect that gathered around the ecstatic prophet Montanus who claimed to be the incarnate Paraclete, or Holy Spirit.
Anyway, I thanked Joshua for embarassing me -- dirty work, but somebody had to do it! I tried to redeem myself by translating the Latin: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."
I then went looking for the exact quote in Tertullian's online works but couldn't find it. I did find that Tertullian says something similar in his Apology: "semen est sanguis Christianorum" (Apologeticum (Apology) 50.13), i.e., "the blood of Christians is seed."
(Yeah, I know, the quote looks like it says that "semen is the blood of Christians," but that's just your ignorance of Latin!)
Parentheticals aside, did Tertullian actually say "sanguis martyrum semen christianorum"? This reminds me of my fruitless search for the first person to utter those even more striking words "The Church is a whore, but she is my mother!" I found that quote attributed to individuals as diverse as Luther and Augustine but always with no source specifically cited. Well, I've also found no specific locus of the words "sanguis martyrum semen christianorum" in Tertullian ... yet.
Now, he may indeed have penned these words (and they surely echo his sentiments), but I have reason to think that the quote is a conflation of the words "semen est sanguis Christianorum" in his Apology and remarks on Christian martyrs elsewhere in his voluminous writings. Why do I say this? For various reasons.
For instance, I found online, in a work titled Dicionário de Expressões e Frases Latinas (compiled by the Henerik Kocher), the following reference:
Sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum. [Maloux 333]. O sangue dos mártires é a semente dos cristãos. VIDE: =Plures efficimur quotiens metimur a vobis; semen est sanguis Christianorum. =Semen est sanguis Christianorum. (Kocher, Dicionário, #219)The "Maloux" citation refers to this page 333 of Maurice Maloux, Dictionnaire des proverbes, sentences et maximes (Paris: Larousse, 1960), which I don't have but which undoubtedly says the same thing as Kocher's Dicionário. Kocher appears to be a Brazilian who enjoys collecting proverbs in various languages -- though not in English, apparently. If Maloux had provided a specific source, then Kocher would have cited that, for I see from Kocher's other entries that he ordinarily gives specific, original sources.
I also located a scholarly article by J. Petruccione, "The Martyr Death as Sacrifice: Prudentius, Peristephanon 4. 9-72," which appears in Vigiliae Christianae (Vol. 49, No. 3 (Aug., 1995), pp. 245-257) and which notes Tertullian's words "semen est sanguis Christianorum" but says nothing about the putative quote "sanguis martyrum semen christianorum" despite being an article on martyrdom.
Nor does Blake Leyerle's article "Blood Is Seed," in The Journal of Religion (Vol. 81, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 26-48), cite the words "sanguis martyrum semen christianorum" even though its central theme is on blood as seed.
If Tertullian had in fact penned the words "sanguis martyrum semen christianorum," then surely at least one of these three scholars Kocher, Petruccione, or Leyerle would have quoted them and cited him. But they don't.
I therefore humbly suggest that the quote is bogus.