Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blood of the martyrs?

But where's that bloody seed of the faith?
(Image from Wikipedia)

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.

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At 5:16 AM, Blogger David C. Innes said...

Thank you for this discussion. This is oft used quote and just as oft attributed to Tertullian. I will do so with qualification until I see it in the original source. I have had similar trouble finding the phrase "thinking God's thoughts after him." Keplar? Where?

At 5:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

D.C. Innes, you're welcome. I myself was surprised to find the words attributed to Tertullian inauthentic. At least they do express his meaning. Possibly, that's how the 'quote' started -- as a summary of Tertullian's views on the martyrs that became a 'quote' from his writings on the martyrs.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember in some class in seminary hearing the professor state that Tertullian stopped at seed. That's the way I taught it for years. But I also noted that the completion was logical. What, pray tell, do we think that it was the seed of? The death of the martyrs did not inhibit early Church growth as the persecutors supposed and hoped it would. It proved that Christ was worth dying for, and prospective disciples needed to know that. WFL

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

WFL, can you find the source to the quote that you learned in seminary? I'd be interested in getting to the bottom of this.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oops, I just realized that I had located that already. I suppose that one could extrapolate to either "Christianity" or "Church."

Which one would Tertullian have been thinking of?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The quote *is* from Tertullian, and it's from the Apologeticum.

Tertullian, Apologeticum 50.13 (CCSL 1.17 1).

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, which quote do you mean? I was looking for this one:

"sanguis martyrum semen christianorum."

"The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

What you've located is this:

"semen est sanguis Christianorum"

"The blood of Christians is seed."

It's not the one that I was looking for, and anyway, I'd already located this one that you found and linked to it.

But if you can find the one with "martyrs" in it, I'd be obliged.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to drag this one back up from so long ago, but I've been just googling for a source for a quotation from a pamphlet dealing with the deaths and executions of three of the Regicides of Charles I, and thought you might find this interesting. The line: 'sanguis martyrium semen est, et ecclesiae ut republicae' appears in 'The Speeches, Discourses and Prayers of John Barkstead, Miles Corbet, and John Okey' (1662), p. 12.

Simon Moore

At 6:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, that's an interesting quote.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spent the afternoon tracking down "the blood of the martyrs . . . beginning with Tertullian and then searched the Latin of the quote rather than going the other way. Nice to find a few as OC about tracking down sources as I am! having reviewed the various English versions that can be found at, I was gratified to find the 1662 reference above.
Post again if you have found more in the past 5 years!

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. Unfortunately, I've found nothing more.

Jeffery Hodges

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