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Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian, (ca. 160 – ca. 220 A.D.)[1] was a prolific early Christian Berber author[2] and the first to write Christian Latin literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity".[3]

Though conservative, he did originate and advance new theology to the early Church. He is perhaps most famous for coining the term Trinity (Latin trinitas) and giving the first exposition of the formula[4]. Other formulations that first appear in his work are "three Persons, one Substance" as the Latin "tres Personae, una Substantia" (itself from the Koine Greek "treis Hypostases, Homoousios"), and also the terms vetus testamentum ("old testament") and novum testamentum ("new testament"). Some of Tertullian's innovation was not acceptable to the Church; in later life he became a Montanist.



Scanty reliable evidence exists to inform us about Tertullian's life. Most history about him comes from passing references in his own writings.

According to church tradition, he was raised in Carthage[5] and was thought to be the son of a Roman centurion, a trained lawyer, and an ordained priest. These assertions rely on the accounts of Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, II, ii. 4, and Jerome's De viris illustribus (On famous men) chapter 53.[6] Jerome claimed that Tertullian's father held the position of 'centurio proconsularis' ("aide-de-camp") in the Roman army in Africa. However, it is unclear whether any such position in the Roman military ever existed.[7]

Further, Tertullian has been thought to be a lawyer based on his use of legal analogies and an identification of him with the jurist Tertullianus, who is quoted in the Pandects. Although Tertullian utilized a knowledge of Roman law in his writings, his legal knowledge does not demonstrably exceed that of what could be expected from a sufficient Roman education.[8] The writings of Tertullianus, a lawyer of the same cognomen, exist only in fragments and do not denote a Christian authorship. (Tertullianus was mis-identified only much later with the Christian Tertullian by church historians.)[9] Finally, any notion of Tertullian being a priest is also questionable. In his extant writings, he never describes himself as ordained[10] in the church and seems to place himself among the laity.[11]

Roman Africa was famous as the home of orators. This influence can be seen in his style with its archaisms or provincialisms, its glowing imagery and its passionate temper. He was a scholar with an excellent education. He wrote at least three books in Greek. In them he refers to himself, but none of these are extant. His principal study was jurisprudence and his methods of reasoning reveal striking marks of his juridical training. He shone among the advocates of Rome, as Eusebius reports.

His conversion to Christianity perhaps took place about 197–198 (cf. Adolf Harnack, Bonwetsch, and others), but its immediate antecedents are unknown except as they are conjectured from his writings. The event must have been sudden and decisive, transforming at once his own personality. He said of himself that he could not imagine a truly Christian life without such a conscious breach, a radical act of conversion: "Christians are made, not born" (Apol, xviii).

Two books addressed to his wife confirm that he was married to a Christian wife.

In middle life (about 207) he was attracted to the "New Prophecy" of Montanism, and seems to have split from the mainstream church. In the time of Augustine, a group of "Tertullianists" still had a basilica in Carthage which, within that same period, passed to the orthodox Church. It is unclear whether the name was merely another for the Montanists[12] or that this means Tertullian later split with the Montanists and founded his own group.

Jerome[13] says that Tertullian lived to a great age, but there is no reliable source attesting to his survival beyond the estimated year 220. In spite of his schism from the orthodox Church, he continued to write against heresy, especially Gnosticism. Thus, by the doctrinal works he published, Tertullan became the teacher of Cyprian and the predecessor of Augustine, who, in turn, became the chief founder of Latin theology.


General character

Thirty-one works are extant, together with fragments of more. Some fifteen works in Latin or Greek are lost, some as recently as the 9th century (De Paradiso, De superstitione saeculi, De carne et anima were all extant in the now damaged Codex Agobardinus in 814 AD). Tertullian's writings cover the whole theological field of the time — apologetics against paganism and Judaism, polemics, polity, discipline, and morals, or the whole reorganization of human life on a Christian basis; they gave a picture of the religious life and thought of the time which is of the greatest interest to the church historian.

Chronology and contents

The chronology of these writings is difficult to fix with certainty. It is in part determined by the Montanistic views that are set forth in some of them, by the author's own allusions to this writing, or that, as ante-dating others (cf. Harnack, Litteratur ii.260–262), and by definite historic data (e.g., the reference to the death of Septimius Severus, Ad Scapulam, iv). In his work against Marcion, which he calls his third composition on the Marcionite heresy, he gives its date as the fifteenth year of the reign of Severus (Adv. Marcionem, i.1, 15) --which would be approximately the year 208.

The writings may be divided with reference to the two periods of Tertullian's Christian activity, the Catholic and the Montanist (cf. Harnack, ii.262 sqq.), or according to their subject-matter. The object of the former mode of division is to show, if possible, the change of views Tertullian's mind underwent. Following the latter mode, which is of a more practical interest, the writings fall into two groups. Apologetic and polemic writings, like Apologeticus, De testimonio animae, Adv. Judaeos, Adv. Marcionem, Adv. Praxeam, Adv. Hermogenem, De praescriptione hereticorum, and Scorpiace were written to counteract Gnosticism and other religious or philosophical doctrines. The other group consists of practical and disciplinary writings, e.g., De monogamia, Ad uxorem, De virginibus velandis, De cultu feminarum, De patientia, De pudicitia, De oratione, and Ad martyras.

Among his apologetic writings, the Apologeticus, addressed to the Roman magistrates, is a most pungent defense of Christianity and the Christians against the reproaches of the pagans, and an important legacy of the ancient Church, proclaiming the principle of freedom of religion as an inalienable human right and demands a fair trial for Christians before they are condemned to death.

Tertullian was the first to break the force of such charges as that the Christians sacrificed infants at the celebration of the Lord's Supper and committed incest. He pointed to the commission of such crimes in the pagan world and then proved by the testimony of Pliny that Christians pledged themselves not to commit murder, adultery, or other crimes. He adduced also the inhumanity of pagan customs such as feeding the flesh of gladiators to beasts. He argued that the gods have no existence and thus there is no pagan religion against which Christians may offend. Christians do not engage in the foolish worship of the emperors. They do better: they pray for them. Christians can afford to be put to torture and to death, and the more they are cast down the more they grow; "the blood of the martyrs is seed" (Apologeticum, 50). In the De Praescriptione he develops as its fundamental idea that, in a dispute between the Church and a separating party, the whole burden of proof lies with the latter, as the Church, in possession of the unbroken tradition, is by its very existence a guarantee of its truth.

The five books against Marcion, written 207 or 208, are the most comprehensive and elaborate of his polemical works, invaluable for gauging the early Christian view of Gnosticism. Of the moral and ascetic treatises, the De patientia and De spectaculis are among the most interesting, and the De pudicitia and De virginibus velandis among the most characteristic.[citation needed]


General character

Though thoroughly conversant with the Greek theology, Tertullian was independent of its metaphysical speculation. He had learned from the Greek apologies, and forms a direct contrast to Origen of Alexandria, who drew much of his theories regarding creation from middle platonism. Tertullian, the prince of realists and practical theologian, carried his realism to the verge of materialism. This is evident from his ascription to God of corporeity and his acceptance of the traducian theory of the origin of the soul. He despised Greek philosophy, and, far from looking at Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek thinkers whom he quotes as forerunners of Christ and the Gospel, he pronounces them the patriarchal forefathers of the heretics (De anima, iii.). He held up to scorn their inconsistency when he referred to the fact that Socrates in dying ordered a cock to be sacrificed to Aesculapius (De anima, i). Tertullian always wrote under stress of a felt necessity. He was never so happy as when he had opponents like Marcion and Praxeas, and, however abstract the ideas may be which he treated, he was always moved by practical considerations to make his case clear and irresistible. It was partly this element which gave to his writings a formative influence upon the theology of the post-Nicene period in the West and has rendered them fresh reading to this day. He was a born disputant, moved by the noblest impulses known in the Church. It is true that during the third century no mention is made of his name by other authors. Lactantius at the opening of the fourth century is the first to do this, but Augustine treats him openly with respect. Cyprian, Tertullian's North African compatriot, though he nowhere mentions his name, was well read in his writings, as Cyprian's secretary told Jerome.

Specific teachings

Tertullian's main doctrinal teachings are as follows:

  1. The soul was not preexistent, as Plato affirmed, nor subject to metempsychosis or reincarnation, as the Pythagoreans held. In each individual it is a new product, proceeding equally with the body from the parents, and not created later and associated with the body (De anima, xxvii). This position is called traducianism in opposition to 'creationism', or the idea that each soul is a fresh creation of God. For Tertullian the soul is, however, a distinct entity and a certain corporeity and as such it may be tormented in Hell (De anima, lviii).
  2. The soul's sinfulness is easily explained by its traducian origin (De anima, xxxix). It is in bondage to Satan (whose works it renounces in baptism), but has seeds of good (De anima, xli), and when awakened, it passes to health and at once calls upon God (Apol., xvii.) and is naturally Christian. It exists in all men alike; it is a culprit and yet an unconscious witness by its impulse to worship, its fear of demons, and its musings on death to the power, benignity, and judgment of God as revealed in the Christian's Scriptures (De testimonio, v-vi).
  3. God, who made the world out of nothing through his Son, the Word, has corporeity though he is a spirit (De praescriptione, vii.; Adv. Praxeam, vii.). However Tertullian used 'corporeal' only in the stoic sense, to mean something with actual existence, rather than the later idea of flesh. In the statement of the Trinity, Tertullian was a forerunner of the Nicene doctrine, approaching the subject from the standpoint of the Logos doctrine, though he did not state the immanent Trinity. His use of trinitas (Latin: 'Threeness') emphasised the manifold character of God. In his treatise against Praxeas, who taught patripassianism in Rome, he used the words, " Trinity and economy, persons and substance." The Son is distinct from the Father, and the Spirit from both the Father and the Son (Adv. Praxeam, xxv). "These three are one substance, not one person; and it is said, 'I and my Father are one' in respect not of the singularity of number but the unity of the substance." The very names "Father" and "Son" indicate the distinction of personality. The Father is one, the Son is one, and the Spirit is one (Adv. Praxeam, ix). As regards the question whether the Son was coeternal with the Father, many believe that Tertullian did not teach that. The Catholic Encyclopedia comments that for Tertullian, "There was a time when there was no Son and no sin, when God was neither Father nor Judge."[14].[15] Similarly J.N.D. Kelly has stated: "Tertullian followed the Apologists in dating His “perfect generation” from His extrapolation for the work of creation; prior to that moment God could not strictly be said to have had a Son, while after it the term “Father”, which for earlier theologians generally connoted God as author of reality, began to acquire the specialized meaning of Father and Son."[16]. As regards the subjects of subordination of the Son to the Father, the New Catholic Encyclopedia has commented: "In not a few areas of theology, Tertullian’s views are, of course, completely unacceptable. Thus, for example, his teaching on the Trinity reveals a subordination of Son to Father that in the later crass form of Arianism the Church rejected as heretical."[17]
  4. In soteriology Tertullian does not dogmatize, he prefers to keep silence at the mystery of the cross (De Patientia, iii). The sufferings of Christ's life as well as of the crucifixion are efficacious to redemption. In the water of baptism, which (upon a partial quotation of John 3:5) is made necessary (De baptismate, vi.), we are born again; we do not receive the Holy Spirit in the water, but are prepared for the Holy Spirit. We little fishes, after the example of the ichthys, fish, Jesus Christ, are born in water (De baptismate, i). In discussing whether sins committed subsequent to baptism may be forgiven, he calls baptism and penance "two planks" on which the sinner may be saved from shipwreck — language which he gave to the Church (De penitentia, xii).
  5. With reference to the 'rule of faith', it may be said that Tertullian is constantly using this expression, and by it means now the authoritative tradition handed down in the Church, now the Scriptures themselves, and, perhaps, a definite doctrinal formula. While he nowhere gives a list of the books of Scripture, he divides them into two parts and calls them the instrumentum and testamentum (Adv. Marcionem, iv.1). He distinguishes between the four Gospels and insists upon their apostolic origin as accrediting their authority (De praescriptione, xxxvi; Adv. Marcionem, iv.1–5); in trying to account for Marcion's treatment of the Lucan Gospel and the Pauline writings he sarcastically queries whether the "shipmaster from Pontus" (Marcion) had ever been guilty of taking on contraband goods or tampering with them after they were aboard (Adv. Marcionem, v.1). The Scripture, the rule of faith, is for him fixed and authoritative (De corona, iii-iv). As opposed to the pagan writings they are divine (De testimonio animae, vi). They contain all truth (De praescriptione, vii, xiv) and from them the Church drinks (potat) her faith (Adv. Praxeam, xiii). The prophets were older than the Greek philosophers and their authority is accredited by the fulfilment of their predictions (Apol., xix-xx). The Scriptures and the teachings of philosophy are incompatible, insofar as the latter are the origins of sub-Christian heresies. "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" he exclaims, "or the Academy with the Church?" (De praescriptione, vii). Philosophy as pop-paganism is a work of demons (De anima, i); the Scriptures contain the wisdom of heaven. However Tertullian was not averse to using the technical methods of Stoicism to discuss a problem (De anima). The rule of faith, however, seems to be also applied by Tertullian to some distinct formula of doctrine, and he gives a succinct statement of the Christian faith under this term (De praescriptione, xiii).
  6. Tertullian was a defender of the necessity of apostolicity. In his Prescription Against Heretics, he explicitly challenges heretics to produce evidence of the apostolic succession of their communities.[18] "Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, — a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed."
  7. Fornicators and Murderers should never be admitted into the church under any circumstances. In de pudicitia, Tertullian condemns Pope Callixtus I for allowing such people in when they show repentance.

Moral principles

Tertullian was a determined advocate of strict discipline and an austere code of practise, and like many of the African fathers, one of the leading representatives of the rigorist element in the early Church. These views may have led him to adopt Montanism with its ascetic rigor and its belief in chiliasm and the continuance of the prophetic gifts. In his writings on public amusements, the veiling of virgins, the conduct of women, and the like, he gives expression to these views.

On the principle that we should not look at or listen to what we have no right to practise, and that polluted things, seen and touched, pollute (De spectaculis, viii, xvii), he declared a Christian should abstain from the theater and the amphitheater. There pagan religious rites were applied and the names of pagan divinities invoked; there the precepts of modesty, purity, and humanity were ignored or set aside, and there no place was offered to the onlookers for the cultivation of the Christian graces. Women should put aside their gold and precious stones as ornaments (De cultu, v-vi), and virgins should conform to the law of St. Paul for women and keep themselves strictly veiled (De virginibus velandis). He praised the unmarried state as the highest (De monogamia, xvii; Ad uxorem, i.3), called upon Christians not to allow themselves to be excelled in the virtue of celibacy by Vestal Virgins and Egyptian priests, and he pronounced second marriage a species of adultery (De exhortations castitatis, ix).

Tertullian has been accused of going to an unhealthy extreme in his counsels of asceticism; for example, about ejaculatory orgasms he wrote:

In that last breaking wave of delight, do we not feel something of our very soul go out from us?[19]

His moral vigour and the service he provided as an ingenious and intrepid defender of the Christian religion were, for him, down to his view of Christianity as first and chiefly an experience of the heart.

Because of his schism with the Church, he, like the great Alexandrian Father, Origen, has failed to receive the elevation of canonization.

Tertullian is occasionally considered as prescribing to misogyny, on the basis of the contents of his 'De Cultu Feminarum,' section I.I, part 2 (trans. C.W. Marx): "Do you not know that you are Eve? The judgment of God upon this sex lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also. You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.”

Tertullian wrote in his book On Patience 5:15 "Having been made pregnant by the seed oft the devil ... she brought forth a son." Or, in a different translation, "For straightway that impatience conceived of the devil's seed, produced, in the fecundity of malice, anger as her son; and when brought forth, trained him in her own arts."

Prophetic exegesis

Tertullian was the first Latin church father to use the prophecies to show the superiority of Holy Scripture over all pagan productions.

Christ the Stone that smites the Image

Tertulian declares Christ to be the stone of Daniel 2 that will smite, at His second coming, the "secular kingdom" image.

"Now these signs of degradation quite suit His first coming, just as the tokens of His majesty do His second advent, when He shall no longer remain 'a stone of stumbling and rock of offence,' but after His rejection become 'the chief corner-stone,' accepted and elevated to the top place of the temple, even His church, being that very stone in Daniel, cut out of the mountain, which was to smite and crush the image of the secular kingdom. Of this advent the same prophet says: 'Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days; and they brought Him before Him, and there was given Him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."[20]

Antichrist — Beast — Man of Sin is Near

Like Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertulian identifies the Antichrist with the Man of Sin and the Beast. On the one hand he speaks of many antichrists — as indeed John himself does — men who rebel against Christ at any time. Yet on the other hand he expects the specific Antichrist just before the resurrection, as a persecutor of the church, under whom the second company of martyrs, awaited by those under the altar of the fifth seal, will be slain, and Enoch and Elijah will meet their long delayed death. Unlike Irenaeus, however, Tertullian does not describe Antichrist as a Jew sitting in a Jewish temple at Jerusalem. Indeed, he says that the temple of God is the church. He expects Antichrist soon.[21][22][23][24][25][26][27]

Rome’s continuance delays Antichrist’s appearance

Commenting on the Antichrist of 2 Thessalonians 2:3–6, he observes that it is the Roman state that is the restraining "obstacle" which, by being broken up into the "ten kingdoms," would make way for Antichrist.

" 'For that day shall not come, unless indeed there first come a falling away,' he [Paul] means indeed of this present empire, 'and that man of sin be revealed,' that is to say, Antichrist, 'the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or religion; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, affirming that he is God. Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now ye know what detaineth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder, until he be taken out ol. the way.' What obstacles is there but the Roman state, the falling away of which, by being scattered into the ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon (its own ruins)? And then shall be revealed the wicked one, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.'[28]

Babylon the recognized figure of Rome

The "Babylon" of the Apocalypse is applied to the city of Rome and her domination.

"So, again, Babylon, in our own John, is a figure of the city Rome, as being equally great and proud of her sway, and triumphant over the saints."[29]

He depicts her as "drunk" with the blood of martyred "saints." Such was the obviously immediate application.[30]

Rome’s break up signal for End

"There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete-stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general. For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth — in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes — is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire. We have no desire, then, to be overtaken by these dire events; and in praying that their coming may be delayed, we are lending our aid to Rome's duration."[31]

Prophecy spans first and second Advents

Tertullian regarded prophecy as largely prefiguring, in orderly succession, the chief events and epochs of the church and the world from Christ's first advent to His second coming, and assures us that the events surrounding the second advent, such as the resurrection, were as yet unfulfilled.[24][32]

Millennium follows Resurrection of Dead

"Our inquiry relates to what is promised in heaven, not on earth. But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, 'let down from heaven,' which the apostle also calls 'our mother from above;' and, while declaring that our citizenship, is in heaven, he predicates of it that it is really a city in heaven. This both Ezekiel had knowledge of and the Apostle John beheld. . . . "This city [new Jerusalem] has been provided by God for receiving the saints on their resurrection, and refreshing them with the abundance of all really spiritual blessings, as a recompense for those which in the world we have either despised or lost; since it is both just and God-worthy that His servants should have their joy in the place where they have also suffered affliction for His name's sake."[33]

After Millennium, world’s destruction and Heaven

"Of the heavenly kingdom this is the process. After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts, there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven."[34]

Seventy Weeks fulfilled by First Advent

Tertullian contends that by the prophecy of Daniel's seventy weeks the time of Christ's incarnation, as well as of His death, is foretoId. He gives an extensive sketch of the chronology of the seventy weeks of years, starting them from the first year of Darius, and continuing to Jerusalem's destruction by the Romans under the command of Titus. This was to show that the seventy weeks were then fully completed, the vision and prophecy thus being sealed by the advent of Christ, which he places at the end of the sixty-two and one-half weeks.[35][36]

In popular culture

Tertullian is also a type of pasta served in and around Catania, in the south of Italy, around the feast day of St. Tertullian


Tertullian's writings are edited in volumes 1–2 of the Patrologia Latina, and modern texts exist in the Corpus Christianorum Latinorum. English translations by Sidney Thelwall and Philip Holmes can be found in volumes III and IV of the Ante-Nicene Fathers which are freely available online; more modern translations of some of the works have been made.

  • Apologeticus pro Christianis.
  • Dissertatio Mosheim in Apol.
  • Libri duo ad Nationes.
  • De Testimonio animae.
  • Ad Martyres.
  • De Spectaculis.
  • De Idololatria.
  • Accedit ad Scapulam liber.
  • Dissertatio D. Le Nourry in Apologet. libr. II ad Nat. et libr. ad Scapulam.
  • De Oratione.
  • De Baptismo.
  • De Poenitentia.
  • De Patientia.
  • Ad Uxorem libri duo.
  • De Cultu Feminarum lib. II.
  • De Corona Militis.
  • De Fuga in Persecutione.
  • Adversus Gnosticos Scorpiace.
  • Adversus Praxeam.
  • Adversus Hermogenem.
  • Adversus Marcionem libri V.
  • Adversus Valentinianos.
  • Adversus Judaeos.
  • De Anima.
  • De Carne Christi.
  • De Resurrectione Carnis.
On morality
  • De velandis Virginibus.
  • De Exhortatione Castitatis.
  • De Monogamia.
  • De Jejuniis.
  • De Pudicitia.
  • De Pallio.

See also


  • Initial text of article from The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff, public domain
  • This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa Robin Daniel, (Chester, Tamarisk Publications, 2010: from ISBN 095385634.
  • T.D.Barnes, Tertullian: A literary and historical study Oxford, 1971; reprinted with appendix of revisions 1985.
  • Ekonomou, Andrew J. 2007. Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752. Lexington Books.


  1. ^ T.D.Barnes, Tertullian: a literary and historical study' Oxford, 1971
  2. ^ "Nor was it coincidental that Thomas resurrected Tertullian the Berber in an attempt to subdue that other Berber, Augustine", Friedrich Heer, The Intellectual History of Europe, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966, p.153
  3. ^ Ekonomou, 2007, p. 22.
  4. ^ In Adversus Praxean; see Barnes for a summary of the work.
  5. ^ Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  6. ^ See introduction to Timothy Barnes, 'Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study; however Barnes retracted some of his positions in the 1985 revised edition
  7. ^ Barnes, Timothy. 'Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study', Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, pg. 11 Google Books
  8. ^ Barnes, pg. 24,27
  9. ^ Barnes, pg. 23
  10. ^ Barnes, pg. 11
  11. ^ Tertullian, De Exhortatione Castitatis 7.3 and De Monogamia 12.2
  12. ^ The passage in Praedestinatus describing the Tertullianists suggests that this might have been the case, as the Tertullianist minister obtains the use of a church in Rome on the grounds that the martyrs to whom it was dedicated were Montanists. But the passage is very condensed and ambiguous.
  13. ^ De viris illustribus 53
  14. ^ "Tertullian," The Catholic Encyclopedia
  15. ^ B. B. Warfield in Princeton Theological Review, 1906, pp. 56, 159.
  16. ^ J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Continual International Publishing Book, c1960, 2000, p. 112
  17. ^ W. Le Saint, "Tertullian," The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Thompson Gale, 2003, Vol. 13, p. 837.
  18. ^ The Prescription against Heretics: Chapter 32
  19. ^ Tertullian, de anima, 27:5
  20. ^ Against Marcion, book 3 chp 7
  21. ^ Against Marcion, book 3, chp 7
  22. ^ Against Marcion, book 3, chp 23
  23. ^ Against Marcion, book 3, chp 25
  24. ^ a b On the Resurrection, chp 25
  25. ^ On the Resurrection, chp 26
  26. ^ On the Resurrection, chp 27
  27. ^ A treatise on the Soul, chp 50
  28. ^ On the Resurrection, chp 24
  29. ^ An answer to the Jews, chp 9
  30. ^ Scorpiace, chp12
  31. ^ Apology, chp 32
  32. ^ Against Hermogenes, chp 34
  33. ^ Against Marcion, book 3 chp 25
  34. ^ Against Marcion, book 3 chp 25
  35. ^ Answer to the Jews, chp 8
  36. ^ Answer to the Jews, chp 11

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote


Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (born ca. 150-160, died ca. 220-240) A major theologian in the early Christian church, known for his powerful denunciations of many influences he considered heretical, including the widespread admiration of pagan philosophers and many Gnostic ideas, yet in later life a Montanist, and thus he himself an embracer of beliefs that came to be declared heretical.


  • fiunt non nascuntur Christiani
    • Translation: Christians are made, not born.
    • Apologeticus, xviii.
    • Many variants on this exist, notably “Great lovers are made, not born.” and “(Great) leaders are made, not born.”
    • A variant on “One is not born wise, but becomes wise” from Seneca On Anger 2.10.6; see: Christian and Pagan in the Roman Empire: the witness of Tertullian, by Tertullian, Robert Dick Sider, p. 38, footnote 79.
  • Vide, inquiunt, ut invicem se diligant; ipsi enim invicem oderunt: et ut pro alterutro mori sint parati; ipsi enim ad occidendum alterutrum paratiores erunt.
    • Translation: See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death.
    • Apologeticus, 39, describing how Christianity is mocked by its enemies.
  • Plures efficimur, quoties metumur a vobis; semen est sanguis christianorum.
    • Translation: We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.
    • Apologeticus, 50
  • Omnium gentium unus homo, uarium nomen est, una anima, uaria uox, unus spiritus, uarius sonus, propria cuique genti loquella, sed loquellae materia communis.
    • Translation: Man is one name belonging to every nation upon earth. In them all is one soul though many tongues. Every country has its own language, yet the subjects of which the untutored soul speaks are the same everywhere.
    • De Testimonio Animae (The Testimony of the Soul) (6.3)
  • Veritas autem docendo persuadet non suadendo docet.
    • Translation: Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.
    • Adversus Valentinianos (Against the Valentinians) (1.4)
  • Nihil veritas erubescit
    • Translation: Truth does not blush.
    • Adversus Valentinianos (3.2)
  • Prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est.
    • Translation: It is to be believed because it is absurd.
    • De Carne Christi (5.4)
  • Certum est, quia impossible est.
    • Translation: It is certain because it is impossible.
    • De Carne Christi (5.4)
    • Two lines from De Carne Christi have often become conflated into the statement: "Credo quia impossibile" (I believe it because it is impossible), which can be perceived as a distortion of the actual arguments that Tertullian was making.
  • De calcaria in carbonarium.
    • Translation: Out of the frying pan into the fire.
    • De Carne Christi (6)
  • Omnia periclitabuntur aliter accipi quam sunt, et amittere quod sunt dum aliter accipiuntur, si aliter quam sunt cognominantur. Fides nominum salus est proprietatum.
    • Translation: All things will be in danger of being taken in a sense different from their own proper sense, and, whilst taken in that different sense, of losing their proper one, if they are called by a name which differs from their natural designation. Fidelity in names secures the safe appreciation of properties.
    • De Carne Christi (13.2)
  • Qui fugiebat, rursus sibi proeliabitur.
    • Translation: He who flees will fight again.
    • De Fuga in Persecutione, 10.
  • Nec alii obest aut prodest alterius religio.
    • Translation: One man's religion neither harms nor helps another man.
    • Ad Scapulam (2.2)
  • Nec religionis est cogere religio
    • Translation: It is certainly no part of religion to compel religion.
    • Ad Scapulam (2.2)
  • Infirma commendatio est quae de alterius destructione fulcitur.
    • Translation: Of little worth is the recommendation which has for its prop the defamation of another.
    • Adversus Marcionem (IV.15.5)
  • Itaque et ego vanitatem vanitate depellam.
    • Translation: I shall dispel one empty story by another. (Sometimes rendered: I must dispel vanity with vanity)
    • Adversus Marcionem (IV.30.3)
  • Cum ergo spiritus Dei descendit, indiuidua patientia comitatur eum.
    • Translation: When God's Spirit descends, then Patience accompanies Him indivisibly.
    • De Patientia (15:7)
  • Quippe res dei ratio quia deus omnium conditor nihil non ratione providit disposuit ordinavit, nihil [enim] non ratione tractari intellegique voluit. [3] Igitur ignorantes quique deum rem quoque eius ignorent necesse est quia nullius omnino thesaurus extraneis patet. Itaque universam vitae conversationem sine gubernaculo rationis transfretantes inminentem saeculo procellam evitare non norunt.
    • Translation: Reason, in fact, is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason— nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason. All, therefore, who are ignorant of God, must necessarily be ignorant also of a thing which is His, because no treasure-house at all is accessible to strangers. And thus, voyaging all the universal course of life without the rudder of reason, they know not how to shun the hurricane which is impending over the world.
    • De Paenitentia (On Repentance) (1.2-3)
  • esterni sumus, & vestra omnia implevimus, Vrbes, Insulas, Castella, Municipia, Conciliabula, Castra ipsa, Tribus, Decurias, palatium, Senatum, Forum, sola vobis relinquimus Templa.
    • Translation: We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all the places that belong to you -- cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges; the military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the market-place; we have left you nothing but your temples..
    • Tertullian's Plea For Allegiance (A.2)

Quotes by others about Tertullian

  • This is said with more spirit than truth.
  • Every word almost was a sentence; every sentence a victory.
    • St. Vincent of Lerins on his esteem of Tertullian's writings.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TERTULLIAN (c. 155 - c. 222), whose full name was Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, is the earliest and after Augustine the greatest of the ancient church writers of the West. Before him the whole Christian literature in the Latin language consisted of a translation of the Bible, the Octavius of Minucius Felix (q.v.) - an apologetic treatise written in the Ciceronian style for the higher circles of society, and with no evident effect for the church as a whole, the brief Acts of the Scillitan martyrs, and a list of the books recognized as canonical (the so-called Muratorian fragment). Whether Victor the Roman bishop and Apollonius the Roman senator ever really made an appearance as Latin authors is quite uncertain. Tertullian in fact created Christian Latin literature; one might almost say that that literature sprang from him full-grown, alike in form and substance, as Athena from the head of Zeus. Cyprian polished the language that Tertullian had made, sifted the thoughts he had given out, rounded them off, and turned them into current coin, but he never ceased to be aware of his dependence on Tertullian, whom he designated as his master (Jer., De vir. ill. 53). Augustine, again, stood on the shoulders of Tertullian and Cyprian; and these three North Africans are the fathers of the Western churches.

Tertullian's place in universal history is determined by (I) his intellectual and spiritual endowments, (2) his moral force and evangelical fervour, (3) the course of his personal development, (4) the circumstances of_ the time in the midst of which he worked.

(I) Tertullian was a man of great originality and genius, characterized by the deepest pathos, the liveliest fancy, and the most penetrating keenness, and was endowed with ability to appropriate and make use of all the methods of observation and speculation, and with the readiest wit. His writings in tone and character are always alike " rich in thought and destitute of form, passionate and hair-splitting, eloquent and pithy in expression, energetic and condensed to the point of obscurity." His style has been characterized with justice as dark and resplendent like ebony. His eloquence was of the vehement order; but it wins hearers and readers by the strength of its passion, the energy of its truth, the pregnancy and elegance of its expression, just as much as it repels them by its heat without light, its sophistical argumentaiions, and its elaborate hair-splittings. Though he is wanting in moderation and in luminous warmth, his tones are by no means always harsh; and as an author he ever aspired with longing after humility and love and patience, though his whole life was lived in the atmosphere of conflict. Tertullian both as a man and as a writer had much in common with the apostle Paul.

(2) In spite of all the contradictions in which he involved himself as a thinker and as a teacher, Tertullian was a compact ethical personality. What he was he was with his whole being. Once a Christian, he was determined to be so with all his soul, and to shake himself free of all half measures and compromises with the world. It is not difficult to lay one's finger upon very many obliquities, self-deceptions and sophisms in Tertullian in matters of detail, for he struggled for years to reconcile things that were in themselves irreconcilable; yet in each case the perversities and sophisms were rather the outcome of the peculiarly difficult circumstances in which he stood. It is easy to convict him of having failed to control the glowing passion that was in him. He is often outrageously unjust in the substance of what he says, and in manner harsh to cynicism, scornful to gruesomeness; but in no battle that he fought was he ever actuated by selfish interests. What he did was really done for the Gospel, as he understood it, with all the faculties of his soul. But he understood the Gospel as being primarily an assured hope and a holy law, as fear of the Judge who can cast into hell and as an inflexible rule of faith and of discipline. Of the glorious liberty of the children of God he had nothing but a mere presentiment; he looked for it only in the world beyond the grave, and under the power of the Gospel he counted as loss all the world could give. He well understood the meaning of Christ's saying that He came not into the world to bring peace, but a sword: in a period when a lax spirit of conformity to the world had seized the churches he maintained the " vigor evangelicus " not merely against the Gnostics but against opportunists and a worldly-wise clergy. Among all the fathers of the first three centuries Tertullian has given the most powerful expression to the terrible earnestness of the Gospel.

(3) The course of Tertullian's personal development fitted him in an altogether remarkable degree to be a teacher of the church. Born at Carthage of good family - his father was a " centurio pro consularis " - he received a first-rate education both in Latin and in Greek. He was able to speak and write Greek, and gives evidence of familiarity alike with its prose and with its poetry; and his excellent memory - though he himself complains about it - enabled him always to bring in at the right place an appropriate, often brilliant, quotation or some historical allusion. The old historians, from Herodotus to Tacitus, were familiar to him, and the accuracy of his historical knowledge is astonishing. He studied with earnest zeal the Greek philosophers; Plato in particular, and the writings of the Stoics, he had fully at command, and his treatise De Anima shows that he himself was able to investigate and discuss philosophical problems. From the philosophers he had been led to the medical writers, whose treatises plainly had a place in his working library. But no portion of this rich store of miscellaneous knowledge has left its characteristic impress on his writings; this influence was reserved for his legal training. His father, whose military spirit reveals itself in the whole bearing of Tertullian, to whom Christianity was above everything a " militia," had intended him for the law. He studied in Carthage, probably also in Rome, where, according to Eusebius, he enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most eminent jurists. This statement derives confirmation from the Digest, where references are made to two works, De Castrensi Peculio and Quaestionum Libri VIII., of a Roman jurist named Tertullian, who must have flourished about 180 A.D. In point of fact the quondam advocate never disappeared in the Christian presbyter. This was at once his strength and his weakness: his strength, for as a professional pleader he had learned how to deal with an adversary according to the rules of the art - to pull to pieces his theses, to reduce him ad absurdum, and to show the defects and contradictions of his statements, - and was specially qualified to expose the irregularities in the proceedings taken by the state against the Christians; but it was also his weakness, for it was responsible for his litigiousness, his often doubtful shifts and artifices, his sophisms and argumentationes ad hominem, his fallacies and surprises. At Rome in mature manhood Tertullian became a Christian, under what circumstances we do not know, and forthwith he bent himself with all his energy to the study of Scripture and of Christian literature. Not only was he master of the contents of the Bible: he also read carefully the works of Hermas, Justin, Tatian, Miltiades, Melito, Irenaeus, Proculus, Clement, as well as many Gnostic treatises, the writings of Marcion in particular. In apologetics his principal master was Justin, and in theology proper and in the controversy with the Gnostics, Irenaeus. As a thinker he was not original, and even as a theologian he has produced but few schemes of doctrine, except his doctrine of sin. His special gift lay in the power to make what had been traditionally received impressive, to give to it its proper form, and to gain for it new currency. From Rome Tertullian visited Greece and perhaps also Asia Minor; at any rate we know that he had temporary relations with the churches there. He was consequently placed in a position in which he could check the doctrine and practice of the Roman church. Thus equipped with knowledge and experience, he returned to Carthage and there laid the foundation of Latin Christian literature. At first, after his conversion, he wrote Greek, but by and by Latin almost exclusively. The elements of this Christian Latin language may be enumerated as follows: - (i.) it had its origin, not in the literary language of Rome as developed by Cicero, but in the language of the people as we find it in Plautus and Terence; (ii.) it has an African complexion; (iii.) it is strongly influenced by Greek, particularly through the Latin translation of the Septuagint and of the New Testament, besides being sprinkled with a large number of Greek words derived from the Scriptures or from the Greek liturgies; (iv.) it bears the stamp of the Gnostic style and contains also some military expressions; (v.) it owes something to the original creative power of Tertullian. As for his theology, its leading factors were - (i.) the teachings of the apologists; (ii.) the philosophy of the Stoics; (iii.) the rule of faith, interpreted in an anti-Gnostic sense, as he had received it from the Church of Rome; (iv.) the Soteriological theology of Melito and Irenaeus; (v.) the substance of the utterances of the Montanist prophets (in the closing decades of his life). This analysis does not disclose, nor indeed is it possible to discover, what was the determining element for Tertullian; in fact he was under the dominion of more than one ruling principle, and he felt himself bound by several mutually opposing authorities. It was his desire to unite the enthusiasm cf primitive Christianity with intelligent thought, the original demands of the Gospel with every letter of the Scriptures and with the practice of the Roman church, the sayings of the Paraclete with the authority of the bishops, the law of the churches with the freedom of the inspired, the rigid discipline of the Montanist with all the utterances of the New Testament and with the arrangements of a church seeking to set itself up within the world. At this task he toiled for years, involved in contradictions which it took all the finished skill of the jurist to conceal from him for a time. At last he felt compelled to break off from the church for which he had lived and fought; but the breach could not clear him from the contradictions in which he found himself entangled. Not only did the great chasm between the old Christianity, to which his soul clung, and the Christianity of the Scriptures as juristically and philosophically interpreted remain unbridged; he also clung fast, in spite of his separation from the Catholic church, to his position that the church possesses the true doctrine, that the bishops per successionem are the repositories of the grace of the teaching office, and so forth. The growing violence of his latest works is to be accounted for, not only by his burning indignation against the ever-advancing secularization of the Catholic church, but also by the incompatibility between the authorities which he recognized and yet was not able to reconcile. After having done battle with heathens, Jews, Marcionites, Gnostics, Monarchians, and the Catholics, he died an old man, carrying with him to the grave the last remains of primitive Christianity in the West, but at the same time in conflict with himself.

(4) What has just been said brings out very clearly how important in their bearing on Tertullian's development were the circumstances of the age in which he laboured. His activity as a Christian falls between 190 and 220, a period of very great moment in the history of the Catholic church; for within it the struggle with Gnosticism was brought to a victorious close, the New Testament established a firm footing within the churches, the " apostolic " rules which thenceforward regulated all the affairs of the church were called into existence, and the ecclesiastical priesthood came to be developed. Within this period also falls that evangelical and legal reaction against the political and secular tendencies of the church which is known as Montanism. The same Tertullian who had fortified the Catholic church against Gnosticism was none the less anxious to protect it from becoming a political organization. Being unable to reconcile incompatibles, he broke with the church and became the most powerful representative of Montanism in the West.

Although Tertullian's extant works are both numerous and copious, our knowledge of his life is very vague. He cannot have been born much later than about 150. His activity as a jurist in Rome must fall within the period of Commodus; for there is no indication in his writings that he was in Rome in the time of Marcus Aurelius, and many passages seem to preclude the supposition. The date of his conversion to Christianity is quite uncertain; there is much in favour of the years between 190 and 195. How long he remained in Rome after becoming a Christian, whether he had attained any office in the church before leaving Rome, what was the date of his visit to Greece - on these points also we remain in ignorance. It is certain that he was settled in Carthage in the second half of 197, the date of his writing his Apologeticus and (shortly afterwards) his two books Ad nationes; we also know that he became a presbyter in Carthage and was married. His recognition of the Montanistic prophecy in Phrygia as a work of God took place in 202-203, at the time when a new persecution broke out. For the next five years it was his constant endeavour to secure the victory for Montanism within the church; but in this he became involved more and more deeply in controversy with the majority of the church in Carthage and especially with its clergy, which had the support of the clergy of Rome. As Jerome writes (De vir. ill. 53): '.` Usque ad mediam aetatem presbyter fuit ecclesiae Africanae, invidia postea et conturneliis clericorum Romanae ecclesiae ad Montani dogma delapsus." On his breach with the Catholic church, probably in 207-208, he became the head of a small Montanist community in Carthage. In this position he continued to labour, to write, and to assail the lax Catholics and their clergy until at least the time of Bishop Calixtus in the reign of Elagabalus. The year of his death is uncertain. Jerome (ut sup.) says: " Fertur vixisse usque ad decrepitam aetatem." That he returned at last to the bosom of the Catholic church is a mere legend, the motive of which is obvious; his adherents after his death continued to maintain themselves as a small community in Carthage. Although he had left the church, his earlier writings continued to be extensively read; and in the 4th century his works, along with those of Cyprian, were the principal reading of Western Christians, until they were superseded by those of Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory. Jerome has included him in his catalogue of Christian " viri illustres," but only as a Catholic to whom reference should be made with caution.' The works of Tertullian, on the chronology of which a great deal has been written, and which for the most part do not admit of being dated with perfect certainty, fall into three classes - the apologetic, defending Christianity against paganism and Judaism; the polemical dogmatic, refuting heresies and heretics; and the ascetic or practical, dealing with points of morality and church discipline. In point of time also three periods can be readily distinguished, the years 202-203 and 207-208 constituting the divisions. Some of the books he wrote have unfortunately disappeared - in particular the De spectaculis, De baptismo, and De virginibus velandis in Greek; his works in Latin on the same subjects have survived.

I. Works dating from before 202-203. - To this class belong the Apologeticus (197) and the two books Ad nationes, De spectaculis, De idololatria, De cultu feminarum Libri II., De testimonio animae (written soon after the Apologeticus), Ad. martyres (perhaps the earliest of all), De baptismo haereticorum (now lost), De baptismo, De poenitentia, De oratione (the last three written for catechumens), De patientia, Ad uxorem Libri II., De praescriptione haereticorum, and Adv. Marcionem (in its first form). The Apologeticus, which in the 3rd century was translated into Greek, is the weightiest work in defence of Christianity of the first two centuries. It disposes of the charges brought against Christians for secret crimes (incest, &c.) and public offences (contempt of the State religion and high treason), and asserts the absolute superiority of Christianity as a revealed religion beyond the rivalry of all human systems.

' Compare also the judgment of Hilary and of Vincent of Lerins, Commonit., 24.

Respecting its relation to the Octavius of Minucius Felix much has been written; to the present writer it seems unquestionable that Tertullian's work was the later. Of great moment also is the De praescriptione haereticorum, in which the jurist is more clearly heard than the Christian. It is the chief of the dogmatic or polemical works, and rules the accuser out of court at the very opening of the case. The De spectaculis and De idololatria show that Tertullian was already in a certain sense a Montanist before he formally went over to that creed; on the other hand, his De poenitentia proves that his earlier views on church discipline were much more tolerant than his later. To learn something of his Christian temper we must read the De oratione and the De patientia. The De baptismo is of special interest from the archaeological point of view.

II. Works written between 202-203 and 207-208. --De virginibus velandis, De corona militis, De fuga in persecutione, De exhortatione castitatis, De scorpiace (a booklet against the Gnostics, whom he compares to scorpions; it is written in praise of martyrdom), Adversus Hermogenem, De censu animae adv. Hermogenem (lost), Adv. Valentinianos, Adv. Apelleiacos (lost), De paradiso (lost), De fato (lost), De anima (the first book on Christian psychology), De carne Christi, De resurrectione carnis, and De spe fidelium (lost), were all written after Tertullian had recognized the prophetic claims of the Montanists, but before he had left the church.

III. Works later than 207-208.

To this period belong the five books Adv. Marcionem, his main anti-Gnostic work (in the third form - the first of the five was written in 207-208), Ad Scapulam (an admonition to the persecuting proconsul of Africa, written soon after 212), De pallio (a defence of his wearing the pallium instead of the toga), Adv. Praxean (his principal work against the Monarchians), and Adv. Judaeos, chaps. ix. - xiv. of which are a completion by another and less skilful hand. The latest extant works of Tertullian (all after 217) are his controversial writings against the laxity of the Catholics, full of the bitterest attacks, especially upon Calixtus, the bishop of Rome; these are De monogamic, De jejunio, De pudicitia, and De ecstasi Libri VII. (lost). The arguments against the genuineness of some of the above writings do not seem to the present writer to have weight. It is quite possible that Tertullian was the author of the Acta perpetuae et felicitatis, but he did not write the Libellus adv. omnes haereses often appended to De praescriptione; or the poems Adv. Marcionem, De Sodoma, De Jona, De Genesi, De judicio Domini; or the fragment De execrandis gentium diis; or the De Trinitate and De cibis Judaicis of Novatian.


. - For the MSS. see E. Preuschen in A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristl. Literatur, i. 675-7. Of printed collections the chief are the editio princeps by Beatus Rhenanus (Basel, 1521), Migne, Patr. Lat. i. - ii. (Paris, 1844); Fr. Oehler (3 vols., Leipzig, 1851-4); and A. Reifferscheid and G. Wissowa in the Corpus scriptorum eccl. Lat. (Pars i., Vienna, 1890). Editions of the separate books are almost innumerable.


. - German by K. A. H. Kellner (2 vols. Cologne, 1882) and selections in Bibliothek der Kirchenviiter (1869, 1872); English by S. Thelwall and others in Ante-Nicene Fathers, iii. and iv., and (apologetic and practical writings) by C. Dodgson in Library of the Fathers, x. (Oxford, 1842).

Literature. - Fr. Oehler's third volume contains a collection of early dissertations. See also A. Hauck, Tertullian's Leben and Schriften (Erlangen, 1877); J. M. Fuller in Dict. Chr. Biog., iv. 818-864; E. Nolldechen, Tertullian (Gotha, 1890); P. Monceaux, Histoire litteraire de l'Afrique chre'tienne, vol. i. (Paris, 1901); T. R. Glover, The Conflict of Religions tin the Early Roman Empire, chap. x. (London,- 1909); and the various Histories of Dogma and Church Histories.

For a complete bibliography see - G. Kruger, Hist. of Early Christian Literature (Eng. tr. New York and London, 1897); Herzog-Hauck, Realencyk. fur prot. Theologie, xix.; and O. Bardenhewer, Patrology (Eng. tr. Freiburg im Breisgau and St Louis, 1908). A large number of earlier monographs on special points are cited in the 9th edn. of the Ency. Brit. (A. HA.; X.)

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Ecclesiastical writer in the second and third centuries, b. probably about 160 at Carthage, being the son of a centurion in the proconsular service. He was evidently by profession an advocate in the law-courts, and he shows a close acquaintance with the procedure and terms of Roman law, though it is doubtful whether he is to be identified with a jurist Tertullian who is cited in the Pandects. He knew Greek as well as Latin, and wrote works in Greek which have not come down to us. A pagan until middle life, he had shared the pagan prejudices against Christianity, and had indulged like others in shameful pleasures. His conversion was not later than the year 197, and may have been earlier. He embraced the Faith with all the ardour of his impetuous nature. He became a priest, no doubt of the Church of Carthage. Monceaux, followed by d'Ales, considers that his earlier writings were composed while he was yet a layman, and if this be so, then his ordination was about 200. His extant writings range in date from the apologetics of 197 to the attack on a bishop who is probably Pope Callistus (after 218). It was after the year 206 that he joined the Montanist sect, and he seems to have definitively separated from the Church about 211 (Harnack) or 213 (Monceaux). After writing more virulently against the Church than even against heathen and persecutors, he separated from the Montanists and founded a sect of his own. The remnant of the Tertullianists was reconciled to the Church by St. Augustine. A number of the works of Tertullian are on special points of belief or discipline. According to St. Jerome he lived to extreme old age.


The year 197 saw the publication of a short address by Tertullian, "To the Martyrs", and of his great apologetic works, the "Ad nationes" and the "Apologeticus". The former has been considered a finished sketch for the latter; but it is more true to say that the second work has a different purpose, though a great deal of the same matter occurs in both, the same arguments being displayed in the same manner, with the same examples and even the same phrases. The appeal to the nations suffers from its transmission in a single codex, in which omissions of a word or several words or whole lines are to be deplored. Tertullian's style is difficult enough without such super added causes of obscurity. But the text of the "Ad nationes" must have been always rougher than that of the "Apologeticus", which is a more careful as well as a more perfect work, and contains more matter because of its better arrangement; for it is just the same length as the two books "Ad nationes".

The "Ad nationes" has for its entire object the refutation of calumnies against Christians. In the first place they are proved to repose on unreasoning hatred only; the procedure of trial is illogical; the offence is nothing but the name of Christian, which ought rather to be a title of honour; no proof is forthcoming of any crimes, only rumour; the first persecutor was Nero, the worst of emperors. Secondly, the individual charges are met; Tertullian challenges the reader to believe in anything so contrary to nature as the accusations of infanticide and incest. Christians are not the causes of earthquakes and floods and famine, for these happened long before Christianity. The pagans despise their own gods, banish them, forbid their worship, mock them on the stage; the poets tell horrid stories of them; they were in reality only men, and bad men. You say we worship an ass's head, he goes on, but you worship all kinds of animals; your gods are images made on a cross framework, so you worship crosses. You say we worship the sun; so do you. A certain Jew hawked about a caricature of a creature half ass, half goat, as our god; but you actually adore half-animals. As for infanticide, you expose your own children and kill the unborn. Your promiscuous lust causes you to be in danger of the incest of which you accuse us. We do not swear by the genius of Caesar, but we are loyal, for we pray for him, whereas you revolt. Caesar does not want to be a god; he prefers to be alive. You say it is through obstinacy that we despise death; but of old such contempt of death was esteemed heroic virtue. Many among you brave death for gain or wagers; but we, because we believe in judgment. Finally, do us justice; examine our case, and change your minds. The second book consists entirely in an attack on the gods of the pagans; they are marshalled in classes after Varro. It was not, urges the apologist, owing to these multitudinous gods that the empire grew.

Out of this fierce appeal and indictment was developed the grander "Apologeticus", addressed to the rulers of the empire and the administrators of justice. The former work attacked popular prejudices; the new one is an imitation of the Greek Apologies, and was intended as an attempt to secure an amelioration in the treatment of Christians by alteration of the law or its administration. Tertullian cannot restrain his invective; yet he wishes to be conciliating, and it breaks out in spite of his argument, instead of being its essence as before. He begins again by an appeal to reason. There are no witnesses, he urges, to prove our crimes; Trajan ordered Pliny not to seek us out, but yet to punish us if we were known; — what a paralogism! The actual procedure is yet more strange. Instead of being tortured until was confess, we are tortured until we deny. So far the "Ad Nationes" is merely developed and strengthened. Then, after a condensed summary of the second book as to the heathen gods, Tertullian begins in chapter xvii an exposition of the belief of Christians in one God, the Creator, invisible, infinite, to whom the soul of man, which by nature is inclined to Christianity, bears witness. The floods and the fires have been His messengers. We have a testimony, he adds, from our sacred books, which are older than all your gods. Fulfilled prophecy is the proof that they are divine. It is then explained that Christ is God, the Word of God born of a virgin; His two comings, His miracles, passion, resurrection, and forty days with the disciples, are recounted. The disciples spread His doctrine throughout the world; Nero sowed it with blood at Rome. When tortured the Christian cries, "We worship God through Christ". The demons confess Him and they stir men up against us. Next, loyalty to Ceasar is discussed at greater length than before. When the populace rises, how easily the Christians could take vengeance: "We are but of yesterday, yet we fill your cities, islands, forts, towns, councils, even camps, tribes, decuries, the palace, the senate, the forum; we have left you the temples alone". We might migrate, and leave you in shame and in desolation. We ought at least to be tolerated; for what are we? — a body compacted by community of religion, of discipline, and of hope. We meet together to pray, even for the emperors and authorities, to hear readings from the holy books and exhortations. We judge and separate those who fall into crime. We have elders of proved virtue to preside. Our common fund is replenished by voluntary donations each month, and is expended not on gluttony but on the poor and suffering. This charity is quoted against us as a disgrace; see, it is said, how they love one another. We call ourselves brethren; you also are our brethren by nature, but bad brethren. We are accused of every calamity. Yet we live with you; we avoid no profession, but those of assassins, sorcerers, and such like. You spare the philosophers, though their conduct is less admirable than ours. They confess that our teaching is older than theirs, for nothing is older than truth. The resurrection at which you jeer has many parallels in nature. You think us fools; and we rejoice to suffer for this. We conquer by our death. Inquire into the cause of our constancy. We believe this martyrdom to be the remission of all offences, and that he who is condemned before your tribunal is absolved before God.

These points are all urged with infinite wit and pungency. The faults are obvious. The effect on the pagans may have been rather to irritate than to convince. The very brevity results in obscurity. But every lover of eloquence, and there were many in those days, will have relished with the pleasure of an epicure the feast of ingenious pleading and recondite learning. The rapier thrusts are so swift, we can hardly realize their deadliness before they are renewed in showers, with sometimes a blow as of a bludgeon to vary the effect. The style is compressed like that of Tacitus, but the metrical closes are observed with care, against the rule of Tacitus; and that wonderful maker of phrases is outdone by his Christian successor in gemlike sentences which will be quoted while the world lasts. Who does not know the anima naturaliter Christiana (soul by nature Christian); the Vide, inquiunt, ut invicem se diligant (see they exclaim, how they love one another), and the Semen est sanguis Christianorum (The blood of Christians is seed)? It was probably about the same time that Tertullian developed his thesis of the "Testimony of the Soul" to the existence of one God, in his little book with this title. With his usual eloquence he enlarges on the idea that common speech bids us use expressions such as "God grant", or "If God will", "God bless", "God sees", "May God repay". The soul testifies also to devils, to just vengeance, and to its own immortality.

Two or three years later (about 200) Tertullian assaulted heresy in a treatise even more brilliant, which, unlike the "Apologeticus", is not for his own day only but for all time. It is called "Liber de praescriptione haereticorum". Prescription now means the right obtained to something by long usage. In Roman law the signification was wider; it meant the cutting short of a question by the refusal to hear the adversary's arguments, on the ground of an anterior point which must cut away the ground under his feet. So Tertullian deals with heresies: it is of no use to listen to their arguments or refute them, for we have a number of antecendent proofs that they cannot deserve a hearing. Heresies, he begins, must not astonish us, for they were prophesied. Heretics urge the text, "Seek and ye shall find", but this was not said to Christians; we have a rule of faith to be accepted without question. "Let curiosity give place to faith and vain glory make way for salvation", so Tertullian parodies a line of Cicero's. The heretics argue out of Scripture; but, first, we are forbidden to consort with a heretic after one rebuke has been delivered, and secondly, disputation results only in blasphemy on the one side and indignation on the other, while the listener goes away more puzzled than he came. The real question is, "To whom does the Faith belong? Whose are the Scriptures? By whom, through whom, when and to whom has been handed down the discipline by which we are Christians? The answer is plain: Christ sent His apostles, who founded churches in each city, from which the others have borrowed the tradition of the Faith and the seed of doctrine and daily borrow in order to become churches; so that they also are Apostolic in that they are the offspring of the Apostolic churches. All are that one Church which the Apostles founded, so long as peace and intercommunion are observed [dum est illis communicatio pacis et appellatio fraternitatis et contesseratio hospitalitatis]. Therefore the testimony to the truth is this: We communicate with the apostolic Churches". The heretics will reply that the Apostles did not know all the truth. Could anything be unknown to Peter, who was called the rock on which the Church was to be built? or to John, who lay on the Lord's breast? But they will say, the churches have erred. Some indeed went wrong, and were corrected by the Apostle; though for others he had nothing but praise. "But let us admit that all have erred:— is it credible that all these great churches should have strayed into the same faith"? Admitting this absurdity, then all the baptisms, spiritual gifts, miracles, martyrdoms, were in vain until Marcion and Valentinus appeared at last! Truth will be younger than error; for both these heresiarchs are of yesterday, and were still Catholics at Rome in the episcopate of Eleutherius (this name is a slip or a false reading). Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this. Why, their errors were denounced by the Apostles long ago. Finally (36), he names some Apostolic churches, pointing above all to Rome, whose witness is nearest at hand, — happy Church, in which the Apostles poured out their whole teaching with their blood, where Peter suffered a death like his Master's, where Paul was crowned with an end like the Baptist's, where John was plunged into fiery oil without hurt! The Roman Rule of Faith is summarized, no doubt from the old Roman Creed, the same as our present Apostles' Creed but for a few small additions in the latter; much the same summary was given in chapter xiii, and is found also in "De virginibus velandis" (chapter I). Tertullian evidently avoids giving the exact words, which would be taught only to catechumens shortly before baptism. The whole luminous argument is founded on the first chapters of St. Irenaeus's third book, but its forceful exposition is not more Tertullian's own than its exhaustive and compelling logic. Never did he show himself less violent and less obscure. The appeal to the Apostolic churches was unanswerable in his day; the rest of his argument is still valid.

A series of short works addressed to catechumens belong also to Tertullian's Catholic days, and fall between 200 and 206. "De spectaculis" explains and probably exaggerates the impossibility for a Christian to attend any heathen shows, even races or theatrical performances, without either wounding his faith by participation in idolatry or arousing his passions. "De idololatria" is by some placed at a later date, but it is anyhow closely connected with the former work. It explains that the making of idols is forbidden, and similarly astrology, selling of incense, etc. A schoolmaster cannot elude contamination. A Christian cannot be a soldier. To the question, "How am I then to live?", Tertullian replies that faith fears not famine; for the Faith we must give up our life, how much more our living? "De baptismo" is an instruction on the necessity of baptism and on its effects; it is directed against a female teacher of error belonging to the sect of Gaius (perhaps the Anti-Montanist). We learn that baptism was conferred regularly by the bishop, but with his consent could be administered by priests, deacons, or even laymen. The proper times were Easter and Pentecost. Preparation was made by fasting, vigils, and prayers. Confirmation was conferred immediately after by unction and laying on of hands. "De paenitentia" will be mentioned later. "De oratione" contains aan exposition of the Lord's Prayer, totius evangelii breviarium. "De cultu feminarum" is an instruction on modesty and plainness in dress; Tertullian enjoys detailing the extravagances of female toilet and ridiculing them. Besides these didactic works to catechumens, Tertullian wrote at the same period two books, "Ad uxorem", in the former of which he begs his wife not to marry again after his death, as it is not proper for a Christian, while in the second book he enjoins upon her at least to marry a Christian if she does marry, for pagans must not be consorted with. A little book on patience is touching, for the writer admits that it is an impudence in him to discourse on a virtue in which he is so conspicuously lacking. A book against the Jews contains some curious chronology, used to prove the fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks. The latter half of the book is nearly identical with part of the third book against Marcion. It would seem that Tertullian used over again what he had written in the earliest form of that work, which dates from this time. "Adversus Hermogenem" is against a certain Hermogenes, a painter (of idols?) who taught that God created the world out of pre-existing matter. Tertullian reduces his view ad absurdum, and establishes the creation out of nothing both from Scripture and reason.


The next period of Tertullian's literary activity shows distinct evidence of Montanist opinions, but he has not yet openly broken with the Church, which had not as yet condemned the new prophecy. Montanus and the prophetesses Priscilla and Maximilla had been long dead when Tertullian was converted to belief in their inspiration. He held the words of Montanus to be really those of the Paraclete, and he characteristically exaggerated their import. We find him henceforth lapsing into rigorism, and condemning absolutely second marriage and forgiveness of certain sins, and insisting on new fasts. His teaching had always been excessive in its severity; now he positively revels in harshness. Harnack and d'Alès look upon "De Virginibus velandis" as the first work of this time, though it has been placed later by Monceaux and others on account of its irritated tone. We learn that Carthage was divided by a dispute whether virgins should be veiled; Tertullian and the pro-Montanist party stood for the affirmative. The book had been preceded by a Greek writing on the same subject. Tertullian declares that the Rule of Faith is unchangeable, but discipline is progressive. He quotes a dream in favour of the veil. The date may be about 206. Shortly afterwards Tertullian published his largest extant work, five books against Marcion. A first draft had been written much earlier; a second recension had been published, when yet unfinished, without the writer's consent; the first book of the final edition was finished in the fifteenth year of Severus, 207. The last book may be a few years later. This controversy is most important for our knowledge of Marcion's doctrine. The refutation of it out of his own New Testament, which consisted of St. Luke's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistles, enables us to reconstitute much of the heretic's Scripture text. The result may be seen in Zahn's, "Geschichte des N. T. Kanons", II, 455-524. A work against the Valentinians followed. It is mainly based on the first book of St. Irenaeus.

In 209 the little book "De pallio" appeared. Tertullian had excited remark by adopting the Greek pallium, the recognized dress of philosophers, and he defends his conduct in a witty pamphlet. A long book, "De anima", gives Tertullian's psychology. He well describes the unity of the soul; he teaches that it is spiritual, but immateriality in the fullest sense he admits for nothing that exists, — even God is corpus. Two works are against the docetism of the Gnostics, "De carne Christi" and "De resurrectione carnis". Here he emphasizes the reality of Christ's Body and His virgin-birth, and teaches a corporal resurrection. But he seems to deny the virginity of Mary, the Mother of Christ, in partu, though he affirms it ante partum. He addressed to a convert who was a widower an exhortation to avoid second marriage, which is equivalent to fornication. This work, "De exhortatione castitatis", implies that the writer is not yet separated from the Church. The same excessive rigour appears in the "De corona", in which Tertullian defends a soldier who had refused to wear a chaplet on his head when he received the donative granted to the army on the accession of Caracalla and Geta in 211. The man had been degraded and imprisoned. Many Christians thought his action extravagant, and refused to regard him as a martyr. Tertullian not only declares that to wear the crown would have been idolatry, but argues that no Christian can be a soldier without compromising his faith. Next in order is the "Scorpiace", or antidote to the bite of the Scorpion, directed against the teaching of the Valentinians that God cannot approve of martyrdom, since He does not want man's death; they even permitted the external act of idolatry. Tertullian shows that God desires the courage of the martyrs and their victory over temptation; he proves from Scripture the duty of suffering death for the Faith and the great promises attached to this heroism. To the year 212 belongs the open letter "Ad scapulam", addressed to the proconsul of Africa who was renewing the persecution, which had ceased since 203. He is solemnly warned of the retribution which overtakes persecutors.


The formal secession of Tertullian from the Church of Carthage seems to have taken place either in 211 or at the end of 212 at latest. The earlier date is fixed by Harnack on account of the close connection between the "De corona" of 211 with the "De fuga", which must, he thinks, have immediately followed the "De corona". It is certain that "De fuga in persecutione" was written after the secession. It condemns flight in time of persecution, for God's providence has intended the suffering. This intolerable doctrine had not been held by Tertullian in his Catholic days. He now terms the Catholics "Psychici", as opposed to the "spiritual" Montanists. The cause of his schism is not mentioned. It is unlikely that he left the Church by his own act. Rather it would seem that when the Montanist prophecies were finally disapproved at Rome, the Church of Carthage excommunicated at least the more violent among their adherents. After "De fuga" come "De monogamia" (in which the wickedness of second marriage is yet more severely censured) and "De jejunio", a defence of the Montanist fasts. A dogmatic work, "Adversus Prazean", is of great importance. Praxeas had prevented, according to Tertullian, the recognition of the Montanist prophecy by the pope; Tertullian attacks him as a Monarchian, and develops his own doctrine of the Holy Trinity (see MONARCHIANS and PRAXEAS). The last remaining work of the passionate schismatic is apparently " De pudicitia", if it is a protest, as is generally held, aagainst a Decree of Pope Callistus, in which the pardon of adulterers and fornicators, after due penance done, was published at the intercession of the martyrs. Monceaux, however, still supports the view which was once commoner than it now is, that the Decree in question was issued by a bishop of Carthage. In any case Tertullian's attribution of it to a would-be episcopus episcoporum and pontifex maximus merely attests its peremptory character. The identification of this Decree with the far wider relaxation of discipline with which Hippolytus reproaches Callistus is uncertain.

The argument of Tertullian must be considered in some detail, since his witness to the ancient system of penance is of first-rate importance. As a Catholic, he addressed "De paenitentia" to catechumens as an exhortation to repentance previous to baptism. Besides that sacrament he mentions, with an expression of unwillingness, a "last hope", a second plank of salvation, after which there is no other. This is the severe remedy of exomologesis, confession, involving a long penance in sackcloth and ashes for the remission of post-baptismal sin. In the "De pudicitia" the Montanist now declared that there is no forgiveness for the gravest sins, precisely those for which exomologesis is necessary. It is said by some modern critics, such as Funk and Turmel among Catholics, that Tertullian did not really change his view on this point the writing of the two treatises. It is pointed out that in "De paenitentia" there is no mention of the restoration of the penitent to communion; he is to do penance, but with no hope of pardon in this life; no sacrament is administered, and the satisfaction is lifelong. This view is impossible. Tertullian declares in "De pud." That he has changed his mind and expects to be taunted for his inconsistency. He implies that he used to hold such a relaxation, as the one he is attacking, to be lawful. At any rate in the "De paen." he parallels baptism with exomologesis, and supposes that the latter has the same effect as the former, obviously the forgiveness of sin in this life. Communion is never mentioned, since catechumens are addressed; but if exomologesis did not eventually restore all Christian privileges, there could be no reason for fearing that the mention of it should act as an encouragement to sin, for a lifelong penance would hardly be a reassuring prospect. No length is mentioned, evidently because the duration depended on the nature of the sin and the judgment of the bishop; had death been the term, this would have been emphatically expressed. Finally. And this is conclusive, it could not be insisted on that no second penance was ever allowed, if all penance was lifelong.


For the full understanding of Tertullian's doctrine we must know his division of sin into three classes. There are first the terrible crimes of idolatry, blasphemy, homicide, adultery, fornication, false witness, fraud (Adv. Marc., IV, ix; in "De Pud." he substitutes apostasy for false witness and adds unnatural vice). As a Montanist he calls these irremissible. Between these and mere venial sins there are modica or media (De Pud.., I), less grave but yet serious sins, which he enumerates in "De Pud.", xix: "Sins of daily committal, to which we are all subject; to whom indeed does it not occur to be angry without cause and after the sun has set, or to give a blow, or easily to curse, or to swear rashly, or break a contract, or lie through shame or necessity? How much we are tempted in business, in duties, in trade, in food, in sight, in hearing! So that, if there were no forgiveness for such things, none could be saved. Therefore there will be forgiveness for these sins by the prayer of Christ to the Father" (De Pud., xix).

Another list (De pud., vii) represents the sins which may constitute a lost sheep, as distinguished from one that is dead: "The faithful is lost if he attend the chariot races, or gladiatorial combats, or the unclean theatre, or athletic shows, or playing, or feasts on some secular solemnity, or if he has exercised an art which in any way serves idolatry, or has lapsed without consideration into some denial or blasphemy". For these sins there is forgiveness, though the sinner has strayed from the flock. How is forgiveness obtained? We learn this only incidentally from the words: "That kind of penitence which is subsequent to faith, which can either obtain forgiveness from the bishop for lesser sins, or from God only for those which are irremissible" (ib.,xviii). Thus Tertullian admits the power of the bishop for all but "irremissible" sins. The absolution which he still acknowledges for frequent sins was obviously not limited to a single occasion, but must have been frequently repeated. It is not even referred to in "De paen", which deals only with baptism and public penance for the gravest sins. Again, in "De pud.", Tertullian repudiates his own earlier teaching that the keys were left by Christ through Peter to His Church (Scorpiace, x); he now declares (De pud., xxi) that the gift was to Peter personally, and cannot be claimed by the Church of the Psychici. The spiritual have the right to forgive, but the Paraclete said: "The Church has the power to forgive sins but I will not do so, lest they sin afresh."

The system of the Church of Carthage in Tertullian's time was therefore manifestly this: Those who committed grievous sins confessed them to the bishop, and he absolved them after due penance enjoined and performed, unless the case was in his judgment so grave that public penance was obligatory. This public penance was only allowed once; it was for protracted periods, even sometimes until the hour of death, but at the end of it forgiveness and restoration were promised. The term was frequently shortened at the prayer of martyrs.

Lost Works

Of the lost works of Tertullian the most important was the defence of the Montanist manner of prophesying, "De ecstasi", in six books, with a seventh book against Apollonius. To the peculiarities of Tertullian's views which have already been explained must be added some further remarks. He did not care for philosophy: the philosophers are the "patriarchs of the heretics". His notion that all things, pure spirits and even God, must be bodies, is accounted for by his ignorance of philosophical terminology. Yet of the human soul he actually says that it was seen in a vision as tender, light, and of the colour of air! All our souls were contained in Adam, and are transmitted to us with the taint of original sin upon them, — an ingenious if gross form of traducianism. His Trinitarian teaching is inconsistent, being an amalgamation of the Roman doctrine with that of St. Justin Martyr. Tertullian has the true formula for the Holy Trinity, tres Personae, una Substantia. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are numerically distinct, and each is God; they are of one substance, one state, and one power. So far the doctrine is accurately Nicene. But by the side of this appears the Greek view which was one day to develop into Arianism: that the unity is to be sought not in the Essence but in the origin of the Persons. He says that from all eternity there was reason (ratio) in God, and in reason the Word (Sermo), not distinct from God, but in vulva cordis. For the purpose of creation the Word received a perfect birth as Son. There was a time when there was no Son and no sin, when God was neither Father nor Judge. In his Christology Tertullian has had no Greek influence, and is purely Roman. Like most Latin Fathers he speaks not of two Natures but of two Substances in one Person, united without confusion, and distinct in their operations. Thus he condemns by anticipation the Nestorian, Monophysite, and Monothelite heresies. But he seems to teach that Mary, the Mother of Christ, had other children. Yet he makes her the second Eve, who by her obedience effaced the disobedience of the first Eve.

Doctrine of the Eucharist

Tertullian's doctrine of the Holy Eucharist has been much discussed, especially the words: "Acceptum panem et distributum discipulis corpus suum illum fecit, hoc est corpus meum dicendo, id est, figura corporis mei". A consideration of the context shows only one interpretation to be possible. Tertullian is proving that Our Lord Himself explained bread in Jer., xi, 19 (mittamus lignum in panem ejus) to refer to His Body, when He said, "This is My Body", that is, that bread was the symbol of His Body. Nothing can be elicited either for or against the Real Presence; for Tertullian does not explain whether the bread is the symbol of the Body present or absent. The context suggests the former meaning. Another passage is: Panem, quo ipsum corpus suum repraesentat. This might mean "Bread which stands for His Body", or "Presents, makes present". D'Ales has calculated that the sense of presentation to the imagination occurs seven times in Tertullian, and the similar moral sense (presentation by picture, etc.) occurs twelve times, whereas the sense of physical presentation occurs thirty-three times. In the treatise in question against Marcion the physical sense alone is found, and fourteen times. A more direct assertion of the Real Presence is Corpus ejus in pane censetur (De orat., vi). As to the grace given, he has some beautiful expressions, such as: "Itaque petendo panem quotidianum, perpetuitatem postulamus in Christo et individuitatem a corpore ejus" (In petitioning for daily bread, we ask for perpetuity in Christ, and indivisibility from His body. — Ibid.). A famous passage on the Sacraments of Baptism, Unction, Confirmation, Orders and Eucharist runs: "Caro abluitur ut anima maculetur; caro ungitur ut anima consecretur; caro signatur ut et anima muniatur; caro manus impositione adumbratur ut et anima spiritu illuminetur; caro corpore et sanguine Christi vescitur ut et anima de Deo saginetur" (The flesh is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed [with the cross], that the soul, too, may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also may be illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may have its fill of God — "Deres. Carnis.", viii). He testifies to the practice of daily communion, and the preserving of the Holy Eucharist by private persons for this purpose. What will a heathen husband think of that which is taken by his Christian wife before all other food? "If he knows that it is Bread, will he not believe that it is simply what it is called?" This implies not merely the Real Presence, but transubstantiation. The station days were Wednesday and Friday; on what other days besides Holy Mass was offered we do not know. Some thought that Holy Communion would break their fast on Station days; Tertullian explains: " When you have received and reserved the Body of the Lord, you will have assisted at the Sacrifice and have accomplished the duty of fasting as well" (De oratione, xix). Tertullian's list of customs observed by Apostolic tradition though not in Scripture (De cor., iii) is famous: the baptismal renunciations and feeding with milk and honey, fasting Communion, offerings for the dead (Masses) on their anniversaries, no fasting or kneeling on the Lord's Day and between Easter and Pentecost, anxiety as to the falling to the ground of any crumb or drop of the Holy Eucharist, the Sign of the Cross made continually during the day.


Tertullian's canon of the Old Testament included the deuterocanonical books, since he quotes most of them. He also cites the Book of Enoch as inspired, and thinks those who rejected it were wrong. He seems also to recognize IV Esdras, and the Sibyl, though he admits that there are many sibylline forgeries. In the New Testament he knows the Four Gospels, Acts, Epistles of St. Paul, I Peter (Ad Ponticos), I John, Jude, Apocalypse. He does not know James and II Peter, but we cannot tell that he did not know II, III John. He attributes Hebrews to St. Barnabas. He rejects the "Pastor" of Hermas and says that many councils of the Psychici had also rejected it. Tertullian was learned, but careless in his historical statements. He quotes Varro and a medical writer, Soranus of Ephesus, and was evidently well read in pagan literature. He cites Irenaeus, Justin, Miltiades, and Proclus. He probably knew parts of Clement of Alexandria's writings. He is the first of Latin theological writers. To some extent, how great we cannot tell, he must have invented a theological idiom and have coined new expressions. He is the first witness to the existence of a Latin Bible, though he seems frequently to have translated from the Greek Bible as he wrote. Zahn has denied that he possessed any Latin translation, but this opinion is commonly rejected, and St. Perpetua certainly had one at Carthage in 203.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

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