Tertullian

c. 155-225






The Tertullian Home Page




The Works of Tertullian - 31 treatises










Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was one of the greatest Western theologians and writers of Christian antiquity. the first important Christian ecclesiastical writer in Latin, Tertullian's writings are witness to the doctrine and discipline of the early church.

An advocate in the law courts in Rome, Tertullian converted (c. 193) to Christianity. His admiration for Christian heroism under persecution seems to have been the strongest factor in his conversion. In 197 he returned to Carthage, where he married and became a presbyter of the church. About 207 he broke with the church and joined the Montanists in Africa. Soon after, however, he broke with them and formed his own party, known as the Tertullianists.

A zealous champion of Christianity, Tertullian wrote many theological treatises, of which 31 have survived. He wrote with brilliant rhetoric and biting satire. His passion for truth led him into polemics with his enemies. In his various works he strove either to defend Christianity, to refute heresy, especially Gnosticism, or to argue some practical point of morality or church discipline. His views on ethics and discipline, rigorously ascetic from the first, became progressively more harsh in his later works. After espousing Montanist doctrines, he was a severe critic of orthodox Christians, whom he accused of moral laxity.

Tertullian profoundly influenced the later church fathers, especially Saint Cyprian -- and through them, all Christian theologians of the West. Many of his works are accepted as orthodox by the Roman Catholic church and are included in the recognized body of patristic literature. Tertullian's writings demonstrate a profound knowledge of Greek and Latin literature, both pagan and Christian. He was the first writer in Latin to formulate Christian theological concepts, such as the nature of the Trinity. Having no models to follow, he developed a terminology derived from many sources, chiefly Greek and the legal vocabulary of Rome. He is regarded by some as the Father of Latin Theology.

The most famous work by Tertullian is Apologeticum (c. 197), an impassioned defense of Christians against pagan charges of immorality, economic worthlessness, and political subversion. De spectaculis (On the Games) 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 (On Idolatry) 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 (On Baptism) 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. 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. Besides these didactic works to catechumens, Tertullian wrote at the same period two books, Ad uxorem (To my wife), 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. 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 to absurdity, and establishes the creation out of nothing both from Scripture and reason.

Of his doctrinal treatises refuting heresy, the most important is De praescriptione hereticorum (On the Claims of Heretics), in which he argued that the church alone has the authority to declare what is and is not orthodox Christianity. Like all Montanists, Tertullian held that Christians should welcome persecution, not flee from it.

Christian historians value many of his writings, especially De baptismo and De oratione (On Prayer), for the light they throw on contemporary religious practices.


References:
1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.

Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, Copyright 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.
Geddes MacGregor, Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy, New York: Paragon House, Copyright 1989 Geddes MacGregor.
The Catholic Encyclopedia: an International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline and History of the Catholic Church, Herbermann and Pace, eds., New York: Appleton, 1907-1912.