whose name appears in the best MSS. under the form Q. Septimius Florens Tertullianus,
is the most ancient of the Latin fathers now extant. Notwithstanding the celebrity which he has always enjoyed, our knowledge of his personal history is extremely limited, and is derived almost exclusively from a succinct notice by St. Jerome.
From this we learn that Tertullian was a native of Carthage, the son of a proconsular centurion (an officer who appears to have acted as a sort of aide-de-camp to provincial governors); that he flourished chiefly during the reigns of Septimius Severus and of Caracalla; that he became a presbyter, and remained orthodox until he had reached the term of middle life, when, in consequence of the envy and ill-treatment which he experienced on the part of the Roman clergy, he went over to the Montanists, and wrote several books in defence of those heretics; that he lived to a great age, and was the author of many works.
Various editors and historians of ecclesiastical literature have endeavoured to extend or illustrate the scanty information conveyed in the above sketch.
1. Since the elevation of Septimius Severus took place in A. D. 193, and since Caracalla was slain in A. D. 217, if we suppose that Tertullian attained to the age of eighty, his birth would fall somewhere about A. D. 160, and his death about A. D. 240. Allix places his birth about 145 or 150, and his death about A. D. 220; but the period thus embraced would scarcely be sufficient to justify the statement of his biographer that he was believed to have attained to extreme old age (usque ad decrepitam aetatem vixisse fertur
2. It has been inferred from certain expressions which occur in different treatises by Tertullian, that he was not born and educated in the true faith. Making every allowance for the rhetorical style to which he is so much addicted, the words in question seem upon the whole to warrant this interpretation, but nothing can be ascertained with regard to the time or the circumstances of his conversion. (Apolog.
18, dc Poenit. 1, de Spectac. 19, de Resurrect. Carn. 59, de Fuga in Persec. 6, adv. Marc.
3. There can be no doubt that he was married, for we find among his tracts an address to his wife, in two books, and it seems probable, from their tenor, that she was considerably younger than himself.
4. Some members of the Roman Church, disturbed by the example of a wedded priest, have maintained that he never was a presbyter, and appeal to two passages in which he certainly assumes the character of a layman (de Monog. 12, de Exhort. Cast. 7
But we are here again embarrassed by the abrupt transitions and bold personifications so common in this author, and it has been urged, with considerable force, that in the passages referred to he is led naturally, by the course of his argument, to speak as if he actually belonged to that class whose position he describes.
It is perfectly true, on the other hand, that we might read through the works of Tertullian without discovering that he had ever been ordained ; but neither this negative presumption nor the uncertain conclusions drawn from phrases of doubtful import can outweigh the positive testimony of Jerome, who had ample means of ascertaining the fact which he records, and no conceivable motive for suppressing or perverting the truth.
5. It being admitted that he was a presbyter, another question arises as to the place where he exercised his functions, whether at Carthage or at Rome. Here we shall have much difficulty in forming a positive opinion. We should naturally conclude, in absence of all direct evidence to the contrary, that he remained in his native country, and we know that writers who flourished towards the close of the fourth century designate him as a Carthaginian presbyter (Optat. ad v. Parmen.
Praesdest. de Haeres. 26
). On the other hand, it being certain that he visited Rome (de Cult. Femm.
1.7), his collision with the Roman clergy and the intimate knowledge which he frequently manifests with regard to the state of parties and the ecclesiastical proceedings in the metropolis, seem to indicate a lengthened residence and close personal observation. (Comp. Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 2.2
6. His defection from the Church, caused, according to Jerome, by the harsh and insulting conduct of the Roman clergy, has been ascribed by some persons in modern times to disappointed ambition. They suppose that he had fixed his desires upon the bishopric of Rome or of Carthage, and that upon seeing others preferred to himself he seceded in disgust.
It is unnecessary to enter into any lengthened investigation of this subject, for the views thus propounded are purely hypothetical, receiving no support or countenance from any trustworthy authority.
The classification of the works of this father is attended with much difficulty. Some have proposed to arrange them in regular chronological succession, but this scheme has proved altogether abortive; for very few of his writings offer any in dications upon which we can even attempt to found a calculation, and in one case only can we determine the date with certainty. Others have thought it expedient to distribute them, according to the nature of the topics discussed, into Dogmatical, Polemical,
but many of the subjects are treated in such a manner as to render it impossible to assign them to any one of these divisions exclusively, and, when we consider that the opinions entertained by the author underwent material changes as he advanced in life, it is manifest that any arrangement which does not. to a certain extent, trace the gradual development of these new views, must be imperfect and unsatisfactory. Hence, theologians have now for the most part agreed merely to separate those tracts which were composed while Tertullian was still a member of the Church, from those which were composed after he became a Montanist.
But even this plan, simple as it may appear, cannot be completely executed, for the doctrines of Montanus were, upon many points, strictly orthodox, and it was only when speaking of himself and the nature of his own mission that he became subject to the charge of extravagance and heresy. Thus, after we have set aside a few pieces which are stamped with broad and well-defined marks of heterodoxy, we shall find a considerable number in which the characteristics are faint and doubtful, and many more in which they are altogether wanting. Still the attempt ought to be made; and accordingly we shall pursue the method followed by the Bishop of Lincoln, the best, perhaps, which the circumstances of the case permit us to adopt. We shall place together: --
- I. Works probably written while he was yet a member of the Church.
- II. Works certainly written after he became a Montanist.
- III. Works probably written after he became a Montanist.
- IV. Works respecting which nothing certain can be pronounced.
I. Works probably written while he was yet a member of the church
Chiefly remarkable because the author here advocates a doctrine which at a subsequent period, after he had embraced the errors of Montanus, he sternly impugned, namely, that those who committed heinous sins after baptism might, notwithstanding their guilt, obtain absolution from the Church, if sincerely penitent.
In the first chapter, when defining penitence and pointing out the erroneous ideas entertained by the gentiles, he makes use of an expression which has been regarded as an avowal that he had at one time been a heathen, " Poenitentiam, hoc genus hominum, quod et ipsi retro fuimus,
caeci sine Domini lumine, natura tenus norunt," &c. Erasmus, in consequence of the elegance by which the style of this tract is distinguished, was led to doubt whether it really belonged to Tertullian, but it is quoted as his by Pacianus, a writer of the fourth century, and is now generally received as genuine.
Consists of two parts: -- a.
An exposition of the Lord's Prayer, which is represented as containing an epitome of the whole Gospel. b.
Instructions with respect to certain forms to be observed by Christians in their devotions.
The latter portion terminates abruptly in the MSS., but some additional chapters were supplied by Muratori, by whom they were discovered in the Ambrosian library, and published in his Anecdota.
These are rejected by some critics, but admitted by others, among whom we may specially mention Neander.
A certain Quintilla had been propagating at Carthage the heresy that baptism was neither imperative nor beneficial. Tertullian, in confuting this error, takes occasion -- a.
To examine fully into the nature and efficacy of this sacrament. b.
To discuss certain questions touching the time at which it ought to be administered and the forms to be observed.
He calls his opponent a Cainite ;
and if we suppose that he uses the term literally, and not as a mere epithet of reproach, she must have belonged to that wild sect who looked up with peculiar reverence to Cain and those other characters in the Bible who had fallen under the heavy displeasure of the Almighty.
Advice to his wife, with regard to her conduct in the event of his predeceasing her.
In the first book he earnestly dissuades her from contracting a second marriage, maintaining that all such alliances are wrong in principle and inexpedient in practice.
In the second, supposing that, notwithstanding his arguments to the contrary, she may feel inclined again to enter into wedlock, he urges upon her the necessity of uniting herself to a Christian and not to a heathen, pointing out that it was contrary to the express commands of God, and in itself impure, unnatural, and dangerous to form so close a connection with an alien from the faith.
An earnest exhortation to the brethren who were suffering persecution on account of their faith, to remain steadfast, in defiance of imprisonment, torture, or death itself, looking forward with eager anticipations to the glories and privileges reserved for those who won the crown of martyrdom.
A moral essay on the importance and utility of this virtue, conceived in a truly Christian spirit, and expressed, especially towards the conclusion, in very dignified and picturesque language.
A public debate had been held between a Jewish proselyte and a Christian, each supporting the claims of the creed which he professed.
The discussion having been carried on irregularly, and frequently interrupted by the clamours of the partizans on either side, Tertullian deemed this a fitting opportunity for presenting in a written form a succinct view of the real merits of the question.
He undertakes to demonstrate two propositions -- a.
That the Mosaic dispensation had been abrogated by Christ. b.
That the Jews themselves had long looked for the arrival of a Messiah, that the Messiah looked for by them had actually arrived, and that Christ was that Messiah.
In support of the first he argues that since God had the power to enact, so he had the power to repeal the ritual law, and that it was consonant both with reason and revelation to believe that in the fulness of time he would substitute for it a code applicable, not to one particular people, but to the whole of mankind, thus fulfilling the promise made to our first parents and to Abraham.
The second he proves by pointing out how exactly the character and career of Jesus corresponded with the predictions contained in the divinely inspired books of the Old Testament.
Neander has written a dissertation to prove that Tertullian broke off this work at the beginning of the ninth chapter, and that what follows is by a later hand, being taken, with some slight alterations, from the remarks upon the same text of Isaiah, in the third book against Marcion, remarks altogether inapplicable to the debate with the Jew.
But the Bishop of Lincoln insists that the argument is with a few changes, strictly applicable, and that the necessary changes have actually been made.
i. e. on the rules to be observed by Catholics in dealing with heretics.
The subject is introduced by pointing out that the existence of heresy ought not to prove a source of wonder or of scandal to the orthodox, inasmuch as the appearance of false teachers had been predicted in the plainest terms by Christ himself, and since false doctrines might be regarded as valuable touchstones to test the purity of true belief.
It is then laid down that all disputes or doubts on matters of faith or practice must be decided or solved by the judgment of some one of the churches planted by the Apostles. Thus those who dwelt in Southern Greece might, when difficulties arose, repair to Corinth, those in Macedonia to Philippi or Thessalonica, those in Asia to Ephesus, those in Italy to Rome. And here it is to be observed, that while Rome is represented as singularly happy in having enjoyed the instructions, and witnessed the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, and in having beheld the tortures inflicted or attempted to be inflicted on St. John the Evangelist, it is neither asserted nor implied that she possessed superior privileges or authority.
There is some curious logic in the sections where the orthodox are forbidden to appeal to Scripture not merely in their controversies with the Gnostics, who were charged with mutilating and interpolating the sacred volume in order to force it into conformity with their own tenets, but in their discussions with all heretics whatsoever. Heretics, it is argued (see cc. 37, 38), have no right to make use of the Scriptures, because they are not Christians, and the Scriptures being the property of the Christians, none others can be permitted to employ them.
It follows from this that heretics can be proved to be heretics without reference to the Bible at all, in other words that the authority of the Church must be held as superseding all private judgment, and that whomsoever she pronounces unsound must be held as such, without question or inquiry. No provision however is made for settling any difference which might arise between two Churches, both of which were apostolic, and perhaps, indeed, such a contingency was regarded as impossible.
The best MSS. give nothing beyond the end of the forty-fifth chapter. What follows is either altogether wanting, or appears as a separate piece, and is generally regarded as the production of a later hand.
II. Works certainly written after he became a Montanist
The leading tenet of the Pontic heretic was that there were two great principles or deities, the one perfect, the other imperfect.
The latter was the creator of the world, the God of the Jews, the author of the Mosaic dispensation.
The former was the father of Christ, whose mission was to destroy the old law. Marcion also maintained that the visible bodily frame, and the passion of our Lord were illusory, that he never really assumed human flesh, and never really suffered on the cross.
In the first book of this refutation Tertullian asserts the Unity of God, and proves that the hypothesis of two Gods is directly opposed to reason and to all Scripture; in the second, it is demonstrated that the God of the Jews is the one true God, the author of all good; in the third, that Christ is the son of the Creator of the world, that his coining was predicted in the Law and the Prophets, that he assumed real flesh, and became a man like unto ourselves; in the fourth and fifth, the contradictions between the Old and New Testaments brought forward in the " Antitheses " of Marcion are shown to be only apparent, while in fact the utmost harmony subsists between the different portions of the Bible.
The propositions advanced in the fourth are supported chiefly by quotations from the Gospel of St. Luke, which Marcion is accused of having corrupted, but in the fifth book the Epistles of St. Paul are employed for the same purpose. We gather from internal evidence that the first book was written in the fifteenth year of Septimius Severus, that is, in A. D. 207, and that the author was at this time undoubtedly a Montanist. (See cc. 15. 29.)
An inquiry into the nature of the soul; its origin; its excellence; its powers; its immortality; the period at which it enters into combination with the body; its progressive developement ; its susceptibility of sin; its condition after death; together with a dissertation on dreams and ecstasies which occupied a prominent position in the system of Montanus.
This dissertation possesses peculiar interest from containing a statement and examination of the views entertained by the most distinguished heathen philosophers upon these topics, but some of the views propounded by Tertullian himself would seem to lead directly to materialism.
Marcion, Valentinian, and other heretics, denied that the body of Christ was composed of real human flesh and blood. Tertullian here demonstrates from reason and revelation the double nature of Jesus, who, without ceasing to be God, was a perfect man, born of woman, with limbs formed of flesh in a literal, not in a spiritual or ideal, sense.
In order to establish more fully the humanity of the Messiah, it is maintained that the Mother of God ceased to be a virgin in giving birth to the Saviour, a doctrine most vehemently assailed by St. Jerome and the later fathers, and formally repudiated by the third canon of the Lateran Council, held under Pope Martin I.
This piece was written after the De Praescriptione Hereticorum,
which is referred to in chapter second, and after the fourth book against Marcion, which is referred to in chapter seven.
A confutation of the heresy which denied the resurrection of the body. A.
The doctrine does not imply an impossibility, because God is omnipotent, and, having created all things out of nothing, he may either reproduce the flesh from nothing, supposing it to have utterly perished, or he may recall and reunite the scattered elements if they have entered into new combinations: B.
The doctrine is not even improbable, if we take into account the high dignity of the flesh, which is established by the following considerations: a.
It is the work of God. b.
It was assumed by the Saviour. c.
It is intimately connected with the soul, which cannot be saved until it has formed this connection. d.
It is the medium or instrument through which salvation is communicated to the soul in the sacraments and other holy ordinances of the Church. C.
The doctrine must be true, because it is most clearly enunciated in many texts of Scripture.
The tract concludes with various speculations as to the manner in which the resurrection will take place, the absence of mutilation, disease, and deformity in the body when raised, and similar topics.
Praxeas was a heretic who held that God the Father had been incarnate, had been born of the Virgin, and had been crucified -- in other words, that God the Father and God the Son were identical.
In addition, however, to these errors, Praxeas had excited the wrath of Tertullian by stirring up one of the bishops of Rome to persecute the Montanists, the prelate in question having been, we are here assured, previously disposed to regard with favour the views entertained by the members of that sect, and to recognise its founder as a prophet. Neander believes that the pope here alluded to was Eleutherus, -- according to Allix it was Victor.
In consequence of the close correspondence between this piece and the work of Hippolytus, Contra Noetum,
Semler has, without success, called in question its authenticity. For an account of this work of Hippolytus, see Vol. II. p. 492a.
This is a Greek word (σκορπιακη
) signifying an antidote against the poison of scorpions.
The present piece is a defence of martyrdom, intended to neutralise the venom of the Gnostics and Cainites, who denied the necessity and efficacy of such sacrifices, and even accounted them sinful.
It was evidently composed during a period of persecution, and later than the second book against Marcion. (See cc. 1, 4, 5; comp. Hieron. c. Vigilant. 3.
On a great public festival chaplets (coronae
) had been distributed to the troops.
A soldier was seen carrying the one which he had received in his hand instead of having placed it on his head, and when his officer demanded the reason of this proceeding, he replied that he was a Christian.
He was placed under arrest, and was awaiting in prison the punishment of his insubordination, when, in consequence of a question having arisen among the Christian community with regard to the propriety of the man's conduct, Tertullian composed this tract, in which he eloquently defends, and loudly commends, the deed, declaring that this conscientious believer would receive the glorious crown of a martyr in exchange for the impure crown which he had rejected. Neander imagines that the largess alluded to was bestowed upon the army after the victory of Severus over the Parthians, in which case we may assign this piece to A. D. 204.
It was the practice in Africa for married women only to wear veils, while maidens appeared in public uncovered.
The latter custom is here denounced as contrary to nature, contrary to the will of God, and contrary to the discipline of the Church as observed in other places.
The position thus assumed is supported by eight arguments, which are urged with a degree of vehemence and heat somewhat disproportionate to the importance of the subject.
The essay is, however, very interesting to the student of Tertullian's life and opinions, since it contains a more clear exposition of his views with regard to the Paraclete than we find in any other portion of his writings.
The stern and uncompromising Montanus not only forbade his followers to flee from persecution, but encouraged them to defy the heathens, and brave their wrath by an open and ostentatious profession of their religion. The Catholics, on the other hand, did not consider it unbecoming, under certain circumstances, to dissemble their faith, or to purchase toleration, or, in cases of imminent danger, to seek for safety in flight. We are here presented with an eloquent exposition of the beauty and holiness which graced the one course, and of the renegade cowardice evinced by the other.
Three degrees of purity are here distinguished.
The first and highest consists in absolute restraint during the whole period of life, the second in continence from the time of baptism, the third and lowest in refraining front contracting a second marriage.
May be considered as a supplement to the foregoing.
It is declared that second marriages are not only inexpedient, but absolutely sinful, and that the permission to marry at all call only be regarded in the light of a concession to human weakness.
There can be no doubt that this essay was composed after Tertullian had embraced the extreme views of Montanus, and it has been thought possible to discover the exact time at which it was written, for we are told in the third chapter that 160 years had elapsed since St. Paul addressed his epistle to the Corinthians.
But the precise date of that epistle itself is still open to controversy, and we may moreover conclude that in this, as in similar passages, Tertullian speaks in round numbers.
A defence of certain fasts and ascetic observances, the necessity of which was insisted on by the Montanists, and denied by the Catholics.
In the first chapter we find a reference to the De Monogamia.
A controversy had arisen between the Montanists and the Catholics as to the powers possessed by the Church to admit to her communion, and grant absolution to those who, after baptism, had been guilty of a flagrant breach of chastity.
The rigid followers of the Phrygian closed the gates of forgiveness against even the repentant sinner, the orthodox advocated the milder doctrine. Although Tertullian had formerly supported the latter, to a certain extent at least (see de Poenit. 7,
comp. ad Martyr. 1
), he here sternly supports the opinions of his new friends.
III. Works probably written after he became a Montanist
An attack upon the fantastic mysticism and reveries of Valentinus and his disciples [ VALENTINUS].
It has been remarked that there is a very close resemblance, amounting in some cases to an identity of thought, and even of expression, between this work and the first book of Irenaeus on the same subject.
A remonstrance addressed to Scapula, governor of Africa, who was bitterly assailing the Christians, urging upon his attention the injustice and danger of the course which he was pursuing -- unjust, because the objects of his attacks were the most harmless and most loyal adherents of the emperor -- dangerous, because God had already on many occasions manifested his wrath by punishing in this world those who persecuted his people.
In the last section he particularly alludes to a portentous darkening of the sun, which took place during a public assembly at Utica, and this is by some commentators believed to have been the great eclipse of A. D. 210.
The capture of Byzantium also is spoken of, which took place in A. D. 196.
Preparations on a great scale were in progress at Carthage for celebrating with all pomp certain public games.
This tract is a solemn denunciation, addressed to all true believers, against taking any part in such exhibitions, which were invented by devils, and were calculated to awaken and cherish feelings and passions altogether inconsistent with the Christian profession. Neander supposes that this and the following piece were called forth by the rejoicings at the termination of the civil war by the death of Niger (A. D. 194) and of Albinus (A. D. 197). Others believe that the preparations referred to were for the Secular Games, which commemorated the completion of the eighth great century of Rome (A. D. 204).
This diversity of opinion upon such a point is in itself sufficient to prove that the historical allusions are of a vague and general character.
Composed for the purpose of warning Christians that not those only were guilty of idolatry who actually offered sacrifice to false gods, but all who contributed in any way, directly or indirectly, to the support and diffusion of the popular religion by fabricating images, by assisting in the construction and decoration of temples, by consulting soothsayers and astrologers, by being present at heathen solemnities or festivities.
In conclusion, it is asserted that no true believer can lawfully accept any public office, nor even serve as a soldier in the armies of the state.
On the folly and sin displayed by women in devoting much time and anxious care to the decoration of that body which they ought to be willing and eager to sacrifice, at any moment, in the service of Christ.
IV. Works concerning which nothing certain can be pronounced.
A formal defence of Christianity. Much difference of opinion has been expressed by the earlier ecclesiastical historians as to the time when and the place where this work was composed, as well as with regard to the persons to whom the appeal is made.
It is now, however, generally admitted that it was written at Carthage, and that the " Praesides," " Imperii Romani Antistites " (" vobis...in aperto et in ipso vertice civitatis praesidentibus") addressed, must have been the chief magistrates of the African province.
The precise epoch at which it was drawn up is still a question open to discussion. We find clearly indicated a period of persecution against the church, of intestine discord in the state, and of attacks upon the dominion of Rome by various barbarous tribes, especially the Parthians, a series of conditions all of which were fulfilled by events which occurred during the reign of Severus; but here, as elsewhere in Tertullian, the historical allusions are couched in such general and vague terms, that it is impossible to fix with confidence on any one known event.
The Christians at the close of the second century were compelled to maintain a perilous struggle both with the government and the populace.
By the former their rapidly increasing numbers were viewed with jealous apprehension; for not only did the multitudes who professed the new faith openly avow their contempt and abhorrence of the gods reverenced by the constituted authorities, and refuse to participate in any of their rites, even in the sacrifices offered up for the safety of the emperors, but the close correspondence, union, and organization which existed among all the members of the different churches induced the rulers to suspect that religion was, in this case, merely a convenient cloak employed to hide the intrigues of a widely-spread political combination.
By the more ignorant portion of the crowd, on the other hand, their bold repudiation of the popular creed was regarded as an open avowal of absolute atheism, and every species of vice and crime were unhesitatingly ascribed to a class of men who were believed to have cast off all the restraints imposed by a fear of Divine wrath. Even those who did not admit without question the extravagant rumours, fabricated by intolerance and folly, and who knew enough of the real state of the case to feel sensible that the broad accusation of total unbelief could not be supported, still looked upon the Christians as wild fanatics who paid homage to new, foul, unrecognised, and therefore unlawful deities, and who were in consequence amenable to those ancient laws which denounced punishment upon all who introduced foreign superstitions without the sanction of the senate. Hence, the mere fact that a man was notoriously a Christian, was held by many governors to be a cause sufficient to justify the imprisonment or even the death of the individual in the absence of all proof of any specific offence, while the occurrence of any public disaster was considered by the rabble as a demonstration of Divine displeasure, called forth by the blasphemies of the hated infidels, whose instant destruction they clamorously demanded.
The object of Tertullian in this, the most elaborate of all his treatises, is to combat and repel these attacks, to point out how unfounded were the fears entertained with respect to the loyalty of the Christians, how false the charges of atheism and immorality, how unreasonable the prejudices of the vulgar.
He begins by complaining of the unfairness with which they were treated in courts of justice, since they alone were condemned without a hearing, and without being impeached of any definite crime, the name which they bore being held as a sufficient evidence of guilt, while their enemies were so ignorant, that they frequently mistook the real name, and substituted an appellation altogether different.
He then proceeds to demonstrate how utterly absurd were the tales in common circulation, that they practised infanticide, and were guilty of gross debauchery in their holy assemblies; he explains that, far from being atheists, they paid the most solemn adoration to the only true God, rejecting the worship of dead men and of evil spirits, retorting at the same time upon the Gentiles, with great force and effect, the reproaches of cruelty and impurity in celebrating sacred observances, and exposing many of the most prominent follies and abominations, which were mingled with the heathen ceremonies.
He next calls attention to the circumstance that, far from being bad subjects, they were bound by their Scriptures to submit themselves to the temporal powers, and that in public and private they joined in fervent prayer for the emperor; that far from cherishing hatred against the human race. forgiveness of enemies was one of the leading principles of their moral code; that their meetings were all of a harmless and devout character occupied entirely with holy ordinances and spiritual communion ; that far from being the cause of national misfortunes, it was notorious that the most terrible visitations had often been mitigated by their supplications ; and, finally, that the greatest loss and danger would arise to the state should it persist in alienating by persecution such a numerous, inoffensive, virtuous, and well-disposed class of citizens. He concludes by replying to some assailants who were content to disparage Christianity by representing it as merely a new form of philosophy, whose doctrines were either borrowed from the speculations of others, or, when original, were less brilliant and impressive than those enforced by the older theorists.
It is urged against this, in the first place, that the effect produced by Christianity upon the lives and characters of its votaries was of a description very different from and very superior to that which resulted from the discipline of any philosophic sect, and, in the second place, that those who looked upon Christianity in this light were bound, at least, to extend to it the same toleration which they granted to all other schools.
The apology is addressed specially to the Roman magistrates : these books appear to be intended to prove, in like manner, to the satisfaction of the heathen public in general, that the prejudices cherished towards the Christians were altogether groundless, and that the charges of immorality, vice, and unnatural cruelty, preferred against them by their enemies were absolutely false and calumnious.
The second book which is devoted to an exposition of the absurdity of the popular theology, of the gods whom the vulgar worshipped, and of the rites which they celebrated, is from the nature of the subject, and from the number of curious facts which it records, particularly interesting, but is unfortunately in a very mutilated condition. Indeed from the numerous blanks and imperfections which occur throughout, and from the circumstance that many of the arguments employed are identical, both in substance, and frequently in words, with those introduced in the Apology, it has been conjectured that the latter ought to be regarded as the finished performance of which this treatise is merely a rough draught, never intended to form a separate or complete work.
A developement of the argument for the unity of God and the reality of a future state, derived from the innate perceptions and feelings of the soul. We find in the fifth chapter a reference to the Apology.
Tertullian having exchanged the ordinary garment, which he had hitherto worn in common with his fellow-citizens, for the Pallium, and having been ridiculed in consequence, here defends himself, by arguing that there is nothing unnatural nor unprecedented in a change of dress, and that the garb in question was peculiarly convenient and suitable for those who desired to avoid all vain display in the decoration of their person.
But to what class of persons the Pallium properly belonged, whether it was the habit assumed by philosophers in general, or by Christians as a body, or by presbyters only, or by those who laid claim to peculiar sanctity and austerity, are questions to which no one has yet been able to make a satisfactory reply.
According to the views entertained upon this point the date of the piece has been variously determined. Some would refer it to the time when the author first embraced Christianity, others to the epoch of his ordination as a priest, others to the period of his conversion to Montanism. Neander supposes that he assumed the peculiar dress of the ascetics upon the death of his wife, and imagines that Severus, Caracalla and Geta, are indicated by the words " Praesentis imperii triplex virtus," an expression which has been differently interpreted by others.
Hermogenes was an African, a painter by profession, who at one time had been an orthodox believer, but having fallen away from the faith now maintained, that God had not created the universe out of nothing, and agreed with the Stoics in the dogma that matter had existed from all eternity.
The merits of Tertullian as an author are of a very chequered character.
He evidently was deeply imbued with all the learning of the age to which he belonged, and was familiar with the most celebrated poets, historians, jurists, orators, and philosophers of Greece and Rome. Nor, indeed, does he manifest any inclination to dissemble these accomplishments, for he perpetually calls to his aid illustrations and technicalities borrowed from every department of literature and science, dazzling us with a pompous array of opinions and authorities.
But while it is impossible to question his erudition, no one can defend his style, which exhibits in a most repulsive form the worst faults of an illcultivated taste.
It is in the highest degree rough, abrupt, and obscure, abounding in far-fetched metaphors and extravagant hyperboles, while the language is oftentimes uncouth and almost barbarous, so that the most indulgent critic feels inclined to turn away in disgust from pages where he is perpetually shocked, startled, and perplexed. On the other hand, the extreme liveliness and fertility of his imagination, the piercing sharpness of his wit, the trenchant edge of his sarcasm, the impetuous force of his arguments, which bewilder and stun even when they fail to convince, and the torrent flood of brilliant declamation in which his glowing conceptions are poured forth, at once excite, amuse, and overwhelm the reader.
His authority as a theologian has been variously estimated by ecclesiastical writers. While some appeal with confidence to his decision in all matters of controversy, not immediately connected with his peculiar views, others branding him with the title of a perverse heretic reject his testimony, upon all points alike, as altogether worthless.
It seems absolutely necessary in this matter, if we would arrive at a fair and practical conclusion, to separate opinions from facts.
The opinions of Tertullian, even when expressed at a period when his orthodoxy was beyond suspicion, bear such evident marks of an excitable temperament, and of rash impetuosity, combined with harsh and gloomy asceticism, that they ought to have been received with distrust, even if he had never become the advocate of gross errors; but when we remember the absurdities into which he was, at a subsequent period, actually betrayed, we must consider his judgment as disabled.
At the same time, since we have not the slightest reason to suspect that he was ever guilty of wilful deception or misrepresentation, we may accept, without hesitation, the facts which he records. How large a mass of most curious and valuable information on the doctrine and discipline of the church in the second and third centuries may be collected from his works, will be at once seen by consulting the very able and elaborate analysis by the Bishop of Lincoln.
The conduct of Cyprian is at once characteristic and instructive.
It is recorded that he never allowed a day to pass without reading a portion of Tertullian, and that he was wont frequently to exclaim to his confidential attendants, " give me my master."
But although the cautious prelate doubtless derived great pleasure and profit from these studies, and although his style bears evident marks of this familiar intercourse, on no single occasion does lie ever name Tertullian, or give a quotation from his works, a sure indication that although he found him an agreeable companion, he considered him as no safe guide for himself or others, and was by no means desirous to proclaim his intimacy with a personage of such doubtful reputation.
In addition to the list given above Tertullian was the author of several works, some of which had been lost even in the time of Jerome.
The titles only of the following have been preserved, and some of them are doubtful.
Works sometimes erroneously ascribed to Tertullian
The following have sometimes been erroneously ascribed to Tertullian:
both of which belong to Novatianus.
together with several poems -- Sodoma; De Liyno Vitae; De Judicio Domini; Carmen ad Senatorem ; Adversus marcionem Libri V.
The Apologia was printed before any other work by Tertullian, having been published at Venice by Bernardinus Benalius, fol. 1483.
The first edition of the collected works was printed at Basle, by Frobenius, under the editorial inspection of Beatus Rhenanus, fol. 1521
, and contained,
Of the above the Adversus omnes Haereses,
s. De Haeresibus
is, as we have already remarked, spurious, and the two tracts De Habitu Muliebri
and De Cultu Feminarum,
are frequently regarded as a division of the same piece, and both included under the latter title.
The edition of Gagnaeus, fol. Paris. 1545
, contained eleven additional pieces.
Of these the De Trinitate,
and De Cibis Judaicis,
belong to Novatianus, but the collection was now complete with the exception of the two books Ad Nationes, which were first published by Jac. Gothofredus (4to. Genev. 1625) from the Codex Agobardi, the most ancient MS. of Tertullian, and the only one which contains this piece
The best editions are those of Pamelius, fol. Antv. 1579
, and, in an improved form, revised by Franciscus Junius, Franck. 1597
; of Rigaltius fol. Lutet. 1634
, improved by Priorius, fol. Lutet. 1664, 1675, fol. Venet. 1744
; and of Semler, concluded by Schutz, 6 vols. 8vo. Hal. 1770.
Of these the most desirable is the Venice edition of 1744, although it unfortunately abounds with typographical errors.
There is an excellent edition of the De Pallio, by Salmasius, 8vo. Lutet. 1622, 8vo. Lug. Bat. 1656
, and of the Apologeticus, by Havercamp, 8vo. Lug. Bat. 1710, reprinted in the Venice ed. of 1744.
Lactant. 5.1; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 2.2
; Hieron. de Viris Il. 53, Epist. ad Magn. Orat., Epist. ad Paulin. ;
s. ann. xii. Severi; Praedestinat. ad v. Haeres.
ed. Sirmond; Augustin. de Haeres. 8; 6 ;
Vincent. Lirin. Commonit. 24 ;
Vita Tertullian. edit. Pamelian. praemiss.; Allix, Dissertatio de Tertullian. Vit. et Script.
8vo. Par. 1680; Schramm, Analysis Operum SS. Patrum, &c.
vol. iii. pp. 1 -- 636; Noesselt, de Aetat. Script. Tertullian. Dissert.
iii. Hal. 1757-59; Schönemann, Bibliotheca Patrum Lat.
vol. i. cap. 2; Oelrich, de Scriptorr. Eccles. Lat. sex priorum Seculorum ;
Neander, Antignosticus, &c.
8vo. Berl. 1825; Münter, Primordia Eccles. African.
4to. Hafn. 1829; Bishop of Bristol (now of Lincoln). " The Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries, illustrated from the Writings of Tertullian," 2nd ed. Camb. 8vo. 1829.