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Jay Rogers
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Jay Rogers

The Forerunner

TERTULLIAN OF CARTHAGE

TERTULLIAN - I. APOLOGY
TERTULLIAN - II. ON IDOLATRY
TERTULLIAN - III. THE SHOWS, OR DE SPECTACULIS.
TERTULLIAN - IV. THE CHAPLET, OR DE CORONA
TERTULLIAN - V. TO SCAPULA
TERTULLIAN - VI. AD NATIONES - BOOK I
TERTULLIAN - AD NATIONES - BOOK II
TERTULLIAN VII - AN ANSWER TO THE JEWS
TERTULLIAN - VIII - THE SOUL'S TESTIMONY
TERTULLIAN - IX. A TREATISE ON THE SOUL
TERTULLIAN - AGAINST HERESIES
TERTULIAN - THE FIVE BOOKS AGAINST MARCION - BOOK I
TERTULIAN - THE FIVE BOOKS AGAINST MARCION - BOOK II
TERTULIAN - THE FIVE BOOKS AGAINST MARCION - BOOK III
Unknown;TERTULIAN - THE FIVE BOOKS AGAINST MARCION - BOOK IV
TERTULIAN - THE FIVE BOOKS AGAINST MARCION - BOOK V
TERTULLIAN - AGAINST HERMOGENES
TERTULLIAN - AGAINST THE VALENTINIANS
TERTULLIAN - ON THE FLESH OF CHRIST
TERTULLIAN - ON THE RESURRECTION OF THE FLESH
TERTULLIAN - AGAINST PRAXEAS
TERTULLIAN - SCORPIACE
TERTULLIAN - AGAINST ALL HERESIES.
TERTULLIAN - ON REPENTANCE
TERTULLIAN - ON BAPTISM
TERTULLIAN - ON PRAYER
TERTULLIAN - AD MARTYRAS
TERTULLIAN - THE MARTYRDOM OF PERPETUA AND FELICITAS
TERTULLIAN - OF PATIENCE


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TERTULLIAN OF CARTHAGE

Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was the Bishop of Carthage. He lived from about AD 155 to 230. He was a church leader and prolific author during the early years of Christianity. He was born, lived, and died in Carthage, in what is today Tunisia.

Tertullian was the first great writer of Latin Christianity, thus sometimes known as the first of the “Latin Fathers.” He introduced the term Trinity, as the Latin trinitas, to the Christian vocabulary, through the formula of "three Persons, one Substance" (from the Latin: "tres Personae, una Substantia" and from the Koine Greek: "treis Hypostases, Homoousios") and also the terms Vetus Testamentum ("Old Testament") and Novum Testamentum ("New Testament").

Tertullian's writings cover the entire theological field of his day -- apologetics against paganism and Judaism, polemics, polity, discipline, and morals. He was the first to give an entire life and world-view on a Christian basis. His work gives a picture of the religious life and thought of the time, which is of the greatest interest to the church historian. In his Apologeticus, he was the first Latin author to qualify Christianity as the “vera religio,” or true religion and symmetrically relegated the classical Roman religion and other accepted cults as mere superstitions. Tertullian left the Catholic Church late in life and joined the Montanists.

Of his early life, little is known, and is based upon passing references in his own writings, and upon Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome. His father held a position (centurio proconsularis) in the Roman army in Africa. Roman Africa was notoriously the home of orators, and this influence can be seen in Tertullian’s style, with its archaisms, provincialisms, glowing imagery and passionate temper. He was a scholar, having received an excellent education. He wrote at least three books in Greek, to which he himself refers, but none of these are extant. His principal study was jurisprudence, and his methods of reasoning reveal striking marks of juridical training. He shone among the advocates of Rome, as Eusebius reports.

His conversion to Christianity took place about AD 197 to 198, 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 himself said 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).

In the church of Carthage, he was ordained a bishop though he was married -- a fact established by his two books addressed to his wife -- and was not unusual in its time. In middle life (about 207) he broke with the Catholic Church and became the local leader and the passionate and brilliant exponent of Montanism. But even the Montanists were not rigorous enough for Tertullian who broke with them to found his own sect. Augustine wrote that before his death Tertullian returned to the Catholic Church (De Haeresibus, lxxxvi) although some have disputed this claim.

His sect, the Tertullianists, still had a basilica in Carthage in the times of Augustine, but in that same period passed into the orthodox Church. Jerome says that Tertullian lived to a great age. In spite of his schism, Tertullian continued to fight heresy, especially Gnosticism; and through his doctrinal works, he became the teacher of Cyprian, the predecessor of Augustine, and the chief founder of Latin theology.

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).

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 a particular writing as ante-dating others 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 Severus' reign (Adv. Marcionem, i.1,15).

The writings may also be divided with reference to the two periods of Tertullian's Christian activity, the Catholic and the Montanist, 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 against heresies: Apologeticus; De testimonio animae; Adv. Judaeos; Adv. Marcionem; Adv. Praxeam; Adv. Hermogenem; De praescriptione hereticorum; Scorpiace.

Practical and disciplinary writings: De monogamia; Ad uxorem; De virginibus velandis; De cultu feminarum; De patientia; De pudicitia; De oratione; Ad martyras.

Among the apologetic writings the Apologeticus, addressed to the Roman magistrates, is the most pungent defense of Christianity and the Christians ever written against the reproaches of the pagans, and one of the most magnificent legacies of the ancient Church, full of enthusiasm, courage, and vigor. It first clearly proclaims the principle of religious liberty as an inalienable right of man, and demands a fair trial for the Christians before they are condemned to death.

Tertullian addressed the pagans’ charges 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 pointed also to the inhumanity of pagan customs, such as feeding the flesh of gladiators to beasts. 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: "In the blood of the martyrs lies the seed of the Church" (Apologeticum, 1). 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 the understanding 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.

Tertullian always wrote under stress of a felt necessity. He was never so happy as when he had opponents like Marcion and Praxeas. 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.

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. For Tertullian the soul is a distinct entity with certain corporality and as such it may be tormented in Hell (De anima, lviii.).

   2. The soul's sinfulness 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 corporality though he is a spirit (De praescriptione, vii.; Adv. Praxeam, vii.).

   4. In soteriology Tertullian does not dogmatize, he prefers to keep silence at the mystery of the cross (De Patientia, iii.).

   5. With reference to the “rule of faith,” Tertullian constantly uses this expression to mean the authoritative tradition handed down in the Church, now the Scriptures themselves, and perhaps also a definite doctrinal formula. He gives a succinct statement of the Christian faith under this term (De praescriptione, xiii.).

Tertullian was a determined advocate of strict discipline and an austere code of practice, and like many of the African fathers, one of the leading representatives of asceticism 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 practice, 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.). He counseled that virgins should conform to the law of 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). He 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.).

If Tertullian went to an unhealthy extreme in his counsels of asceticism, he is easily forgiven when one recalls his own moral vigor and his great services as an ingenuous and intrepid defender of the Christian religion, which was with him, as later with Martin Luther, first and chiefly an experience of his own heart.


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