Edgar J. Goodspeed (essay date 1942)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2818

SOURCE: "Tertullian," in A History of Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, 1942, pp. 210-26.

[In the following excerpt, Goodspeed surveys Tertullian's writings and briefly summarizes the main characteristics of his literary style.]

In the latter part of the first century the writing of Latin literature was already passing into the hands of provincials, men from North Africa and Spain, like Seneca, Martial, and Quintilian. The district about Carthage was particularly active in literary lines, and it is not strange that it was there that the Bible began to be translated into Latin. It was there, and not in Rome, that Latin Christianity had its beginning and that it soon began to express itself vigorously in Latin books.

The first great figure in Latin Christianity was Tertullian, or Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, to give him his full name. He was born in Carthage, about A.D. 155-60, of good family, and seems, from what he says in his writings, to have visited Athens and Rome in early life, studying to be a lawyer and entering fully into the excesses of heathen life in those centers. At Rome he seems to have practiced law and taught rhetoric, with marked success. There, it appears, he was converted, and he returned to Carthage a Christian. Jerome says he became a presbyter in the church there. At any rate, he threw himself into the Christian cause with tremendous vigor, especially in the crises which persecution now and then brought on for the church. These attacks called forth the notable apologetic pieces which were among his earliest writings, but a wealth of other books, practical, doctrinal, and polemic, soon followed.

The heroic behavior of Christian martyrs deeply impressed Tertullian. He may have had glimpses of it in the first year of Commodus, A.D. 180, when twelve Christians—seven men and five women—from the neighboring town of Scilli suffered martyrdom in Carthage. The simple story of their trial and fate is the earliest of Latin martyrdoms.

In A.D. 197-98 there was another outbreak against the African Christians. Their habit of holding aloof from public shows, which were both pagan and brutal in character, kept them away from the public celebration of the victory of the emperor, Septimius Severus, over his rivals, and precipitated a fresh persecution. Tertullian came to the defense of his harassed brethren with the fiery vehemence and fervor that always characterized him. In a work addressed To the Heathen (Ad Nationes, two books) he vigorously protested against the laws condemning Christians simply as such and without first examining their behavior and manner of life. He protests also against the calumnies heaped upon them and the charges of incest, child murder, and disloyalty to the empire that were made against them. He refers to the ancient pagan practice of exposing undesired children and throws back the charges upon those who made them.

A second book of this same year, A.D. 197, was his great Apology (Apologeticus). It was addressed to the Roman governors of provinces and presents a similar argument, though in a more restrained and legal tone. He repels again the stock charges of child-slaying, incest, and cannibalism and admits that Christians do not worship the old gods but holds that they are not disloyal to the empire; though they cannot call the emperor God, they respect and revere him and are good Romans. Here Tertullian points out that persecution simply advances Christianity: "We multiply every time we are mowed down by you; the blood of Christians is seed"—the most famous of all his famous observations.

These writings were preceded in the same year, 197, by a short address To the Martyrs already in prison, encouraging them and cheering them on. But the Address to the Heathen and the Apology form Tertullian's main contribution to Christian defense literature, and they are powerful reinforcements of it.

Upon the death of Severus, fourteen years later, A.D. 211, and the accession of Caracalla, persecution began again, and once more, in 212-13, Tertullian wrote a short but vigorous apology addressed To Scapula, the proconsul of Africa, warning him, in view of well-known Roman precedents favorable to Christians, not to proceed against them.

Trenchant and timely as were his writings in the apologetic field, his practical, doctrinal, and polemic works were no less so. No ancient list of his writings has come down to us, but in the oldest manuscript we have of Tertullian, the Codex Agobardinus, given by Agobard, bishop of Lyons, who died in A.D. 840, to a church there, there is a list of twenty-one of his works, which that manuscript originally contained. From other sources, however, this list can be increased to forty-three, and possibly even to forty-five.

The majority of these were practical in character, dealing with Christian morality and true Christian behavior in situations of certain kinds or in relation to special groups and matters. Tertullian defends the Christian soldier who refuses to wear the chaplet or wreath on his head, regarding it as a heathenish practice (On the Chaplet). He condemns public games, shows, and theatrical and gladiatorial exhibitions as brutal, immoral, and interwoven with pagan rites (On Idolatry). He also wrote On Veiling Virgins, On the Adornment of Women, On Baptism, On Patience, On Prayer, On Modesty, and On Repentance.

In the doctrinal field Tertullian was not markedly creative, for he owed much to Irenaeus and Melito. He was also much influenced by Stoic philosophy and by what he had been taught by the church at Rome, where he was converted. Yet his work Against Praxeas is a notable defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, particularly against the followers of the Roman Sabellius, who flourished late in the second and early in the third century and held Monarchian and modalistic views. Praxeas in his solicitude for the divine unity identified Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that it was the Father himself who was born of a virgin and suffered on the cross. Tertullian wrote also On the Flesh of Christ, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, and On the Soul—a work which Harnack calls the first book on Christian psychology.

Closely related to these were his polemic writings, attacking the positions of heretics and schismatics. In his book On Prescription of Heretics, which Hort called a most plausible and most mischievous book,1 he argues that, after exhausting reasoning with such people, one must simply say, "What we hold is the belief of the church, handed down from the apostles, from bishop to bishop, in all the historic centers of Christianity, so it must be true, and there is no more to be said." This shows that when he wrote this book, at least, Tertullian was a strong adherent of the Catholic movement, which Irenaeus reflected. He was, in fact, much influenced in his polemic writings by Irenaeus, and Tertullian and Irenaeus are the first Catholic Fathers.

This appeal to the great apostolic churches, as faithful depositories of Christian tradition, naturally directed North African Christians to Rome, the only church in the West of apostolic foundation:

Since you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into your hands the very authority [of the apostles]. How happy is its church, upon which apostles poured forth all their doctrine, along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's! Where the apostle John was first plunged unhurt into boiling oil, and then returned to his island exile!.… The Law and the prophets she unites with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith [chap. 36].

This is very much what Irenaeus says in his Refutation (iii. 3. 2, 3) about the position of the Roman church, which he in Lyons looked up to from Gaul, just as Tertullian looked up to it from Africa.

But Tertullian's greatest polemic work was that Against Marcion, in five books, written over and over again, until his work upon it spread over ten or twelve years of his life, from about 200 to 212. This elaborate work gives us our principal information about Marcion, and especially about his effort to put a Christian scripture consisting of the Gospel of Luke and ten letters of Paul in place of the Jewish scriptures which then made up most of the Bible of Christian churches. Other polemic writings were Against the Jews, Against Hermogenes, and Against the Valentinians.

We have grouped Tertullian's writings as apologetic, practical, doctrinal, and polemic. But there is also a value in surveying them in the order in which they were written, for they reveal the gradual shift in his religious views, which carried him in the course of ten years from the bosom of the Catholic church into that of the Montanist sect. He was a strong Puritan in feeling and, whatever direction he took, was pretty sure to go to extremes. His devotion to the Catholic movement and his aversion to heretics are very marked in the Prescription of Heretics, which he wrote in his first period, when he was a thoroughgoing Catholic. It covers the years 197 to 202. He had become a Christian probably by A.D. 195, perhaps a little earlier. In 197, as we have seen, he wrote his principal apologetic books, To the Martyrs, To the Heathen, the Apologeticus, and also the Testimony of the Soul, which he thought essentially Christian by nature and itself a witness to Christianity.

In the course of the next five years, 198-202, he wrote twelve other books and treatises: On Shows (two editions), On the Dress of Women, On Baptism, On Repentance, On Patience, On Prayer, To His Wife (against remarriage of women), On Idolatry, On Prescription of Heretics, Against Marcion (two editions), Against Hermogenes, and Against the Jews.

The edict of Severus in 202, forbidding anyone to become a Christian, marks a shift in Tertullian's attitude. He now begins to see truth and value in the Montanists' position—their Puritan morality, in contrast with the growing laxity of the Roman church; their spiritual emphasis, in contrast with the political cast that was coming over Roman Christianity. For five years Tertullian works to build these Montanist values into his Catholic Christianity. He is still a Catholic, but he sees the worth of Montanism, too, and strives to realize them both and to unite them.

In this period of tension he probably wrote three works now lost: On Ecstasy, in seven books, dealing with Montanism; On the Hope of the Faithful including the millennial expectations, which he shared; and On Paradise—these probably in 202-3 to 204-5. The Exhortation to Chastity and the book On Veiling Virgins also belong to this time, 204-5 to 206-7.

But by 207-8 the tension had become unbearable, and Tertullian with other Montanists left the church. He now produced a third edition of the first four books Against Marcion, his longest work, 207-8. He also wrote now Against the Valentinians and Against the Followers of Apelles, the Marcionite leader, a work now lost. These belong to 207-8. In 210 he wrote On the Cloak (which he wore instead of the toga), in 211 On the Chaplet, and in 211-12, On Flight in Persecution, holding it inadmissible.

In the following five years, 208-13, he wrote also the books On the Flesh of Christ, On the Testimony of the Soul, On the Soul, On the Resurrection, and the fifth and final book Against Marcion, completing his discussion of Marcion's proposed scripture, Luke and Paul. In Books i and ii, Tertullian had dealt with Marcion's doctrine that the Creator and the Father of Jesus were different beings; in Book iii he argued that the Christian movement does not contradict the prophets but fulfils them; in Books iv and v he uses Marcion's own scripture, Luke and Paul, to establish this.

About 212 he wrote his short apology to the proconsul, To Scapula, and in 212 or 213 his Scorpiace, warning against the scorpion sting of heresy and encouraging to martyrdom, which some Gnostics taught was unnecessary. In the course of the next five years he wrote Against Praxeas his defense of the Trinity, and soon after 217-18 his book On Monogamy, protesting against second marriages, and his work On Fasting. And finally, not long before 222-23, he wrote the work On Modesty, bitterly assailing the action of Calixtus, bishop of Rome, in declaring that the sins of adultery and fornication, though committed after baptism, could be forgiven by the church; it had previously been held that while God could forgive them, along with murder and idolatry, the church could not. Tertullian's invective against this action stands in sharp contrast to his rhapsody upon the Roman church, in his Prescription of Heretics, chapter 36, written twenty years before, in 198-202/3:

The Pontifex Maximus, that is the bishop of bishops, issues an edict: I remit, to such as have discharged the requirements of repentence (or penitence), the sins both of adultery and of fornication. O edict which cannot be inscribed "Good deed!" [chap. 1].

All three of these last works of Tertullian, in fact (Monogamy, Fasting, and Modesty), are bitter in their denunciation of the laxity that was pervading the Roman church under Zephyrinus and Calixtus. He felt strongly that it had forfeited the spiritual heritage of Christianity. "You have quenched the spirit," he cried, "You have driven away the Comforter (Paraclete)."

At the time of Tertullian's death, soon after A.D. 222-23, he had left the Montanists and organized a little sect of his own, for Augustine, almost two hundred years later, found a group of Tertullianists still meeting independently in Carthage and brought them back into the church.

Some of Tertullian's writings, like the one On Veiling Virgins, he wrote first in Greek. Whether he was the author of the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, women of Carthage who suffered in the persecution of A.D. 202-3, is not certain; it is extant in both Greek and Latin and is a work of moving simplicity. Perpetua was a woman of position, while Felicitas was a slave. The account is written from a Montanist point of view. Jerome also mentions a book On the Difficulties of Marriage addressed "to a philosophic friend," which may have been written early in life and possibly even in a lighter vein, for Jerome speaks of him as "playing" (lusit) with the subject.

Of the works of Tertullian, thirty-one have been preserved, and the names of more than a dozen others can be gathered from references to them in Tertullian himself, in Jerome, or in the table of contents of the Codex Agobardinus. The Greek form of the book On Baptism dealt also with the question of heretical baptism and was evidently a different book from the Latin work of that name. Other lost writings are the Hope of the Faithful, Paradise, Against the Followers of Apelles, the Origin of the Soul, Fate, Ecstasy, the Garments of Aaron, To a Philosophic Friend, Flesh and Soul, Submission of Soul, and the Superstition of the World. The Greek forms of the works On Shows and On the Veiling of Virgins have also been lost. He may also have written On Clean and Unclean Animals and On Circumcision, as Jerome intimates (Epist. 36:1).

Tertullian is always the advocate; there is nothing judicial about his attitude; he sees only one side. His style is impetuous, dramatic, direct, varied, often richly illustrated, sometimes full of apostrophe and exclamation, gifted, but uncontrolled, except by overwhelming conviction. It reveals unmistakably one of the most powerful personalities of the early church, whose works have for the most part survived even though he had withdrawn from the Catholic church years before his death.

The Latin version of the Bible was just coming into being in North Africa in Tertullian's day, and he was well versed in scripture, probably both Greek and Latin. Like Irenaeus, he had a New Testament, and these two are the first Christian Fathers of whom this can be said. Tertullian's included the Four Gospels, the Acts, and thirteen letters of Paul, besides I Peter, I John and Jude, the Revelation of John, and at first the Shepherd of Hermas, though later in life he repudiated that book with great scorn, for what he considered its moral laxity.2

Tertullian also knew early Christian literature very well, especially Justin, Tatian, Melito, Irenaeus, and Clement. His own influence was very marked upon Minucius Felix and upon Cyprian, his great literary successor in North Africa, the bishop of Carthage from A.D. 250 to 258. Jerome reports that he once met an aged man who in his youth had known one of Cyprian's assistants, who said that Cyprian made it a rule to read something of Tertullian's every day and would often say when he wanted to consult Tertullian, "Give me the Master." …


1 F. J. A. Hort, Six Lectures on the Ante-Nicene Fathers (London, 1895), p. 103.

2On Modesty x. 20.

William P. Le Saint (essay date 1951)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4948

SOURCE: "To His Wife: Introduction," "An Exhortation to Chastity: Introduction," and "Monogamy: Introduction," in Tertullian: Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage: To His Wife, An Exhortation to Chastity, Monogamy, translated by William P. Le Saint, The Newman Press, 1951, pp. 3-9, 39-41, 67-9.

[In the following excerpt, Le Saint examines Tertullian's three treatises on marriage—Ad uxorem, De exhortatione castitatis, and De monogamia—maintaining that these works demonstrate "the gradual deterioration of his thought from Catholic orthodoxy to … fanatical Montanism."]

The three treatises on marriage, [Ad Uxorem, De exhortatione castitatis, and De monogamia] …, though not generally classified among Tertullian's major compositions, are works of considerable interest and importance. Patrologists and students of the history of dogma have long recognized their value as aids in tracing the gradual deterioration of his thought from Catholic orthodoxy to the harsh extremes of fanatical Montanism.1 The professional theologian finds here source material which, with certain judicious reservations, can be used in support of the argument from tradition for theses on such vital subjects as the sacramental nature of marriage, the Church's jurisdiction over the marriage of Christians, the indissolubility of the contract-bond. Specialists in other fields are acquainted with passages in these works touching on questions of ecclesiastical discipline, moral problems, and liturgical practices which do much to clarify and illustrate the Church's code and cult at a very early period in Christian antiquity.

It is probably safe to say that for the general reader, perhaps even for most specialists, there is greater interest in single chapters, in individual paragraphs and sentences, than there is in the central thesis which these treatises develop and defend. In a true sense the parts here are of greater significance than the whole. For the theme of all three compositions is one which seems to have little pertinence today. Tertullian is concerned with the subject of second marriage. May a Christian man or woman remarry after the death of a consort? In the treatise addressed To His Wife he advises against it, although he admits that to remarry is no sin.2 In the Exhortation to Chastity his earlier counsel has already become an uncompromising command, while in the work on Monogamy he speaks of all second marriage as adultery, and attacks, with savage violence, the "sensualists" and "enemies of the Paraclete" who justify it by appeals to Holy Scripture and especially to the authority of St. Paul. Thus, what should be a matter of personal preference or personal ideals is made a matter of conscience; ascetical is confused with moral theology, discipline with doctrine; and a way of life which in some circumstances is of value to some individuals becomes a strict and essential obligation imposed upon all Christians. It is well to remind ourselves that such warped and exaggerated views were not the views of Catholics. They were heretical errors and were condemned by the Church as heretical, along with similar excesses in the direction of an unnatural rigidism propounded by Marcionites, Manicheans, Priscillianists, and other avowed enemies of sex and marriage.

This is not to say that the early Church looked favorably upon second marriage. Her attitude was the attitude of St. Paul,3 one of toleration, not encouragement. In the face of a carnal world, it seemed much more consistent with her mission to encourage temperance, moderation, self-control, abnegation, asceticism; and if her asceticism seems misguided and severe by modern standards, we may be helped to understand it by reflecting that it was, at least in part, a reaction of disgust at the degrading licentiousness of her pagan surroundings. A detailed history of this question need not be given here. For the purpose of an introductory note it is sufficient to say that the general sentiment of the early Church was in favor of the legitimacy and against the propriety of second marriage;4 the Montanist error lay in denying both propriety and legitimacy.

It is evident, then, that to know Tertullian the Montanist it is necessary to know his treatises on marriage. In fact, they epitomize the changing course, just as they reflect the changing temper, of his whole Christian life; for he wrote the Ad uxorem as a Catholic, the De exhortatione castitatis during a period which patrologists call one of semi-Montanism, and the De monogamia after his final, definite break with the Church. Of course, other points were at issue between Catholics and Montanists besides the dispute over second marriage. They were divided on such questions as the obligation of accepting ecstatic revelations as authentic manifestations of the Holy Spirit; the nature, number, and severity of the fasts to be imposed upon the Christian community; the sinfulness of flight during times of persecution; the priesthood of the laity; the Church's use of her power to forgive sins. We cannot say, then, that Tertullian's views on second marriage were decisive in making him a Montanist, but there can be no doubt that they contributed materially to his defection from the Church. Both St. Augustine' and St. Jerome,6 in speaking of his heresy, state specifically that it consisted in a denial of the legitimacy of second marriage, an error which, they insist, is manifestly opposed to the teaching of St. Paul.

To His Wife

The treatise Ad uxorem is easily the best of Tertullian's three works on marriage. It is divided into two parts. In the first, he urges his wife to remain a widow if he should die before her. She is free to remarry, should she so wish, but she ought to consider the weighty reasons which advise against it. In brief, and roughly in order these reasons are: 1) marriage is good, but continence is better; 2) the polygamy of the Patriarchs is no argument in favor of multiple marriage; 3) St. Paul clearly shows his disapproval of second marriage; 4) it is concupiscence, manifested in a variety of ways, which impels people to marry a second time—and Christians should resist concupiscence; 5) the example of the saints encourages us to lead a life of continence; 6) even some pagans esteem and practice chastity; 7) when God separates husband and wife by the death of one or the other, He indicates His will that they remain single; 8) the Church shows her mind on the subject by not admitting digamists to the episcopacy.

These are Tertullian's principal arguments; along with them he uses many others which are subordinate and subsidiary. They are almost all repeated, in one form or another, but with much less moderation, in the De exhortatione castitatis and the De monogamia. Tertullian's policy in controversy is one of unremitting attack, with whatever weapons he has at hand—good or bad. As a result, while he is always vigorous, he is not always convincing,7 and even readers who might be sympathetic to the thesis he here advances can hardly be favorably impressed by all of the arguments he uses in attempting to establish it. There are paralogisms on every page, and interpretations of Scripture which are either naive misapprehensions or tendentious distortions of its sense. It has been said that Tertullian was a good logician but a poor casuist.8 This is a perspicacious appraisal, yet readers who examine the case he makes out against second marriage will see much more reason to concur with the latter estimate of his abilities than with the former.

The second half of the treatise deals with the subject of mixed marriage9 and, in its essentials, it is as relevant today as it was eighteen hundred years ago. Tertullian begs his wife, if she does remarry, to make certain that she marries in the Lord, that is to say, that she marries another Christian. He shows that this is according to the teaching of the Apostle and points out, in a number of graphic illustrations, the difficulties and dangers which are involved in marriage with a person not of the faith. This section of his work, in spite of its almost inevitable exaggerations, is one of great interest and value. "Perhaps no monument of ecclesiastical antiquity portrays so well or so completely the whole manner of domestic life among ancient Christians."'" The second section of the Ad uxorem contains passages of real beauty and concludes with an appreciation of Christian marriage which is unsurpassed in patristic literature.

It must be admitted, however, that Tertullian is a very difficult author to read—in English as well as in Latin—and it is possible that some who know nothing of his work, apart from a few popular phrases, may be disappointed when they come to grips, for the first time, with his paragraphs. The treatise Ad uxorem is fairly typical of his style. He is, paradoxically, at once concise and involved, brilliant and obscure." There are passages here, as in almost all his works, which, except in paraphrase, produce no effect on the mind beyond what an eminent classicist once called "sheer paralysis."12 Tertullian has a gift for words rather than sentences and it is much easier to appreciate his sallies than it is to follow his arguments. Perhaps this is why he is so often quoted and so infrequently quoted at length. He is, in spite of his defects, a truly great writer; there will be few to quarrel with the judgment of almost all present-day patrologists that he is the greatest in the West before Augustine.

The extant writings of Tertullian were composed during a period of literary activity which lasted for about twenty-five years, from c. 197 to c. 222 A. D. It is generally agreed that the Ad uxorem is to be dated some time between the years 200 and 206 A. D. Harnack argues13 that it was probably written when Tertullian and his wife were still in the prime of life, since it was evidently composed before his lapse into Montanism, and this took place, as we know, when he reached middle age.14 Moreover, he addresses his wife in terms which show that he must have had some reason for thinking that she would be able, without too much difficulty, to marry again after his death. There seems to be little point in attempting to date the composition more definitely than this. We can be fairly certain that it was not written long after the year 200 A. D. Tertullian was born between 150 and 160 A. D. Thus, if he composed the treatise in the year 200 A. D., it would have been written when he was about forty or fifty years of age. This might still be called the prime of life, which, happily, is not too restricted, either in meaning or duration. However, it does approach pretty close to what we must think of as a terminus post quem non in speaking of middle age, even middle age in the life of a man who, as St. Jerome says, fertur vixisse usque ad decrepitam aetatem.15 …

[An Exhortation to Chastity]

There is very little controversy nowadays1 over the problem of dating the De exhortatione castitatis.2 It was written, apparently, between the years 204 and 212 A.D., at a time when Tertullian, although obviously in sympathy with Montanism, was not as yet a member of the sect nor a declared opponent of the traditional teaching of the Church on any significant point of doctrine or discipline. On the subject of second marriage his attitude is not essentially different from what it was a few years before in the first part of the Ad uxorem. Some new arguments are proposed and some old ones expanded, but his answer to the problem remains the same: Christians should not remarry. Tertullian is more intransigent, more opinionated in the way he argues his case, but he has not yet come to consider the rejection of second marriage an articulus stantis vel cadentis Ecclesiae.

In a number of significant passages the De exhortatione castitatis illustrates Tertullian's growing tendency to endorse other Montanist ideas. Thus, for example, he quotes (10) with approval the words of the Montanist visionary, Prisca, as the words of a "holy prophetess"; and, when he speaks of the Church and the priesthood, his language suggests (7) that he has in mind, as an ideal, the internal, unorganized church of the Spirit rather than the visible, hierarchical church of Christ. Yet nowhere does he attack the Church with the bitterness which is so marked a characteristic of the De monogamia, nor does he identify himself with the sectaries by the use of such expressions as nostri and vestri, penes nos and penes vos or eos, expressions of partisanship which are of frequent occurrence in all of his later compositions and which help to identify them as Montanist.

The treatise is addressed to a friend, evidently a fellow Catholic, who has recently lost his wife. Tertullian urges him not to remarry. In developing his exhortation he stresses an argument against second marriage based on what he considers the clear indication of God's will that such unions should be avoided. God tolerates second marriage, but the very fact that He merely tolerates it proves that His positive will excludes what His permissive will allows. All the evidence of Sacred Scripture, both in the Old and the New Testament, shows that the practice is to be rejected. The Apostle himself, speaking in the name of the Lord, reprobates it when he asserts, equivalently, that it is the lesser of two evils.

In the course of his argument, especially in his exegesis (9) of Matt. 5. 28 and I Cor. 7. 1, 32 f., Tertullian is led to speak of marriage itself in terms which are somewhat less than enthusiastic. He does not dare to condemn a way of life which God Himself has blessed, but he does appear to regret its necessity.3 His attitude here is that of a man who accepts the will of God but who does not like it. He seems to feel that there is something essentially unclean in any union of the sexes. Such unions may be legalized by external forms but they remain, in themselves, ugly and degrading; they are "good" only by extrinsic denomination. According to this twisted viewpoint, marriage is nothing but legitimate debauchery; it is a legitimate abuse rather than a legitimate use; or, to express his thought more exactly, the distinction between "use" and "abuse" is meaningless when there is question of the sex relationship, since this is not something which is good in itself, or even indifferent. It is, at best, a bad means justified by a good end.

It must be pointed out that such a position is quite inconsistent with much that he wrote on the subject of marriage in other places. There are passages in the Ad uxorem which reveal an attitude towards marriage, especially Christian marriage, which is certainly more than one of grim acceptance or sour toleration.4 Some of the most vigorous pages in his Adversus Marcionem are devoted to the refutation of ideas similar to those which he himself defends in the present treatise.5 And in the De anima he declares explicitly that we are to revere nature and not to be ashamed of it; the married state is blessed, not cursed by God and there is nothing immodest except excess.6 D'Alès puts the matter briefly and well when he writes: "Tertullien a beaucoup écrit sur le mariage, et sur aucun sujet il ne s'est tant contredit."7


The De monogamia is one of Tertullian's most notable contributions to the cause of militant Montanism. The arguments developed in the treatise are substantially the same as those which he used in the Ad uxorem and the De exhortatione castitatis to oppose the practice of successive polygamy; the great difference is in the way they are presented. Before, he wrote as a private individual expressing a private conviction; now he writes as the representative of a group, expounding sectarian dogma. Before, he was a counselor, seeking to persuade; now he is a zealot, determined to destroy. His language throughout the treatise is fierce and fanatical. Catholics he characterizes as "sensualists"; although "members of God's household, they are given to wantonness"; they "find their joy in things of the flesh," for "such things as are of the Spirit, please them not." He indicates a new allegiance and at the same time affirms an old conviction when he declares that "we who are deservedly called the 'spiritual' because of the spiritual charisms we have received … admit but one marriage, as we recognize but one God."1

There are a number of passages in this treatise which make it clear that Tertullian's extreme views on the illegitimacy of second marriage, expressed so vigorously in earlier writings, had by this time been condemned as heretical,2 and that his adversaries had appealed to the authority of St. Paul to justify their position and his condemnation.3 This opposition sufficiently accounts for the polemical tone of the treatise—if it be necessary to account for anything so typical of Tertullian as a controversial attitude. Accordingly, we need not assume that the De monogamia was written to answer the charges of some one particular antagonist. Rolffs' conjecture that it was intended as a rebuttal of an anti-Montanist tract of Hippolytus (preserved, supposedly, by Epiphanius, Haer. 48. 1-13)4 cannot be proved and has been generally rejected.5

Whatever the occasion of the work, it is quite evident from what has been said above, that it was composed after Tertullian had joined forces with the Montanist party at Carthage.6 We are thus enabled to date it some time after 212/213 A.D., since it was at this time that he wrote the De fuga in persecutione, the treatise which marks his definite break with the Church. It is also reasonably certain that it was composed before the De ieiunio,7 which, in turn, is prior to the De pudicitia,8 apparently Tertullian's last extant work. The De pudicitia was written between the years 217 and 222 A.D. Hence, on this evidence, we may say with fair probability that the De monogamia was composed between 212 and 222 A.D. Further precision, however, is possible. Tertullian himself tells us that he wrote one hundred and sixty years after St. Paul addressed his first epistle to the Corinthians.9 Since modem authorities date this epistle in the year 57 A.D., we arrive at 217 A.D. as the most likely date of the De monogamia.

The treatise is constructed according to an orderly and easily discernible plan. Tertullian declares in his introduction that Montanism represents a mean between two extremes, heretical repudiation of marriage and Catholic licentiousness in repeating it (1). The doctrine of monogamy, announced authoritatively by the Paraclete, is not an innovation (2-3). It is supported by evidence found in the Old Testament (4-7), the Gospels (8-9), and the Epistles of St. Paul (10-14). To speak of it as harsh and heretical is absurd (15); and the popular arguments advanced to support the practice of second marriage are utterly trivial (16). Finally, Christians ought to be inspired to a love of continence by the example of so many men and women, in and out of the Church, whose lives were models of chastity (17).

Montanism warped Tertullian's judgment and ruined his life, but it did not impair his literary style. In fact, after he threw off the restraining influence of the Church, he began to write with greater passion, with a bolder and more combative eloquence than ever before.10 The De monogamia is a party pamphlet and it follows the party line; yet it is also the work of a brilliant controversialist fighting for a cause very near his own heart. The result is an impressive piece of special pleading, aggressive, abusive, but perfectly sincere. Tertullian is often a sophist, but he is never a hypocrite. He reveals in this treatise all the exasperating self-confidence of the professional reformer and self-appointed custodian of public morals, but his rigorism is joined with a genius for strong language not always found among the puritanical. Perhaps there has never been so slashing a style put at the service of so narrow and illiberal a system. It is one of the great tragedies of the early Church that a man of Tertullian's remarkable talents should have rebelled against the prudent moderation imposed by Catholic orthodoxy, to give himself over with whole-hearted devotion to the propagation of bigotry.11


To His Wife

1 See, for example, J. Tixeront, History of Dogmas (tr. from the 5th French ed. by H. L. B., St. Louis 1910) 1. 323.

2Ad ux. 1. 7. For a useful synopsis of Tertullian's views on marriage and remarriage, cf. H. Preisker, Christentum und Ehe in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Berlin 1927) 187-200.

3 Cf. Rom. 7. 2 f.; 1 Cor. 7. 8 f., 39 f.; 1 Tim. 5. 14.

4 The Eastern Church judged second marriage more severely than did the Church in the West. Athenagoras (Suppl. 33), writing on the Christian ideal of chastity in marriage, declares that the man who takes a second wife after the death of his first is a 'cloaked adulterer.' Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 3. 12. 82. 4) considers that such unions are a mark of imperfection, while Origen (Hom. in Luc. 17) says that digamists will be saved in the name of Christ, but will not be among those who are crowned by Him. The earliest statement in the Western Church is that of the Pastor Hermae (mand. 4.4), to the effect that one who remarries does not sin 'but, if he dwells by himself, he acquires great honor to himself with the Lord.' It is to this doctrine of the Pastor Hermae that Tertullian alludes when, in the Montanist treatise De pudicitia (10), he speaks of the 'scripture of the Shepherd, which is the only one that favors adulterers and which has not found place in the divine canon.' For a comparative study of the views on this subject which prevailed in the East and West, cf. G. H. Joyce, Christian Marriage (2nd ed. London 1948) 584-600; on the teaching of Athenagoras, see K. v. Preysing, 'Ehezweck und zweite Ehe bei Athenagoras,' Theol. Quartalschrift 110 (1929) 115 ff. The early history of the whole question is well summarized by F. Meyrick, 'Marriage,' DCA [Dictionary of Christian Antiquities] 2. 1103 f.; see also A. Knecht, Handbuch des katholischen Eherechts (Freiburg i. Br. 1928) 750-53. The most detailed study of successive polygamy, from the viewpoint of dogmatic theology, is still that of J. Perrone, De matrimonio Christiano (Rome 1858) 3. 74-111; for a less complete, though more modern treatment, see C. Boyer, Synopsis praelectionum de sacramento matrimonii (Rome 1947) 58-60. Official pronouncements of the Church on the subject may be found in ES [Enchiridion symbolorum, 21st ed., ed. by H. Denziger, C. Bannwart, J. B. Umberg] 55, 424, 465, 541. It is the Church's teaching here that even tertia et ulteriora matrimonia may be contracted without sin. This reflects the doctrine of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. St. Jerome writes (Epist. 49.8): 'Non damno bigamos et trigamos et, si dici potest, octogamos'; and St. Augustine (De bono vid. 12): 'De tertiis et quartis et de ultra pluribus nuptiis solent homines movere quaestionem. Unde et breviter respondeam: nec ullas nuptias audeo damnare, nec eis verecundiam numero-sitatis auferre.'—On the history of the special discipline for clerics, cf. J. M. Ludlow, 'Digamy,' DCA 1.552 f.; and below, n. 65.

5De bono vid. 4.6; De haer. ad Quodvultdeum 86. In the latter passage Tertullian is said to have become a heretic quia transiens ad Cataphrygas … coepit etiam secundas nuptias contra apostolicam doctrinam tamquam stupra damnare.

6Comm. in Epist. ad Titum 1.6

7 This is in disaccord with the opinion of Vincent of Lerins who, in a famous description of Tertullian's ability as a writer, says (Comm. 24): Iamporro orationis suae laudes quis exsequi valeat, quae tanta nescio qua rationum necessitate conferta est, ut ad consensum sui, quos suadere non potuerit, impellat: cuius quot paene verba, tot sententiae sunt; quot sensus, tot victoriae?

8 J. Tixeront, A Handbook of Patrology (tr. from the 4th French ed. by S. A. Raemers, St. Louis 1944) 110. His judgment is that Tertullian is an 'implacable logician,' though he 'has the defects of his qualities' and 'his logic runs to paradox.' See also 0. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur 2 (2nd ed. Freiburg i. Br. 1914) 383 f.; P. de Labriolle, History and Literature of Christianity from Tertullian to Boethius (tr. from the French by H. Wilson, London-New York 1924) 94-96.

9 On the problem of mixed marriages in the ancient Church see J. Köhne, Die Ehen zwischen Christen und Heiden in den ersten christlichen Jahrhunderten (Paderborn 1931); the same, 'Uber die Mischehen in den ersten christlichen Zeiten,' Theol. und Glaube 23 (1931) 333-50.

10 The statement is made by J. Fessler, Institutiones Patrologiae (ed. B. Jungmann, Innsbruck 1890) 1.272.

11 Tertullian's style has not always been as highly esteemed by Latinists as it is today. A celebrated German philologist of the 18th century, David Ruhnken, states flatly: 'Tertullianum latinitatis certe pessimum auctorem esse aio et confirmo' (quoted by E. F. Leopold, Zeitsch. f. hist. Theol. 8 [1838] 33).

12 T. R. Glover, Tertullian: Apologia, De Spectaculis (LCL, London 1931) xxvi. J. H. Waszink believes that with Tertullian, as with Aristotle, paraphrases of the text 'serve the purpose of correct understanding better than literal translations'; cf. Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani: De anima (Amsterdam 1947) ix. It is the opinion of so competent a critic as A. Souter that Tertullian is the most difficult of all Latin prose writers; cf. Tertullian: Concerning Prayer and Baptism (SPCK [Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge], London 1919) xi.

13 A. Harnack, Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius 2 (Leipzig 1904) 273.

14 Cf. St. Jerome, De viris illustribus 53.


An Exhortation to Chastity

1 References to earlier literature on the subject may be found in 0. Bardenhewer, op. cit., 2. 395. For a study of the date of the De exhortatione castitatis in its relationship to the Ad uxorem and the De monogamia, see G. N. Bonwetsch, Die Schriften Tertullians nach der Zeit ihrer Abfassung untersucht (Bonn 1878) 57-61. The dates given here, 204 and 212 A.D., represent termini ante and post quem non, according to a consensus of estimates given by various modem patrologists.

2 The word castitas may be taken as synonymous with continentia, here in the title and throughout the treatise. See TLL [Thesaurus Linguae latinae] 3.542.

3 St. Jerome (Adv. Jov. 1.13) refers to a work De molestiis nuptiarum, now lost, written when Tertullian was still a young man. For some interesting comments on Tertullian's attitude to women, marriage and the family, cf. Monceaux, op. cit. 1.387. He writes: 'Ce grand ennemi du mariage etait marie, naturellement.'

4Ad ux. 1.2 f.; 2.8.

5 Cf. Adv. Marc. 1.29; 5.7, 15; also Preisker, op. cit. 197. Compare, too, De res. carn. 5, and De carne Chr. 4. On the difference between the basic principles of Montanist and Marcionite asceticism, see P. de Labriolle, La crise Montaniste 396. It may be said, in general, that the Montanists warned against marriage because of their belief in the proximity of the parousia; the Marcionites rejected it absolutely because of their belief that it was established by the creator-god of the Old Testament and, accordingly, must be considered as something evil in itself.

6De an. 21 A. In 11.4 of the same treatise Tertullian speaks of the 'ecstatic vision' of Adam, 'wherein he prophesied that great sacrament in Christ and in the Church.'

7 d'Alès, op. cit. 370.…


1 The quotations in this paragraph are all taken from ch. 1. Other, more specific accusations are found in later chapters; they include a vicious attack on the private life of one of the Catholic bishops (12).

2 See, for example, 2: Mongamiae disciplinam in haeresim exprobant. Also, 15: Quae haeresis, si secundas nuptias, ut illicitas, iuxta adulterium iudicamus? This point is further discussed by A. Hauck, Tertullian's Leben und Schriften (Erlangen 1877) 397; de Labriolle, La crise montaniste, 383.

3 Cf. 10 and 11. In the Ad uxorem and the De exhortatione castitatis Tertullian neglected to answer adequately the serious difficulty against his position found in I Cor. 7.39: 'A woman is bound as long as her husband is alive, but, if her husband dies, she is free. Let her marry whom she pleases.… 'It was this text, apparently, which his adversaries quoted against him, and he studies it at great length in the present treatise.

4 E. Rolffs, Urkunden aus dem antimontanistischen Kampfe des Abendlandes (Texte und Unters. 12.4, Leipzig 1895) 50-109.

5 Hamack, Die Chronologie der altchrist. Litt. 2.287, is in sympathy with Rolffs' theory, but he admits that it cannot be proved. It is opposed by Bardenhewer, op. cit. 2.422, de Labriolle, op. cit. 383, and Monceaux, op. cit. 428.

6 St. Jerome writes (De vir. ill. 53) that Tertullian became a Montanist because of the 'envy and insults of the Roman clergy' and adds that after his lapse he composed a number of treatises in which he dealt with the new prophecy—specialiter autem adversus Ecclesiam texuit volumina de pudicitia, de persecutione, de ieiuniis, de monogamia, de exstasi. It is impossible to say just how well organized Montanism was at Carthage before Tertullian gave his support to the movement.

7 In the first chapter of the De ieiunio Tertullian speaks of a work of his 'already composed in defense of monogamy.

8 There are frequent references in the De pudicitia to the illegitimacy of second marriage. The whole treatise should be read in conjunction with the De monogamia to obtain a complete picture of Tertulian's views on the subject.

9 Ch. 3.

10 De Labriolle, op. cit. 392, says of the De monogamia: 'Jamais Tertullien n'a été aussi vif, aussi nerveux, aussi pressant que dans cet ouvrage.'

11 Tertullian's personality and its influence on the great decisions of his life has been the subject of a recent analysis by B. Nisters, Tertullian: Seine Persönlichkeit und sein Schicksal (Münster i. W. 1950). On Tertullian's place in the rigorist movement of his age, and on rigorism as a persistent phenomenon in Church history, see R. Knox, Enthusiasm (Oxford 1950), especially 25-49. For estimates of Tertullian's character which are more favorable than those usually encountered, cf. the excellent paper by J. Tixeront, 'Tertullien moraliste,' Mélanges de patrologie et d histoire des dogmes (2nd ed. Paris 1921) 117-152; and C. De Lisle Shortt, The Influence of Philosophy on the Mind of Tertullian (London n.d.) 98-105.…

William P. Le Saint (essay date 1959)

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SOURCE: "On Penitence: Introduction" and "On Purity: Introduction" in Tertullian: Treatises on Penance: On Penitence and On Purity, translated by William P. Le Saint, The Newman Press, 1959, pp. 3-13, 41-52.

[In the following excerpt, Le Saint discusses and compares Tertullian's two treatises on the subject of Christian penitence—De pudicitia and De paenitentia.]

Orthodox Christianity regards the doctrine of the divine forgiveness of sins as an essential article of faith. The nature of this forgiveness, its manner and measure, its causes and its effects, have all been subjects of controversy, but whoever accepts the Apostles' Creed as an expression of elementary Christian doctrine professes his belief in the basic truth that in some sense, in some way and under certain conditions God does pardon the sins of men. This belief has its foundation in Scripture1 and finds its historical expression in the traditional teaching of the Church. The great interest of Tertullian's treatises on repentance derives from the influence which they exercised on the development of this tradition in the West, and from the contribution which they make to our understanding of the Church's ministerial forgiveness of sins at a period quite close to the apostolic or sub-apostolic age. By common consent of competent critics they are the two most important documents of ancient Christian literature for the study of one of the most difficult questions in the history of dogma: the doctrine and discipline of ecclesiastical penance during the first centuries of our era. Bernhard Poschmann, a writer whose authority in all that concerns the early history of penitential theology is unexcelled, has stated that the judgement which one forms of the theory and practice of penance in Christian antiquity will be determined, in large measure, by the interpretation which one puts upon the De paenitentia and De pudicitia of Tertullian.2

The penitential system of the early Church was founded on her belief that she had received from Christ a power to remit and to retain sin.3 The earliest post-canonical evidence that this power was exercised in the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is preserved in the Pastor Hermae, an apocryphal apocalyptic tract written, at least in part, to refute the opinions of 'certain teachers' who insisted that there was no ecclesiastical penance but that of Baptism.4 Further, evidence from the same period is furnished by more or less explicit and detailed statements in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and certain Church Orders composed at this time, particularly the Syriac Didascalia and the so-called Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus; there are, moreover, pertinent notices in Eusebius on the practice of Dionysius of Corinth (c. 171 A.D.) and the penance of Natalius at Rome (c. 200 A.D.); the subject is treated more completely by Origen in a number of interesting and instructive passages; the witness of Cyprian at the middle of the third century is, of course, formal and frequent.5

It is clear, then, that the teaching of Tertullian on the ecclesiastical forgiveness of sins does not exist in a literary vacuum. The evidence which his writings afford on the doctrine and discipline of the Church circa 200 A.D. may be summarized as follows. There is a well-known ritual of penance in the Church called exomologesis, established as a means of assisting members of the Church to obtain pardon for sins committed after Baptism. This ritual includes confession of one's sins and the performance of public penance by way of deprecation and satisfaction. It terminates directly in the restoration of the sinner to peace and communion with the Church, and, at least indirectly, in the forgiveness of his sins in the sight of God. The whole process is directed by ecclesiastical authority, and the pardon conceded at its close is granted by the bishop. Teltullian has no interest in ascribing the efficacy of exomologesis to any particular act or acts within the whole complexus. He is content that at the end of the process the sinner is reconciled not only to the Church but also to God Himself.6

This description of Tertullian's teaching is drawn from both the De paenitentia and the De pudicitia. As will be seen, they are works quite different in spirit, written for different purposes at different periods of his life, but the picture which they present of the orthodox Christian theory and practice of penance is essentially the same. The De paenitentia is a work of Tertullian's Catholic period, a kind of sermon addressed to the faithful on the subject of repentance and forgiveness, largely expository and hortatory in character, tolerant in tone. The De pudicitia was composed after Tertullian's lapse into Montanism. It is a violent, argumentative party pamphlet, directed against a particular piece of Church legislation on penance which Tertullian and his faction of rigid fanatics considered intolerably lax. It is significant that, in spite of these divergencies, the only substantial difference between the two treatises in what concerns the nature and administration of exomologesis is this: in the De paenitentia Tertullian places no restriction of any kind on the Church's power to forgive sins; in the De pudicitia he introduces the Montanist distinction between remissible and irremissible sins, conceding a power to the bishop to forgive the former but restricting forgiveness of the latter to God alone.

The interpretation of many passages in both treatises has been and remains controversial. This is true especially of those texts which bear on the existence of private penance in the early Church, the distinction between mortal and venial sins, the effect of episcopal absolution, the role of the faithful, particularly the martyrs, in the forgiveness of sins, the concept of compensatory satisfaction. The problem, however, which has been most discussed and about which the sharpest difference of opinion exists has to do with the crucial question of whether or not the Church granted pardon to the capital sins of apostasy, murder and adultery before the middle of the third century. Many theologians and historians of dogma assert that the De paeni tentia and De pudicitia of Tertullian clearly prove that it was not the practice of the early Church to pardon serious sins; others insist, just as positively, that these treatises prove the exact opposite.7 These and other controversial questions will be considered in the notes, in connection with the translation and interpretation of passages pertinent to each particular problem. No attempt can be made to settle long-standing disputes in footnotes to a text, but it is hoped that a complete and objective canvassing of the opposing arguments will be of some help to the interested reader in forming his own opinion as to the merits of rival positions.

The extreme difficulty and obscurity of Tertullian's style and language are responsible, in no small measure, for the development of the controversies here referred to. It is indeed unfortunate that subjects of such great interest and importance should be set forth in phrases which often seem designed to conceal rather than to reveal their author's thought. Serious students, however, will find that, in spite of their obscurity, the treatises are invaluable not only as source books for the theology of penance but also for the light which they throw on many other questions relating to the life and faith of the early Church. Tertullian is notoriously the most difficult of all Latin prose writers, yet he always means something, and the effort which one makes to pierce through to his meaning can be an enjoyable as well as a rewarding experience. The literary value of the De paenitentia and De pudicitia may seem negligible, but their theological and historical significance is unsurpassed. They are books to be studied, not merely read. Tertullian was one of the most learned men of his age,8 and no one who is interested in the study of antiquity, whether secular or religious, will find any of his writings disappointing or dull.

Since the importance of these treatises is theological rather than literary or artistic, it has seemed best to translate them quite literally, even though this results in a version which reflects the distortions of Tertullian's style as well as the ambiguity of his thought, and even though one feels that with Tertullian, as with St. Paul, no literal translation can ever give the full meaning of all that he intends to say. A paraphrase of his thought would be easier to read and understand than a close reproduction of its original expression, but there is always the danger that in a free translation, particularly of controversial matter, the text will be amplified by interpretations and interpolations which are tendentious. In the interest of clarity and intelligibility difficult passages will be discussed in the notes; in the interest of impartiality the text will be translated as literally as possible.

All translators of Tertullian have found it necessary to apologize for the awkward English which is the result of their efforts to produce a faithful version of his vigorous and imaginative but highly irregular prose. His whole habit of thought and manner of expression, even his method of argumentation, are utterly foreign and strange to us. Such expressions as 'to drink the sheep of a second penance' (De pud. 10.12), and 'dregs of milk which contain the virus of lust' (De pud. 6.15) produce little effect upon the modern reader beyond a desire to emend the text. The ancients themselves found him difficult and obscure. Lactantius says he is parum facilis, minus comptus, multum obscurus (Div. Inst. 5.1.23) and Jerome describes him as creber in sententiis sed difficilis in loquendo (Epist. 58.10). Tertullian is a writer of marvelous fertility and inventiveness, yet these very qualities contribute to the incoherence which is so marked a characteristic of his style. His sentences are quite often poorly constructed, a jumble of ideas which pour out in unnatural combinations of words and phrases, strange metaphors, neologisms, cryptic allusions, paradoxes and paralogisms, antitheses, multiple parentheses—a rich but disordered miscellany complicated by asyndeton, ellipsis and the use of every form of brachylogy known to grammarians. Efforts to modernize Tertullian inevitably end in failure. Perhaps the best apology a translator can make for his work is that a polished version would not be faithful to a rough original; if his English does not read smoothly, it may be pleaded in extenuation that the Latin doesn't either.9

On Penitence10

The De paenitentia, as has been said, was written by Tertullian while he was yet a Catholic. It contains a brief explanation of what Christians understand by the virtue of penitence, discourses on the importance of this virtue and shows how it is to be practiced in the Church. It is not, however, and it was not intended to be, a systematic study of the penitential theory and practice of Christian antiquity. The purpose of the treatise is moral and ascetical, not didactic; the emphasis, throughout, is on the importance and necessity of penitence rather than on its nature or external forms. Quite probably it was originally a sermon which Tertullian preached to the people at Carthage;11 it is direct and personal in its approach, often admonitory, resembling closely a type of composition which ancient rhetoricians described as 'paraenetic.12 Most patrologists are of the opinion that it was addressed to catechumens, but there are good reasons for holding with Rauschen that it was also intended as an instruction and exhortation for the baptized.13

The work falls naturally into three parts. In the first (cc. 1-4) Tertullian speaks of penance as a virtue. Pagans have no concept of what this virtue means. For them paenitentia is no more than an unpleasant emotion caused by a past act; it may even follow upon an act which was good in itself (c. 1). Christians, however, understand that it is sin which makes repentance necessary and gives it meaning. Repentance supposes the reprobation of one's evil deeds and an amendment of life; it is motivated by fear of God; it is required by the divine justice; it effects the forgiveness of sins and, thus, has salvation as its fruit (c. 2). Repentance is demanded for all sins, external and internal alike (c. 3). God Himself commands it and He has also promised to reward it (c. 4).

Chapters 5 and 6 deal more specifically with the penitence of those who have not yet been baptized. Conversion to a new life is essential in repentance, and once this conversion has been signed and sealed by Baptism it must never be 'unsealed' or repudiated by a return to sin (c. 5). The obligation of penitence presses most urgently upon the catechumens. The thought of their future Baptism must not encourage them to sin, rashly confiding in the pardon which they are about to receive. Forgiveness is certainly the effect of Baptism, but we are baptized because we have ceased to sin, not in order that we may cease to do so. Our freedom from punishment will be bought at the price of the penance we practice; if this penance does not include a sincere conversion, it is false coin and God will reject it (c. 6).

Chapters 7-12 have to do with the important question of post-baptismal penitence. Sins committed by persons who are not yet members of the Church are forgiven by paenitentia prima; this includes conversion and the reception of Baptism. If anyone should be so unfortunate as to sin after he has been baptized, God, in His mercy, allows him a paenitentia secunda for the forgiveness of his offense. This second penitence must not be neglected—and it may not be repeated (c. 7). The possibility of a second forgiveness is proved by a number of passages in the New Testament, particularly by the parables of the lost drachma, the lost sheep and the prodigal son (c. 8). Paenitentia secunda requires the performance of those external penitential acts which constitute the well-known discipline of exomologesis (c. 9). The performance of public penance is humiliating and most men try to avoid it, but if they neglect it, they cannot be saved (c. 10). It is proper that one should suffer when one has sinned (c. 11), yet the pain which exomologesis causes the sinner is as nothing to the punishment of hell which it enables him to escape (12).

This third section of the treatise has been much discussed and variously interpreted. It poses two principal problems, distinct but closely related: (1) Is the paeni-tentia secunda described here essentially an ecclesiastical process, terminated by ecclesiastical absolution, or is it a private personal matter between the sinner and God, terminated by an absolution14 granted by God and by Him alone? (2) If it is terminated by an ecclesiastical absolution, does this reconcile the sinner to God or only to the Church? These questions will be treated at some length in notes on the text, but it may be said here, briefly, that the positions which seem to be most easily defended are these: (1) The paenitentia secunda of which Tertullian speaks in this treatise is necessarily externalized by exomologesis, and exomologesis is an ecclesiastical process which ends with ecclesiastical absolution. (2) This absolution reconciles the sinner directly and immediately to the Church but indirectly and mediately to God Himself. These propositions are established with good probability from evidence in the De paenitentia itself; they are proved conclusively if this is combined with evidence supplied by the De pudicitia. The problem of whether or not the peccata capitalia were excluded from ecclesiastical absolution belongs to a discussion of the De pudicitia and will be examined in connection with the analysis of that treatise. It may be noted here, however, that there is nothing in the De paenitentia which indicates that the Church refused to pardon serious sins, and a number of passages which prove rather conclusively that she granted it.

It seems best to date the De paenitentia some time between 200 and 206 A.D. (Monceaux) or 198 and 202/3 A.D. (Harnack). It was certainly written before 207, the year in which Tertullian began to express some sympathy with Montanist ideas. There is not the slightest trace of any such sympathy in this treatise. In fact, as will be seen, Tertullian finds it necessary in the De pudicitia to repudiate the earlier tolerance which he showed in dealing with the subject of penitence, presumably tolerance of the sort manifested in the De paenitentia. Noeldechen believes that the work was composed early in the year 204 A.D., arguing (1) that the reference in c. 12.2 to recent volcanic disturbances is to be understood as an allusion to the eruption of Vesuvius in 203 A.D., (2) that the death of Plautian in January 204 A.D. occasioned Tertullian's remark on the nature of pagan repentance in c. 1.4, (3) that the special attention given to the ambitious conduct of office seekers, c. 11.4, indicates that Tertullian wrote shortly after the close of the year, the season during which it was customary for politicians to solicit the electorate.15 The only one of these arguments which can be taken seriously is the first, and even this is rejected by Harnack, who considers it arbitrary to suppose that a reference to Vesuvius is intended when Vesuvius is not mentioned by name or otherwise identified.16

The De pudicitia1 is one of Tertullian's most violent Montanist treatises—a passionate, bigoted and yet utterly sincere attack on the doctrine and discipline of the orthodox Church. Tertullian felt and professed a deep love for the Church of Christ. He was convinced that it was not he who had left the Church; rather it was the Church that had left him! This she did, he believed, when she refused to accept the utterances of Montanist prophets as the authentic word of God, and when she refused to impose upon her members the austere moral discipline inculcated by the new 'revelations' of the Paraclete. In his various Montanist writings Tertullian protests against the Church's toleration of second marriage, her attitude towards flight during times of persecution, her relatively mild legislation in the matter of fasting and other external penitential practices. All of his Montanist tracts are characterized by a warped and exaggerated asceticism; in all of them Tertullian's indignation is impressive, even when his position is impossible and his arguments absurd.

The De pudicitia, possibly the last of Tertullian's extant works, criticizes the policy which the Church follows in granting pardon to serious sins. In none of his writings does he show a fiercer temper. He is without pity in his condemnation of human frailty, completely unashamed in his demands for harshness and intolerance. From beginning to end he is the true fanatic; he is impatient of all opposition; his mind is closed to every viewpoint but his own; he is convinced that he stands at Armageddon and battles for the Lord. The modern reader can feel nothing but sorrow that so great and devoted a talent should have served so bigoted a cause.

The treatise was occasioned by the peremptory edict of a Catholic bishop decreeing that members of the Church who committed adultery were not to be permanently excluded from the Church but were to be readmitted to communion after the performance of public penance. This decree Tertullian condemns as subversive of that perfect purity which is demanded of the Christian. Any indulgence granted to sins of the flesh he regards as a profanation of the body of Christ and an invitation to further sin. His arguments are almost exclusively scriptural. He insists that the sacred text, rightly understood, clearly proves that the Church must not forgive sins of adultery and fornication. He draws on a bewilderingly large number of texts from both the Old and the New Testament to establish this thesis, revealing throughout the whole treatise a familiarity with the Bible which is truly amazing. One hardly knows which is the more remarkable—his readiness in quoting Scripture or his genius for distorting it.

The argument is developed in chapters 5 to 20. Chapters 1 to 4 are introductory, and chapters 21 and 22 an epilogue. Tertullian begins his treatise with a statement on the excellence of chastity and a complaint that this virtue has suffered harm as the result of a recent episcopal directive allowing pardon to adultery and fornication. Tertullian acknowledges that he himself, before he was enlightened by the new prophecy, found no fault with the practice of forgiving serious sins, but he rejoices that he now has a finer appreciation of purity and is a better and a holier man than he was before (c. 1). If his opponents say that Scripture proves the kindness and mercy of God, he will answer that it also proves His severity and justice. This apparent contradiction is resolved if we remember that sins are of two kinds: some are remissible and others irremissible. Penance is required for all sins; if it is done for remissible sins, the Church grants pardon at its close; if it is done for irremissible sins, no such ecclesiastical pardon is allowed. Thus God shows His mercy in the first instance and His justice in the second (c. 2). When penance is done for irremissible sins it is not done in vain, since pardon will be granted in heaven even though it is not allowed on earth. This conflicts with the opinion of his adversaries, who insist that forgiveness of such sins is the fruit of an absolution which the Church gives here below (c. 3). There is no essential difference between adultery and fornication as far as carnal defilement is concerned. Public penance is required for both these sins, but the Church may not forgive them. If a Christian should be guilty of unnatural vice, he is not only refused absolution but is even excluded from the performance of exomologesis (c. 4).

Tertullian finds his first scriptural argument in the Decalogue. God prohibits idolatry, adultery and murder, in that order. This proves the gravity of adultery, and shows how inconsistent his opponents are when they forgive sins of impurity while refusing to forgive murder and idolatry (c. 5). The law of the Old Testament has not been abrogated but it has been perfected in Christ, who condemns not only external sins of the flesh but even lustful desires. Examples of immorality under the old dispensation are no excuse for laxness under the law of Christ (c. 6). The parables of the lost sheep, the lost drachma and the prodigal son may seem to justify the Church in her practice of forgiving the serious sins of her subjects. This, however, perverts the meaning of the parables since, if we study them carefully, we shall see that Christ is there promising pardon to pagans, not to Christians. Hence the parables of mercy prove that all sins may be forgiven to pagans in the paenitentia prima of Baptism, but not to Christians in the paenitentia secunda of exomologesis (cc. 7-9). It is incorrect to say, as his opponents do, that Christ's mercy is meant more for Christians than it is for pagans, since pagans sin in ignorance and, therefore, have less need of mercy. This may be consistent with the teaching of Hermas, the shepherd of adulterers, but it is not consistent with the teaching of the Gospels (c. 10). Nor does the fact that Christ personally forgave serious sins prove that the Church may do so (c. 11).

The teaching and example of the apostles may be added to the lessons of the Gospel. When the apostles were assembled in the council at Jerusalem they laid no burdens upon the faithful but the obligation of abstaining from sacrifices, fornications and blood, that is to say, from idolatry, adultery and murder. These, then, are the sins which they consider irremissible (c. 12). The letters of St. Paul, particularly First and Second Corinthians, are cited by the laxists as proving that pardon may be granted to a Christian guilty of adultery. It can be shown, however, that the sinner whom Paul forgives in his second letter is not the incestuous man whom he condemned in his first. Moreover, the whole tenor of Paul's epistles is inconsistent with the notion that he would ever tolerate the forgiveness of adultery by the Church (cc. 13-17).

Scripture not only condemns adultery but teaches explicitly that it is to be punished by excommunication, and by an excommunication which lasts not just for a short time but for life. If impurity is forgiven, it is forgiven by paenitentia prima to those who have not yet become members of the Church. There is also, however, a paenitentia secunda for those who sin after Baptism. If they have been guilty of lesser or remissible sins, pardon is granted them by the bishop; if they have been guilty of greater or irremissible sins, pardon is granted by God alone (c. 1). St. John, in the Apocalypse, permits no pardon to Christians guilty of adultery; rather he condemns them to 'the pool of fire,' with no indication that they will be pardoned; and in his (first) epistle he speaks quite clearly of a sin unto death, that is to say, an irremissible sin (c. 19). So, too, Barnabas, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, teaches that second penance was never promised by the apostles to Christians guilty of adultery or fornication (c. 20).2

In conclusion, Tertullian concedes that the Church has a power to forgive sins, but he insists that the exercise of this power is restricted by a new revelation of the Paraclete. His opponents claim that the Church's power to forgive sin derives from the fact that Christ gave to St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven and promised that whatsoever he loosed on earth would be loosed also in heaven. This power, however, belonged to Peter personally, and it now belongs to the church of the Spirit, not to the hierarchical church. Therefore it is possessed by those only who have the Spirit, and it is not possessed ex officio by the bishops as successors of the apostles (c. 21). Finally, this power must not be allowed to the martyrs. Martyrdom will efface one's own sins but not the sins of others. If the martyrs are permitted to forgive adultery, they must be allowed to forgive apostates and murderers also, apostates in particular, since apostasy is so much more excusable than adultery (c. 22).

It will be seen from this rapid survey that the distinction between remissible and irremissible sins is essential to the argument of the De pudicitia. We must remember that when Tertullian makes this distinction he means 'remissible or irremissible by the Church,' not 'remissible or irremissible by God,' since he states explicitly that sins which the Church may not forgive, God actually does forgive (3.3, 5; 18.18). The distinction is new in Tertullian's penitential theology; at least, it is not mentioned or implied in the De paenitentia or any other of his pre-Montanist writings. Its importance is sufficiently indicated by the fact that it is responsible for, or closely identified with, all of the principal controversies which have arisen over the interpretation of this treatise.

The three most crucial questions in dispute are these: (1) Which sins did Tertullian consider to be of such objective gravity that they were excluded from ecclesiastical absolution? (2) Who was the author of the edict which occasioned the composition of the De pudicitia? (3) Is there any convincing evidence in this treatise that at the beginning of the third century the Church refused to pardon the sins of murder and apostasy and that she was just beginning to pardon sins of adultery and fornication?

The first of these problems is complicated by a lack of precision in Tertullian's division of sins. He uses a number of different expressions to describe sins which are of greater (maxima, capitalia, mortalia, exitiosa, maiora, gravia) or lesser (mediocria, modica, leviora, peccata cotidianae incursionis) guilt, and it is not always possible to determine the exact meaning or extension of these terms. Then, too, he does not always clearly indicate which sins are to be subjected to public penance and which may be forgiven without it. Finally, he gives different lists of serious sins in different places, and his attitude towards these sins does not always seem to be completely consistent.

The safest conclusions which emerge from a study of passages pertinent to Tertullian's classification of sins3 appear to be these. (1) There is some evidence, though it is by no means conclusive, that Tertullian recognized two distinct classes of sins, corresponding roughly to the modem division of mortal and venial sins. It is not certain, however, that he uses maiora, mortalia, capitalia, etc., as synonyms, or that all of the sins which he speaks of as remissibilia would be venial in the sense in which we use the word today. In terms of forgiveness, Tertullian says that some sins are remissibilia and others are not; in terms of gravity, he says that some sins are of greater and others of lesser guilt. Though he teaches, as a Montanist, that all sins of lesser guilt are remissible, he does not teach that all sins of greater guilt are irremissible. (2) It is not clear from the De pudicitia that Tertullian recognized the existence of an intermediate class of sins between the levia and the maxima which were forgiven by private penance. (3) The catalogue of crimes in 19.25 is intended as a typical and not an exhaustive inventory of serious sins. It corresponds rather closely with other lists given elsewhere in the writings of Tertullian. In all such lists the capital sins of idolatry (apostasy), murder and adultery are conspicuous, but they are not the only sins which Tertullian regards as mortal. The matter may be summed up thus. Both as Catholic and Montanist Tertullian recognized a distinction between sins of greater and those of lesser gravity. It cannot be proved that in his Catholic period he considered any grave sin irremissible, nor can it be proved that in his Montanist period he considered all grave sins irremissible.

The problem of determining the authorship of the edict which occasioned the composition of the De pudicitia has been studied frequently and needs no more than a brief synopsis here. Three principal views have been proposed. Older editors and commentators attributed the decree to Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome from 198 to 217. With the discovery of the Philosophoumena of Hippolytus in 1850, scholars all but unanimously accepted Callistus (bishop of Rome 217-222) as the author, since they considered that the charge of laxity in forgiving sins of impurity which Hippolytus makes against Callistus (Philosoph. 9.12) must be understood as referring to his issuance of the edict of toleration which Tertullian condemns in De pud. 1.6. Other passages in the De pudicitia which are thought to prove the Roman provenance of the edict will be found in cc. 13.7 and 21.5, 9. In recent years, however, scholars have been abandoning the idea that the decree was issued by a bishop of Rome. K. Adam, P. Galtier, B. Poschmann and other authorities on the history of penance argue quite convincingly that it was promulgated by an African bishop, probably Agrippinus of Carthage. This view has, at present, a certain ascendancy, although it is not universally received and the decree continues to be referred to in the literature as the 'Edict of Callistus.'4

The evidence from the De pudicitia that before the year 200 the Church did not grant absolution to the sins of murder and apostasy (idolatry), and that it was only about this time that she began to forgive adultery and fornication may be summarized thus. Tertullian repeatedly insists that his opponents are inconsistent in granting absolution to adultery, while refusing it to murder and apostasy.5 It is inconceivable that he could have used such an argument if the Church actually did grant pardon to these sins at this time. That adultery was not forgiven before the third century seems clear from the very fact that an edict was issued circa 215 decreeing its forgiveness. Then, too, it is difficult to account for the bitterness of Tertullian's language in the De pudicitia, if the bishop whose legislation he condemns were simply continuing an earlier tradition of tolerance.

Against this position and these arguments various lines of attack have developed. Some theologians attempt to settle the matter dogmatically, contending that ecclesiastical absolution is a necessary means of salvation for those who have sinned seriously after Baptism, and that, therefore, the Church, at no time in her history, could have withheld absolution from those who were properly disposed to receive it. The argument proceeds a non posse ad non esse; if a thing is impossible, it never happened! The Church may not refuse to pardon serious sins; therefore there can be no evidence in the De pudicitia that she did refuse to pardon them. There are a number of sound theological objections to this argument, but even apart from them, most students will be unwilling to accept it because of an understandable reluctance to settle historical questions on a priori grounds.6

Not a few writers concede that the De pudicitia proves the existence of a rigid but slowly relaxing penitential discipline at the time and in the place where the treatise was written. They insist, however, that while it furnishes evidence for the practice of a particular church in Africa, it may not be cited as proving that the universal Church, or even the Church of Rome, refused to pardon serious sins before the beginning of the third century. It will be observed that, according to this interpretation, Tertullian in the De pudicitia protests against a practice which was just beginning in the African Church, not one which had always existed but which he thought should be changed because of a new revelation. The author of the peremptory edict is the innovator; Tertullian himself is not. Thus, on the evidence of the De pudicitia, it is admitted that the African church did refuse to pardon murder and apostasy and was just beginning to pardon the sin of adultery at the time Tertullian wrote this treatise.

Not all students will admit that this is a correct interpretation of the text of the De pudicitia, nor do they see that it comes to grips with a fundamental problem in Tertullian's teaching on ecclesiastical penance. This problem is created by the apparent contradiction between the teaching of the De paenitentia and the De pudicitia on the forgiveness of serious sins. In the former treatise Tertullian says that all sins may be and are forgiven by the Church; in the latter he insists that adultery must not be forgiven and he asserts that murder and apostasy are not forgiven by the Church. Various solutions of this problem have been proposed, none of them completely satisfactory. The following explanation, although it admittedly leaves some subordinate questions unanswered, seems to be most consistent with the evidence furnished by both treatises.

In the De paenitentia Tertullian taught that all sins, no matter how grave, may be forgiven by paenitentia secunda. In the De pudicitia, under the influence of Montanist rigorism, he repudiates this teaching when he says that adultery must not be forgiven by the Church. Thus the De pudicitia does not prove that the orthodox Church, even the local church in Africa, refused to pardon adultery before the promulgation of the peremptory edict. This edict may well have been issued precisely in order to check the growing rigidism of a party of puritans in some particular locality.7 Tertullian never protests that the edict is an innovation; rather he admits that he himself has changed his viewpoint on the subject of ecclesiastical absolution after his enlightenment by the new prophecy. The innovator is not the bishop who implements a tradition of tolerance by his formal decree of indulgence, but Tertullian who protests against it.8

The evidence of the De pudicitia that murder and apostasy were not forgiven by the Church at this time is more difficult to deal with. Some students, as noted above, simply concede that the local church which Tertullian has in mind did refuse forgiveness to these sins. This explanation, however, does not do full justice to the evidence of the De paenitentia that the Church grants pardon to all sins, with no distinction made as to their gravity. Others contend that in the De paenitentia Tertullian teaches that God forgives all sins, not that the Church does. This is an easy solution but it, too, seems to ignore the evidence of the De paenitentia that it is exomologesis, the ecclesiastical paenitentia secunda, which effects the forgiveness of all sins, no matter how serious. B. Poschmann suggests that when Tertullian says that the Church refuses pardon to murderers and apostates, he means that she does not grant them peace and communion during their lifetime, but only at the hour of their death. Thus there is a sense in which it can be said that these sins are not remitted (De pudicitia), even though they are remissible (De paenitentia).9 Positive arguments that murder and apostasy were forgiven in the Church before the middle of the third century have been developed by Galtier and others, particularly from evidence in the Acta Petri, Cyprian, Dionysius of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Pastor Hermae, Clement of Alexandria and early Church councils.10

It is impossible to say exactly when the De pudicitia was written. The dates 217/22 are frequently given, but they depend on the theory that Callistus was author of the edict against which the De pudicitia was a protest and, hence, they have no more certainty than has this theory. Patrologists generally place it, along with the De monogamia and the De ieiunio, among Tertullian's latest works.11 The De monogamia was composed about 217, and some authorities are of the opinion that it precedes the De pudicitia. This sequence, however, can neither be proved nor disproved. In the absence of any more definite evidence we must be content to say, simply, that the treatise was composed some time after 212/13, since it was at this time that Tertullian broke with the Church and allied himself with the Montanist party at Carthage.…


On Penitence

1 For a more detailed study of this subject, particularly with reference to the teaching of the New Testament, see E. Redlich, The Forgiveness of Sins (Edinburgh 1937).

2 Poschmann III 20.

3 The words of Christ which are cited in justification of this claim occur in Matt. 16.19; 18.15-18; John 20.19-23.

4 For the more recent literature on the penitential doctrine and discipline of the Pastor Hermae, see J. Quasten, Patrology (Westminster 1950) 1.104 f.

5 Evidence for the existence of post-baptismal ecclesiastical penitence before the year A.D. 250 has been collected and studied by 0. Watkins, A History of Penance (London 1920) 1.3-222; A. D'Alès, L'édit de Calliste (Paris 1914); B. Poschmann, Paenitentia secunda. Die kirchliche Busse im ältesten Christentum bis Cyprian und Origenes (Bonn 1940). P. Galtier, Aux origines du sacrement de pénitence (Rome 1951), gives particular attention to New Testament texts and to the literature of the sub-apostolic period. For Cyprian, see A. D'Alès, La thélogie de saint Cyprien (Paris 1922); K. Rahner, 'Die Busslehre des hl. Cyprian von Karthago,' ZKT 74 (1952) 252-76; M. Bévenot, 'The Sacrament of Penance and St. Cyprian's De lapsis,' TS 16 (1955) 175-213. For Origen, E. Latko, Origen's Concept of Penance (Quebec 1949) and K. Rahner, 'La doctrine d'Origène sur la pénitence,' RSR 37 (1950) 47-97, 252-86, 422-56.

6 The best recent studies on Tertullian's theology of penance are those of C. Daly, 'The Sacrament of Penance in Tertullian,' IER 69 (1947) 693-707, 815-21; 70 (1948) 730-46, 832-48; 73 (1950) 159-69, and K. Rahner, 'Zur Theologie der Busse bei Tertullian, Abhandlungen über Theologie und Kirche. Festschrift f K. Adam, hrsg. v. M. Reding (Düsseldorf 1943) 139-67. See, also, the bibliographies in Quasten, op. cit. 2.301 f., 314 f., 335.

7 The following may be listed as representatives of the viewpoint that Tertullian's treatises on penance prove that it was not the practice of the early Church to forgive serious sins: J. Sirmundus, Historia paenitentiae publicae (Paris 1651) 1-9; F. Funk, 'Zur altchristlichen Bussdisciplin,' Kirchengeschichtliche Abhandlungen und Untersuchungen 1 (1896) 151-81; A. Hamack, History of Dogma (tr. from the 3rd German ed. by N. Buchanan, London 1896) 2.108-12; L. Duchesne, His-toire ancienne de l'Église (Paris 1916) 1.518-20. The contrary opinion has been defended by J. Morinus, Commentarius historicus de disciplina in admini-stratione sacramenti paenitentiae (Anvers 1682) 670-85; P. Monceaux, Histoire littéaire de l'Afrique chrétienne (Paris 1902) 1.432; G. Esser, Die Buss-schriften Tertullians de paenitentia und das Indulgenzedikt des Papstes Kallistus (Bonn 1905). D. Petavius, De vetere in ecclesia ratione poenitentiae diatriba. Dogmata theologica 8 (Paris 1867) 182, favors the first opinion; however, in a later work, Diatriba de poenitentia et reconciliatione veteris ecclesiae mo-ribus recepta, ibid. 451, he states that, re altius et accuratius perspecta, he has come to the conclusion that it was never the practice of the universal Church to refuse pardon to capital sins. References to other representatives of these two schools may be found in Poschmann I 283 f.

8 Tertullian reveals a thorough familiarity with Latin and Greek letters; he has read widely in medical literature; in philosophy and law he has a specialist's learning. The judgement of antiquity is summed up in the famous eulogy of Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium 24: Quid enim hoc viro doctius? Quid in divinis atque humanis rebus exercitatius? Nempe omnem philosophiam et cunctas philosophorum sectas, auctores, assertatores sectarum, omnesque eorum disciplinas, omnem historiarum atque studiorum varietatem mira quadam mentis capacitate complexus est.

9 E. Norden voices the common opinion of classical literary critics when he says that 'Tertullian is, without doubt, the most difficult of all authors who wrote in Latin.' Die antike Kunstprosa (2nd ed. Leipzig 1909) 2.606. For complete bibliographies on his language and style, see Quasten, op. cit. 2.250 f. and J. Waszink, Tertullianus. De anima. Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Amsterdam 1947) 601-603 and 610-20.

10 The word 'penitence' has been chosen for the English title of this treatise since it avoids the controversial connotations which attach to the terms 'repentance' and 'penance' and since it most closely approximates the various senses of paenitentia which Tertullian supposes or explains in the course of his composition. The persons whom he addressed had a definite notion, carried over from classical Latin and from their ordinary speech, of what paenitentia meant. At the beginning of his discourse Tertullian insists that for the Christian this concept is not enough. To the pagan paenitentia signifies nothing more that a feeling of regret for something which he did in the past. To the Christian, however, it means sorrow for sin and conversion to a new way of life. It includes a fear of God's punishments, the performance of painful actions by way of satisfaction and, in terms of its relationship to ecclesiastical ritual, it means Baptism (paenitentia prima) and exomologesis (paenitentia secunda). Thus it encompasses everything which at any time and in any way is required of the sinner who seeks the forgiveness of God. There is no one word in any modem language which will convey all of these meanings and, for this reason, Teeuwen is of the opinion that the title should always be given in Latin in order to avoid misconceptions and misrepresentation; cf. St. W. J. Teeuwen, 'De voce paenitentia apud Tertullianum,' Mnemosyne 55 (1927) 410. That paenitentia means more than repentance in the sense of mutatio mentis and conversio is clear from Tertullian's use of the word with such verbs as amplexari (4.2), invadere (2.13; 4.2), capessere (6.1), cogere (2.10), adsumere (6.1), adhibere (2.12), adimplere (6.4), includere (6.1), suscipere (5.1), fungi (5.2). It is interesting that in the first edition of his translation (Kempten 1870) Kellner entitles the treatise Über die Busse; in the Cologne edition of 1882 he has Über die Bekehrung; and in the Kempten-Munich edition of 1912 the title is again Über die Busse.—For the spelling paenitentia rather than poenitentia, see Teeuwen, op. cit. 419. Other uses of the word and its derivatives in early Christian writers may be seen in A. Blaise-H. Chirat, Dictionnaire latinfrançais des auteurs chrétiens (Strasbourg 1954) 588 f.

11 On Tertullian's use of the sermon form in many of his compositions, see Monceaux, op. cit. 1.366. Other references to Tertullian as a preacher are given by G. Diercks, Tertullianus. De oratione (Bussum 1947) xcix f., and E. Dekkers, Tertullianus en de Geschiedenes der Liturgie (Brussels-Amsterdam 1947) 39 f.

12 Cf St. Pacian's treatise, Parainesis sive exhortatorius libellus ad poenitentiam.

13 Rauschen's opinion is discussed below, De paen. note 110.

14 Tertullian uses a great variety of words and images in speaking of the salutary effect of paenitentia: we find, for example, venia, reconciliatio, restitutio, pax, communio, salus, remedium, iasis, curatio, emendatio, planca, merx, ianua, reaedificatio, reformatio, redintegratio, oblitteratio, indulgentia, ignoscentia, expiatio, satisfactio, compensatio. Related verbs are: absolvere, revocare, sanare, mederi, reviviscere, purgare, mundare, emendare, expungere, dispungere, donare, in ecclesiam recipere, redigere, reddere.

15 E. Noeldechen, Die Abfassungszeit der Schriften Tertullians. TU 5 (Leipzig 1888) 59-62.

16 A. Harnack, Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur (Leipzig 1904) 2.271 f. For other literature on this subject, see 0. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur (Freiburg 1914) 2.417.…

On Purity

1 This work is generally referred to in English as the treatise on Modesty, the title given it in Thelwall's translation. In modem usage, however, the word 'modesty' does not correspond exactly to pudicitia as Tertullian understands the term in this treatise. He is concerned, throughout, with the defense of a virtue which is violated by sins of adultery and fornication. This is the virtue of purity or chastity, not precisely and certainly not primarily the virtue of modesty. What we call 'modesty' today is a safeguard of what Tertullian calls pudicitia; compare De cultu fem. 2, where he declares that the virtue of purity (pudicitia) is necessary for salvation, and that this virtue will be preserved by the avoidance of extremes (i.e. by modesty) in dress and ornamentation. In Apol. 50.12 he states that the pagan persecutors, in condemning a Christian girl ad lenonem potius quam ad leonem, acknowledge that Christians consider the violation of chastity (pudicitia) a more dreadful punishment than death; cf. below, note 31. In Apol. 35.5 he distinguishes modestia, verecundia and pudicitia, paralleling these virtues with probitas, sobrietas and castitas in the preceding paragraph. See, also, Novatian's treatise De bono pudicitiae, a work which deals very definitely with the virtue of chastity and, at the same time, closely imitates, in a number of passages, the De pudicitia of Tertullian. That pudicitia, in other early Christian writers as well as in classical Latin, quite frequently means sexual purity, may easily be seen from the dictionaries. Ter-tullian's concept of pudicitia is illustrated, also, by his use of the word impudicitia in this present treatise; cf. 6.14; 14.17; 15.4; 16.22; 18.1, 11. In all of these places, and particularly in 14.27 and 18.11, 'impurity' is closer to his meaning than is 'immodesty.' As early a commentator as J. Pamelius, Tertulliani opera (Cologne 1617) 716, found difficulty with the title of this treatise. He remarks that the contents of the work would be more clearly indicated if it were called Adversus paenitenttianm rather than De pudicitia, but he suggests that the latter title was chosen because, in attacking adultery and fornication as he does in his book, Tertullian is really writing in defense of purity (pudi-citia).

2 It will be observed that throughout this section of his work Tertullian's argument is largely one of rebuttal. His opponents appeal to definite passages in Scripture which they insist justify their forgiveness of serious sins, e.g. the parables of mercy, the example of Christ, the teaching and example of the apostles. These arguments he examines in order and attempts to refute either by substituting his own interpretation of the passages in question or by setting over against them other passages which appear to destroy their force.

3 For peccata gravia, cf. 3.13; 19.20; 21.14; 19.28; 21.2; 18.17; 19.25. For peccata levia, 1.19; 2.10; 7.20; 18.17; 19.22-24. For peccata irremissibilia, 2.12, 14, 15; 16.5; 9.20; 13.19.

4 See the bibliography in Quasten, op. cit. 2.314 f.

5 Cf. De pud. 5.8, 15; 6.7 f.; 9.20; 12.5, 11; 19.15.

6 The dogmatic argument is found in a number of the older manuals of theology; see, for example, D. Palmieri, De poenitentia (Rome 1879) 93 f. It is defended, also, by J. Stufler in a series of articles in the Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie, 1907 to 1914; cf. in particular, 'Die Bussisziplin in der abendländischen Kirche bis Kallistus,' ZKT 31 (1907) 433-73. The best evaluation of the dogmatic argument is that of J. Umberg, 'Absolutionspflicht und altchristl. Bussdisziplin,' Scholastik 11 (1927) 321 ff.

7 That such parties of rigorists existed in Africa is clear from St. Cyprian, Epist. 55.21: Et quidem apud antecessores nostros quidam de episcopis istic in provincia nostra dandam pacem moechis non puta-verunt et in totum paenitentiae locum contra adulteria clauserunt.

8 This is the view of Galtier I 201-6, Daly, op. cit. 70.845-48 and many others. Mortimer, however, op. cit. II, asserts, 'it is not true that Tertullian nowhere says he is combating an innovation,' and B. Botte, in his review of Daly's study, BTAM 6 (1950-53) 104 f., remarks that the problem is not to be solved by insisting that Tertullian's position in the De pudicitia represents a break with an earlier tradition which he had supported in the De paenitentia. Perhaps it is safest to say that rigorism and tolerance were in conflict from the beginning of the Church's history, and that Tertullian, who in his early years as a Christian favored a policy of moderation and leniency in dealing with sinners, eventually came to reject this policy and insist upon severity, not so much because he considered tolerance an innovation but because he considered that it was forbidden by the new revelation of the Paraclete.

9 Poschmann I 330; cf., also, D'Alès III 203 f.

10 Galtier I 209-20.

11 Cf. Noeldechen, op. cit. 150-54; Harnack, Chronologie 286.…


F.J. Dölger, Antike und Christentum. Münster i. W.
Ancient Christian Writers, edit. J. Quasten and J. C. Plumpe. Westminster, Md.
Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo and New York
Bulletin d'ancienne littérature et d'archéologie chrétienne. Paris
Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique. Toulouse
Bulletin de théologie ancienne et médiévale. Louvain
Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. Paris
Enchiridion symbolorum, 21st ed., ed. by H. Denzinger, C. Bannwart, J. B. Umberg
Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, edit. W. Smith and S. Cheetham. Hartford
Dictionary of Christian Biography, edit. W. Smith and H. Wace. London
Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. Paris
Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, edit. J. Hastings. New York and Edinburgh
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses. Louvain
Harvard Theological Review. Cambridge, Mass.
Irish Ecclesiastical Record. Dublin
Irish Theological Quarterly. Dublin
Journal of Biblical Literature. Philadelphia
Journal of Theological Studies. London
Library of the Fathers. Oxford
Le musée belge. Louvain
Mélanges de science religieuse. Lille
Nouvelle revue théologique. Tournai
Philosophisches Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft. Fulda
Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, edit. Th. Klauser. Leipzig
Revue biblique. Paris
Realenzyklopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, edit. E. Pauly, G. Wissowa. Stuttgart
Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique. Louvain
Enchiridion Patristicum, 11th ed., ed. by M. Rouët de Journel
Recherches de science religieuse. Paris
Sacris Erudiri. Brugge
Theologie und Glaube. Paderborn
Thesaurus linguae latinae. Leipzig
Theologische Quartalschrift. Tübingen
Theological Studies. Woodstock, Md.
Vigiliae Christianae. Amsterdam
Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie. Innsbruck
Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche. Giessen

D'Alés I A. D'Alés, La théologie de Tertullien (Paris 1905)

D'Alés II A. D'Alés, De paenitentia (Paris 1926)

D'Alés III A. D'Alés, L 'édit de Calliste (Paris 1914)

Borleffs I J. W. Ph. Borleffs, 'Observationes criticae in Tertulliani De paenitentia libellum,' Mnemosyne 60 (1932) 254-316

Borleffs II J. W. Ph. Borleffs, 'Un nouveau manuscrit de Tertullien,' VC 5 (1951) 65-79

Galtier I P. Galtier, De paenitentia (Rome 1950)

Galtier II P. Galtier, L 'Église et la rémission des péchés aux premiers sièles (Paris 1932)

Galtier III P. Galtier, Aux origines du sacrement de pénitence (Rome 1951)

Hoppe I H. Hoppe, Syntax und Stil des Tertullian (Leipzig 1903)

Hoppe II H. Hoppe, Beiträge zur Sprache und Kritik Tertullians (Lund 1932)

Poschmann I B. Poschmann, Paenitentia secunda. Die kirchliche Busse im ältesten Christentum bis Cyprian und Origenes (Bonn 1940)

Poschmann II B. Poschmann, Der Ablass im Licht der Bussgeschichte (Bonn 1948)

Poschmann III B. Poschmann, Busse und Letzte Ölung (Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte, edit. M. Schmaus, J. Geiselmann, H. Rahner 4.3, Freiburg 1951)

Teeuwen I St. W. J. Teeuwen, Sprachlicher Bedeutungswandel bei Tertullian (Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur des Altertums 14.1, Paderborn 1926)

Teeuwen II St. W. J. Teeuwen, 'De voce paenitentia apud Tertullianum,' Mnemosyne 55 (1927) 410-19

Timothy D. Barnes (essay date 1969)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11101

SOURCE: "Tertullian's Scorpiace," The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. XX, 1969, pp. 105-32.

[In the following essay, Barnes argues that Tertullian's Scorpiace was composed in 203-04, rather than during his post-207 Montanist period, as many scholars have contended.]

Modern scholarship has been unjustly selective in its treatment of Tertullian. Some of his works, most notably the Apologeticum and De Pallio, receive lavish attention and repeated investigation; and even a lost treatise is capable of provoking lengthy speculations.2 Yet other works, ultimately of no less importance, suffer almost total neglect. The consequences have been serious, for the general understanding of Tertullian no less than for the interpretation of the neglected treatises. Although the two most recent studies devoted specifically to its elucidation were published in 1927 and 1886,3 the Scorpiace is habitually misdated by nearly a decade—and that under the influence of those two fundamental errors which, above all else, have so far prevented an accurate delineation of Tertullian's intellectual development.

The first error is to confuse Montanism with enthusiasm.4 Even if Montanists manifested enthusiasm, Montanism possessed a definite and definable theological content. It is wrong to assume that Tertullian must already have embraced Montanist doctrines before he could write in a rigoristic or enthusiastic vein.5 Rather, it was his natural propensity to rigorism which led him to Montanism.6 The second error is to assume that no more than three outbreaks of persecution occurred in Africa during Tertullian's literary career: the first in 197, the occasion of the Ad Nationes and Apologeticum; the second in 202/3—the so-called 'persecution of Septimius Severus'; and the third in 211-13 (or 211/12), often styled 'the persecution of Scapula'. On this assumption are founded almost all recent attempts to determine the chronology of Tertullian's writings.7 But it seems never to have been examined critically—let alone justified.

The standard date of the Scorpiace is 211-13.8 It is deduced as follows. The Scorpiace was written at a time of persecution and in Tertullian's Montanist period. Tertullian's Montanist period began c. 207/8 … and during it there was only one outbreak of persecution, namely 'the persecution of Scapula'. 'Therefore, the Scorpiace dates from 211-13.10 A different date was proposed long ago by H. Kellner. He argued that its placid tenor and theological orthodoxy preclude such a late date. Consequently, he supposed that the persecution during which it was composed was 'the Severan persecution', identified the festivities alluded to … as the decennalia of Severus, and assigned the Scorpiace to the middle of 203.12

Not many scholars have adopted Kellner's view that the Scorpiace is an early work of Tertullian.13 The majority follow A. Hamack and P. de Labriolle in rejecting it, on two grounds. First, they hold its theological orthodoxy irrelevant to the date of the Scorpiace, and adduce the Ad Scapulam as a parallel. Securely dated to the late summer or autumn of 212 (3. 3),14 it lacks all traces of Montanism and reads very much like a précis of the Apologeticum of nearly fifteen years earlier. Secondly, the Scorpiace contains an apparent reference (5. 1) to the second book of the Adversus Marcionem, which was not written before 207/8 (cf. i. 15. 1).15

The reasons given for rejecting Kellner's date are inadequate. Silence about the Christians' internal quarrels was necessary if Tertullian was to make out a good case to the proconsul Scapula. The willingness, or rather the eagerness, of all Christians to die for their faith and the untainted purity of their lives were apologetic commonplaces, whose effect was destroyed if the pleader turned to castigate Gnostics or Marcionites.16 Admittedly, Justin had done just that.17 But Tertullian, the superior orator, would not commit the same mistake.18 A similar reticence was neither necessary nor desirable when Tertullian was attacking faint-hearted Gnostics for a purely Christian audience. The Scorpiace should be compared, not with the Ad Scapulam, but with two other treatises. The title of the Adversus Valentinianos proclaims its purpose, and the De Anima was intended to refute the psychological basis of several Gnostic philosophies. Yet the former styles a notorious Montanist pamphleteer 'Proculus noster' (Val. 5. 1),19 and the latter describes a service celebrated in a Montanist conventicle (An. 9. 4).20 As for the reference to the Adversus Marcionem, it is important to note Tertullian's exact words:

longum est ut deum meum bonum ostendam, quod iam a nobis didicerunt Marcionitae (Scorp. 5. 1).

The extant Adversus Marcionem is the latest of three distinct works directed against Marcion's theology (Marc. i. 1. 1/2). The second closely preceded the third and was on the same scale as the five extant books. But the first was a much briefer tract, whose date is unknown.21 Since no refutation of Marcion, however perfunctory, could avoid the proof of God's goodness,22 the allusion in the Scorpiace can as easily be to the earliest as to the latest of the three treatises. It thus provides no evidence for its date.

The arguments so far advanced are not conclusive. The standard date of 211-13 is completely indefensible. But Kellner's date of 203 is deduced from the false premiss that the years 202/3 saw a sudden outbreak of persecution throughout the Roman Empire which was the result of an imperial edict.23 The Scor-piace requires a full re-examination. Sections I-V of this article will establish that its theology and language indicate that it was written before Tertullian became a Montanist. Sections VI-VII will propose a precise date (late 203 or early 204), and VIII will adumbrate some consequences of its acceptance. For the problem has been posed incorrectly. Both Kellner and Hamack thought that the issue was a straight choice: the Scorpiace belonged to either 'the Severan persecution' or 'the persecution of Scapula'. But other dates are possible. Indeed, 221/2 has actually been proposed, though not supported by arguments or used to challenge the accepted chronological framework for Tertullian.24

I. The Argument

Tertullian habitually conformed to the precepts of ancient rhetorical theory, even when discussing philosophical or doctrinal subjects.25 The Scorpiace is no exception, and is susceptible of the same sort of analysis as the Apologeticum.26 What follows is not the only possible analysis. Some might prefer to distinguish two separate lines of argument: proof of the necessity of martyrdom (2-4; 8. 1-15. 6), and proof of its goodness (5-7). That would not affect the conclusions which will be drawn. None the less, the analysis offered here makes the general structure simpler and better articulated.

1. Exordium, including narratio (1. 6-8).

The scorpion is a dangerous beast.27 Yet against its sting there are both natural antidotes and, for the Christian, faith.28 But faith is attacked by a different sort of scorpion. When persecution rages the Gnostics, the Valentinians, and the faint-hearted attack simple Christians. Men are dying without cause, they say: for Christ died that we might not. Watchful faith can crush this scorpion. But now is a time of persecution, we are being hunted down, the poison is having its effect. An antidote, therefore, is needed: to provide one is my purpose in writing.29

2. 1/2 Propositio.

The goodness of martyrdom is entailed by its necessity. It is ordained by God, and what is ordained by God is good.

2. 2-14. 3 Confirmatio, including reprehensio.

(1) In the books of the Law God forbade (2. 2-14) and punished (3) idolatry. His purpose was to encourage martyrdom (4. 1).

First objection: some invent another God who does not desire martyrdom, or reject our God who does, or else, if they cannot deny God, deny his will (4. 2).

Reply: I have refuted such doctrines elsewhere. Here it suffices to note that the God who forbids idolatry is the God of Israel. We must obey him, and it is idolatry to suggest that there is another God (4. 3-5).

Second objection: the goodness of God's will is called in question (5. 1).


(i) God must be believed to be good; therefore his will too is good (5. 1-2).

(ii) What God wills, i.e. martyrdom, is good because it is the opposite of idolatry which is evil (5. 3-5).

(iii) Men's reluctance to be martyrs does not prove martyrdom to be evil (5. 5):

(a) Medical analogy: just as men try to avoid the surgery which will save their lives, so also they perversely shun martyrdom, which is God's medicine (5. 6-13);

(b) Athletic analogy:

(1) Martyrdom may be viewed as a contest set before us by God. In it we can escape and conquer the devil. Thus again God is helping us (6. 1-2);

(2) Competitors in earthly contests take injuries without complaining: the prizes to be won by martyrdom are far more glorious than in those (6. 2-11).

Third objection: it is said that God is a murderer (7. 1).

Reply: God does kill—but in order that the victim may live (7. 1-7).30

(II) Restatement of the issue (8. 1) and further proofs:

(a) In the Old Testament those who were moved by the spirit of God suffered martyrdom (8. 1-8);

(b) Christ ordained martyrdom for his followers (9; 11)—and he meant martyrdom here on earth, not in heaven as the Valentinians think (10);

(c) so too did the apostles Peter, John, and Paul (12-14).

15. Peroratio.31

The apostles' message is still valid: they proved its validity by their martyrdoms. If Prodicus or Valentinus had told them that Christians need not confess their faith on earth, lest God seem to be demanding human sacrifice or Christ seeking redemption for himself by men's deaths, they would have said 'Get thee behind me, Satan.' Men today should say the same. But Prodicus and Valentinus will harm no one—unless he has failed to drink this antidote to their poison.

II. The Essence Of Montanism

The rise of Montanism has provoked widely differing interpretations. A brief selection will illustrate their variety, even among English scholars. One sees in Montanism a return to the lost simplicity of Christianity's earliest days,32 another 'Christianity perverted by fear of learning and speculation'.33 A third holds it to be a revival of that Phrygian fanaticism which of old inspired the orgiastic cult of Cybele and Attis.34 Yet another, censoriously surveying nineteen centuries of aberration from Catholic Truth, refuses to take the phenomenon too seriously, and ascribes it to the peculiar geography of Phrygia.35 A recent theory offers a sociological explanation: Montanism is to be regarded as 'a revolt, the prophetic and eschatological religion of the native countryside against the Hellenized Christianity of the towns'.36 The most recent view, however, reverts to the preoccupations of an earlier age and blames Montanism on a familiar scapegoat: it was caused (or at least decisively influenced) by the local communities of Jews.37

Quot homines tot sententiae.

To judge between them, or to perform the sadly neglected task of sifting fact from hostile and unfounded rumour, need not be attempted here.38 It is necessary only to ascertain the distinguishing features of Montanism. How did the Montanist differ from any other Christian? To this question the ancients gave a unanimous answer: a Montanist was one who believed that the Holy Spirit had spoken through Montanus, Prisc(ill)a, and Maximilla.

A contemporary of Montanus, writing in Asia soon after, has left a detailed account of the origins of Montanism.39 The devil took possession of Montanus, who began to utter ecstatic prophecies, and soon also of two women (i.e. Prisc(ill)a and Maximilla). After frequent deliberations on their prophecies, the churches in Asia pronounced them to be not of divine origin but profane, and the Montanists were excommunicated. About the same time, Irenaeus severely castigated those whose fear of false prophecy led them to deny the possibility of genuine prophecy within the church.40

In the earliest days the Spirit spoke not only through the chosen prophet and prophetesses, but also through their followers.41 The Passio Perpetuae pleads for the public reading of worthy new examples of faith as well as the old, and proclaims that the Holy Spirit still speaks to men, in the new prophecies and visions promised long ago by God.42 As a Montanist, Tertullian held the overriding sin of the Catholics to be that they quarrel with the Paraclete, deny the New Prophecy, refuse to receive the Spirit.43 He wrote long tracts, now lost, on the subject of ecstatic possession,44 and described how a woman in Carthage used to become ecstatic and converse with angels, sometimes even with God (An. 9. 4).45 Later, as such prophecies ceased, Montanism crystallized into an institutional church.46 But its adherents felt that the point at issue between themselves and the Catholics had not changed. Towards 400 a Montanist, desirous of converting the aristocratic Marcella, sent her a list of testimonia from St. John's Gospel to show that Jesus had promised to send the Paraclete. Jerome replied that the promise had been redeemed long ago when the Paraclete came to Jesus' original disciples, and appealed to the Acts of the Apostles.47

The cataloguers of heresies took the same view. Hippolytus observed on two separate occasions that the Montanists agreed with the orthodox on the creation of the universe and on questions relating to the Christ. Their disagreement consisted in regarding the prophecies of Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla as genuine. Hence their innovations in practical matters like fasting: they believed that the prophetesses had commanded them.48 Epiphanius introduces the Phrygian heretics by stating that they accept both the Old and New Testaments and the resurrection of the dead, but err in vaunting their possession of the prophet Montanus and the two prophetesses. He concedes that their interpretation of the Trinity is orthodox: it is by 'taking notice of spirits of error and the promptings of demons' that they have cut themselves off from the church.49 Similarly, Filastrius remarks that the Montanists accept the Prophets and the Law, believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and expect the resurrection of the body, just as the church ordains. But they proclaim certain prophets of their own, whom neither the real Prophets nor the Christ foretold.50

Late writers alone accuse the Montanists of purely doctrinal heresy.51 According to the anonymous author of the Dialogus Montanistae et Orthodoxi, followed by Didymus of Alexandria, they are guilty of three main errors: though the other two both concern their belief that Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla possessed genuine prophetic gifts, the most heinous of the three is to hold that the three hypostaseis are one person.52 The charge is patently unfair and anachronistic. It is substantiated only by the quotation and tendentious exposition of an oracular saying of Montanus: 'I am the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.'53 Apart from the dialogue, Didymus, and a very few others, all the ancients agreed that the Montanists' errors all either consist in or derive from their acceptance as genuine of the prophecies of Montanus, Prisc(ill)a, and Maxi-milla.

III. Tertullian as a Montanist

Jerome aptly summed up the manifestations of Tertullian's lapse into Montanism:

ad Montani dogma delapsus in multis libris novae prophetiae meminit (De Viris Illustribus, 53).

He thus stated the main criterion for deciding which of Tertullian's works are Montanist in inspiration. But a slight amplification is desirable.… For present purposes five [occurrences (one or more) in Tertullian's treatises of certain words or phrases which are distinctive of Montanist beliefs]54 will be considered:55

  1. The naming of Montanus, Prisc(ill)a,56 or Maximilla;
  2. Reference to the New Prophecy;
  3. The designation of the Holy Spirit as the 'Paracletus';57
  4. Abuse of the catholics as 'psychici';
  5. 'Nos/vos' or 'noster/vester' used either explicitly or by implication to contrast Montanists with catholics.…

All the distinctive signs of Tertullian's Montanism are absent from the Scorpiace.58 But their absence has almost always been adjudged insufficient to preclude a late date. Something positive is therefore needed. Is there nothing in the Scorpiace which a convinced Montanist could not have written? One passage at least seems to be of such a nature. Tertullian argues that, when Jesus said to his disciples 'Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, etc.',60 he was laying down a rule of conduct for all Christians:

quamquam etsi omnem hanc persecutionem con-dicionalem in solos tunc apostolos destinasset, utique per illos cum toto sacramento, cum propagine no-minis, cum traduce spiritus sancti in nos quoque spectasset etiam persecutionis obeundae disciplina ut in hereditarios discipulos et apostolici seminis frutices (Scorp. 9. 3).61

Tertullian here states that communion with the Holy Spirit has been passed on from the original apostles to successive generations of their followers. He thus adheres to the position of the De Praescriptione Haereticorum:

et perinde ecclesias apud unamquamque civitatem condiderunt, a quibus traducem fidei et semina doctrinae ceterae exinde ecclesiae mutuatae sunt et cottidie mutuantur ut ecclesiae fiant (20. 5);

perinde utique et ceterae exhibent quos ab apostolis in episcopatum constitutos apostolici seminis traduces habeant (32. 3).

The central thesis of the De Praescriptione Haereticorum is that God's truth was revealed by Jesus to his disciples and that they in turn handed knowledge of it on to the churches which they founded.62 The Scorpiace reiterates this doctrine, in a form which leaves no place for the New Prophecy of Montanus, Prisc(ill)a, and Maximilla.63 Can Tertullian possibly have written the phrase 'cum traduce spiritus sancti' as a Montanist? It implicitly denies the legitimacy of prophecy outside the church; it implies that the Paraclete came to the apostles soon after the Ascension;64 it effectively repudiates the central tenet of the Montanist's creed.

The implications of another passage are almost as strong. Tertullian exhorts his reader

etsi adhuc clausum putas caelum, memento claves eius hic dominum Petro et per eum ecclesiae reliquisse, quas hic unusquisque interrogatus atque confessus feret secum (Scorp. 10. 8).

It has usually seemed possible to take these as the words of a Montanist.65 But a comparison with the De Praescriptione Haereticorum and the De Pudicitia suggests otherwise.66 In the latter, which is Montanist to the core, Tertullian angrily rejects his catholic opponents' appeal to Matt. 16: 18/19:

de tua nunc sententia quaero, unde hoc ius ecclesiae usurpes. si quia dixerit Petro dominus: super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, tibi dedi claves regni caelestis, vel: quaecumque alligaveris vel solveris in terra, erunt alligata vel soluta in caelis, idcirco praesumis et ad te derivasse solvendi et alligandi potestatem, id est ad omnem ecclesiam Petri propinquam? qualis es, evertens atque commutans manifestam domini intentionem personaliter hoc Petro conferentem? super te, inquit, aedificabo ecclesiam meam, et: dabo tibi claves, non ecclesiae, et: quaecumque solveris vel alligaveris, non quae solverint vel alligaverint (Pud. 21. 9/10).

In the former work, however, Tertullian probably accepted a different interpretation:

latuit aliquid Petrum, aedificandae ecciesiae petram dictum, claves regni caelorum consecutum et solvendi et alligandi in caelis et in terris potestatem? (Praes. Haer. 22. 4)

The Scorpiace asserts, while the De Pudicitia denies, that the 'keys of heaven' passed from Peter to the church. Even if the De Praescriptione Haereticorum is not explicit on the occurrence of such a transfer, the relevance of the De Pudicitia is plain. Some attempt to gloss over the difficulty by pointing out, correctly enough, that in the Scorpiace Peter does not possess 'the power of the keys' in the technical sense of being entrusted with the absolute right of forgiving sins, but that he is merely the representative of the church.67 But it is hard to believe that Tertullian could have chosen the precise words of the passage quoted (Scorp. 10. 8), if he was already a Montanist.

IV. Flight from Persecution

When persecution threatened in the second and third centuries, how was the Christian to comport himself? Clearly, he must be prepared to bear witness to and suffer for his faith rather than deny it. The Gnostics might maintain that it was not here on earth but in the timeless beyond that the witness was to be borne. But both orthodox and Montanist repudiated this doctrine. Hence the argument of the Scorpiace has seemed to be irrelevant to date.68 Yet there was a third possibility, besides confession and denial: flight until danger was past—a course which commended itself to many a bishop.69

In the De Patientia and Ad Uxorem Tertullian allowed flight from persecution. In the former he speaks of it as normal:

si fuga urgeat, incommoda fugae caro militat; si et carcer praeveniat, caro in vinculis, etc. (Pat. 13. 6).

In the latter he justifies the practice: even if not laudable, it is permissible—and at all events better than apostasy under torture (Ux. i. 3. 4). Later, however, in works which are demonstrably Montanist, he professed the deepest contempt for such cowardice. In the De Corona Militis he observes that rejection of the prophecies of the Holy Spirit inevitably entails avoidance of martyrdom: a man who rejects the prophecies appeals to the scriptures, packs his bag, and flees from city to city (1. 4/5). And he devoted a whole treatise to the problem.

The opening of the De Fuga in Persecutione states its subject:

quaesisti proxime, Fabi frater, fugiendum necne sit in persecutione, quod nescio quid annuntiaretur (1. 1).

And Tertullian soon reveals what audience he is addressing:

procuranda autem examinatio penes vos, , si forte Paracletum non recipiendo, deductorem omnis veritatis, merito adhuc etiam aliis quaestionibus obnixi estis (1. 1).

Thus the De Fuga is apparently written to convince those who are not Montanists that they ought not to flee from persecution.

Tertullian argues that persecution is sent by God to test men's faith (1. 2-3. 2): it is therefore good and not to be shunned (4). He then deals with two objections: that flight is better than apostasy (5), and was enjoined by Jesus (6-8). Next he argues from the conduct of the apostles (9), counters the claim that 'he who flees will fight again' (10), and castigates the clergy (11). Fabius thus has his answer (12. 1). But, Tertullian adds, buying off persecution is no better than flight (12. 1-14. 2)—and, since the way is narrow, a man needs the Paraclete (14. 3). The central argument is thus independent of Tertullian's Montanist beliefs. The Paraclete is named only at the very beginning and very end (1. 1; 14. 3). Elsewhere Tertullian uses 'spiritus', and then in a sense susceptible of an orthodox interpretation (as 6. 4). And his employment of Montanist oracles is circumspect and allusive (9. 4; cf. 11. 2). It follows that the De Fuga is not quite what it seems. It is not just a discussion of how a Christian is to behave in time of persecution: it is a Montanist pro-trepticus. For the conduct which is obligatory for every Christian (1. 2-14. 2) is in practice possible only for those who accept the guidance of the Paraclete (14. 3).

The historical situation and the theological presuppositions of the De Fuga in Persecutione and the Scorpiace are vastly different. In the Scorpiace the issue is whether the Christian has to bear witness when arrested; in the De Fuga whether to avoid arrest. Yet the two are not complementary. For, although one is directed against the Gnostic and the other against the catholic position, and both are addressed to the same audience (the ordinary Christians of Carthage), they give different advice. The Scorpiace seems to imply the possibility of flight: if its author and readers are being hunted like hares (1. 11), might they not run away like hares? The De Fuga explicitly repudiates not only flight but escape from persecution by bribery—'nummaria fuga' (12. 1); and it states that only those possessed by the Paraclete will have the courage to do what is required of them. There is an obvious explanation for these differences: the Scorpiace was written several years before the De Fuga in Persecutione, and before Tertullian became a Montanist.70

V. Language and Style

The language and style of the Scorpiace have on occasion been judged to put its composition close in time to that of the De Fuga in Persecutione and the De Anima. The judgement has been based on striking similarities of phrase or on the Scorpiace's possession of characteristics of Tertullian's late style.71 The two types of argument demand separate consideration.

The Scorpiace (10. 8) shares with the De Anima (55. 5) the metaphor of the key(s) of heaven, and with the De Fuga a number of coincidences of phrase.72 With some authors this might amount to proof of contemporaneity. But in the case of Tertullian there is an abundance of counter-examples: some turns of phrase and combinations of choice exempla so appealed to their author that he repeated them after an interval of several years. Thus the Apologeticum characterizes the Emperor Hadrian in a brilliant (and accurate) epigram: 'omium curiositatum explorator' (5. 7). Later, probably almost a full decade later,73 Tertullian adapted the phrase to describe a Father of the church: 'Irenaeus, omnium doctrinarum curiosissimus explorator' (Val. 5. 1). Again, much of the material in the Apologeticum was used practically unchanged fifteen years later in the Ad Scapulam.74 In the earlier work Tertullian proclaimed the loyalty of Christians to the emperor:

unde Cassii et Nigri et Albini? … de Romanis, nisi fallor, id est de non Christianis. atque adeo omnes illi, sub ipsa impietatis eruptione, et sacra faciebant pro salute imperatoris et genium eius deierabant, alii foris, alii intus, et utique publicorum hostium nomen Christianis dabant (Apol. 35. 9/10).

In the later the claim is reiterated:

sic et circa maiestatem imperatoris infamamur; tamen numquam Albiniani, nec Nigriani, vel Cassiani inveniri potuerunt Christiani, sed idem ipsi qui per genios eorum in pridie usque iuraverant, qui pro salute eorum hostias et fecerant et voverant, qui Christianos saepe damnaverant, hostes eorum sunt reperti (Scap. 2. 5).

And Tertullian displays his recondite knowledge of certain primitive Roman deities no less than four times:75

taceo deos Forculum a foribus et Cardeam a cardinibus et liminum Limentinum, sive qui alii inter vicinos apud vos numinum ianitorum adorantur (Nat. ii. 15. 5);

certi enim esse debemus, si quos latet per ignorantiam litteraturae saecularis, etiam ostiorum deos apud Romanos, Cardeam a cardinibus appellatam et Forculum a foribus et Limentinum a limine et ipsum lanum a ianua (Idol. 15. 5);

quas mihi potestates ianitrices adfirmas iuxta Romanam superstitionem, †Barnum76 quendam et Forculum et Limentinum? (Scorp. 10. 6)

at enim Christianus nec ianuam suam laureis infamabit, si norit, quantos deos etiam ostiis diabolus adfinxerit, lanum a ianua, Limentinum a limine, Forculum et Camam a foribus atque cardinibus (Cor. 13. 9)77

Whatever the date of the Scorpiace and the De Idololatria, the four works span at least eleven years: the Ad Nationes was written in 197,78 and the De Corona Militis, a Montanist work, hardly earlier than 208.79

Thus mere coincidences of phrase between two of Tertullian's treatises, however striking, are a poor guide for chronology. And the Scorpiace itself is linked to the Apologeticum, no less than to the De Anima and De Fuga in Persecutione. The pair both describe Nero as the first persecutor with an appeal to Tacitus:80

consulite commentarios vestros, illic reperietis primum Neronem in hanc sectam cum maxime Romae orientem Caesariano gladio ferocisse (Apol. 5. 3);

vitas Caesarum legimus: orientem fidem Romae primus Nero cruentavit (Scorp. 15. 3).

They also produce the same list of examples of human sacrifice:

infantes penes Africam Satumo immolabatur palam usque ad proconsulatum Tiberii … sed et nunc in occulto perseveratur hoc sacrum facinus … maior aetas apud Gallos Mercurio prosecabatur. remitto fabulas Tauricas theatris suis. sed et in illa religiosissima urbe Aeneadarum piorum est luppiter quidam, quem ludis suis humano sanguine proluunt (Apol. 9. 2-5);

sed enim Scytharum Dianam aut Gallorum Mercurium aut Afrorum Satumum hominum victima placari apud saeculum licuit, et Latio ad hodiemum lovi media in urbe humanus sanguis ingustatur (Scorp. 7. 6).

Style appears to offer a firmer basis for argument. Even if the number of precisely dated treatises is very small, the professedly Montanist works and the Ad Scapulam possess certain common features which distinguish them as a class from the demonstrably early and orthodox works. Tertullian's late style is marked by a slightly increasing use of anaphora and by the greatly increasing frequency of the word 'et'. Not only does 'et' often come in after other conjunctions, but Tertullian shows ever greater preference for syndeton with 'et' and distaste for asyndeton.81 Such characteristics are all manifestations of a single trend towards a more rhythmical prose with more alliteration and rhyme. It is perhaps ironical that as Tertullian sank deeper into Montanism and thus (one might expect) became more estranged from the values of pagan civilization, his style became ever more mannered and artistic.82 But his development has a wider relevance. His use of 'et', so far from being consistent or unchanging, is the most variable aspect of his style. Tertullian is, therefore, a standing refutation of those who would decide questions of literary attribution by 'scientific' statistics based on the principle that an author's use of common conjunctions must remain relatively constant.83

Where does the Scorpiace fit into the development of Tertullian's style? One passage either exemplifies or foreshadows his late use of 'et':

carceres illic et vincula et flagella et saxa et gladii et impetus Iudaeorum et coetus nationum et tribunorum elogia et regum auditoria et proconsulum tribunalia et Caesaris nomen interpretem non habent (15. 2).84

But it would be wrong to take this as proof of a late date. For the De Praescriptione Haereticorum exhibits the same phenomenon:

ubi metus in deum, ibi gravitas honesta et diligentia attonita et cura sollicita et adlectio explorata et communicatio deliberata et promotio emerita et subiectio religiosa et apparitio devota et processio modesta et ecciesia unita et dei omnia (43. 5).

In both works the example quoted is practically unique. It is perhaps more significant that the Scorpiace writes 'Teletos scilicet et Anicetos et Abascantos Valentini' (10. 1). Writing about 212 Tertullian would surely have preferred the order 'Valentini scilicet Teletos et Anicetos, Abascantos'—a use of 'et' characteristic of the works of his Montanist period, but rarely found anywhere in Latin literature outside Tertullian.85 Furthermore, the Scorpiace's comparatively infrequent employment of 'et' for 'etiam'86 and after other conjunctions87 ranks it with the early works, as does its preference for asyndetic over syndetic combinations.88

To argue from its style alone that the Scorpiace must be an early work would hardly be legitimate. Nevertheless, if stylistic affinities are to count for anything, they too unequivocally indicate that the Scorpiace was composed before Tertullian became a Montanist.

VI. Some Imaginary Arguments

An over-zealous searcher for historical allusions in the Scorpiace once produced proof that its date was either 212 (his first guess) or 213 (the second).89 He found allusions to Caracalla or Scapula (1. 10), to Caracalla's murder of Geta (8. 3), to his killing of Geta's partisans (3. 4/5) and to the constitutio Antoniniana (15. 3). The last allusion would probably now be held to imply a date no earlier than 214 or 215.90 But no matter: the method of proof was questionable, and immediately drew forth sharp rebuke.9 Nevertheless, the four alleged allusions must be examined.

First, Caracalla or Scapula as persecutor:

et nunc in praesentia rerum est medius ardor, ipsa canicula persecutionis, ab ipso scilicet cynocephalo (1. 10).

The allusion to the baboon could hardly be more obscure. But why imagine a reference to Caracalla, or Scapula, or, as some older commentators held,92 to Severus or Plautianus? It is more plausible to see a reference to the devil.93 That would explain the sarcastic 'scilicet' and the emphatic 'ipso': Tertullian is again (as in 1. 6-8) rehearsing the arguments of the Gnostics whom he is about to refute.94 There may also be a pun. The dog-headed ape comes after the dog-star of persecution, and is appropriate to the metaphors of hot weather. For both baboons and the devil were associated with Egypt and Ethiopia.95

Secondly, Caracalla's murder of his brother:

a primordio enim iustitia vim patitur. statim ut coli deus coepit, invidiam religio sortita est. qui deo placuerat occiditur, et quidem a fratre (8. 2/3).

Cain's murder of Abel not only fits perfectly into its context but is also an obvious example for Tertullian to use here, with his predilection for arguments based on an object's origin or original qualities.96 In fact, he names Cain on four other occasions—all of them earlier than the death of Geta on 26 December 211.97

Third, the deaths of Geta's sympathizers:

itaque (sc. after making the golden calf) tria milia hominum a parentibus proximis caesa, quia tam proximum parentem deum offenderant… In Arithmis cum divertisset Israel apud Sethim, abeunt libidinatum ad filias Moab, invitantur ad idola, … ob hanc quoque idololatriam moechiae sororem viginti tria milia domesticis obtruncata gladiis divi-nae irae litaverunt (3. 4/5).

Tertullian adduces these two examples as proof that God always punishes idolatry and supersition: what more natural than the selection of these two striking episodes?98

Fourthly, the constitutio Antoniniana:

tunc Paulus civitatis Romanae consequitur nativitatem, cum illic martyrii renascitur generositate (15. 3).

The Roman citizenship in question is surely Paul's. For it was only as a result of his possession of it that he was sent to Rome for trial.99 Thus the sentence quoted may be paraphrased: 'Paul reaped the reward of being born a Roman citizen, when he was reborn by his martyrdom in Rome.100

Another theory claims to find literary derivation: the first chapter of the Scorpiace was inspired by the fourth book of Clement of Alexandria's Stromateis, the statements about the Gnostics being a mere literary device for introducing Tertullian's discussion, not the description of a historical situation.101 If true, that need not affect the date of the Scorpiace: it might instead bring welcome precision to the chronology of Clement's life.102 But the theory is baseless. The supposed literary derivation consists merely of factually similar reports of the Gnostics' reaction to persecution. Since their behaviour at such times tended always to be as Clement and Tertullian describe it,103 the two need be no more than independent observers of the same phenomenon.

VII. Pythicus Agon

adhuc Carthaginem singulae civitates gratulando inquietant donatam Pythico agone post stadii senectutem. ita ab aevo dignissimum creditum est studiorum experimentum committere, artes corporum et vocum de praestantia expendere, praemio indice, spectaculo iudice, sententia voluptate (Scorp. 6. 2/3).

Tertullian's sarcasm is plain. The stadium has become unfashionable, displaced from popular favour by the Pythicus agon. This was a musical contest with dancing and singing ('artes corporum et vocum') and, when Tertullian wrote, embassies were still arriving in Carthage to offer the congratulations of other African cities on its establishment. Can the allusion be dated?

The Carthaginian Pythia are attested by two inscriptions. One is too mutilated to permit any secure deduction about their nature;104 the other commemorates the victory of a musical performer.105 That was only to be expected. The Pythian games at Delphi, legend asserted, began with musical contests, athletics being added at a later stage.106 And the countless Pythia which sprang up through the centuries in Hellenistic and Roman cities modelled themselves on the Delphian.107

It is hard, therefore, to divorce the Pythicus agon from the building of the odeum in Carthage, which was specifically designed for musical performances.108 Three pieces of evidence set its construction c. 200. First, the archaeological remains have been excavated.109 Secondly, an unfortunate experience of Apuleius soon after 160 may be relevant. One of his speeches, to the provincial concilium of Africa, was rained off and had to be postponed to the following day.110 Odea, in contrast to theatres, were always roofed.111 Thirdly, Tertullian reports a spectacular discovery during the digging of the foundations. A Punic cemetery was uncovered containing bones, which, though 500 years old, had hardly begun to decay (Res. Mort. 42. 8).

In the years around 200, one occasion seems far more likely than any other to have seen the construction of the odeum and the institution of the Pythicus agon: the visit of Septimius Severus to Carthage. Analogy supports the synchronism. The best-documented parallel is Hadrian in the east two generations earlier: there city after city seized on the opportunity afforded by the imperial presence to found new games or to refound old ones.112 The habit did not die: games were founded in the east in honour of Severus' presence between 197 and 202,113 and again as Caracalla proceeded to his Parthian war in 214/15.114 In Africa cities sought and received benefits from Severus.115 Carthage received the 'ius Italicum' (which meant exemption from direct taxation) and the grant was celebrated on the imperial coinage.116 Tertullian represents the Pythicus agon too as a privilege granted to Carthage ('donatam'). Surely both grants were obtained from the emperor in person during his visit.

Can the visit be dated accurately? The movements of Severus are well known until 202. Proclaimed emperor at Carnuntum on 9 April 193, he marched on Rome and entered it in early June. Almost at once he set out for the east, where he remained until 196. Then he returned westwards to defeat Clodius Albinus at Lugdunum on 19 February 197, and departed again for the orient later that year, remaining there till 202. In 202 he returned to Rome to celebrate his decennalia, probably in June.117 Now, however, the evidence fades out. It is certain that Severus was in Rome for the ludi saeculares in 204 (at the end of May),118 and that he left the capital for the last time to go to Britain in 208.119 Where is the African visit to be fitted in? Literary evidence is no help. Philostratus is the only extant author to mention it.120 It is absent from the fragmentary text of Cassius Dio, and the author of the Historia Augusta lost interest in his good and detailed source for the reign of Severus as soon as he got the emperor to Egypt (in 199).121 There remains the more ambiguous testimony of coins and inscriptions.

Some numismatists have inferred from the coins that the imperial visit to Africa belongs to 206/7.122 But the coins celebrate imperial favours to Carthage on issues of 203 and 204.123 More important, the familia rationis castrensis erected two dedications to Severus at Lambaesis in 203.124 Therefore, since this body habitually accompanied the emperor, the emperor and his entourage were in Numidia at some time in 203.125 Severus went to Lepcis, and perhaps conducted a brief campaign against the nomads of Tripolitania:126 consequently, his stay in Africa presumably included a winter.127 But which date is preferable, 202/3 or 203/4? Opinions differ.128 The coins appear to favour 203/4.129 But it was in 202 that the inhabitants of Lepcis assumed the title of 'Septimiani' and commissioned dedications to the emperor and his elder son 'ob eximiam ac divinam in se indulgentiam'.130 That implies that Lepcis was granted the 'ius Italicum' in 202,131 and that the imperial house stayed there for the winter of 202/3.132

What of Carthage? Perhaps Severus visited the city once only, at the end of his stay in Africa. The emperor was lavish in his generosity to Lepcis as his patria: besides granting fiscal privilege, he imported Greek architects and sculptors to rebuild a large part of the city in extravagant magnificence.133 Such devotion to Lepcis could be advertised widely by a simple expedient: Severus could make it his port of disembarkation in Africa. Cities vied for the honour of being the first in a province to receive a mere governor. In his De Officio Proconsulis Ulpian advised proconsuls to enter their provinces by the normal route: the provincials considered it a matter of great importance. The people of Asia, he records, obtained a rescript from Caracalla making it obligatory for the proconsul of Asia to land at Ephesus.134 Hence the apparent conflict of evidence of the date of Severus' tour of Africa can easily be resolved. As follows:

late summer/autumn 202—Severus sails to Lepcis; spring 203—he travels from Lepcis (via Theveste) to Lambaesis; mid-203—journey from Lambaesis (via Cirta) to Carthage and return to Italy.135

If this reasoning is admitted as correct, a precise date can be deduced for the Scorpiace. If the Pythicus agon was instituted to celebrate Severus' visit to Carthage in the summer of 203, the Scorpiace was written at the end of 203 or early in 204: neither so long after the visit that embassies of congratulation had stopped arriving, nor so soon afterwards that their arrival was not worthy of remark.

VIII. Conclusions

There have been three stages in the argument. Two arrive at firm conclusions, while the third is more speculative. First, its argument and theology exclude a date for the Scorpiace later than Tertullian's conversion to Montanism (sections I-IV). Second, its language and style indicate that it belongs among his early works (V). Third, an allusion to the Pythicus agon seems to permit the deduction of a precise date, viz. late 203 or early 204 (VI-VII). On the last point, caution is necessary. Unavoidably, reliance has been placed on the fallible instruments of historical analogy and conjecture. None the less, in default of disproof, let the date of 203/4 stand as a working hypothesis. What consequences follow?

Several of the fixed points are removed from the standard chronology of Tertullian, which has been founded on three erroneous assumptions. One assumption is that Tertullian became a priest and, for a spell, largely occupied himself writing sermons: hence his treatises in this genre could all be grouped together and dated either c. 197 or soon after 200.136 Though it has the support of Jerome, the view that Tertullian was a priest is false.137 A second assumption used to be that the De Pudicitia attacked Callistus, Bishop of Rome c. 220.138 This identification of Tertullian's adversary is now rightly discarded by most scholars—but the date deduced from it is still sometimes accorded the status of fact.139 The third and most pernicious assumption has been that all Tertullian's writings which were composed at a time of persecution belonged to one of three specific outbreaks (197, 202/3, 211-13). If the Scorpiace was written late in 203 or early in 204, the assumption is proved false. What justification will remain, therefore, for continuing to assign the Ad Martyras and De Spectaculis precisely to 197 or 202, the De Corona Militis to 211, or the De Fuga in Persecutione to 212?140

Once these fixed points disappear, previous reconstructions of the chronology of Tertullian can be replaced by something fundamentally new which lacks their defects. There will be an important corollary for the understanding of Tertullian. A new order for his writings cannot fail to force a revaluation of his intellectual development. A recent and vivid vignette of Tertullian contains the following two sentences:

Tertullian's hatred for the Roman Empire seems to have grown over the years. In De Idololatria (circa 211) he does not trouble to affirm the formal loyalty which characterizes the Apology fourteen years before.141

The statements in the De Idololatria appear in a different light when the treatise is dated correctly. There is no trace of Montanism in it;142 stylistically it belongs with other early works;143 and one passage even seems to put its composition before that of the Apologeticum.144

The misdating of Tertullian's works derives in large part from a misinterpretation of the nature of persecution in the Roman Empire, especially in the age of the Severi. Ecclesiastical historians have mostly followed Eusebius in supposing that the persecutions of the first decade of the third century were practically confined to the years 202 and 203 and were the direct result of imperial action. They have also improved on Eusebius by identifying this imperial action as an edict of Septimius Severus concerning the Christians which is reported by the Historia Augusta.145 But the edict is demonstrably fictitious, and the ecclesiastical historians have neglected accurate chronology.146 For Egypt, there is unimpeachable evidence to refute Eusebius and show persecution continuing at least until 205 or 206.147 If the Scorpiace was written in late 203 or early 204, a similar argument becomes available for persecution in Africa. Thus the Scorpiace is relevant to one of the central problems which confront any student of the ancient world, or of Christianity: how to penetrate behind the interpretation of Eusebius to the realities of early Christian history. Eusebius regarded the persecution of Christians as an abnormal state of affairs,148 and connected its varying incidence with the reigns of different emperors.149 Hence he supposed Severus the direct instigator of the persecution in Alexandria which involved Origen.150 Hence too, perhaps, he wrongly assigned the death of Polycarp to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, for him a reign of persecution, instead of that of Antoninus Pius.151 The implications of such errors are profound. In matters large or small, to scrutinize Eusebius critically, not to trust him blindly152—that is the way of truth.


illic constitues et synagogas ludaeorum, fontes persecutionum, apud quas apostoli flagella perpessi sunt, et populos nationum cum suo quidem circo, ubi facile conclamant: usque quo genus tertium? (Scorp. 10. 10)

Some still cite this famous utterance as proof that the Jews were prominent in fomenting the persecution of Christians in the Carthage of Tertullian's day.153 But that is to ignore, not merely the immediate context ('apud quas apostoli flagella perpessi sunt')154, but also a general characteristic of the writer. Tertullian is maintaining, against the Gnostics, that the Christian must be prepared to suffer for his faith here on earth, not just in heaven. The point is driven home by a reductio ad absurdum. The Gnostic view entails that persecution and hatred will be encountered in heaven: hence the Gnostic must imagine that the Jews who persecuted the apostles and the mob howling in the amphitheatre will be there, not here on earth. That is obviously false, and entails the falsity of the Gnostic position. Tertullian's choice of examples is careful and deliberate. The second is the contemporary fact, the first is the earliest persecution of the Christians. Ter-tullian is employing a favourite mode of argument: he focuses attention on the origins of persecution. For he held that what was true of an object's origin was necessarily always true of the object itself:

omne genus ad originem suam censeatur necesse est (Praes. Haer. 20. 7).155


1 I am very grateful for the kind assistance and criticisms of Professor H. Chadwick and Dr. F. G. B. Millar.

2 Viz. Ad amicum philosophum, known only from Jerome, Ep. xxii. 22; Adversus Jovinianum, i. 13: P. Frassinetti, 'Gli scritti matrimoniali di Seneca e Tertulliano', Rendiconti Istituto Lombardo, Classe di Lettere, lxxxviii (1955), pp. 151-88; C. Tibiletti, 'Un opusculo perduto di Tertulliano: Ad amicum philosophum', Atti Torino, Ser. ii, xcv (1960-1), pp. 122-66.

3 Respectively, E. Buonaiuti, 'L' "Antiscorpionico" di Tertulliano', Richerche religiose, iii (1927), pp. 146-52; E. Noeldechen, 'Das Odeum Karthagos und Tertullian's Scorpiace. 212', Zeitschr. für kirchl Wissenschaft und kirchl. Leben, vii (1886), pp. 87-98.

4 For justification of this term, R. A. Knox, Enthusiasm (1950), pp. 1 ff.

5 Compare two verdicts on the De Idololatria: P. Monceaux, Rev. phil.2 xxii (1898), p. 89, found it 'tout montaniste d'inspiration', and dated it to 211/12; A. Harnack, Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, ii (1904), p. 273, retorted 'Rigorismus ist nicht Montanismus', and dated it c. 200.

6 H. von Campenhausen, Theologische Blätter, viii (1929), col. 198.

7 That is, since the discovery of the best recension of the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs, and their consequent redating from 200-2 to 180. Complete documentation would be pointless: dissent alone I have tried to register in full.

8 See the catalogue of proposed dates (lamentably incomplete) at R. Braun, 'Deus Christianorum'. Recherches sur le vocabulaire doctrinla de Tertullien (Publ. Fac. des Lettres d'Alger, xli, 1962), p. 574. Most recently, W. H. C. Frend, Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa, iv (1968), pp. 8/9, uses the Scorpiace as evidence for the conduct of Jews in Carthage c. 212.…

10 e.g., G. N. Bonwetsch, Die Schriften Tertullians nach der Zeit ihrer Abfassung (1878), p. 52—though admitting 203 as also possible.…

12 H. Kellner, Der Katholik2, xlii (1879), p. 567; Wetzer und Welte's Kirchenlexicon2, xi (1899), col. 1401; H. Kellner-G. Esser, Tertullians ausgewählte Schriften ins deutsche übersetzt, ii (Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, xxiv, 1915), pp. 21 ff.

13 At the time of writing I am aware only of E. Altendorf, Einheit und Heiligkeit der Kirche (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte, xx, 1932), p. 38 n. 19, quoting a verbal opinion of H. von Soden; E. von Petersdorff, Daemonologie, i (1956), p. 416 n. 1528; and K. Aland, Kirche und Staat: Festschrift für Bischof D. Hermann Kunst (1967), p. 30, who refers in passing and without amplification to 'die Frühschrift Scorpiace'. Braun, op. cit., p. 574, fails to register a single adherent of the early date.

14 Cf. B. E. Thomasson, Die Statthalter der römischen Provinzen Nordafrikas von Augustus bis Diocletianus, 11 (1960), pp. 112/13.

15 Harnack, op. cit., p. 284 n. 3; P. de Labriolle, La Crise montaniste (1913), pp. 445/6.

16 Willingness to die: Justin, Apol. i. 8, 57; ii. 4; Athenagoras, Legatio, 3; Tatian, Or. ad Graecos, 4; Tertullian, Apol. 1. 12; Scap. 1. 1; etc. Purity of life: Justin, Apol. i. 14; ii. 2; Athenagoras, Legatio, 10; Tatian, Or. ad Graecos, 33; Theophilus, Ad Autolycum, iii. 13 ff.; Tertullian, Apol. 3. 3; Scap. 2. 3; etc.

17Apol. i. 16; 26.

18Apol. 44. 3 makes it true by definition that no Christian can ever commit any ordinary crime.

19 For Proculus, see Eusebius, H.E. ii. 25. 6; [Tertullian], Adv. omn. haer. 7. 2; Pacianus, Ep. i. 2 (P.L. xiii, col. 1053); Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, 59.

20 J. H. Waszink, Tertulliani De Anima (1947), pp. 167 ff.

21 G. Quispel, De Bronnen van Tertullianus' Adversus Marcionem (1943), p. 3, plausibly dates it after the De praescriptione Haereticorum—but the date of that cannot be determined with any precision.

22 Note Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. i. 25. 1: the salient fact about Marcion is his blasphemy in making God the author of evil.

23 Kellner, op. cit. (1899), col. 1401: 'die Schrift gehört entschieden in die Zeit einer schweren, grossen, lange dauemden und aligemeinen Verfolgung, also in die Zeit der severianischen'.…

24 P. de Labriolle, Histoire de la littérature latine chrétienne (1920), ad fin., Tableau N° 2, cf. p. 137. The date is professedly taken from Monceaux—who put the Scorpiace in 211 or 212 (op. cit., p. 92).

25 Demonstrated in detail in an unpublished study by R. D. Sider, Structure and Method of Argument in the Writings of Tertullian (Oxford D.Phil. thesis, 1965).

26 On which, most recently, R. Braun, Hommages à J. Bayet (1964), pp. 114-21.

27 Tertullian opens with a stylized set-piece (cf. Marc. i. 1. 3). One may compare several orations of Dio of Prusa: the first, for example, begins with a story about Timotheus the flute-player and Alexander the Great.…

28 Cf. Galen, … 1. 13 (Corp. Med. Gr. v. 4. 2, p. 392 = vi, pp. 754/5 Kühn).…

29 Galen gives the recipes for several antidotes against the scorpion's sting (De Antidotis, ii. 12 = xiv, pp. 175 ff. Kühn). Another metaphor was available. Cf. 1. 2: aliquid et magia circumligat; Pap. Gr. Mag. vii, 11. 193 ff. …

30 A. Vaccari, Scritti di erudizione e di filologia, ii (1958), pp. 7-11, contends that the quotation 'Sophia iugulavit filios suos' comes, not from Prov. 9: 2, but from Ecclus. 4: 11. For Tertullian's introduction 'voce Solomonis' (7. 1), he compares Clement, Stromateis, vii. 105. 1.

31 15. 1-5 serve a double function: as part of the peroration, and as a continuation of the argument of 12-14.

32 J. de Soyres, Montanism and the Primitive Church (1878), p. 107.

33 H. M. Gwatkin, Early Church History, ii2 (1912), p. 73.

34 H. H. Milman, History of Latin Christianity, i4 (1867), p. 47.

35 Knox, op. cit., pp. 25, 29.

36 W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (1965), pp. 290-4, esp. 294.

37 J. M. Ford, J.E.H. xvii (1966), pp. 145-58.

38 There is a good general survey of the sources for Montanism by K. Aland, 'Bemerkungen zum Montanismus und zur frühchristlichen Eschatologie', Kirchengeschichtliche Entwürfe (1960), pp. 105-48. One example will illustrate what still needs to be done. Frend, op. cit., p. 290, thinks it probable that Montanus was a castrated priest of Cybele, while E. Evans, Tertullian's Treatise against Praxeas (1948), p. 75, states it as an unimpeachable fact. On what grounds? That Jerome, Ep. xli. 4, calls him 'abscisum et semivirum'. This is evidence, not for Montanus, but for Jerome's propensity to reckless and unfounded invective: see D. S. Wiesen, St. Jerome as a Satirist (1964), pp. 166 ff., esp. 177.

39 Quoted by Eusebius, H.E. v. 16.

40Adv. Haer. iii. 11. 9.

41 Eusebius, H.E. v. 16. 14.

42Pass. Perp. 1. 1, 1. 4. On the date and reliability of the document, see now J.T.S., N.S. xix (1968), pp. 521-5.

43Prax. 1. 1 ff.; etc. Cf. below, pp. 113-15.

44 Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, 24, 40, 53.

45 Such conversations were, of course, no prerogative of the Montanists; but the connotations of the passage are clear (Waszink, op. cit., pp. 167/8; 484/5).

46 Ambrosiaster, Comm. in Ep. i ad Tim. 3. 2. (P.L. xvii, col. 470/496); Jerome, Ep. xli. 3. Which is relevant to the nature of Montanism: see J. G. Davies, J.T.S., N.S. vi (1955), pp. 90-4.

47 Jerome, Ep. xli. 1.

48Philosophoumena, viii. 19; x. 25.

49Panarion, xlviii. 1. 3/4.

50Divers. Haeres. xlix. 1/2 (C.S.E.L. xxxviii, p. 26; C.C.L. ix, p. 238).

51 Listed by Aland, op. cit., p. 117 n. 94; cf pp. 111/12.

52Dialogus Montanistae et Orthodoxi: G. Ficker, Zeitschr. für Kirchengesch. xxvi (1905), pp. 452 ff.; P. de Labriolle, Les sources de l'histoire du Montanisme (1913), pp. 97 ff.; Didymus, De Trinitate, iii. 41 (P.G. xxxix, cols. 983 ff.). For the dependence of the latter, see G. Bardy, Didyme l'aveugle (1910), pp. 237/8. P. de Labriolle, Bull. d'anc. litt. et d'arch. chrét. iii (1913), p. 286, explained the apparent plagiarism by supposing the Dialogus an early work of Didymus himself.

53 This oracle has sometimes been gravely misunderstood in yet another way. A. Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums (1884), p. 592, gave the true interpretation: 'Montanus wollte … nur in Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes und des Paraklet reden.' Yet Knox, op. cit., p. 37, seems to take Montanus to claim that he himself was the Paraclete.

54 Cf. Labriolle, La Crise montaniste, pp. 354 ff.

55 A comprehensive treatment could not ignore other signs of Montanism, especially 'agnitio spiritalium charismatum' (Mon. 1. 2; etc.): cf. A. Hilgenfeld, Die Glossolalie in der alten Kirche (1850), pp. 115 ff.

56 Cf. Labriolle, op. cit., p. 23 n. 1.

57 I exclude, of course, Praes. Haer. 8. 14/15: there, and there alone in Tertullian, John 16: 13 is given an orthodox interpretation.

58 Even this obvious truth has on occasion been denied. A. Réville, Revue des deux mondes2, liv (1864), p. 178, classed the Scorpiace as one of the treatises which 'appartiennent visiblement à la période du montanisme déclaré'.…

60 Matt. 5: 11; Luke 6: 22.

61 Cf. in general W. Bender, Die Lehre über den Heiligen Geist bei Tertullian (Münchener Theol. Stud. xviii, 1961).

62 Cf. R. F. Refoulé, Tertullien: Traité de la Prescription contre les Hérétiques (Sources chrétiennes, xlvi, 1957), pp. 45 ff., 82 ff.

63 Compare Marc. iv. 5. 2/3. As a Montanist, Tertullian still held that the apostolic succession was a mark of true doctrine. What he had ceased to believe was that it was a vehicle for the transmission of the Holy Spirit.

64 As Praes. Haer. 20. 4; cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. iii. 11. 9.

65 Thus K. Adam, Theol. Quartalschrift, xciv (1912), p. 205; Waszink, op. cit., p. 6*. I have not seen J. Ludwig, Die Primatworte Mt. 16. 18, 19 in der altkirchlichen Exegese (Neutestamentliche Abhand. xix. 4, 1952). But the passage had already been adduced as an indication of the Scorpiace's early date by Kellner, op. cit., col. 1401.

66 Altendorf, op. cit., pp. 37/8.

67 So Adam, op. cit., p. 205. Cf. Altendorf, op. cit., p. 38.

68 A. Orbe, Los primeros herejes ante la persecución (Analecta Gregoriana, lxxxiii, 1956), esp. pp. 50 ff., 90 ff. (assuming the date to be 213).

69 See the evidence assembled by H. Leclercq, Dict. d'arch. chrét. v (1923), cols. 2660 ff. For the modern Catholic view, note G. Bardy, Dict. de théol. cath. xv (1946), col. 138, on the De Fuga: 'il condamne, avec une exagération manifeste, la fuite en temps de persécution.'

70 The order is often implausibly reversed: e.g., Buonaiuti, op. cit., p. 146.

71 E. Noeldechen, 'Die Abfassungszeit der Schriften Tertullians', T.U. v. 2 (1888), pp. 1-164, at pp. 91-4, 111-14; Waszink, op. cit., p. 6*; G. Säflund, De Pallio und die stilistische Entwicklung Tertullians (Skr. utg. av Svenska Inst. i Rom, viii, 1955), p. 72.

72 Listed by Noeldechen, op. cit., pp. 111-13.

73 Cf. above, p. 114. The earliest precisely datable sign of Tertullian's Montanism falls in 207/8 (Marc. i. 29. 4. cf. 15. 1).

74 The Ad Scapulam was written in late 212 …; the Apologeticum in 197 or very soon after (A. Harnack, Zeitschr. für Kirchengesch. ii (1878), pp. 574 ff.).

75 The names come from Varro, Nat. ii. 1. 8. Cf. R. Agahd, Jahrbücher für classische Philologie, Supp. xxiv (1898), pp. 1-220, esp. pp. 185/6.

76 'Barnus' is nowhere else attested: Thes. ling. lat. ii, col. 1755.

77 For the sake of consistency I have quoted from C.C.L. i/ii. W. Otto, Thes. ling. lat., Onomasticon, ii, cols. 200/1, argued convincingly that Tertullian himself always used the form 'Cama', which was later corrupted except at Cor. 13. 9.

78 Cf. C. Becker, Tertullians Apologeticum. Werden und Leistung (1954), pp. 33-5.

79Cor. 1. 1 records an imperial donative to the soldiers. Usually assumed to be for the accession of Caracalla and Geta in February 211, it could instead be for their joint consulates in 208 (cf. G. Barbieri, Diz. epig. iv, cols. 859/60).

80 Not Suetonius: J.R.S. lviii (1968), p. 35.

81 Säflund, op. cit., pp. 60 ff.

82 Cf. E. Norden, Die antike Kunstprosa2 (1909), pp. 606 ff.

83 As A. Q. Morton, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Ser. A. cxxviii (1965), pp. 169-224; Essays in Memory of G. H. C. Macgregor (1965), pp. 209 ff.; etc. Morton has already been subjected to devastating criticism by G. Herdan, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Ser. A. cxxviii (1965), pp. 229-31—to which he was unable to contrive a relevant reply (ibid., p. 233).

84 Quoted by Säflund, op. cit., p. 72, as coming from one of 'den Schriften aus der Zeit des grossen Verfolgung des Jahres 211/12'.

85 E. Löfstedt, Zur Sprache Tertullians (1920), pp. 29-33.

86 See Säflund's statistics, op. cit., p. 60.

87 Cf. Säflund, op. cit., p. 64. For the Scorpiace and the De Fuga in Persecutione, I make the occurrences of 'nam et', 'sed et', 'sic et', and 'ita et' at the beginning of a sentence come to approximately 1 and 2 per 1,000 words respectively.

88 Cf. Säflund, op. cit., pp. 65 ff. For the Scorpiace I leave this as a largely subjective judgement: complications are imported by the long quotations and expositions of scripture.

89 E. Noeldechen, op. cit. (1886), pp. 95-8; op. cit. (1888), pp. 13, 112, 114; Historisches Taschenbuch6, vii (1888), pp. 188-90.

90 F. Millar, J.E.A. xlvii (1962), pp. 124-31, argues for autumn 214 as the date of the constitutio. Later discussions have neither reinstated the traditional date of 212 nor established a third date as the correct one.

91 G. Kr(ülger), Literarisches Centralblatt für Deutschland, 1889, col. 459, protested that Noeldechen's methods 'die Citrone ausquetschen, bis weniger als Nichts vom Saft darin bleibt'. Noeldechen was undeterred: see his article 'Zeitgeschichtliche Anspielungen in den Schriften Tertullians', Zeitschrift fur wissenschaftliche Theologie, xxxii (1889), pp. 411-29.

92 Pamelius and Junius (reported by F. Oehler, Tertulliani quae supersunt omnia, i (1853), p. 498).

93 So Thes. ling. lat. iv, col. 1590, following Rigaltius and Oehler, but not citing any sort of parallel: Rigaltius had observed simply 'diabolo, canina invidia genus humanum vexante'. That is insufficient. The devil could, of course, take any shape: Martyrium Petri et Pauli, 14 (Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, ed. R. A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet (1891-1903), i, p. 132); Acta Petri et Pauli, 35 (ibid., p. 194); Acta Thomae, 44 (ibid. ii. 2, p. 161); Athanasius, Vita Antonii, 6-9; etc.

94 Cf. Origen, Contra Celsum, vi. 30 (on the seven archontic daemons which Celsus ascribed to the Christians) … But the devil as a dog is comparatively common—witness Goethe's Faust.

95 Baboons: Pliny, Nat. Hist. vi. 184, 190. The devil: F. J. Dölger, Die Sonne der Gerechtigkeit und der Schwarze (Liturgiegeschichtliche Forschungen, ii, 1918), pp. 52 ff.

96… H. Pétré, L'exemplum chez Tertullien (n.d., publ. 1941), pp. 97/8.

97Marc. ii. 25. 3 ff.; Orat. 7. 3; Pat. 5. 16; Val. 29. 1/2. The date of Geta's death: J.T.S., N.S. xix (1968), pp. 522-5.

98 From Exod. 32; Numb. 25. Cf. Pétré, op. cit., pp. 101-3.

99 Acts 22: 25 ff. On the legal issue, see P. D. A. Garnsey, J.R.S. lvi (1966), pp. 182 ff.

100 For 'nativitas', see H. Rönsch, Itala und Vulgata2 (1875), p. 52; H. Hoppe, Syntax und Stil des Tertullian (1903), p. 122. 'Nativitatem consequi' seems very bold—even for Tertullian.

101 Buonaiuti, op. cit., pp. 149/50, 152. In particular, he contends that Tertullian has copied Clement's reports of the denigration of martyrdom by Heracleon and Basilides (Stromateis, iv. 71/2, 81).

102 Cf. H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966), p. 31: 'the only certain date in his biography is that he wrote the first book of the Stromateis between 193 and 211.'

103 W. H. C. Frend, 'The Gnostic Sects and the Roman Empire', J.E.H. v (1954), pp. 25-37.

104Arch.-epigr. Mitt. aus Oesterreich-Ungarn, viii (1884), pp. 219/20, no. 49 (Perinthus: third century).… [The] man it honours could well be a musician: cf. F. W. Hasluck, Cyzicus (1910), pp. 210 ff., for the cult.

105I.L.S. 5233 (Ostia: third century). Dessau noted 'citharoedus puto vel tibicen'.

106 Pausanias, x. 7. 2 ff.

107 The best collections of evidence are still those of J. H. Krause, Die Gymnastik und Agonistik der Hellenen (1841), pp. 791 ff.; Die Pythien, Nemeen und Isthmien (1841), pp. 53 ff. See also some of the inscriptions discussed by L. Robert, Anatolian Studies presented to W. H. Buckler (1939), pp. 237 ff.; Hellenica xi/xii (1960), pp. 350 ff.

108 A. Audollent, Carthage romaine (1901), p. 258; P. Lenschau, P-W, x, cols. 2206/7. The only epigraphic evidence for the odeum seems to be the obscure and fragmentary I.L.T. 983.

109 P. Gauckler, Rev. arch.3 xli (1902), pp. 383 ff. The underlying Punic necropolis (Res. Mort. 42. 8) was also found.

110Florida, 16 (p. 26 Helm). The date was perhaps 163 precisely. For Florida, 9 (p. 15) names Severianus, 17 (p. 31) Scipio Orfitus as proconsul of Africa. Their proconsular years were, respectively, 162/3 and 163/4: R. Syme, Rev. ét. anc. Ixi (1959), pp. 316 ff.

111 Daremberg-Saglio, Dict. des ant. iv, cols. 150 ff.

112 W. Weber, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Kaisers Hadrianus (1907), pp. 123 ff., 211 ff.

113 Hartmann, P-W, ii. A, cols. 961-4.

114 F. W. Drexler, Caracallas Zug nach dem Orient und der letzte Partherkrieg (Diss. Halle, 1880).

115 T. R. S. Broughton, The Romanization of Africa Proconsularis (1929), pp. 153/4; R. M. Haywood, Trans. Amer. Phil. Ass. lxxi (1940), pp. 175 ff.; T. D. Barnes, Historia, xvi (1967), pp. 105/6.

116Dig. 50. 15. 8. 11; … Cf. I. Mundle, Historia, x (1961), pp. 228-37.

117 Evidence and modem discussions are fully cited by J. Hasebroek, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Kaisers Septimius Severus (1921), pp. 16-128; F. Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio (1964), pp. 139-45.

118C.I.L. vi. 32326/7.

119 Dio, lxxvii (lxxvi). 11; B.M.C., Roman Empire, v, pp. 270-2, 350-3.

120Vit. soph. ii. 20. 2 (p. 103 Kayser).…

121 R. Syme, Ammianus and the Historia Augusta (1968), p. 34. The ignorant Herodian states outright that Severus never left Italy between 202 and 208 (iii. 10. 1/2; 13. 1; 14. 2).

122 H. Mattingly, B.M.C., Roman Empire, v, p. clix, arguing from various coins described on pp. 262-7, 347-9.

123 Ibid., pp. 208/9 (imperial titulature of A.D. 201-6); 218 (201-10); 248 (204); 332 (202-10); 334/5 (203); 341-3 (204).

124C.I.L. viii. 2702, 18250. For other evidence, also relevant but not so conclusive, see G. J. Murphy, The Reign of the Emperor L. Septimius Severus from the Evidence of the Inscriptions (1945), pp. 33/4; M. Leglay, C.R.A.I. 1956, pp. 303/4.

125 O. Hirschfeld, Die kaiserlichen Verwaltungsbeamten2 (1905), pp. 315/16.

126 Cf. Aurelius Victor, Caes. 20. 19: quin etiam Tripoli, cuius Lepti oppido oriebatur, bellicosae gentes submotae procul.

127 Cf. Philostratus, Vit. soph. ii. 20.2 …

128 202/3: J. Guey, Rev. afric. xciv (1950), pp. 55 ff.; Millar, op. cit., p. 145. 203/4; Hasebroek, op. cit., pp. 133-5; Murphy, op. cit., p. 33; Mundle, op. cit., p. 234; Barnes, op. cit., p. 103 n. 128.

129 But see Guey, op. cit., p. 63, for Hasebroek's reliance on unverified types.

130I.R.T. 393; 423. In contrast, I.R.T. 412 (of the same year) lacks the epithet 'Septimiani'.

131 Recorded at Dig. 50. 15. 8. 11.

132 So Guey, op. cit., pp. 62/3. He also argues from I.R.T. 292—which is inconclusive.

133 J. B. Ward-Perkins, J.R.S. xxxviii (1948), pp. 59 ff.; M. F. Squarciapino, Leptis Magna (1966), pp. 95 ff.

134Dig. 1. 16. 4. 5; cf. Jahreshefte des öst. arch. Inst. xlv (1960), Beiblatt, cols. 83/4, no. 8.

135 Severus may have been back in Rome before the end of 203 in order to distribute his fourth liberalitas. But cf. G. Barbieri, Diz. epig. iv, pp. 858/9.

136 K. Adam, Der Katholik4, xxxvii (1908), p. 433, assigns works belonging to Tertullian's 'katechetische Tätigkeit innerhalb der christlichen Gemeinde' to 197 or earlier; Monceaux, op. cit., p. 87, declares 'à la deuxième période (de 200 environ à 206), appartiennent les ouvrages où … Tertullien parle en prêtre'.

137 Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, 53. Disproved finally by H. Koch, Theologische Studien und Kritiken, ciii (1931), pp. 108-14.

138 See B. Altaner, Theologische Revue, xxxviii (1939), pp. 129-38; reprinted at Kleine Patristiche Schriften (T.U. lxxxiii, 1967), pp. 540-53. The words 'ad omnem ecclesiam Petri propinquam' (Pud. 21. 9 …) are clearly incompatible with the view that Tertullian is attacking a bishop of Rome. A. Harnack therefore emended 'omnem' to 'Romanam' (Sitzungsber. derpreuss. Akad. Berlin, Phil.-hist. Klasse, 1927, p. 148).

139 e.g., J. Quasten, Patrology, ii (1953), pp. 247, 312/13; B. Altaner-A. Stuiber, Patrologie7 (1967), pp. 148, 159.

140 The dates are those of the handbooks: Schanz-Hosius, Gesch. der röm. Litt. iii3 (1922), pp. 283/4, 296, 298; Quasten, op. cit., pp. 292/3, 309/10; Altaner-Stuiber, op. cit., pp. 156-9. There is some wavering on the De Spectaculis. Schanz-Hosius and Quasten pose the problem as a straight choice between 197 and 202. Others follow Monceaux, op. cit., p. 87, in putting it c. 200 at the supposed start of Tertullian's preaching career (e.g., Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution (1965), p. 342 n. 148). Altaner-Stuiber seem to avoid the issue by giving the date as 197-200.

141 Frend, op. cit., p. 372. However, Frend now holds the De Idololatria 'scritto probabilmente nel periodo premontanista di Tertulliano' (Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa, iv (1968), p. 6). But he offers no reason for his change of mind.

142 Hamack, Chronologie, ii, p. 273 …

143 Säflund, op. cit., p. 60, has calculated the frequency of 'et' for etiam'. For the combinations 'nam et', 'sed et', 'sic et', and 'ita et' at the beginning of a sentence, I make the frequency approximately 1.3 per thousand words (…; Säflund, op. cit., p. 64).

144 Viz. Idol. 15. 10/11 > Apol. 35.4. See R. Heinze, Bericht über die Verhandlungen der königl. sächs. Ges. der Wiss. Leipzig, Phil.-hist. Klasse, lxii (1910), p. 441; Becker, op. cit., pp. 349/50.

145H.A., Severus 17. 1. Again, any attempt at full documentation of modem opinions would be pointless. But there is a clear line of derivation between the earliest and a very recent account of the persecutions in the reign of Severus. Eusebius … made Aquila prefect of Egypt in 203 (H.E. vi. 2. 2, 2. 12, 3. 3; cf. A. Stein, Die Präfekten von Ägypten (1950), pp. 111/12). Frend writes 'The Severan persecution was the first co-ordinated world-wide movement against the Christians … Apart from the years 202-3, and the situation which had developed … in Carthage, the reigns of Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla (211-17) were tolerant' (op. cit. (1965), pp. 312, 323), and makes Subatianus Aquila prefect of Egypt from 'early in 202' (ibid., p. 342 n. 149). For the prefecture of Aquila, that is simply to defy the evidence of known papyri: viz. Sammelbuch 4639 (published in 1910); P. Giss. 48 (1910); P. Oxy. 1111 (1911); P.S.I. 199(1914); Sammelbuch 9393 = P. Mil. Vog. 237 (1957); and now B.G.U. 2024 (1966).

146 K. H. Schwarte, Historia, xii (1963), pp. 185-208; J. R. Rea, La Parola del Passato, xxii (1967,) pp. 48-54; T. D. Barnes, J.T.S., N.S. xix (1968), pp. 526/7; J.R.S. Iviii (1968), pp. 40/1. R. Freudenberger, Wiener Studien, lxxxi (1968), pp. 206-17, adds nothing of importance, and betrays no awareness of the crucial chronological issue or of the relevant papyri (see p. 209 n. 15).

147J.T.S., N.S. xix (1968), pp. 526/7.

148 Note H.E. v. 21. 1/2.

149 Eusebius ascribes all the persecutions of Christians before 250 to one of three causes. If persecution occurred during the reign of a bad emperor, it was clearly due to his depravity (H.E. ii. 25, iii. 17, vi. 1, vi. 28). But if the emperor was good, the cause must be popular agitation (iii. 32/3, iv. 12/13, iv. 15. 1, v. 1) or the machinations of sinister individuals (iii. 32, iv. 3, iv. 17, v. 21).

150H.E. vi. 1, 2. 2 ff.

151 Cf. J.T.S., N.S. xviii (1967), pp. 434-7; xix (1968), pp. 512-14.

152 As H. Grégoire, Les perséutions dans l'empire romain2 (1964), pp. 108 ff. n. 25; Frend, op. cit., p. 295 n. 1. The former assigns the martyrdom of Polycarp to 177, the latter to 165-8, simply because neither will believe that Eusebius has placed it in the wrong reign. Frend has justly observed elsewhere that 'broadly speaking, the issue is whether one trusts Eusebius or not' (Oikoumene (1964), p. 500). Gregoire does just that, consistently—and follows Eusebius, H.E. iv. 15. 48, in synchronizing the deaths of Polycarp and Pionius (op. cit., p. 111). Frend, however, for once declines to follow Eusebius, and correctly assigns the martyrdom of Pionius to 250 (op. cit. (1965), pp. 316, 410-12; cf. T. D. Barnes, J.T.S., N.S. xix (1968), pp. 529-31). But if Eusebius misplaces Pionius by eighty years, why assume (with Frend) that he cannot have misplaced Polycarp by a decade?

153 Frend, op. cit. (1965), p. 334; op. cit. (1968), pp. 8/9. Against, F. Millar, J.R.S., lvi (1966), p. 234.

154 As Frend, op. cit. (1968), p. 8: 'è ovvio che Tertulliano pensava a ciò che avveniva qua e là in Cartagine. Egli era un giomalista, non un antiquario, e il riferimento agli apostoli si trova lì per enfasi.' That is to say, the relative clause means—precisely nothing.

155 For another important example of the technique, cf. J.R.S. lviii (1968), pp. 34/5.

Stephen Gero (essay date 1970)

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SOURCE: "Miles Gloriosus: The Christian and Military Service according to Tertullian," Church History, Vol. 39, No. 3, September, 1970, pp. 285-98.

[In the following essay, Gero investigates significant changes in Tertullian's attitude toward Christian military service, arguing that "Tertullian at first condoned Christian service in the army, but later, when he recognized its dangers … firmly and totally came to oppose it."]

The aim of this paper is to throw some light on Tertullian's attitude to military service. His statements on this subject are highly useful for a more accurate understanding of his own changing views on the empire and the duties of citizenship. They are also important evidence for marking a crucial stage in the pre-Constantinian evolution of the relations of church and state. It will be seen that the whole question of Christians serving in the Roman army becanie relevant only in the late second century; Tertullian is one of the earliest literary witnesses for this momentous development. Therefore, on both counts, the texts deserve close scrutiny.

A detailed exposition of this history of the early Christian attitude to war cannot be given here; the reader is directed to the ample scholarly literature dealing with the subject.1 However, a brief account of some very relevant aspects of the outlook of the apostolic and sub-apostolic church will be sketched out to help situate Tertullian in the spectrum of early Christian thought. When, in the course of this summary, questions will arise that more properly belong to the field of New Testament exegesis, bibliographic leads will be provided, without the extended discussion they would merit in a more comprehensive treatment.

It should be noted that for the specific purposes of this paper we need not be delayed by the question of war and violence, righteous or otherwise, in the Old Testament. Tertullian clearly states that the old law has been superseded by the nova lex of evangelical peace. For him the bellicosity of the old dispensation is no longer normative.2

It is well-known that Jesus in the canonical gospels, in spite of the radical tone and implications of his precepts, is not anywhere represented as explicitly dealing with the morality of the military profession. Here is not the place to speculate on those reasons for this silence that are bound up with the theological programme of the gospels. At any rate, it is generally admitted that the gospel records manifest a certain quietistic indifference to the concrete social questions of the day, though of course they specify a most demanding set of ethical imperatives for the individual. The extent of the influence of eschatology on dominical sayings, the vexed questions of "Interimsethik" and the Messianic consciousness all enter into the problem; but anyone familiar with the state of New Testament scholarship will realize that we could not hope to make even a beginning within the limits of this paper.3

Nevertheless, it is true that, in Luke 3:14, John the Baptist does not command the soldiers who come to him to lay down their arms, but only to observe righteousness; in the incidents of the faithful centurion, the conversion of Comelius, and the jailkeeper of Philippi4 there is no trace of condemnation of the profession of these individuals. Pressing the point a little, these instances could amount to an implicit legitimation of the military calling. In Luke-Acts especially, the pro-Roman apologetic thrust of which is well known, one naturally expects no denigration of the military forces of the empire; the writer's presentation of the pax romana as conducive to the spread of the gospel entails, if not the justification, at least the acceptance of that coercive power whereby tranquillity was maintained.5

The fact that there are two different strains of thought vis-à-vis the state in the New Testament, epitomized in Romans 13 and Revelation 13 respectively, is also a commonplace of New Testament scholarship.6 To a certain extent these are not mutually exclusive, for an apocalyptic timetable does not necessarily involve disloyalty to the powers that be.7 Yet it is undeniable that there is a tension between the attitude of Romans, I Peter, and the pastoral epistles which sanctifies the secular authorities as instruments of a just and benevolent deity, and that apocalyptic vision8 which sees the empire as the embodiment of demonic evil.9 We must leave aside some of the exegetical ramifications of the subject.10 We only have to recognize the persistence of the two schools of political thinking, so to speak, and that the unresolved tension11 does appear in Tertullian.

A more immediately important observation is that the "Pauline-Petrine" tradition of loyalty does not involve active participation in the life of the polis. Paul reproves those who go before pagan judges;12 hence it is quite unlikely that he would have sanctioned for the faithful any form of military service, which would have broken down the valued cultural autonomy of the Christian community even more than mere litigation in law courts. The obligations of loyalty are exhausted in obedience to the magistrates and inoffensive moral behavior.13

As was already pointed out, the apocalyptic strain in early Christianity was not necessarily more subversive than Pauline loyalism. The tendency to separatism, to be sure, would have been stronger, with an especially vivid abhorrence of the army, the evil instrument par excellence of the diabolic power of the empire.

The profession of loyalty, beginning with Clement of Rome, and throughout the second-century apologies, is a constant theme, reiterating the Pauline iure divino declarations. The apocalyptic tradition is of course also perpetuated in the writings of Papias, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Commodian. But, as we have said, the whole history cannot be traced here.14 These Fathers usually accompanied their statements with vigorous assertions of the absolute peacefulness of the faithful: armies are not needed on account of the Christians. The attitude of the early Fathers shows that almost joyous irresponsibility and that pervasive idealism which characterize groups far removed from contact with the experience of actual political power and decision-making.15

The indirect evidence of "military" language can be exaggerated beyond due bounds. The use of a certain set of verbal images does not imply necessary approbation. It is quite possible to take over symbols not only in a favorable or neutral sense but also with a "combative" intent. Perhaps an example from a different field will be helpful. Christian art appropriated the pagan symbols of the good shepherd (Philanthropia) and the lighthouse (hope), amplifying but not annulling their pristine meaning. However, it seems that the adoption of Dionysiac floral symbolism (the true vine) implied a conscious devaluation of the original orgiastic associations.16

At any rate, it seems to me that military language in the New Testament and the early Fathers17 was probably more prompted by an apocalyptic-spiritual allegorization of the Old Testament than by concrete admiration of the military institutions of the empire. Psychological interpretations of the early Christians as warriors manqués of course cannot be ruled out, but I do not regard myself competent to pursue such a line of research. What is certain, however, is that the influence of the army was amazingly pervasive by the end of the second century, not the least in the matter of language.18 "Military" terminology was not confined to Christians, but was current in the cults of Bacchus, Venus, Isis, and of course, par excellence, in Mithraism. As Ramsay MacMullen points out, "The prestige and convenience of military organization … put its stamp on other groups quite unconnected with the army."19 In the civil bureaucracy "the lowliest scribbler wore a military belt, was called a miles, and after the completion of his militia, veteranus."20 It is thus likely that military terminology as it became current also became trite. Perhaps militia Christi did not have quite the emotive value we might think it possessed.21

To cut short the discussion of the general issues of this early period, I can do no better than quote von Campenhausen's statement: "For little enclaves of a fairly humble status in the peaceful interior of a well-ordered empire, where there was practically no conscription,22 it was easy to avoid anything to do with the army.… Christians were still outside the field of political responsibility.… Till about A.D. 175 there were, as far as one can tell, no Christian soldiers,23 and therefore no actual questions about military service arose."24 I agree with von Campenhausen, as against Cadoux,25 that these early sources, especially the New Testament, do not address themselves to the specific problem, and hence can be expected to yield no answer. The apostolic church did not legislate on behalf of those outside her pale. For her own members the problem was irrelevant.

The New Testament speaks with no certain voice on the question of military service. Both Tertullian and his later opponents could draw ammunition from it. It should be recognized that Tertullian's Christian legalism is not a necessary outcome of the position of the apostolic church and the New Testament, in this particular matter of military service at least.

Until the decade of 170-180 there is no literary or epigraphic evidence for Christian soldiers in the army. If there were any, they were so few as to attract no notice whatsoever. They would certainly have been soldier-converts, not baptized Christians who volunteered. The enlistment period was twenty-five years26 or more and the penalties for desertion severe. It seems unlikely that Christian civilians—many of whom in any case were ineligible Jews, slaves and women—would have enlisted in this early period. However, it seems that the situation changed drastically in Tertullian's time. To understand the reasons for this, we have to review the pertinent social developments of the era of the early Severan rulers.27

A period of civil anarchy followed the murder of Commodus.28 The Senate temporarily exercised the power of government, but its impotence in face of the military gangsterism of the Praetorians became soon manifest. Septimius Severus, successor of the ineffectual Pertinax and the buffoon Didius Julianus, though paying occasional politic deference to the Senate and the people of Rome,29 early recognized that retention of his rule depended on the good will of the army. Dio Cassius' version of Severus' death-bed advice to his sons Geta and Caracalla, "Agree, enrich the soldiers and you can despise everybody else,"30 is perhaps apocryphal, but expresses well the spirit of both Severus' own policy and that of Caracalla.

Septimius Severus decided to found the power of the state on quasi-military rural communities, resulting in an amalgamation between peasant settlements and garrisons. Soldiers were allowed to form collegia; marriages of soldiers were regularized, and their families allowed to live within the camp precincts. Frontier troops were given land of their own to cultivate;31 purely local service became more common.32

Though he did not follow the first part of his father's advice,33 Caracalla showed even more favoritism than Severus to the military. The regular pay of soldiers, already increased by Severus, he raised by a further fifty per cent, in addition to frequent donativa. Dio quotes his extravagant expressions of praise for soldiers. His whole reign was devoted to military campaigns. Dio records that Caracalla declared, "No one but I ought to have money so that I can give it to the soldiers."34 Though his troops could not protect him from assasination, their loyalty honored him in death by extorting his deification from the murderers.35

The policy of Severus and Caracalla certainly issued in increased respectability for the military profession and its closer approximation to civilian life. There were, as we saw, many new inducements for embracing a soldier's life. The empire became militarized to a great degree. As MacMullen points out, "The emperor … drew closer to his troops, and the balance of power and prestige inclined under Septimius Severus toward army officers."36 When one notes that the reigns of Septimius Severus and Caracalla (193-217) roughly coincide with the period of Tertullian's literary activity, it seems plausible that Tertullian's own attitude to the military profession, and the outlook of the whole Christian community, would have been profoundly affected by these important social developments. There seems to be evidence for this in Tertullian's writings.

In the Apologeticum of 197, Tertullian, as we shall see below, recognizes the presence of Christian soldiers in the army, and uses it as an argument in favor of his coreligionists. Fifteen years later, when he wrote de Corona and de Idololatria, the pro-military policy of the Severi already had such great success that even baptized Christians were joining the army. The whole development provoked his strongest opposition, and prompted him to produce detailed moral arguments against the permissibility of military service for Christians. It seems that rather than charging his very definite change of attitude to Montanism, one should recognize the sudden influx of Christians into the military profession, with its new opportunities for advancement and greater respectability, as a contributing, if indeed not the main, factor. In view of the earlier remarks on "military" terminology in Christian writings, I think we can safely dismiss the frequent martial metaphors of Tertullian as peripheral to this intensely practical problem of whether or not Christians should serve in the Roman army. Three passages in Tertullian's writings epitomize his attitude to military service. These will now be taken up in some detail.37

I. Apol. 42, 3 (157, 10-13)

Nauigamus et nos uobiscum et uobiscum militamus et rustricamur et mercamur; proinde miscemus artes, operas nostras publicamus usui uestro.

(We sail together with you, we go to war, we till the ground, we conduct business together with you. We blend our skills with yours; our efforts are at your service.)

The Apologeticum belongs to the earlier phase of Tertullian's literary activity. The work is frankly apologetic, is directed to the pagan magistrates, and uses all the devices of the art of suasion. In this chapter Tertullian is bent on refuting the charge of social uselessness "Neque enim Brochmanae aut Indorum gymno-sophistae sumus, siluicolae et exules uitae."2 (Apol. 42, 1) In demolishing the accusation, Tertullian gives a list of the various activities in which Christians willingly participate—"vobiscum militamus" is part of a series. His earlier statement in ch. 37 ("impleuimus … castella … castra ipsa")38 has a similar flavor. Tertullian enumerates all the places where Christians can be found; since he only excludes the pagan temples, forts and camps are quite naturally part of his list. Of course the assertion as such need not be taken literally; in the same breath he claims that nearly all the inhabitants of the cities of the empire are Christians.39

The ambiguity in the exact significance of militanus should be noted. The two meanings of militare are (1) literally, militiam exercere (2) figuratively, servire, obsequi, operam dare.40 It is not at all certain which alternative is appropriate in this passage. If one notes that the parallel members of the construction: nauigamus, rusticamur, and mercamur all refer to everyday activities, carried on both in peacetime and in time of war, the translation "we do service together with you" gains some support. In favor of the literal meaning is the already quoted passage in ch. 37, that Christians are in "castella [and] castra ipsa." Castellum and castra are technical military terms. More decisive is Tertullian's reference to Christians in the army of Marcus Aurelius during the Quadi campaign.41

Thus there is some reason for both interpretations, with the evidence inclining perhaps more toward the literal meaning. However, the statement has to be interpreted in light of the declaration of ch. 37 "' … apud istam disciplinam magis occidi licet quam occidere'."42 Perhaps Tertullian used militare with studied ambiguity.

It should of course be noted that the term does not necessarily imply the reprehensible concomitant of violence which he elsewhere rejects. As MacMullen puts it, "Many a recruit need never have struck a blow in anger, outside a tavern."43 Soldiers carried out many functions which today would be more proper to policemen or contractors.44 That a person joined the army did not ex post facto imply that he was but a hired killer.

All the arguments Tertullian uses are within the apologetic tradition; he is familiar with the work of his predecessors.45 In particular, the statement that Christians do accept their fair share of the civic burdens appears also in Justin Martyr,46 and perhaps goes back to the commonplaces of Hellenistic Jewish apologetic.47 What is significant here is that Tertullian, in utilizing the standard apologetic approach, alludes, but only in passing and not systematically,48 to the occasional presence of Christians in the army. In 197 military service had not yet become a crucial moral issue for him.

To illustrate the great influence that literary form and putative destination had upon the ideology of his works, it will be instructive to compare the tract de Pallio with Tertullian's apologetic treatises. If one accepts Quasten's conjecture that de Pallio was written in 193, the work belongs in his early Catholic period.49 This short tract was written very much along the lines of a Cynic distribe50 and sets forth the author's radical rejection of society à la Diogenes. It is in sharp contrast to the tone of the Apologeticum,51 where indeed it would have been self-defeating for Tertullian to strike a Cynic pose. However if, as it is more likely, the "triple rule" refers to 209-211, the joint imperium of Severus and his sons, de Pallio belongs to the period of de Corona and Ad Scapulam. If this dating is correct, the difference in tone between de Pallio and the apologetic Ad Scapulam (212) is all the more striking. In this latter plea to the African perfect Tertullian sets forth an impeccably orthodox exposition of Romans 13, and betrays no trace of the brusque anti-social sentiments of de Pallio. To be sure, he threatens the migistrates with divine vengeance, but as far as his attitude to the state is concerned, he speaks much more sotto voce.

II. The next crucial text is chapter 11 of de Corona.52 This treatise was written to glorify a flagrant act of military disobedience on the part of a Christian soldier (ch. 1). Most of the work is of no interest to us here, taken up as it is with a rather artificial antiquarian discussion on the use of wreath and crowns. But in ch. 11 Tertullian succinctly summarizes his changed outlook to military service. As we said before, there seems to be some evidence that his volte-face, if it be called that, was motivated by the sudden influx of Christians into the army, made a very attractive career through the Severan reforms. At any rate, here Tertullian speaks with no uncertain voice, and both the relative disinterest in the subject of military service and the ambiguity of intention, that we found in the Apologeticum disappear.

Recognizing that the question of triumphal crowns is only incidental to the wider problem, Tertullian adduces several arguments for denying the very legitimacy of military service. It should be noted that the ethical question is posed only for Christians. The pre-Constantinian church, both by choice and by necessity, did not concern herself with the private morality of pagans, except to the extent that this affected the well-being of the Christian community.

Tertullian takes his stand on denying the possibility of divided loyalties, expanding the dominical dictum about serving two masters.53 "Credimusne humanum sacramentum diuino superduci licere, et in alium dominum respondere post Christum … ?"54 Then he invokes the Christian obligation not to shed blood, "Licebit in gladio conuersari, Domino pronuntiante gladio periturum qui gladio fuerit usus?"55 Next he points out the radical implications of the cultural separatism incumbent on the believer. The Christian should not go to law courts, and should not avenge even his own private wrongs; hence a fortiori he must not be a soldier, a man of violence.

His final argument hinges on the illicit acts of idolatry which the soldier is forced to do in the course of his service, such as guard duty at pagan temples, and eating forbidden meat ("Et cenabit illic, ubi apostolo non placet?"56) It is most interesting that Tertullian does not give a very prominent place in his argument to these acts of idolatry; in particular he makes no reference to emperor-worship. Some have argued57 that the real motivation for the early Christian opposition to military service was the danger of the compulsory idolatry which was greater than in civilian life, rather than mere abhorrence of bloodshed. In this passage at least, Tertullian does not give much support to this position. Von Campenhausen, after quoting one of Tertullian's many arguments, from de Idololatria,58 states: "Here he is not thinking primarily of killing and bloodshed by soldiers. What Tertullian feared was the denial of Christ and the taint of pagan worship, which seemed inevitable in view of the strictness of military discipline and the role played by pagan religion in the whole ceremonial and life of the army."59 Admittedly in de Idololatria 19 the question of idol-worship is emphasized more than in de Corona 11; but it should be remembered that the treatise brings under the ban of idolatry, very broadly conceived, practically every human activity. The military profession is condemned along with the pursuit of art, literature, astrology, civil magistracy, etc. Tertullian condemns even the signing of contracts, which were under the aegis of pagan deities, as idolatry. Therefore his opposition to military service on account of its idolatrous associations is here in no way exceptional, but is rather demanded by the structure and logic of the treatise.

More generally, the quite liberal religious policy of the Roman army has been demonstrated. Though, to be sure, higher officers had to conduct the statutory ceremonies in the Feriale, there was no discouragement of the private pursuit of other worship.60 In this period the Christian in the army was not really exposed to a greater danger of idolatry than in civilian life. The question of idolatry in the army did become more acute in the latter part of the third century;61 but I think this has to be viewed in the context of the post-Aurelian renovatio and its demands for stringent and visible loyalty.

But let us return to de Corona. Tertullian gives the very earliest literary evidence for the phenomenon of already-baptized Christians volunteering for the army—indeed a most significant development. ("Ipsum de castris lucis in castra tenebrarum nomen deferre transgressionis est.")62 Tertullian inflexibly opposes such apostasy; he is slightly more sympathetic to the predicament of soldier converts, recognizing the examples of the soldiers baptized by John, and of the centurion Cornelius. Yet, theoretically, when a soldier becomes a Christian, he should immediately abandon his calling" … suscepta fide atque signata,63 aut deserendum statim sit, ut a multis actum, aut omnibus modis cauillandum, ne quid aduersus deum committatur quae nec extra militiam permittuntur, aut nouissime perpetiendum pro deo, quod aeque fides pagana condixit."64

Tertullian seems to say that if the soldier does not immediately abandon his profession, he would have to resort to such acts of subterfuge which are not permitted even to lay believers (extra militiam), and that he must be willing to suffer for the faith just as Christian civilians (fides pagana). Many, of course, as Tertullian says, did follow the radical solution, as the acts of military martyrs attest (though none of these Acta date back to this early period65). But his polemic shows the prevalence of a less courageous stand also. Tertullian rejects any accommodation or plea of necessity. "Non admittit status fidei allegationem necessitatis. Nulla est necessitas delinquendi, quibus una est necessitas non delinquendi."66 To continue the polemic against crowns, he postulates the "contrary-to-fact" condition of lawful military service, and proceeds to bludgeon further his opponents. But his opinion is summed up in "omni ope expulero militiam."67

In the next chapter Tertullian rises to real heights of eloquence in describing the horrors of war. "Triumphi laurea foliis struitur, an cadaueribus? lemniscis ornatur, an bustis? unguentis delibuitur an lacrimis coniugum et matrum?"68 Then he continues with a truly important theme, later taken up by Jerome and Augustine, "fortasse quorumdam et Christianorum; et apud barbaros enim Christus."69 Loyalty to Christ unites Roman and barbarian.

III. De Corona 11 is Tertullian's mature and logical position, consistent with his ethical rigorism. Chapter 19 of de Idololatria reinforces his stand, but in no way modifies it. We already had some occasion to comment on the spirit of this treatise.70 The argument in ch. 19 is more concise and more theoretical than de Corona 11, and seems in some ways to presuppose the fuller treatment in de Corona. This would be a factor in favor of dating this treatise after de Corona. But the dating is not really essential. In expression, subject matter and tone it certainly seems to belong in the same group as de Corona, which was written after 211.71 The passage gives extremely interesting points about the arguments used by the laxer party. Apparently some felt that the position of ordinary soldiers was not reprehensible since, unlike officers, they did not have to conduct sacrifices or order capital punishment ("caligata72 uel inferior quaeque, cui non sit necessitas immolationum uel capitalium iudociorum."73). With remorseless logic Tertullian demolishes this pitiful argument, by using the grand theme of the whole treatise, the non licet of divided loyalties "Non conuenit sacramento diuino et humano, signo Christi et signo diaboli,74 castris lucis et castris tenebrarum;75 non potest una anima duobus deberi, deo et Caesari76."77 He pours deserved scorn on the fantastic appeals to the virga (rod) of Moses, the fibulum (buckle) of Aaron, and the lorum (belt) of John the Baptist. Since these items were part of the Roman soldier's equipment, Tertullian's adversaries invoked these biblical figures to legitimate their military profession. Tertullian also lightly dismisses the more relevant examples of Joshua and his host. He can justifiably do so in context of his argument; for, according to Tertullian, even the instance of the soldiers who came to John the Baptist and "forman obseruationis acceperant"78 is not normative: the Lord, in disarming Peter, unbelted79 every soldier ("omnem postea militem dominus in Petro exarmando discinxit")80

Finally, the conclusions of this paper will be briefly recapitulated. The apostolic and sub-apostolic period was not faced with the problem of actual military service, and hence did not provide guidelines for the changed situation of the late second century. The social and military reforms of the Severan dynasty made the military professions much more appealing than before; this resulted in baptized Christians joining the army, perhaps in considerable numbers. Tertullian's earlier statements in the Apologeticum are brief and ambiguous; they do not amount to more than a mere acknowledgment of the presence of Christian soldiers in the ranks. Tertullian uses this fact as an apologetic argument, but, in line with the earlier literature, does not yet view military service as a crucial moral problem. The sudden influx of Christians into the army awakened him to the potential dangers of a permissive attitude. His mature position of inflexible opposition to military service is embodied in de Corona and de Idololatria, written about fifteen years after the Apologeticum. His negative attitude fits well into the framework of his rigoristic moral theology, and bears the familiar trademarks of pitiless logic and utter disdain for the hesitation and compromises of infirma caro.81

If the interpretation of this paper is correct, Tertullian at first condoned Christian service in the army, but later, when he recognized its dangers and its fundamental incompatibility, in his mind, with loyalty to Christ, firmly and totally came to oppose it. He set himself completely against Christian participation in that integration of the military and civil institutions wherein the Severan rulers saw the means both for maintaining their rule and for renewing the military strength of the empire. His condemnation was in the end ineffective, contending against an important trend in the evolution of Roman society. The church in North Africa could not sell her soul, so to speak, to Constantine; she had already sold it much earlier, to Septimius Severus and to Caracalla.


1 See the review article of J. Fontaine, "Christians and Military Service in the Early Church," in Concilium, 7 (1965), 107-119. Few of the treatments of the subject attain the objectivity of R. H. Bainton's "The Early Church and War," Harvard Theological Review, 39 (1946), 189-211. A. Harnack's Militia Christi (Tübingen: Mohr, 1905) is especially valuable for giving a collection of original texts from the Fathers and the Acts of Martyrs (pp. 93-122). I feel uncomfortable with some of Harnack's generalizations, (e.g. p. 3, "In jenen Religionen, in denen die religiösen und die politischen Ziele so gut wie ganz zusammenfallen, sind alle 'religiosi' auch 'milites' und der Kreig ist die ultima ratio der Religion; er ist immer 'heiliger' Kreig.") Harnack's thoughts on the subject are summarized in Mission und Ausbreitung.…, (Leipzig, 1924), 4. Auflage, Band 2, pp. 571-84. Important, though rather disconcertingly "anti-pacifist," is E. A. Ryan's "The Rejection of Military Service by the Early Christians," Theological Studies, 13 (1952), 1-29. The monograph of C. J. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War (London: Headley, 1919), assembles much scholarly information; his conclusions are occasionally vitiated by a doctrinaire pacifism and an anti-Catholic bias (see e.g. p. 150). J. Hornus' exhaustive study, Evangile et Labarum (Geneva, 1960), while a storehouse of rich documentation, is too tractarian in tone, and is in places methodologically unsound (as in uncritical use of Acta). Sometimes his learning is marshalled to support bizarre theories. (See e.g., his outré exegesis of the third canon of the Council of Arles, pp. 128-29). H. Leclerq's older article "Militarisme" in Dict. d'Archéologie Chrétienne, tome XI, cols. 1108-1181 is most useful for the epigraphic material. We shall also have occasion to refer to H. von Campenhausen's Tradition and Life in the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963), esp. ch. 7, "Military Service in the Early Church," pp. 160-170.

2 Aduersus Iudaeos III, ch. 10 (1346, 72-76), "The old law vindicated itself by the vengeance of the sword … the new law pointed to clemency, and changed the former savagery of swords and lances into tranquillity." It should be noted that the latter part of the treatise (ch. 9-14) is perhaps spurious. J. Quasten, Initiation.… (Paris: Cerf, 1958), vol. 2, pp. 316-317.

3 See e.g. N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1967); W. G. Kümmel, Promise and Fulfillment (Naperville, 1957); A. N. Wilder Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus, 3rd edition (N.Y., 1954).

4 Police duties were not distinguished from strictly military ones. Cadoux, op. cit., p. 20.

5 See Feine-Behm-Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, 14th edition (N.Y.: Abingdon Press, 1966), pp. 101-102, 114-117.

6 F. X. Murphy, Politics and the Early Christian (New York, 1967), pp. 50-56; F. Dvornik, Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy (Washington, 1966), vol. 1, pp. 50-56. Both these works give encyclopedic but far from authoritative treatments of the subject. Also, see O. Cullmann, The Early Church (London: S.C.M., 1956), p. 122; O. Cullmann, Dieu et César (Paris-Neuchâtel: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1956), chaps. 2, 3; H. von Campenhausen, op. cit., pp. 148-54.

7 Harnack, Militia Christi, p. 50, "Die Eschatologie wurde … zu einem quietistischen und konservierenden Prinzip."

8 We pass over the question of the authorship of II Thessalonians. The eschatological element has been used to deny Pauline authorship; but of course this involves some circular reasoning. See Feine-Behm-Kümmel, op. cit., pp. 185-190.

9 Cullmann's resolution of the contradiction in terms of his theory of time and a "half-realized" Regnum Christi is quite attractive. The end is already accomplished since the coming of Christ, though the framework of the world still remains. Therefore the Christian neither completely rejects nor completely accepts the world. (Cullmann, Dieu et César, pp. 6-7).

10 As for instance the sharp controversy about the meaning of "exousiai" in Romans 13, on whether the word denotes angelic or human powers. Cullmann, The Early Church, p. 121; von Campenhausen, op. cit., p. 146; R. Kittel, Theo. Dict. of the N.T. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), Vol. 1, articles basileus-basileia, pp. 564-593.

C. F. Sleeper in "Political Responsibility according to I Peter," Novum Testamentum, 10 (1969), 270ff. sustains the thesis that the ethics of I Peter are eschatologically motivated. Bo Reicke in the Anchor commentary on the epistle develops the more standard viewpoint that the ethics merely manifest the social conservatism of the Christian community.

11 As H. Rahner says in Kirche und Staat im frühen Christentum (München: Käsel-Verlag, 1961), p. 22, the early Christians were in a "schwingenden Mitte zwischen Ja und Nein der Kirche zum Staat."

12I Cor. 6:1. It is interesting that Paul gives an "eschatological" reason (6:3, "Do you not know that we shall judge angels").

13 I. Pet. 2:16-17.

14 Murphy, op. cit., provides a recent and fairly reliable survey.

15 This is of course only a suggestion, which cannot be explored here in detail. See Justin, I Apol. 1:14, 27:1-3.

16 For a discussion of these interesting but highly uncertain matters see e.g., C. R. Morey, Early Christian Art (Princeton, 1953); P. Du Bourget, Early Christian Painting (N.Y., 1965); W. Weidlé, The Baptism of Art (London, 1946); A. Grabar, Christian Iconography (Princeton, 1968).

17 See the florilegium in Harnack, Militia Christi, pp. 93-114.

18 R. MacMullen, Soldier and Civilian in the Later Roman Empire, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1963), pp. 165-69. This is an important and highly original study.

19 MacMullen, op. cit., pp. 163-64.

20 MacMullen, op. cit., p. 164.

21 For all these reasons I think that R. Klein in Tertullian und das Römische Reich (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1968), pp. 121-122, overestimates the significance of Tertullian's military language. We shall have occasion to refer to this work of Klein further.

22 See Harnack, Militia Christi, p. 48, footnote 1, for documentation. The conscript situation of the Acta Maximiliani could only arise in the late third century (See Harnack, op. cit., pp. 114-117 for text).

23 The date 175 is uncertain. Ryan (op. cit., p. 8) proposes 170; Bainton (op. cit., p. 192), has 173. The problem depends on the dating of Celsus' testimony and of the episode of the Legio Fulminata. At any rate there is no evidence before the decade of 170-180.

24 von Campenhausen, op. cit., pp. 161-162.

25 Cadoux, p. 20. It should be noted that Cadoux carefully qualifies his opinion.

26 Ryan, op. cit., p. 19.

27Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. XII (Cambridge, 1939); J. Gagé, Les Classes Sociales dans l'Empire Romain (Paris, 1964). The chief primary sources for this period are Dio Cassius, Herodian and the Historia Augusta.

28 Commodus distributed his favors indescriminately to soldiers and gladiators. Herodian, I:6-17 passim (Loeb ed., 1969, pp. 28-123).

29 C.A.H. Vol. XII, pp. 1-6. Dio, LXXV: 2, 3.

30 Dio LXXVII:15, 2 "homoneite, tous strati ōtas ploutizete, tōn all ōn pantōn kataphroneite." (Loeb ed., Vol. IX, pp. 270-272.)

31 Foreshadowing the system of limitanei under the tetrarchy, and the soldier holdings in the Byzantine Empire during the Macedonian dynasty.

32 See Herodian III:8, 3-5. (Loeb ed., p. 309) for the whole policy of Severus.

33 He had his brother brutally murdered. Dio. LXXVIII, 2 (Loed ed., pp. 280-282).

34 Dio. LXVIII:10, 4. (Loeb ed., p. 298) "oudena anthrōpōn plēn emou argurion echein dein, hina auto tois stratiōtais charizōmai."

35 Dio, LXXIX:9, 3. (Loeb, p. 372).

36 MacMullen. op. cit., p. 176. MacMullen suggests the fascinating theory that the development of rigid hierarchical structure in the late Roman Empire was due not so much to eastern influences as to the all-pervasive presence of the army.

MacMullen's book, authoritative and original though it is, understandably tends to de-emphasize the distinctions between soldier and civilian, since the author is in fact writing to dispel notions of strict separation.

It should be noted that the policy of Severus and Caracalla greatly strengthened but did not in itself create the trend.

37 All the works cited in footnote 1 that deal with the early Christian attitude to war discuss Tertullian's contribution, although very briefly in some cases. E. g., Bainton, op. cit., p. 202; Ryan, op. cit., pp. 17-19; Harnack, Militia Christi, pp. 32-40, 58-69; Cadoux, op cit., esp. pp. 113-119. There is also relevant material in monographs on Tertullian. Quotations from Tertullian will be made according to Corpus Christianorum (Turnholt: Brepols, 1954), vol. II, page and line numbers in parentheses. C. Guignebert in his massive work, Tertullien, Etude sur ses sentiments a l'égard de l'Empire et de la société civile (Paris, 1901), is in general so critical of his subject that he lacks the modicum of empathy needed for a deeper understanding. His treatment of Tertullian's attitude to military service (pp. 189-200) is superficial and disorganized. The following is a characteristically flippant statement of Guignebert: "The Christian, as Tertullian conceives him, owes the Emperor a more or less Platonic affection, but he owes the empire neither his love or his blood." (p. 200). A. d'Alès, La Théologie de Tertullien (Paris: Beauchesne, 1905), pp. 414-422, is not especially useful. The recent book of R. Klein, Tertullian und das römische Reich (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1968), devotes a substantial appendix (pp. 102-124) to "Tertullians Stellung zum Kriegsdienst." We shall frequently refer to Klein's work. I have not been able to find any articles in the periodical literature exclusively devoted to the subject of Tertullian and military service.

38 Apol. 37, 4 (148, 21-22). Cf. Clement, Protrepticus 10:100 on the ubiquity of Christians.

39 Apol. 37, 8. (143, 36-38).

40Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, Vol. VIII, Pars 2, (Leipzig: Teubner, 1966), cols. 965-971. This monumental work takes account of both classical and non-classical usage (including Christian Latin).

41 Apol. 5, 6 (96, 26-27). ".… illam Germanicam sitim Christianorum forte militum precationibus impetrato imbri discussam contestatur."

42 Apol. 37, 5 (148, 26-27).

43 MacMullen, op. cit., p. 1.

44 I quote an extract from the records of a legion stationed in Egypt as an interesting example: "Titus Flavius Valens …

Assigned to papyrus manufacture, year … January 15. Returned, same year … Assigned to mint, year … Returned same year, January 17. Assigned to … year … of the Emperor Domitian, A(pril) 13 … Assigned to granary at Mercurium … Returned same year, July 14…" (N. Lewis and M. Reinhold, Roman Civilization [N.Y., 1955], Vol. II, p. 510).

45 As Klein points out (op. cit., p. 26) "…findet sich bei ihm nahezu alle Gedanken der griechischen Apologeten wieder, jedoch viel klarer, gestraffter, und wesentlich aggressiver." See J. Lortz, Tertullian als Apologet, 2. Band (Münster [Westf]: Aschendroff, 1927), Kap. 13.

46 I Apol., chs. 12, 17.

47 E.g. Philo, Leg. 356.

48 As Klein remarks (op. cit., p. 106), "Die wenigen Andeutungen [of the Apologeticum] geben kein vollstandiges Bild."

49 If "praesentis imperii triplex uirtus" (Pal. 2, 7, [737, 79-80]) refers to the simultaneous rule of Didius Julianus, Niger, and Severus. Quasten, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 374 G. Säflund's arguments for a late date (after 220) are unconvincing. (De Pallio und die stilistische Entwicklung Tertullians [Lund: Gleerup, 1955]).

50 In Pal. 5, 4 (748, 38-43) "non milito" is part of a listing of those civic functions which he, in the guise of the Cynic, rejects. I think this is a purely formal phrase; it is certainly not couched in terms of an imperative for the whole Christian community.

51 I consider Klein's attempt (op. cit., pp. 87-101) to see in de Pallio the expression of pure patriotism, true romanitas, and to assimilate the treatise to the more irenic Apologeticum, completely unconvincing. Incidentally, I find Klein's expression "das neue Reichsvolk" rather ominous. D. van Berchem ("Le de pallio de Tertullien et le conflict de christianisme et de l'Empire," Museum Helveticum, t. 1 [1944], 100-144) views the work as a défi to the Empire, "pas d'ature chose qu'un manifeste contre Rome" p. 109). In the main I think van Berchem is correct, though he underestimates the Cynic element in the work. See P. Wendland, Philo und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe (Berlin, 1895); A. Oltrarame, Les origines de la diatribe romaine (Lausanne, 1926); J. Geffcken, Kynika und Verwandtes (Heidelberg, 1909). Klein's arguments should always be seen in the context of his central thesis, namely that Tertullian strove for a reconciliation of the church and the state, and that he had a "grosse Zukunftsvision eines verchristlichen Römerreiches" (op. cit., p. 106). Klein is acutely aware that he is advocating very much a minority position; the reader of his book should also keep this in mind.

52 The text in C.C. should be supplemented by J. Fontaine's annotated edition, Q. Septimi Florentis Tertulliani De Corona (Tertullien sur la Couronne), (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1966). The work definitely dates from after 211.

53 Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13.

54 Cor. 11, 1 (1056, 4-6).

55 Cor. 11, 2 (1056, 9-11). It should be noted that for the purposes of the argument, Tertullian ignores the diversity of duties in the army, and assimilates them all sub gladio (Guignebert [op. cit., p. 193, footnote 4] rightly dismisses the laudatory remarks about the sword in De Resurrectione Carnis 16 as irrelevant rhetoric.)

56 Cor. 11, 3 (1056, 16-17). The reference is to I Cor. 8:10.

57 E.g. Ryan, op. cit., pp. 10-11 and Leclerq in his article in D.A.C. This position seems to be especially popular in Catholic works, with the significant addition of H. von Campenhausen.

58 von Campenhausen, op. cit., p. 163. Both here, and in the German edition, the quotation is mistakenly footnoted as being taken from Cor. 11, whereas it is from Idol. 19. Klein (op. cit., p. 110), in citing von Campenhausen, does not correct the error.

59 von Campenhausen, op. cit., p. 163.

60 A. D. Nock, "The Roman Army and the Roman Religious Year," Harvard Theological Review, 45 (1952), 187-252. For the text of the Feriale Duranum, see Yale Classical Studies, 7 (1940), 1-222; Lewis and Reinhold, op. cit., pp. 567-568. Still authoritative for religious practices in the Roman army is A. von Domaszewski, "Die Religion des römischen Heeres," in Westdeutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kunst, B. 14 (1895), 1-121. Domaszewski presents essential epigraphic and monumental data. For emperor worship in general, see L. Cerfaux and J. Tondriau, Un concurrent de christianisme, le oulte des souverains (Tournai, 1957), esp. pp. 339-409. The authors maintain that the emperor cult was not the main cause of the persecutions, but rather Christianity's other-worldly aspirations, which passed beyond the confines of the empire (p. 392).

61 Cadoux, op. cit., p. 151.

62 Cor. 11, 4 (1057, 26-27).

63 Technical terms for the immersion and chrismation at baptism. Cf. Augustine, peccat. merit., I, 25, 36 "suscipere baptismum"; Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, ch. 22.

64 Cor. 11, 4 (1047, 32-36). Fides pagana means "the religion of the civilians." Paganus did not take on the sense of "pagan" before the fourth century. Chr. Mohrmann, "Encore une fois paganus," Vigiliae Christianae 6 (1952), 109-121.

65 See e.g., Acta Marcelli (298 A.D.) in Harnack, Militia Christi, pp. 117-119.

66 Cor. 11, 6 (1057, 43-45).

67 Cor. 12, 1 (1058, 3). The last clause in 11, 6, an admittedly difficult passage, does not seem to support Klein's interpretation of a really different "third alternative." Klein thinks (op. cit., p., 114) that Tertullian said that soldiers should try to avoid contamination with idolatry, and yet stay in the service. "Das mag für die Mehrzal der Soldaten gegolten haben und darin ist sicherlich die Verbindungslinie zum Apologeticum zu fassen." Klein is forcing all the evidence into the Procrustean bed of his theory (see footnote 51). To my mind at least, Tertullian's "I banish us from military life" is quite unequivocal.

68 Cor. 12, 4 (1059, 27-30). Tertullian's indebtedness to Stoic thought here (B. Schöpf, Das Tötungstrecht bei den früchristlichen Schriftstellern bis zum Zeit Konstantins [Regensburg, 1953], pp. 200-202) does not invalidate the genuineness of feeling and the grandeur of expression.

69 Cor. 12, 4 (1059, 30-31).

70 See above, p. 14.

71 Harnack does not offer any really cogent reasons for advancing the date to 198-202/203. He admits that "sechszehn schriften in 5 Jahren erscheint etwas viel" (Chronologie … bis Eusebius [Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1904], II. Band, p. 273, p. 295). Hamack, quite rightly, objects to Monceaux' identification of the rigorism of de Idololatria with Montanism. The reference in ch. 13 definitely dates de Idololatria after de Spectaculis. There seems to be no way to establish the dating of the work with any certainty. The majority of scholars (including Quasten) incline toward dating it after de Corona.

72 The caliga was the heavy soldier's boot; hence came to denote the common soldier.

73 Idol. 19, 1 (1120, 13-14).

74Signum is a military standard. Tertullian is probably thinking of the cruciform vexillae. Cf. Apol. 16, 8.

75 Could this expression be an echo of de Corona 15, where the Mithraist miles is initiated in castris vere tenebrarum?

76 A bold identification of the Emperor with the mammona of Matt. 6:24.

77 Idol. 19, 2 (1120, 14-17). In the magnificient confrontation of castra lucis and castra diabolis, Tertullian shows the influence of the apocalyptis-dualistic strain of early Christian thinking.

78 Idol. 19, 3 (1120, 22). Guignebert (op. cit., p. 191) attributes the statement in Luke 3:14 to Jesus!

79 In the Acta Marcelli the martyr signifies his rejection of military service by throwing off his belt (" … reiecto etiam cingulo militari coram signis legionis …"). Hamack, Militia Christi, p. 117.

80 Idol. 19, 3 (1120, 23-24). Quite a cogent argument except for the fact that it does not take into account the case of Cornelius. I don't see any justification for Klein's assertion that Idol. 19 is not concerned with the service of Christians in the Roman army but is rather directed against the "general brutalization of military life and warfare." (op. cit., p. 110) Tertullian is not given to vague philosophizing; he is severely purposeful, and directs his arguments to specific opponents—in this case those Christian soldiers who inexcusably lingered in castra tenebrarum.

81 I don't quite see in what way Tertullian "switched the points" (" … er hat … die Weichen für die zukünftige Entwicklung gestellt," Klein, op. cit., p. 124). I find it difficult to regard Tertullian, as Klein does, as a Eusebius avant la lettre.

H. B. Timothy (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: "Tertullian of Carthage," in The Early Christian Apologists and Greek Philosophy, Van Gorcum & Comp. B. V., 1973, pp. 40-58.

[In the following essay, Timothy explores the sustained antipathy toward Greek philosophy in the writings and thought of Tertullian.]

Tertullian is a man clearly with a quarrel on his hands. Dispensing with preliminaries he throws down the challenge to his opponents with these words:

"Our contest lies against these things, the institutions of our ancestors, the authority of tradition"—by which he means, as the context shows, the tradition of paganism—"the laws of our governors and the reasonings of the wise."

The last-named come in particularly for the full brunt of his attack, for out of their own conjectures they have ingeniously composed their physical philosophy. Their systems which existed in a crude form in the apostolic times, though found of late in a somewhat polished form, are still essentially the same. If there is any basis for comparison between them and the Christians, it consists in what they have borrowed from Christianity and not Christianity from them, for "which of the poets or the sophists", asks Tertullian, "has not drunk at the fountain of the prophets?"

They have perverted what they found in scripture by altering what pleased them to suit their own designs, because being still in obscurity they lacked the means required for proper understanding of the scriptures. Some of them likewise have altered and corrupted the "newly given revelation" into a philosophic system, striking off from the one way many inexplicable ways. They have transformed the simplicity of the truth which they were too proud to believe and what was certain they, with their fastidious admixtures, have infected with uncertainty. Whatever in their own systems corresponds with prophetic wisdom they either ascribe to some other source or apply in some other sense. Thus truth is jeopardized, for they pretend either that truth is aided by falsehood or that falsehood derives support from truth which has wellnigh been excluded by the poisons with which they have contaminated it.

Having in some detail explained the techniques employed by the philosophers to this end Tertullian proceeds to lay down what he considers to be the effective remedy.

There must be a separation of the sentiments entertained by Christians in common with philosophy from the arguments the philosophers employ by recalling all questions to the inspired standard of God. Whatever noxious vapours exhaled by philosophy obscure the clear and wholesome atmosphere of truth require to be cleared away by shattering the arguments drawn from the principles of things and by setting over against them the maxims of heavenly wisdom, that the pitfalls whereby philosophy ensnares the heathen may be removed and the methods repressed that heresy makes use of to shake the faith of Christians.

The philosophers in general are comparable to Thales of Miletus who, while star-gazing, fell into a well. They are stupidly curious about natural phenomena while ever oblivious of the creator and ruler of all; they cannot be counted really wise since, where their discovery began, they wandered away from the beginning of wisdom which is the fear of God. What passes with them for investigation of the scriptures ends up as the metamorphosis of the latter into what their own minds have produced.

The very variety of the philosophic schools is further evidence of their service to untruth, more diversity than unanimity being discoverable among them: even in their agreement can be discovered diversity. Where, then, does truth come in when by the variety of its mutually antagonistic sects philosophy is itself divided into manifold heresies? These mockers and corrupters of the truth which they merely affect to hold care for nothing but vainglory: they philosophize in purple and, while holding to the name and honour that go with wisdom, forsake their principles. Their curious researches may have unearthed some elements of truth but these they changed into the products of their own minds as their vain desires increased, so that the truth they found has degenerated, and from one or two drops of the same they produce a perfect flood of argument. Speaking of his experience of the loquacious city of Athens, of the straining of philosophy after that facility of language which, rather than teaching, is mere talk, the apostle Paul sounded a warning against "subtle words and philosophy" signifying worldly learning which, he saw, would prove injurious to the truth.

By this same token, Tertullian continues, all heresies stand condemned because they consist of the resources of subtle speech and the rules of philosophy which is the material of this world's wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and dispensation of God, the origin of the aeons and who can tell what infinite forms, and the trinity of man in the system of Basilides, and Marcion's better god with all his tranquillity. Down with the teaching of Zeno which has contributed to equating matter with God and that of Heraclitus with his doctrine involving a god of fire. The unpardonable offence of the philosophers is the part that they have played in aiding and abetting the heretics who associate with them as well as with magicians, mountebanks and astrologers: they are the patriarchs of heresy and along with other representatives of cultured paganism transmitters of heathen superstition. The same subject-matter is discussed repeatedly by heretics and philosophers alike, the same arguments are involved: "What is the source of evil? Why is it allowed? What is the origin of man: how does he come into existence?—and the question raised recently by Valentinus, "How did God originate?" and the answer that he gives, "From invention and abortion." "O unhappy Aristotle", cries Tertullian, "who invented for these men the dialectic art of building up and pulling down … embarrassing even to itself, detracting everything and treating actually of nothing, whence are derived those "fables and endless genealogies", those "unprofitable questions", and "words that spread like a cancer." The apostle Paul, placing a restriction on all such things, expressly names philosophy.

Because of their desire for knowledge the heretics misinterpret Pauls' advice to "prove all things", and the dominical text likewise, "Seek and ye shall find." The advice to seek, says Tertullian, was needless enough for the apostles who had the Holy Spirit to instruct them, but even less so for us who have received the testimony of both the apostles and the Spirit and who, therefore have no need of additional research. One must seek doubtless till he find and believe when he has found. All that remains thereafter is to hold fast what one has believed, provided one also believes this, that there is no more to be believed, so nothing further to be sought after having found and believed what was taught by Christ who commands us to seek no further. Once one has believed his seeking is at an end for he has through believing found what he was looking for. If one must go on seeking so long as the possibility exists of finding anything, either he does not yet believe, because so far he has not found what he seeks, or having found it he has lost it or ceased to believe in it. Such seeking indicates the absence of fixed tenets, therefore, the absence of belief. Once anyone has laid hold of Jesus Christ, in short, and entered into enjoyment of the Gospel, he has no use for curious investigation or disputation: faith in Christ is all that he requires.

The answer to the question whether God required any material for the creation of the world is forthcoming not from the philosophers but from the prophets, from Wisdom itself, God's counsellor. The school of heaven is the school for Christians. Let the latter restrict themselves to what lies in their own field: let their seeking be confined to what can be investigated without impairing the rule of faith, to know nothing opposed to which is to know everything and with regard to which the rule of reason is applicable, under the three heads: Matter, Time, and Limit, with the questions, What?, When? and How long? related thereto respectively. There must be no interpretation which ignores this principle. Where after all is the need for such intellectual curiosity when the most ordinary person has direct access to the essential knowledge of God? "There is not a Christian workman", Tertullian confidently asserts, "but discovers God and manifests him and hence assigns to him all those attributes which go to make up a divine being, though as Plato affirms it is far from easy to find out the maker of the universe and hard, when he is found, to make him known to all. It is better to remain in ignorance lest one should arrive at knowledge of what one ought not to know. As to what Christians ought to know, that has been provided for. Whoever has the fear of God, provided he has attained to the knowledge and truth of God will, even though ignorant of all else, possess complete and perfect wisdom. If it is a question of revelation, it is better to be in ignorance of something because God has not revealed it than to know it according to human wisdom because man has been so bold as to assume it. "I praise the faith that has believed", Tertullian confesses, "in the duty of complying with the rule before learning the reason for it" and with one of his not infrequent rhetorical flourishes, he says, apostrophizing the soul, "I summon thee not as when, formed in schools, trained up in libraries, nurtured in the academies and porticos of Attica, thou pourest forth thy wisdom. I address thee, simple and unpolished, and uncultured and untaught, such as they have who have thee only, that very thing of the road, the street and the workshop, unsullied and entire. I want thine inexperience since in thy meagre experience no one feels any confidence. I ask of thee what thou bringest into man, which thou knowest from thyself or from thine author, whoever he may be."

Next to be dealt with are the crimes laid by Tertullian at the door of the philosophers with reference to God, creation, and the destiny of the soul, in connection with which we learn that the authority of the physical philosophers is alleged as the mancipium or special property of wisdom, in particular where the mystery of matter is concerned, though "the renowned Mercurius Trismegistus", we are told, who was master of all physical philosophy was unable to arrive at a solution, but then, neither the prophets nor the apostles nor even Christ had any knowledge concerning it.

The aim of the Stoics is to demonstrate, points out Tertullian, that matter, the material from which everything was created by the Lord, was unborn and unmade, having neither beginning nor end, and to establish the divine nature of the material elements. In this, of course, they are not alone, for the professors of wisdom in general from whose genius the spirit of every heresy derives have called the world's unworthy elements divine, according to their various schools of thought. Thales assumed the basic world-stuff to be water: Heraclitus, fire: Anaximenes, air: Anaximander, all the heavenly bodies: Plato, the stars and Zeno, air and ether. This is the error censured by Paul in his letter to the Galatians where he speaks of that "physical and natural speculation which holds the elements to be God." The fault, I suppose, of the divine doctrine, Tertullian says ironically, lies in its springing from Judaea rather than from Greece: it is evident that Christ erred in that, instead of sophists he sent out fishermen to preach. The ordinary man may be in error but is better off for erring simply than the physical philosophers who err speculatively. God had offenders in the wise and prudent who would not seek after him, though he was discoverable in his many mighty works, or who philosophized about him rashly and thereby furnished the heretics with their arts, not expounding God as they found him, but preferring to dispute about his quality, his nature, and even his abode. The worst of their aberrations is the trouble to which they go to prove the divine indifference or impassibility. It was from Epicurus that Marcion derived the foremost term of his philosophy, and the Gnostics would have men contemplate the "lonely goodness" of God. How, Tertullian demands, could a previously uncommunicative deity begin suddenly to communicate himself? How is salvation, an activity of goodness, to be reconciled with celestial neutrality? Nothing is so suited as salvation to the character of God whose nature would negate itself, if he should cease to act, as we are taught by God, not by the philosophers.

In addition, through assailing the veracity of the senses which are the stamp of man's rationality, God's dispensation has been impeached by the heretics. Valentinus draws a distinction between the bodily senseorgans and the intellectual faculties, a dualism responsible for the Gnostic aeons and genealogies. If, counters Tertullian, a dualism is involved, it has to do solely with the objects of sense-perception, not with the locus of soul and mind or sense and intellect. But why, he expostulates, adopt such methods in any case for torturing simple knowledge and for crucifying truth. You overthrow the whole condition of human life, he protests, railing at the Academy: you turn the order of nature in its entirety upside down: you veil the good providence of God himself by calling in question the trustworthiness of human sense-perception.

The philosophers have sought also to repudiate the resurrection of the body and for this the Stoics and the Epicureans are to be held responsible, though their teaching on the subject is not subscribed to by all the philosophic schools, since Pythagoras, Empedocles and Plato uphold the opposite point of view. That the latter, though not entering, at least knocked at the door of truth, Tertullian is willing to allow, but that is as far by way of compromise or conciliation as he is prepared to go.

His mantle, he tells us, has been adopted into a new and nobler philosophy, yet its original material has a tendency in many places to shine through. He sings avowedly a new song but the strains of the old song he was trained to can not infrequently be heard. "I must needs use a name", he says, "to express the essence of which that being consists who is called God and who is accounted the Great Supreme, not from his name but owing to his essence." God is one, he reasons, otherwise he does not exist, "because we more properly believe that what is not as it ought to be has no existence." He acknowledges that Christianity has unambiguously declared the principle of the uniqueness and the unity of God, but he bases the principle on a philosophical assumption and it is by logical deduction that he arrives at the proof of it. Reason forbids, he argues, belief in more gods than one, for God must by definition be a being to whom there is no equal, since he is the Great-Supreme. That being to whom nothing is equal must moreover be unique. It therefore follows that God is one. He debates the relationship of substance to attribute and speaks of reasoning from species to genus and vice versa.

It is, however, with regard to certain tenets of the Stoic philosophy, in which as a Roman lawyer he was trained, that the persisting influence of his intellectual heritage, the forces that had stamped themselves, in a sense, ineradicably on his mind and outlook, may be most clearly seen.

He considers sin in every form irrational and the world a prison house, a thought with which he would console the imprisoned martyrs and reconcile them to their fate. He says, with a touch of Stoic self-sufficiency, "My only business is with myself and adds with something of the Stoic's proud indifference, "I have, apart from that, no other care save not to care." With reference to Peter's experience recorded in Acts X,9f., he sees in the "vessel coming down, like a huge sheet lowered by the four corners to the earth" and containing "all quadrupeds and creeping things of the earth and wild birds", a vision of universal community. He has also reminiscences of Stoic fatalism. It was, in Tertullian's opinion, necessary that there should have been heresies. The scriptures themselves were fashioned by the will of God to furnish material for heretics. It was no less necessary that evil should exist and that the Lord should be betrayed.

Recurrence for Tertullian, as for the Stoics, lies at the heart of all creation. "Whatever", he writes, "you chance on has been already in existence and whatever you have lost returns unfailingly … All things after passing out of sight revert to their former state … they come to an end for the very purpose of coming into existence once again."

On the subject of man's mortality he echoes the familiar Stoic attitude. "There is one thing only that much concerns us in this life and that is getting quickly out of it: there is nothing to be feared after death, if there is nothing to be felt."

In several respects he is not far removed from Stoic pantheism. He gives expression to the sentiment in several places throughout his works that all things are full of their maker and occupied by him. Rather than think of the natural elements as not worthy of God, he prefers to regard them as divine, in spite of his having on this very point severely criticised the pagan philosophers, and likens the Son, the Logos, to a ray emitted by the Creator by whose active agency all things, he says, consist, though here the aim may be to safeguard the idea of God's transcendence and unity.

His anthropology has also an unmistakably Stoic ring. There are, quite literally, an outer and inner man. The latter is the soul which is born of the divine afflatus, but, as regards its form is an exact replica of the body: both are in fact bodies, for example, the soul has eyes and ears wherewith to see God and hear His voice.

Calling in question the distinction drawn by the dialecticians between the natural and the supernatural, he insists that everything without exception falls into the former category, for nature, he argues, if it is anything, is a reasonable work of God. "We are worshippers", he declares, "of one God of whose existence and character nature teaches all mankind, who will never be concealed, will never be absent, will always be known and heard …, who has for his witness all this that we are and wherein we exist, whereby proof is afforded of his being and unity". Even in matters of faith it is pointless to expect men to arrive at knowledge of the deity by the unaided light of reason, because those even who believe depend on some token of the latter in works worthy of God. There is, accordingly, for faith a basic unity of reason and of natural revelation. God must first be known from nature and thereafter authenticated by instruction, from nature through His works and by instruction through the revelation he has given in the scriptures, with the aid of discipline. Scripture, nature and discipline combine to reinforce awareness of God, each in its own way ministering to His purpose. Scripture establishes God's law, nature attests it, while discipline exacts it, and whatever is out of harmony with these three can have no claim to be of God. If scripture is uncertain, nature is manifest, and with regard to nature's witness scripture can be in no uncertainty. If as regards the latter there is any dubiety, discipline indicates what has been ratified by God.

The resurrection of the dead is testified to by "the whole revolving order of things", and affords an illustration of the divine energies displayed as much in nature as in God's spoken word. God wrote it in His mighty works before He wrote it in the scriptures, with the intention of sending prophecy (or scripture) as a supplementary instructor.

The Greeks used the term, … [logos] which is correctly understood as signifying "word", but the older meaning, "reason" signifies the thought or consciousness of God. A statement already made is recalled to the effect that God made the cosmos and everything it contains by his Word and Reason and Power. The wise men of the Greeks agree that the Logos or Word and Reason are responsible for the creation of the world.

Zeno lays it down that he who fashioned all things should be called creator, though he also designates him Fate, God, the soul of Jupiter and the necessity of things. Cleanthes gathers up all these various designations under the name of spirit. To the Word and Reason and Power by means of which, as we proclaim, says Tertullian, God created everything, we also ascribe spirit, as their appropriate substance, the Word dwelling in the latter when it speaks forth, Reason being present when it commands and Power presiding when it carries things into effect. By his exorcising, healing and life-restoring miracles, by his stilling of the storm and his walking on the sea, Christ is proved to be God's Logos, the same who was doing and who had done all things, the primal, first-begotten Word.

The Son's authority was not restricted to things that pertained to the world's creation, for at all times he held converse with men, from Adam to the patriarchs and the prophets, in visions, dreams, dark sayings and the like, laying from the beginning the foundation of what he intended to follow out to the end. For the sake of those who later in history were to witness the Incarnation he rehearsed his destined role so as to smooth the path of faith, or to make belief in the Incarnation easier for them when it eventually took place.

God's overall perfection springs from his eternity and his rationality. Everything in him is bound to be rational as it is natural, and since nothing can be accounted good but what is rationally good, reason will be a necessary attribute of his goodness. He has provided, disposed and arranged everything by reason, and according to reason everything he has willed should be handled and understood. Reason will thus be found to lend support to tradition, custom and faith. It is the rudder without which those who are ignorant of God steer their whole course through life, knowing not how to avoid the tempest which is threatening the world.

Before the world was made, and prior to the generation of the Son, God existed … in and for himself, since nothing else extrinsic to himself was in existence. Even then, however, God was not alone, for he had his Reason with him … Reason was first in him.

God is the source also of the generalized primordial law that rules the universe and from which all other manifestations of the law of God derive. Within the latter like the leaves and branches present (potentially) at the embryonic stage of a tree's development, were comprised all the precepts of the posterior law which in due time germinated when disclosed. There existed before Moses an unwritten law which in a natural way was understood habitually and habitually observed and was not given primarily at Horeb or at Sinai in the desert but first existed in Paradise and at given periods passed through successive stages of reformation or improvement (for the patriarchs, for the Jews, and later for the Gentiles), in keeping with the circumstances of the times, with a view to man's salvation.

The role delegated to the Paraclete in the Christian economy is the direction of discipline, the unfolding of the scriptures, the reformation of intellect and making progress toward better things; for nothing is without its progressive stages of development. The creation, little by little, advances to fruition. First, there is the grain; then, from the grain, the shoot; and, from the shoot, the shrub. Branches and leaves follow. Presently the full-grown tree expands to view and finally emerge the flourish and the mellow fruit from it. So it is with goodness, for the God of creation and the God of goodness are the same. The latter was to begin with in an elementary state, motivated by the natural fear of God. From there, through the Law and the prophets, it advanced to infancy; thence, through the Gospel, to the fervour of its youth; and now, through the Paraclete, it is coming to a settled state of maturity.

The argument for Christian practices is strengthened when they are upheld by nature, "the first ruler of all", the authority of which, on the ground of the consensus gentium is one of the chief factors setting the standard for Christians. Any practice, per contra, that is opposed to nature sets those indulging in it at variance with the rest of their fellow-men, or with humanity at large.

As for the soul, rationality impressed on it from the first moment of its creation by its author who is himself essentially rational is its natural condition. The soul has knowledge of itself without which it would have been incapable of fulfilling its true function. It is in keeping with the fitness of things in a special way that man should have been equipped with such a soul as to be in a unique sense the rational animal. "O testimony of the soul by nature Christian", exclaims Tertullian. Though in bondage to the body, led astray by depravities, weakened by lusts and by passions, and in slavery to false gods, the soul, notwithstanding, whenever it comes to itself, as when roused from sleep or illness or the like, and whenever it acquires something of its natural soundness, speaks of God. Every soul by its own right proclaims what Christians may not utter above their breath.

The testimonies of the soul are one with those of nature and of reason; they are simple as they are true, and commonplace as they are simple; universal as they are commonplace, natural as they are universal, and divine as they are natural. One has only to reflect upon the majesty of nature from which the soul derives its authority. Nature is the mistress, her disciple is the soul, but all that is taught and all that is learned comes from Him who teaches the mistress, that is to say, from God.

The soul was before prophecy and its endowment from the beginning was the inborn knowledge of God which amongst the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the inhabitants of Pontus, is the same, seeing that their souls call the God of the Jews their God. Goodness, originally divine, inborn and natural resides in the soul of man and makes the soul akin to God whose image or form in man, received originally from the divine afflatus has been lost as a result of human sin. The likeness of God in man persists, however, as the earnest of his eternal destiny, for what comes from God cannot be so much extinguished as obscured. Obscured it can be, because it is not God; extinguished it cannot be, because its being derives from Him. It continues to manifest itself, being indestructible, in that native attribute of goodness, man's freedom and power of will.

At Christ's coming the Creator who is law, reason and world-soul initiated a process of recapitulation whereby the human race is renewed and illuminated and in which Jesus figures as the enlightener and trainer of mankind, the master teaching them how to escape to safety, and preparing by degrees the means of healing for the inflamed condition induced by Adam's sin.

Men cannot plead ignorance of God or Providence, for the world is itself inscribed with the signature of its maker and in each man's conscience the inscription may be read.

Because it is good originally and remembers its origin, God is assented to from within the soul of man, by such expressions as "Good God", "God knows" etc. It is thus that in prophetic forecasts the soul's divinity bursts forth. Every land has its own language but the subjects that speech deals with are common to them all, and man is the one name belonging to every nation upon earth. God is everywhere, goodness is everywhere, the soul's witness is world-wide.

Nature is a source in many of the knowledge of the immortality of the soul, and of the knowledge of God in all, as is the conscience of a nation when it attests the one, supreme divinity, and other intelligent or rational beings like ourselves when they acknowledge God as judge. What commends common-sense is its simplicity, its sharing the same sentiments and opinions and the fact that its pronouncements are open and accessible to each and everyone. It may not like the divine reason which can often be at variance with superficial appearances lie at the very heart of things, but, for all that, it is divine.

Some of Tertullian's statements quoted at the beginning of this chapter have already afforded some indication as to how he felt about Greek culture in general. His reaction is on the whole denunciatory and at times abusive in the extreme. He seems to take special pleasure in the prospect of deified emperors and governors of provinces who persecuted the Christians, philosophers who scouted the idea of a hereafter, not to mention other, more colourful representatives of the pagan way of life, enveloped in fires more fierce than those wherewith, in the days of their power and pride of life, their wrath waxed hot against the followers of Christ, or tossing in the fiery billows of the judgment after death; yet even in his castigation of institutions embodying that pagan way of life he cannot refrain here and there from being philosophical.

Believe your books, if you must, he counsels his pagan audience, but so much more believe those that are divine and which agree with the light of nature in the witness of the soul. Choose which you find to be, he tells them, the more faithful friend of truth. Your books may be distrusted but neither God nor nature lie; or consider the result, he says of what goes on at the racecourse—disfiguration, among other things, of the human countenance which is no different from the disfiguration of the image of God himself. Such excesses accompanying participation in the public sports, games, shows, etc. are totally opposed to nature, to reason and to God, and all that is so opposed deserves to be branded as monstrous among men.

With the object of upholding the integrity of human sense-experience, and in proof of its wholesome influence he points with approbation to the cultural and civilizing accomplishments of which the sense-impressions are the source—"tot artes, tot ingenia, tot studia, negotia, officia, commercia, remedia, consilia, solatia, victus, cultus ornatusque omnia". The body or man's physical constitution is the medium, he contends, for the procreation of the arts, the mind's pursuits and powers, and the soul's activities. There is thus no reason to exclude the physical from the eternal life of heaven. It therefore follows that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is acceptable as a reasonable belief.

This conclusion is reinforced by a brief excursus into physiological psychology. Thinking is physically conditioned. The faculty, which rules in the sensory perceptual field of human experience is situated in the brain or in the space between the eyebrows or wherever else the philosophers see fit to locate it. The physical is, therefore, the locus in which the thought processes occur. The soul, so long as it is embodied, is never separate from the flesh, while the flesh does nothing without the soul.

Even the virtues which the Christian extols are not produced on soil foreign to the cultivated life. Modesty, the pre-condition of all good dispositions, is, like every worthy human quality, the outcome of breeding and educational influences. The flower of manners, it is a rare thing, not perfected easily, yet tenuous if life, if nature, training, and self-discipline play their part. Neglect of study on the other hand leads to lapse in discipline, which is regrettable. The soul's substance is not benefitted by education but its conduct and discipline are; such nurture does nothing to increase the soul, but adds to its grace and embellishment.

Tertullian deplores the fact that many Christians are uneducated, that still more falter in their faith, that some again are lacking in intellectual stability and in need of instruction, direction and strengthening. There are those also of a somewhat perverse inclination—the uneducated mostly—who take wrong meanings out of words, while the majority are startled at the slightest mention of the Trinitarian formula or any allusion to common-sense. Certain people are well satisfied with simply having believed carrying in their minds through ignorance a faith which they have never put to the test and the foundation of which is mere probability, so unlike those "who have agonized into the same light of truth from the same womb of a common ignorance". Yet we see something of the other side of Tertullian, when, in a self-revealing moment, he confesses openly that, new disciple that he is, and a follower of the apostle Paul, he believes nothing in the meantime but that nothing should rashly be believed and that whatever is believed without enquiry into its source is believed rashly; but to continue the former strain, the heretics, he says, with the philosophers and others laugh and jeer at the things Christians believe and this should be enough to challenge the latter to avail themselves of their rhetoric as well as their philosophy.

It is not that the adjuncts to civilized existence are unconditionally bad, for nature teaches, as is known universally, that God is the creator of the universe, that the universe is good, and that it belongs to man by the free gift of his maker who has blessed the whole of his creation for wholesome and good uses. Not cultured living in itself but the excesses attending it, is what is being condemned. Christ came in the flesh not to enlighten feardriven boors and savages … but men already civilized, yet under illusions from their culture, so that they might arrive through him at the knowledge of the truth.

The whole creation fashioned with a rivalry among its several parts demonstrates the regulation of the universe by an over-ruling reason. "Will a single floweret from the hedgerow", asks Tertullian, ".… a single little shellfish from any sea, … a single stray feather of a moorfowl, to say nothing of a peacock, inform you that the creator was a poor craftsman?" "Imitate, if you can", he says elsewhere, "the bee's cells, the ant's hills, the spider's webs, the silkworm's threads. Endure, if you know how, the creatures that take possession of your bed and house, the blister beetle's poisonous injections, the fly's spikes, the gnat's sheath and sting. Take a turn finally round yourself; survey man inside out. Even this handiwork of our God will please you, inasmuch as your own Lord, that better God, loved it so well." Nothing in fact occurs without the will of God, whether it be for the shielding or for the shaking of faith.

This somewhat rhapsodic train of thought is apparently no answer to the question which breaks in upon it at this point: "What of evil things?" God made these things, but not of his own will and pleasure, is Tertullian's reply; that would have been unworthy and unseemly of him as well as being at variance with the universal fitness of things. The fault really lies in matter which, admittedly, may be evil and yet good things are created out of it.

But the questioner is not satisfied insisting, "What about the text: 'It is I who create evil.'?" and Tertullian replies by explaining that two kinds of evil are involved—mala culpae, evils of sin of which the devil is the cause; and mala poenae, penal evils the author of which is God. The former are morally bad, whereas the latter resulting from the operation of divine justice on human sin which is the consequence of the schism that arose initially from the first anti-rational action on man's part in an otherwise good world, may seem to be evil in the eyes of those who suffer them, but are not actually so, since they are providentially and remedially arranged.

"Then, what of evil in the larger, cosmic sense?", reiterates the questioner. The two kinds of evil, answers Tertullian, come into it again. There is that which, owing to the evil spirit's intervention, supervenes upon the soul, and a natural, antecedent evil which arises of itself—we might prefer to say "primordially" or "nonderivatively"—our nature being corrupted by another nature owning a god and father of its own.

Tertullian thus asserts the basic unity of all being and in support of his assertion invokes the sacramental principle.

What, in your estimate, he says, addressing the heretics, is the utter disgrace of my God, in fact is the sacrament of man's salvation. The Son has been seen and heard and met in the Incarnation … uniting God and man in himself, God in mighty deeds, in weak ones man, so that he might give to man as much as he takes from God.

God held converse with man that man might learn to act like God; God dealt on equal terms with man that man might learn to deal on equal terms with him; God was made little that man might be made great.

Take it all in all, whatever happens happens for Tertullian in the best of all possible worlds—except for the philosophers for some of whom he shows a degree of preference by the labels he attaches to each of them—"… the nobility of Plato, the force of Zeno, the level-headedness of Aristotle, the stupidity of Epicurus, the sadness of Heraclitus, and the madness of Empedocles", but for all of them, apparently, without exception he has this final parting shot:

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem; what concord is there between the Academy and the Church? The Christian's instruction comes from the porch of Solomon who taught that the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart. Away with all efforts to produce a mottled Stoic-Platonic-dialectic Christianity! Where is there any likeness between the Christian and the philosopher; between the disciple of Greece and the disciple of heaven; between the man whose object is fame and the man whose object is life; between the talker and the doer; between him who builds up and him who pulls down; between the friend and the foe of error; between one who corrupts the truth and one who restores and teaches it?

A. A. R. Bastiaensen (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4780

SOURCE: "Tertullian's Argumentation in De praescriptione haereticorum 20, 1ff.," Vigiliae Chris-tianae, Vol. 31, No. 1, March, 1977, pp. 35-46.

[In the following essay, Bastiaensen probes Tertullian's rhetorical strategies in his writings against heresy.]

Tertullian's De praescriptione haereticorum does not cease to arouse the interest of the scholarly world. Not to mention other problems, up to this day the dispute continues about the important term praescriptio: has it a juridical background, as Mr. Michaelides maintains, in accordance with many previous commentators,' or is it a more general term of argumentation and discussion, as Mr. Fredouille thinks?2 In view of this and other disagreements we may foresee for some time to come the continuing of the discussions on Tertullian's treatise. In those discussions inevitably will keep coming up questions concerning the interpretation of chapter 20ff., as this section of the work, in particular the end of chapter 21, still has not yielded all its secrets. In the next pages a cautious attempt will be made to outline the course of the argumentation from 20,1 onward and, within this cadre, to establish more specifically the exact meaning of the last paragraphs of chapter 21.3

Tertullian starts by alluding to a number of doctrinal points concerning God, the Son and the Son's mission. It is a repetition per summa capita of chapter 13, where the regula fidei of the orthodox church had been described. This regula contains the essential elements of the catholic faith: the existence of only one God, the mission of the Son, who preached the faith and announced the kingdom of heaven, who was put to death and rose from the grave, who sent the Spirit, and who one day will come to bestow on the elected eternal life and the promised heavenly things. The main points of this regula, then, are reproduced here but, the context now being a context of discussion, their truth is left in suspension not to contravene the rules of logic: Christus Jesus, dominus noster, permittat dicere interim, quisquis est, cuiuscumque deifilius, cuiuscumque materiae homo et deus, cuiuscumque fidei praeceptor, cuiuscumque mercedis repromissor. It must be noted, for that matter, that in chapter 20ff. concrete doctrinal points as such are not the object of Tertullian's demonstration. In accordance with the general plan of his work he seeks the justification of the catholic faith by tracing it back to its origin, not by discussing its contents. The allusions of 20,1, therefore, are more or less accidental, provoked by the recollection of the regula fidei from chapter 13, but couched in such a way as to demonstrate the author's impartiality at the start of his argumentation.

In 20,2 this argumentation begins properly. It starts with an exposé of mainly historical character, presenting the facts the demonstration has to rely on. In broad outline the exposé (20,2-9) is as follows:

Christ entrusted the doctrine of faith, inhering in his mission, to the apostles; the apostles, in their turn, promulgated it in the face of the Jewish and heathen world by founding communities and assigning them as depositaries of this doctrine, the apostolic churches. These churches have handed and still do hand it over to new communities, which by receiving it became and become apostolic churches themselves. So, all churches are, in fact, one apostolic church; they form a brotherhood and live in communion with one another on the basis of the one faith handed down from the apostles.

These facts being established, Tertullian proceeds to draw up a twofold claim, which claim, in its turn, will prepare the way for the proof that only the catholic faith is in possession of the truth. We use the word 'claim' to render Tertullian's praescriptio-praescribere: (21,1) Hinc igitur dirigimus praescriptionem: si dominus Christus Iesus apostolos misit ad praedicandum, alios non esse recipiendos praedicatores quam Christus instituit …; (21,3) quid autem praedicaverint … praescribam non aliter probari debere nisi per easdem ecclesias quas ipsi apostoli condiderunt. Whether the use of praescriptio-praescribere has a juridical background or not,4 it is clear both from the general sense of the term and, with regard to this passage, from the prohibitive character of the subordinate clauses (non esse recipiendos; … non aliter probari debere) that the idea of 'necessity', 'inevitability' is foremost in Tertullian's mind. Not in a moral sense, as an 'obligation' imposed on human free will, but as an unavoidable logical step, a thesis, a claim, which nothing can prevent to arise from the historical facts.

The claim is a twofold one, bearing on the apostles as the only authorized preachers of the faith and on the apostolic churches as its only authorized depositaries. The double application does not prevent Tertullian from seeing it as one single claim, as appears from 22,1, where he gives the heretics an opportunity to attack hanc praescriptionem. Indeed, as we shall see further, the heretics' attack on hanc praescriptionem (from 22,2 onward) is a twofold one, on the apostles and on the apostolic churches; in other words, it corresponds exactly to the twofold claim. As Tertullian uses the singular: hanc praescriptionem, he apparently sees the claim as one in spite of its twofold application.5

The substance, then, of 21,1-3 might be rendered as follows:

Hence we draw up this claim: as preachers of the doctrine of faith only the apostles can be held true; as witnesses to what they preached only the apostolic churches can be held true.

Next follows the crucial passage (21,4-22,1), which in the original text reads:6 (21,4) Si haec ita sunt, constat perinde omnem doctrinam, quae cum illis ecclesiis apostolicis matricibus et originalibus fidei conspiret, veritati deputandam, id sine dubio tenentem, quod ecclesiae ab apostolis, apostoli a Christo, Christus a deo accepit, (21,5) omnem vero doctrinam de mendacio praeiudicandam quae sapiat contra veritatem ecclesiarum et apostolorum Christi et dei. (21,6) Super est ergo uti demonstremus, an haec nostra doctrina cuius regulam supra edidimus de apostolorum traditione censeatur et ex hoc ipso ceterae7 de mendacio veniant. (21,7) Communicamus cum ecclesiis apostolicis, quod nulla doctrina diversa: hoc est testimonium veritatis. (22,1) Sed quoniam tam expedita probatio est ut si statim proferatur nihil iam sit retractandum, ac si prolata non sit a nobis, locum interim demus diversae parti, si quid putant ad infirmandam hanc praescriptionem movere se posse.

The interpretation of the first two paragraphs of this passage seems to offer no problems. The author states that the claim of 21,1-3, establishing the apostles and the apostolic churches as the only intermediaries in the handing down of the faith, provides us with a touchstone to divide between true and false doctrines. This is about what he says:

If the claim drawn up above is correct, then the logical conclusion must be: such doctrinal systems as agree with the convictions of the apostolic churches must be considered to be in the right; they undoubtedly contain that which was revealed by God and transmitted through Christ and the apostles. On the other hand, any system holding convictions against the doctrine of the apostolic churches—doctrine proved by its transmission from God through Christ and the apostles—must be prejudged to stem from falsehood.

Then follows the last step in the argumentation, the application of the touchstone, demonstrating the truth of catholic doctrine. After a preliminary observation in 21,6, the proof is formulated in 21,7. But, on the face of it, the passage 21,6-7 is rather obscure. It needs a close examination, in which the next paragraph (22,1), too, must be included, as it is intimately connected with 21,6-7. Even a look at 22,2ff. and the ensuing chapters will be necessary, for this section results from and, consequently, throws light upon, the argumentation in chapter 21.

We start with a paraphrase of Tertullian's text, as we understand it, accompanying the different paragraphs with a few words of comment. Next, to justify our interpretation, details of the text will receive particular attention.

21,6. The way to divide between true and false doctrines having been found (21,4-5), Tertullian states he is in a position now to demonstrate that truth is on the side of catholic doctrine:

The result from the foregoing is the possibility for us to demonstrate that our system—the doctrinal contents of which we have given above8—really does go back to the apostles and eo ipso the other systems do come forth from falsehood.

21,7. Finally, then, the demonstration. Applying his touchstone Tertullian proves in a few words that catholic doctrine is right:

We are in communion with the apostolic churches (which implies that we share their convictions); this communion is lacking in all the other systems; so, in contrast with them, we are in possession of the truth.

22,1. This proof, the author says, is so clinching that the only way for the heretics to escape defeat is to try and cut at the proofs support, at the claim, that is, which in a former stage of the argumentation had established the authority of the apostles and the apostolic churches:

This demonstration is such an efficient one that it makes further reasoning superfluous; let us, therefore, as if we had not produced it, give an opportunity to the opposite side to express whatever point they feel capable of raising to invalidate our claim.

22,2ff. Consequently, from 22,2 onward, Tertullian makes the heretics raise objections against the claim of 21,1-3. This claim being twofold: 1) only the apostles can be considered as legitimate preachers of the faith, 2) only the apostolic churches are depositaries of the contents of their preaching, the author has the heretics make a twofold attack—only, of course, to be rebutted by him. In 22,2-27,1 they cast doubts on the apostles' knowledge of the entire doctrine of the faith (22,2-25,1) and on their willingness to hand it over without restriction (25,1-27,1), in 27,1-37,1 on the capability of the churches to receive and to preserve in its original purity the preaching of the apostles.9

These objections proving null and void, the conclusion remains that the claim establishing the authority of the apostles and the apostolic churches is fully operative. This, then, secures the validity of the thesis that communion with the apostolic churches is the mark of truth. And, as a result, the last step, too, is legitimate: the agreement with the apostolic churches puts the catholics in the right, whereas the heretics, on account of their disagreement, are left in the wrong.

It remains for us to elucidate some details in the text of 21,6ff.

First of all, we must account for our interpretation of superest in Superest … uti demonstremus ('the result … is the possibility for us to demonstrate'). In point of fact, the impersonal use of superesse with a consecutive nuance is frequent in deductive argumentation. This particular nuance proceeds from the idea of exclusion the expression superest implies. Often the logical process of exclusion is explicit: so in Tertullian Adversus Hermogenem 16,4: Exclusa itaque materia … superest uti deum omnia ex nihilo fecisse constet; Adversus Marcionem 4,10,6: Atque ita discutiendum cuius hominis filius (Christus) accipi debeat, patris an matris. Si ex deo patre est, utique non ex homine; si non est ex homine < patre >, superest ut ex homine sit matre; si ex homine < matre >, iam apparet quia ex virgine;'0 see also De anima 21,3; De pudicitia 13,23-25; Adversus Marcionem 2,10,1; 3,20,7, and elsewhere. But the idea of exclusion may also recede into the background, leaving the consecutive nuance master of the field. The following texts may be quoted in which this process is on its way, or has altogether come, to completion. In Adversus Marcionem 4,15,7 Tertullian rejects Marcion's thesis about the two Gods, the God of the Old and the God of the New Covenant: nec erit iam discrimini locus, quo duo dei funt, sublatoque discrimine supererit unum deum renuntiari. In De resurrectione mortuorum 6,6 the author draws a comparison between the sculptor Phidias modelling a statue of Jupiter from ivory and God modelling man from clay: 'must we conclude', he says, 'that we find more attractive the creation of a god by man than the creation of man by God?': Phidiae manus Iovem Olympium ex ebore molitae adorantur …; deus vivus et deus verus quamcumque materiae vilitatem nonne de sua operatione purgasset et ab omni infirmitate sanasset? An hoc supererit ut honestius homo deum quam hominem deus finxerit? In Adversus Marcionem 4,28,7 the paradoxical consequences are put forward of Marcion's thesis that Christ has nothing to do with the God of the Old Covenant, the 'Creator': 'if Christ disapproves of the Creator's severity towards those who blaspheme his Spirit and deny his Christ, then, in due consequence, the Spirit of that God may be blasphemed and his Christ denied with impunity': Aut si et per haec (Christus) severitatem eius (= Creatoris) infuscat, non remissuri blasphemiam et occisuri etiam in gehennam, superest ut et illius diversi dei impune et Spiritus blasphemetur et Christus negetur et nihil intersit de cultu eius deve contemptu et, sicut de contemptu nulla poena, ita et de cultu nulla speranda sit merces. In De monogamia 3,2 Tertullian infers from the Apostle's preference for celibacy that married people, too, should consider living in continence: Bonum, inquit, homini mulierem non contingere. Ergo malum est contingere. Nihil enim bono contrarium nisi malum. Ideoque superesse ut et qui habeant uxores sic sint quasi non habentes, quo magis qui non habent habere non debeant. Taking these texts into account," the conclusion seems justified that in the text of De praescriptione, too, the consecutive purport is predominant: superest uti demonstremus is equivalent to sequitur uti demonstremus.

Translations such as 'It remains that we demonstrate',12 in my opinion, miss the point in that they announce the demonstration as something new, something not naturally proceeding from the foregoing. In Tertullian's superest uti demonstremus no foreign element is hinted at; on the contrary, the demonstration is announced as a logical consequence of the thesis drawn up in the two preceding paragraphs.

Another point to discuss is the turn of phrase demonstremus an … censeatur. Instead of a more regular construction, like the accusative with infinitive, Tertullian uses the conjunction an with a dependent interrogative sentence. From the point of view of classical grammar this might seem startling, but in Tertullian's usage it is by no means uncommon. The strong affirmative value of this construction with an is due to the fact that an in Tertullian often assumes the significance of nonne. This use of an is found in independent phrases, where an often asks for the reader's assent in exactly the same way as classical nonne does. We may refer to De praescriptione 8,10: an qui scit se intus fuisse et foras actum, is potius pulsabit et ostium novit?; Adversus Marcionem 3,18,7: Moyses … cur aereum serpentem ligno impositum pendentis habitu in spectaculum salutare proposuit? An et hic dominicae crucis vim intentabat?'3 But in subordinate clauses also this affirmative an appears. So in Adversus Marcionem 1,10,2: maior popularitas generis humani … deum Moysei … norunt; etiam tantam idolatria dominationem obumbrante, seorsum tamen illum quasi proprio nomine 'deum' perhibent et 'deum deorum' et si deus dederit' et 'quod deo placet' et 'deo commendo'. Vide an noverint quem omnia posse testantur. Nec hoc ullis Moysei libris debent. 'Evidently they know him', as Mr. Evans' translation has it.14 Likewise De resurrectione mortuorum 36, Iff.: Videamus nunc an et Saducaeorum versutiam elidens (Christus) nostram magis sententiam erexerit… Habes igitur dominum confirmantem adversus haereticos Iudaeorum quod et nunc negatur apud Saducaeos christianorum, solidam resurrectionem. 'Did not Christ, by refuting the Sadducees' subtleties, confirm our opinion?' And very near to our passage De patientia 5,3: Consideremus igitur de inpatientia, an sicut patientia in deo, ita adversaria eius in adversario nostro nata atque comperta sit, which amounts to saying: 'As patience cannot but be God's attribute, so impatience cannot but be the devil's.' Other instances can be found in Ad nationes 1,14,3; De pudicitia 6,6; Adversus Marcionem 4,25,11, etc. We are faced, therefore, with a particular feature of Tertullian's language, in which the author, by means of an interrogative clause, provokes the reader's agreement with what is his strong personal conviction. It is an emotionally conditioned and forcefully expressed affirmation, characteristic of Tertullian's passionate style.

There is a textual problem in the second half of 21,6. In the version of the Agobardinus, the highest-ranking manuscript, the phrase reads: Superest ergo uti demonstremus an haec nostra doctrina … de apostolorum traditione censeatur et ex hoc ipso ceterae de mendacio veniant. The other manuscripts have a second an inserted before ceterae. Their reading is adopted by most of the editors, but Rauschen, Martin and Kroymann follow the Agobardinus.'15 One can see the latters' point. As appears from 21,4-5, the words ceterae de mendacio veniant are to such a degree the logical consequence, better still the counterpart, of haec nostra doctrina … de apostolorum traditione censeatur, that a second an must be considered useless and, in view of the insertion ex hoc ipso, even positively awkward. Ex hoc ipso does not mean 'in the same way', but 'in consequence of this'; the demonstration, therefore, bears, not on a twofold, but on a single object, the apostolic origin of the catholic faith, which necessarily implies the spurious character of the other systems. Yet, on the face of it, the object is a composite one, and a copyist could easily feel called upon to supplement the supposedly wanting conjunction. I take it, therefore, that Rauschen et al. rightly choose the text of the Agobardinus.

The expression de apostolorum traditione censeatur points to the past, to the period, that is, in which the apostles handed down to the churches what they themselves had learnt from Christ. Apostolorum traditio denotes the act and moment in which the apostles entrusted the faith to the churches:16 at that moment the truth of christian doctrine entered history. Censeri in the meaning of 'to take its origin', 'to proceed' is particular to Tertullian's vocabulary, as has been amply demonstrated by Professor Waszink.17 In our passage the parallelism with de mendacio veniant is illustrative. For both apostolorum traditio as referring to the past and censeri in the sense of oriri we may quote Adversus Marcionem 1,21,4, where Tertullian defends against Marcion the identity between the God of the New Testament and the God of the Old, the 'Creator'. At the time of the apostles, he says, that identity never was questioned. Quodsi post apostolorum tempora adulterium veritas passa est circa dei regulam, ergo iam apostolica traditio nihil passa est in tempore suo circa dei regulam, et non alia agnoscenda erit traditio apostolorum quam quae hodie apud ipsorum ecclesias editur. Nullam autem apostolici census ecclesiam invenias quae non in Creatore christianizet. As for apostolica (apostolorum) traditio, there is a slight difference with our passage in that traditio, here, instead of the act of handing down the doctrine, denotes more this doctrine itself, but the reference to the past is clear enough: in tempore suo. In apostolici census ecclesiam the substantive census (= origin) obviously corresponds to censeri.

In 21,7 the short sentence Communicamus cum ecclesiis apostolicis, quod nulla doctrina diversa constitutes the proof, announced in the preceding paragraph. It is a critical phrase, and it is the more deplorable that the translations proposed by the various editors and commentators are in striking disagreement. Most authors supply est in the subordinate clause and take doctrina in the sense of 'teaching', 'doctrine', 'contents of the faith', 'point of doctrine'. So Holmes, who translates: 'We hold communion with the apostolic churches, because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs."18 Kellner-Esser and Christine Mohrmann,'19 on the other hand, add a verb like facit and, understanding doctrina as 'a doctrinal system', 'a religious opinion and its adherents', they render: 'We hold communion with the apostolic churches, which is not the case with any of the divergent opinions (i.e. the heresies).'

This last translation seems to me decidedly preferable. As has been pointed out above,20 doctrine as such, the contents of the faith, is not at the heart of Tertullian's demonstration. The only place in his work where it receives full attention is chapter 13, as the author gives the regulafidei of the orthodox church. In 20,1, at the start of his argumentation, he alludes, as we have seen, to some points of this regula, but only in passing, not as an essential part of his reasoning. This reasoning runs along historical and factual lines, prescinding from any doctrinal discussion and concentrating only on the origins of the catholic and the heretical systems. True, in 21,6 the regulafidei is mentioned again, but once more in passing and in a significant context: haec nostra doctrina cuius regulam supra edidimus. Evidently the relative clause cuius regulam supra edidimus refers to the description of christian doctrine, the regula fidei, of chapter 13. In consequence doctrina cannot mean 'the contents of the faith', but must have the sense of 'a doctrinal system', 'a belief: 'our belief the contents of which we have given above'. To this nostra doctrina, then, in 21,6 corresponds nulla doctrina diversa in 21,7.21 The confrontation, opposing in 21,6 the catholic and the heretical beliefs (haec nostra doctrina v. ceterae doctrinae), continues in 21,7: (nos) communicamus v. (nulla) doctrina diversa. In Holmes's translation this confrontation is ignored, which, in my opinion, makes his rendering come dangerously near to a meaningless phrase.

Communicamus cum ecclesiis apostolicis also needs a word of explanation. Tertullian says: 'We live in communion with, we belong to the brotherhood of the apostolic churches.' The expression, probably, refers to 20,8-9, where the characteristics of this brotherhood are described: Probant unitatem (ecclesiarum) communicatio pacis et appellatio fraternitatis et contesseratio hospitalitatis. Quae iura non alia ratio regit quam eiusdem sacramenti una traditio. Now, one might argue that the author overstates his case: as it is a question of belief, only a sharing of convictions is required. But in Tertullian's eyes the common christian belief works out in the social and charitable functionings of christian life. Sincere brotherhood presupposes unity of faith: eiusdem sacramenti una traditio. He only shares the doctrine of the apostolic churches, who is tied to them by bonds of friendship and mutual obligation. As the heretics have severed these bonds, they have lost contact with the churches' faith and, consequently, with the faith of the apostles: they cannot possibly possess the truth.

Our last remark concerns the kind of retrograde step the reasoning makes in 22,1. The author, in a curious move, more or less disregards the proof he has given, irrefutable as it is, and from now one, for many chapters to follow, concentrates on the attacks the heretics make against the claim, i.e. against the proof's presupposition. The proof itself, obviously, is not foremost in Tertullian's mind; it is, of course, an essential element in the discussion, and as such it has received proper attention, but, all in all, it is disposed of without much circumstance. The claim, on the contrary, is the author's real concern; he spends the remaining part of his treatise chiefly to establishing its validity (chapter 22-37). In this context the expression hanc praescriptionem in 22,1, perhaps, deserves some attention. It has been set forth above that it refers to the claim drawn up in 21,1-3.22 Now, the use of the pronoun hanc suggests that the proof deduced from, and subsequent in the text to, the claim has not really been present in the author's mind. On the contrary, he was preoccupied by the heretics' questioning of the proof's guarantee, the authority of the apostles and the churches. It is this questioning which he intends to deal with, convinced that, once this resistance is shattered, victory over heresy is all but won.


1 D. Michaélidès, Foi, Écritures et Tradition, ou Les 'Praescriptiones' chez Tertullien, Collection Théologie 76 (Paris 1969) passim; a rich bibliography, on pp. 154-162, presents the older works.

2 J.-Cl. Fredouille, Tertullien et la conversion de la culture antique (Paris 1972) 195-234. In the course of his exposé Mr. Fredouille also discusses the related problem of the exact title of Tertullian's treatise: instead of the traditional De praescriptione haereticorum he proposes De praescriptionibus adversus haereses omnes: see 228ff.

3 In Refoulé's edition 21,6-7; cfr. R. Refoulé, Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani Opera I, Corpus Christianorum, series Latina 1 (Tumholti 1954) 203. In Kroymann 21,6-7 constitutes the first part of 22,1; the second half of 22,1 coincides with Refoulé's 22,1; cfr. Aem.Kroymann, Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani Opera II, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 70 (Vindobonae et Lipsiae 1942) 25. The difference certainly has something to do with a divergence of interpretation: is superest ergo uti demonstremus (21,6; 22,1 in Kroymann) a conclusion resulting from, and therefore linked with, the foregoing, or is it the beginning of a new phase in the argumentation? Kroymann's arrangement of the text presupposes the second opinion. In my view, as will appear further on, Refoule's arrangement is preferable.

4 See introduction of this paper.

5 In 35,1 and 44,3 the plural praescriptiones appears. Whichever the reason for the plural in these passages, it remains that in chapter 21-22 the singular is a matter of fact. Whether there is a difference of meaning between the singular and the plural, remains for us undecided.

6 We follow the division of the text adopted by Refoulé: see note 3.

7 Reading of the Agobardinus, the best manuscript, against an ceterae of the other witnesses: for the justification of our choice, see below. Other textual uncertainties in the passage do not seem to be of any consequence for the interpretation.

8 In chapter 13, where the regula fidei is formulated; see p. 35 f.

9 In chapter 27 and 28 the author specifically has in mind the orthodox churches, which took possession of the apostles' preaching in incorrupt form; from 29,1 to 35,1, with a reverse of the medal, the heretics are intended: they came too late for the inheritance, or else their inheritance proved a sham; in chapter 35 and 36 the emphasis is again on the churches, which are truly apostolic, whereas the heresies are degenerations. Against several commentators we hold with Michaélidès that in chapter 27 to 37 Tertullian still refers to the claim of chapter 21 and does not introduce new claims (praescriptio novitatis, praescriptio longi temporis, etc.). His reasoning, probably, is less complicate than some would have it (see Michaélidés, o.c., 45 and 55-70, with further references).

10 We follow the reading proposed by Kroymann and adopted by Refoulé in Tertulliani Opera I, 563; Moreschini only adopts the conjecture matre (C. Moreschini, Tertulliani Adversus Marcionem [Milano-Varese 1971] 184); Evans rejects the insertion of both patre and matre (E. Evans, Tertullian. Adversus Marcionem. Books 4 and 5 [Oxford 1972] 298). Whichever the right reading, it remains that superest is clearly a pivotal word in the argumentation: 'the only possible conclusion is … '

11 We are indebted, for tracing them, to Claesson's precious lexicon: G. Claesson, Index Tertullianeus. Q-Z (Paris 1975) 1590. After Tertullian this use of superest lives on: many instances in Lactantius' Divinae institutiones: see 1,23,1. 11,44; 3,3,7f.; 7,8,1, and elsewhere. A consultation of lexica on philosophical writing prior to Tertullian (Lucretius, Cicero, Seneca) did not yield anything conclusive.

12 P. Holmes, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers III (New York 1903) 252, followed by J. Quasten, Patrology. II. The Ante-Nicene Literature after Irenaeus (Utrecht-Antwerp 1953) 271. Likwise de Labriolle: 'Reste donc a demontrer' (P. de Labriolle-R. Refoulé, Tertullien. Traité de la prescription contre les hérétiques, Sources Chrétiennes 46 [Paris 1957] 115) and Kellner-Esser: 'Wir müssen also nur noch den Beweis liefem' (A. Kellner-G. Esser, Tertullians apologetische, dogmatische und montanistische Schriften, Bibliothek der Kirchenväter 24 [Kempten-München 1915] 327).

13 For other instances of this use of an in independent sentences, see G. Thörnell, Studia Tertullianea II (Uppsala 1920) 2, n. 1.

14 E. Evans, Tertullian. Adversus Marcionem. Books I to 3 (Oxford 1972) 27.

15 G. Rauschen, Tertulliani Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, Florilegium Patristicum4 (Bonnae 1906) 32; likewise in the second edition, procured by J. Martin (Bonnae 1930) 21 (Rauschen's text is adhered to by de Labriolle: P.de Labriolle, Tertullien. De praescriptione haereticorum [Paris 1907] 44, but in Refoule's new edition of de Labriolle's work the reading with an is adopted: de Labriolle-Refoulé, o.c., 115); Aem. Kroymann, Tertulliani Opera II, 25. For the manuscript evidence and the other editions, see Refoulé, Tertulliani Opera I, 203.

16 One might even ask if apostolorum traditio does not mean 'the handing over (by Christ) to the apostles', but, probably, Tertullian refers to what happened between the apostles and the churches. As for the general sense, there is no difference between the two interpretations.

17 J. H. Waszink, Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani De anima (Amsterdam 1947) 282.

18 In The Ante-Nicene Fathers III, 252f.; the translation is copied by Quasten, Patrology, 271. Likewise de Labriolle: 'parce que notre doctrine ne diffère en rien de la leur' (de Labriolle-Refoulé, o.c., 115), adopted by Michaèelidès, o.c., 55 and Fredouille, o.c., 226.

19 See Kellner-Esser, o.c., 327; Christine Mohrmann, Tertullianus. Apologeticum en andere geschriften uit Tertullianus' voor-montanistischen tijd, Monumenta Christiana I,3 (Utrecht-Brussel, 1951) 156.

20 See p. 35f.

21 Similar is the meaning of doctrina in 21,4-5: omnem doctrinam quae cum … ecclesiis apostolicis … conspiret …, id … tenentem quod ecclesiae ab apostolis, apostoli a Christo, Christus a deo accepit; omnem … doctrinam … quae sapiat contra veritatem ecclesiarum; in the whole passage not points of doctrine are meant, but the systems that contain them.

22 See p. 39; for the use of the singular, see p. 37.

John F. Jansen (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7988

SOURCE: "Tertullian and the New Testament," in The Second Century: A Journal of Early Christian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 4, Winter, 1982, pp. 191-207.

[In the following essay, Jansen studies Tertullian's views on and interpretation of the New Testament.]

Various aspects of Tertullian's use of the Bible have received scholarly attention. One excellent study has been devoted to Tertullian and the Old Testament.1 The present essay2 deals with Tertullian and the New Testament.


Tertullian and the Canon of the New Testament

By Tertullian's time the basic scope of the New Testament had taken shape in the West. Tertullian has citations or clear allusions to all of the New Testament books except James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John.3 However, citation as such does not necessarily answer the question of canon. We are still in a fluid period—witness the Muratorian Canon list. The word "canon" is not yet employed to designate a fixed body of Holy Scripture, and the Latin equivalent, regula, points to a fixed summary of apostolic faith rather than to writings. In Tertullian the world instrumentum most nearly includes what we would call "canon."4 For example, in Modesty 10.12 Tertullian asks sarcastically whether the Shepherd of Hermas "deserved to be included in the sacred canon" (diuino instrumento meruisset incidi).

As we would expect, Tertullian's validation of the four gospels as "canonical" comes in his refutation of Marcion's unnamed and truncated "Gospel":

I lay it down to begin with that the documents of the gospel [euangelicum instrumentum] have the apostles for their authors, and that this task of promulgating the gospel was imposed upon them by our Lord himself. If they also have for their authors apostolic men [apostolicos], yet these stand not alone, but as companions of apostles or followers of apostles.… (Adv. Marc. IV.2.1)

This makes for a certain priority, he goes on. As apostles Matthew and John introduce or instill (insinuant) faith to us, "while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal [instaurant]." Nonetheless, all four gospels are authoritative Scripture.

If Luke's Gospel is authoritative, so is his Acts. Tertullian attacks Marcion for rejecting Acts (Adv. Marc. V.1.5, Prasescr. haer. 23.2).

For Tertullian, as for Marcion, Paul is "the" apostle. But he asks why Marcion does not accept the Pastorals when he does accept Philemon:

This epistle alone has so profited by its brevity as to escape Marcion's falsifying hands. As however he has accepted this letter to a single person, I do not see why he has rejected two written to Timothy and one to Titus about the church system. I suppose he had a whim to meddle even with the number of the epistles. (Adv. Marc. V.21.1)

1 Peter, I John, and Revelation are authoritative because they were written by apostles.5 But what of the Epistle to the Hebrews? Tertullian believes the epistle was written by Barnabas, thus by an "apostolic man." Does this mean that he considered the book "canonical"? Some6 hold that his validation of Hebrews is the same as that of the Lukan writings. It seems to me, however, that this is not so:

The Scriptures composed by the apostles themselves are the principal determinants of that discipline which, like a priest, guards the perfect sanctity of the temple of God.… I would like, however, over and above this, to add the testimony of one of the postles' companions which aptly confirms as a secondary authority of the masters [i.e. the apostles: idoneium confirmandi de proximo iure disciplinam magistrorum]. For there is also extant a book entitled To the Hebrews, written by Bamabas, a man well accredited by God since Paul associates him with himself in the observance of continence. (Pud. 20.1-2)

Is this "proximate" or "next best" authority the same as that given Mark and Luke, who are also "apostolic men"? I do not believe this is the case because those evangelists are included in the evangelicum instrumentum, while the latter word is not used with reference to Hebrews. Tertullian makes supportive use of the epistle.

Such supportive use can be seen as parallel to Tertullian's supportive appeal to Enoch to corroborate certain prophetic texts. It is hardly accidental that those who hold that Tertullian gives "canonical" status to Hebrews say the same thing about Enoch.7 To be sure, he often cites Enoch (e.g. Idol. 4.5; Cult. fem. I.3.1, Res. mort. 32.1) and in the last named even introduces a citation with habes scriptum. But what does this mean? The older translation of Holmes in the Ante Nicene Fathers rendered this: "you have it declared in Scripture." But scriptum is not yet scriptum est or scriptura and not all scriptura is Holy Scripture. After all, Tertullian has said that Hermas, the scriptura Pastoris, does not belong in the sacred canon (Pud. 10.12). So Evans renders the phrase, "you have it written." Von Campenhausen says the most one can say:

Tertullian would certainly have liked to add Enoch to the Old and Hebrews to the New Testament; but he contents himself with commending the testimony of these works and with justifying his own appeal to them. He is not striving for any 'reform' of the Bible.8

Very different is the case with the Shepherd of Hermas. The Muratorian Canon recommended the Shepherd as edifying literature but not as Scripture to be read in public assembly "nor (be counted) among the prophets, whose number is complete or among the apostles." Not so Tertullian. In an earlier writing he had already made a belittling reference to it (Orat. 16.1), but in his later writings he castigates the book as one "which alone is favorable to adulterers" and one which had been judged "apocryphal and false by all the councils of the churches" (Pud. 10.12). Le Saint observes that "Tertullian is the first Christian Latin writer to use the word 'apocryphal' as a designation of non-canonical or spurious books of the New Testament."9

A good example of Tertullian's rejection of apocryphal books is his comment on the Acts of Paul:

But if certain Acts of Paul, which are falsely so named, claim the example of Thecla for allowing women to teach and to baptize, let men know that in Asia the presbyter who compiled that document [scripturam], thinking to add of his own to Paul's reputation, was found out, and though he professed he had done it for love of Paul, was deposed from his position. (Bapt. 17.5)

This is not to say that Tertullian cannot make apologetic and supportive use of documents we now know to be apocryphal. It simply means he does not give such writings canonical status. An example is the Acts of Pilate (a tradition Eusebius, in Hist. eccl. II.2.2, also took to be authentic):

All these facts [of cross and resurrection] were reported to Tiberius, the reigning emperor, by Pilate who was by now a Christian himself, so far as his conscience was concerned. (Apol. 21.24)

More important for the question of canon is what the "new prophecy" of Montanism meant for Tertullian. For the moment we defer what he has to say about the Paraclete's illumination of Scripture. Here we are concerned with those few times when Tertullian actually cites the new prophecy. The question is that raised earlier with reference to Enoch and Hebrews—does Tertullian cite these Montanist sayings supportively or as themselves scriptural? Does the prophecy supplement or merely illumine Scripture? Of the several citations10 one deserves particular attention. In his Exhortation to Chastity is a passage on the blessings of continence that concludes with two Old Testament quotations and continues: "In line with this [ita enim] the Apostle also says that 'to be wise according to the flesh is death, but to be wise according to the spirit is life eternal.'" This is followed by a citation from the new prophecy:

Item per sanctam prophetidem Priscam ita euangelizatur, quod 'sanctus minister sanctimoniam nouerit ministrare.' 'Purificantia' enim 'cum cor dat,' ait, 'et uisiones uident et ponentes faciem deorsum etiam uoces audiunt salutares, tam manifestas quam et occultas.' (Exhort. cast. 10.5)

Le Saint renders: "In like manner the holy prophetess Prisca declares that every holy minister will know how to administer things that are holy. 'For,' she says, 'continence effects harmony of soul, and the pure see visions and, bowing down, hear voices speaking clearly words salutary and secret.'" However, Stegman,11 following Karpp,12 holds that here a Montanist saying is given equal scriptural status because item places the saying alongside the prophetic and apostolic texts, and euangelizatur carries the same force as canonical proclamation.

Without minimizing the importance of the new prophecy for Tertullian, I cannot see that the use made of Montanist sayings here is more than illustrative and supportive. The new prophecy does not add to the biblical revelation but rather supports and illustrates the biblical texts. One can compare the passage just cited with one in the treatise on Resurrection, which may be the earliest witness to Tertullian's shift to Montanism. There he has to vindicate the resurrection of the flesh against those opponents who hold that flesh is unworthy of restoration and resurrection. Tertullian gives a long list of biblical references, beginning with the creation story, to show the dignity of that flesh "which God with his own hands constructed in God's image" (Res. mort. 9.1). The trouble with the opponents is that they retain only those scriptures in which the flesh is sullied; they should retain also those scriptures in which flesh is adorned (inlustatur)—and another series of biblical texts follow. The conclusion comes in 11.1. Those who deny the dignity of the flesh are themselves bound to the flesh because they despise that discipline that points to the resurrection of the flesh. "Concerning those the Paraclete also says very well [luculenter] by Prisca the prophetess, 'Lumps of flesh they are, and the flesh they hate." (Res. mort. 11.2). The saying serves to corroborate and tie together the preceding argument from Scripture. Indeed, the treatise closes with a passage declaring that the new prophecy dispels the ambiguities of Scripture and thus makes everything clear.

Moreover, if the new prophecy were intended to supplement or add to the biblical canon we would expect more use of these sayings. A. F. Walls says: "The Montanist, like the catholic, drew his faith and inspiration from the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. This may explain why Tertullian's extant Montanist writings can yield only a bare half-dozen oracles of the New Prophecy."13

Withal, to affirm the books of the New Testament insofar as these books have been received means that one must do battle against those who delete or distort them. In large measure this is the burden of the books against Marcion and of his Prescript-on against Heretics:

One man perverts Scripture with this hand, another with this exegesis. If Valentinus seems to have used the whole Bible, he laid violent hands on the truth with just as much cunning as Marcion. Marcion openly and nakedly used the knife, not the pen, massacring Scripture to suit his own material. Valentinus spared the text, since he did not invent scriptures to suit his matter, but matter to suit the Scriptures. Yet he took more away, and added more, by taking away the proper meanings of particular words and by adding fantastic arrangements. (Praescr. haer. 38.7-10)

Against all such efforts to tamper with the New Testament, Tertullian points the warning of Revelation 22:18f. ("if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life"):

I worship the fullness of the Scripture [adoro scripturae plenitudinem] by means of which He reveals to us both the Maker and the things made; but in the Gospel I find in addition Him who is both the Minister and the Intermediary of the Maker—the Word. But whether it was from underlying matter that all things were made [as claimed by Hermogenes], I have as yet read nowhere. That Scripture has it is for Hermogenes' workshop to show us. If it is not in Scripture [Si non est scriptum], let him fear the 'Woe' that was meant for all those 'who add or take away.' (Adv. Hermog. 22.5)


Tertullian and the Text of the New Testament

How early are the Latin versions of the New Testament? Scholars have debated whether Tertullian's numerous citations reflect early Latin versions or represent his own translation, or both.14 Danielou is confident that "Quotations in the works of Tertullian and Cyprian point clearly to the existence of Latin translations of the Old Testament at the end of the second century," and he is confident that the same is true for the New Testament. "In view of the fact that there were few Christians and that these spoke only Latin, it is obvious that there must have been a Latin translation of the New Testament at a very early stage."15 In all probability Tertullian's citations of the New Testament sometimes represent his own translation and at other times reflect the fluid character of the early Latin versions.

This raises many interesting questions which cannot be explored here—such as his preference for sermo over verbum in the Johannine prologue.16 Here we limit our discussion to one variant reading with which Tertullian is familiar and which he uses polemically.

The accepted reading of John 1:13 in the later Valgate, as in all of our Greek manuscripts, is the plural: "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." However, several ancient witnesses, mostly Latin, read the text in the singular: "who was born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God."17 This makes the verse a Christological statement that suggests the virgin birth. It would appear that the singular reading is known by Irenaeus. At any rate, Tertullian not only knows this reading but vindicates it over against the Valentinians, who used the plural to support their doctrine.

What then is the meaning of 'Was born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God' [sed ex deo natus est]? This text will be of more use to me than to them [the Valentinians], when I have refuted those who falsify it. For they maintain that it was thus written, 'Were born [nati sunt] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh or of a man, but of God,' as though it referred to the above-mentioned believers in his name: and from it they try to prove that there exists that mystic seed of the elect and spiritual which they baptize for themselves. But how can it mean this, when those who believe in the name of the Lord are all of them by the common law of human kind born of blood and of the will of the flesh and of a man, as also is Valentinus himself? Consequently, the singular is correct… [adeo singulariter, ut de domino, scriptus est: 'sed ex deo natus est…']. (Carne Chr. 19.1-2)

Tertullian goes on to insist that although Christ was not born of the will of the flesh, his flesh is real flesh. "We understand, then, a denial that the Lord's nativity was the result of coition … but no denial that it was by a partaking of the womb" (19.4). In short, the reading that textual criticism commends to us Tertullian knew only as being in the hands of the heretics. That was reason enough to disavow it.


Tertullian and the Authority of the New Testament

For Tertullian the New Testament, as the Old, is scriptura, divina literatura, sancti commentarii, sacrosanctus stilus, etc. We have noted above that instrumentum and paratura most nearly express what we mean by canon, though it can also refer to particular books or to a number of books as well as to Scripture in its entirety. Instrumentum also suggests that Tertullian understands the authority of Scripture as law.18 Indeed, from the beginning God's revelation has been that of Law. Long before God gave his law to Moses, he had already given it in Paradise.

For in this law given to Adam we recognize in embryo all the precepts which afterwards sprouted forth when given through Moses; that is, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God from all thy whole heart and out of thy whole soul; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Adv. Jud. 2.3)19

But with Christ the old Law has been fulfilled and displaced by the new Law:

… there was to supervene a time whereat the precepts of the ancient Law and of the old ceremonies would cease, and the promise of the new law [nouae legis promissio], and the recognition of spiritual sacrifices, and the promise of the New Testament [nouvi testamenti pollicitatio] supervene.… that the promised new law is now in operation [quam legem nouam promissam nunc operari].… And, primarily, we must lay it down that the ancient Law-and the prophets could not have ceased, unless He were come who was constantly announced, through the same Law and through the same prophets, as to come. (Adv. Jud. 6.1-4)

If Old Testament ceremonies have been abrogated by the Gospel, this does not mean a lessening but rather a more stringent discipline of the new Law. In one of the later treatises from his Montanist period, we read:

Having considered the example given us by the Patriarchs, let us now go on to study the law documented in the Scriptures [instrumenta legalium scripturarum], so that we may thus examine, in due order, the whole of the sacred canon [ut per ordinem de omni nostra paratura retractemus]. There are some who occasionally assert that they are not subject to the Law, the Law which Christ did not destroy but fulfilled.… We declare that the Law is abrogated in the sense that the burdens which it imposed no longer rest upon us, the burdens, according to the Apostles, which 'not even our fathers were able to bear.' However, such of its precepts as have to do with righteousness not only continue in force but have even been extended, so that our 'justice may abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees.' If this holds true of justice, it also holds true of chastity. (Mon. 7.1,2)

Scripture, nature, and discipline establish the law of Christ.

The defence of our opinion is as follows, according to Scripture, nature, and discipline. Scripture establishes the law, nature testifies to it and discipline demands it. [Scriptura legem condit, natura contestatur, disciplina exigit].… Therefore let it be a rule for you, that you will find God's will in Scripture, nature, and discipline.… (Virg. vel. 16.1-2)

Scripture is thus the constitutive principle, nature its corroborating witness, and discipline the practical appropriation of the new Law.20 On the one hand Tertullian speaks of a nova disciplina because in these latter days the Paraclete has enjoined on believers a more rigorous discipline: "But now, in these latter times He has restricted what He allowed before and revoked the indulgence which He had then permitted" (Exhort. cast. 6.2). On the other hand Tertullian claims that the changes are consonant with what Scripture has always said.

If Scripture is God's revealed truth, how can there be so many divergent and irreconcilable interpretations of Christian faith? If Shakespeare's Antonio can say,

      Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite Scripture to his purpose,

Tertullian can say the same: "Who interprets the meaning of those passages which make for heresy? The devil, of course, whose business it is to pervert truth.…" (Praescr. haer. 40.1.) That is why we need the Rule of Faith, a regula that cannot be equated with a particular baptismal creed nor with the whole of Scripture. The Rule of Faith appears to be a doctrinal summary of apostolic faith and serves as a correct and authoritative interpretation of Scripture.21 In practice this means that Scripture belongs to the Church and can be rightly understood only in the Church.

If therefore truth must be adjudged to us 'as many as walk according to this rule' which the Church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the principle which we propounded is established, the principles which ruled that heretics are not to be allowed to enter an appeal to Scripture.… (Praescr. haer. 37.1)

He continues:

Corruption of the Scriptures and of their interpretation is to be expected wherever difference in doctrine is discovered [lic igitur et scripturarum et expositionum adulteratio deputanda est ubi doctrinae est ubi doctrinae diuersitas inuenitur].… Just as their corruption of doctrine would not have been successful without their corruption of its literature [Sicut illis non potuisset succedere corruptela doctrinae sine corruptela instrumentorum eius], so our doctrinal integrity would have failed us without the integrity of the sources by which doctrine is dealt with. (Praescr. haer. 38.1-3)

Since truth always precedes error, this rule of faith which derives from Christ himself is prior to all heresies. The "novelty" of heresy is a constant theme in Tertullian's controversial works:

Who are you? When did you arrive, and where from? You are not my people; what are you doing on my land? By what right are you cutting down my timber, Marcion? By whose leave are you diverting my waters, Valentinus? By what authority are you moving my boundaries, Apelles? This property belongs to me.… I am heir to the apostles. As they provided in their will, as they bequeathed it in trust and confirmed it under oath, so, on their terms, I hold it. (Praescr. haer. 37.3-5)

The same argument marks Tertullian's works against Marcion and Hermogenes.22 Since heretics are not in the Church, they have no right to the Scriptures. "Therefore I take my stand above all on this point; they are not to be admitted to any discussion of Scripture at all" (Praescr. haer. 15.3). Titus 3:10 is sufficient warrant for not having anything to do with those who are factious. "Besides, arguments about Scripture achieve nothing but a stomachache or a headache" (Praescr. haer. 6.2). [In practice Tertullian belies this assertion, for his works against the heretics are above all arguments drawn from Scripture.]

Scripture is fruitless without the Rule of Faith. Scriptural arguments are fruitless not only with reference to heretics but with reference to well-meaning people in the Church. Too often people have allowed the dominical word, "Seek and you shall find," to become an occasion for useless speculation—and this the heretics will always use to deceive the faithful. The words "Seek and you shall find" are for those who did not know Jesus as the Christ; they are not meant for us who have been taught by the apostles "as they were taught by the Holy Spirit." "Thy faith hath saved thee,' it says, not thy biblical learning [non exercitatio scripturarum]. Faith is established by the Rule …" (Praescr. haer. 14.3,5). That is to say, the authority of Scripture is the authority of that faith which has been given to the Church.

From the relation between Scripture and tradition we turn once more to the relation between Scripture and Spirit. To what extent did the new prophecy affect Tertullian's view of Scripture? When discussing the question of canon, we asked whether the new prophecy supplemented or added to Scripture. Now we ask whether the new prophecy displaced or superseded Scripture.

Consider a passage from the treatise on Idolatry: "Need I, with my poor memory, suggest anything more? Need I quote more from Scripture? When the Holy Spirit has spoken, that is surely enough" (Idol. 4.5). Writing in 1924, Roberts saw in this passage a marked change in Tertullian's view of Scripture. In the earlier writings, he said, Scripture proofs were so important (e.g. Spec.) that Tertullian would wrest a passage to support his theme, while now "the voice of the Spirit is sufficient without the support of the written word."23 This position is not persuasive. In the first place, although some date the work on Idolatry within the period of Montanist influence, many others date it much earlier. Secondly, the context argues against Roberts' conclusion. Tertullian begins with the explicit condemnation of idolatry in the decalogue and follows with warning passages from Isaiah and the Psalms (including also two warnings from Enoch). Only after these citations does he ask whether he needs to quote more Scripture. When he says, "The Holy Spirit has spoken," the inference is plain that the Spirit has spoken sufficiently in Scripture. The passage does not speak to the question of Montanist influence.24

The conclusion of the treatise on Resurrection, as we have noted above, does not suggest that the new prophecy supplements or displaces Scripture; it illumines Scripture and resolves its ambiguities. Tertullian often quotes Jesus' word: "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth … for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:12). Tertullian asks "whether or not it is possible that the Paraclete has revealed anything at all which is an innovation opposed to the Catholic tradition [an capiat Paracletum aliquid tale docuisse quod aut nouum deputari possit aduersus catholicam traditionem] or which imposes moral obligations upon us inconsistent with the 'light burden' referred to by the Lord" (Mon. 2.1). To be sure, he goes on, citing John 16:12, "The Holy Spirit will reveal such things as may be considered innovations (illum quae et noua existimaripossint), since they were not revealed before…" (2.2). But what seems innovation is not really so because the Spirit only brings to mind what Christ taught and, therefore, what is already implicit in Scripture—a claim Tertullian often has to prove by very tortuous exegesis.

Karpp is right when he says that the new prophecy "ruhrt an die Grenzen der Lehre und des Kanons, aber iiberschreitet sie nicht."25 Of course Montanist rigor affects the interpretation of particular texts, but its primary influence is on discipline, not on the authority of Scripture or Tradition.


Tertullian and the Interpretation of the New Testament

Considerable research has been devoted to Tertullian's hermeneutic.26 Here we point to some aspects that find expression in his interpretation of the New Testament.

The Wholeness and Unity of Scripture.

In a passage cited above Tertullian said that he adores "the fullness of Scripture" (Adv. Hermog. 22.5). That fullness, of course, embraces Old and New Testament, and the burden of the first three books against Marcion is to show that the Old Testament is the sub-structure of the New. After some initial skirmishing Tertullian proposes to "take up the real battle, fighting hand to hand" because the "front line" at which the battle must be fought is over "the Creator's scriptures" (Adv. Marc. 111.5.1). Marcion cannot understand the Gospel or the Apostle because he has rejected the Old Testament. "I shall adduce the Gospel as a supplement to the Old Testament" (euangelium ut supplementum instrument ueteris adhibeboAdv. Hermog. 20.4).

The wholeness and unity of Scripture are seen not only in the bond between the testaments but also in the harmony of the New Testament writings. Whatever their differences, the four Gospels reflect a harmony in essentials. "It matters not that the arrangement of their narrative varies, so long as there is agreement in the essentials of faith …" (Adv. Marc. IV.2.2). The Fourth Gospel may be very different from the Synoptics, but Praxeas cannot claim its support for his heresy that the Son is identical with the Father. The Fourth Gospel may not have such prayers as "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" or "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit," but when the Johannine Jesus says that he is "ascending to my Father and your Father," there is a unity of Scripture that cannot be gainsaid (Adv. Prax. 25.2).

What is true of the Gospels is true of the whole New Testament:

Fortunately the apostles are at one in what concerns the canons of faith and discipline. For 'whether it be I or they,' he says, 'thus do we preach.' It is a matter of importance, then, to the Christian religion as such, that one should not believe John granted anything which Paul refused. Whoever regards this consistency of the Holy Spirit will be guided by Him to an understanding of His words. (Pud. 19.3-4)

Take, for example, Paul's confrontation with Peter at Antioch. It may be that Paul's zeal was more pronounced in this early period than his later readiness to become all things to all men—but this does not signify a difference with Peter in doctrine but only in conduct.27

Scripture Interprets Scripture

Tertullian knows, of course, that the unity of Scripture does not mean that every passage is equally plain. Accordingly, since the Scripture cannot be inconsistent or contradictory, what is clear must interpret and illumine what is not so clear. For example, in response to those who deny an actual resurrection of the body because some passages use the language of resurrection figuratively, Tertullian says:

In the first place, what will become of all those other passages of divine scripture which so openly attest a corporeal resurrection as to admit of no suspicion of a figurative signification? … things uncertain should be prejudged by things certain, and things obscure by things manifest.… (Res.mort. 21.1-2)

This is a constant principle. Praxeas had distorted John's meaning because he had based everything on a single text ("Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?"). "On account of Philip's one remark and the Lord's reply" Tertullian makes "a complete study of John's Gospel, so that so many things clearly stated both before it and after it may not be overturned by one remark, which ought to be interpreted in accordance with them all and even in contradiction with its own meaning" [etiam aduersus suos sensus interpretandus] (Adv. Prax. 26.1). Note how Tertullian responds to those Sensualists (Psychici) who say that adultery is forgiveable by equating Paul's forgiveness of the offending brother in 2 Corinthians 2:5 with the incestuous man whom Paul had condemned in 1 Corinthians 5:4f. With Montanist rigor Tertullian offers a host of passages to show that Paul is consistent in his view and cannot have contradicted himself. To his opponents he says:

Surrender at last to such numerous texts as these that one passage to which you cling. The few are eclipsed by the many, the uncertain by the certain, the obscure by the clear. [Pauca multa, dubia certis, obscura manifestis adumbrantur.] Even if it were certain that the Apostle had pardoned the fornication of that Corinthian, yet this would be but another instance of something which he did on one occasion only, against his own regular practice and in view of the circumstances of the time. (Pud. 17.18)

Heretics like Praxeas do the opposite—they force their interpretation on an obscure passage and use that to color the whole.28 Tertullian's principle is sound; one wishes that he had abided by it himself.

The "Simplicitas" of Scripture

We should seek the plain and literal meaning wherever possible, avoiding those allegories that the heretics spin out of the Bible. The Valentinians with their allegories are not different from the pagan Eleusinian mysteries (Adv. Val. 1.3f.). Christians should seek "the marrow of Scripture" (medullam scripturarum). To do so, they cannot do better than to join the school of Christ, whose disciples were the students to whom the Lord made known the veiled import of his own language [cui potius figuram uocis suae declarasset]" (Scorp 12.1). Especially important is the way we deal with the figurative language of the parables. To be sure, Jesus spoke in parables, but he also spoke plainly and without figurative speech to his disciples. So we must interpret the figurative language of the parables by the plain teaching of doctrine. "We, however, do not take the parables as sources of doctrine, but rather take doctrine as a norm of interpreting the parables" (Pud. 9.1). To ask why a hundred sheep, or why ten drachmas, or why the woman's broom in Luke 15—these are details that will only "seduce me from truth through the subtleties of an artificial exegesis." [et coactarum expositionum subtilitate plerumque deducunt a ueritate] (Pud. 9.2). And yet concern for the literal sense must not forget that figurative language in Scripture has its own appropriate place. Marcion distorted the Old Testament because he took figurative language literally (Adv. Marc. III.5.4). Attention must be paid to context, syntax, punctuation, and vocabulary.

Although Tertullian affirms the simplicitas of Scripture, some texts are not simple. We take two examples. The first is a text the meaning of which led Tertullian to a change of mind. It is not related to such issues as second repentance, flight in persecution, or second marriage—issues in which changes can be attributed to the new discipline of Montanism. It is simply a problem text on which many besides Tertullian have changed their mind—"baptism for the dead" in I Corinthians 15:29. In Resurrection 48.11 we read:

And again, if some are baptized for the dead, we shall enquire whether this is with good reason. Certainly he suggests that they had instituted that custom on the assumption by which they supposed that vicarious baptism [vicarium baptisma] would be of benefit even to another flesh toward the hope of resurrection.…

Against Marcion, Tertullian writes:

'What,' he asks, 'shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not?' … Abstain then from at once blaming the apostle as either having recently invented this or given it his approval.… We see him in another context setting a limit, of one baptism. Consequently, to be baptized for the dead is to be baptized for bodies: for I have shown that what was dead is the body. What shall they do who are baptized for bodies, if bodies do not rise? (Adv. Marc. V.10.1-2)

While these remarks are somewhat ambiguous, I take it that in Resurrection he says that the Corinthians practiced a vicarious baptism,29 while in Adversus Marcionem he takes the phrase more figuratively so that "for the dead" means "for dead bodies"—not of others but of those who have been buried with Christ into a "baptism into death."30 A second example suggests how the new prophecy of Montanism can lead Terrtullian away from the plain meaning of Scripture. Commenting on Peter at the Mount of Transfiguration, he asks what the evangelist means when describing Peter as "not knowing what he said":

Was it by a mere mistake? or was it for the reason by which we, in our argument for the new prophecy, claim that ecstasy or being beside oneself is a concomitant of grace? For when a man is in the spirit, especially when he has sight of the glory of God, or when God is speaking of him, he must of necessity fall out of his senses, because in fact he is overshadowed by the power of God—on which there is disagreement between us and the natural men [de quo cum inter nos et psychicos]. Meanwhile it is easy to prove that Peter was beside himself. (Adv. Marc. IV.22.4-5)

Here certainly is one instance where Montanist influence has dictated his interpretation. Doubtless the passage would be further illumined if we had the lost books On Ecstasy, but the discussion of ectasy in On the Soul provides sufficient background for Tertullian's interpretation.31

What Is Not Specifically Permitted Is Forbidden

Whether this can be called a rule of interpretation is debatable since it occurs in a limited number of texts. It may also be that the argument from silence reflects the influence of Roman law.32 In any case, one can say that this interpretive practice becomes increasingly prominent in the later writings.

Already in De spectaculis 3.1 the question is raised whether Scripture has anything to say about Christian participation in the pagan games and shows. Tertullian does not have much patience with those who "demand a testimony from holy Scripture, when faced with giving up the spectacles, and declare the matter an open question, because such a renunciation is neither specifically nor in so many words enjoined upon the servants of God." Yet what is not explicit may be implicit in the first Psalm; Scripture need not spell something out to speak to it.

The treatise Against Hermogenes belongs to the earlier period also. Here Tertullian counters Hermogenes' denial of a creatio ex nihilo simply because Scripture does not state this explicitly. "Scripture could quite well omit to add that He [God] had made them out of nothing, but it should have said by all means that he had made them out of matter, if He had made them so …" (Adv. Hermog. 21.3).

The silences of Scripture may be equivalent to command. In Idolatry, for example, Tertullian asks what implications might be found in the fact that the Ark contained unclean animals. Opponents of rigorist discipline saw in this a witness to God's mercy. Tertullian is willing to grant this argument in part: "We shall not be disturbed if, after the type of the Ark, the raven and the kite, the wolf, the dog and the serpent, are found in the Church." But notice: "If the Ark is the type, at any rate no idolater is found in it. No animal is the figure of the idolater. What was not in the Ark can have no place in the Church." (Idol. 24.24).

In De corona militis this argument becomes more pointed. How shall we establish the validity of an unwritten Christian tradition not to wear crowns?

To be sure, it is very easy to ask: 'Where in Scripture are we forbidden to wear a crown? But, can you show me a text which says we should be crowned? When men demand the support of a scriptural text for a view they do not hold, they ought to be willing to subject their own stand to the same test of holy writ.… [They say] 'Whatever is not forbidden is, without question allowed.' Rather do I say, 'Whatever is not specifically permitted is forbidden ' [italics mine] [Immo prohibetur quod non ultro est permissum]. (Cor. mil. 4.2)

Probably the work on Chastity belongs to this same period, a time when he was becoming increasingly rigorous in discipline but had not yet gone beyond his earlier writings with reference to second marriage. Considering the question whether Scripture is explicit on this matter, he says:

Neither in the Gospel nor in the epistles of Paul himself will you find any permission for second marriage based on commandment of God. This fact, then, confirms the conclusion that marriage is to be contracted only once, since we must acknowledge that a thing is forbidden by God when [italics mine] there is no evidence that He permits it. (Exhort. cast. 4.2)

The treatise On Monogamy carries this further. Here we read that the Paraclete has forbidden second marriage (2.1). Even if Scripture be interpreted to have allowed a second marriage before the present dispensation of the Spirit, "I might also argue that what is merely permitted is not an absolute good" (Mon. 3.3). To demonstrate that the Paraclete's new teaching is but the unfolding of what has always been God's will, Tertullian presses the argument from scriptural silence beyond any of his earlier efforts. In Genesis, for example, even after the first fratricidal murder, there was no crime of bigamy. To be sure, Lamech was a bigamist, but "there was no second Lamech to imitate the first in marrying two wives. What Scripture does not mention it denies" [Negat scriptura quod non notat] (Mon. 4.4). And, as for the Ark, "Not even unclean birds could enter in company with two females" (4.5)! All this "has the force of a law [quae utique lex est]" (5.1). As we would expect, these Old Testament references are followed by a long list of New Testament texts that seek to prove Tertullian's discipline.

One reason why we cannot define precisely his principles of interepreting Scripture is because we can never divorce his exegetical method from the controversies in which he was engaged. He is preeminently the controversialist rather than the exegete. It is not without significance that in all of his writings Tertullian has only one short commentary on Scripture, De oratione, and that work is more a homily which begins with an exposition of the Lord's Prayer.


1 J.E.L. Van der Geest, Le Christ et L 'Ancien Testament chez Tertullien (Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vogt, 1972).

2 This essay is a revision of a paper presented on April 9, 1981, to the Southwest Seminar on the Development of Early Catholic Christianity. Chapter and section references are from Tertvlliani Opera in Corpvs Christianorvn, Series Latina, Pars I, II (Tvrnholti: Typographi Brepols Editores Pontificii, 1954). For the most part the translations are taken from those editions noted in T. D. Barnes, Tertullian, A Historical and Literary Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 286-291.

3 The index of the Series Latina edition of Tertullian's works lists four allusions to James and eight to 2 Peter, but these are not demonstrable. H. Roensch, Das Neue Testament Tertulliens (Leipzig, 1871) is still a valuable reconstruction of Tertullian's citations. He deals with the suggested allusions to James and 2 Peter and finds them wanting.

4Instrumentum and paratura are used synonymously when applied to the "canon" of Scripture. Cf. R. Braun, Deus Christianorum: Recherches sur le vocabulaire doctrinal de Tertullien (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962) 463-473. Cf. also van der Geest, op. cit., pp. 16-24.

5 E.g. about 1 John, ".… abortive Marcionites whom the apostle John pronounced antichrists" (Adv. Marc. III.8.1); about Revelation, "Now the apostle John in the Apocalypse describes a sharp two-edged sword" (Adv. Marc. III. 14.3); about 1 Peter, "concerning moderation of toilet and adornment there is the evident authority of Peter, who with the same voice, because with the same Spirit, as Paul.…" (Orat. 20.2).

6 Ellen Flesseman-van Leer, Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church (Assen: Van Gorcum and Comp., G. A. Heck, and Dr. J. Prakke, 1953) 174, "In this way also the authority and canonicity of the epistle of Barnabas (today called the Epistle to the Hebrews) is proved.…

7Ibid., "… Tertullian cannot appeal to the authority of the churches when he defends the canonicity of the book of Enoch …" So also A. D'Alès, La Théológie de Tertullien (Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne & C., 1905) 225, "En dehors du canon, il vénère et cite plusiers fois, comme Écriture inspirée, le livre d'Hénoch."

8 H. Von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972) 276.

9 In Ancient Christian Writers, no. 28 (Westminster: Newman Press, 1959), note 607 on Purity [Modesty], p. 278.

10 Tertullian mentions Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla together in Iei. 12.4 and in Adv. Prax. 1.5; Montanus is mentioned in Iei. 12.4, while Prisca is mentioned in Exhort. cast. 10.5 and in Resurr. mort. 11.2. More often he refers to the "new prophecy." There are six actual citations from the new prophecy: Exhort. cast. 10.4, Resurr. mort. 11.2, Fug. 9.4 (two citations), Pud. 21.7.

11 Claire A. B. Stegman, The Development of Tertullian's Doctrine of Spiritus Sanctus (an unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Methodist University, 1978) 160.

12 H. Karpp, Schrift und Geist bei Tertullian (Gutersloh: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1955), p. 61. However, Stegman does not express Karpp's earlier caution on p. 6, that Tertullian's view of the Spirit "rüihrt an die Grenzen der Lehre und des Kanons, aber überschreitet sie nicht" (italics mine).

13 A. F. Walls, "The Montanist 'Catholic Epistle' and its New Testament Prototype," in Studia Evangelica, vol. 3, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, vol. 88 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964) 443.

14 Cf. T. P. O'Malley, Tertullian and the Bible (Nijmegen/Utrecht: Dekker & van de Vogt, 1967) 4-8.

15 J. Daniélou, The Origins of Latin Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977) 5,7.

16 Cf. the tabulation of "sermo" and "verbum" in Braun, op. cit., p.267, and Marjorie O'Rourke Boyle, "Sermo: Reopening the Conversation on Translating Jn. 1,1" Vigiliae Christianae 31 (1977) 161-168.

17 Cf. B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 196f. for a brief analysis of the manuscript data. Of recent versions, only the Jerusalem Bible decides for the singular "who was born.…"

18 Cf. G. L. Bray, Holiness and the Will of God: Perspectives on the Theology of Tertullian (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), ch. 4.

19 Danielou, op. cit., affirms the authenticity of the first eight chapters of Adversus Judaeos. So does J. Quasten, Patrology, vol. 2 (Westminster: Newman Press, 1953).

20 Bray, op. cit., pp. 111-123, has a good discussion of this trilogy of scriptura, natura, disciplina.

21 For a discussion of the Rule of Faith, compare Flesseman-van Leer, op. cit., with J. H. Waszink, "Tertullian's Principles and Methods of Exegesis," in Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition, ed. W. R. Schoedel and R. L. Wilken (Théologie historique 53; Paris: Beauchesne, 1979). Waszink criticizes O'Malley's suggestion that in Tertullian the Rule of Faith is much more important than Scripture, and also Flesseman-van Leer, who comes close to equating the Rule of Faith with Scripture in its entirety.

22 E.g. Adv. Marc. IV.4.1, "Only such a reckoning of dates, as will assume that authority belongs to that which is found to be older, and will prejudge as corrupt that which is convicted of having come later." In Adv. Hermong 1.1, "When dealing with heretics … we follow the practice of laying down against them a peremptory rule based on the lateness [of their documents]."

23 R. E. Roberts, The Theology of Tertullian (London: Epworth Press, 1924) 19.

24 So also S. L. Greenslade in Early Latin Theology, vol. 5 of Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956) 86.

25 Karpp, op. cit., p. 6.

26 In addition to works cited above, cf. O. Kuss, "Zur Hermeneutik Tertullians," in Schriftauslegung, ed. J. Ernst (München: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 1972); K. Holl, "Tertullian als Schriftsteller," in Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Kirchengeschichte, III (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1928); R. P. C. Hanson, "Notes on Tertullian's Interpretation of Scripture," in Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 12 (1961) 273-279; R. D. Sider Ancient Rhetoric and the Art of Tertullian (London: Oxford University Press, 1971).

27 "… in respect to the unity of their preaching, as we have read earlier in this epistle, they had joined their right hands, and by the very act of having divided their spheres of work had signified their agreement in the fellowship of the gospel: as he says in another place, 'Whether it were I or they, so we preach'" (Adv. Marc. I.20.4). Again: "Even so, how can their [the heretics'] point that Peter was reproved by Paul prove that Paul introduced a new form of Gospel, different from that which Peter and the rest put out before him? … But if Peter was reproved for dissociating himself from the Gentiles out of respect of persons after he had once eaten with them, that was surely a fault of conduct, not of preaching" (Praescr. haer. 23.5-9).

28 Modalists lean everything on a very few passages (Isa. 45:5; John 10:30; 14:8,10,11) and "they wish the whole appurtenance of both testaments to yield, though the smaller number ought to be understood in accordance with the greater [cedere cum oporteat secundum plura intellegi pauciora]. But this is characteristic of all heretics" (Adv. Prax. 20.2).

29 Cf. B. M. Foschini, "Those Who Are Baptized For the Dead," I Cor. 15:29, An Exegetical and Historical Dissertation (Worcester: Heffernan Press, 1951). On p. 41 he points to Adv. Marc. IV. 11.8, where Tertullian says that Marcion's god "refuses baptism except to the celibate or the eunuch, keeping it back until death or divorce." Foschini recognizes that this may simply imply a tendency to postpone baptism (as later in the time of Constantine), but it may also refer to baptism for the dead "practiced by ignorant Catholics as well as by heretics (including Marcionites?)."

30Ibid., p. 64ff. Foschini links the second interpretation with that of Chrysostom.

31 Cf. also Waszink's commentary, De Anima, edited with introduction and commentary (Amsterdam: J. M. Meulenhoof, 1947), p. 481f. for a discussion of Tertullian's concept of ecstasy.

32 So Bray, op. cit., p. 148.

Karen Jo Torjesen (essay date 1989)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2526

SOURCE: "Tertullian's 'Political Ecclesiology' and Women's Leadership," in Studia Patristica, Vol. XXI. Papers Presented to the Tenth International Conference on Patristic Studies Held in Oxford 1987; Second Century: Tertullian, the West, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, Athanasius, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, Peeters Press, 1989, pp. 277-82.

[In the following essay, Torjesen examines Tertullian's scathing denunciation of women's leadership in the Church, noting that he saw the Church as a public and political body and, therefore, not the proper domain of women.]

The thesis of this communication is that Tertullian's attitude towards women's leadership is a consequence of his concept of the church as a body politic. First, I would like to refresh your memory of Tertullian's views on women's leadership and then briefly outline his political ecclesiology. This will prepares us for the analysis of three passages on women's leadership where we will see how Tertullian's condemnation of women's leadership is determined by his political ecclesiology.

Women of the congregations familiar to Tertullian assumed a wide variety of activities, teaching, baptizing, exorcising and healing. The leader of the Cainite congregation was a woman and a theologian. Her arguments regarding the nature of baptism occupy Tertullian's rhetorical and exegetical skills for long stretches of his treatise on Baptism1. Women of other congregations were teaching and debating (contendere, entering into theological discussion)2. Women whose teaching activites focused on catechizing probably assumed the responsibility for baptizing their catechumens3.

Tertullian's attitude toward women exercising these ministries is well documented by virtue of his own seething rhetoric. On women exercising the ministry of teaching he says:

And the women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcism, to undertake cures—maybe even to baptize4.

It is not permitted to a woman to speak in church. Neither may she teach, baptize, offer, nor claim for herself any function proper to a man, least of all the sacerdotal office5.

Nor on the topic of women baptizing is Tertullian's sense of outraged propriety abated:

But the impudence of that woman who assumed the right to teach, she is evidently not going to arrogate to her the right to baptize as well—unless perhaps some new serpent appears, like that original one, so that as that woman abolished baptism, some other should on her own authority confer it6.

There are several paradoxes in Tertullian's thought with regard to women—women may not teach, baptize or exorcise or heal, but they belong to the clergy; women may not speak in church, either to discuss or to ask questions, but they may prophesy; under special circumstances even the laity may baptize or offer the eucharist, but under no conditions could a woman do these things. These paradoxes can be resolved if we examine Tertullian's rhetoric in the passages on women and interpret them in the light of his novel understanding of the church as a political body.

Church as Body Politic

Tertullian's description of the Christian community dramatically marks the transition from a concept of the church modelled on the household to a concept of the church modelled on the body politic. From Tertullian's perspective the church was a legal body (corpus or societas) unified by a common law (lex fidei) and a common discipline (disciplina)7. Tertullian conceives this society as analogous to Roman society, divided, like it, into distinct classes or ranks which are distinguished from one another in terms of honor and authority. The clergy (ordo ecclesiasticus) form a rank similar to the ordo senatorius; the laity form the ordo plebius.

The clergy as the ordo ecclesiasticus represent and manifest the honor and authority of the church; therefore it is imperative that they exemplify the moral discipline of the church8. By virtue of their rank they, like their counterparts the senators, possess certain rights, the right to baptize (ius dandi baptismi), the right to teach (ius docendi), the right to offer the eucharist (ius offrendi) and the right to restore to fellowship after penance (ius delicta donandi.)9. Tertullian shows that he is sensitive to the fact that what had once been ministries have become, in fact, legal rights and privileges when he says that the clergy are not to exercise their rank as though they were part of an imperium10.

De Praescriptione Haereticorum 41

Tertullian's scathing condemnation of women's ministries among groups that he designated as heretical was part of a larger denunciation of the ecclesiastical conduct of those groups. They were "without gravity, without authority, and without discipline". By which he means, there were not clear enough distinctions between catechumens and baptized, between clergy and laity, or between pagan visitors and believers. There was evidently a heated dispute between church groups that were beginning to adopt institutional structures resembling those of Roman society and government and those who persisted in the older organizational pattern modelled on the household11. These latter defended the lack of a rigidly maintained hierarchy between clergy and laity and between catechumens and baptized by claiming it expressed the simplicity of Christ. Tertullian called their simplicity "the destruction of discipline12. On the other hand these groups called the concern for hierarchy (or what Tertullian calls discipline) pandering (lenocinium), meaning that the concern for showing the proper honors to the proper rank was nothing other than vain attempts at flattery.

These groups which Tertullian attacks have church offices ranked like those of Tertullian's churches and similar rites of ordination by which persons were installed into those offices. What Tertullian seems to be criticizing is the lack of social distance between those of different ranks, the lack of formality (authority and gravity) in maintaining these distinctions. The most intriguing question is what is Tertullian using as a standard for comparison, if the organizational structure of both groups is the same. I would like to suggest that Tertullian's standard is the dignity, gravity and formality with which public affairs are conducted, the tone, or mood found in the municipal assemblies or curia. Against this standard, the "heretical groups" who still espouse the household as the pattern for church life appear to Tertullian as lacking gravity, authority and discipline.

It is in this context that Tertullian attacks women's ministries, "The very women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcism, to undertake cures—it may be even to baptize"13. The sexual connotation of the English word wanton is not inappropriate. The latin term pocaces means bold, shameless, and impudent. When applied to women, it is applied when they are outside of their proper sphere—the domestic14. Their very presence in the male sphere—the public sphere—means that they are unchaste, unchaste because they have left their proper sphere. Thus the women who are teaching, disputing, exorcising and healing are wanton in Tertullian's thinking because they have left their appropriate sphere. This is echoed again in the sentiment they are bold and audacious enough to teach.

De Baptismo 17

In Tertullian's treatise on Baptism he addresses a very formidable opponent, a woman theologian, leader of the Cainite sect, whose intellectual powers had persuaded many from congregations known to Tertullian to subscribe to her teachings. After defending the validity of water baptism Tertullian in closing turns to the question of who has the right to baptize. The right lies first and foremost with the bishop; because baptism is one of his specific functions, it is a right; however, also of presbyters, deacons and even of the laity. Nevertheless the bishop has the preeminent right over baptism. For the sake of the "honor" (dignity) of the church, the authority of the bishop must be respected in all cases where minor clergy or laity are administering baptism.

The term Tertullian uses to designate the right of clergy or laity to exercise a ministry of the church is a legal term—ius. The laity by virtue of their baptism possess the right to baptize, as they also possess the right to teach and to offer the eucharist. However, although the laity may exercise all of these ministries, women may exercise none of them. Tertullian, among the opening salvos of his attack on his theological adversary, says that women do not even possess the right to teach sound doctrine, much less to create heresies. Here the term he uses is ius docendi. As he concludes his treatise he returns to her again and calls her a wanton (petulantia) woman who has usurped the right to teach.

In Tertullian's new vision of the church as a political body, the church's ministries have become legal rights to be exercised only by full members of the political body. Since women could not be citizens of the state, either by holding office, participating in debate or exercising any public functions, then it was self-evident for Tertullian that neither could they do so in the body politic of the church. The right to minister—teach, baptize, etc.—was not a right restricted to the clergy; they were the rights of all the citizens who were members of the body politic. However, women could not be members of the body politic. In "On the Veiling of Virgins" Tertullian spells this out.

It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any male function15.

Women's performance of public activities (i.e. exercising the ius docendi, ius baptizandi etc.) meant that they had abandoned the domestic sphere, so again Tertullian describes such women as wanton (petulantia.) And when they exercise any public ministry, they are usurping rights that do not belong to them because they are women; legal rights can belong only to men16.

De Virginibus Velandis

In Tertullian's mind the church had become irrevocably a public sphere. Women who came to church had, in effect, left the household and entered a public male sphere. Not only their comportment, but also their dress and grooming must reflect a respect for the public-male character of this space. Nowhere is the trauma of this transition from household space to public space more poignant than in Tertullian's passionate treatise on the veiling of virgins. "Young women", he scolds, "you wear your veils out on the streets (in vicis), so you should wear them in the church (in ecclesiis); you wear them when you are among strangers (extraneos), then wear them among your brothers (fratres.) If you won't wear your veils in church, then I challenge you to go around in public without them"17. But that is just the point, the church had been a private sphere, like a household; it was a place where women could come and go openly and freely as they did in the domestic sphere. What Tertullian is insisting on, is that the church is not a private sphere, it is in fact no different than the market place. The rules of propriety for women that apply in the streets have now been brought into the inner—once domestic—sanctum of the church.

For Tertullian the sense of the church as a public place is so profound that he launches on what must have been a thankless and perhaps futile campaign. The virgins who were part of the ecclesiastical order, part of the clergy, sat in special seats reserved for them as did the presbyters, widows and bishop. Their number and their commitment to a life of chastity was for the rest of the church one of its proudest emblems. These virgins were not veiled, to signify their unmarried state. These young women, unveiled, dedicated to God, were like a public and visible offering to God by the church and a cause for praise and glory18. Tertullian calls this practice a "liberty" granted by the church to honor the virgin and her choice. As Tertullian formulates it she is honored by being granted the right (ius) not to wear a veil. Tertullian is bitterly opposed to this practice, and more even interesting than his denunciations are the motives behind them.

His biting description of the practice is quite instructive, "for after being brought forward into the midst of the church and elated by the public announcement of their good deed, and laden by the brethren with every honour and charitable bounty" these virgins on public display will no doubt become sexually active. It is the public character of their presence in the church that most offends Tertullian; it is not even so much their unveiledness that makes their presence a "public" presence, rather it is their being publicly honored (like holders of public office). He argues that to grant a virgin dedicated to God the right not to wear a veil and to honor her with this right is the same as honoring her with the right to hold male offices or rank (chap, ix). In conclusion he states flatly, "nothing in the way of public honor is permitted to a virgin"19.

As before, so also in this context, for women to assume public roles was equivalent to unchastity. In the end, as he tells it, virgins who receive public honors will eventually become pregnant, add to their guilt by attempting abortions and contriving to conceal their motherhood. Public presence is the very opposite of chastity, a virgin "must necessarily be imperilled by the public exhibition of herself"20.


1De Bapt. I, 17.

2De Prae. Haer. 41.

3 Several scholars have interpreted such passages referring to women leaders teaching and baptizing to mean that women involved in the process of evangelizing and catechizing also baptized their converts. See Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York, 1983), p. 173; H. Achelis and J. Fleming, Die syrische Didascalia uebersetzt und erklart (TU, 25,2; Leipzig, 1904).

4De Praes. 41.

5De Virg. Vel. 9.1.

6De Bap. 17.

7 On the church as corpus or societas see E. Herrmann, Ecclesia in Re Publica (Frankfurt, 1980), p. 42; A. Beck, Römisches Recht bei Tertullian and Cyprian (Halle, 1930), p. 58; on lex fidei, Beck, p. 51; on disciplina see Beck, p. 54.

8Ex. Cast. 7, De Mon. 12.

9 On ius dandi baptismi see Ex cast. 7; on ius docendi see De Bapt. 1; on ius offrendi see Ex Cast. 7; on ius delicta donandi see De Pud. 21.

10De Mon. 12.

11 E. Schussler Fiorenza identifes the evolution of the household model of church organization, see pp. 285-334. She believes that genderization of church offices took place at this point. Since both materfamilias and paterfamilias exercised leadership roles in the household, I do not see the genderization of leadership taking place until the political model of leadership is adopted.

12Ex Cast. 7.

13De Praes. 41.

14 The virtue of chastity is measured by three factors: appearing in public places, clothing and makeup and sexual activities. Thus appearing in public places was sufficient cause to warrant the accusation of wanton; see "Treatise on Chastity", in M. R. Leflcowitz and M. B. Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome (Baltimore, 1985), p. 104.

15De Vir. Vel. 9.

16 In Greek and Roman political theory women could not participate in public life, i.e. holding office, giving speeches or voting. See Aristotle, Politics, 111. 1; Philo, Special Laws, III. 169, Elshtain, J. Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton, 1981), pp. 19-54.

17De Vir. Vel. 13.

18De Vir. Vel. 14.

19De Vir. Vel. 15.

20De Vir. Vel. 17.

David Rankin (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1893

SOURCE: "Conclusions: The Church according to Tertullian" in Tertullian and the Church, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 111-16.

[In the following excerpt, Rankin comments on Tertullian's view of the authentic Church and the imagery he uses to describe it.]

Occasional references to an 'ecciesia in caelis' can be found in Tertullian's writings. Yet, for the most part, Tertullian sees the true church as an historical, empirical reality the authentication for which can be found at least partly in the present age. This reality is partly determined by the nature and the circumstances of the church's foundation by the apostles, and partly by its Spirit-driven activity in the present time, but, above all, by its present nature, consistent with its promise as the eschatological community, as both the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ.1 This church in the power of the Spirit, which power enables it to become now what it is in promise, is not yet the Kingdom of God, but its anticipation in history.2 In this Tertullian differs from both Origen and Clement of Alexandria, for example, for whom the present reality is but an imperfect shadow of some heavenly, as yet unrealised ideal. Tertullian is consistent in his understanding of the historical and empirical nature of this church, and, in this sense, no significant difference is discernible in his ecclesiology in the transition from Catholic to New Prophet. What do change, however, are the criteria by which for him the reality and the authentication of the true church are evaluated; that is, what it is for this church to be faithful to its essential and authentic nature.

Some of the images employed by Tertullian to depict the church are drawn from secular life, though most do have biblical and other Christian connections. 'Castra', though reflecting the influence of both the Old Testament and the book of Revelation, was an obvious image for those who lived in the increasingly militarised world of the Severans. The employment of 'navis', though it might reflect the influence of the Gospels—the 'little boat' on which the first disciples experienced some of their most significant encounters with the power of Jesus—would also be an obvious one in a province dependent on the sea for its contact with the rest of the Roman world. 'Schola' and 'secta' are the images most obviously reflecting a non-biblical milieu. Drawn from the world of pagan philosophy and education, they were employed by Tertullian both to provide useful points of recognition for pagans and to proclaim the moral and ideological superiority of Christianity over its pagan rivals. Tertullian's depiction of the church-as-mother—used consistently throughout his career—though not original with him, is given such a new treatment in his ecclesiology that it yet lays claim as a quasi-original 'Tertullianism'! None before him had so decisively employed the image as one which established the church as possessing a personalised identity separate from her members. In nothing else, save perhaps in his trinitarian language and his emphasis on the essential holiness of the church, was Tertullian to exercise such a lasting influence on later Christian thought.

Tertullian's presentation of the church as the Body of Christ is reflected in his employment of the images 'corpus', 'Christus', 'Spiritus' and 'trinity'. While he could use the first mentioned in the secular sense of an 'association' and at times in a particularly formal and routine manner, his use of all four images suggests most strongly that he understood the image of the church as the Body of Christ in a more than metaphorical sense. There is with him an unmistakable identification between the true church and the person of Christ which comes perilously close to seeing the church as an extension of the Incarnation itself. And yet such an identification would be by no means absolute for Tertullian and is possible only where the Spirit is demonstrably present in the midst of the church. The use of the image of the Body of Christ reinforces Tertullian's emphasis on the necessary unity of the church, which church, being the Body of Christ, cannot be divided against itself and can only be that which in reality it is called to be. Tertullian employs the images of 'virgin' and 'Bride of Christ'—and often together—in a manner which corresponds very closely to New Testament and early patristic usage. These images emphasise the necessary holiness of the church and in a thoroughly eschatological way. The church is not to become at the End the virgin Bride of Christ; she is that in the present-time, and can be none other now than that which she is to be at the End. The images are not unconnected … to that of the church as the Body of Christ.

Had Tertullian lived to see the development of the now familiar ecclesiological formularies, he would almost certainly have approved of the affirmation of the church as 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic'. Throughout both major periods of his Christian life he constantly stressed the necessary unity of the church, from the communion of the various congregations spread throughout the known world, to that 'oneness' and 'peace' within a single congregation.3 For Tertullian the scriptural bases for this essential unity are found at Ephesians 4,4-6 and in Paul's criticism of division in I Corinthians, passim. The images which are employed by him most often to illustrate this 'unity'—particularly at the local congregational level—are those related to that of the Body of Christ; though at least one of these … could also be employed by Tertullian in a more secular sense. Whether this unity was essential to the authentication of the true church, or was merely a useful though non-essential indicator, is not clear.

The catholicity of the church, which at this time was an attribute primarily associated with that of its unity, was also very important, at least in Tertullian's early thought; it receives no explicit mention later on. Given the widespread suspicion of the New Prophecy movement, even in his own day, it may not have been prudent for Tertullian to lay too much stress on this aspect of his ecclesiology. None of the particular images employed by him speak directly to it, though he undoubtedly understood its scriptural bases to lie both in the Great Commission at Matthew 28,19f. and in Acts. Catholicity seems for him not to have been essential to the authenticity of the true church, but rather a useful indicator of that church's unity and apostolicity.

The holiness of the church in Tertullian's thought is, however, another matter. It is crucial to his understanding of the essential nature of the authentic church; this is particularly so in the later period, though it is far from absent earlier; it is an attribute without which the church cannot be the true church, and is surpassed in importance in this regard possibly only by that of apostolicity. Its scriptural bases are found in I Corinthians 5, 1 Timothy 1, 19f., Ephesians 5 and 2 Corinthians 11. Tertullian's understanding of this holiness is also profoundly influenced by the eschatological framework of his thought, by his consequent understanding of the demands of sanctification and of 'holiness' generally, and by the natural rigour of his own personality. At least four of the major images employed by Tertullian represent this particular aspect of his ecclesiology—those of 'ark', 'camp', 'bride (of Christ)', and 'virgin'.

Three of these—the first, the third and the fourth—draw their inspiration from the Bible. The second is drawn principally from the secular world. This particular attribute of the true church is given most emphasis in his later writings, but is also present in the earlier period when concern for the purity and exclusiveness of doctrine is found in the foreground of his thought. It denotes for him one of the crucial aspects of the 'primitive' church, which church should be the model for his own time. The holiness of the church, however, lies not in the process of its historical development, nor in some ideal to be sought though perhaps never achieved, but in what it is by the grace of God. A less than holy church is, for Tertullian, not logically possible. Anything less than holy cannot authentically be the church. It is not that the church should be or could be holy; it is holy. It is already, in the present-time, the virgin Bride of Christ. It can seek only to conform to its own inherent nature.

It is the attribute of apostolicity which denotes for Tertullian the second plank of the essential nature of the one, true church. It is not only because thereby—in the Stoic sense—it can be 'traced back' to its (earthly) origins, but rather because it can thereby be traced back to a divine authentication. God sent his Christ, Christ anointed and sent out his apostles, and they in turn founded the church. This is what sets the church above and apart from all other human institutions. In theory those others could well be united, catholic, perhaps even holy (though probably not), but they could never trace their origins back to the apostles appointed by Christ. Apostolicity remained for Tertullian the key to the nature of the true church; it was only the manner in which this attribute was to be demonstrated which was to change in his transition from Catholic to New Prophet.

At De Pudicitia 21, 1 Tertullian seeks to distinguish between 'doctrinam apostolorum et potestatem'. Both were important to his concept of the church and Tertullian never denied oversight of the former to the bishops. Yet when he was faced with the administration of penitential discipline, with the forgiveness of grievous sinners and their possible readmission to communion, and with the question of who possessed the authority to 'act' in the name of God, the question of 'power' (potestas) became of primary importance. While doctrinal orthodoxy can be traced by way of episcopal succession back to the tradition established by the apostles themselves, disciplinary 'power' had to be authenticated in the contemporary church by proven possession of that same Spirit which had indwelt Christ, his apostles and the prophets.

Schweizer comments that 'God's Spirit marks out in freedom the pattern that church order afterwards recognises; it is therefore functional, regulative, serving, but not constitutive, and that is what is decisive'.4 Tertullian's observation in De Pudicitia 21,17 that the true church is that of the Spirit, and not that which is constituted by a number of bishops, reflects this same sentiment. And yet Moltmann's assertion that 'the church has never existed in a historically demonstrable ideal, a form in which faith and experience coincided'5 is one to which Tertullian could not give assent if it meant agreeing that such coincidence is never possible in the present age. Tertullian was an 'heir of the Apostles' and the church was truly both the 'Body of Christ' and the 'virgin Bride of Christ'. In these particular aspects of Tertullian's thought lie the answers to many of the questions concerning his 'high' ecclesiology—his apparent identification of the visible church with that 'in caelis', for example—and his understanding of what constituted the essential attributes or notes of the one, authentic church founded by the apostles of Christ.


1 Moltmann, The church, p. 20.

2 Ibid,. p. 196.

3De Baptismo 17.

4 Schweizer, Church order in the New Testament (London, 1961) p. 205.

5 Moltmann, The church, p.21.

Eric Osborn (essay date 1997)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9895

SOURCE: "Simplicity and Perfection" in Tertullian, First Theologian of the West, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 1-26.

[In the following excerpt, Osborn observes the essential importance of simplicity, founded on the perfection of Christ, in Tertullian's thought.]

'We also are religious and our religion is simple', objected the Roman proconsul to the martyr Speratus, at his trial near Carthage on 17 July 180. 'If you will listen calmly', replied Speratus, 'I shall tell you the mystery of simplicity.1 Tertullian was not the only African who liked paradox.2 Speratus claims simplicity for Christians rather than pagans. He counters the accusation that Christians are secret and sinister, by asserting that their secret is simplicity. He draws on the New Testament account of the mystery of salvation. The writer to the Ephesians had been concerned to tell the nations of the unsearchable riches of Christ and to bring to light 'the economy of the mystery which has been hidden from all ages in the God who created all things' (Eph. 3.9). The church declares to heavenly powers the manifold … wisdom of God (Eph. 3.10), which is the divine mystery. The end of salvation, the vision of Christ and the church present a great mystery (Eph. 5.32).

Tertullian's lust for simplicity, supported by superlatives, persists throughout his work and is a good place to begin a study of his thought. A fine exposition, which begins 'Tertullien déconcerte', goes on to insist that Tertullian took a simple and total choice when he became a Christian and that his complexity comes from his earlier intellectual formation; whether a study of his thought begins from either simplicity or complexity, it will discover a profound unity.3

A man of keen and violent disposition (acris et vehementis ingenii'),4 much of Tertullian's lively talk is concerned with clarifying what others have confused. Like Paul, he reiterates that he wants to know nothing but Christ crucified. Christ revealed himself, not as a tradition, but as truth (virg. 1.1). Truth is simple (ap. 23.7f.), but philosophers have mixed with it their own opinions (ap. 47.4) and sunk to a perversity (Marc. 5.19.8) which tortures truth ('unde ista tormenta cruciandae simplicitatis et suspendendae vertiatis?' an. 18.7). The soul testifies in its simplicity (test. 1.6) and its evidence is simple and divine (test. 5.1). Truth leads to beauty so female dress should be marked by simplicity (cult. 1.2.4 et passim). When Valentinians accuse ordinary Christians of simplicity, he replies 'although simple, we nevertheless know everthing' (Val. 3.5). He writes (res. 2.11) to strengthen the faith of simple believers, employing his rhetorical skill on their behalf against heretics (res. 5.1).

The Simple Beginning

The divine economy of salvation is reflected in Christian baptism, which points to past and future. Life begins at baptism; here Tertullian shows his yearning for what is simple, in 'the sacrament of our Christian water, which washes away the sins of our original blindness and frees us for eternal life' (bapt. 1.1.). Yet simplicity never displaces reason. Those who do not examine the reasons behind simple baptism, and who stay with an unexamined faith, are vulnerable through their ignorance (ibid.). The wrong kind of simplicity needs instruction, guidance and protection (res. 2.11).5 Tertullian rejects the naïveté of those who want a proof-text which forbids their attendance at the games (spect. 3.1) and the artless heresy which abolishes all discipline (praescr. 41.3). A heretical viper6 has turned many away from baptism, through that common perversity which rejects anything simple. 'Nothing, absolutely nothing, hardens human minds as much as the obvious simplicity of what God does, and the contrasting greatness of what he thereby achieves. The unadorned fact, that with such radical simplicity, without pomp, without any special preparation, and indeed, at no cost, a man is lowered into water, is dipped, while a few words are spoken, and then emerges, not much (if at all) cleaner, makes it all the more incredible that he gains eternal life in this way' (bapt. 2.1). In striking contrast, idol worship uses every possible embroidery of ritual and every additional expense.

Fussy, wretched incredulity denies God's primary properties of simplicity and power, which should be received with wonder and faith. God is found by the simple in heart (praescr. 7.10) and he appeared to Elijah openly and simply (apertus et simplex, pat. 15.6). God is too simple to have worked a Docetist deception (carn. 5.10). For the unbeliever, there is nothing in such plain acts as baptism and the pretended effects are impossible: which illustrates how God uses foolish things to confound worldly wisdom and does easily what men find most difficult.

The subtlety of God's simplicity is linked with his wisdom and power, which derive stimulus from their opposites of folly and impossibility, 'since every virtue receives its cause from those things by which it is provoked' (bapt. 2.3). So strife becomes a second theme of Tertullian's thought.7 He links it with Pauline paradox, and it is fundamental to the Stoicism which looked back to Heraclitus whom Justin saw as a Christian before Christ. Simplicity and weakness belong to God as his omnipotent rejection of earthly power and wisdom. Christians who follow this divine simplicity are little fishes (bapt. 1.3) who cannot live apart from the water of baptism. Here their faith is contracted to the one word … which stands for Jesus Christ, son of God, saviour.8

Repetition underlines simplicity and Tertullian employs it to reinforce his claims. More than this, his key words (goodness, reason and discipline) link together diverse things which are derived from one simple divine origin. Goodness explains every part of the creative act (Marc. 2.4.5). Reason is founded in God who is ever rational, and provides grounds for Tertullian's every argument (including his paradoxes) and for his constant attacks upon his opponents (paen. 1). Ratio is his favourite word. Discipline governs all details of conduct. The constant refrain of these themes provides unity in his writing.

Christians are plain people because they accept the world as God's creation. This means that they do not run of into seclusion, but live like others; they eat, dress, bathe, work, trade, sail, fight, farm and practise a craft. They do not observe the common religious rites; but they are no less human or reasonable for that (ap. 42.4). Their simple lives are matched in modesty by simple dress (cult. 2.13.3). They follow the New Testament aesthetic of 'putting on' Christ.

Simplicity, in Tertullian, sometimes exacts its price and affects his arguments. The sudden enunciation of God's name is, for most, not the testimony of a soul which is naturally Christian, but the testimony of a soul which is not very Christian. The appeal to lines of episcopal succession is controversial rather than an end to controversy and, in any case, Tertullian always wants to obey conscience rather than bishop. In his case the two rarely agree.9 Above all, Tertullian seems to fail in his account of divine justice and love. In his rejection of Marcion, he claims that only retributive justice can discourage sin.10

These matters will be dealt with again later. The points to note at this stage are three. First, we must expect that a passion for simplicity might induce errors. Theology, like philosophy, is a complex matter and those who cut corners suffer accidents.11 Second, those who turn every corner arrive nowhere. Debate differs from argument. The orator who silences his opponent rarely uses adequate argument. Against the plea for fear as an essential deterrent against sin, Marcion simply shook his head and said 'Absit'; he was silent but not convinced. Third, theologians and other exponents of rational argument commonly make a few bad mistakes. By far the best example is Augustine, who dominated a culture for a thousand years, and whose argument for the liquidation of schismatics through the severity of love12 is only matched, for unconvincing barbarity, by his accounts of predestination and original sin. These three dangers make an exploration of Tertullian's arguments obligatory.

Intricate Apologetic

Tertullian's defence of simplicity will always have a twist of paradox, and qualifications of fundamental force. There are his own deep conflicts. How complicated was he? One writer'13 produced a book to probe the disorder of his personality, another composed a large tome to show the perversity of his ethics.14 Many have followed the verdict that he is a troubled fideist.15

More disconcerting is the praise of his admirers. Even a sober scholar could write: 'Roman restraint, legal clarity and military discipline were transmuted into an intellectual and moral force in the ardent, aspiring mind and heart of Tertullian.16 Enthusiasm gallops away with another:

Ardent in temperament, endowed with an intelligence as subtle and original as it was aggressive and audacious, he added to his natural gifts a profound erudition, which far from impeding only gave weight to the movements of his alert and robust mind … Harassed from without, the African Church was also torn from within by an accumulation of evils; apostasies, heresies, and schisms abounded. Up through the confusion were thrust Tertullian's mighty shoulders, casting off the enemies of the Gospel on every side. He was not formed for defensive warfare.17

It is regrettable that some scholars want to award prizes rather than to understand what is alien to them.

A recent and restrained assessment, which touches lightly on the ideas of Tertullian in favour of his history and his literary achievement, calls him a 'Christian Sophist'.18 This is helpful, but uncomfortably ambiguous, since Tertullian spent much time attacking and repudiating what is commonly regarded as sophistry.

How complex is Tertullian? There is no lack of intricate argument, however forcefully it may be presented; worse still, in the interests of simplicity and speed, steps are often omitted and details which have appeared earlier are not repeated. We might call this 'Tertullian's Trick'; because often, when we think we have found a fallacy and caught him out, we find that he has answered our objection elsewhere. A good orator does not repeat detail. For his interpreters today, this should be less of a difficulty after fifty years of philosophical analysis; but some still look for systems and the fun of deconstructing them. Many manage to ignore the truth that conclusions are ambiguous without the argument which leads to them. In order to understand an author we must remember the cards he has already played.

To a remarkable extent, Tertullian respected conventional rhetorical forms which made his work more accessible to his contemporaries.19 Tertullian faced a complex situation, where the culture of Greece and Rome, the religion of Israel and the new faith in Jesus came together in a mixture of conflict and agreement. Each component had internal diversity within which Tertullian had to choose. A critical eclecticism was characteristic of all parties. The importance of Tertullian for cultural history is immense, and he may rightly be called the 'first theologian of the West', provided this does not limit his influence to the West or obscure his massive debt to Irenaeus.20 Justin had anticipated him, by his move to Rome, and it is remarkable how much had been achieved. But Justin still writes in Greek and his ideas are difficult because undeveloped. His interest is that of an originator whose ideas are taken up and developed by others who add, alter and diverge. As a result, his own meaning is frequently uncertain.

Tertullian's achievement was not merely cultural and linguistic, but above all intellectual. For, 'despite his obvious originality, he displays those characteristics which are to be found throughout Latin Christianity: a realism which knows nothing of the Platonist devaluation of matter; a subjectivity, which gives special prominence to inner experience; and a pessimism which lays more stress on the experience of sin than on transfiguration'.21

Tertullian believed in change. Plato gave place to Heraclitus and the Stoics. The way up is the way down. All things change and all things renew themselves. Nothing ends except to begin again (res. 12). While Clement, for all his delight in Heraclitus, looked beyond the world of material things to Plato's intellectual realities (strom. 6.1), Tertullian saw reality in flesh and matter, and found truth in an unending series of paradoxes.

He began as an apologist and apologetic displays the contingency of theology and philosophy.22 It begins from a faith to which objections are made by opponents or experiences of widely diverse kinds.… Romans will not like his higher loyalty to Christ, radical Christians will not like his political conformism, some will find him too indulgent and others will find him too ascetic; either they will not dance when they hear the pipes or they will not lament with those who mourn. When the Baptist neither eats nor drinks, he is demonic and when Jesus eats and drinks he is a glutton and a winebibber (Matt. 11.16-19).

However consistent the position of the apologist is, it will not appear consistent until there has been careful analysis and then it may look too complex.

They live in countries of their own, but simply as sojourners; they share the life of citizens, they endure the lot of foreigners; every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. They marry like the rest of the world. They breed children, but they do not cast their offspring adrift. They eat together but do not sleep together. They exist in the flesh, but they live not after the flesh. They spend their existence upon earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and in their own lives they surpass the laws … The Jews war against them as aliens, and the Greeks persecute them.23

To meet apparent inconsistencies, like Tertullian's denigration and exaltation of marriage and philosophy, apologetic needs linking argument (for which it may not have enough time) as well as a few general concepts (economy of salvation, logos) which maintain a scattered presence.24 Tertullian goes further, so that these concepts embrace fundamental questions of theology. The remarkable thing is that, for all his vehemence, his ideas do hold together. He had a deep, abiding concern. As a Stoic, he began with an undefined consciousness of God.25 As a Christian, he filled that concept with the gospel, the story of salvation which ran from creation to apocalypse. The golden thread which runs through his thought is the recapitulation of all things in Christ.

Apologetic presents an extreme case of the tensions faced by all philosophy and theology. Today, theologians are reluctant to distinguish historical from systematic theology because every theology is marked by its historical situation and specific questions. This move is mirrored in a wider reaction against the scientific positivism which was the last gesture of Enlightenment epistemology. In a wide-ranging review of the human sciences, we find one common feature: 'a willingness to emphasise the local and contingent, a desire to underline the extent to which our own concepts and attitudes have been shaped by particular historical circumstances, and a correspondingly strong dislike—amounting almost to hatred in the case of Wittgenstein—of all overarching theories and singular schemes of explanation'.26 An apologist, like Tertullian, is more likely to be understood in such an intellectual climate. For we have all learnt that within the most carefully argued and tidy system, there are polarities and contradictions which cannot be ignored. What Godel showed for mathematics (that there is no self-sufficient, consistent autonomy) seems true of all rational systems.

What did Tertullian write? His many writings show the range of his apologetic.27 In 197, he exhorts the martyrs (mart.), confronting the major challenge to faith which was the suffering of God's faithful people and defending the faith before a persecuting state (nat., ap.). Between 198 and 206, he argues that faith is natural (test.), he confronts the Jewish attack (Jud.)—the gospel had come to Carthage through Jewish Christians. The threat of heresy is met with a general response and a statement of the essential rule of Christian faith (praescr.). One well-argued alternative, the dualism of Hermogenes (Herm.) is dissected, analysed and refuted. The public behaviour of Christians is rigorously directed away from attendance at games (spect.), frequency of marriage (ux.) and fine clothing (cult.). Prayer (or.) and baptism (bapt.) explain matters of devotion and worship. Patience (pat.) is a private virtue while penitence (paen.) has both private and public consequences.

During his middle period (207-8) when signs of Montanist28 influence begin to appear, substantial works are directed against heretical dualism. The work Against Marcion (Marc.)29 owes its present form to this period, but builds on earlier work. Valentinians are attacked both in the short work which bears their name (Val.) and in the anti-docetic works which defend the flesh (carn., res.). Chastity (cast.) and modest dress (virg.) continue the ascetic strain of ethics while the hostility of the state to Christians is further considered (cor., scorp.) and a particular oppressor is challenged (Scap.). Idolatry is condemned as false and the source of all evil (idol.) and the nature of the soul is examined (an.).

During the final period of his writing (213-22), Tertullian is plainly at odds with catholic, 'psychic' (unspiritual)30 Christianity. Rigorous ethical demands are expressed in the rejection of flight during persecution (fug.) and remarriage (mon.), and the commendation of fasting (iei.) and modesty (pud.). His attack on Praxeas defends the distinction of persons within the trinity and the distinction of substances within the incarnate Christ (Prax.). Yet the chains of secular culture retain their subordinate place below the 'better philosophy' (pall.).

Tertullian's one central idea (the economy of salvation perfected in Christ) runs from his Apologeticum to the better philosophy (pall.) and his theology of trinity and incarnation (Prax.). This provides internal unity to his thought, within all complexity. It is the constant factor. Montanism is the result, not the cause, of Tertullian's concern for the perfection of the divine economy.

Tertullian has two external controls on the complexities of apologetic and theology: brevity and paradox. Brevity had been claimed as a Christian virtue from the beginning (I Tim. 1.3f.). Justin (I apol. 14) took the brevity of Christ's sayings as proof he was not a sophist, and Irenacus contrasted the short word of the gospel with the long-winded law. Sextus (sent. 430) linked brevity with the knowledge of God. For Tertullian, truth and brevity (Marc. 2.28.3), certainty and brevity (an. 2.7) go together. The Lord's Prayer is a compendium of the whole gospel (or. 9.1). Conciseness is a welcome necessity; prolixity is a bore (virg. 4.4). On this theme scripture, especially the Wisdom literature, and Stoic tradition coincided.3 We have already noted some reasons for brevity. As an orator and a preacher, Tertullian leaves a lot out, so that he will not lose his audience. As a Stoic and a follower of Paul, he accepts paradox as a common means of ordering truth. Indeed there is a primal paradox. 'Truth and hatred of truth come into our world together. As soon as truth appears, it is the enemy' (ap. 7.3).

We return to his simplicity. Tertullian was himself, not a Christian Cicero. Seneca is often one of us (saepe noster); we are never his. A Christian builds his faith on his own foundation, not that of another (an. 26.1). Christ was not mistaken when he solemnly entrusted the proclamation of his gospel to simple fishermen instead of skilful sophists (an. 3.3). As his follower, Tertullian rejoices in the mere name of Christian and the message of the little fishes: 'Jesus Christ, son of God, saviour'. A simple criterion governs the Christian's logic. Confronted by exuberance of words and ideas, he applies a constant criterion of truth. In contrast, Marcion loves uncertainty, and prefers it to the certainty of the rule of faith. 'Now if to your plea, which itself remains uncertain, there be applied further proofs derived from uncertainties, we shall be caught up in such a chain of questions, which depend on our discussion of these equally uncertain proofs and whose uncertainty will endanger faith, so that we shall slide into those insoluble questions which the apostle dislikes' (Marc. 1.9.7). In opposition Tertullian insists 'I shall therefore insist, with complete confidence that he is no God who is today uncertain, because until now he has been unknown; because as soon as it is agreed that God exists, from this very fact it follows that he never has been unknown, and therefore never uncertain' (Marc. 1.9.10).

Divine Unicity32

The first question of early Christian theology was: is there one God, good and true, who is creator of this world of sin and evil? For Tertullian, God's own simple unity is ultimate. 'God is not God if he be not one' (Marc. 1.3.1). He holds the universe in his hand like a bird's nest. Heaven is his throne and earth is his footstool (Marc. 2.25.2). However, because he is found through faith in Jesus, he does not conform to ultimate Neoplatonic simplicity. We shall see that, for Tertullian as for other second-century theologians, the way to one God is through the son and the spirit.33

Marcion is equally convinced about God's unicity, which he places above the duality of creation and redemption, and claims: 'One single work is sufficient for our god; he has liberated man by his supreme and most excellent goodness, which is of greater value than all destructive insects' (Marc. 1.17.1).34 But Marcion, says Tertullian, is a great muddler and his higher god has produced nothing which might give ground for believing in his existence. How can he be superior when he can show no work to compare with, for example, the human being produced by the inferior god? The question 'does this god exist?' is answered from what he has done and the question 'what is this god like?' is determined by the quality of his work. Marcion's uncreative god does not pass the first test, so the second does not apply.

In the alleged interests of unity, Marcion multiplies. He may begin from two gods, but he finishes with many more and his account is far from simple.

So you have three substances of deity in the higher regions, and in the lower regions four. When to these are added their own Christs—one who has appeared in the time of Tiberius, another who is promised by the creator—Marcion is obviously being robbed by those persons who assume that he postulates two gods, when he implies that there are nine, even if he does not know it. (Marc. 1.15.6)

Here Tertullian is drawing his own polemical conclusions from Marcion's views and does not help his case; but there is more than caricature because, once mediators are introduced, multiplication sets in.35

There are also historical confusions for Marcion. His god turned up at his destined time, because of certain astrological complexities, which Marcionites enjoy, even if the stars were made by the lesser god; for the greater god may have been held back by the rising moon, or some witchery, or by the position of Saturn or Mars (Marc. 1.18.1). Whatever the delay, he glided down in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, to be a saving spirit. Yet the pest-laden wind of his salvation did not begin to blow until some year in the reign of Antoninus Pius. This delay implies difference and confusion. For from Tiberius to Antoninus Pius, 115 years and 6½ months elapsed; the god whom Marcion then introduced cannot be the god whom Christ revealed, for the interim between Christ and Marcion rules out identity.

Beyond this confusion lie Marcion's great dichotomies—the antitheses of law and gospel, creation and salvation—which run from beginning to end (Marc. 1.19.4). Marcion's god could not have been revealed by Christ who came before Marcion introduced the division between two gods. Yet Marcion claims that he restored a rule of faith which had been corrupted, over all those intervening years; Tertullian wonders at the patience of Christ who waited so long for Marcion to deliver him (Marc. 1.20.1).

This argument suggests again the cost of simplicity and the apparent naivete of Tertullian in the interests of apologetic. By itself, the argument has no force whatever. Marcion claimed that he was a reformer who went back to the original gospel and apostle.36 However, Tertullian makes the argument respectable by referring to Paul (in Galatians) who was not commending another god and another Christ, but attributing the annulment of the old dispensation to the creator himself who (through Isaiah and Jeremiah) had declared the intention that he would do something new and make a new covenant. Later, by exact examination of the prophets (Marc. 3), Luke's Gospel (Marc. 4) and Paul (Marc. 5), he shows that the evidence for Marcion's primitive gospel is not to be found.37 Tertullian further states that the first Christians were certain about God the creator and about his Christ, while they argued about almost everything else, and that certainty continues in all apostolic makes churches. This argument is sound, since Marcionites could not point to a particular ancient church which followed their teaching (Marc. 1.21.3).

Divine simplicity has no vulgar fractions. God is eternal, rational and perfect; his salvation is universal, whereas Marcion's God leaves out Jews and Christians because they belong to the creator. More importantly, because he saves only souls and not bodies, the strange god never provides more than a 'semi-salvation'. Surely a god of perfect goodness could save the whole of man? 'Wholly damned by the creator, he should have been wholly restored by the god of sovereign goodness' (Marc. 1.24.4). Marcion's god cannot do anything to protect his believers from the malignant power of the creator, as it works through everything from thunder, war and plague to creeping, crawling insects. 'Just how do you think you are emancipated from his kingdom when his flies still creep over your face? … You profess a God who is purely and simply good; however you cannot prove the perfect goodness of him who does not perfectly set you free' (Marc. 1.24.7).

There are now perverse and muddled objections made against the almighty God, lord and founder of the universe," who 'has been known from the beginning, has never hidden himself, has shone in constant splendor, even before Romulus and long before Tiberius' (Marc. 2.2.1) The riches of his wisdom and knowledge are deep, his judgements are unsearchable and his ways past finding out (Rom. 11.34); therefore his simplicity will not be evident to the natural man, who cannot receive the things of the spirit. 'And so God is supremely great just when man thinks he is small, God is supremely best just when man thinks him not good, he is especially one when man thinks there are two gods or more' (Marc. 2.2.6). Innocence and understanding have gone, for man 'has lost the grace of paradise, and that intimacy with God, by which, had he obeyed, he would have known all the things of God' (Marc. 2.2.6).

Indeed, simplicity marked creation, for all came from and was marked by the one goodness of God (Marc. 2.4.6). The gift of freedom was part of this goodness and it was never revoked. Otherwise Marcion would protest 'What sort of lord is this ineffective, instable, faithless being who rescinds his own decisions?' (Marc. 2.7.3) None of these negative epithets should ever be applied to the unmixed goodness of God.

The same simplicity marks his providence which dispenses light and darkness, good and evil. But how can this fail to compromise his simple goodness? Because the evil which he dispenses is a punishment for sin and therefore good (Marc. 2.14.3).

Is there a simple gospel? Such simplicity may be hard to see; but it is there to be found, as indeed in the different Gospels of the apostles, John and Matthew, and of the apostolic men, Luke and Mark. All follow the same rule of one creator God and his Christ, born of a virgin, fulfilling law and prophets. 'It does not matter if there be some variation in the arrangement of their narratives, provided that there is agreement in the substance of the faith' (Marc. 4.2.2). Marcion's mutilated Gospel subverts the substance of the gospel. It bears no name, for he stopped short of inventing a title. No written work should be recognized if it cannot hold its head erect, offer some consistency and promise some credibility by naming a title and an author.

Truth is to be distinguished by its simplicity, with which proud men fuss and fiddle, so mixing it with falsehood that nothing certain remains. 'When they had found a simple and straightforward God, they began to disagree about him, not as he had been revealed to them, but in order to debate about his properties, his nature, his place' (ap. 47.5). Some say he is physical, others incorporeal, some that he is made of atoms, others that he consists of numbers. Some claim he governs the world, perhaps from inside or perhaps from outside, others declare that he is idle. Such confusion is not primitive but contrived, not ancient wisdom but modem muddle. There is nothing as old as the truth of the scriptures which philosophers have perverted in every possible way.

Yet Christians wear the cloak of the philosopher, because of its simplicity and because they have found the better philosophy (pall. 6). The toga may offer higher status in the community; but it is an elaborate thing of many folds (pall. 1.1). While everything changes, not all change is good. Primitive simplicity is challenged by luxury. It was a bad day when Alexander, on fire with his triumph over the Persians, exchanged his armour for a pair of puffed-up, Persian trousers, made of silk. When philosophers move into purple, what is to stop them from wearing golden slippers (pall. 4.7)? What could be less philosophical than that?

The change to the philosopher's cloak is justified by its simplicity as a garment, in contrast to the many folds of the toga which are a cumbersome nuisance (pall. 5.1). The cloak is the most convenient garment and saves time in dressing (pall. 5.3). Further, it designates independence and freedom from the duties of forum, elections, senate, platforms and every other part of public life. It wears out no seats, attacks no laws, argues no pleas, is worn by no judge, soldier or king. 'I have seceded from the community. My sole business is with myself and my one care is not to care.' When accused of laziness, it replies, 'No one is born for another, and he dies for himself alone' (pall. 5.4). Simplicity of detachment is achieved because the philosophers' cloak has become Christian and found the better philosophy (pall. 6.2) in Jesus Christ, son of God and saviour. So the law of change is justified. We cannot avoid change; we should ensure that it is change to the good.39

Perfection in Dishonour: 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour'

The answer to the question about one God, good and true, was: 'Yes there is one God, if he not only created the world, but also acted to renew it in Jesus Christ.' God's utter disgrace was the pledge of mankind's salvation. God came to man's level, so that man might reach God's level. God became small that man might become great (Marc. 2.27.7).

Simplicity was not empty. All was summed up in Christ. Following Paul, Tertullian (pud. 14 et passim) knew nothing but Christ and him crucified. This was the sole hope (unica spes) of the world, the necessary dishonour (necessarium dedecus) of faith (carn. 5.3). In a word, God is one God, when the son hands over the kingdom to the father.

Behind the fish ('Jesus Christ, son of God, saviour')40 lay the even simpler confession of Jesus as Messiah or Christ (Matt. 27.17, 22; John 1.41; Acts 9.22; 1 John 5.1). When the gospel moved from its Jewish context into the Greek world, this title meant less and 'Christ' became a surname for Jesus. The basic confession then became 'Jesus Christ is Lord' (parallel to the 'Emperor is Lord' of the imperial cult)41 or 'Jesus Christ is son of God'. Christians had their own answer to pagan and Jewish acclamations, such as 'one is Zeus-Serapis', 'great is Diana of the Ephesians', or even 'Hear 0 Israel. … This simple formula was used as a confession of faith at baptism, being expanded first into a twofold faith in father and son, then into a threefold faith in father, son and spirit, and receiving various supplements. The simplicity of the fish remained. There was one lord, one faith, one baptism.

'Jesus Christ, son of God, saviour' points to the economy of salvation and the recapitulation of all things in Christ, who is Christus Victor.42 Recapitulation is chiefly linked with Irenaeus;43 but it also dominates the New Testament and the theology of Ignatius, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Athanasius. It includes three sets of motifs: Christ corrects and perfects all that is; as Christus Victor he is the climax of the economy of saving history; and as the perfection of being, goodness and truth, he gives life to the dying, righteousness to sinners and truth to those in error.

Tertullian describes the work of salvation as continuous with creation.44 The human race is summed up, 'that is to refer back to the beginning or to revise from the beginning' (Marc. 5.17.1), reformed (Marc. 3.9.5) and restored (pat. 15.1).45 Redemption through a ransom paid (fug. 12.2f.) leads to liberty (carn. 14.3).46 Christ as mediator (sequester, res. 51.2) is clothed with humanity (Prax. 12.3) and reconciles (Marc. 5.19.5) man to God.47 The sacrifice of Christ, the paschal lamb, is offered by the great high priest (Jud. 14.8). His voluntary death is a propitiation but not a vicarious satisfaction for sin.48 As teacher, Christ brings illumination through saving discipline (ap. 47.11; pat. 12.4) and a better philosophy (pall. 6.2).49 As divine physician, he heals sinners (scorp. 5.8).50 By his descent to hell, he has restored (an. 55.1f.) patriarchs and prophets.

Finally, by the trophy of the cross, he has triumphed over death, the last enemy (Marc. 4.20.5). His victory is not that of the warrior Messiah for whom the Jews had looked (Jud. 9.1-20), but is the spiritual overthrow of the armies of wickedness (Marc. 4.20-4). This salvation was also a new creation (iei. 14.2; Marc. 5.12.6).51

The saving victory of Jesus began as his fulfilment of Jewish prophecies, within the saving history. … Why did the gospel come so late in human history? The answer lay in the plan of God's saving economy or dispensation which prepared the way for and found its climax in the victory of Christ who overthrew the powers of darkness. For apocalyptic dwelt on cosmic triumph as well as on fulfilment of prophetic hope. Jesus reigned as the son of God over all created things and every power in heaven and on earth. Devils fled in fear before his name.

To Jews, therefore, Tertullian's answer is direct. There is only one question: whether Christ, announced by the prophets as the object of universal faith, has, or has not, come (Jud. 7.1). The proof is plain in the rapid, universal spread of the gospel.52 It is evident that53 no gate or city is closed to him, his sound is gone out into all the earth, gates of brass are opened and he reigns over all.

But Christ's name reaches out everywhere, is believed everywhere, is worshipped by all the nations we have listed, rules everywhere, is everywhere adored, is bestowed equally everywhere upon all; in his presence no king receives more favour, no barbarian receives less joy; no dignities or families merit special distinction; to all he is equal, to all king, to all judge, to all 'God and lord'. Nor might you hesitate to believe what we assert, since you see it actually happening. (Jud. 7.9-8.1).

Christ is the bull who, in fulfilment of Joseph's blessing,54 tosses the nations to the ends of the earth, on the horns of his cross, which was also foretold in the outstretched hands of Moses (Exod. 17.8-16). How else can we explain the peculiar position of Moses, as he sat with arms outstretched, rather than kneeling or prostrate on the earth, unless it be that the name of Jesus was his theme? Jesus would one day engage the devil in single combat and conquer by the sign of the cross (Jud. 10.1). He is the God who reigns from the tree,55 who came once in humility and will come again with glory (Jud. 10.12). Death reigned from Adam to Christ who concluded the rule of death by dying on the tree of the cross. The government is on his shoulder. No other king rules in this way. 'But only the new king of the new ages, Christ Jesus, has carried on his shoulder the dominion and majesty of his new glory, which is the cross' (Marc. 3.19.3).

The victory of Christ is strongly affirmed in demilitarized military terms. For he who straps his sword on his thigh is fairer than the children of men and grace pours from his lips. He who so rides in majesty, rides in meekness and righteousness, which are not the 'proper business of battles' (Ps. 45.2-4). His strange warfare of the word invades every nation, bringing all to faith, and ruling by his victory over death (Marc. 3.14.6).

Christ conquers as a human being, when his obedience triumphs over the same devil before whom Adam fell (Marc. 2.8.3). This second conflict was all the more painful to the devil because he had won the first contest, and was all the sweeter to the man who, by a victory, recovered his salvation, a more glorious paradise and the fruit of the tree of life (Marc. 2.10.6).

'O Christ even in your novelties you are old!' (Marc. 4.21.5) Incidents in the mission of the disciples (the feeding of the multitude, the confession of Peter, being ashamed of Christ) show him to be the Christ of the creator (Marc. 4.21.5). All Christ's words and deeds, even his resurrection, point back to the prophets (Marc. 4.43.9). All that Christ did was part of a continuous saving economy, which God began immediately after the fall of Adam. His goodness now took the form of justice, severity and even, as the Marcionites claim, cruelty. 'Thus God's goodness was prior and according to nature, his severity came later and for a reason. The one was innate, the other accidental; the one his own, the other adapted; the one freely flowing, the other admitted as an expedient' (Marc. 2.11.2). There is unbroken continuity in God's goodness which, since the fall, has had an opposition with which to contend. Spontaneous goodness is replaced by justice which is the agent (procuratio) of goodness. Goodness needed a new means to contend with its adversary and fear of punishment was the only effective way (Marc. 2.13.2).

While he reforms rather than destroys, and restores rather than abolishes (Marc. 2.29.3), there is change and correction. In the place of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, he offers a cheek for a cheek, with the difference that it is the second cheek of the victim rather than the cheek of the aggressor which is struck (Marc. 4.16.4); this kind of imaginative paradox is typical of Tertullian. This brilliant example is emblematic of the recapitulation which both fulfils and corrects.

Recapitulation is both retrospective and prospective, both fulfilment of the past and promise of the future. Because of his preoccupation with Marcion, Tertullian seems more concerned with fulfilment than with promise. Furthermore, the miracle of new life through baptism did not do as much as he hoped. Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus celebrate more vividly the present glory of new life in Christ. In this difference some have seen the contrast between Greek and Latin Christianity.56 Yet the disciples of the new covenant receive a new way to pray from the new grace of a renewing God (or. 1) and Christians believe in one God in a new way (Prax. 3).57

The economy would not have been complete until he, to whom it had all been directed, had come. The mass of fulfilled prophecy is too great for anyone to deny. In him we find the sure mercies of David. It is he, not David, who is a witness, prince and commander to the nations, and on whom all nations now call (Marc. 3.20.10). His new word is decisive and brief,58 a compendium which offers relief from the burdensome details of the law. Isaiah foretold new things and Jeremiah a new covenant (Marc. 4.1.6). Finally, to those who, in the face of all this evidence, deny the kingdom of Christ, there remains the second coming which will not be in humility, but in power and glory (Marc. 3.7.8).

Marcion is wasting his complicated time when he tries to separate the strange, simple goodness of Christ from the alleged evil of the creator (Marc. 1.2.3). The first Christians disagreed about almost everything else; but they did not waver from undivided faith in the creator and his Christ (Marc. 1.21.3). Even Marcion allows Christ to appear on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, the first who formed God's people and established the old covenant, the second who reformed God's people and consummated59 the new covenant (Marc. 4.22.1). 'He, who made, is best able to remake,60 seeing that it is a far greater work to make than to remake, to give a beginning than to give it back again' (res. 11.10). The wonder of the gospel should not obscure the marvel of creation.

Problems of Recapitulation

The summing up of all things in Christ, who is Christus Victor, shaped the theology of the first three centuries. It has persisted since then, in varying form, whether it be in the Eucharist of eastern and western churches or in hymns like Vexilla regis prodeunt and Ein' feste Burg or in the Easter liturgy of every tradition. Its place in the Latin Mass, in the Greek Christos Niketes and in the Lutheran tradition61 is equally secure. It found its strongest statement in Athanasius' De Incarnatione and its difficulties are most apparent in the conclusion of this work.

For as when the sun is up darkness no longer prevails, but if there is any left anywhere it is driven away; so now, when the Divine Manifestation of the Word of God is come, the darkness of the idols prevails no longer, but every part of the whole earth is everywhere illuminated by his teaching … and men, looking to the true God, the Word of the Father, abandon idols, and themselves come to a clear knowledge of the true God.

Now this is the proof that Christ is God, the Word and Power of God. For, human things ceasing, and the Word of Christ remaining, it is plain to all that the things which are ceasing are temporary, but that He who remains is God and the true Son of God, the Only-begotten Word. (de inc. 55, Bindley trans.)

The triumphal claims of this passage concerning the destruction of evil do not fit reality then or now. There does not appear to have been a change of government. Indeed, from the beginning there were difficulties with recapitulation. Death, despite the sting of martyrdom, may have been destroyed; but sin was still clearly present. Christians were not displaying the climax of divine and human history, for mediocrity spread widely in the early church. Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, but drastically indigestible (Rev. 3.15f.).62 Tertullian speaks of mediocritas nostra (paen. 6.1) and develops a doctrine of original sin.63

From such disappointment, two types of perfectionism emerged—apocalyptic and Gnostic. Irenaeus and Tertullian both viewed with sympathy the New Prophecy of the followers of Montanus. Clement of Alexandria gave critical recognition to some elements of Valentinianism. Irenaeus had wonderful millenarian expectations. If all was summed up in Christ, what remained had to be sensational—a thousand branches on every vine and a thousand grapes on every twig. Lions normally eat only the best of animal steaks.64 Yet in the last days, says Irenaeus, we know from the scriptures that lions will eat straw. They cannot eat the lambs with whom they lie down. If the straw is so good as to be attractive to lions, we shall truly feast on what is provided for us.

The perfectionist movement known as Gnosticism was not confined to Christianity. The desire to surpass (supergredi) others is always widespread; to the question 'What must I do to be saved?' is added the question 'What must I do to be a better Jew or Christian, than my neighbour?' Gnosticism is a complex movement. Tertullian saw that its final strength and weakness lay in its claim to surpass reason. Like all theosophy, Gnosticism presents philosophy without argument, which is like opera without music, Shakespeare without words and ballet without movement. Complex argument can be replaced by pretentious narrative. The Gnostic reply is always that his critic is shallow (not profound) or even intellectually and morally depraved.65 The relevance of Gnosticism for Tertullian is first, its reaction against mediocrity in favour of perfection and second, its movement from argument to story. Unlike Clement of Alexandria, he neither appreciated its abstract tendency nor offered a higher competitive gnosis.

Perfectionism had emerged as a problem very early in Christian history. The Letter to the Ephesians affirmed strongly that all has been summed up in Christ and that the church is the eschatological miracle which rises from earth to heaven. There is no way in which this miracle can be surpassed. The believer must simply hold to the one faith within the one body, walk in the light and stand firm in the whole armour of God.

Apologists claimed evidence for finality in the moral excellence of Christian lives and in the spread of the gospel. Such moral excellence was the ground for Justin's conversion, and Tertullian made much of it. He pointed to the chastity and integrity of Christians, the courage of the martyrs and the mutual love of the community. This claim caused his discontent with the church universal. He remained within the community of the church at Carthage;66 but he certainly expressed dissent. When his bishop offered absolution for the sins of adultery and fornication, Tertullian was outraged, because this controverted his claim that Christians were eschatological paragons of virtue. Tertullian wrote off the majority of Christians as psychics or carnal, in contrast to the spiritual Christians of whom he was one.

The spread of the gospel was a second proof of recapitulation. We are of yesterday, Tertullian said, but we fill the forums and the towns. We are in every country, growing from seed which is the blood of martyrs. The world, too, is a better place; marshes are drained and roads are better.67 Theodicy could point to a future consummation in Christ's return and to the present and visible fruits of his triumph. When Christians faced persecution the latter were precious signs. Even persecution, said Justin, showed that the demons (or pagan gods) were fearful. It was different when Christians had gained political power. Christians soon realized that they were not at the eschaton.

Perfection in God

In a Christian empire theodicy ceased to be the first question, until Augustine faced the end of empire in his City of God, and explained why Christians could not expect to win any but the final and decisive test.

While recapitulation of all things in Christ, which dominated the theology of Tertullian, Irenaeus and the early Athanasius, gave way in the fourth century, to christology and trinity, the questions could never be held apart. The first question and answer were 'Is there one God?' and 'Only if the creator has acted to redeem the world in Christ.' The second question 'How can one God be both father and son?' is necessary if God is to be credible. The divine economy has to be within God; it cannot be the detachable plan of a changeable being. The economy of the mystery had been hidden from all ages in the God who made all things (Eph. 3.9).

Christology moved to the centre. How could God be both father and son? Recapitulation might remove distinctions in God. Tertullian spoke of the entire dishonour of his God; but he attacked the monarchianism of Praxeas for crucifying the father, and proposed a doctrine of trinity. The christological debates were inevitable. Before they finished, recapitulation no longer had to do with history and Christus Victor, but with the trinity which summed up the divine being.

This was not, as some have thought, a mistake. The history of the councils of the fourth century is no more elevating than the history of councils in any century: 'After Constantine, there is not much that is not humiliating—the long period of dogmatic squabbling while the Empire was falling to pieces; the destruction or loss of most of the irreplaceable treasures of antiquity; the progressive barbarisation of Europe; we need not follow the melancholy record.'68 Arius did miss the point of the whole early tradition, that faith in one God is only possible if that God redeems the world which he first made; but his lack of perception sparked off a genuine advance. For faith in divine redemption can never rely on fulfilled prophecy, external plan or natural evidences, but only on the being of God.

This profound move is apparent in the theology of Gregory Nazianzus.69 After the fall of Adam, God corrected and sustained, in diverse ways, the fallen race (orat. When it became clear that a stronger medicine was needed, the incarnation provided the peak of God's saving work. The key to salvation is that Christ is God (orat. 33.16f.36.236). God is father, son and holy spirit. The full deity of the son must be preserved (orat. In the incarnation there is condescension (orat. and recapitulation (orat. 2.23f. 35.284f.). God sums up and contains all (orat. 'A few drops of blood recreate the whole world and draw men together into a unity' (orat. The new Adam is a suffering God (orat. who overcomes human sin. For Gregory, even where the economy is given pre-eminence, the summing up which is its centre is the triune God. Indeed it is recapitulation which makes God one and perfects human knowledge of the divine.

Tertullian anticipates this move from recapitulation to incarnation and trinity. Christus Victor reflected the prophetic apocalyptic tradition.… This was for Tertullian, the unica spes, the necessarium dedecus, the sacramentum oikonomiae. In the end, the mass of prophetic fulfilment is replaced by this one claim, and by faith in the triune God.

Simplicity and recapitulation, which dominated early Christian theology, including that of Tertullian, found their place in one God, father, son and spirit. Tertullian's ideas persist into the fourth century and indeed into the twentieth century, where a metaphysical poem ends:

A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.70


1 Speratus speaks in reply to the proconsul's claim, 'Et nos religiosi sumus et simplex est nostra religio.' Speratus says, 'Si tranquillas praebueris aures tuas, dico mysterium simplicitatis.' Passio sanctorum Scillitanorum, 3f. See Acta Martyrum, ed. H. Musurillo, The acts of the Christian martyrs (Oxford, 1972), 86.

2 This term is commonly used of Tertullian in the sense of apparent contradiction (Cicero: 'admirabilia contraque opinionem omnium' (Paradoxa Stoicorum, 4)), rather than in the more complex logical sense (Zeno, Russell). See J. van Heyenroot, Logical Paradoxes, in P. Edwards (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. v (New York, 1967), 45-51. The two senses will sometimes over-lap.

3 'This unity lies behind the pseudo-paradoxes and pseudo-contradictions.' J.-C. Fredouille, Tertullien et la conversion de la culture antique (Paris, 1972), 485.

4 Jerome, vir. illust. 57.

5 In this bad sense, the greater part of the faithful are simplices (ne dixerim imprudentes et idiotae) who, having moved from many gods to one God, panic at the exposition of the trinity (Prax. 3.1). The same people are uncertain about the value of martyrdom, find their doubts exploited by Gnostics (scorp. 1.5), and cannot answer objections against the maduess of dying for God (scorp. 1.7).

6 The Cainite heresy which honoured Cain because he resisted the evil God of the Old Testament. Tertullian's snakes prefer dry places.

7 See discussion of paradox in ch. 3 and of opposites in ch. 4.

8 To this formula we shall return in the second part of this chapter.

9 Charles Munier, La tradition apostolique chez Tertullien, in Collected studies series CS341, Autorité épiscopale et sollicitude pastorale, L 'année canonique, 33 (Paris, 1979), 175-92 (192).

10 See below, ch. 5. Despite initial simplicity, Tertullian develops a complex argument here.

11 Gerhard Ebeling often set out his lectures in numbered chapters, sections, paragraphs and even propositions. When he once came to chapter 4, section 3, paragraph 5, proposition 2, he paused and said with a smile, 'Entschuldigen Sie, bitte, wenn ich alles zu einfach mache!'

12On the Epistle of John, 7.8. See my, Ethical patterns in early Christian thought (Cambridge, 1976), 179-81.

13 B. Nisters, Tertullian, seine Persönlichkeit und sein Schicksal (Münster, 1950).

14 C. Rambaux, Tertullien face aux morales des trois premiers siècles (Paris, 1979).

15 See following chapters for discussion of A. Labhardt, Tertullien et la philosophie ou la recherche d'une 'position pure', MH, 7 (1950), 159-80.

16 H. von Campenhausen, The fathers of the Latin church (London, 1964), 6.

17 B. B. Warfield, Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (Oxford, 1930), 3f.

18 T. D. Barnes, Tertullian, A historical and literary study, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1985), 211-32.

19 See R. D. Sider, Ancient rhetoric and the art of Tertullian (Oxford, 1971), and the work of C. Munier, J.-C. Fredouille and H. Steiner who sees this valuable area of study as 'wohl erschöpft'.

20 Note the necessary qualification of G. L. Prestige, God in patristic thought (London, 1936), 97: 'He was very far, indeed, from being merely the father of Latin theology. His ultimate influence on Greek theological speculation was probably very considerable.'

21 J. Daniélou, Latin Christianity, 341.

22 See D. Allen, Motives, rationales, and religious beliefs, APQ, 3 (1966), 112ff., for a useful account of the logic of objection and rebuttal.

23Ad Diognetum, 5.

24 A recent writer calls this 'polemical Christianity'. (A. J. Guerra, Polemical Christianity: Tertullian's search for certainty, The Second Century (1990), 108). He points out that Tertullian draws on five kinds of support for his position (scripture, reason, moral excellence, spiritual witness and tradition) and that he uses different combinations when he attacks different enemies.

25 In modern jargon, 'a God-shaped blank'.

26 Quentin Skinner, The return of grand theory to the human sciences (Cambridge, 1985), 12.

27 On the chronology of Tertullian's works, I accept the argument and conclusions of R. Braun, Deus Christianorum, 563-77.

28 See below, ch. 10.

29 See below, ch. 5.

30 The term is taken from Paul (I Cor. 2.14; 15.44-6)…

31 J.-C. Fredouille, Tertullien et la conversion de la culture antique, 33, notes Zeno (D.L. 7.59), Cicero, Seneca (ep. 38), Tacitus and Marcus Aurelius (med. 4.51).

32 This word, popular among French theologians, is useful to express Tertullian's claim concerning the unity and uniqueness of God.

33 Clement of Alexandria solved this problem with his thematic statement [about] negative theology… (strom. 5.11.71). See also G. L. Prestige's account of Tertullian's 'organic monotheism', God in patristic thought, 98f.

34 Which, for Marcion, deny the perfect goodness of their maker.

35 See below, ch. 5 for the problem of polemic and ch. 9 for a discussion of Valentinianism and the bureaucratic fallacy.

36 Tertullian's argument is used today, at a popular level, by Orthodox against Roman Catholics and by Roman Catholics against Protestants.

37 This is an example of Tertullian's Trick: omitting steps which he mentions elsewhere.

38 'deus omnipotens, dominus et conditor universitatis'.

39 This is the point where Tertullian and Stoics differ markedly from Alexandrians and Platonists.

40 See F.J. Dölger, … [Der] heilige Fisch in den antiken Religionen und im Christentum (Münster, 1922).

41mart. Pol. 8.2.

42 Because the concept of salvation easily becomes too subjective, 'victor' is often to be preferred as a translation … (TWNT VII, 1,005-24). In the Old Testament, salvation points to the rescue of those oppressed by military power or injustice; because of human limitations, God emerges as the ultimate deliverer. In the New Testament, the same notion of rescue is found in God's relation to the whole human race. In the classical world, saviours could be gods, men who helped or healed, philosophers, statesmen or rulers. Hadrian is frequently celebrated as the saviour of a town or a person. On a wider scale, the emperor brought in, as saviour, the golden age. Philo gives the title of saviour to God who delivers his people, preserves the world, and liberates the soul from passion (sobr. 55; immut. 129; somn. 1.112; leg. all. 11.105).

The message of the angels to the shepherds (Luke 2.1 0f.) links the titles 'saviour' and 'lord'. In the Fourth Gospel, the son is seen as the saviour of the world (John 3.17; cf. I John. 4.14). In the New Testament, the title of 'saviour' is found less frequently than the verb 'save' and the noun 'salvation'. This may be a reaction against Jewish expectations of a national deliverer (TWNT VII, 1,021). The Pastoral Epistles find the title important for the rejection of heretical claims.

43 G. Aulen, Christus Victor (London, 1953), 32-51.

44 A. Viciano, Cristo salvador y liberador del hombre (Pamplona, 1986), 269-350.

45Ibid., 118-23.

46Ibid., 126-9.

47Ibid., 129-33.

48Ibid., 133-8 and 318-20.

49Ibid., 138-40.

50Ibid., 141-3.

51Ibid., 341-50.

52 'Die Kirchengeschichte ist eine Siegesgeschichte des Christenthums'. G. Leonhardi, Die apologetischen Grundgedanken Tertullians (Leipzig, 1882), 7. It was indeed the universal character of Christianity which brought it into conflict with the state.

53 Tertullian misquotes Isa. 45.1, reading Kurios for Cyrus.

54 Deut. 33.17. Moses gives this blessing to Joseph.

55 Ps. 96.10 is often so quoted in early Christian writing; no adequate reason has been found for the reading. See E. F. Osborn, Justin Martyr (Tubingen, 1973), 103-5, and J. H. Charlesworth, Christian and Jewish self-definition in light of the Christian additions to the Apocryphal writings, in E. P. Sanders et al. (eds.), Jewish and Christian self-definition, vol. 11, Aspects of Judaism in the Graeco-Roman period (London, 1981), 27-55.

56 See Daniélou, Latin Christianity, 341.

57 And as for Novalis, Easter is 'ein Weltverjüngungsfest'.

58 See The short word, in Osborn, Beginning of Christian philosophy, 206-40.

59 Elijah is an eschatological figure who came as John the Baptist.

60 As so often, Augustine takes up Tertullian's ideas, 'qui fecit, refecit'. Ep. 231.6. He discards Tertullian's exaggeration of creation's superiority over recreation. Tertullian reverses the priority in Prax.

61 Aulen, Christus Victor.

62 Today it is claimed that 'unambitious mediocrity is of course part of the Anglo-Saxon tradition' (Iris Murdoch, The sovereignty of good (London, 1970), 50), and the arguments against enthusiasm in National Socialism and Islamic Fundamentalism are overwhelming.

63 See below, ch. 8.

64 They would not be interested in the contemporary Cheeseburger.

65 The issue is more complex. See the discussion on Valentinianism, ch. 9, below.

66 See David Rankin, Tertullian and the church (Cambridge, 1995), 41-51.

67 To 'disseminate' with Post-modernists, the camels are running on time.

68 W. R. Inge, The Platonic tradition in English religious thought (London, 1926), III.

69 See E. F. Osborn, Theology and economy in Gregory the Theologian, in H. C. Brennecke, E. L. Grasmück and C. Markschies (eds.), Logos, FS for L. Abramowski (Berlin, 1993), 361-83.

70 T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets (London, 1944), 44 Note also p. 33:

Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled.

Tertullian's Works

de anima
de baptismo
de carne Christi
de exhortatione castitatis
de corona
de cultu feminarum, libri II
de fuga in persecutione
adversus Hermogenem
de idololatria
de ieiunio
adversus Judaeos
adversus Marcionem, libri V
ad martyras
de monogamia
ad nationes, libri II
de oratione
de paenitentia
de pallio
de patientia
de praescriptione haereticorum
adversus Praxean
de pudicitia
de resurrectione mortuorum
ad Scapulam
de spectaculis
de testimonio animae
ad uxorem, libri II
adversus Valentinianos
de virginibus velandis

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