Tertullian lived in the ancient city of Carthage in what is now Tunisia, sometime around AD. Very little is known about his life - that little comes either from writers two centuries later 1 , or from the scanty personal notes in his works 2. Much of it has been asserted to be untrue anyway by some modern writers 3.
He was born a member of the educated classes, and clearly gained a good education. Life in his times wasn't very different in some ways to the modern day - he indulged his passions as he saw fit, including sex, and like everyone else attended the games where gladiators killed each other and criminals were eaten alive, for the enjoyment of the spectators 2.
But among the sights he saw, was that of Christians being executed this way. He was struck with the courage with which stupid and contemptible slave men and little slave girls faced a hideous death, against all nature; and after investigating, became a Christian himself, and turned his budding talents to writing in defense of this despised and victimised group 4. Tertullian was the first Christian writer to write in Latin 5 , and was described three centuries later as writing 'first, and best, and incomparably', of all the writers to do so. His writing is aggressive, sarcastic and brilliant 6 , and at points very funny even after years 7.
He was deeply conscious of his own failings 8 , and had a burning desire for truth and integrity 9. He was described by Jerome as celebrated in all the churches as a speaker 10 ; and his works bear the marks of the need to keep an audience awake! Much of what he read is lost, but what remains gives a picture of wide reading 12 , which was celebrated even in antiquity 12a.
He wrote a great number of works - how many is unknown. Thirty-one are extant; lists of known lost works are elsewhere on this site; but we have no reason to suppose this to be anything like an exhaustive list. Most of those extant have come down to us by the slenderest of threads, and the very nature of Tertullian's terse and ironic style, means that copyists made many errors, and in some cases his text is beyond certain restoration.
Not all of his works were ever completed His most important work is the Apologeticum , in defense of the Christians. Running it close must be Adversus Praxean , in which the doctrine of the Trinity comes into clear focus for the first time, in response to a heretic who was twisting the biblical balance between the persons of the Godhead. In this work, he created most of the terminology with which this doctrine was to be referred and is still , such as Trinitas , etc His discussion of how heretical arguments are in general to be handled in De praescriptio haereticorum also deserves wider recognition.
Tertullian wrote no systematic theology; all of his works are brought forth by a local event, a persecution, or a heretic. In his time, the church finally decided to reject a movement calling itself 'The New Prophecy', and known later as Montanism The New Prophecy made no doctrinal innovations 16 , but said that the Holy Spirit was calling Christians to a more ascetic position. But obeying the prophets inevitably meant a problem, if the bishop did not recognise their authority.
Tertullian had grown angry at what looked like compromise creeping into the church - unwillingness to be martyred, willingness to forgive more serious public sins 17 - and aligned himself with the Montanists. It is unclear whether this involved actually leaving the church 17a , but his later works are avowedly Montanist, and one or two explictly attack the mainstream church on these points. As such he was not recognised as a Saint, despite his orthodoxy, and his works were all marked as condemned in the 6th Century Decretum Gelasianum.
His later life is unknown, and we do not know if he was martyred or died of old age as Jerome says Churchmen have not liked him - he is not easy reading for those who prefer compromise and ambiguity to truth, and of ecclesiasticism there is no trace in his works The rhetoric that impressed his contemporaries has been often laid hold of and twisted in misquotations by enemies of the Church He is often misquoted 21 - and as a subtle and ironical writer, is easy to misquote.
He has been called the first Protestant, as the first Christian writer of impeccable orthodoxy to enunciate the unpalatable truth, that the church was not a conclave of bishops, but the people of the Holy Spirit But his legacy was the very shape of Latin Christianity St Cyprian never went a day without reading him, and called him 'the master' He gave Christians the means with which to meet paganism on its own ground and defeat it And whenever the errors against which he wrote resurface, as they do from time to time, what Tertullian had to say about them will again be readable; who wrote 'first and best and incomparably' 26 against them.
For all works cited, look at the bibliography for a full reference. See St. Jerome 's biography. He was brought up a pagan De paenitentia 1. His movement towards Montanism is attested by notes referring to them e. Adversus Praxean 1 and is discussed by Barnes. Notably T. Barnes in his revisionist study. Already a hint of this might have been discerned in chapter xxxvii, 3, of the Apologeticum.
In other respects, the Apologeticum supplied the greater part of the reasonings which are developed in the Ad Scapulam.
- Tertullian's works outlined Western Christian doctrine at its earliest stage?
- The 'Noddy' guide to Tertullian.
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There is one however which is new and which gives to this work its particular intention. Tertullian enumerates a certain number of recent facts wherein Scapula should read the portending signs of divine anger: devastating rains, balls of fire suspended over the walls of Carthage, and an eclipse of the sun.
We must note that Tertullian hits back in a very spirited manner against the pagans, and lays to their charge the common complaint, which imputed all public calamities to the Christians as despisers of the national gods. Then joining issue directly with Scapula he draws up for his consideration the warning spectacle of the punishments by which certain persecuting magistrates had been overtaken: one, Vigellius Saturninus, had lost his eyesight; another, Claudius Herminianus, was attacked by gruesome sores festering with maggots: he recognised his mistake and died almost a Christian.
Was not Scapula himself, even at this moment, bowed down by illness? Now when had this illness begun? Just after he had delivered up to the wild beasts the martyr, Mauilus of Adrumyttium. The idea that Providence manifests in the world below the effects of its rigour by the chastisement whereby it strikes the impious in their bodies and in their life had for long brought to the Christians as to the Jews of old its avenging consolations.
Josephus 41 had shown Herod falling into putrefaction, consumed while living by worms, maddened with suffering, and putting an end to his unspeakable woes by suicide. Herod Agrippa, the persecutor of the Apostles had expired, he too devoured by worms. Tertullian already draws from these events their powerful effect in his Ad Scapulam; but he has sufficient moral and literary tact not to swell them to excess.
It was not only against the hostility of the public powers and the ill-usage of the crowd that the Christians had to defend themselves; it was also against the Jews. Born of Judaism, long confounded with it by common opinion, Christianity did not have long to wait before undergoing the effects of the hostility of Israel for whom it cherished itself a profound antipathy. But many other secondary subjects of strife had arisen to add to this fundamental grievance. Very numerous in Africa, 46 the Jews did their best to stir up the hatred of the pagans.
Synagogas Judaeorum, fontes persecutionum is another phrase of Tertullian's. From this incident 76 arose the Adversus Judaeos. The general purpose of this treatise is quite clear. Tertullian sets out to show the Jews that the general idea of revelation does not allow us to attribute to the Law of Moses any but a temporary value and that they were wrong in clinging to it, since the New Law had almost entirely taken the place of the ancient rites which had been abolished.
An examination of the Prophecies proved that the expected Messiah had brought to mankind his message of salvation. From the time of Adam up to Christ, the divine ordinances had been evolved continuously, but from henceforth their end had been attained: " Non potes futurum contendere, quod vides fieri. The last chapters ixxiv are borrowed for the greater part from the IIIrd book of the Adversus Marcionem; 48 and this, together with instances of clumsiness, make us doubt whether it was Tertullian himself who made this unskilful transcription.
THE apologetic writings of Tertullian form the most generous, the most vibrating portion of his works, but not perhaps the most curious to whosoever would seek to penetrate within this soul of wrath and passion. From this point of view, far more significant are the treatises wherein he undertakes to define the attitude of the Christians in Africa as regards pagan society, and the various forms of the civilisation of his day. Here we shall learn to know him through and through with all the fierce ardour and rage of his temperament.
Tertullian's works outlined Western Christian doctrine at its earliest stage
When a society of men. It was not without reason that they hated these men so gentle and benevolent to outward appearance. In very truth they were rending asunder the Roman Empire. They sapped her power. It was no good saying that a man is a good citizen because he pays his taxes, because he is an alms-giver and orderly, when in reality he is a citizen of heaven and only accounts his native land on earth as a prison in which he lives enchained side by side with the outcast. Renan; they imagined them as voluntary exiles from social life, and as stubbornly opposed to the temptations which it presented to them.
We must not take too literally the somewhat emphatic declarations of certain apologists and the chiding unreasonableness of certain moralists. The reality appears to be very different. It is enough to read attentively the opuscula wherein Tertullian regulates matters dealing with questions of their interior economy to see how various were the leanings of the faithful in Carthage and Africa. There were the simple-minded, incapable and careless of speculative theories, who contented themselves with the quiet possession of their faith, but by reason of their simplicity were exposed to enervating sophisms; 51 there were the intellectuals, who prided themselves on broaching the most abstruse questions in religious metaphysics; 52 there were the weak, "the Christians fickle as air," 53 who, far from savouring of martyrdom, 54 persecution, 55 and repentance, 56 before all else showed themselves desirous of their own tranquillity, 57 and pretended to contrive here below as comfortable a life as possible; even though at the 78 price of the most grievous compromises; 58 there were the "liberals", who dreamed of reconciling Christianity with the world, or at least set themselves against all useless provocation; 59 lastly, there were the rigorists, like-minded with himself.
Tertullian assumed the task of herding this fluctuating and diversified human flotsam and jetsam willy nilly into the narrow paths which formed for him the only way permitted to a Christian. What in reality did Christianity mean for him? A faith with no doubts, a regula fidei, in other words, a conglomerate compounded of precepts laid as of obligation upon the intelligence, whose authenticity was guaranteed by the unanimous voice of the Churches; but before all else, a discipline, that is a rule of life, and a check upon the will.
His legal mind approved of the idea of a doctrine which throws upon human life -in all its different activities, in the infinite multiplicity of its acts, a closely circumscribed network of regulations, with the promise of eternal recompense for those who shall accept its enchaining hold, and the threat of eternal punishment against whomsoever shall set himself in opposition with a view to escape from it.
The God whom he cherishes is the inflexible and jealous Judge who has established timor as the solid base of man's salvation, who scatters temptations in this world in order to prove His faithful ones, and who holds His vengeance ever ready. From this arose the strictures of Tertullian against the heretic, Marcion, who was given to making much of the anthropomorphic attributes of the God of the Old Testament. People have invented a God who doth not take offence, who neither groweth angry 79 nor taketh vengeance; a God in a hell wherein no flames bubble forth, and which hath no outer darkness, no terrors to make you tremble, no gnashings of teeth.
He is all good, I tell you, He forbiddeth sin surely, but only on paper. He holdeth you in regard, if you are kind enough to grant Him your obedience, for making some show of honouring Him. As for Fear, He will have none of it. A conception such as this enabled Tertullian to logically deduce for himself the necessity of a mortified life, entirely co-ordinated and hanging upon the thought of his own individual salvation. But he was not the kind of man to confine his efforts to the pursuit of a perfection purely egoistical. In addition to his duty as priest obliging him to exterior action, he was too combative, too passionate, too bent on winning over souls, and infusing into them his ideas, affections and hates, not to strive to impress on others his own ideal in so far as a perfect resemblance was possible.
To come to facts: see him busied in defining certain rules of conduct for the use of his brethren in cases of doubt or controversy. For example: in what measure was it lawful for a Christian to take part in the life of the pagans De Idololatria , for a Christian woman to adorn herself De Cultu Feminarum? Must young girls wear the veil De Virginibus Velandis? When and how was it becoming to pray De Oratione? He is never content with stating general principles. He enters into particular facts, in every little detail which makes up the thread of day to day. The De Idololatria is a kind of treatise in moral theology wherein, after having laid down the gravity of the crime of idolatry, Tertullian passes in review the different phases of life in the world, its callings, ceremonies, even its language, and sets himself to define in each case how far the Christian, who should be the enemy of indolence, might take part therein.
And with what minuteness does he determine the conditions of prayer, the tone, the gestures and the attitude to observe De Oratione! With what scrupulosity does he measure the length of the veil suitable for virgins, showing how it should be disposed before and behind, and just how long it should fall, and the exact age at which they should 80 begin to wear it!
He is not one of those moralists who suppose that the spirit alone is sufficient to vivify everything. He likes to foresee, so as to give rules for everything, because he is aware of the feebleness, the perversity of man, and fears that he may escape by some side issue wherein he had omitted to trace the road he should follow or to erect warning notices.
Rigidly defined explanations must therefore adapt the injunctions of the law to everyday realities. This is the spirit, at once authoritative and punctilious, in which he treats of the problems sustaining the development of Catholic life in a heterogeneous milieu. Not that he was incapable of a kind of grave gentleness, even of a certain unction. Let us run hastily through the De Paenitentia: it is not a didactic treatise on penance as an ecclesiastical institution, but far more a kind of sermon wherein Tertullian addresses himself especially to the catechumens still only slightly familiar with the demands of Christian life, or too ready to elude them.
One is struck by a certain soothing solicitude and benevolence in the tone which he adopts. Harshness, in very truth, is not wanting. He is prompt to anger against the "hearer of the word" who, while confessing to the purifying virtue of baptism, has thoroughly made up his mind, at the moment of receiving the rite, not to give up the sins which he loves cf. But in several places we are able to notice a gentle and compassionate mysticism, and accents of pious and tender charity: for instance, when in order to re-assure the sinner against every temptation to despair, he insists on the fatherhood of God VIII.
The De Patientia and the De Oratione breathe the same relative serenity. In like manner, a virile emotion, with nothing insipid about it, permeates the entire Ad Martyres with a vein of consolation, the sustaining influence of which Tertullian brings to the benedicii martyres designati, who were awaiting the ordeal of torture and death in prison at Carthage. Here again, however, under an outward show of humility nec tantus sum, ut vos alloquar.
This asceticism is the foundation and leading principle of Tertullian's nature. Even before he had given his full and entire adhesion to Montanism, he never ceased combating faint-heartedness, falling away, and weakness, whose deadly languor in his view weighed down the atmosphere. Formal refusal to allow the Christians to take part in the public shows under whatever form the circus, theatre, athletic contests, gladiatorial encounters for all these reminded them of idolatry or exhaled pleasure De Spectaculis ; formal injunctions against exercising any calling which, from near or far, might give any colour to the worship of false gods; against the teaching of profane literature; express reservations in connection with engaging in commerce which thrives by cupidity and fraud and is often near neighbour to idolatry; the forbidding of any participation in any feast-day, in any ceremony, in any custom inspired by the worship of false gods; a formal interdict against accepting any public office; the incompatibility existing between military service and one's duty as a Christian; a proscription of every kind of verbal expression savouring of paganism De Idololatria ; the forbidding of the re-marriage of widows; of Christians to contract mixed marriages Ad Uxorum.
These are some of the stern limitations which he exalts, and with what merciless harshness, with what resolute, brutal acceptance of all the consequences involved in the principles which he sets forth! There are pages, on the other hand, admirable for their dialectic, their subtil vigour and their ardent desire to convince. The curious thing is that in this fiery inquisitor there smoulders one lingering weakness: he has preserved some kindly feeling for rhetoric, its refinements and its tricks of style. Amid so much rugged exhortation, certain passages of a refined and delicate turn give a singular effect.
This is how at the end of the De Culta Feminarum, he enumerates the virtues with which alone it becomes Christian women to embellish themselves He once gave free rein to this hidden disposition. It is in the prodigious De Pallio which, of a surety, is the most difficult from its Latinity, and in regard to which Claude de Saumaise, that incomparable exegetist of the XVIIth century expended large stores of ingenuity without succeeding in unravelling all its hard sayings.
Under colour of justifying himself for having exchanged the toga for the rough cloak, Tertullian lets himself go on a subject otherwise well-defined in Christian tradition 63 in the most astounding developments, as if he were desirous of proving to the lettered men of his age what an unrivalled rhetorician he might have been if it had pleased him to have made a profession of belles-lettres. Such purposely trifling virtuosity in the author of the De Idololatria and the Apologeticum scandalised the good Tillemont: "We find in the De Pallio ," he says, 64 "great erudition, but I do not think that we find in it all the wisdom and gravity which we might expect from a man with Tertullian's reputation.
A contradiction like this reveals how far Tertullian remained a man of his time, and how profoundly its profane 83 learning, which in all other respects he affects to hold in distrust, had set its mark on him. IT is not only in the practical order, but also in the intellectual, that Tertullian practised his magisterial scolding.
Tertullian | hiqukycona.tk
The Gnostics had no more formidable enemy. All the more so that the Gnostics excelled in awakening doubt in the hearts of those who had the weakness or presumption to hold discourse with them, 67 and that many souls felt themselves discouraged by certain desertions which had just afflicted the Church. In the De Praescriptione Haereticorum, Tertullian applied himself energetically to counter this formidable contagion of 84 scandal.
After an out-and-out indictment of profane philosophy, of Aristotelian dialectics,that past mistress of subtilty, contradiction, and of vain curiosities of the mind,he raises the juridical argument of "prescription" as a supreme counter-stroke against this heresy.
The true bearing of this can only be appreciated through the practice of Roman Law, and some explanations are here necessary. The Law of the Twelve Tables established that whosoever shall have enjoyed for the space of two years the use of any property in land, and for the space of one year any other form of property, shall become the legitimate owner thereof with the exception of certain cases reserved.
But it was reserved only to those possessing citizenship. The Praetor then handed to him a written form in which were defined the points on which the judge designate would have to pronounce. But at the head of this written statement he drew up, on the prayer of the defendant, a conditional restraint setting forth that, if the defendant had in reality possessed the property for the legal space of time, the plaint brought against him would be non-suited a priori. The praescriptio, therefore, was an exception enabling the possessor to render void the action which was being brought against him for the recovery of the property.
Such was the method of procedure which Tertullian introduced into the domain of theology.
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The heretics arrogated to 85 themselves the right to make dissertations on the Scriptures; they interpreted them arbitrarily; sometimes even they corrected and mutilated them. Now the whole question resolved itself into this: had they the right to touch them? To whom did the Scriptures belong? This point, once decided, would render unnecessary any plea on the question of principle. It was historically indubitable, affirmed Tertullian, that they are the property of the Catholic Church who is heir to them through the channel of legitimate transmission.
It was a fact that Christ charged the Apostles to preach His doctrine and made them its depositaries; this fact they had transmitted in their turn to the Churches called Apostolic; and, by the intermediary of these Churches, they had passed to other centres of Christianity in proportion as they became enlightened throughout the world.
And what proved this uninterrupted succession still more was the identity of the traditions which perpetuated themselves among the different groups of Catholics. This is the leading idea of this treatise, which is one of the most vigorous and most strongly put together of the writings of Tertullian and the one which modern theologians have most admired.
But it was too much to ask of this game fighter to obey the dictates of logic. It was above all for the use of the Catholic masses that he had hammered out his system.
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Once the bulk of his following had been placed in safety in the stronghold handed down to them, he did not hesitate to make on his own account the most brilliant sorties against the enemy as much to give additional assurance to his own people as to throw into confusion the opposite camp. The De Baptismo, which gives a complete theory of Christian baptism, is directed against a "viper" of the Cainite heresy. In the Contra Hermogenem, he joins issue with the painter of that name, "that heretic and mischief-maker who confounds eloquence with loquacity and impudence with stability.
Against him Tertullian opposes a certain number of difficulties, in addition to copious abuse.
In giving to matter eternityan attribute belonging to GodHermogenes, in his opinion, made matter the equal of God. Further, he raised it above God by reducing God to the necessity of having need of it in order to accomplish His work of creation. God, therefore, did not certainly make use of it ut dominus. He could only make use of it precario, for if He had used it ex dominio, it would be necessary to make Him responsible for the existence of evil in the world, since He would not have permitted matter, an attribute of Himself, to spread abroad the evil which it holds within itself.
Not having possessed it ex dominio, He could not on that account have made use of it except as of a property outside Himself, aut precario because He had need of it, aut ex injuria, because He was the more powerful. Let Hermogenes choose! Thus, in each detail of the discussion, the argument from law crops up every moment.
He makes a point of bringing in some jesting and a rather amusing satire on the mystery in which the sect of Valentinus, the Gnostic, was presuming to involve itself. The five books of the Adversus Marcionem represent an original effort in quite another way. Marcion had been keenly struck by the differences existing between the idea of God as revealed in the Old Testament, and that which appears in the Gospels. On the one hand, a severe and even cruel God, in whom some of the passions belonging to man live and boil over, who loves, hates, takes vengeance, and is subject to indecision and repentance; on the other hand, a God of clemency and goodness, the celestial Father of all creatures.
Marcion started from this opposition in order to accommodate to his liking the ideas contained in Revelation. Of course the Catholics could not accept these views. By denying Judaism, Marcion committed not only a "colossal historical error"; 75 he robbed Christianity of the majesty which the long vista of the centuries, previously preparing for the event, had added to the new religion. So Tertullian waged against this heresiarch a particularly implacable warfare. Each one of the five books of his treatise taken separately is longer than his other works.
And what a mine of information still indifferently well explored for theology, history, exegesis, and the forms of Christian polemics! However grateful the Catholics might be for such a champion, it is evident that with his mania for domineering over his fellow-Christians, Tertullian could not fail to excite around him the most lively opposition. People did not suffer themselves to be kept under as docilely as he could have wished.
A coalition was set up against him, consisting not only of the "laxists," but also of the moderate minded who, pained at seeing the evangelic yoke weighted to excess, took occasion to entrench themselves behind the Scriptures and to oppose any exaction which did not find sure support in them. It is probable that the Bishops, whose actions Tertullian did not hesitate on occasion to criticise, were in favour of this reaction.
How could the Bishops have supported this intransigeant to whom quieta non movere would have appeared the worst form of abdication, and who were constantly required to resolve questions on principle instead of leaving them to be cleared up by the exigencies of life itself?
Tertullian was well aware of this spirit of opposition; and he was the more exasperated thereby because the Scriptures, even when appealed to by the most accomplished of advocates and twisted by the most dexterous of tormentors into making the most convincing texts speak on his behalf, left him sometimes defenceless in the face of particular cases which the Holy Spirit as they would have said had not foreseen.
In order to fill these terrible gaps, he essayed a fresh expedient. He made appeal to his studies as a man of law. He reminded himself that custom mos, mores majorum, 88 consuetudo , was one of the sources whence flowed jus civile. Custom was considered by the Roman jurists as expressing the tacit consent of the people, the source of all law. Having been proved by long use, "it was equally binding on the judge as was the law," 77 and although its original influence was becoming progressively feebler, none the less in principle it remained one of the modes whereby law was fashioned.
In certain instances therefore in which the Scriptures were either mute or ambiguous, and a certain tradition seemed to favour his views, Tertullian bade people note that custom, by the very fact that it is a custom, enshrines its justification in itself. But in order to render valid this traditio, was a written origin necessary as the "liberal" party pretended? Not the least in the world. Tradition, even without this point d'appui of origin, was perfectly admissible. Did not a thousand examples drawn from Christian practice prove this superabundantly?
Had Christ anywhere ordained the pronouncing at the moment of baptism the words: "I renounce Satan, his pomps and his angels"? Where is it written that we must sign ourselves with the sign of the Cross on so many occasions? All these practices have no other authority than that of custom: traditio auctrix, consuetudo confirmatrix, fides observatrix. And, as a final deduction, it is reason which brings her support to tradition itself: Rationem traditioni et consuetudini et fidei patrocinaturam aut ipse perspicies aut ab aliquo qui perspexerit disces.
From this follows, concludes Tertullian, that in default of a definite law it is custom which provides the lawjust as in civil lawand this law has sufficient justification in the authority of reason. Has he made an end of it? By no means. He hastens to exclude a portion of this last consideration in order to guard himself against "customs" which are too beneficent to prevent any objections which might by chance be brought against him.
If reason is a legitimate authority, why should she not pass judgment on a tradition whenever the latter should be found not to have explicit connection with a precept of our 89 Lord or of the Apostles? Better still, why not reduce to law all that reason prescribes? Why should it not be lawful to each believer omni fideli to do this, provided that the rule established be in conformity with the designs of God and that it be profitable in the matter of discipline and contribute to salvation?
Has not God said: "Judge not of yourselves that which is just"? And did St Paul do anything else when he gave counsels in his own name under the patronage of divine reason? Here we can well discern the real character of Tertullian: a passionate attachment to his own private judgment which, instead of frankly avowing it, seeks to justify his craving for making rules by a complete, complicated, and abstruse system.
Tertullian would have liked to rigidly define every single thing by authority. But his Catholic sense of tradition, of things to be respected on account of their long continuity, or of the source whence they derived, restrained this individualistic craving. And it was a question with him how to reconcile more nearly these contradictory tendencies through the instrumentality of stratagems and sophisms.
Moreover, this kind of artifice, though useful in masking the weak spots in a line of argument carried to its last extremity, could not satisfy his own sense of logic nor long deceive those whom he had for a moment dazzled. He was in the position of a judge firmly convinced of the necessity of repressing certain evils for whom the "arsenal" of the law provided no suitable weapon.
A living and divinely inspired message alone would have been capable of supplementing the insufficiencies of the Sancti Commentarii, or the silences and lack of rigour of tradition. But where could this voice be found to make itself heard in warning the frivola et frigida fides of the mass of Christians and in supplying a remedy against their weakness of character? Such was the moral condition of the inexorable intransigeant when he came into touch with Montanism, or at any rate when he decided to make a profound study of it.
How did he come to know about it? We cannot tell. It is certain that he had in his hands a collection of Montanist 90 oracles, thanks to which he was put into direct contact with the thought and manner of life of the Phrygian prophets. But side by side with these displeasing features, what seductive ideas he there met with! It will suffice to record his confessions thereon. What struck him first was the respect in which doctrine was held by Montanus, and his disdain for purely theoretical questions. Montanism accepted the Christian revelation as an accomplished fact, as a venerable tradition, and as a heritage on which no man might lay hands.
Far from endeavouring as was the case with Gnosticism to dissolve by analysis its elements in order to put them together again with the aid of speculation, he reverently sought from them the means of justifying his own task and advertised no other ambition than to realise an expressed promise of Christ. There was nothing among those who propagated his doctrine to render them open to the charge of spiritual pride. In addition, this doctrine appeared to have no other object in view than how to live. The ideal which it proposed to itself was altogether moral, and its object was not at all knowledge so much as practice.
With its face set entirely on the future of mankind, whose destiny it assumed henceforward to be tottering to its fall, it took care not to go in search of any justifications which might favour dereliction from ordinary duties, which might serve as a cloak to laxities of the senses, or to secret infamies of the flesh. What could be more appetising to the soul of Tertullian? What more reassuring to the rigour of his puritanism? Then, what a delightful surprise to see blossoming again in the bosom of Montanism all those religious phenomena whose signification the Scriptures, and especially the Epistles of St Paul, had revealed to himpredictions about the future, the reading of hearts, improvised psalms, visions, spiritual utterances spoken in ecstasy!
As more and more fully he gave credence to the Phrygian seers, a twofold feeling came over him: first he felt better, purer, and had the impression of a moral renovation in which his ego was lifted 91 up; 79 then, thanks to their clear teaching on the Paraclete, a host of problems on which hitherto his explanations had had an uncertain note through lack of explicit and unequivocal texts, received the most luminous solution, and one too which was least tolerant of the lack of firmness shown by so many Catholics.
Tertullian was in search of a Code, and here he had found one which at once supplied him with a moral rule conformable to his secret desires, and an authority able to impose it by referring it to a divine source. How could he refuse to make it his own? It was the mind of the ardent lawyer that was first conquered and fixed his choice when it came to having to decide between Montanism and the Church. It was not sufficient for him to be personally convinced that he had made this choice with discernment and wisdom: he felt bound in addition to impose it upon others and to discover arguments which would be likely to make them become its adherents.
His whole personality was formed upon opposition, and had grown great thereby. From the first awakening of his curiosity in Montanism up to his complete submission, a long and burning series of meditations took place in him, stirred up by the attacks or the replies of his enemies. It is probable that influences came from without to spur him on and to precipitate the rupture. St Jerome mentions one of them definitely: " Invidia posthac et contumeliis clericorum romanae ecclesiae ad Montani dogma delapsus. We do not know the details of this quarrel. But to make up for this we can clearly distinguish the fundamental questions around which the dispute turned whether at Carthage, or perhaps at Rome.
In default of the De Ecstasi, which has been unhappily lost, several passages scattered through the works of Tertullian 92 allow us to piece together approximately the thesis he there defends so far as it touches upon the lawfulness of ecstatic revelations. Were they bound not to accept these " charismata " as authentic? This was certainly not the only question for him, but it was the point round which centred the disagreement between the Catholics and Montanists.
He has too often stated this to allow of any doubt in the matter. It was important therefore to justify the form in which these " charismata " manifested themselves in the Montanists, since their adversaries drew therefrom a pretext for declaring them diabolic. The soul lost in that state its sense of its surroundings; its faculties of sense were suspended; the power of conscious reflection became stupefied; images, which it ceased to direct of its free will, assailed it.
However, it preserved the memory of what it had thought it had seen and heard. God permitted this mode of special activity sometimes to take on a religious character and signification. Whether in sleep or even apart from sleep, the state of ecstasy, amentia, was the modification through which of necessity the human reason passes at the moment when it enters into direct relation with God.
Visions and prophecies therefore postulated it of necessity. This is the essence of Tertullian's doctrine, under reserve of supplementary proofs on which he had to support it. We note how wise, serious, how little revolutionary it is. Of the "frenzy" with which in the course of their vaticinations the heralds of the new prophetic spirit were animated, not a word. He eliminates this element from his definition, although it was of capital import as an historical reality, and had excited so much distrust.
Avoiding in this manner all confusion with the pagan mantique, he retains only the theory of the occasional loss of personality by the seer in order to give it strenuous support. To be prepared for martyrdom was, in those uncertain times, one of the objects with which every fervent Christian was concerned. But the Church did not impose upon the faithful the absolute duty of steadfastly waiting for arrest, torture, and perhaps death.
Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, yielding to the entreaties of his friends, had taken refuge in a small house in the country in the outskirts of the town. A similar attitude had been, or might have been, that of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St Cyprian and of many other personages of incontestable courage. In Africa, not only the laics, but also the pastors themselves did not hesitate, when the occasion arose, to place themselves beyond the reach of their persecutors.
Not long before, Tertullian had taken no scandal at this: "Etiam in persecutionibus," he had written in his Ad Uxorem I, iii , " melius est ex permissu fugere quam comprehensum et distortum negare. The teaching of the Paraclete forced him to withdraw this concession. As for those who ran away, the Paraclete did not hesitate to "brand" them; to make up for this, he promised his assistance to whosoever should not shrink from its terrors and torments.
There is nothing to equal the easy assurance with which Tertullian executed the necessary volte-face. Without troubling to excuse his inconsistency, he and his new associates set themselves to denounce as unlawful every attempt to elude persecution. In his De Fuga, he laid down a principle destined to make clear all that followed. Did persecution come from God or from the devil? Of a surety it comes from God since it exalts the faith and makes the servants of God "better. It was likewise unworthy to buy oneself off at the price of money, to treat with informers, soldiers or the judges.
These negotiations were a disguised form of apostasy, a crafty method of "flight": Pedibus stetisti, cucurristi nummis. Negatio est etiam martyrii recusatio. Non quaeritur qui latam viam sequi paratus sit, sed qui angustam. Was it, aye or no, lawful from the religious point of view to re-marry? To-day the problem appears to be without much interest; it is curious to have to state that during several centuries eminent minds were preoccupiedand doubtless as many souls were torturedwith moral difficulties which are nothing more than a matter of individual delicacy.
St Paul 83 had nowhere concealed his very clear preference for the celibate; but, preserved by superior good sense from all excessive severity, he had contended on principle that the change from celibacy to marriage was in no wise sinful, and he had even gone so far to admit the lawfulness of re-marriage.
Such approximately are the nuances of the Pauline view. It was to interpret these nuances, to press them to an undue point, or even to force them against their real tenor, that 95 Tertullian applied the infinite resources of his sophistic reasoning in three treatises. We do not notice in the Ad Uxorem any declaration relating to Montanism. Further, Tertullian expressly recognises in it that a Christian may take flight from persecution, which he was to deny in the De Fuga. In the De Exhortatione Castitatis, the ditch had been leapt over, for Tertullian there quotes an oracle of the "holy prophetess Prisca"; but, besides this being the only mention of her, the fact that he abstains from all savage allusions to the Catholics, gives colour to the idea that, though he had already been conquered by Montanism, he had nevertheless not yet entirely effected his breach with the Church.
On the other hand, no doubt is possible in regard to the De Monogamia. It is an aggressive and violent work in which he no longer extends any compromise. In one work after another, therefore, further advances are made manifest, and we can follow the development of Tertullian's opinions on re-marriage from entire orthodoxy to declared Montanism.
It becomes evident that Montanism had scarcely modified his ideas radically. The Ad Uxorem contains, at least in germ, the greater part of the arguments developed in the two subsequent treatises. From the time when he wrote it, the antipathies in his mind gained in strength. Nevertheless, he represented perseverance in widowhood as being eminently profitable to the moral life rather than as a positive obligation: " Nam etsi non delinquas renubendo.
The tone of his discussion changes also. In the De Monogamia, he affects to consider his adversaries as beings wholly in servitude to their senses, and whose reasonings had nothing intellectual about them. He takes them to task even in their persons, their secret vices, and the shamelessness of their party. He makes no hesitation in alluding to an ignominious scandal in which, it appears, he had included the Bishop of 96 Uthina, one of the Roman colonies in Africa. He fights for his cause with all his heart and soul by crushing these sensual-minded people who disguise their passions under principles.
His attitude towards marriage in itself is fairly ambiguous. On several occasions he repeats that he has no wish to proscribe it, but only to apply thereto the rule of temperance. But looking at it closely, however, what contradictions, what malevolent insinuations, what morose lectures!
If he does not go quite to extremes, if he is content to cast over marriage a sour discredit, instead of simply disapproving of it, the reason is that at first Montanus himself had not gone to that length, and secondly because he feared to be mixed up on this account with the ranks of his detested enemies, the Marcionists, who themselves condemned without restriction the union of the sexes.
He had eloquently fought Marcion on this point; he did not dare, however much he might have wished, to appear to justify subsequently the heresiarch and his deep-rooted asceticism. With regard to fasting, his principal effort seems to have aimed at setting up in Carthage the practices enjoined by Montanus, which consisted either in complete obligatory fasting, or in prolonging, of obligation, certain fasts far beyond the usual limits of the "xerophagies. We can imagine how these rigorous and precise Montanist rules must have pleased Tertullian: all the postulates of his reason and all the instincts of his authoritative temperament there encountered their absolute satisfaction and blossomed forth in combative activity.
What seemed to be outrageous to the non-Montanist Catholics was this arrogant attempt to render nugatory, in the name of the prophetia nova, all individual initiative, and the substitution of a series of heavy mortifications ex imperio for mortifications which were ex arbitrio. Herein lay an encroachment whose lack of moderation threatened 97 the daily independence of everyone much more than his prohibition relating to re-marriage. Hence arose a general revolt against the pseudo-Paraclete, author of these dangerous concepts, whom the Catholics identified with the "devil" and "Anti-Christ," and against the band of "false prophets.
All non-scriptural and non-traditional rules were proclaimed as a foolish novelty and a suspicious imitation of Judaic devotions, or the rites of Apis, Cybele and Isis. His discussion is one of most rare insolence. The word gula occurs a dozen times in the De Jejunio. Guzzlers, greedy to fill their bellies, who covered their disgusting appetites under respectable termsthese are some of the features under which he depicts his adversaries.
Further, gluttons were voluptuous: gluttony with them resolved itself into lasciviousness, per edacitatem salacitas transit. And Tertullian develops the picture and defines its leading characteristics with entire lack of modesty. The whole of chapter I is full of obscenities. There is nothing in his language more unchaste than this raving preacher of chastity. There remains the question of penance. Of all those we have found space to study in regard to Tertullian, this question is the most important.
Not that Tertullian had approached it with any new dispositions: he shows himself in the De Pudicitia, which is especially devoted to this subject, such as we have seen him in the De Monogamia and the De Jejunio, just as violent, just as sternly decided to oblige men to become better, and to transform the Church so far as it depended upon him, into a community of saints.
But this time the dispute between Catholics and Montanists was not concerned solely with discipline: a problem of a dogmatic order, the problem of the " Power of the Keys, " was 98 involved in it. Tertullian was bound to take up a position; and thus he was forced to modify, not only his old treatises on penance, but also some portions of his conceptions of the Church and of the prerogatives attaching to the clerical hierarchy. To begin with the De Paenitentia. I have mentioned the comparatively temperate and benignant character of this work. In it Tertullian admitted that the sinner who had fallen after baptism into one or more grave sins, had still the right to be pardoned once.
How different appears the spirit animating the De Pudicitia, even from the most superficial study! From the very first pages, Tertullian allows his wrath to break forth. The adversary to whom he takes exception is a Bishop, a Roman Bishop without doubt. The identification of this Bishop is a problem to which very different solutions have been given. It is commonly enough admitted to-day but without decisive proofs , that it was Callistus who was aimed at. With what abusive irony does Tertullian turn into ridicule the proud language of the Pontiff and to him the cunning hypocrisy of his allocution!
And it is not only by this sectarian mood that his Montanism declares itself, but also by a notable change in his ideas as regards penance and to all purposes by an appreciable evolution in doctrine. There are some sins which a Christian must no longer commit: the Church, the spotless virgin, cannot countenance a stain. For sins like these there is no pity; and the guilty one need look no further to her! He disavows without hesitation the restrained conception which he had developed in the De Paenitentia. In chapter xxi, he even goes so far as to take away her power of pardoning from the Church of the "psychics" in these words he describes the Catholic Church constituted 99 with her Hierarchy in order to transfer it into the hands of the truly "spiritual" Church, the Montanist Church which at any rate will not make use of it except in altogether exceptional cases.
And he is by no means sure that in this he has not exceeded the hardihood of Montanus himself in order to satisfy the demand of his own personal views and of his controversial attitude. Taken as a whole, a careful examination of the Montanist treatises of Tertullian proves that we should be wrong in rigorously identifying the original Montanism with that bearing the mark of Tertullian's works. At the time when he fell under the influence of the doctrine of the Phrygian prophets, he was in the full maturity of his thought and in full exercise of his talents.
From that moment it was inevitable that in giving in his adherence he should put his impress on it and should adapt it in some degree to his own conception. In his theory of ecstasy, as we have seen, he guards against legitimatising the physical excesses whereof the protagonists of the sect had given a rather scandalous exhibition in the East; with knowing hand he shaded off all that savoured of irregularity, incoherency, and morbidity in the Phrygian cult of prophesying.
He also endeavoured it is one of the leit-motifs of his discussions to link it up with the past, and to persuade his readers that these so-called innovations of the "Paraclete" had nothing revolutionary in them, and that they might be found outlined or in germ if one only read the Scriptures carefully.
On the somewhat frail theological web of primitive Montanism, he wove his fantastic theory of successive revelations explaining the necessary outcome of the plan inaugurated by God from the beginning of Creation by the operation of the Paracletea gradual development in discipline, in the sense of an ever-increasing rigour, and not as an evolution of the rule of faith which, according to him, was not susceptible of any further progress in matter of doctrine.
In his heart of hearts, he would have passionately liked to have the Montanist cult of prophecy "recognised" and authorised. Feeling at last that the Churchan organism founded on a Hierarchy and containing the great majority of the faithfulwould be irreducible, he took the step of separating himself from her. In other respects, he preserved intact his symbol of faith, his respect for the Scriptures, and his theory of prescription and the apostolic character of the Churches.
Against dissentients, he continued to write vigorous treatises wherein, on more than one occasion, he has given to certain dogmatic formulae their almost definitive expression, as in the Adversus Praxean, the De Resurrectione Carnis, the Scorpiace, the De Carne Christi, etc.
Hampered by a past which he was not willing totally to disavow, he arrived at strange compromises and disastrous combinations, whereof no one better than he could appreciate the weak points. From the psychological and religious point of view, his case is one of extreme interest, in which there mingles some pity in regard to this strong mind struggling on incoherently and without succeeding, in spite of so much sophistry, in getting away from himself.
FROM the literary point of view, Tertullian may perhaps be compared with the most striking representatives of Latin literature in the time of the emperors. This is a truth which is sometimes overlooked but of which anyone who shall have held any close commune with his works will be irresistibly convinced. It is distressing to see with what ill-natured incompetence his language and style have been sometimes appreciated: we have David Ruhnken, the German philologist of the XVIIIth century, 88 pedantically declaring: "Tertullianum latinitatis certe pessimum auctorem esse aio et confirmo"; and Auguste Matthiae 89 branding him on account of his "barbarous" language; Courdaveaux 90 deplores "that such a man, as great from the qualities of his heart as from the courage of his views, should only have as a vehicle for his ideas a poor provincial patois even more unsuited than the real Latin tongue for abstract discussions, and which he wrote in so obscure a style that his thought is even more difficult to disentangle than that of St Paul.
The truth is that Tertullian adhered strictly to the literary tradition of his age. He knew the methods of "artistic prose" as they had been formed among the Greeks under the influence of Gorgias, Isocrates, Theophrastus of Eresos and of the rhetoricians of Asia, which Cicero had permitted himself to appropriate, adapting them to the genius of the Latin tongue. It was not a question of the metrical rules governing the cadence of a sentence, which he generally observed in his terminations.
In addition, Tertullian was contemporary with Apuleius whose works he had certainly read. We shall never know all the richness of his vocabulary until a complete inventory, which does not exist at present, shall have been drawn up of it. He has been called "the real creator of the Latin of the Church. But it is clear that he largely contributed to that collective work by which the appearance of the Latin tongue was renovated.
His creations of new words are innumerable: the specialists hold that they appear to be conformable after a general fashion to the rules governing their Latin derivation. Then, although marked by a hereditary culture, his dominating and original personality exercised a sovereign mastery of the forms he used. Unlike Minucius Felix or Lactantius and so many other Christian writers, we hardly ever surprise him practising the art of stealing his turns of phrase and similies from the classics.
He disdained these lawful pilferings. It is in very truth his own vigour which circulates through so many sturdy and subtile pages. Far from impairing his literary gifts, Montanism gave them their full scope. Here and there there may be found a certain fastidious oppressiveness in his treatises at the beginning, in the De Baptismo and the De Paenitentia, for example. Montanism put his temperament at ease, long held in check by the fear of saying too much, and by certain scruples which were henceforth to vanish.
And this wrathful and passionate soul breathed itself forth still more freely in that he believed that he was representing the true religious ideal in face of the lapses which dishonoured it in bringing it down to their level.