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Tertullian

Tertullian

The North African theologian and apologist Tertullian (ca. 160-ca. 220) was the founder of Latin Christian theology. The first major Christian writer to use the Latin language, he gave to Latin Christian thought a decidedly legal stamp.

Born Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus in Carthage, the capital city of Roman Africa, Tertullian was the son of an army officer in a family that was not Christian. He received a full liberal education and entered the practice of law, living apparently for a time in Rome. In his mid-30s he was converted to Christianity and, back in Carthage, became one of the leading figures in the Christian community of that city, though he did not enter the ordained ministry.

Tertullian quickly took up the task of the written defense of the Christian Church in a setting in which violent persecution by the state was a recurring reality. His Apology, addressed to the governors of the Roman provinces, is notable for its skillful legal argumentation as well as for the glimpses it affords into the life of the early Christian Church. The verve, colloquial quality, wit, and frequent sarcasm of his style make him one of the most engaging of early Christian writers.

Tertullian holds an important place among Catholic authors who sought to define and to defend the faith of the Church against those heretical interpretations and speculations that are called Gnosticism and Marcionism. In his writings against these heresies the following themes are prominent: the Bible is rightly interpreted only in the Church, where the tradition of belief coming from Christ and the Apostles is preserved; the Rule of Faith (a summary of Christian teaching similar to the later Apostles' Creed) is the proper guide to interpretation of Scripture since it is acknowledged by all the local churches founded by the Apostles, churches in which an unbroken succession of bishops from the Apostles guarantees a continuity of teaching coming from Christ; and the God of the Jewish Scriptures is identical with the God of Christian faith, Jesus being the Messiah promised by those Scriptures.

A moral rigorist at heart, Tertullian at about the age of 50 abandoned the Catholic Church for the severely moral-istic Christian sect called Montanists. From this position he railed against Catholic "laxity, " for example, in readmitting to Communion those who had fallen into serious sin after their baptism. While a Montanist, he wrote a work, Against Praxeas, that was subsequently held in high honor by Catholics and in which for the first time an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was formulated. Within Montanism, Tertullian appears to have founded his own party, the Tertullianists. The end of his life is shrouded in obscurity, the date of his death being only an intelligent guess.

Further Reading

The best general book on Tertullian is T. D. Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study (1971). A fine appreciation of smaller scope is contained in Hans von Campenhausen, Men Who Shaped the Western Church (1964).

Additional Sources

Barnes, Timothy David, Tertullian: a historical and literary study, Oxford Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, 1971. □

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Tertullian

Tertullian (c.160–c.225), Christian father. He was born in Carthage and became a Christian before 197. He was the first important Christian writer in Latin, with a long and various list of works (the chronology of which is disputed). He eventually left the Catholic Church in favour of Montanism. His Apology (c.197) has the typical concerns of the apologists of the time, resting on the view that there is a natural basis for the recognition of God's action in Christ—i.e. the argument that there is ‘anima naturaliter Christiana’, the soul naturally Christian'. In his Apology there already appears the rigorous commitment to the faith summarized as ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’—though he wrote, ‘We grow just as much as we are mown down by you, the seed is the blood of the Christians.’ His moral and disciplinary works (e.g. The Soldier's Crown, On Penitence) are rigorous in their insistence on separation from pagan society. The corresponding rigour in his adherence to the faith is epitomized in his sentence, Certum est quia impossibile est, ‘It is certain because it is impossible’, (De Carne Christi). His theological works are mainly polemical. The most important are De praescriptione haereticorum (Against Heretics, following the model of Irenaeus), Against Marcion, and Against Praxeas (attacking modalism and formulating a doctrine of the Trinity).

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Tertullian

Tertullian (Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus) (tûrtŭl´yən), c.160–c.230, Roman theologian and Christian apologist, b. Carthage. He was the son of a centurion and was well educated, especially in law. Converted to Christianity c.197, he became the most formidable defender of the faith in his day. His Latin is vigorous and effective and reflects his juridical training. Sentences of his that have become proverbial are "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church," and "It is certain because it is impossible" (often quoted incorrectly as "I believe it because it is impossible" ). Some of Tertullian's opinions differed from the main stream of Christian thought, particularly his more rigorous view of sin and its forgiveness. After long defending the Montanists (see Montanism), he left the church (213) to join them; he later established his own sect, known as Tertullianists. Tertullian's most important writings are Apologeticus, Ad Nationes, and De Praescriptione.

See studies by T. D. Barnes (1971) and R. D. Sider (1971).

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"Tertullian." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Tertullian

Tertullian (c.160–c.240), early Christian theologian. His writings include Christian apologetics and attacks on pagan idolatry and Gnosticism. He later joined the Montanists, urging asceticism and venerating martyrs.

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Tertullian

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