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Tertullian (ca. 150-225), classified as one of the early church fathers, was a notable early Christian apologist. He was born in the city of Carthage in North Africa. Both of his parents were pagan, and his father was a centurion. Tertullian received a thorough education in the knowledge of the Romans and the Greeks, and he apparently practiced law in Rome before his return to Carthage and conversion. His writings indicate that he did not become a Christian until he was in his thirties or forties.


Biographical sketch

Once Tertullian converted to Christianity, he held nothing back. He used his vast learning in the cause of Christ. At the risk of his life, he wrote several works to the Romans, defending Christianity and attempting to persuade the authorities to halt their senseless persecution.

Tertullian apparently served as an elder or presbyter in Carthage, completely devoting his life to the ministry of Christ. Not only did he write apologetic works to the Romans, but he also composed a considerable number of writings in which he defended orthodox Christianity against various heretics. Tertullian also wrote exhortations for the Church itself. He lived during an era in which the Church was coming to grips with the reality that Christ had not returned within the expected time frame of the earliest Christians. Tertullian often felt that the leadership of the Church was growing complacent as it sought to find its place in a secular world which would be its home for the long haul.[1] A number of his works speak out against capitulating not only to the direct pressures of Roman persecution but while the Church waits for Christ that it should not trade hope in God for dependency in the power of the Empire, including its economic, political and military power. Like Paul, he rejected earthly power and advantage, including worldly education and social rank as "dung" in relation to the things of Christ, even concluding that Christian discipleship was incompatible with military service.

Until the time of Tertullian nearly all Christian works had been written in Greek. Although Tertullian was fluent in Greek and wrote several works in Greek, he penned most of his works in Latin—in order to benefit the growing number of western Christians who knew only Latin. This effort has often earned him the title of "The Father of Latin Christianity." In this effort Tertullian often developed Latin terminology to express ideas of Christian theology that had previously been unique to the Greek language. He is well known for being the first to use the words "substance" and "person" to define God.[2]

Because of his fiery temperament and forceful convictions, nearly all of Tertullian's writings have polemic overtones. Church historian Phillip Schaff said of him: "He resembled a foaming mountain torrent rather than a calm, transparent river in the valley. His vehement temper was never fully subdued, although he struggled sincerely against it. He was a man of strong convictions, and never hesitated to express them without fear or favor. ...His polemics everywhere leave marks of blood. It is a wonder that he was not killed by the heathens, or excommunicated by the Catholics." [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1910), pp. 822-824].

In his later years, having become ever more disturbed with the complacency he saw within the Church's leadership, Tertullian joined the charismatic Montanist sect. His attraction to the Montanists was that they shared many of his views regarding that aforementioned ecclesial complacency, as well as a strict moralism fueled by their maintenance of the early Christian hope in the imminent return of Christ. It is unfortunate that in subsequent decades after Tertullian's death the Montanists became extremely radical, if not outrightly heretical, causing latter theolgians to often dismiss him and his works.

Tertullian's Apology (Apologeticus) is one of the best-known works of the pre-Nicene era. In it, he provides not only a stirring defense of Christianity to the Roman rulers, but takes exhaustive measures to show that Roman culture and religion is inferior and hopeless when compared to Christianity.

Relation of Jerusalem with Athens

In chapter 7 of his work De praescriptione haereticorum (On the prescription of heretics) he asks "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?", which scholars and others now frequently quote. For Tertullian, it was part of a larger argument on how to deal with those who claim to be Christians (i.e., believers in Jesus), but in truth don't accept the authority of scripture, only their own powers of reason (i.e., the philosophy of Athens).[3]


  1. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine - Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100–600 (1973)
  2. Justo Gonazalez, A History of Christian Thought, p. 179

See also

External links

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