The Antonine thermal
baths in Carthage, home of Tertullian in the second century
AD, as they are today.
Iwona Adamus, iStockphoto.com
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, simply known as Tertullian,
was born sometime after 150 A.D. in the north African city of Carthage
His parents were both non-Christians: his father a captain of a
Roman legion. Sent to Rome, Tertullian studied and practiced law
and in doing so, developed a brilliant legal mind. He also became
a great student of philosophy and history and was very gifted in
the use of language, later becoming the first major Christian author
to write in Latin as well as displaying good knowledge of the Greek.
Outside his vast academic achievements, details are vauge concerning
Tertullian’s personal life, with little known apart from the
fact that he was married and, according to the
Catholic Encyclopedia, “shared the pagan prejudices
against Christianity and indulged like others in shameful pleasure”.
Converted to Christianity around about the age of 40, Tertullian
returned to Carthage where he became a leader in the church and
gave himself wholeheartedly to the propagation and defense of the
Gospel through his writings. While the works that he authored in
Greek have been lost, more than 30 treatises he wrote in Latin are
still in existence.
Tertullian’s strict moral views and disenchantment with the
established church (he saw it as conforming to worldly standards)
later led him to join the Montanists - a group that believed strongly
to end-time prophesies and the work of the Holy Spirit as well as
endorsing a strict ascetic lifestyle - although he did not subscribe
to their more extreme prophetic pronouncements.
his disengagement with the established church, Tertullian
also actively opposed the philosophy of his day and warned
of the dangers of associating Christianity to closely with
philosophies of the day, a view he summed up in the question
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
According to Gerald Bray, a London-based lecturer in systematic
theology, contemporary theologians cited his involvement with the
Montanists as the main reason behind Tertullian’s break with
the main church at Carthage.
Alongside his disengagement with the established church, Tertullian
also actively opposed the philosophy of his day and warned of the
dangers of associating Christianity to closely with philosophies
of the day, a view he summed up in the question “What has
Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Yet, despite his opposition,
he did find some agreement on certain issues with some of the Stoic
and Platonic philosophers of the time.
His writings - described by Everett Ferguson, a US-based professor
in church history, as being witty and vigorous and “marked
by startling turns of phrase” - covered an extensive range
of topics which, according to Bray, can be categorised as either
apologetic, polemical, doctrinal or pastoral.
Tertullian’s most famous apologetic work - Apology
- was an extensive piece in which he pleaded for religious liberty
and criticized the Romans for their persecution of Christians while
at the same time recognizing that such persecutions also empowered
“It is the bait that wins men for our school. The oftener
we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow: the blood of
Christians is the seed (of the church),” he wrote in a statement
which has become famous throughout the corridors of church history.
His polemical works consisted of controversial attacks on the heresies
including gnosticism while his doctrinal writings dealt with subjects
such as baptism (he was opposed to infant baptism) and his pastoral
writings with issues such as martyrdom, the role of women in the
church, personal spirituality and warnings against Christians being
involved in pagan practices.
One his lasting legacies was the coining of the the term “trinity”
- used to describe the relationship between the Father, Son, and
Seen by some as a pacesetter who broke new ground in theological
understanding, Tertullian’s influence continues to effect
our understanding of the Bible today.
Despite his writings on martyrdom and persecution, he died peacefully
sometime after 229 A.D.
The Church in History Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Reprinted 2002
The History of Christianity, Lion Publishing. 1990
Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelly Word Publishing
R.C. Kroeger and C. C. Kroeger, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.
Baker Books 1996
Great Leaders of the Christian Church. Moody Press 1988
Tertullian Project - www.tertullian.org