TERTULLIAN’S LITERARY ACTIVITY.
THE following brief sketch of Tertullian’s activity as an author is not intended to deal with any questions of linguistic interest or to attempt to estimate the literary value of his work. The purpose in view is simply to indicate the setting and character of the various writings in such a manner as to enable the reader to follow the development of Tertullian’s thought, and to appraise his theological statements at their true value. He passed through various stages, commencing as an earnest exponent of the elements of the faith, the simple rites, and the central virtues, of the Christian religion; developing into the able advocate of the Christian community and the arch-enemy of heresy; gradually moving towards that sect with which he had so much spiritual affinity, and in turn impressing upon that sect the stamp of his own personality; singling out special aspects of the truth, and expounding them in masterly fashion; giving his best thought to the elaboration of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Nature of Christ; and finally descending into the pettiness of a bitter quarrel with the Church, which led to his being branded as a heretic.
A.D. 195, ‘DE BAPTISMO.’—This, the earliest of Tertullian’s extant writings, was called forth by the fact that a woman, ‘a viper of the Cainite heresy,’ had attempted to do away with the rite of baptism on the plea that it was unnecessary. The teaching of the treatise has been indicated already.1 The thoroughness with which Tertullian dealt with his subjects is evident thus early. His zeal for practical Christianity appears in his denunciation of the too easy administration of baptism and in his opposition to infant baptism. Expression is already given to his view that unquestioning faith should precede understanding.’ The tendency to over-emphasize the aspect of the truth for which he is pleading is illustrated by the extent to which he goes in eulogizing the external means of baptism. One other point of interest is found in the way in which he writes on the subject of women teachers in church. He could not have written in this strain after he became a Montanist without some qualification of his views in favour of the prophetesses who played such an important part in that movement.
A.D. 195—196. ‘ADVERSUS JUDAEOS.’—Tertullian’s love of disputation soon led him to write on the controversy between the Christians and the Jews. This treatise purports to have arisen out of an argument |p254 between a Christian and a Jewish proselyte. This may well have been the case. The Dialogue with Trypho of Justin Martyr, Jason and Papiscus and the Octavius of Minucius Felix, are instances of the employment of such a literary device. But, on the other hand, Tertullian’s prejudice against such literary devices, and the fact that the argument is represented as taking place between a Christian and a Jewish proselyte, would lead one to suppose that the treatise was prompted by an actual dispute.
It covers the usual ground of contention between Christian and Jew. Are the Gentiles admissible to God’s law? Is circumcision necessary? Are the Jewish sacrifices incumbent on the Gentiles? Has the Christ come? Are the prophecies fulfilled in Him? Tertullian’s argument is that the Law of God was anterior to Moses, and that the failure of the Jew was the opportunity of the Gentile. The sign of circumcision was given that the Jews might be distinguished at ‘the last time,’ when they would be prohibited from entering the holy ark. The cessation of circumcision had been predicted by the prophets, and the new law had come to the obedient Gentiles. The sacrifices which God desires are not carnal, but spiritual. The Christ has come and the prophecies have been fulfilled in Him, both in His birth and in His passion.
One great idea is nobly expressed here—that of the universality of the Christian religion. Tertullian takes a sweeping survey of the kingdoms of the earth, past and present, and asserts the universal sway of Jesus Christ.3 No indications of Montanism are to be found here, and in dealing with the question of the Sabbath the writer adopts the Western view.
A.D. 196. ‘DE SPECTACULIS.’—From the task of defending the Christian religion against the Jews Tertullian turned his attention to a far more formidable foe—the paganism that surrounded the Christians on every side. He entered the lists against this powerful adversary. The contest demanded a knowledge of the origins of the pagan customs and festivals, and Tertullian spared no pains to make himself acquainted with the origins, that he might discredit the developments which had accrued. He bases his contentions upon the accounts given by the authors of heathen literature. The purpose he has in view, however, is not that of disputation with the heathen themselves, but that of guarding the Christians against the peril to their faith contained in the attractions of the games and celebrations of the pagan world. He passes in review the circus, the theatre, the combats, and the funeral sacrifice, traces their origins, showing them to be the offspring of idolatry, and characterizes them in their existing form as being, true to their origin, nothing more than a species of idolatry. It is noteworthy that he feels the force of the demand made by those Christians who favoured attendance at these exhibitions, that if such things are forbidden, scripture proof of the prohibition should be adduced. But in attempting to supply that proof he depends upon a far-fetched interpretation of the first Psalm rather than upon the application of scriptural principles to a problem which in its existing form |p255 was foreign to biblical times. The appeal to the first Psalm in this connexion is probably due to the influence of Clement of Alexandria, who had made a similar use of it in his Paidagogos.
A.D. 196-197. ‘DE CULTU FEMINARUM,’ I. and II.—The two little pamphlets On Female Dress reflect still more clearly the influence of Clement. The similarity in the subject-matter dealt with by both is not sufficient to account for the close resemblances in the writings of the two authors. Tertullian must have been familiar with the Paidagogos. In these two pamphlets he continues his exhortations to the members of the Christian community to abstain from the allurements of pagan society. He inveighs against the wearing of gold, silver, and jewels, and draws the distinction between those refinements in dress which are lawful and those which are not. The limits assigned are that the things which, being natural, are the creation of God, are therefore to be desired, while those refinements which are superinduced upon the work of God by the ingenuity of Satan are to be avoided. What he has to say applies, he affirms, equally to men and to women. His appeal to the Book of Enoch shows that he regards it as authoritative, and reveals an uncritical attitude in affirming that the book owes its authorship to Enoch himself.
‘DE ORATIONE.’—Between these two pamphlets he wrote on the subjects of Prayer and Idolatry. Dealing with the former subject, he first expounds the Lord’s Prayer; then he intimates that it is lawful to add personal petitions, and deals with the appropriate attitude of prayer, the ‘kiss of peace,’ stations, women’s dress, the veiling of virgins, and with the time and place for prayer, its power, and its effect. The appeal to the Shepherd of Hermas may be contrasted with the denial of its authority in De Pudicitia.
A.D. 197. ‘DE IDOLOLATRIA.’—In further pursuit of the question of the relation of the Christians to the pagan world Tertullian wrote the tract On Idolatry. It is couched in stronger terms than his earlier writings, and makes more stringent demands of the Christians. They must abstain from every form of that idolatry which is ‘the principal crime of the human race,’ and which is identical with murder and adultery. Not only idol-worship, but idol-making, is to be abjured. Guilt attaches, net only to direct participation in the making of such idols, but even to such occupations as those of schoolmasters, soldiers, and servants of officials. The subject is not treated in learned fashion, after the manner of De Spectaculis; the author is rather addressing himself to the urgent necessity of dissuading his fellow Christians from participating in the celebrations which followed the victory of Severus over Albinus. The sound of approaching persecution grows clearer. In De Spectaculis the cry ‘To the lions’ is daily raised against the Christians; in De Idololatria the question is becoming acute as to whether a Christian ought to divulge or to deny the fact that he is such. In De Cultu Feminarum, II., the author says, ‘Otherwise, I know not whether the wrist that has been wont to be surrounded with palm-leaf-like bracelet will endure till it grow into the numb hardness of its own chain! I know not whether the leg that has rejoiced in the |p256 anklet will suffer to be squeezed into the gyve! I fear the neck beset with pearl and emerald nooses will give no room to the broadsword ! . . . But Christians always, and now more than ever, pass their time, not in gold, but in irons; the stoles of martyrdom are preparing, the angels who are to carry us are being awaited.’4
A.D. 197. ‘AD MARTYRAS.’—The approaching persecution had arrived before Tertullian’s next writing was penned. By this time the fearful civil war which preceded the accession of Severus was receding into the past, the celebrations were over, and the twenty-nine senators who had conspired with Albinus had been put to death. The campaign of Severus against his enemies in the state had been persecuted with vigour. Meanwhile, in Carthage a number of Christians had been thrown into prison. What immediate occasion had led to their incarceration it is impossible to say. But there they were, and Tertullian, with his characteristic determination to have a part in everything that concerned the Christian community, wrote a letter to these prisoners. Others were providing for their physical needs; he would make some contribution to their spiritual sustenance. The burden of his letter is that they must rejoice, for the Holy Spirit has entered the prison with them, and there they are secure from the temptations of the world, and free from its pollution. Though the prison is hard, it affords a discipline for the soul. The example of those who have died for the sake of virtue or truth is set before them, but as no Christian is cited among these examples it is evident that the persecution had not yet issued in actual martyrdom.
A.D. 197. ‘AD NATIONES’ AND ‘APOLOGETICUS.’—These two books were written during the persecution, the former when it was at its height, the latter when it was beginning to wane. By this time some Christians had suffered death by sword and beast for their faith. Ad Nationes is addressed to the heathen populace, and reveals a bitter resentment of the treatment meted out to the Christians. It reflects the folly of the unthinking multitude, who are misled by such absurd travesties of the Christian religion as that presented by the Jew who went about carrying a caricature of the Christians in the form of a figure with an ass’s ears, clothed in a toga, carrying a book, and having a hoof for one of his feet. Tertullian retorts against the heathen the accusations they have levelled against the Christians, and asserts that the latter have the truth, while the heathen need to reform themselves. He confirms this by a lengthy examination of their gods as they are set forth in Varro.
Apologeticus covers much of the ground traversed in Ad Nationes, and brings in some fresh material which is more in place in an apology addressed to ‘the Rulers of the Roman Empire.’ It is not so bitter in tone, and it introduces a statement of the beliefs of the Christians and compares them with the findings of pagan philosophy.
A.D. 198—200. ‘DE TESTIMONIO ANIMAE.’—When the persecution had subsided, Tertullian composed a short treatise, On the Testimony of the Soul, the purport of which was that the soul in its natural untutored |p257 state is Christian, i.e. that it believes in those things that belong to the essence of the Christian religion. This little tract is primarily apologetic, but it at once develops a thought which has been briefly expressed in the Apologeticus, and foreshadows some of those doctrines which are to receive a fuller treatment in the contest with heresy to which Tertullian is about to devote the whole ardour of his mind.
‘DE PRAESCRIPTIONE HAERETICORUM.’—From the first Tertullian seems to have had an inclination to dispute with heretics. His first attempt at authorship took the form of a treatise in Greek on the question of the baptism of heretics.5 Now, for a decade or more, he devotes his attention to the task of combating Gnosticism, while the discussion of such subjects as Penitence and Patience occupies his pen at intervals.
The treatise De Praescriptione Haereticorum was called forth by the fact that considerable numbers of the members of the Christian community in Carthage had gone over to the side of the heretics, even bishops, and deacons, and widows, and martyrs among them.6 The Marcionites had attracted the greater number, for they had their churches modelled on the pattern of the Christian Church. Tertullian will later enter into closer disputation with the Marcionites and the Valentinians, as well as with Hermogenes, but for the present he contents himself with adopting a legal process—that of’ Prescription.’ He lays down the rule that the heretics may not appeal to the Christian Scriptures, for these belong to the Christians alone. Hence all discussion of the contents of Scripture with them is banned. They are ruled out of court.
‘ADVERSUS HERMOGENEM.’—Following out his resolution to deal with the heretics singly, Tertullian turned first to Hermogenes. This man was a painter by profession, but he had leanings towards philosophy, and had learnt from the Stoics the doctrine of the eternity of matter. When he became a Christian he was unable to accept the current orthodox doctrine of the creation of the world out of nothing. Tertullian indulges in a deal of witticism at his expense, and makes the main point in his criticism of Hermogenes the argument that if God made all things out of pre-existent matter He is responsible for evil as well as for good. It was to prevent the attribution of evil to God that Hermogenes had defended the eternity of matter, but he fails in this very purpose, because even if evil lay of necessity in the nature of matter, yet the making of all things out of that evil matter was an act of God. A.D. 200—204.—Probably A.D. 200—204 were occupied with the first writing of Adversus Marcionem, I. and II., which are lost.
Before Tertullian directed his anti-heretical fervour against the Valentinians he turned his attention to two questions of Christian morality, and addressed two letters on Christian conduct to his wife. The persecution which now took place as a result of the edict of the Emperor drew from Tertullian no definitely apologetic writing at all comparable with the Apologeticus and the Ad Nationes. Possibly he |p258 thought that in view of the changed attitude of the Emperor the repetition of such arguments would avail little. The Church at Carthage suffered, as we know from the Passion of St. Perpetua, which, according to the generally accepted view, was edited by Tertullian. With the exception of some minor verbal alterations he is content to allow the descriptions of the visions of the martyrs to stand as presented in their own words, and to confine his own work to the narration of the circumstances under which they suffered. Whether the editing of the Visions preceded the writing of De Patientia, as Dean Robinson suggests, or not, is open to question, but there is no doubt that the contemplation of the fortitude of the martyrs, who were Montanists, was a potent influence in precipitating Tertullian’s breach with the catholic Church.7
A.D. 204—207. ‘DE POENITENTIA.’—This followed close upon the persecution of A.D. 202—3. How many of the catholic Christians had suffered in that persecution it is impossible to say, but Tertullian’s description of the presbyters and deacons as ‘the dear ones of God’ indicates that some had evoked his sympathy. The general condition of things in the Christian community is revealed in the discussion of the question of baptism. It is not now the attitude of Christians towards the ‘Spectacles’ that is in question, but a certain insincerity that is characteristic of many. They are unwilling to make an open and abject confession of their lapses from the faith, and are too ready to be baptized without amendment of their conduct. They seek to be baptized by stealth, not openly, as in former days, possibly because of the fear of persecution, now that the edict of the Emperor has decreed that henceforth no one shall become a Christian. On the other hand, there is a disposition on the part of many to remain in the catechumen stage, so that they may live less strictly. Tertullian’s attitude on the question of baptism—which occupies a large part of the treatise—reflects this twofold tendency of the day. It also shows that he has come in his own mind to the parting of the ways. Dealing with the question of repentance after baptism, he sees the danger of teaching an unlimited availability of repentance. And yet he shrinks from asserting that post-baptismal repentance is an impossibility. So he compromises by teaching that after baptism one repentance is permissible, but no more.
‘DE PATIENTIA.’—This little book shows that the persecution was not yet over. A certain Judas had predicted that the world would come to an end in the tenth year of Severus (AD. 203), but the time had come and passed, while the prophecy remained unfulfilled. 8
This leads Tertullian to emphasize his belief that God has not forgotten to exercise His vengeance, but His patience still endures. The memory of the murder of Plautian is still fresh, and the spirited praise of the witnesses whose blood was shed in the persecution is more marked than that of De Poenitentia. |p259 It is significant that Tertullian waxed so eloquent in praise of patience because he knew his own lack of that virtue. The Author of patience is God; the author of impatience the devil. True to his general tendency to overstate his case, Tertullian makes patience the chief of the virtues, and impatience the essence of all evil.
‘AD UXOREM,’ I. AND II.—These books bring us to the verge of Tertullian’s conversion to Montanism. He had already complained of insincerity in the catholic Church; he now definitely denounces those who had advised a Christian woman to marry a pagan. He cannot understand such counsellors. That this matter is introduced in the second of the two books indicates that he is now approaching the Montanist position. In De Poenitentia he had admitted the possibility of a second repentance. Here he discusses the question of repeated marriage. His doubtfulness is reflected in the fact that he first lays down a strict prohibition of second marriage, and then modifies it by conceding that a second marriage is permissible, provided that it is with a Christian. Such contradictions are characteristic of Tertullian, it is true, but it is probably here a reflection of his movement towards Montanism. The condition of the community is similar to that reflected in De Poenitentia and De Patientia. He thinks that he himself may be a victim of the persecution, hence the composition of these letters declaring to his wife what he thinks she should do if she survives him.
Here we come to the close of that period in his life in which he was a member of the catholic Church. He had a spiritual affinity with Montanism earlier, but hitherto he had remained with the catholic Church, which he so highly praised. The sum of the improprieties of the catholic Church, the noble bearing of the famous Montanist martyrs, and certain quarrels with the officers of the Roman Church, led him gradually away from the catholic Church and into definite connexion with the Montanist sect.
His breach with the catholic Church did not, however, restrain his activity against the Gnostics. It rather stimulated it, for he found the Montanists already engaged in controversy with the Gnostics. The contest he began as a member of the catholic Church he continued with increased fervour as a Montanist. He contended with the Valentinians, and then at great length with the Marcionites.
‘ADVERSUS VALENTINIANOS.’—He first directs his anti-heretical fervour against the Valentinians—a numerous sect to which he had already referred in De Praescriptione Haereticorum. There is little to indicate that he really understood this Gnostic theory. He deals with the teaching of Ptolemy, the follower of Valentinus, rather than with that of his master, and follows Irenaeus closely. His criticism is little more than a humorous description of the extravagances and absurdities of the system. His progress towards Montanism is reflected in the statement that he means in this work to follow Justin Martyr, Miltiades, Irenaeus, and ‘our own Proculus.’
‘ADVERSUS MARCIONEM’ I.—Tertullian next turned his attention to Marcionitism, against which he composed his greatest work. This heresy had something in common with Montanism. Both were popular |p260 movements, which laid great stress upon asceticism and gloried in suffering. Neither laid claim to learning, and neither made anything of officialism and clericalism. But the prophetic element so prominent among the Montanists is absent from the Marcionites, and while the former stressed the Old Testament the latter rejected it. The Monarchian and definitely monotheistic belief of the Montanists could find no room for the two gods of the Marcionites.
Tertullian treated this opponent more seriously than Valentinianism. Against the latter he was disposed to be humorous; against the former to be abusive. His treatment of Valentinianism is superficial; his treatment of Marcion’s teaching is fundamental.
A.D. 209. ‘DE PALLIO.’—Between his first and second book against Marcion, Tertullian wrote a little pamphlet—the only secular writing he has left to us—in defence of his adoption of the mantle in preference to the toga. He had a penchant for writing on the subject of dress. Not only the dress of women, but the garb of men, was a subject of more than passing interest to him. Here we find a kind of presage of what was to happen to him in more important matters. He who had appointed himself the censor of others found himself the object of censure. The tone of the little writing indicates that it was not the ridicule of the rabble but the censure of the authorities against which he makes his defence.
‘ADVERSUS MARCIONEM,’ II. AND III.—These two books were next written with little time between their composition, though the repetition in Book II of the matter of Book I indicates that some time had elapsed between the composition of the first and second books. The weakness of the third book as compared with the other two is probably due to the fact that in it the author depends upon his earlier treatise, A dversus Judaeos.
A.D. 211. ‘DE ANIMA.’—Tertullian next turned his abilities in a different direction—to the discussion of a philosophic theme, the nature of the soul. He reveals the same thoroughness of treatment in dealing with this subject. In order to write with knowledge he studied the ancient philosophers and medical writers—Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, Plinius, Hippocrates, Asclepiades, Herophilus, and Soranus. The theme was not only abstractly interesting, it was practically important. The fact that Tatian and Clement of Alexandria had written on the subject indicates the necessity for discussing it. De Anima deals with the nature, origin, and qualities of the soul, its relation to the body, its development, and its destiny. The extensive acquaintance with the thought of others, combined with a commendable independence of judgement, makes it ‘an extremely important achievement.’9
A.D. 211. ‘DE CORONA MILITIS.’—For the next two years Tertullian’s pen was occupied with four writings which arose out of the persecution which followed the death of Severus. These were De Corona Militis, Ad Scapulam, De Fuga in Persecutione, and Scorpiace. De Corona Militis was written in defence of the action of a soldier who refused to |p261 wear the crown of laurel when receiving his gratuity. The whole subject of crown-wearing was one which had received the attention of Clement of Alexandria.10 There are resemblances between his treatment of the subject and that of Tertullian which indicate that the latter was familiar with the writing of Clement; e.g. the absurdity of placing flowers upon the head, where they can neither be seen nor smelt, and the reference to the crowning of Christ with thorns. The custom was very widespread among the pagans, and the question of the relation of Christians towards it was but a part of the larger question of the attitude which they were to adopt towards pagan customs in general. The incident already referred to, however, led Tertullian to discuss the question in detail. His treatment of the subject is noteworthy for the fact that he abandons the attempt to find Scripture ground for the prohibition of crown-wearing. He places the onus of finding Scripture support on those who would defend the custom, and himself prefers to base his prohibition upon custom, tradition, and reason.
A.D. 211. ‘AD SCAPULAM.’—This is an apologetic writing of much simpler form than the Apologeticus. It is couched in terms of greater moderation, and is throughout dignified and manly in tone. It is rich in allusions to contemporary events, so that its date can be determined with confidence. The arguments of the Apologeticus are succinctly stated, but the main purpose of the epistle is to warn Scapula of the grave risk he is runnihg in persecuting the Christians. Other persecutors had met with the judgements of God, and even Scapula himself had received in portents of various kinds a sufficient warning from God. Yet Tertullian avows that his aim is not to frighten Scapula but to save him from the folly of contending with God. That the scene of the persecution is Carthage is obvious, and there is no indication of persecution on a wider scale at this time.
A.D. 212. ‘DE FUGA IN PERSECUTIONE.’—The persecution under Scapula produced a far different result from that predicted by Tertullian in his letter to that ruler. The harvest was not heroism, but bribery and cowardice. The Christians, whose readiness to die Tertullian had proclaimed with a flourish, turned out to be for the most part more ready to resort to flight or to buy off their oppressors. In this they defended themselves by referring to Christ’s admonition to His disciples to ‘flee from city to city.’ The letter is addressed to ‘Brother Fabius,’ who had asked for guidance in this matter. The Montanistic tone is unmistakable, but Fabius, apparently a member of the catholic Church, is addressed in affectionate terms. The writer approaches the question by asking whether persecution comes from God or from the devil, and, having decided that it is from God, concludes that flight in times of persecution is indefensible. Persecution is the judgement of God, whereby He approves of faith and rejects the unfaithful. It is the winnowing fan separating the grain of the martyrs from the chaff of the deniers. It is the ladder of which Jacob dreamed, by which some ascend to higher places and some descend to |p262 lower. To buy oneself off from such persecution is no better than fleeing from it, for ‘as flight is a buying off without money, so buying off is money-flight.’11 The catholic Church is in this respect a sad contrast to the followers of the Paraclete. The deacons, and presbyters, and bishops even, of the former take to flight,12 which shows the need of the Paraclete. ‘And therefore the Paraclete, is requisite who guides into all truth, and animates to all endurance. And they who have received Him will neither stoop to fly from persecution nor to buy it off, for they have the Lord Himself, One who will stand by us to aid us in suffering, as well as to be our mouth when we are put to the question.’13
A.D. 213. ‘SCORPIACE.’—The traitors within the camp were not the only source of anxiety to Tertullian. The Gnostics without denounced the martyrdom of the zealous Montanists as madness. It was a misunderstanding of the teaching of Christ, they said, that led His followers to confess Him before men when the only result was that they were delivered into the hands of the executioner. The title of this reply to the Gnostics is an abbreviation of ‘An Antidote for the Scorpion’s Sting.’ The Scorpion’s sting is, of course, the poison of the Gnostics. Tertullian’s first point is that God has willed martyrdom to take place. His second is that God, who so wills, is good. The first follows from the fact that God has forbidden the practice of idolatry. Wherever the worshippers of God have fallen into this sin, a few have resisted the general trend, and they have perforce suffered. By willing the prohibition of idolatry, God, in effect, willed the suffering of martyrdom. The second is defended on the ground that the sufferings of the martyrs make for their spiritual good and their eternal happiness.
A.D. 213—217. ‘ADVERSUS MARCIONEM,’ IV.—From this time to the end of his life Tertullian saw no persecution of the Christians comparable to the three we have noticed, but, though official persecution ceased, there still remained that hostility on the part of the populace that would gladly have seen it revived. In the comparative peace of these days Tertullian’s thoughts turned again to the great work he had undertaken in opposition to the doctrines of Marcion. Apart from that he dealt no more with particular sects of the Gnostics, but devoted his time and strength to the task of defending the reality of the flesh of Christ, and the resurrection of the flesh, against the whole army of heretics. Such a narrowing of the bounds of controversy gave his genius better scope, and provided a congenial sphere of exercise for his ability. Though his previous studies come to his assistance, his Montanistic predilections are obvious, and the peculiar beliefs of that sect are pressed into his service.
The fourth book against Marcion is practically a commentary on the Gospel of Luke, in which Tertullian shows that the only Gospel which Marcion acknowledged (and that in a mutilated form) furnishes no ground for that heretic’s contention. Here the application of the term ‘Psychicos’ to the members of the catholic Church first comes to sight in the writings of Tertullian, and here the discussion of the |p263 Sabbath reveals an altered attitude. He no longer accepts the Western view. The Sabbath is the Lord’s.
‘DE CARNE CHRISTI.’—This treatise is an endeavour to establish the reality of the flesh of Christ in opposition to the teaching of Marcion and Apelles, Valentinus and Alexander. It confines itself to this one point in refuting the teaching of the four heretics. Apelles was a follower of Marcion, and Alexander a follower of Valentinus. The former allowed, in contrast to his master, that Christ had real flesh; but held that it was a sidereal substance, and was not born. The letter held that Christ could not have had a human body without partaking of the sinfulness of human nature. Against these four heretics Tertullian maintained that Christ was born of a virgin, possessed a truly human body, and yet was sinless.
‘DE RESURRECTIONE CARNIS.’—The last-named treatise formed an introduction to this. The need for such a treatise was found in the fact that the heathen treated the Christian doctrine of the resurrection with derision, and that the heretics were prone to follow the opinions of the heathen. Tertullian maintains the resurrection of the body, and supports his doctrine by a copious and systematic employment of passages of Scripture.
‘DE VIRGINIBUS VELANDIS.’—The remaining writings reveal a pronounced antagonism to the catholic Church. Hitherto Tertullian had found it possible to address a typical member of that Church as ‘brother.’14 Henceforth he can only think of the members of the catholic Church as ‘Psychici.’ The bitterness of feeling grows to the end. The Montanists, whose narrow views on the questions of marriage and fasting became unendurable, and whose assumption of superiority became too much for the patience of the catholic Church, were now branded as heretics.
De Virginibus Velandis discusses at greater length a question which had been treated in De Oratione.15The earlier discussion of the subject shows us that it was not a specifically Montanistic doctrine that virgins should be veiled in the Christian assemblies. Opinions were divided, but generally the tendency of the Eastern Churches was towards strictness, that of the West towards laxity, in the matter. Tertullian from the first advocated the strictest view, and it is probable that the teaching of the Montanists on this point was influenced by him rather than that he was influenced by it.
‘ADVERSUS MARCIONEM,’ V.—The fifth volume brings to a close his great work against Marcion. It shows that the teaching of Paul, whom Marcion placed on a pedestal above the other apostles, so far from being in agreement with the Marcionite doctrine, is decidedly opposed to it. In addition to its maintenance of the chief argument against Marcion, it is noteworthy for its introduction into the discussion of the questions of the reality of the flesh of Christ and the resurrection of the flesh (subjects to which by this time Tertullian had given much attention), the ‘recapitulation’ of all things in Christ, and a modification of his views regarding the right of women to speak in church. |p264
A.D. 217—22 1. ‘ADVERSUS PRAXEAN.’—Once more Tertullian took up his pen to deal with a dogmatic subject, and with the wider knowledge and greater understanding of his latest years he expounded the great themes of the nature of God and of Christ. Difficulties had arisen out of the belief in the divinity of Christ. It seemed to imply that there were two Gods. To surmount the difficulty Praxeas taught that Christ is identical with the Father. The fact that to many of the ‘simpler sort’ of Christians this explanation seemed sufficient induced Tertullian to expound the whole subject, and to give to the world the fruit of his mature mind.
‘DE EXHORTATIONE CASTITATIS.’—This is a private letter addressed to a brother (probably a Montanist) who had lost his wife. It is a counsel not to marry again. There are three grades of celibacy, in descending order—virginity from birth, virginity from the second birth, i.e. from baptism, and monogamy. The Montanist strictness on this question is so completely shared by Tertullian that he wrests the teaching of Paul to serve his own purpose. Paul had distinguished between the ideals of celibacy and monogamy and the law, which forbade second marriage only in the case of officers. Tertullian would make Paul’s ideal the law.
‘DE MONOGAMIA.’—The question of the Christian teaching on marriage was one on which the strict views of Tertullian aroused more resentment than either his dogmatic teaching or his attitude on the subjects of the wearing of crowns, flight in persecution, and the veiling of virgins, because it affected a greater number of people. Tertullian maintains his views by claiming the authority of the Paraclete, whose teaching is not novel, as his opponents averred, but who is the original fount of Christian truth who spoke through Christ. Further, the Scriptures, whose teaching he interprets and whose words he twists to suit his own views, are on his side. The Old Testament gives place, in Tertullian’s estimation, to the New, a distinction which was forced upon the Christian Church by the Gnostic controversy. It is interesting to note that Tertullian complains that his teaching on the subject of marriage is regarded as heresy.
‘DE JEJUNIO ADVERSUS PSYCHICOS.’—The same charges of heresy and novelty were laid against Tertullian and his fellow Montanists in respect of their teaching on the subject of fasting. He replies with a charge of gluttony against the Psychics. The Montanists claimed the authority of the Paraclete for their fasts, vigils, and abstention from bathing. Their opponents assert that it is pseudo-prophecy, ‘the spirit of the devil,’ which directs them. An even more marked bitterness of feeling characterizes this treatise than that manifested in De Monogamia.
‘DE PUDICITIA.’—The last of Tertullian’s writings is a general defence of the Montanist attitude towards the subjects of celibacy, marriage, and chastity. The defence is embittered by the fact that Callistus had issued an edict proclaiming the pardon of adultery and fornication to those who repented. The position maintained by Tertullian is that already assumed in De Monogamia and De Exhortatione Castitatis, and the treatise is marked by a thoroughgoing and |p265 systematic application of Scripture to the subject. The Shepherd of Hermas is described as an apocryphal writing. The Church is not that of the Psychics, but that which is composed of spiritual men. The intercession of martyrs (many of them such in name only) on behalf of scandalous offenders is denounced. ‘Who has redeemed another’s death by his own but the Son of God alone?’
1. p.253 n.1 See Chapter X.
2. p.253 n.2 c. 10 : ‘ Non Intelligentes, quia nec credentes. Nos porro quantula fide sumus, tantulo et intellectu possumus aestimare.’
3. p.254 n.1 c. 8.
4. p.256 n.1 c. 13.
5. p.257 n.1 See De Baptismo, c. 15.
6. p.257 n.2 c. 3.
7. p.258 n.1 The whole scene of the martyrdoms as presented in the Passio S. Perpetuae is not easy to abridge, but it has been admirably done by Dr. H. B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church, pp. 313 ff.
8. p.258 n.2 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI. 7.
9. p.260 n.1 Harnack.
10. p.261 n.1 Paidagogos, II., c. 8.
11. p.262 n.1 De Fuga in Persecutione, c. 12.
12. p.262 n.2 Ibid., c. 11.
13. p.262 n.3 Ibid., c. 14.
14. p.263 n.1 Cf. De Fuga in Persecutione, c. 1.
15. p.263 n.2 cc. 21, 22.
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