Journal of Theological Studies, New Series, 24 (1973), pp.249-251
Tertullien et la conversion de la culture antique. By JEAN-CLAUDE FREDOUILLE. Pp. 547. Paris : Etudes Augustiniennes, 1972. N.p.
THIS is another useful work on Tertullian. Professor Fredouille's doctoral thesis challenges some of the more popular notions of Tertullian as a man of violent and puritanical cast of mind who moved successively from paganism to orthodox Christianity, thence to Montanism, and finally to his own sect of Tertullianists. Instead he presents a more subtle analysis of the meaning of Tertullian's conversion to Christianity and seeks to portray Tertullian as a rounded character whose Christian faith was always grafted on to his previous classical culture. Though he rejected those elements of current paganism that he found incompatible with Christianity he did not reject pagan culture as such. His life and thought may be interpreted in terms of a steady progression from a heritage grounded in Stoicism rather than a series of violent reactions directed first against paganism and later against Christian orthodoxy.
Basing himself ultimately on the work of Paul Monceaux the author combines a detailed knowledge of Tertullian's writings with an understanding of the North Africa background. He points out, for instance, that Tertullian' s moral rigorism was not unusual at the time even among pagans (cf. CIL viii. 876 from Mactar) and that an individual educated as a rhetorician would be expected to have mastered the disciplines of law and history as well as philosophy. Tertullian was a lawyer only in the sense that Cicero and Quintilian were lawyers. He denies that he was anti-rationalist. Even his more extreme attacks on philosophy must be regarded in the context of polemic and pastoral considerations. At heart he accepted philosophy as a valuable preparation for the apprehension of the divine. Not only Seneca but Lucretius and Pythagoras could be claimed as 'saepe noster'. For Tertullian as for Justin Martyr Christianity had appealed as superior philosophy, plena atque perfecta sapientia' (Adv. Nationes ii. 2. 4). In particular the De Patientia, the earliest work on Christian spirituality in the West, cannot be under stood apart from the Stoicism that permeates it from beginning to end.
The case is argued with learning and good sense. Fredouille's study may be placed alongside the recent work of R. Klein, T. D. Barnes, and R. D. Sider, all of whom have contributed towards establishing the classical background of Tertullian' s thought. Like Barnes, Fredouille has set out to demonstrate that Tertullian did indeed take his classical inheritance into the Christian Church and thereby sought to resolve the antithesis between Athens and Jerusalem, the Academy and the Church. This is a most valuable contribution to the study of Latin Christianity at the turn of the third century. One would hesitate only in suggesting that the last word on the subject had been spoken.
It could be urged, for instance, that a portrait of Tertullian should include an understanding of the salient features of Carthaginian Christianity which he accepted so readily. These, as Tertullian's early work Ad Martyras as well as the Passio Perpetuae show, was a religion dominated by apocalyptic hopes and the glorification of martyrdom founded on a fervent doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The latter feature was vital, and the role of the Paraclete was interpreted as 'reproving the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgement' (Jn. xvi. 8). Tertullian's conviction that the Last Times were indeed at hand inspired his rejection of contemporary society. The sight of the martyrs, the symbols of defiance of paganism, had impelled him towards Christianity. (Apol. 50. 16). The long list of strident antitheses between Christian and pagan society, the 'camp of light and the camp of darkness' (De Idololatria 19) deserve to be taken at face value. There was a revolutionary tinge in Tertullian's character, a desire to overturn the foundations of current pagan society (Adv. Nationes ii. 1). Whether he wished to replace this by a Christianized Roman empire as H. Klein believed or whether he brooded on the pagan empire' s immediate extinction with the coming of a New Jerusalem is an open question, but his rejection of the world in which he had been reared would seem to have been more abrupt and decisive than Fredouille suggests. Tertullian's forerunners are Irenaeus, for whom he had a rare word of acknowledgement, and the Martyrs of Lyons, rather than Justin Martyr.
A final point concerns the chronology of Tertullian's works. Fredouille generally speaking follows Moonceaux, though carefully tabulating divergencies. He should perhaps have made greater use of Barnes's skilful reconstruction of the chronological evidence (J T S. N.S. x.x (1969), pp. 113 - 17 1). Scorpiace in particular must surely be placed in 203/4, a period which coincides with the harassment of the Christians in other large cities of the Greco-Roman world but shows no hint of Montanism.
This is however a valuable contribution to the study of Tertullian. Fredouille's careful and scholarly work establishes Stoicism beyond doubt as providing the major strand in Tertullian's pagan heritage. Though he has been less successful in explaining how and why Tertullian made the transition to the sectarian and apocalyptic Christianity of Carthage of the 190s, he has thrown light on a vital phase in the development of the relationship between paganism and Christianity in the West. Etudes Augustiniennes are to be congratulated on extending the scope of their studies into this phase of 'Antike und Christentum'.
Like many French scholars, the author had difficulty with English names and phrases. 'The happy fews', however, is unlikely to find its way into Common Market handbooks, while C. L. Short is confused with a Teutonic cousin, C. L. Schortt.
W. H. C. FREND
This page has been online since 11th December 1999.
|Return to the Tertullian Home Page||About these pages|