Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page




born of heathen parentage at Karthage in the middle
of the second century, and was educated as a lawyer
and rhetorician in that "nursery of advocates."1
Some portion of his life was spent in Rome, and
Eusebius' statement that he was intimately versed
in Roman Law is amply justified by his writings,
which bristle with legal phraseology, and often
display the acuteness of a special pleader making
the most of his brief.2

His conversion has been variously dated between
185 and 196. He was ordained presbyter, and was
married but childless. His fervid African tempera-
ment, not guiltless of impatience (which he bewails,
de patientia, i), made him an enthusiastic and
eloquent champion of whatever cause he took up.
He wrote fluently both in Greek and Latin. The
jealousy of the Roman clergy, probably provoked

1 nutricula causidicorum Africa, Juvenal, VII, 148.
2 Some modern writers are inclined to identify him with
an otherwise unknown Tertullian who is mentioned in the
index to the Pandects as the author of two works on Roman


by Tertullian's dislike and mistrust of their laxity
of discipline, led him to embrace the stricter rule of
the Montanists (c. 202-203), and finally to assail
ordinary Churchmen as unspiritual (207). But he
was never excommunicated, although his arrogant
attacks upon the Church, coming from so gifted a
teacher, became, as St. Vincent of Lerins tells us
(Common. 18), a severe trial to the faithful, and
as Hilary says (in Matth. 5), his later error natur-
ally cast some discredit on the authority of his
approved writings.

Tertullian lived to a great age (Jerome, de viris
53), and his death may be placed about

Happily the two treatises given in this little
volume were written when Tertullian was still a
loyal member of the Church : the De Testimonio
in 197, and the De Praescriptione
in the following year.



THE Puritan mind and spirit were never more
effectively illustrated and expressed than by our
North African author. He saw in the develop-
ment of pagan thought and religion nothing but
a pernicious falsification and obscuring of the
Divine Light and Truth : in the pagan mysteries
nothing but the devil's anticipation or imitation
of the Christian Sacraments (Chap. XL.). The
narrowness of view which regarded all pre-
Christian endeavour as the result of the rival effort
of God's opponent to enslave the human intellect,


and deter it from the knowledge of the Truth, is
expressed in the statement that Athens and Jeru-
salem, the Church and the Academy, had nothing
in common (Chap. VII).

Far different was the comprehensive and sym-
pathetic attitude of the Alexandrian Apologists,
who delighted to trace in the history and philo-
sophy of the past those yearnings after and
approximations to the Truth which constituted in
the history of mankind a preparation for Christi-
anity. Against Tertullian's sharp antithesis
between pagan thought and Christian revelation
we may place the wise saying of Clement that
"the true scribe brings all kinds of learning into
the Gospel net," or Origen's teaching that it was
"mete to take the spoils of the Aegyptians for the
furniture of the Tabernacle." By the side of these
early and almost contemporaneous opinions we
may place the noble comment of the ecclesiastical
historian Socrates on 1 Thess. v. 21: "What is
good, wherever it may be, is the property of the
Truth " (H. E. iii. 16).

Tertullian does not stand quite alone in his
identification of the heathen gods with the daemons
(de test. an. 2; Apol. 23). The idea was often
present in the minds of the Apologists and others,
and may be detected in Justin Martyr (Apol. i. 5),
and later in Athanasius (de incarn. V. Dei, 30, 47).
It is common in the Clementine writings and is the
ground of St. Paul's warnings to the Corinthians.1
But his extraordinary views about the corporeality
of the soul and the material nature of the resurrec-
tion body are curiously indicative of a mind steeped
in realism, and faint to respond to spiritual ideals.

1 1 Cor. x. 20 f.


To him incorporeal means non-existent, and hence
the soul, nay, GOD Himself, must have some kind
of body (de carne Christi, 11).



IN Chap. XIII Tertullian sets out the Rule of
Faith, which can easily be thrown into the form
of the following familiar clauses. The words in
italics are supplied from the Creed as given in
de virg. vel. i, and adv. Prax. i.

We believe in One GOD Almighty, the Creator
    of the world,
And in His Son Jesus Christ,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and buried.
Rose again the third day from the dead,
Ascended into heaven,
Sitteth at the right hand of the Father,
Shall come with glory to judge the quick and
the dead,

In the Holy Spirit,
The resurrection of the flesh,
Life eternal.



THESE have been dealt with and illustrated so
fully by Woodham, Kaye, Fuller (in D.C.B.),


Bonwetsch, and a host of more recent English,
French and German editors, that I will permit
myself only a few words as to my own translation.
Tertullian's vocabulary is often archaic and more
often forced, and his love of epigram and antithesis
sometimes involves his style in harshness and
obscurity. His sententious aphorisms are inimi-
tably his own, and render him one of the most
difficult writers to represent in a translation.
Epigram, assonance, condensation, concentration
are impossible to reproduce in any other language.
Especially is his perilous use of irony conspicuous
in these two treatises. St. Vincent of Lerins wrote
of him that "almost every word was an aphorism,
almost every sentence a victory." To which I am
inclined to add, Non, nisi ex ipso Tertulliano,
Tertullianum potes interpretari.
The text I have
used for the De Testimonio Animae is that printed
by Oehler (Leipsic, 1853), and for the De Praescrip-
tione Haereticorum
that of the Oxford University
Press (edited by myself, 1893).

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Translated by T. Herbert Bindley, 1914
Transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2002

Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press
SPIonic font, free from here.

This page has been online since 11th January 2002.

Return to the Tertullian Project About these pages