Classical Review 32 (1918) pp. 127-129.


Q. Septimi Florentis Tertulliani Apologeticus. The Text of Oehler Annotated, with an Introduction, by JOHN E. B. MAYOR, M.A., Professor of Latin in the University of Cambridge, with a Translation by Alex. Souter, B.A., Regius Professor of Humanity in the University of Aberdeen. Pp. xx + 496. Cambridge: University Press. 12s. 6d. net.

BISHOP KAYE characterises the writer of the Apology as * the harsh, the fiery, the unpolished Tertullian.' That those aspects of his disposition are by no means lacking there can be little doubt, but the portrayal is assuredly overdrawn. Tertullian's writings show such an honesty and strength of purpose as greatly to modify any such impression. In the Apology he is seen contending with an intolerant magistracy, moved by blind prejudice to exterminate Christianity by the vilest forms of attack. So determined a force called for stern resistance, and Tertullian did not hesitate to use every available weapon, in his armoury in order to counteract the untoward influence. Under all the trying circumstances it does not appear that Tertullian ever stooped to any device unbecoming a zealous Christian advocate. The Apology is a remarkable survey of the conditions under which paganism was practised, while as a body of Christian evidence it is of considerable value, and stands out in sharp contrast with the then prevailing heathen customs. Tertullian's allusions to pagan rites and myths are intensely vivid, and reveal the faith of a man of deep conviction. With much fiery invective and bitter sarcasm Tertullian was withal susceptible of real tenderness.

The Apology is addressed to the Governors of Proconsular Africa, and was, in all probability, written and presented at Carthage somewhere about A.D. 200. In it Tertullian refutes the charges brought against the Christians with an eloquence and fervour that distinguish him as the foremost among the Apologists. It would appear that the Apology was in the main directed to counteract the many influences that were at work for the repression of Christianity, especially the charge of disloyalty towards the Roman Empire. This was the more necessary owing to the arbitrary sway exercised by those who governed the subject dependencies. On the ground that they owed primary allegiance to God in Christ, the Christians set at nought the social and religious institutions of the State as inconsistent with their Christian profession; hence they were regarded with the utmost suspicion as'enemies of the State. Tertullian meets this in his masterly appeal, adducing the orderly life and unselfish aims of the Christians, which he contrasts with the corrupt institutions, and degenerate condition of the existing order.

When Rome imposed her language on the conquered province she thereby endowed Carthage with an imperishable possession in the form of those Christian classics associated with the names of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, which throughout the ages have redounded to the glory of the Church universal.

The Apology does not lend itself readily to the skill of the translator, who has to deal with provincialisms that involve a rudeness of language and style often difficult to master. It is not without reason that Tertullian has come to be regarded as 'the most obscure of writers, and the least capable of being accurately represented in translation.'

It is impossible in a short review to give anything like adequate treatment to the well-nigh exhaustive edition of Tertullian's greatest achievement which, we owe to the learning and skill of such scholars as the late Professor Mayor and Professor Souter. It is in every way a highly satisfactory work. The late Cambridge Professor of Latin is known to have made a very close study of the Apologeticus, upon which he frequently lectured; the outcome of his researches is embodied in the volume before us. To the annotated text of Oehler there is added an Introduction (from the Journal of Philology) which might have been advantageously extended. Professor Mayor touches very slightly the subject of patristic Latin: a fitting opportunity of dealing with the Latinity [p.128] of the African Fathers has been missed. Professor Souter's translation is admirable. The frequent tendency to paraphrase is an indication of the difficulty of translation, but easy flowing English is not sacrificed. Professor Mayor's voluminous notes are largely supplemental to those of Havercamp, Oehier, and others; they are rich in critical and illustrative matter and merit the eulogy of Professor Souter when he says that they form 'by far the best commentary on the Apology ever published.' The several emendations are judicious and valuable.

A few points of some interest in the translation remain to be noticed. Tertullian mentions (cap 39) pro mora finis as a petition in the Christian liturgy, translated by Professor Souter 'for the postponement of the end.' Bingham (Christian Antiquities) renders it 'for the continuance of the Empire'; Chevallier reads 'for the delay of final judgment'; Dodgson (Library of the Fathers) translates more correctly 'for the delaying of the end.' It was a time of crisis; Tertullian, in common with the faithful, saw the passing away of the world and the approach of the Antichrist; it is to this outlook undoubtedly that reference is made. Elsewhere Tertullian calls the future day of judgment (which he regarded as imminent) dies expeditionis. Amidst the calamities that had befallen the world, it would appear that the final overthrow which awaited the Roman Empire was but veiled in the request for delay in the infliction of the chastisement. The particular judgment was held to be coincident with the destruction of the Roman power, kept back by the respite granted at the instance of Christian prayers.

Tertullian introduces the subject of the relation of the Christian man to military service, concerning which he makes a fine distinction that seems to express mihi non licet militare quid Christianus sum. The military service involved subscription to idolatrous oaths and created a situation of some difficulty. It would also appear that Tertullian's views underwent some modification especially upon his becoming a Montanist.

What seems a somewhat strained rendering of the passage (cap. 3) Quae mulier! quam lasciua, quam festiua! Quis iuuenis! quam lasciuus, quam amasius! is, 'What a fine woman! How merry, how debonair! What a fine fellow, what a sport, what a gallant!' As examples of paraphrasing debita poenae nocens expungendus est, non eximendus (cap. 2) is rendered: 'The guiltyman must be struck off the roll of the accused by the punishment which is his due, and not saved from punishment.' Again, In metallo, damnamur is translated, 'We are condemned to the mines and quarries.' An interesting note is given by Professor Mayor in explanation of what he terms 'the art of the tripod and divination as practised by magicians,' cap. 23 mensae diuinare consuerunt). He refers to the table-lifting practised by the Jews in the seventeenth century; this is followed by some illuminating notes on the power of exorcism, and demonology generally.

In referring to Tertullian's Latinity, Bishop Kaye remarks that only one critic known to him had ventured to speak of it with commendation. He himself characterised it as deficient in taste, discrimination and judgment, and as containing words marked in dictionaries as inelegant and of suspicious authority, when they really were the most genuine remains of the most pure Roman composition. African Latin abounds in these strange forms of diction, which are not without interest. The unusual phraseology of many passages in the Apology, the copia verborum, and their distribution, are remarkable. Technical expressions are frequent, old legal and military terms and phrases are often used, while the use of metaphor, partiality for antithesis, and a play upon words, abound. Often expressions can only be interpreted from the context or by reference to parallel passages. In point of grammatical construction of sentences no serious ground of complaint need be raised, There is some reason to suppose that a double edition or version of the Apology existed, and it has even been surmised that Tertullian's two books, ad Nationes, formed an early basis for the work. This may to some extent account [p.129] for varied readings of doubtful signification.

The oldest MS. of the Apology (ninth century) is in the Imperial Library at Petrograd.


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