The Life of Tertullian, from the writings of Jerome

These ancient accounts of Tertullian are contained in two of the writings of Jerome. The relevant extracts are on this page. A brief entry in Jerome's Latin translation and expansion of Eusebius' Chronicle, and a longer one in De Viris Illustribus.

Hieronymi Chronicon (Extract)

208 XVI Tertullianus Afer, centurionis procon-
sularis filius, omnium ecclesiarum
sermone celebratur.
Origenes Alexandriae studiis eruditur

(from Helm, Rudolf, Eusebius Werke VII : Die Chronik des Hieronymus : Hieronymi Chronicon, Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte (=GCS) vol. 47(1956, Berlin) p.212 Checked)

Tertullian the African, son of the proconsular centurion, is celebrated in the conversation of the whole church. (RP). Note:  A complete 9th century manuscript of this work is online, Merton College Oxford, MS 315. 

Here is a direct link to the image of the folio - 138v - with our entry.

 [Image of page]

Look at the bottom of the leaf for our entry.  Note that the image is quite large.

The entry is for year XVI of the reign of Severus, in the CCXLVI Olympiad (i.e. 208AD - although that era was not part of the original text).  The proconsul was the governor of the province.  Eusebius' Chronicon is not extant in the Greek, but an Armenian version of it does exist, in Karst, Josef, Eusebius V: Die Chronik aus dem Armenischen Ubersetzt, GCS 1911 (Leipzig), p.213 and 224 (Checked).  The same entry contains only the sentence about Origen, so the Tertullian entry is by Jerome.

Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, Chapter 53. (Written in Bethlehem in 392 or early 393 AD.)

1. Tertullianus presbyter, nunc demum primus post Victorem et Appollonium Latinorum ponitur, provinciae Africae, civitatis Carthaginiensis, patre Centurione Proconsulari.

2. Hic [acris] et vehementis ingenii, sub Severo principe et Antonino Caracalla maxime floruit, multaque scripsit volumina, quae quia nota sunt pluribus, praetermittimus.

3. Vidi ego quemdam Paulum Concordiae, quod oppidum Italiae est, senem, qui se beati Cypriani, jam grandis aetatis, notarium, cum ipse admodum esset adolescens, Romae vidisse diceret, referreque sibi solitum numquam Cyprianum absque Tertulliani lectione unum diem praeterisse, ac sibi crebro dicere, Da magistrum: Tertullianum videlicet significans.

4. Hic cum usque ad mediam aetatem presbyter Ecclesiae permansisset, invidia postea et contumeliis clericorum Romanae Ecclesiae, ad Montani dogma delapsus, in multis libris Novae Prophetiae meminit.

5. Specialiter autem adversum Ecclesiam texuit volumina, de pudicitia, de persecutione, de jejuniis, de monogamia, de ecstasi libros sex, et septimum, quem adversum Apollonium composuit. Ferturque vixisse usque ad decrepitam aetatem, et multa quae non exstant opuscula condidisse.

(Migne, J.P., Patrologia Latina 23 (1845), Col 661-664, with a couple of amendments from Biblioteca Patristica 12, 1988 - bracket acris and make a new sentence start with Specialiter. I have mostly preferred the transmitted text rather than the critical text because then we can see the relationship with Trithemius. The FoC text is clearly based on a modern critical text - the ANF on something more like the transmitted text.)

1. Now finally Tertullian the presbyter is ranked first of the Latin writers after Victor and Apollonius.  He was from the province of Africa, from the city of Carthage where his father was a proconsular centurion.

2. A man of impetuous temperament, he was in his prime in the reign of the emperor Severus and Antoninus Caracalla, and he wrote many works which I need not name since they are very widely known.

3. At Concordia, a town in Italy, I saw an old man named Paul, who said that, when he was still a very young man, he had seen in Rome a very old man who had been secretary of blessed Cyprian and had reported to him that Cyprian was accustomed never to pass a day without reading Tertullian and would frequently say to him, "Hand me the master," meaning, of course, Tertullian.

4. This one was a presbyter of the church until his middle year, but later, because of the envy and reproaches of the clergy of the Roman church, he had lapsed into Montanism, and he makes mention of the new prophecy in many books.

5. In particular, he composed against the church the works On Modesty, On Persecution, On Fasting, On Monogamy, six books On Ecstasy and a seventh [added] which he composed Against Apollonius.  He is said to have lived to a very old age and to have composed many works which are not extant.

(From Halton, Thomas P., Saint Jerome: On Illustrious Men, Fathers of the Church 100, Catholic University of America Press (1999), pp.74-6. Checked)

Tertullian, the next Latin writer after Victor and Apollonius, was a priest, a man of the province of Africa and the city of Carthage and the son of a centurio proconsularis. He possessed a sharp and violent talent, and flourished in the reigns of Severus and Caracalla. He wrote many volumes, which I shall omit because they are well-known. I myself saw a certain Paul, an old man of Concordia (which is a town in Italy): he told me that as a youth he had seen a man at Rome, who had been the secretary of the aged Cyprian, and who recalled that Cyprian would never let a day pass without reading Tertullian, and that he often said to him 'Give me my master', clearly meaning Tertullian.

Tertullian was a priest of the church until middle age, but then, because of the envy and insults of the clergy of the church of Rome, he lapsed into Montanism and refers to the New Prophecy in many treatises. In particular, he directed against the church discussions of modesty, of persecution, of fasting, of monogamy, and of divine possession (in six books, with a seventh against Apollonius). He is said to have lived to an advanced age and published many tracts which are no longer extant.

(Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Checked)

Here is Migne's Latin text, with a tweak or two, and two English translations - the old ANF one and a brand-new FoC one.

Some points of interest:

Tertullian twice refers to himself as a layman (Exhort cast 7.3, Mon. 12.2). Nowhere in the extant material does he describe himself as ordained.

Some tracts by Tertullian were known to Jerome only as titles in a catalogue B (p 10). See Jerome Epp. LXIV. 22, De Aaron Vestibus.

Tertullian tells us his gentilicum in the last sentence of De Virginibus Velandis (ch 17) - Septimius. The mediaeval manuscripts give his full name as Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus.


This page has been online since 10th December 1999. 

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