Who was Tertullian?
Tertullian, the prominent early apologist who produced the world’s first extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature was born as Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus in Carthage. Widely recognized as the founder of Western theology he was one of the oldest extant Latin writers to propound the formal exposition of a Trinitarian theology. He was a polemicist against heresy and he developed new theology to the early church. As a young man he had received good education in literature and rhetoric and is also said to have practiced law for some time. He was well versed in both Latin and Greek and was a highly knowledgeable person. He converted to Christianity when he was in his thirties or forties and used his vast knowledge to defend his religion against the heretics. He used the term ‘trinity’ to describe the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which went on to become a classical Trinitarian formula. He is a much quoted early church father whose contribution to Christian theories and theology is immense. During his later years, he drifted from the mainstream church and was attracted to the ‘New Prophecy’ of Montanism. In spite of being a church father he was never canonized by the Catholic Church.
Childhood & Early Life
Not much reliable information about Tertullian is available. Whatever is known about his childhood and early life is known from the scant information from his own writings and the accounts of ‘Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History’, and Jerome's ‘De viris illustribus’.
It is believed that both his parents were pagan and his father was a Roman centurion and an ordained priest. He was born in Carthage in North Africa.
He was well versed in both Greek and Latin. He received an excellent education and was extremely knowledgeable.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
It is often mentioned that he once worked as a lawyer though there is no concrete evidence to support this claim.
The son of Pagan parents, he was raised in that faith and held prejudices against Christianity. Towards his middle-age however, his views changed and he converted to Christianity about 197–198 AD.
He was a highly educated scholar who wrote several books on religious topics. Having lived in Roman Africa which was the home of famous orators, his writing style is characterized by archaisms and provincialisms.
He published several notable works in 197 AD including the great apologetic work, the ‘Ad nationes’. The short address ‘To the Martyrs’ and the ‘Apologeticus’ were also published during the same time.
It is believed that Tertullian served as an elder or presbyter in Carthage. In addition to writing apologetic works to the Romans he also wrote several works in which he defended Christianity against the heretics.
He knew several languages including Greek and Latin. During his times, most of the religious works were available only in Greek. So in order to reach the population which knew only Latin, he composed most of his works in Latin to benefit this section of the society.
As a prolific writer, he coined some key terms and phrases which became very popular in the Christian theological tradition. He first used the word ‘Trinity’ to describe the relationship between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit by stating that they were ‘one God in three persons’.
His contribution to Christology is also immense. Christology seeks to understand the relationship between Jesus Christ and divinity and humanity. Tertullian gave the formula that Christ is ‘one person in two natures’.
During the period 207–208 AD, he wrote five books against Marcion of Sinope, a bishop of Christianity who was denounced by the Church Fathers. These books are a comprehensive and elaborate collection of polemic works which gauge the early Christian view of Gnosticism.
Continue Reading Below
Tertullian was a man of strong convictions and was known for his fiery temperament. His works are characterized by polemic overtones and he was never afraid of expressing his views openly.
During his later years, he became disillusioned with the church and the complacency in its operations. So, he was pulled towards the Montanist sect as the Montanists shared many of his personal views and beliefs.
His most famous work is the ‘Apologeticus’ which consists of apologetic and polemic sections. He defended Christianity and demanded legal toleration for Christians as a sect of the Roman Empire.
His treatise ‘De Spectaculis’ is a moral and ascetic work which analyzes the moral legitimacy and consequences of Christians who attend public shows like circus and theatre.
Personal Life & Legacy
It is known that he was married to a Christian wife to whom he addressed some of his works.
Some accounts of his life state that he lived to a ripe old age. It is generally believed he died in 225 A.D.
He was called ‘The Father of Latin Christianity’ as he penned several of his works in Latin for the benefit of that segment of the population, which knew only Latin.