By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Apostolic Fathers

  • His full name was Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus.
  • He was the son of a Roman centurion; both his parents were pagans.
  • He was born around 160 C.E. in Carthage, North Africa.
  • As a child, he was well-educated and quite knowledgeable in all things Greek and Roman, including fluency in both Latin and Greek. Scholars believe that as a young man, he practiced law in Rome.
  • He didn't convert to Christianity until roughly 197 C.E. By this time he was close to forty years old.
  • It is not known with any certainty why Tertullian converted.
  • Some think he might have been impressed by the example of Christian leaders and/or martyrs or by the effects of Christian living.
  • There is also some confusion as to whether he was ordained as a priest or remained a layperson.
  • Upon converting to Christianity, he became a renowned apologist (someone who publicly defended the Christian faith) for the Church.
  • No subject was out of bounds for his sarcasm or wit. He defended the church from attackers both inside and out – heretics and pagans alike.
  • At considerable risk to himself, he wrote several treatises to Rome that not only defended Christianity but also called for an end to their irrational persecution of Christians.
  • He is famously quoted as writing: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."
  • He also wrote on a vast array of other topics, including women and their role in the Church.
  • Many of his writings were in Latin, and he was referred to as the "Father of Latin Christianity."
  • He was among the first to coin some of the theological concepts of the Christian tradition – the trinity, the two natures of Christ, ecclesiastical hierarchy, and sacramental theology.
  • In dealing with heretical opposition he wrote: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"
  • He abhorred those who claimed to be Christian (i.e., followers of Christ) but did not accept the authority of scripture and relied instead upon their own reasoning – much like the Athenians were known to do.
  • Much of his writings reflect his hot temperament and have a polemical tone.
  • In addition, Tertullian's writings address church issues. He lived in a time when the church was grappling with the fact that Christ had not yet returned and many of the brothers had already died.
  • He also felt that the leadership of the church was ill-equipped to deal with how to lead the church in a secular world (given that the end had not yet happened).
  • He felt quite strongly that cooperating with Rome was not the answer.
  • Believers were to put their trust in God and not in secular leaders – even though they seemed to control all aspects of life—economically, politically, and militarily.
  • Secular power and might meant nothing to him, nor did societal status or the advantages of education. He referred to these things as "dung" in relation to the things of Christ.
  • He believed wholeheartedly in his convictions and maintained a severe and rigorous understanding of the church.
  • One church historian (Philip Schaff) wrote: "He resembled a foaming mountain torrent rather than a calm, transparent river in the valley. His vehement temper was never fully subdued, although he struggled sincerely against it. He was a man of strong convictions, and never hesitated to express them without fear or favor.... His polemics everywhere leave marks of blood. It is a wonder that he was not killed by the heathens, or excommunicated by the Catholics." [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1910), pp. 822-824].
  • In later years, he joined a group known as the Montanists.
  • They shared similar views, including the notion that the leadership of the church was lax.
  • They had a strict understanding of Christianity and a high moralism unshaken by the delay in the return of Christ.
  • Some believe that he eventually separated from them because they weren't strict enough and that he founded his own sect in Africa.
  • After his death, the Montanists became even more radical, which has cast a dark shadow upon his writings.
  • Nonetheless, his writings are among the best-known works on the early Church. In addition to his polemical attacks, Tertullian wrote on doctrinal and practical matters.
  • His massive work entitled, Apologeticus, is quite famous. Not only does he make a strong defense of Christianity, but he also shows how Roman culture and religion is inferior when compared to Christianity
  • Tertullian is believed to have died in 225 C.E., but the location and the cause of his death is unknown.
  • By the time of his death, pretty much everyone didn't like him – not the Romans, the heretics, or Christians (for his views on Montanism).

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