Vol. 2, Chapter XIII (Cont’d) – Minor Divines of the Greek Church


A number of divines of the third century, of great reputation in their day, mostly of Egypt and of the school of Origen, deserve a brief mention, although only few fragments of their works have survived the ravages of time.

I. Heraclas and his brother Plutarch (who afterwards died a martyr) were the oldest distinguished converts and pupils of Origen, and older than their teacher. Heraclas had even before him studied the New-platonic philosophy under Ammonius Saccas. He was appointed assistant of Origen, and afterwards his successor in the Catechetical School. After the death of Demetrius, the jealous enemy of Origen, Heraclas was elected bishop of Alexandria and continued in that high office sixteen years (A. D. 233-248). We know nothing of his administration, nor of his writings. He either did not adopt the speculative opinions of Origen, or prudently concealed them, at least he did nothing to recall his teacher from exile. He was succeeded by Dionysius the Great. Eusebius says that he was “devoted to the study of the Scriptures and a most learned man, not unacquainted with philosophy,” but is silent about his conduct to Origen during and after his trial for heresy.

II. Among the successors of Heraclas and Dionysius in the Catechetical School was Theognostus, not mentioned by Eusebius, but by Athanasius and Photius. We have from him a brief fragment on the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and a few extracts from his Hypotyposeis (Adumbrations).

III. Pierius probably succeeded Theognostus while Theonas was bishop of Alexandria (d. 300), and seems to have outlived the Diocletian persecution. He was the teacher of Pamphilus, and called “the younger Origen.”

IV. Pamphilus, a great admirer of Origen, a presbyter and theological teacher at Caesarea in Palestine, and a martyr of the persecution of Maximinus (309), was not an author himself, but one of the most liberal and efficient promoters of Christian learning. He did invaluable service to future generations by founding a theological school and collecting a large library, from which his pupil and friend Eusebius (hence called “Eusebius Pampili”), Jerome, and many others, drew or increased their useful information. Without that library the church history of Eusebius would be far less instructive than it is now. Pamphilus transcribed with his own hand useful books, among others the Septuagint from the Hexapla of Origen. He aided poor students, and distributed the Scriptures. While in prison, he wrote a defense of Origen, which was completed by Eusebius in six books, but only the first remains in the Latin version of Rufinus, whom Jerome charges with wilful alterations. It is addressed to the confessors who were condemned to the mines of Palestine, to assure them of the orthodoxy of Origen from his own writings, especially on the trinity and the person of Christ.

V. Peter, pupil and successor of Theonas, was bishop ofAlexandria since a.d. 300, lived during the terrible times of the Diocletian persecution, and was beheaded by order of Maximinus in 311. He held moderate views on the restoration of the lapsed, and got involved in the Meletian schism which engaged much of the attention of the Council of Nicaea. Meletius, bishop of Lycopolis, taking advantage of Peter’s flight from persecution, introduced himself into his diocese, and assumed the character of primate of Egypt, but was deposed by Peter in 306 for insubordination. We have from Peter fifteen canons on discipline, and a few homiletical fragments in which he rejects Origen’s views of the pre-existence and ante-mundane fall of the soul as heathenish, and contrary to the Scripture account of creation. This dissent would place him among the enemies of Origen, but Eusebius makes no allusion to it, and praises him for piety, knowledge of the Scriptures, and wise administration.

VI. Hieracas (Hierax), from Leontopolis in Egypt, towards the end of the third century, belongs only in a wider sense to the Alexandrian school, and perhaps had no connexion with it at all. Epiphanius reckons him among the Manichaean heretics. He was, at all events, a perfectly original phenomenon, distinguished for his varied learning, allegorical exegesis, poetical talent, and still more for his eccentric asceticism. Nothing is left of the works which he wrote in the Greek and Egyptian languages. He is said to have denied the historical reality of the fall and the resurrection of the body, and to have declared celibacy the only sure way to salvation, or at least to the highest degree of blessedness. His followers were called Hieracitae.


193. Opponents of Origen. Methodius

(I.) Μεθοδίου ἐπισκόπου καὶ μάρτυρος τὰ εὐρισκόμενα πάντα. In Gallandi’s “Vet. Patr. Biblioth.” Tom. III.; in Migne’s “Patrol. Gr.” Tom. XVIII. Col. 9-408; and by A. Jahn (S. Methodii Opera, et S. Methodius Platonizans, Hal. 1865, 2 pts.). The first ed. was publ. by Combefis, 1644, and more completely in 1672. English translation in Clark’s “Ante-Nicene Libr.,” vol. XIV. (Edinb. 1869.)

(II) Hieronymus: De Viris ill. 83, and in several of his Epp. and Comment. Epiphanius: Haer. 64. Socrates: H. E. VI. 31. Photius: Bibl. 234-237. Eusebius is silent about Method., perhaps because of his opposition to Origen; while Photius, perhaps for the same reason, pays more attention to him than to Origen, whose De Principiis he pronounces blasphemous, Bibl 8. Gregory of Nyssa, Arethas, Leontius Byzantius, Maximus, the Martyrologium Romanum (XIV. Kal. Oct.) and the Menologium Graecum (ad diem 20 Junii), make honorable mention of him.

(III.) Leo Allatius: Diatribe de Methodiorum Scriptis, in his ed. of the Convivium in 1656. Fabric.”Bibl. Gr.,” ed. Harles, VII. 260 sqq. W. Möller in Herzog2, IX. 724-726. (He discusses especially the relation of Methodius to Origen.) G. Salmon in Smith and Wace, III. 909-911.

The opposition of Demetrius to Origen proceeded chiefly from personal feeling, and had no theological significance. Yet it made a pretext at least of zeal for orthodoxy, and in subsequent opponents this motive took the principal place. This was the case, so early as the third century, with Methodius, who may be called a forerunner of Epiphanius in his orthodox war against Origen, but with this difference that he was much more moderate, and that in other respects he seems to have been an admirer of Plato whom he imitated in the dramatic dress of composition, and of Origen whom he followed in his allegorical method of interpretation. He occupied the position of Christian realism against the speculative idealism of the Alexandrian teacher.

Methodius (also called Eubulius) was bishop first of Olympus and then of Patara (both in the province of Lycia, Asia Minor on the southern coast), and died a martyr in 311 or earlier in the Diocletian persecution.

His principal work is his Symposium or Banquet of Ten Virgins. It is an eloquent but verbose and extravagant eulogy on the advantages and blessings of voluntary virginity, which he describes as “something supernaturally great, wonderful, and glorious,” and as “the best and noblest manner of life.” It was unknown before Christ (the ἀρχιπάρθενος). At first men were allowed to marry sisters, then came polygamy, the next progress was monogamy, with continence, but the perfect state is celibacy for the kingdom of Christ, according to his mysterious hint in Mat_19:12, the recommendation of Paul, 1Co_7:1, 1Co_7:7, 1Co_7:34, 1Co_7:40, and the passage in Rev_14:1-4, where “a hundred and forty-four thousand virgins” are distinguished from the innumerable multitude of other saints (Rev_7:9).

The literary form is interesting. The ten virgins are, of course, suggested by the parable in the gospel. The conception of the Symposium and the dialogue are borrowed from Plato, who celebrated the praises of Eros, as Methodius the praises of virginity. Methodius begins with a brief dialogue between Eubulios and Eubuloin (i.e. himself) and the virgin Gregorion who was present at a banquet of the ten virgins in the gardens of Arete (i.e. personified virtue) and reports to him ten discourses which these virgins successively delivered in praise of chastity. At the end of the banquet the victorious Thecla, chief of the virgins (St. Paul’s apocryphal companion), standing on the right hand of Arete, begins to sing a hymn of chastity to which the virgins respond with the oft-repeated refrain,

I keep myself pure for Thee, O Bridegroom,

And holding a lighted torch, I go to meet Thee.”

Then follows a concluding dialogue between Eubulios and Gregorion on the question, whether chastity ignorant of lust is preferable to chastity which feels the power of passion and overcomes it, in other words, whether a wrestler who has no opponents is better than a wrestler who has many and strong antagonists and continually contends against them without being worsted. Both agree in giving the palm to the latter, and then they betake themselves to “the care of the outward man,” expecting to resume the delicate discussion on the next day.

The taste and morality of virgins discussing at great length the merits of sexual purity are very questionable, at least from the standpoint of modern civilization, but the enthusiastic praise of chastity to the extent of total abstinence was in full accord with the prevailing asceticism of the fathers, including Origen, who freed himself from carnal temptation by an act of violence against nature.

The work On the Resurrection, likewise in the form of a dialogue, and preserved in large extracts by Epiphanius and Photius, was directed against Origen and his views on creation, pre-existence, and the immateriality of the resurrection body. The orthodox speakers (Eubulios and Auxentios) maintain that the soul cannot sin without the body, that the body is not a fetter of the soul, but its inseparable companion and an instrument for good as well is evil, and that the earth will not be destroyed, but purified and transformed into a blessed abode for the risen saints. In a book On Things Created he refutes Origen’s view of the eternity of the world, who thought it necessary to the conception of God as an Almighty Creator and Ruler, and as the unchangeable Being.

The Dialogue On Free Will treats of the origin of matter, and strongly resembles a work on that subject (περὶ τῆς ὕλης) of which Eusebius gives an extract and which he ascribes to Maximus, a writer from the close of the second century.

Other works of Methodius, mentioned by Jerome, are: Against Porphyry (10,000 lines); Commentaries on Genesis and Canticles; De Pythonissa (on the witch of Endor, against Origen’s view that Samuel was laid under the power of Satan when he evoked her by magical art). A Homily for Palm Sunday, and a Homily on the Cross are also assigned to him. But there were several Methodii among the patristic writers.


194. Lucian of Antioch

(I.) Luciani Fragmenta in Routh, Rel. s. IV. 3-17.

(II.) Euseb. H. E. VIII. 13; IX. 6 (and Rufinus’s Eus. IX. 6). Hier De Vir. ill. 77, and in other works. Socrat.: H. E. II. 10. Sozom.: H. E. III. 5. Epiphan.: Ancoratus, c. 33. Theodor.: H. E. I. 3. Philostorgius: H. E. , II. 14, 15. Chrysostom’s Hom. in Lucian, (in Opera ed. Montfaucon, T. II. 524 sq; Migne, “Patr. Gr.” I. 520 sqq.) Ruinart: Acta Mart., p. 503 sq.

(III.) Acta Sanct. Jan. VII. 357 sq. Baron. Ann. ad Ann. 311. Brief notices in Tillemont, Cave, Fabricius, Neander, Gieseler, Hefele (Conciliengesch. vol. I). Harnack: Luc. der Märt. in Herzog, VIII. (1881), pp. 767-772. J. T. Stokes, in Smith & Wace, III., 748 and 749.

On his textual labors see the critical Introductions to the Bible.

I. Lucian was an eminent presbyter of Antioch and martyr of the Diocletian persecution, renewed by Maximin. Very little is known of him. He was transported from Antioch to Nicomedia, where the emperor then resided, made a noble confession of his faith before the judge and died under the tortures in prison (311). His memory was celebrated in Antioch on the 7th of January. His piety was of the severely ascetic type.

His memory was obscured by the suspicion of unsoundness in the faith. Eusebius twice mentions him and his glorious martyrdom, but is silent about his theological opinions. Alexander of Alexandria, in an encyclical of 321, associates him with Paul of Samosata and makes him responsible for the Arian heresy; he also says that he was excommunicated or kept aloof from the church (ἀποσυνάγωγος ἔμεινε) during the episcopate of Domnus, Timaeus, and Cyrillus; intimating that his schismatic condition ceased before his death. The charge brought against him and his followers is that he denied the eternity of the Logos and the human soul of Christ (the Logos taking the place of the rational soul). Arius and the Arians speak of him as their teacher. On the other hand Pseudo-Athanasius calls him a great and holy martyr, and Chrysostom preached a eulogy on him Jan. 1, 387. Baronius defends his orthodoxy, other Catholics deny it. Some distinguished two Lucians, one orthodox, and one heretical; but this is a groundless hypothesis.

The contradictory reports are easily reconciled by the assumption that Lucian was a critical scholar with some peculiar views on the Trinity and Christology which were not in harmony with the later Nicene orthodoxy, but that he wiped out all stains by his heroic confession and martyrdom.

II. The creed which goes by his name and was found after his death, is quite orthodox as far as it goes, and was laid with three similar creeds before the Synod of Antioch held a.d. 341, with the intention of being substituted for the Creed of Nicaea. It resembles the creed of Gregorius Thaumaturgus, is strictly trinitarian and acknowledges Jesus Christ “as the Son of God, the only begotten God, through whom all things were made, who was begotten of the Father before all ages, God of God, Whole of Whole, One of One, Perfect of Perfect, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the living Word, Wisdom, Life, True Light, Way, Truth, Resurrection, Shepherd, Door, unchangeable and unalterable, the immutable Likeness of the Godhead, both of the substance and will and power and glory of the Father, the first-born of all creation, who was in the beginning with God, the Divine Logos, according to what is said in the Gospel: ‘And the Word was God (Joh_1:1), through whom all things were made’ (Joh_1:3), and in whom ‘all things consist’ (Col_1:17): who in the last days came down from above, and was born of a Virgin, according to the Scriptures, and became man, the Mediator between God and man, etc.

III. Lucianus is known also by his critical revision of the text of the Septuagint and the Greek Testament. Jerome mentions that copies were known in his day as “exemplaria Lucianea,” but in other places he speaks rather disparagingly of the texts of Lucian, and of Hesychius, a bishop of Egypt (who distinguished himself in the same field). In the absence of definite information it is impossible to decide the merits of his critical labors. His Hebrew scholarship is uncertain, and hence we do not know whether his revision of the Septuagint was made from the original.

As to the New Testament, it is likely that he contributed much towards the Syrian recension (if we may so call it), which was used by Chrysostom and the later Greek fathers, and which lies at the basis of the textus receptus.


195. The Antiochian School

Kihn (R.C.): Die Bedeutung der antioch. Schule. Weissenburg, 1856.

C. Hornung: Schola Antioch. Neostad. ad S. 1864.

Jos. Hergenröther. (Cardinal): Die Antioch. Schule. Würzb. 1866.

Diestel: Gesch. des A. Test. in, der christl. Kirche. Jena, 1869 (pp. 126-141).

W. Möller in Herzog,2 I. 454-457.

Lucian is the reputed founder of the Antiochian School of theology, which was more fully developed in the fourth century. He shares this honor with his friend Dorotheus, likewise a presbyter of Antioch, who is highly spoken of by Eusebius as a biblical scholar acquainted with Hebrew. But the real founders of that school are Diodorus, bishop of Tarsus (c. a.d. 379-394), and Theodorus, bishop of Mopsuestia (393-428), both formerly presbyters of Antioch.

The Antiochian School was not a regular institution with a continuous succession of teachers, like the Catechetical School of Alexandria, but a theological tendency, more particularly a peculiar type of hermeneutics and exegesis which had its centre in Antioch. The characteristic features are, attention to the revision of the text, a close adherence to the plain, natural meaning according to the use of language and the condition of the writer, and justice to the human factor. In other words, its exegesis is grammatical and historical, in distinction from the allegorical method of the Alexandrian School. Yet, as regards textual criticism, Lucian followed in the steps of Origen. Nor did the Antiochians disregard the spiritual sense, and the divine element in the Scriptures. The grammatico-historical exegesis is undoubtedly the only safe and sound basis for the understanding of the Scriptures as of any other book; and it is a wholesome check upon the wild licentiousness of the allegorizing method which often substitutes imposition for exposition. But it may lead to different results in different hands, according to the spirit of the interpreter. The Arians and Nestorians claimed descent from, or affinity with, Lucian and his school; but from the same school proceeded also the prince of commentators among the fathers, John Chrysostom, the eulogist of Lucian and Diodorus, and the friend and fellow student of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodoret followed in the same line.

After the condemnation of Nestorius, the Antiochian theology continued to be cultivated at Nisibis and Edessa among the Nestorians.



Cardinal Newman, when still an Anglican (in his book on Arians of the Fourth Century, p. 414) made the Syrian School of biblical criticism responsible for the Arian heresy, and broadly maintained that the “mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together.” But Cardinal Hergenröther, who is as good a Catholic and a better scholar, makes a proper distinction between use and abuse, and gives the following fair and discriminating statement of the relation between the Antiochian and Alexandrian schools, and the critical and mystical method of interpretation to which a Protestant historian can fully assent. (Handbuch der allgem. Kirchengeschichte. Freiburg i. B. 2nd ed. 1879, vol. I. p. 281.)

“Die Schule von Antiochien hatte bald den Glanz der Alexandrinischen erreicht, ja sogar überstrahlt. Beide konnten sich vielfach ergänzen, da jede ihre eigenthümliche Entwicklung, Haltung und Methode hatte, konnten aber auch eben wegen ihrer Verschiedenheit leicht unter sich in Kampf und auf Abwege von der Kirchenlehre gerathen. Während bei den Alexandrinern eine speculativ-intuitive, zum Mystischen sich hinneigende Richtung hervortrat, war bei den Antiochenern eine logisch-reflectirende, durchaus nüchterne Verstandesrichtung vorherrschend. Während jene enge an die platonische Philosophie sich anschlossen und zwar vorherrschend in der Gestalt, die sie unter dem hellenistischen Juden Philo gewonnen hatte, waren die Antiochener einem zum Stoicismus hinneigenden Eklekticismus, dann der Aristotelischen Schule ergeben, deren scharfe Dialektik ganz ihrem Geiste zusagte. Demgemäss wurde in der alexandrinischen Schule, vorzugsweise die allegorisch-mystische Erklärung der heiligen Schrift gepflegt, in der Antiochenischen dagegen die buchstäbliche, grammatisch-logische und historische Interpretation, ohne dass desshalb der mystische Sinn und insbesondere die Typen des Alten Bundes gänzlich in Abrede gestellt worden wären. Die Origenisten suchen die Unzulänglichkeit des blossen buchstäblichen Sinnes und die Nothwendigkeit der allegorischen Auslegung nachzuweisen, da der Wortlaut vieler biblischen Stellen Falsches, Widersprechendes, Gottes Unwürdiges ergebe; sie fehlten hier durch das Uebermass des Allegorisirens und durch Verwechslung der figürlichen Redeweisen, die dem Literalsinne angehören, mit der mystischen Deutung; sie verflüchtigten oft den historischen Gehalt der biblischen Erzählung, hinter deren äusserer Schale sie einen verborgenen Kern suchen zu müssen glaubten. Damit stand ferner in Verbindung, dass in der alexandrinischen Schule das Moment des Uebervernünftigen, Unausprechlichen, Geheimnissvollen in den göttlichen Dingen stark betont wurde, während die Antiochener vor Allem das Vernunftgemässe, dem menschlichen Geiste Entsprechende in den Dogmen hervorhoben, das Christenthum als eine das menschliche Denken befriedigende Wahrheit nachzuweisen suchten. Indem sie aber dieses Streben verfolgten, wollten die hervorragen den Lehrer der antiochenischen Schule keineswegs den übernatülichen Charakter und die Mysterien der Kirchenlehre bestreiten, sie erkannten diese in der Mehrzahl an, wie Chrysotomus und Theodoret; aber einzelne Gelehrte konnten über dem Bemühen, die Glaubenslehren leicht verständlich und begreiflich zu machen, ihren Inhalt verunstalten und zerstören.”


196. Tertullian and the African School

Comp. the liter. on Montanism, §109.

(I.) Tertulliani quae supersunt omnia. Ed. Franc. Oehler. Lips. 1853, 3 vols. The third vol. contains dissertations De Vita et Scriptis Tert. by Nic. Le Nourry, Mosheim, Noesselt, Semler, Kaye. Earlier editions by Beatus Rhenanus, Bas. 1521; Pamelius, Antwerp, 1579; Rigaltius (Rigault), Par. 1634 and Venet. 1744; Semler, Halle, 1770-3. 6 vols.; Oberthür, 1780; Leopold, in Gersdorf’s “Biblioth. patrum Eccles. Latinorum selecta” (IV-VII.), Lips. 1839-41; and Migne, Par. I 1884. A new ed. by Reifferscheid will appear in the Vienna “Corpus Scriptorum Eccles. Lat.”

English transl. by P. Holmes and others in the “Ante-Nicene Christian Library,” Edinb. 1868 sqq. 4 vols. German translation by K. A. H. Kellner. Köln, 1882, 2 vols.

(II.) Euseb. H. E. II. 2, 25; III. 20; V. 5. Jerome: De Viris Ill.c.53.

(III.) Neander: Antignosticus, Geist des Tertullianus u. Einleitung in dessen Schriften. Berl. 1825, 2d ed. 1849.

J. Kaye: Eccles. Hist. of the second and third Centuries, illustrated from the Writings of Tertullian. 3d ed. Lond. 1845.

Carl Hesselberg: Tertullian’s Lehre aus seinen Schriften entwickelt. 1. Th. Leben und Schriften. Dorpat 1848 (136 pages).

P. Gottwald: De Montanismo Tertulliani. Breslau, 1863.

Hermann Rönsch: Das Neue Testament Tertullian’s. Leipz. 1871 (731 pages.) A reconstruction of the text of the old Latin version of the N. T. from the writings of Tertullian.

Ad. Ebert: Gesch. der Christl. lat. Lit. Leipz. 1874, sqq. I. 24-41.

A. Hauck: Tertullian’s Leben und Schriften, Erlangen, 1877 (410 pages.) With judicious extracts from all his writings.

(IV.) On the chronology of Tertullian’s works see Nösselt: De vera aetate et doctrina Scriptorum Tertull. (in Oehler’s ed. III. 340-619); Uhlhorn: Fundamenta Chronologica Tertullianeae (Göttingen 1852); Bonwetsch: Die Schriften Tertullians nach der Zeit ihrer Abfassung (Bonn 1879, 89 pages); Harnack: Zur Chronologie der Schriften Tertullians (Leipz. 1878); Noeldechen: Abfassungszeit der Schriften Tertullians (Leipz. 1888).

(V.) On special points: Oehninger: Tertullian und seine Auferstehungslehre Augsb. 1878, 34 pp). F. J. Schmidt: De Latinitate Tertutliani (Erlang. 1877). M. Klussmann: Curarum Tertullianearum, part. I et II. (Halle 1881). G. R. Hauschild: Tertullian’s Psychologie (Frankf. a. M. 1880, 78 pp.). By the same: Die Grundsätze u. Mittel der Wortbildung bei Tertullian (Leipz. 1881, 56 pp); Ludwig.: Tert’s Ethik. (Leipz. 1885). Special treatises on Tertullian, by Hefele, Engelhardt, Leopold, Schaff (in Herzog), Ebert, Kolberg.

The Western church in this period exhibits no such scientific productiveness as the Eastern. The apostolic church was predominantly Jewish, the ante-Nicene church, Greek, the post-Nicene, Roman. The Roman church itself was first predominantly Greek, and her earliest writers — Clement, Hermas, Irenaeus, Hippolytus — wrote exclusively in Greek. Latin Christianity begins to appear in literature at the end of the second century, and then not in Italy, but in North Africa, not in Rome, but in Carthage, and very characteristically, not with converted speculative philosophers, but with practical lawyers and rhetoricians. This literature does not gradually unfold itself, but appears at once under a fixed, clear stamp, with a strong realistic tendency. North Africa also gave to the Western church the fundamental book — the Bible in its first Latin Version, the so-called Itala, and this was the basis of Jerome’s Vulgata which to this day is the recognized standard Bible of Rome. There were, however, probably several Latin versions of portions of the Bible current in the West before Jerome.


I. Life of Tertullian

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus is the father of the Latin theology and church language, and one of the greatest men of Christian antiquity. We know little of his life but what is derived from his book and from the brief notice of Jerome in his catalogue of illustrious men. But few writers have impressed their individuality so strongly in their books as this African father. In this respect, as well as in others, he resembles St. Paul, and Martin Luther. He was born about the year 150, at Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, where his father was serving as captain of a Roman legion under the proconsul of Africa. He received a liberal Graeco-Roman education; his writings manifest an extensive acquaintance with historical, philosophical, poetic, and antiquarian literature, and with juridical terminology and all the arts of an advocate. He seems to have devoted himself to politics and forensic eloquence, either in Carthage or in Rome. Eusebius calls him “a man accurately acquainted with the Roman laws,” and many regard him as identical with the Tertyllus, or Tertullianus, who is the author of several fragments in the Pandects.

To his thirtieth or fortieth year he lived in heathen blindness and licentiousness. Towards the end of the second century he embraced Christianity, we know not exactly on what occasion, but evidently from deepest conviction, and with all the fiery energy of his soul; defended it henceforth with fearless decision against heathens, Jews, and heretics; and studied the strictest morality of life. His own words may be applied to himself: “Fiunt, non nascuntur Christiani.” He was married, and gives us a glowing picture of Christian family life, to which we have before referred; but in his zeal for every form of self-denial, he set celibacy still higher, and advised his wife, in case he should die before her to remain a widow, or, at least never to marry an unbelieving husband; and he afterwards put second marriage even on a level with adultery. He entered the ministry of the Catholic church, first probably in Carthage, perhaps in Rome, where at all events he spent some time but, like Clement of Alexandria and Origen, he never rose above the rank of presbyter.

Some years after, between 199 and 203, he joined the puritanic, though orthodox, sect of the Montanists. Jerome attributes this change to personal motives, charging it to the envy and insults of the Roman clergy, from whom he himself experienced many an indignity. But Tertullian was inclined to extremes from the first, especially to moral austerity. He was no doubt attracted by the radical contempt for the world, the strict asceticism, the severe discipline, the martyr enthusiasm, and the chiliasm of the Montanists, and was repelled by the growing conformity to the world in the Roman church, which just at that period, under Zephyrinus and Callistus, openly took under its protection a very lax penitential discipline, and at the same time, though only temporarily, favored the Patripassian error of Praxeas, an opponent of the Montanists. Of this man Tertullian therefore says, in his sarcastic way: He has executed in Rome two works of the devil; has driven out prophecy (the Montanistic) and brought in heresy (the Patripassian); has turned off the Holy Ghost and crucified the Father. Tertullian now fought the catholics, or the psychicals, is he frequently calls them, with the same inexorable sternness with which he had combated the heretics. The departures of the Montanists, however, related more to points of morality and discipline than of doctrine; and with all his hostility to Rome, Tertullian remained a zealous advocate of the catholic faith, and wrote, even from his schismatic position, several of his most effective works against the heretics, especially the Gnostics. Indeed, as a divine, he stood far above this fanatical sect, and gave it by his writings an importance and an influence in the church itself which it certainly would never otherwise have attained.

He labored in Carthage as a Montanist presbyter and an author, and died, as Jerome says, in decrepit old age, according to some about the year 220, according to others not till 240; for the exact time, as well as the manner of his death, are unknown. His followers in Africa propagated themselves, under the name of “Tertullianists,” down to the time of Augustin in the fifth century, and took perhaps a middle place between the proper Montanists and the catholic church. That he ever returned into the bosom of Catholicism is an entirely groundless opinion.

Strange that this most powerful defender of old catholic orthodoxy and the teacher of the high-churchly Cyprian, should have been a schismatic and an antagonist of Rome. But he had in his constitution the tropical fervor and acerbity of the Punic character, and that bold spirit of independence in which his native city of Carthage once resisted, through more than a hundred years’ war, the rising power of the seven-hilled city on the Tiber. He truly represents the African church, in which a similar antagonism continued to reveal itself, not only among the Donatists, but even among the leading advocates of Catholicism. Cyprian died at variance with Rome on the question of heretical baptism; and Augustin, with all his great services to the catholic system of faith, became at the same time, through the anti-Peligian doctrines of sin and grace, the father of evangelical Protestantism and of semi-Protestant Jansenism.

Hippolytus presents several interesting points of contact. He was a younger contemporary of Tertullian though they never met is far as we know. Both were champions of catholic orthodoxy against heresy, and yet both opposed to Rome. Hippolytus charged two popes with heresy as well as laxity of discipline; and yet in view of his supposed repentance and martyrdom (as reported by Prudentius nearly two hundred years afterwards), he canonized in the Roman church; while such honor was never conferred upon the African, though he was a greater and more useful man.


II. Character

Tertullian was a rare genius, perfectly original and fresh, but angular, boisterous and eccentric; full of glowing fantasy, pointed wit, keen discernment, polemic dexterity, and moral earnestness, but wanting in clearness, moderation, and symmetrical development. 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.

Like almost all great men, he combined strange contrarieties of character. Here we are again reminded of Luther; though the reformer had nothing of the ascetic gloom and rigor of the African father, and exhibits instead with all his gigantic energy, a kindly serenity and childlike simplicity altogether foreign to the latter. Tertullian dwells enthusiastically on the divine foolishness of the gospel, and has a sublime contempt for the world, for its science and its art; and yet his writings are a mine of antiquarian knowledge, and novel, striking, and fruitful ideas. He calls the Grecian philosophers the patriarchs of all heresies, and scornfully asks: “What has the academy to do with the church? what has Christ to do with Plato — Jerusalem with Athens?” He did not shrink from insulting the greatest natural gift of God to man by his “Credo quia absurdum est.” And yet reason does him invaluable service against his antagonists. He vindicates the principle of church authority and tradition with great force and ingenuity against all heresy; yet, when a Montanist, he claims for himself with equal energy the right of private judgment and of individual protest. He has a vivid sense of the corruption of human nature and the absolute need of moral regeneration; yet he declares the soul to be born Christian, and unable to find rest except in Christ. “The testimonies of the soul, says he, “are as true as they are simple; as simple as they are popular; as popular as they are natural; as natural as they are divine.” He is just the opposite of the genial, less vigorous, but more learned and comprehensive Origen. He adopts the strictest supranatural principles; and yet he is a most decided realist, and attributes body, that is, as it were, a corporeal, tangible substantiality, even to God and to the soul; while the idealistic Alexandrian cannot speak spiritually enough of God, and can conceive the human soul without and before the existence of the body. Tertullian’s theology revolves about the great Pauline antithesis of sin and grace, and breaks the road to the Latin anthropology and soteriology afterwards developed by his like-minded, but clearer, calmer, and more considerate countryman, Augustin. For his opponents, be they heathens, Jews, heretics, or Catholics, he has as little indulgence and regard as Luther. With the adroitness of a special pleader he entangles them in self-contradictions, pursues them into every nook and corner, overwhelms them with arguments, sophisms, apophthegms, and sarcasms, drives them before him with unmerciful lashings, and almost always makes them ridiculous and contemptible. His polemics everywhere leave marks of blood. It is a wonder that he was not killed by the heathens, or excommunicated by the Catholics.

His style is exceedingly characteristic, and corresponds with his thought. It is terse, abrupt, laconic, sententious, nervous, figurative, full of hyperbole, sudden turns, legal technicalities, African provincialisms, or rather antiquated or vulgar latinisms. It abounds in latinized Greek words, and new expressions, in roughnesses, angles, and obscurities; sometimes, like a grand volcanic eruption, belching precious stones and dross in strange confusion; or like the foaming torrent tumbling over the precipice of rocks and sweeping all before it. His mighty spirit wrestles with the form, and breaks its way through the primeval forest of nature’s thinking. He had to create the church language of the Latin tongue.

In short, we see in this remarkable man both intellectually and morally, the fermenting of a new creation, but not yet quite set free from the bonds of chaotic darkness and brought into clear and beautiful order.



I. Gems from Tertullian’s writings.

The philosophy of persecution:

“Semen Est Sanguis Christianorum.” (Apol. c. 50.)

The human soul and Christianity (made for Christ, yet requiring a new birth):

“Testimonium Animae Naturaliter. Christianae.” (De Test. Anim. c. 2; see the passages quoted § 40.)

“Fiunt, non, nascuntur Christiani.” (Apol. 18; De Test. Anim. 1)

Christ the Truth, not Habit (versus traditionalism):

“Christus Veritas Est, Non Consuetudo.” (De Virg. vel c. 1.)

General priesthood of the laity (versus an exclusive hierarchy):

“Nonne Et Laici Sacerdotes Sumus?” (De Exhort. Cast. c. 7.)

Religious Liberty, an inalienable right of man (versus compulsion and persecution):

“Humani Juris Et Naturalis Potestatis Est Unicuique Quod Putaverit Colere.” (Ad Scap. 2; comp. Apol. 14 and the passages quoted § 13.)

Dr. Baur (Kirchengesch.I. 428) says: “It is remarkable how already the oldest Christian Apologists, in vindicating the Christian faith, were led to assert the Protestant principle of freedom of faith and conscience “[and we must add, of public worship], “as an inherent attribute of the conception of religion against their heathen opponents.” Then he quotes Tertullian, as the first who gave clear expression to this principle.

II. Estimates of Tertullian as a man and an author.

Neander (Ch. Hist. I. 683 sq., Torrey’s translation): “Tertullian presents special claims to attention, both as the first representative of the theological tendency in the North-African church, and as a representative of the Montanistic mode of thinking. He was a man of an ardent and profound spirit, of warm and deep feelings; inclined to give himself up, with his whole soul and strength, to the object of his love, and sternly to repel everything that was foreign from this. He possessed rich and various stores of knowledge; which had been accumulated, however, at random, and without scientific arrangement. His profoundness of thought was not united with logical clearness and sobriety: an ardent, unbridled imagination, moving in a world of sensuous images, governed him. His fiery and passionate disposition, and his previous training as an advocate and rhetorician, easily impelled him, especially in controversy, to rhetorical exaggerations. When he defends a cause, of whose truth he was convinced, we often see in him the advocate, whose sole anxiety is to collect together all the arguments which can help his case, it matters not whether they are true arguments or only plausible sophisms; and in such cases the very exuberance of his wit sometimes leads him astray from the simple feeling of truth. What must render this man a phenomenon presenting special claims to the attention of the Christian historian is the fact, that Christianity is the inspiring soul of his life and thoughts; that out of Christianity an entirely new and rich inner world developed itself to his mind: but the leaven of Christianity had first to penetrate through and completely refine that fiery, bold and withal rugged nature. We find the new wine in an old bottle; and the tang which it has contracted there, may easily embarrass the inexperienced judge. Tertullian often had more within him than he was able to express: the overflowing mind was at a loss for suitable forms of phraseology. He had to create a language for the new spiritual matter, — and that out of the rude Punic Latin, — without the aid of a logical and grammatical education, and as he was hurried along in the current of thoughts and feelings by his ardent nature. Hence the often difficult and obscure phraseology; but hence, too, the original and striking turns in his mode of representation. And hence this great church-teacher, who unites great gifts with great failings, has been so often misconceived by those who could form no friendship with the spirit which dwelt in so ungainly a form.”

Hase (Kirchengesch. p. 91, tenth ed.): “Die lateinische Kirche hatte fast nur Übersetzungen, bis Tertullianus, als Heide Rhetor und Sachwalter zu Rom, mit reicher griechischer Gelehrsamkeit, die auch der Kirchenvater gern sehen liess, Presbyter in seiner Vaterstadt Karthago, ein strenger, düsterer, feuriger Character, dem Christenthum aus punischem Latein eine Literatur errang, in welcher geistreiche Rhetorik, genialer so wie gesuchter Witz, der sinnliches Anfassen des Idealen, tiefes Gefühl and juridische Verstandesansicht mit einander ringen. Er hat der afrikanischen Kirche die Losung angegeben: Christus sprach: Ich bin die Wahrheit, nicht, das Herkommen. Er hat das Gottesbewusstsein in den Tiefen der Seele hochgehalten, aber ein Mann der Auctorität hat er die Thorheit des Evangeliums der Weltweisheit seiner Zeitgenossen, das Unglaubliche der Wunder Gottes dem gemeinen Weltverstande mit stolzer Ironie entgegengehalten. Seine Schriften, denen er unbedenklich Fremdes angeeignet und mit dem Gepräqe seines Genius versehen hat, sind theils polemisch mit dem höchsten Selbstvertraun der katholischen Gesinnung gegen Heiden, Juden und Häretiker, theils erbaulich; so jedoch, dass auch in jenen das Erbauliche, in diesen das Polemische für strenge Sitte und Zucht vorhanden ist.”

Hauck (Tertullian’s Leben und Schriften, p. 1) Unter den Schriftstellern der lateinischen Christenheit ist Tertullian einer der bedeutendsten und interessantesten. Er ist der Anfänger der lateinischen Theologie, der nicht nur ihrer Sprache seinen Stempel aufgeprägt hat, sondern sie auch an die Bahn hinwies, welche sie lange einheilt. Seine Persönlichkeit hat ebensoviel Anziehendes als Abstossendes; denn wer könnte den Ernst seines sittlichen Strebens, den Reichthum und die Lebhaftigkeit seines Geistes, die Festigkeit seiner Ueberzeugung und die stürmische Kraft seiner Beredtsamkeit verkennen ? Allein ebensowenig lässt sich übersehen, dass ihm in allen Dingen das Mass fehlte. Seine Erscheinung hat nichts Edles; er war nicht frei von Bizzarem, ja Gemeinem. So zeigen ihn seine Schriften, die Denkmäler seines Lebens. Er war ein Mann, der sich in unaufhörlichen Streite bewegte: sein ganzes Wesen trägt die Spuren hievon.”

Cardinal Hergenröther, the first Roman Catholic church historian now living (for Döllinger was excommunicated in 1870), says of Tertullian (in his Kirchengesch. I. 168, second ed., 1879): “Strenge und ernst, oft beissend sarkastisch, in der, Sprache gedrängt und dunkel der heidnischen Philosophie durchaus abgeneigt, mit dem römischen Rechte sehr vertraut, hat er in seinen zahlreichen Schriften Bedeutendes für die Darstellung der Kirchlichen Lehre geleistet, und ungeachtet seines Uebertritts zu den Montanisten betrachteten ihn die späteren africanischen Schriftsteller, auch Cyprian, als Muster und Lehrer.”

Pressensé (Martyrs and Apologists, p. 375): “The African nationality gave to Christianity its most eloquent defender, in whom the intense vehemence, the untempered ardor of the race, appear purified indeed, but not subdued. No influence in the early ages could equal that of Tertullian; and his writings breathe a spirit of such undying power that they can never grow old, and even now render living, controversies which have been silent for fifteen centuries. We must seek the man in his own pages, still aglow with his enthusiasm and quivering with his passion, for the details of his personal history are very few. The man is, as it were, absorbed in the writer, and we can well understand it, for his writings embody his whole soul. Never did a man more fully infuse his entire moral life into his books, and act through his words.”