Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus), one of the early church fathers, born in Carthage about A. D. 150, died between 220 and 240. He was the son of a Roman centurion, became a lawyer, embraced Christianity about 190, and entered the Christian priesthood. He preached at Carthage and probably at Rome, and became widely known by the publication of several controversial treatises, as well as his ascetic practices. About the year 202 he joined the Montanists, and at once became the champion of the sect, with which he remained until his death. The difference between his works written before and those after he became a Montanist seems to be more a difference of spirit than of doctrine; and his writings are classed in authority with those of the other church fathers. He was the fearless champion of Christianity against Jews and pagans, and of catholic orthodoxy in the church. His Apologeticus has been called the first plea for religious liberty in Christian literature, and is one of the best defences of Christianity and the Christians against their pagan adversaries. In his treatise " On the Testimony of the Soul" he unfolds the profound thought that Christianity is grounded in the nature of man, and meets its deepest wants.
He led the way in ecclesiastical anthropology and soteriology, was the teacher of Cyprian, and the forerunner of Augustine. Among his controversial works are his books "Against the Gentiles," "Against the Jews," "Against Hermogenes" (showing that matter is not eternal, but created by God), "Against the Valentinians," "On the Prescription of Heretics" (asserting vehemently that no doctrine contrary to the received faith had a claim to toleration from the church, or to appeal to the Scriptures, and contradicting the principles of his "Apology"), "Against Marcion," "Against Praxeas," "On the Soul," "On Baptism," "On the Flesh of Christ," and "On the Resurrection of the Body," in all of which he opposes growing errors, and seeks to show what is the true doctrine of the church. Among his practical works belong the book "On Penance;" that "On Prayer," which explains the Lord's prayer; "On Patience;" "To the Martyrs;" "On Theatrical Shows;" "On Idolatry, a casuistical discussion of the degree to which idol worship may be tolerated by Christians; "On the Dress of Women," and on the "Veiling of Virgins." which teach that modesty and the hiding of the features are proper for women in the house of God; and the book "To his Wife," in which he proclaims his aversion to second marriages.
His specially Montanist works are the "Exhortation to Chastity" and "On Monogamy," in which he carries to absolute prohibition the theory of the book "To his Wife;" "On Chastity," which denies that those who are guilty of gross sins can be absolved; "On Repentance;" "On Fasting;" "On the Soldier's Crown;" and "On Flight," which insists that Christians ought not to flee from persecutions. Tertullian's works are written in a rude Punic Latin interlarded with African or old Latin idioms and phrases of Latinized Greek. His 'earlier works are said to have been written in Greek, but have come down only in Latin translations. The style of all is nervous, abrupt, often obscure, and vehement. The first collected edition is that by Beatus Rhenanus (fol, Basel, 1521). Among the numerous later editions are those by Semler (6 vols., Halle, 1770-"73), Leopold in Gersdorf s Bibliotheca Patrum Latino-rum (vols. iv. to vii., Leipsic, 1839-'41), Migne (vols. i. to iii. of Patrologie latine, Paris, 1844), and Oehler (3 vols., Leipsic, 1853). Translations of several, especially of the "Apology," have been published in most of the modern European languages. - The life of Tertullian has been written by Jerome in the early church, and in modern times by Neander (Antignos-ticus, Berlin, 1825) and Hesselberg (Dorpat, 1848). See also the special works on Mon-tanism by Wernsdorf (1751), Munter (1829), Schwegler (1841), and Baur (1851).