ca. A.D. 160-ca. 240
Latin Christian writer
Tertullian was one of the greatest of the early Christian writers in the Western Roman Empire. While most early Christian writers wrote only in Greek, Tertullian also wrote in Latin. Of his many works, only 31 have survived. Tertullian had a great influence on St. Augustine and many later Christian thinkers.
Born in North Africa near the city of Carthage, Tertullian grew up as a pagan* but became a Christian at about the age of 35. He spent the rest of his life writing in defense of Christian doctrines and against heresy* and criticisms of the church. In his early writings, Tertullian defended the church against critics who accused it of magic and disloyalty to the Roman Empire. He later devoted himself to writing about ethical and moral issues. Tertullian based his religious arguments on the Bible rather than on pagan philosophy*, and he believed that all people had an innate knowledge of God. He was the earliest known writer to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity*.
Tertullian wrote against the heresy of Gnosticism and defended the Christian Bible against critics who attacked and rejected it. In his later life, however, he became increasingly critical of the church. He eventually joined the Montanists, a strict Christian sect* that practiced asceticism* and regarded the suffering of martyrs* as the highest form of religious faith. He later broke with them and formed his own Christian sect, which was even more severe than that of the Montanists. The first Christian thinker to write in Latin, Tertullian occupies an important place in the history of Christianity. His Latin style is difficult and original, and his writings are filled with sarcasm and satire*. (See also Christianity; Languages and Dialects; Rome, History of.)
* pagan one who worships many gods; nonChristian
* heresy belief that is contrary to church doctrine
* philosophy study of ideas, including science
* Trinity Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three beings: Father; Son, and Holy Spirit
* sect religious group separated from an established church, usually due to its more extreme beliefs
* asceticism way of life in which a person rejects worldly pleasure and follows a life of poverty
* martyr person who suffers or is put to death in defense of a religious belief
* satire literary technique that uses wit and sarcasm to expose or ridicule vice and folly