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Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian or short Tertullian (* to 150 in Carthage (now Tunisia ); † after 220 ) was an early, ancient Christian writers and the first Latin ecclesiastical writers .

Tertullian's Apologeticum ( Codex Balliolensis )


Tertullian was born the son of a Roman officer. He received legal and rhetorical training. For a time he worked as a lawyer in Rome . Many of his writings also read like a legal plea. His works include many pamphlets against the Jews, against the Gnosis ( Valentinians and Docetists ), against Marcionites , other heresies and against child baptism , but also defensive writings for Christianity before a pagan audience. He emphasized the compatibility of Christianity and the Roman Empire and insisted that Christians must also be loyal to the emperor .

31 writings have been preserved from his work, probably the majority of what he wrote. The first writings appeared in 197 - by then he was apparently already a Christian. In the early days of his writing, Tertullian dealt with private (including De pallio , De patienta, Ad uxorem ) and catechetical subjects (including De spectaculis, De idolatria, De testimonio animae, De baptismo ). In 197 Tertullian wrote his first apologetic works. Apparently he was planning a major apologetic work when the persecution of Christians in Carthage increased dramatically. Therefore he changed his plan and now shortly put together his collected material on the Apologeticum , which was presented to the boards of the African province. During the Severian persecution, around 202 he wrote a consolation to the martyrs in prison ( Ad martyras ). His style of speech stood out from others. Tertullian is considered one of the most original Latin church authors. He wrote very committed, but also passionately and sometimes polemically . His theses also influenced the disappearance of drama from Western Europe in the early Middle Ages.

Tertullian sympathized with the Montanists . Whether he joined them towards the end of his life is still a matter of dispute. The often mentioned year 207 for his supposed or actual transfer is not certain. His rigorous morality, which was further radicalized in his last writings, such as B. his prohibition of remarriage after the death of his partner was repeatedly interpreted in this direction; He also expressed himself positively about Montanus himself. Hieronymus later even claimed that Tertullian had founded his own church. Based on these statements, Tertullian is not venerated as a saint in any denomination. In the Orthodox churches , according to this church, Tertullian's overly negative image of man is partly seen as a source of a bad theological tendency that continued in Augustine of Hippo and finally led to the break between Western and Eastern Churches in 1054 .

Tertullian died in old age sometime after 220. His merit was that he had brought theology into Latin class . He translated numerous biblical texts from Greek and created new Latin words in the process. Many later interpretations of the Our Father are dependent on him. In addition, his Apologeticum was translated into Greek as a major exception, which indicates the great relevance of this work.

The " pagan " philosophy (especially Plato and the Stoa ) remained - despite all attacks in detail - committed as a whole. In De pallio he justified his habit of continuing to wear the philosopher 's coat.


Because of his sharp, shiny style - and the fact that he was the first church writer to write in Latin - Tertullian is considered the father of church Latin . It is the first in the Christian context in which the terms trinitas for Greek τριάς trias (" Trinity " of God) or damnatio for ἀνάϑεμα anathema ("damnation, condemnation") become historically tangible.

Tertullian's theological terms and formulas are important in later debates: For example, he called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit "three persons" ( tres personae ), who, however, form a unity of God ( una substantia ). Jesus Christ is true man and at the same time God. Accordingly, a distinction must be made between the human and divine attributes of Christ: they are indeed united in the person of the Son , but not mixed .

Tertullian also held that the unbelievers in a hell are punished endlessly when fully conscious. In his treatise on the resurrection of the flesh , Tertullian criticizes the Christians who interpret the expression "destruction" used in Mt 10.28  EU to mean the final annihilation or destruction or a temporary death and not an eternal punishment. In contrast to this view, Tertullian emphasizes that the fire of hell is eternally and expressly announced as an eternal punishment. As such, the punishment is "never-ending killing" - killing the effects of which are more terrifying than those of human murder, which goes far beyond what the Bible says. In his Apology , Tertullian wrote that “those who worship God will be with God forever […], but those who blaspheme and those who have not given themselves to God with all their hearts will likewise be forever in the fire of punishment be". In doing so, he sharply opposed the universal solution that his contemporary Origen advocated.

Tertullian had a lasting influence on some church fathers , above all Cyprianus and Augustine , who also worked in what is now Tunisia and Algeria, and thus the entire western church. Similar terms appear in Pope Leo the Great's theological text to the Council of Chalcedon , the so-called Tomus ad Flavianum .

In his use of the Bible, Tertullian shows clear preferences, for example for Isaiah and several letters from Paul . He uses the Gospel of Luke more intensively than the Gospel of John , although in the dispute with Marcion he devalues ​​the Gospel according to Luke, which he alone recognizes, as not written by an eyewitness. At the margins of the Bible, some later recognized books are hardly used by Tertullian: In the Old Testament he only uses the wisdom of Solomon and the additions to Daniel from the deuterocanonical books .

Fonts (selection)

Opera omnia, edition of 1598

Tertullian wrote apologetic, dogmatic and ascetic writings.

  • De cultu feminarum / Vom Putz der Frauen, Book I: around 205/6; Book II: around 196/7, pamphlet against the cleaning and makeup addiction of women (and men).
  • Adversus Judaeos, around 197, pamphlet against the Jews. They are accused of being stubborn because they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah .
  • Apologeticum , around 198, is considered to be his most important work, in which he defends Christianity from paganism by trying to defeat it with his own weapons, science, but also loyalty to the state.
  • De spectaculis / About the games, before 200, systematic treatise on Roman games: chariot races in the circus, gladiator fights and animal baiting in the amphitheater, athletes' competitions in the stadium, mime and pantomime on the stage. Anyone who visits the theater as a Christian enters the company of the demons who rule these places. Exact descriptions of the origin of the games; Reclam 1988. ISBN 978-3-15-008477-9 .
  • De baptismo / On Baptism and De oratione / On Prayer, both writings from around 200–206, contain the oldest surviving scripture on baptism and the first known interpretation of the Our Father; translated and introduced by Dietrich Schleyer, FC 76, Brepols 2006, ISBN 2-503-52115-0 .
  • De praescriptione haereticorum / On principle objection against the heretics, around 204, translated and introduced by Dietrich Schleyer, FC 42, Brepols 2002, ISBN 2-503-52105-3 .
  • Adversus Marcionem, around 207, pamphlet against Marcion in five books. Marcion was a heretic with a certain closeness to Gnosis, who rejected the OT and only accepted an NT that had been cleared of all Jewish influences. His canon consisted only of a gospel and a few shortened letters from Paul.
  • Ad Uxorem / An seine Frau, around 207, defends marriage as such against Gnostic demands for complete celibacy, but is critical of remarriage; warns Christian women against marrying pagans.
  • De corona militis / On the Soldier's Wreath, before Geta's assassination in 211, describes the relationship between the Christian soldier and the symbols of state power
  • De virginibus velandis / On the veiling of virgins, around 211, demands that also consecrated virgins, unmarried women and widows have to veil themselves in the church.
  • Adversus Praxean / Against Praxeas, around 213, pamphlet against the modalist Praxeas; translated and introduced by Hermann J. Sieben, FC 34, Freiburg / Br. 2001, ISBN 978-3-451-23921-2 .


  • "Semen est sanguis christianorum." ( Apologeticum 50 , "The blood of Christians is a seed" - namely for their religion.)
  • “Certum est, quia impossibile.” ( De carne Christi 5 , “It is safe because it is impossible.”) - On the resurrection. What is meant is: something so mocking every experience as the resurrection of Jesus Christ would never have been believed by the first disciples if they had not actually experienced it. In the 17th century this became the often-quoted sentence: Credo quia absurdum [est] (“I believe because it is absurd”).
  • "Christianos ad leonem!" - Tantos ad unum? " ( Apologeticum 40 ," 'The Christians in front of the lions!' - So many in front of one? ") - Example of Tertullian's rhetoric, which here contains a good shot of gallows humor. The fact that - regardless of whether there is torrential rain or severe drought, whether the earth shakes or stands still - always means that the Christians are to blame and belong before the lions, he comments with this succinct question: Aren't there too many for just one one?
  • "Respice post te, hominem te memento!" ( Apologeticum 33 , "Look behind you and remember that you are (only) human.") - A variant of the Memento Mori .

Remembrance day

April 26th in the Evangelical Name Calendar .


Web links

Wikisource: Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Commons : Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

supporting documents

  1. Franz Stuhlhofer : The use of the Bible from Jesus to Euseb. A statistical study of the history of the canons (= Theological Publishing Association, monographs and study books 335). Wuppertal 1988.
  2. ^ Tertullian in the ecumenical dictionary of saints