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Chapter XVIII.

Tertullian a great Trial to the Church.

[46.] The case is the same with Tertullian.490490    Hardly anything is known of Tertullian, besides what may be gathered from his works, in addition to the following account given by St. Jerome (De Viris Illustribus), which I quote from Bishop Kaye’s work on Tertullian and his writings: “Tertullian, a presbyter, the first Latin writer after Victor and Apollonius, was a native of the province of Africa and city of Carthage, the son of a proconsular centurion. He was a man of a sharp and vehement temper, flourished under Severus and Caracalla, and wrote numerous works which, as they are generally known, I think it unnecessary to particularize. I saw at Concordia, in Italy, an old man named Paulus who said that, when young, he had met at Rome with an aged amanuensis of the blessed Cyprian, who told him that Cyprian never passed a day without reading some portion of Tertullian’s works, and used frequently to say, ‘Give me my master,’ meaning Tertullian. After remaining a presbyter of the Church till he had attained the middle of life, Tertullian was by the cruel and contumelious treatment of the Roman clergy driven to embrace the opinions of Montanus, which he has mentioned in several of his works, under the title of ‘The New Prophecy.’ He is reported to have lived to a very advanced age.” He was born about the middle of the second century, and flourished, according to the dates indicated above, between the years 190 and 216. For as Origen holds by far the first place among the Greeks, so does Tertullian among the Latins. For who more learned than he, who more versed in knowledge whether divine or human? With marvellous capacity of mind he comprehended all philosophy, and had a knowledge of all schools of philosophers, and of the founders and upholders of schools, and was acquainted with all their rules and observances, and with their various histories and studies. Was not his genius of such unrivalled strength and vehemence that there was scarcely any obstacle which he proposed to himself to overcome, that he did not penetrate by acuteness, or crush by weight? As to his style, who can sufficiently set forth its praise? It was knit together with so much cogency of argument that it compelled assent, even where it failed to persuade. Every word almost was a sentence; every sentence a victory. This know the Marcions, the Apelleses, the Praxeases, the Hermogeneses, the Jews, the Heathens, the Gnostics, and the rest, whose blasphemies he overthrew by the force of his many and ponderous volumes, as with so many thunderbolts. Yet this man also, notwithstanding all that I have mentioned, this Tertullian, I say, too little tenacious of Catholic doctrine, that is, of the universal and ancient faith, more eloquent by far than faithful,491491    Fidelior, Baluz, Felicior, others. changed his belief, and justified what the blessed Confessor, Hilary, writes of him, namely, that “by his subsequent error he detracted from the authority of his approved writings.”492492    In Mat. v. He also was a great trial in the Church. But of Tertullian I am unwilling to say more. This only I will add, that, contrary to the injunction of Moses, by asserting the novel furies of Montanus493493    Montanus, with his two prophetesses, professed that he was intrusted with a new dispensation,—a dispensation in advance of the Gospel, as the Gospel was in advance of the Law. His system was a protest against the laxity which had grown up in the Church, as has repeatedly been the case after revivals of religious fervor, verifying Tertullian’s apophthegm, “Christiani fiunt, non nascuntur” (men become Christians, they are not born such). Its characteristics were extreme ascetism, rigorous fasting, the exaltation of celibacy, the absolute prohibition of second marriage, the expectation of our Lord’s second advent as near at hand, the disparagement of the clergy in comparison with its own Paraclete-inspired teachers. It had its rise in Phrygia, and from thence spread throughout Asia Minor, thence it found its way to Southern Gaul, to Rome, to North Western Africa, in which last for a time it had many followers. which arose in the Church, and those mad dreams of new doctrine dreamed by mad women, to be true prophecies, he deservedly made both himself and his writings obnoxious to the words, “If there arise a prophet in the midst of thee,”…“thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet. “For why? “Because the Lord your God doth make trial of you, whether you love Him or not.”


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