Tertullian of Carthage

quotes from Tertullian:→

Tertullian (155-220) lived in Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first writer in Latin known to use the term trinity.  Saint Jerome says that Tertullian lived to old age (Jerome. De viris illustribus. p. 53). Tertullian was the teacher of Cyprian of Carthage and was the predecessor of Saint Augustine, who, in turn, became the chief founder of Latin theology.  Perhaps the most popular phrase attributed to Tertullian is in response to the Roman persecution of Christians, when Tertullian wrote, “”the blood of the Christians is seed” (Apologeticum, 50).

Tertullian was a strict rigorist and praised the unmarried state as the highest (De monogamia, xvii; Ad uxorem, i.3) and called upon Christians not to allow themselves to be excelled in the virtue of celibacy by Vestal Virgins and Egyptian priests.  He also labeled second marriage a species of adultery (De exhortationis castitatis, ix).  Tertullian’s resolve to never marry again and that no one else should remarry eventually led to his break with Rome because the Catholic church disagreed with him. He, instead, favored the Montanist sect where they also condemned second marriage.  This break with the Church has prevented him from being called a Church Father, although some modern scholars reject the idea that Tertullian ever left the Church since Cyprian of Carthage sharply condemned schism and yet still regarded Tertullian as his master.

Despite whether or not Tertullian ever formally broke with the Church of Rome, he was a staunch defender of the necessity of apostolicity and of the Petrine Primacy of the Church of Rome.  In his Prescription Against Heretics, he explicitly challenges heretics to produce evidence of the apostolic succession of their communities.

Extant Writings:

  • The Apology
  • The Prescription Against Heretics
  • Against Marcion
  • Against Hermogenes
  • Against the Valentinians
  • Against Praxeas
  • Against All Heresies
  • An Answer to the Jews
  • On Repentance
  • On Baptism
  • On Prayer
  • On Exhortation to Chastity
  • On Monogamy
  • On Modesty
  • On Fasting
  • On Idolatry
  • On the Pallium
  • On the Apparel of Women
  • On the Veiling of Virgins
  • De Corona (The Chaplet)
  • The Soul’s Testimony
  • A Treatise on the Soul
  • On the Flesh of Christ
  • On the Resurrection of the Flesh

Quotes & Excerpts:

“[The apostles] founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church, [founded] by the apostles, from which they all [spring]. In this way, all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one in unity” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 20 [A.D. 200]).

“[W]hat it was which Christ revealed to them [the apostles] can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves . . . If then these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, [and] Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 21 [A.D. 200])

“Where was the heretic Marcion, that shipmaster of Pontus and zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago -in the reign of Antonius for the most part- and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Pope Eleutherius, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, and they were at once expelled.”
-Demurrer Against the Heretics 30
Written in 200 A.D.)

“Let any Heresies bold enough produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the role of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that their first Bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor one of the Apostles or Apostolic men… For this is the manner in which Apostolic churches transmit their register.”
-Demurrer Against the Heretics 32 (200 A.D.)

“This is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrnaeans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John;
like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter.
-The Demurrer Against the Heretics 32 (A.D. 200)

“But should they even effect the contrivance [of composing a succession list for themselves], they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles [as contained in other churches], will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory” -Demurrer Against the Heretics 32 (200 A.D.)

“Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic Church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith” -Demurrer Against the Heretics 32 (200 A.D.)

“If you are near Italy, you have Rome, whence our authority is derived.
How blessed is that Church, on which the Apostles poured out their whole doctrine along with their blood!
Where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John the Baptist, where the Apostle John, after being immersed in boiling oil without injury, was exiled to an island.”
– The Demurrer Against Heretics 36:1 (Written 200 A.D.)

“[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness” (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).

“If in fact we conceal something from the notice of men, shall we at the same time hide it from God? Is the good opinion of men equated to the knowledge of God?
Is it better to be damned in secret than to be absolved in public?
‘But it is a miserable thing to have to come to Confession!’
Yes, evil leads to misery, but where there is repentence, misery ceases, because it is thereby turned into salvation.
– Repentance 10. 1 Written in 203 A.D.)

“If you are inclined to withdraw from Confession, consider first the hell which Confession extinguishes for you.
Imagine the magnitude of the penalty and do not hesitate to make use of the remedy..
Therefore, when you know that after the initial support of Baptism there is still in Confession a second reserve against Hell, why do you desert your salvation?
Why do you hesitate to approach what you know will heal you?”
Repentance 12:1-4
Written in 203 A.D

“The Church has the power of forgiving sins, you say. This I acknowledge and account even more than you do… But I inquire into whence you usurp this right from the Church?
Do you presume because the Lord said to Peter: ‘on this rock I will build my Church and I give to you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,’ or ‘whatever you bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven,’
that the power of binding and loosing has been handed on to you, or any church akin to Peter?
What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when He conferred this upon Peter?
On ‘you’, He says… not ‘they’”
– Modesty Written in 220 A.D.)

“He (the prodigal who comes back to Christ) receives again the pristine garment,–the condition, to wit, which Adam by transgression had lost. The ring also he is then wont to receive for the first time, wherewith, after being interrogated, he publicly seals the agreement of faith, and thus thenceforward feeds upon the fatness of the Lord’s body—the Eucharist, to wit.” -On Modesty, chapter 9:

“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . [But] a viper of the [Gnostic] Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism—which is quite in accordance with nature, for vipers and asps . . . Without baptism, salvation is attainable by none” (Baptism 1, 12 [A.D. 203]).

“After the washing (of Baptism)
we are anointed with a blessed unction, from the ancient discipline of the priesthood in which they were anointed with a horn of oil as Aaron was anointed by Moses.
So also with us, the unction is applied bodily, but profits us spiritually, just as the corporal act of Baptism by water has a spiritual effect by freeing us from sin.
After this is the imposition of hands (Confirmation)
invoking and inviting the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism 7:1-2, 8:1 Written 203 AD.)

“In all our travels and movements, in our comings and our goings, at the bath, at the table, in putting on our shoes, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the Sign of the Cross.”
-The Crown 3.2 (Written 211 A.D.)

“We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries [the date of death—birth into eternal life]” (The Crown 3:3 [A.D. 211]).

“Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. . .
There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .
The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive.” -The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

“If the separation of body and soul means death at the same time to both substances, then the pattern of union of both substances,
in reference to life, gives assurance that it happens simultaneously.
We acknowledge, therefore,
that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul begins at conception.
Thus, life begins when the soul begins.” -The Soul 27:2-3 (Written 210 A.D.)


“I believe that the Spirit proceeds not otherwise than from the Father through the Son.” -Letter Against Praxeas 4:1 (Written in 216 A.D.)


“In regard to days of fast,
many do not think that they should be present at the sacrificial prayers, because their fast would be broken if they were to receive the Body of the Lord.
Does the Eucharist obviate a work devoted to God, or does it bind it more to God?
Will not your fast be more solemn if, in addition, you stood at God’s altar?”
– Prayer” (Written ca 200 A.D.)

“A woman, after the death of her husband . . . prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Monogamy 10:1–2 [A.D. 216]).

“For though you think that heaven is still shut up, remember that the Lord left the keys of it to Peter here, and through him to the Church, which keys everyone will carry with him if he has been questioned and made a confession [of faith]” (Antidote Against the Scorpion 10 [A.D. 211]).

“Let us see what milk the Corinthians drained from Paul; against what standard the Galatians were measured for correction; what the Philippians, Thessalonians, and Ephesians read; what even the nearby Romans sound forth, to whom both Peter and Paul bequeathed the gospel and even sealed it with their blood” (Against Marcion 4, 5:1 [A.D. 210]).

“The flesh, indeed, is washed [in Baptism], in order that the soul be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed [with the cross], that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands [in Confirmation], that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, [in the Eucharist] that the soul likewise may be filled with God.”  -On the Resurrection of the Flesh (ca. AD 200), chapter 8:


“In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).

“Why is Christ called Adam by the apostle?
Even reason defends this conclusion; that God recovered his image and likeness by the same procedure which the Devil had taken it. It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 [A.D. 210].