Classics Tertullian
Vincent Hunink, Stéphanie Binder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0233


Tertullian is the first major Latin author of Christianity (and his sparse writings in Greek are lost). He was born in Carthage (c. 160 CE) and died at a relatively high age (c. 220). As the son of a pagan family, he was given a good rhetorical and legal education. He is said to have stayed in Rome (cf. Eus. Hist.Eccles. 2,2,4), where he may also have worked as a lawyer. Much of his life remains unknown or dubious, such as the circumstances of his conversion to Christianity. His first writings, dating from the last decade of the 2nd century, show him as a self-assured member of the Christian community in Carthage, in which he evidently claims a leading role. Soon Tertullian was attracted by the movement of the Montanists, whose ideas and ideals appear throughout numerous of his treatises (e.g., Ad uxorem and De monogamia). Though Tertullian became increasingly rigorist, he obviously never really left the church. The sect of the Tertullianists (cf. Aug. De haer. 86) derives its name from him, but it is not certain whether Tertullian actually was its founder or even knew it existed. Because of his stern positions Tertullian was not very popular among churchmen. However, people have always consulted his writings and he has influenced later authors, notably Cyprian and Augustine. A considerable body of his writings is extant (thirty-one titles). These works range from apologetic writings (e.g., the Apologeticum, being his most famous work) and polemical works (e.g., Adversus Iudaeos and Adversus Marcionem), to homiletic works (e.g., De oratione, on the Lord’s prayer and prayer in general), and treatises on various ethical and practical issues in early Christianity. Tertullian’s Latin style is personal and characteristic of his fervent nature.

General Overviews

This section references works dealing with most of the aspects of Tertullian’s life and work even when some particular aspects are more emphasized than others. After Barnes 1985, which still remains the best starting point for further study, various monographs have been published, focusing either on Tertullian’s theology (Osborn 1997, Alexandre 2012) or taking an anthropological point of view (Wilhite 2007). See also Theology and Anthropology. Convenient starting points for further study are recent publications such as Dunn 2004, Ferguson 2009, and Podolak 2006.

  • Alexandre, Jérôme. 2012. Tertullien théologien. Les Plans sur Bex, Switzerland: Parole et Silence.

    This book aims to put Tertullian on the level of the major Christian theologians and urges to study his theology, something that was scarcely done in the past due to the questions concerning his alleged split from the church. More on this topic under Theology. Recent study of Tertullian as the first Latin theological author.

  • Barnes, Timothy D. 1985. Tertullian: A historical and literary study. 2d. ed. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Essential reading for anyone who wishes to study Tertullian. Discusses all major works and puts them into historical and doctrinal context. Reissued with corrections and a postscript in which Barnes changes certain of his positions from the first edition (1971) on several points.

  • Decret, François. 2009. Early Christianity in North Africa. Translated by Edward L. Smithers. Eugene, OR: Cascade.

    General study. English translation of Le christianisme en Afrique du Nord ancienne, published in 1996. Chapter 3 is devoted to Tertullian (French edition pp. 47–61). A summary of the author’s positions concerning the origins of Christianity in North Africa is available online.

  • Dunn, Geoffrey D. 2004. Tertullian. New York: Routledge.

    Attractive two-hundred-page volume, offering a good general introduction and fresh English translations of three of Tertullian’s most challenging works: Adversus Iudeaos (see more details in Dunn 2008, cited under Rhetoric and the section dedicated to this work, Individual Works: Adversus Iudeaos), Scorpiace, and De Virginibus Velandis.

  • Ferguson, Everett. 2009. Tertullian. Expository Times 120:313–321.

    DOI: 10.1177/0014524609103464

    A brief survey of Tertullian’s life, works, theology and impact. Also in Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures. Edited by Paul Foster (London: IVP Academic, 2010). Available online by subscription.

  • Fiedrowicz, Michael. 2010. Theologie der Kirchenväter. Grundlagen frühchristlicher Glaubensreflexion. 2d ed. Freiburg, Germany: Herder.

    General theological study, also discussing Tertullian.

  • Moreschini, Claudio, and Enrico Norelli. 2005. Early Christian Greek and Latin literature. A literary history. Vol. 1, From Paul to the age of Constantine. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    English translation of Storia della letteratura cristiano antica greca e latina, published in 1995. Pp. 332–353 on Tertullian. Helpful general introduction, but with Italian orientation and bibliography not updated.

  • Osborn, Eric. 1997. Tertullian: First theologian of the West. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511582882

    Full study of Tertullian as a theologian. Argues that his approach to theology is not irrational but rational, and is indebted to the classical philosophical tradition.

  • Podolak, Pietro. 2006. Introduzione a Tertulliano. Letteratura cristiana antica 8. Brescia, Italy: Morcelliana.

    General introduction. Review in: Revue des études augustiniennes et patristiques 53.2 (2007): 333.

  • Quasten, Johannes. 1992. Patrology. Vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene literature after Irenaeus. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics.

    Reference work on patrology, widely used in other secondary literature.

  • The Tertullian project.

    Useful and informative multilingual website by Roger Pearse devoted to Tertullian and his works. With helpful pages on each of his works, as well as on manuscripts, editions, texts and translations, bibliographies, academic articles (and very ancient articles and numerous copyright-free books), studies on related authors, references and links to other websites and more. A must, now used and quoted by most of the scholars working on Tertullian.

  • Tränkle, Hermann. 1997. Q. Septimius Florens Tertullianus. In Die Literatur des Umbruchs von der römischen zur christlichen Literatur 117 bis 284 n. Chr. Edited by Klaus Sallmann, 438–511. Handbuch der lateinischen Literatur der Antike 4. Munich: Beck.

    Practical, informative survey of Tertullian’s life and works. With literature and discussion of title, date, and sources for every single work.

  • Wilhite, David E. 2007. Tertullian the African. An anthropological reading of Tertullian’s context and identities. Millennium Studien 14. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110926262

    Discusses Tertullian’s African identity from a (social) anthropological point of view. Critical review by Greschat, Theologische Rundschau 74 (2009): 480–485.

  • Young, Frances, Lewis Ayres, and Andrew Louth. 2004. The Cambridge history of early Christian literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521460835

    Comprehensive textbook on early Christian literature. Pp. 131–141 on Tertullian, who is also mentioned passim.

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