Reference > Rev. Alban Butler > Lives of the Saints > July
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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume VII: July.
The Lives of the Saints.  1866.
 
July 17
St. Speratus and His Companions, Martyrs
 
[Commonly called the Scillitan Martyrs.]  WHEN the emperor Severus returned victorious from having vanquished the kings who had taken part with Nigar against him, he published his cruel edicts against the Christians in the year of Christ 202, the tenth of his reign. But the general laws of the empire against foreign religions, and the former edicts of several emperors against the Christians, were a sufficient warrant to many governors to draw the sword against them before that time; and we find that the persecution was very hot in Africa two years before, under the proconsul Saturninus, in the eighth year of Severus and two hundredth of Christ. The first who suffered at Carthage were twelve persons, commonly called the Scillitan Martyrs, probably because they were of Scillita, a town of the proconsular Africa. They were brought prisoners to Carthage, and on the 16th of July were presented to the proconsul whilst he was seated on his tribunal. The six principal among them were Speratus, Narzalis, and Cittinus; and three women, Donata, Secunda, and Vestina. The proconsul offered them the emperor’s pardon if they would worship the gods of the Romans. Speratus answered in the name of all: “We have never committed any crime, we have injured no one; so far from it, we have always thanked God for the evil treatment we have received; wherefore we declare to you that we worship no other God but the true one, who is the lord and master of all things; we pray for those who persecute us unjustly, according to the law we have received.” The proconsul urged them to swear by the emperor’s genius. Speratus said, “I know not the genius of the emperor of this world; but I serve the God of heaven, whom no mortal man hath ever seen or can see. I never committed any crime punishable by the laws of the state. I pay the public duties for whatever I buy, acknowledging the emperor for my temporal lord; but I adore none but my God, who is the King of kings, and sovereign Lord over all the nations of the world. I have been guilty of no crime, and therefore cannot have incurred punishment.” Hereupon the proconsul said: “Let them be carried to prison, and put in wooden stocks till to-morrow.”  1
  On the day following, the proconsul being seated on his tribunal, ordered them all to be brought before him, and said to the women, “Honour our prince, and offer sacrifice to the gods.” Donata replied: “We give to Cæsar the honour that is due to Cæsar; but we adore and offer sacrifice to God alone.” Vestina said: “I also am a Christian.” Secunda said: “I also believe in my God, and will continue faithful to him. As for your gods we will neither serve nor adore them.” The proconsul then ordered them into custody, and having called up the men, he said to Speratus: “Art thou still resolved to remain a Christian?” Speratus replied: “Yes I am, be it known to all, I am a Christian.” All that had been apprehended with him cried out: “We also are Christians.” The proconsul said: “Will you not then so much as deliberate upon the matter, or have any favour shown you?” Speratus replied: “Do what you please; we die with joy for the sake of Jesus Christ.” The proconsul asked: “What books are those which you read and have in reverence?” Speratus answered: “The four gospels of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; the epistles of the apostle St. Paul, and the rest of the Scriptures revealed by God.” 1 The proconsul said: “I give you three days to repent in.” Upon which Speratus made answer: “We will never depart from the faith of our Saviour Jesus Christ, therefore take what course you think fit.” The proconsul seeing their constancy and resolution, pronounced sentence against them in these terms: “Speratus, Narzalis, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Acyllinus, Lætantius, Januaria, Generosa, Vestina, Donata, and Secunda, having acknowledged themselves Christians, and having refused to pay due honour and respect to the emperor, I condemn them to be beheaded.” This sentence being read, Speratus, and all those who were with him, said: “We give God thanks for vouchsafing to receive us this day as martyrs in heaven, for confessing his name.” Having said this, they were led to the place of execution, where they all fell on their knees, and once more gave thanks to Jesus Christ. Whilst they continued in prayer, their heads were struck off. The faithful who transcribed their acts out of the public registers, add: 2 “The martyrs of Christ finished their conflict in the month of July, and they intercede for us to our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be given honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Ghost through all ages.”  2
 
 
  Tertullian, 3 soon after their martyrdom, addressed his excellent apologetic discourse for the Christian religion to the governors of the provinces, but without success. He testifies 4 that Saturninus, who first drew the sword against the Christians in Africa, soon after lost his eyes. As to the emperor Severus, after carrying on the persecution ten years, whilst he was making war in Britain, being on his march with his army, his eldest son Bassianus, surnamed Antoninus Caracalla, who marched after him, stopped his horse, and drew his sword to stab him, but was prevented by others. Severus only reproached him for it, but died soon after at York, of grief for his son’s treachery, rather than of the gout, on the 4th of February, in the year 211, having lived sixty-five years, and reigned seventeen years and eight months. His two sons, Antoninus Caracalla and Geta, succeeded him; but the elder caused the latter to be stabbed in his mother’s bosom, who was sprinkled with his blood. See the acts of the Scillitan martyrs, copied from the court registers by three different Christians, who added short notes, published by Baronius, ad. an. 202, by Ruinart, p. 75, and by Mabillon, t. 3, Analect. p. 153, and abridged by Tillemont, t. 3, Ceillier, t. 2, p. 211; Cuper the Bollandist, t. 4, Julij. p. 204.  3
 
Note 1. “Qui sunt libriquos adoratis, legentes? Speratus, respondit: Quatuor evangelia Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et epistolas S. Pauli apostoli, et omnem divinitùs inspiratam scripturam.” Acta apud Ruinart, p. 78, et Baron, ad an. 202. [back]
Note 2. Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus is commonly known by the last name. His father was a centurion in the proconsular troops of Africa, and he was born at Carthage about the year 160. He confesses that before his conversion to the Christian faith he, in his merry fits, pointed his keenest satire against it, (Apol. c. 18,) had been an adulterer (De Resur. c. 59,) had taken a cruel pleasure in the bloody entertainments of the amphitheatre, (De Spectac. c. 19,) attained to a distinguishing eminency in vice, (De Pœnit. c. 4, “Ego præstantiam in delictis meam agnosco,”) and was an accomplished sinner in all respects, (ib. c. 12, “Peccator omnium notarum cum sim,”) yet having his head marvellously well turned for science, he applied himself from his cradle to the study of every branch of good literature, poetry, philosophy, geometry, physic, and oratory; he dived into the principles of each sect, and both into the fabulous, and into the real or historical part of mythology. His comprehensive genius led him through the whole circle of profane sciences; above the rest, as Eusebius tells us, he was profoundly versed in the Roman laws. He had a surprising vivacity and keenness of wit, and an uncommon stock of natural fire which rendered him exceeding hot and impatient, as himself complains. (l. de Patient. in init.) His other passions he restrained after his conversion to Christianity; but this vehemence of temper he seems never to have sufficiently checked. The motives which engaged him to embrace the gospel seem those upon which he most triumphantly insists in his works; as the antiquity of the Mosaic writings, the mighty works and wisdom of the divine law-giver, the continued chain of prophecy and wonders conducting the attentive inquirer to Christ, the evidence of the miracles of Christ and his apostles, the excellency of the law of the gospel, and its amazing influence upon the lives of men; the power which every Christian then exercised over evil spirits, and the testimony of the very devils themselves whom the infidels worshipped for gods, and who turned preachers of Christ, howling, and confessing themselves devils in the presence of their own votaries, (Apol. c. 19, 20, 23, &c. &c.) also the constancy and patience of the martyrs (l. ad Scapul. c. ult.) &c.
  Being by his lively and comprehensive genius excellently formed for controversy, he immediately set himself to write in defence of religion, which was then attacked by the Heathens and Jews on one side, and on the other corrupted by heretics. He successfully employed his pen against all these enemies to truth, and first against the Pagans. The persecution which began to rage gave occasion to his Apologetic, which is not only his masterpiece, but indisputably one of the best among all the works of Christian antiquity. This piece was not addressed to the Roman senate, as Baronius and several others thought, but to the proconsul and other magistrates of Africa, and perhaps to all the governors of provinces and magistrates of the empire, among whom he might also comprise the Roman senators; for the title of Presidents only, agreed to these provincial governors, and he names the proconsul, (ch. 45.) speaks of Rome as at a distance; (c. 9, 21, 24, 35, 45.) says they practised at home (at Carthage) the bloody religious rites of the Scythians; (c. 9,) and by those words, “in ipso fere vertice civitatis præsidentes,” he seems to mean the Byrsa of Carthage; certainly not Rome, which he always calls Urbs, not civitas.
  In the first part of this work he clears Christians from the calumnies of incest and murder thrown upon them, demonstrates the injustice of punishing them merely for a name, and exposes the absurdity of Trajan’s order commanding them to be punished if impeached, yet not to be sought after. He mentions that Tiberius, and, after his miraculous victory, Marcus Aurelius, were favourable to the Christian religion. He then proceeds to confute idolatry; asks, if Bacchus was made a god for planting vines, why did not Lucullus attain to the same honour, because he first brought cherry-trees from Pontus to Rome? Why Aristides the Just, Socrates, Crœsus, Demosthenes, and so many others who had been most eminent, were not admitted to share divine honours with Jupiter, Venus, &c.? He explains the chief articles of our faith, and speaking of the origin and false worship of the demons he inserts the most daring challenge, which St. Cyprian, (ep. ad Demetrianum,) Lactantius, (De Just. l. 5, c. 21,) and other primitive fathers repeat with the same assurance—“Let a demoniac be brought into court,” says Tertullian, “and the evil spirit that possesses him be commanded by any Christian to declare what he is, he shall confess himself as truly to be a devil as he did falsely before declare himself a god. In like manner let them bring any of those who are thought to be inspired by some god, as Æsculapius, &c. If all these do not declare themselves in court to be devils, not daring to lie to a Christian, do you instantly put that rash Christian to death.”
  The apologist mentions the submission of Christians to the emperors, their love of their enemies, and their mutual charity, horror of all vice, and constancy in suffering death and all manner of torments for the sake of virtue. The heathens called them in derision Sarmentitians and Semaxians, because they were fastened to trunks of trees, and stuck about with faggots to be set on fire. But Tertullian answers them: “Thus dressed about with fire, we are in our most illustrious apparel. These are our triumphal robes embroidered with palm branches in token of victory, (such the Roman generals wore in their solemn triumphs,) and mounted upon the pile we look upon ourselves as in our triumphal chariot. Who ever looked well into our religion but he came over to it? and who ever came over to it but was ready to suffer for it? We thank you for condemning us, because there is such a blessed discord between the divine and human judgment, that when you condemn us upon earth, God absolveth us in heaven.”
  Tertullian wrote about the same time his two books Against the Gentiles, in the first confuting their slanders, in the second attaking their false gods. An accidental disputation of a Christian with a Jewish proselyte engaged him to show the triumph of the faith over that obstinate race, who seemed deaf to all arguments. His book Against the Jews is just, solid, and well supported, a model of theological controversy, which wants but a little clearness of diction to be a very finished piece. Hermogenes, a Stoic philosopher and a Christian, broached a new heresy in Africa, teaching matter to be eternal. Tertullian shows it to have been created by God with the world, and unravels the sophistry of that heresiarch in his book Against Hermogenes. That Against the Valentinians is rather a satire and raillery, than a serious confutation of the extravagant sentiments of those heretics. His excellent book Of Prescription against Heretics was certainly written before his fall; for in it he lays great stress on his communion with all the apostolic churches, especially that of Rome, and confutes by general principles all heresies that can arise.
  His design in this little treatise is to show, that the appeal to scripture is very unjust in heretics, who have no claim or title to the scriptures. These were carefully committed in trust by the apostles to their successors, and he proves, that to whom the scriptures were intrusted, to them also was committed the interpretation of scripture. He promises that heresies are the very pest and destruction of faith, but no just cause of scandal or wonder, any more than fevers which consume the human body; for they were predicted by Christ, and the necessary consequence of criminal passions. He says, as if it had been to anticipate or remove the offence which he afterwards gave by his fall: “What if a bishop, a deacon, a widow, a virgin, a teacher, or even a martyr, shall fall from the faith;—Do we judge of the faith by the persons, or of persons by their faith? No man is wise who holds not the faith.” (c. 3.) He says: “We have no need of a nice inquiry after we have found Christ, or of any curious search after we have learned the gospel. If we believe, we desire nothing further than to be believers.” (c. 7.) He adds, some heretics inculcate as a good reason for eternal scruple and searching, that it is written: Seek and ye shall find. But he takes notice those words only belonged to those Jews who had not yet found Christ, and cannot mean, that we must for ever seek on. But if we are to seek, it must not be from heretics who are estranged from the truth, who have no power to instruct, no inclination but to destroy, and whose very light is darkness. Christ laid down a rule of faith, about which there can be no cavils, no disputes but what are raised by heretics; and an obstinate opposition to this rule is what constitutes a heretic.
  He inveighs against too curious searches in faith, as the source of heresies. Then coming close to the point, he will not have heretics admitted to dispute about the scriptures, to which they have no claim; and in such a scriptural disputation, the victory is precarious and very liable to uncertainty. All then is to be resolved into what the apostles have taught; which apostolical tradition is the demonstration of the truth, and the confutation of all error and heretical innovation. Our perfect agreement, and general consent and harmony with the apostolic churches which live in the unity of the same faith, is the most convincing proof of the truth, against which no just objection can possibly be formed, (c. 21, 22.) He urges that Marcion, Apelles, Valentinus, and Hermogenes were of too modern a date, and proved by their separation and pretended claim of what was ancient, that the church was before them; they ought therefore to say, that Christ came down again from heaven and taught again upon earth, before they can commence apostles. “But,” says he, “if any of these heretics have the confidence to put in their claim to apostolic antiquity, let them show us the original of their churches, the order and succession of their bishops, so as to ascend up to an apostle,” &c. He is for having the heretics prove their mission by miracles, like the apostles. (c. 35.) He writes: “To these men the church might thus fitly address herself—Who are ye? When, and from whence came ye? What do ye in my pastures, who are none of mine? By what authority do you, Marcion, break in upon my inclosures? Whence, O Apelles, is your power to remove my land-marks? This field is mine of right, why then do you at your pleasure sow and feed therein? It is my possession; I held it in times past; I first had it in my hands; my title to it is firm and indisputable, and derived from those persons whose it was, and to whom it properly belonged; I am the heir of the apostles; as they provided in their testament, as they committed and delivered to my trust, as they charged and ordered me, so I hold.” (c. 37.) He takes notice that in the Pagan superstitions the devil had imitated many ceremonies both of the Jewish and Christian religion; and that heretics in like manner were bad copies of the true church. (c. 40.) He appeals to the manners and conversation of the heretics which are vain, earthly, without weight, without discipline, in every respect suitable to the faith they profess. (c. 41, 43.) “I am very much mistaken,” says he, “if they are governed by any rules, even of their own making, since every one models and adopts the doctrine he has received according to his fancy, as the first founder framed them to his, and to serve his own turn. The progress of every heresy was formed upon the footsteps of its first introducers; and the same liberty that was assumed by Valentinus and Marcion, was generally made use of by their followers. If you search into all sorts of heresies, you will find that they differ in many things from the first authors of their own sect. They have few of them any church; but without mother, without see, without the faith, they wander up and down like exiled men, entirely devoid of house and home.” (c. 42.)
  Among his other works, the most useful is the book On Penance, the best polished of all his writings; in the first part he treats of repentance at baptism; in the second, on that for sins committed after baptism. He teaches here that the church hath power to remit even fornication, which he denied when a Montanist. He insists much on the laborious exercises of this penance after baptism.
  A book On Prayer, explaining in the first part the Lord’s Prayer; in the second, several ceremonies often used at prayer. An exhortation to Patience, in which the motives are displayed with great eloquence. An exhortation to Martyrdom, than which nothing can be more pathetic.
  He wrote a book On Baptism, proving in the first part, its obligation and necessity; in the second, treating on several points of discipline relating to that sacrament.
  As to his other works, in his first book to his Wife, written probably before he was priest, (see Ceillier, pp. 375, 391,) he exhorts her not to marry again, if she should survive him; and mentions several in the church living in perpetual continency. In the second, he allows second marriages lawful; but if the woman be determined to engage a second time in the married state, insists that it is unlawful to marry an infidel. He alleges the impossibility of rising to prayer at night, giving suitable alms, visiting the martyrs, &c. with a pagan husband: “Can you conceal yourself from him,” says he, “when you make the sign of the cross upon your bed or your body?—Will he not know what you receive in secret, before you take any food?” that is, the eucharist, (l. 2, c. 5.) He concludes with an amiable description of a Christian holy marriage; “The church,” saith he, “approves the contract, the oblation ratifies it, the blessing is the seal of it, and the angels carry it to the heavenly Father who confirms it. Two bear together the same yoke, and are but one flesh, and one mind: they pray together, fast together, mutually exhort each other, go together to the church, and to the table of the Lord. They conceal nothing from each other, visit the sick, collect alms without restraint, assist at the offices of the church without interruption, sing psalms and hymns together, and encourage each other to praise God.”
  In his treatise On the Shows, he represents them as occasions of idolatry, impurity, vanity, and other vices, and mentions a woman who, going to the theatre, returned back possessed with a devil: when the exorcist reproached the evil spirit for daring to attack one of the faithful, it boldly answered: “I found her in my own house.” In his book On Idolatry, he determines many cases of conscience, relating to idolatry, as, that it is not lawful to make idols, &c.; but he says, a Christian servant may attend his master to a temple; any friend may assist at an idolater’s marriage, &c. In two books On the Ornaments or Dress of Women, he zealously recommends modesty in attire, and condemns their use of paint. In that On veiling Virgins, he undertakes to prove that young women ought to cover their faces at church, contrary to the custom of his country, where only married women are veiled. In that On the Testimony of the Soul, he proves that there is only one God from the natural testimony of every one’s soul. In his Scorpiace, written against the poison of the Scorpions, that is, Gnostics, especially a branch of those heretics named Cainites, he proves the necessity of martyrdom, which they denied. In his Exhortation to Chastity, he dissuades a certain widow from a second marriage, which he allows to be lawful, though hardly so; and the harshness of his expressions show that he then leaned towards Montanism.
  Tertullian was a priest, and continued in the church till the middle of his life, that is, to forty or upwards, when he miserably fell. Montanus, an eunuch in Phrygia, set up for a prophet, and was wonderfully agitated by an evil spirit, and pretended to raptures, in which he lost his senses, and spoke incoherently not like St. Quadratus and other true prophets. He was joined by Prisca, or Priscilla, and Maximilla, two women of quality, and rich, but of most debauched lives. These had the like pretended raptures, and many were deceived by them. Montanus, about the year 171, pretended that he had received the Holy Ghost to complete the law of the gospel, and was called by his followers the Paraclete. Affecting a severity of doctrine, to which his manners did not correspond, he condemned second marriages, and flight in persecution, and ordered extraordinary fasts. The Montanists said that, beside the fast of Lent observed by the Catholics, there were other fasts imposed by the Divine Spirit. They kept three Lents in the year, each of two weeks, and upon dry meats, as necessary injunctions of the Spirit by the new revelations made to Montanus, which they preferred to the writings of the apostles; and they said these laws were to be observed for ever. (See Tert. de Jejun. c. 15; also St. Jerom, ep. 54, ad Marcellam, et in Aggæ, c. 1,) which is the reason why the Montanists, even in the time of Sozomen, kept their Antepaschal fast confined to two weeks, which the Catholics at that time certainly observed of forty days. For, as Bishop Hooper (of Lent, p. 65,) remarks, those great fasters would hardly have been left behind, had they not been restrained by the pretended institution of the Spirit, to which they punctually kept; and this circumstance rendered these fasts superstitious. Pepuzium, a town in Phrygia, was the metropolis of these heretics, who called it Jerusalem. The bishops of Asia having examined their prophecies and errors, condemned them. It is said, that Montanus and Maximilla going mad hanged themselves. See Eusebius.
  Tertullian’s harsh severe disposition fell in with this rigidness. His vehement temper was for no medium in anything; and falling first by pride, he resented some affronts which he imagined he had received from the clergy of Rome, as St. Jerom testifies; and in this passion deserted the Church, forgetting the maxims by which he had confuted all heresies. Solomon’s fall did not prejudice his former inspired writings. Nor does the misfortune of Tertullian destroy at least the justness of the reasoning in what he had written in defence of the truth, any more than if a man lost his senses, this unlucky accident could annul what he had formerly done for the advancement of learning.
  Tertullian is the most ancient of all ecclesiastical writers among the Latins. St. Vincent of Lerins, who is far from shading the blemishes of this great man, says, “He was among the Latins what Origen was among the Greeks, that is, the first man of his age. Every word seems a sentence, and almost every sentence a new victory. Yet with all these advantages, he did not continue in the ancient and universal faith. His error, as the blessed confessor Hilary observes, has taken away that authority from his writings which they would have otherwise deserved.” St. Jerom in his book against Helvidius, when his authority was objected, coolly answered, “That he is not of the Church,” “Ecclesiæ hominem non esse.” Yet he sometimes speaks advantageously of his learning. Lactantius calls his style uncouth, rugged, and dark, but admires his depth of sense; and he who breaks the shell will not repent his pains for the kernel. Balsac ingeniously compares his eloquence to ebony which is bright and pleasing in its black light. The great master of eloquence, St. Cyprian, found such hidden stores under his dark language, that he is reported never to have passed a day without reading him; and when he called for his book, he used to say, “Give me my master.”
  We find this once great man, who expressed in his Apologetic (cap. 39.) the most just and fearful apprehension of excommunication, which he there called, The anticipation of the future judgment, afterwards proud, arrogant, and at open defiance with the censures of the Church. And this great genius seems even to lose common sense when he writes in favour of his errors and enthusiasm, as when, upon the authority of the dreams of Priscilla and Maximilla, he seriously disputes on the shape and colour of a human soul, &c. He lived to a very advanced age, and leaving the Montanists, became the author of a new sect called from him Tertullianists, who had a church at Carthage till St. Austin’s time, when they were all reconciled to the Catholic faith. Tertullian died towards the year 245.
  The works which he wrote after his fall are, a book On the Soul, pretending it to have a human figure, &c. Another On the Flesh of Christ, proving that he took upon him human flesh in reality, not in appearance only. One On the Resurrection of the Flesh, proving that great mystery. Five books Against Marcion, who maintained that there were two principles or gods, the one good the other evil; that the latter was worshipped by the Jews, and was author of their law; but that the good god sent Christ to destroy his works. Against this heresiarch, Tertullian proves the unity of God, and the sanctity of the Old Law and Testament. In his book Against Praxeas he proves excellently the Trinity of Persons, and uses the very word Trinity; (c. 2.) but he impiously condemns Praxeas, because coming from the East to Rome he had informed Pope Victor of the errors and hypocrisy of Montanus; on which account he says, he had banished the Paraclete (Montanus) and crucified the Father. “Paracletum fugavit, Patrem crucifixit.” (c. 1.) For Praxeas, puffed up with the title of confessor, broached the heresy of the Patripassians, confounding the three Persons, and pretending that the Father in the Son became man, and was crucified for us. His apology for the Philosophers’ Cloak, which he continued to wear rather than the Toga, for its conveniency, and as an emblem of a severer life, seems only written to display his wit. His apology to Scapula, proconsul of Africa in 211, is an exhortation to put a stop to the persecution, alleging that “a Christian is no man’s enemy, much less the emperor’s.” In his book On Monogamy he maintains against the Psychici (so he calls the Catholics) that second marriages are unlawful, which was one point of his heresy. One of his arguments is, the duty of a widow always to pray for the soul of her deceased husband, (c. 10.)
  He wrote his book On Fasts, to defend the extraordinary fasts commanded by the Montanists; but shows that certain obligatory fasts were observed by the Catholics, as that before Easter, since called Lent, in which they fasted every day till vespers or evening-service: that those of Wednesday and Friday till three o’clock, called stations, were devotional. Some added to these Xerophagia or the use only of dried meats, abstaining from all vinous and juicy fruits; and some confined themselves to bread and water. The Montanists kept three Lents a year, and other fasts always till night, and with the Xerophagia.
  Tertullian wrote also his book On Chastity, against the Catholics because they gave absolution to penitents who had been guilty of adultery or fornication. For the Montanists denied that the Church could pardon sins of impurity, murder or idolatry. In this book he mentions twice, that, on the sacred chalices was painted the image of the good shepherd bringing home the lost sheep on his shoulders. Scoffing at a decree made by the bishop of Rome at that time, he writes: “I am informed that they have made a decree, and even a peremptory one; the chief priest, that is, the bishop of bishops, saith: I remit the sins of adultery and fornication to those who have done penance.” (c. 1.) He calls him apostolic bishop, c. 19. and blessed pope, c. 13. ib. His book On the Crown was written in 235, the first year of Maximinus, to defend the action of a Christian soldier who refused to put on his head a garland, like the rest, when he went to receive a donative. Tertullian says these garlands were reputed sacred to some false god or other. He alleges that by tradition alone we practise many things, as the ceremonies used at baptism, yearly oblations (or sacrifices) for the dead, and for the festivals of martyrs, standing at prayer on the Lord’s day, and from Easter to Whitsuntide, and the sign of the cross “which we make,” says he, “upon our foreheads at every action, and in all our motions at coming in or going out of doors, in dressing or bathing ourselves; when we are at table or in bed; when we sit down or light a lamp, or whatever else we do.” (De Corona, c. 3 and 4.) His book On Flight, was written about the same time to pretend to prove against the Catholics that it is a crime to fly in time of persecution.
  The most correct edition of Tertullian’s works is that of Rigaltius, even that of Pamelius being ill pointed, and abounding with faults; though Rigaltius’s notes on this and some other fathers want much amendment. [back]
Note 3. Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus is commonly known by the last name. His father was a centurion in the proconsular troops of Africa, and he was born at Carthage about the year 160. He confesses that before his conversion to the Christian faith he, in his merry fits, pointed his keenest satire against it, (Apol. c. 18,) had been an adulterer (De Resur. c. 59,) had taken a cruel pleasure in the bloody entertainments of the amphitheatre, (De Spectac. c. 19,) attained to a distinguishing eminency in vice, (De Pœnit. c. 4, “Ego præstantiam in delictis meam agnosco,”) and was an accomplished sinner in all respects, (ib. c. 12, “Peccator omnium notarum cum sim,”) yet having his head marvellously well turned for science, he applied himself from his cradle to the study of every branch of good literature, poetry, philosophy, geometry, physic, and oratory; he dived into the principles of each sect, and both into the fabulous, and into the real or historical part of mythology. His comprehensive genius led him through the whole circle of profane sciences; above the rest, as Eusebius tells us, he was profoundly versed in the Roman laws. He had a surprising vivacity and keenness of wit, and an uncommon stock of natural fire which rendered him exceeding hot and impatient, as himself complains. (l. de Patient. in init.) His other passions he restrained after his conversion to Christianity; but this vehemence of temper he seems never to have sufficiently checked. The motives which engaged him to embrace the gospel seem those upon which he most triumphantly insists in his works; as the antiquity of the Mosaic writings, the mighty works and wisdom of the divine law-giver, the continued chain of prophecy and wonders conducting the attentive inquirer to Christ, the evidence of the miracles of Christ and his apostles, the excellency of the law of the gospel, and its amazing influence upon the lives of men; the power which every Christian then exercised over evil spirits, and the testimony of the very devils themselves whom the infidels worshipped for gods, and who turned preachers of Christ, howling, and confessing themselves devils in the presence of their own votaries, (Apol. c. 19, 20, 23, &c. &c.) also the constancy and patience of the martyrs (l. ad Scapul. c. ult.) &c.
  Being by his lively and comprehensive genius excellently formed for controversy, he immediately set himself to write in defence of religion, which was then attacked by the Heathens and Jews on one side, and on the other corrupted by heretics. He successfully employed his pen against all these enemies to truth, and first against the Pagans. The persecution which began to rage gave occasion to his Apologetic, which is not only his masterpiece, but indisputably one of the best among all the works of Christian antiquity. This piece was not addressed to the Roman senate, as Baronius and several others thought, but to the proconsul and other magistrates of Africa, and perhaps to all the governors of provinces and magistrates of the empire, among whom he might also comprise the Roman senators; for the title of Presidents only, agreed to these provincial governors, and he names the proconsul, (ch. 45.) speaks of Rome as at a distance; (c. 9, 21, 24, 35, 45.) says they practised at home (at Carthage) the bloody religious rites of the Scythians; (c. 9,) and by those words, “in ipso fere vertice civitatis præsidentes,” he seems to mean the Byrsa of Carthage; certainly not Rome, which he always calls Urbs, not civitas.
  In the first part of this work he clears Christians from the calumnies of incest and murder thrown upon them, demonstrates the injustice of punishing them merely for a name, and exposes the absurdity of Trajan’s order commanding them to be punished if impeached, yet not to be sought after. He mentions that Tiberius, and, after his miraculous victory, Marcus Aurelius, were favourable to the Christian religion. He then proceeds to confute idolatry; asks, if Bacchus was made a god for planting vines, why did not Lucullus attain to the same honour, because he first brought cherry-trees from Pontus to Rome? Why Aristides the Just, Socrates, Crœsus, Demosthenes, and so many others who had been most eminent, were not admitted to share divine honours with Jupiter, Venus, &c.? He explains the chief articles of our faith, and speaking of the origin and false worship of the demons he inserts the most daring challenge, which St. Cyprian, (ep. ad Demetrianum,) Lactantius, (De Just. l. 5, c. 21,) and other primitive fathers repeat with the same assurance—“Let a demoniac be brought into court,” says Tertullian, “and the evil spirit that possesses him be commanded by any Christian to declare what he is, he shall confess himself as truly to be a devil as he did falsely before declare himself a god. In like manner let them bring any of those who are thought to be inspired by some god, as Æsculapius, &c. If all these do not declare themselves in court to be devils, not daring to lie to a Christian, do you instantly put that rash Christian to death.”
  The apologist mentions the submission of Christians to the emperors, their love of their enemies, and their mutual charity, horror of all vice, and constancy in suffering death and all manner of torments for the sake of virtue. The heathens called them in derision Sarmentitians and Semaxians, because they were fastened to trunks of trees, and stuck about with faggots to be set on fire. But Tertullian answers them: “Thus dressed about with fire, we are in our most illustrious apparel. These are our triumphal robes embroidered with palm branches in token of victory, (such the Roman generals wore in their solemn triumphs,) and mounted upon the pile we look upon ourselves as in our triumphal chariot. Who ever looked well into our religion but he came over to it? and who ever came over to it but was ready to suffer for it? We thank you for condemning us, because there is such a blessed discord between the divine and human judgment, that when you condemn us upon earth, God absolveth us in heaven.”
  Tertullian wrote about the same time his two books Against the Gentiles, in the first confuting their slanders, in the second attaking their false gods. An accidental disputation of a Christian with a Jewish proselyte engaged him to show the triumph of the faith over that obstinate race, who seemed deaf to all arguments. His book Against the Jews is just, solid, and well supported, a model of theological controversy, which wants but a little clearness of diction to be a very finished piece. Hermogenes, a Stoic philosopher and a Christian, broached a new heresy in Africa, teaching matter to be eternal. Tertullian shows it to have been created by God with the world, and unravels the sophistry of that heresiarch in his book Against Hermogenes. That Against the Valentinians is rather a satire and raillery, than a serious confutation of the extravagant sentiments of those heretics. His excellent book Of Prescription against Heretics was certainly written before his fall; for in it he lays great stress on his communion with all the apostolic churches, especially that of Rome, and confutes by general principles all heresies that can arise.
  His design in this little treatise is to show, that the appeal to scripture is very unjust in heretics, who have no claim or title to the scriptures. These were carefully committed in trust by the apostles to their successors, and he proves, that to whom the scriptures were intrusted, to them also was committed the interpretation of scripture. He promises that heresies are the very pest and destruction of faith, but no just cause of scandal or wonder, any more than fevers which consume the human body; for they were predicted by Christ, and the necessary consequence of criminal passions. He says, as if it had been to anticipate or remove the offence which he afterwards gave by his fall: “What if a bishop, a deacon, a widow, a virgin, a teacher, or even a martyr, shall fall from the faith;—Do we judge of the faith by the persons, or of persons by their faith? No man is wise who holds not the faith.” (c. 3.) He says: “We have no need of a nice inquiry after we have found Christ, or of any curious search after we have learned the gospel. If we believe, we desire nothing further than to be believers.” (c. 7.) He adds, some heretics inculcate as a good reason for eternal scruple and searching, that it is written: Seek and ye shall find. But he takes notice those words only belonged to those Jews who had not yet found Christ, and cannot mean, that we must for ever seek on. But if we are to seek, it must not be from heretics who are estranged from the truth, who have no power to instruct, no inclination but to destroy, and whose very light is darkness. Christ laid down a rule of faith, about which there can be no cavils, no disputes but what are raised by heretics; and an obstinate opposition to this rule is what constitutes a heretic.
  He inveighs against too curious searches in faith, as the source of heresies. Then coming close to the point, he will not have heretics admitted to dispute about the scriptures, to which they have no claim; and in such a scriptural disputation, the victory is precarious and very liable to uncertainty. All then is to be resolved into what the apostles have taught; which apostolical tradition is the demonstration of the truth, and the confutation of all error and heretical innovation. Our perfect agreement, and general consent and harmony with the apostolic churches which live in the unity of the same faith, is the most convincing proof of the truth, against which no just objection can possibly be formed, (c. 21, 22.) He urges that Marcion, Apelles, Valentinus, and Hermogenes were of too modern a date, and proved by their separation and pretended claim of what was ancient, that the church was before them; they ought therefore to say, that Christ came down again from heaven and taught again upon earth, before they can commence apostles. “But,” says he, “if any of these heretics have the confidence to put in their claim to apostolic antiquity, let them show us the original of their churches, the order and succession of their bishops, so as to ascend up to an apostle,” &c. He is for having the heretics prove their mission by miracles, like the apostles. (c. 35.) He writes: “To these men the church might thus fitly address herself—Who are ye? When, and from whence came ye? What do ye in my pastures, who are none of mine? By what authority do you, Marcion, break in upon my inclosures? Whence, O Apelles, is your power to remove my land-marks? This field is mine of right, why then do you at your pleasure sow and feed therein? It is my possession; I held it in times past; I first had it in my hands; my title to it is firm and indisputable, and derived from those persons whose it was, and to whom it properly belonged; I am the heir of the apostles; as they provided in their testament, as they committed and delivered to my trust, as they charged and ordered me, so I hold.” (c. 37.) He takes notice that in the Pagan superstitions the devil had imitated many ceremonies both of the Jewish and Christian religion; and that heretics in like manner were bad copies of the true church. (c. 40.) He appeals to the manners and conversation of the heretics which are vain, earthly, without weight, without discipline, in every respect suitable to the faith they profess. (c. 41, 43.) “I am very much mistaken,” says he, “if they are governed by any rules, even of their own making, since every one models and adopts the doctrine he has received according to his fancy, as the first founder framed them to his, and to serve his own turn. The progress of every heresy was formed upon the footsteps of its first introducers; and the same liberty that was assumed by Valentinus and Marcion, was generally made use of by their followers. If you search into all sorts of heresies, you will find that they differ in many things from the first authors of their own sect. They have few of them any church; but without mother, without see, without the faith, they wander up and down like exiled men, entirely devoid of house and home.” (c. 42.)
  Among his other works, the most useful is the book On Penance, the best polished of all his writings; in the first part he treats of repentance at baptism; in the second, on that for sins committed after baptism. He teaches here that the church hath power to remit even fornication, which he denied when a Montanist. He insists much on the laborious exercises of this penance after baptism.
  A book On Prayer, explaining in the first part the Lord’s Prayer; in the second, several ceremonies often used at prayer. An exhortation to Patience, in which the motives are displayed with great eloquence. An exhortation to Martyrdom, than which nothing can be more pathetic.
  He wrote a book On Baptism, proving in the first part, its obligation and necessity; in the second, treating on several points of discipline relating to that sacrament.
  As to his other works, in his first book to his Wife, written probably before he was priest, (see Ceillier, pp. 375, 391,) he exhorts her not to marry again, if she should survive him; and mentions several in the church living in perpetual continency. In the second, he allows second marriages lawful; but if the woman be determined to engage a second time in the married state, insists that it is unlawful to marry an infidel. He alleges the impossibility of rising to prayer at night, giving suitable alms, visiting the martyrs, &c. with a pagan husband: “Can you conceal yourself from him,” says he, “when you make the sign of the cross upon your bed or your body?—Will he not know what you receive in secret, before you take any food?” that is, the eucharist, (l. 2, c. 5.) He concludes with an amiable description of a Christian holy marriage; “The church,” saith he, “approves the contract, the oblation ratifies it, the blessing is the seal of it, and the angels carry it to the heavenly Father who confirms it. Two bear together the same yoke, and are but one flesh, and one mind: they pray together, fast together, mutually exhort each other, go together to the church, and to the table of the Lord. They conceal nothing from each other, visit the sick, collect alms without restraint, assist at the offices of the church without interruption, sing psalms and hymns together, and encourage each other to praise God.”
  In his treatise On the Shows, he represents them as occasions of idolatry, impurity, vanity, and other vices, and mentions a woman who, going to the theatre, returned back possessed with a devil: when the exorcist reproached the evil spirit for daring to attack one of the faithful, it boldly answered: “I found her in my own house.” In his book On Idolatry, he determines many cases of conscience, relating to idolatry, as, that it is not lawful to make idols, &c.; but he says, a Christian servant may attend his master to a temple; any friend may assist at an idolater’s marriage, &c. In two books On the Ornaments or Dress of Women, he zealously recommends modesty in attire, and condemns their use of paint. In that On veiling Virgins, he undertakes to prove that young women ought to cover their faces at church, contrary to the custom of his country, where only married women are veiled. In that On the Testimony of the Soul, he proves that there is only one God from the natural testimony of every one’s soul. In his Scorpiace, written against the poison of the Scorpions, that is, Gnostics, especially a branch of those heretics named Cainites, he proves the necessity of martyrdom, which they denied. In his Exhortation to Chastity, he dissuades a certain widow from a second marriage, which he allows to be lawful, though hardly so; and the harshness of his expressions show that he then leaned towards Montanism.
  Tertullian was a priest, and continued in the church till the middle of his life, that is, to forty or upwards, when he miserably fell. Montanus, an eunuch in Phrygia, set up for a prophet, and was wonderfully agitated by an evil spirit, and pretended to raptures, in which he lost his senses, and spoke incoherently not like St. Quadratus and other true prophets. He was joined by Prisca, or Priscilla, and Maximilla, two women of quality, and rich, but of most debauched lives. These had the like pretended raptures, and many were deceived by them. Montanus, about the year 171, pretended that he had received the Holy Ghost to complete the law of the gospel, and was called by his followers the Paraclete. Affecting a severity of doctrine, to which his manners did not correspond, he condemned second marriages, and flight in persecution, and ordered extraordinary fasts. The Montanists said that, beside the fast of Lent observed by the Catholics, there were other fasts imposed by the Divine Spirit. They kept three Lents in the year, each of two weeks, and upon dry meats, as necessary injunctions of the Spirit by the new revelations made to Montanus, which they preferred to the writings of the apostles; and they said these laws were to be observed for ever. (See Tert. de Jejun. c. 15; also St. Jerom, ep. 54, ad Marcellam, et in Aggæ, c. 1,) which is the reason why the Montanists, even in the time of Sozomen, kept their Antepaschal fast confined to two weeks, which the Catholics at that time certainly observed of forty days. For, as Bishop Hooper (of Lent, p. 65,) remarks, those great fasters would hardly have been left behind, had they not been restrained by the pretended institution of the Spirit, to which they punctually kept; and this circumstance rendered these fasts superstitious. Pepuzium, a town in Phrygia, was the metropolis of these heretics, who called it Jerusalem. The bishops of Asia having examined their prophecies and errors, condemned them. It is said, that Montanus and Maximilla going mad hanged themselves. See Eusebius.
  Tertullian’s harsh severe disposition fell in with this rigidness. His vehement temper was for no medium in anything; and falling first by pride, he resented some affronts which he imagined he had received from the clergy of Rome, as St. Jerom testifies; and in this passion deserted the Church, forgetting the maxims by which he had confuted all heresies. Solomon’s fall did not prejudice his former inspired writings. Nor does the misfortune of Tertullian destroy at least the justness of the reasoning in what he had written in defence of the truth, any more than if a man lost his senses, this unlucky accident could annul what he had formerly done for the advancement of learning.
  Tertullian is the most ancient of all ecclesiastical writers among the Latins. St. Vincent of Lerins, who is far from shading the blemishes of this great man, says, “He was among the Latins what Origen was among the Greeks, that is, the first man of his age. Every word seems a sentence, and almost every sentence a new victory. Yet with all these advantages, he did not continue in the ancient and universal faith. His error, as the blessed confessor Hilary observes, has taken away that authority from his writings which they would have otherwise deserved.” St. Jerom in his book against Helvidius, when his authority was objected, coolly answered, “That he is not of the Church,” “Ecclesiæ hominem non esse.” Yet he sometimes speaks advantageously of his learning. Lactantius calls his style uncouth, rugged, and dark, but admires his depth of sense; and he who breaks the shell will not repent his pains for the kernel. Balsac ingeniously compares his eloquence to ebony which is bright and pleasing in its black light. The great master of eloquence, St. Cyprian, found such hidden stores under his dark language, that he is reported never to have passed a day without reading him; and when he called for his book, he used to say, “Give me my master.”
  We find this once great man, who expressed in his Apologetic (cap. 39.) the most just and fearful apprehension of excommunication, which he there called, The anticipation of the future judgment, afterwards proud, arrogant, and at open defiance with the censures of the Church. And this great genius seems even to lose common sense when he writes in favour of his errors and enthusiasm, as when, upon the authority of the dreams of Priscilla and Maximilla, he seriously disputes on the shape and colour of a human soul, &c. He lived to a very advanced age, and leaving the Montanists, became the author of a new sect called from him Tertullianists, who had a church at Carthage till St. Austin’s time, when they were all reconciled to the Catholic faith. Tertullian died towards the year 245.
  The works which he wrote after his fall are, a book On the Soul, pretending it to have a human figure, &c. Another On the Flesh of Christ, proving that he took upon him human flesh in reality, not in appearance only. One On the Resurrection of the Flesh, proving that great mystery. Five books Against Marcion, who maintained that there were two principles or gods, the one good the other evil; that the latter was worshipped by the Jews, and was author of their law; but that the good god sent Christ to destroy his works. Against this heresiarch, Tertullian proves the unity of God, and the sanctity of the Old Law and Testament. In his book Against Praxeas he proves excellently the Trinity of Persons, and uses the very word Trinity; (c. 2.) but he impiously condemns Praxeas, because coming from the East to Rome he had informed Pope Victor of the errors and hypocrisy of Montanus; on which account he says, he had banished the Paraclete (Montanus) and crucified the Father. “Paracletum fugavit, Patrem crucifixit.” (c. 1.) For Praxeas, puffed up with the title of confessor, broached the heresy of the Patripassians, confounding the three Persons, and pretending that the Father in the Son became man, and was crucified for us. His apology for the Philosophers’ Cloak, which he continued to wear rather than the Toga, for its conveniency, and as an emblem of a severer life, seems only written to display his wit. His apology to Scapula, proconsul of Africa in 211, is an exhortation to put a stop to the persecution, alleging that “a Christian is no man’s enemy, much less the emperor’s.” In his book On Monogamy he maintains against the Psychici (so he calls the Catholics) that second marriages are unlawful, which was one point of his heresy. One of his arguments is, the duty of a widow always to pray for the soul of her deceased husband, (c. 10.)
  He wrote his book On Fasts, to defend the extraordinary fasts commanded by the Montanists; but shows that certain obligatory fasts were observed by the Catholics, as that before Easter, since called Lent, in which they fasted every day till vespers or evening-service: that those of Wednesday and Friday till three o’clock, called stations, were devotional. Some added to these Xerophagia or the use only of dried meats, abstaining from all vinous and juicy fruits; and some confined themselves to bread and water. The Montanists kept three Lents a year, and other fasts always till night, and with the Xerophagia.
  Tertullian wrote also his book On Chastity, against the Catholics because they gave absolution to penitents who had been guilty of adultery or fornication. For the Montanists denied that the Church could pardon sins of impurity, murder or idolatry. In this book he mentions twice, that, on the sacred chalices was painted the image of the good shepherd bringing home the lost sheep on his shoulders. Scoffing at a decree made by the bishop of Rome at that time, he writes: “I am informed that they have made a decree, and even a peremptory one; the chief priest, that is, the bishop of bishops, saith: I remit the sins of adultery and fornication to those who have done penance.” (c. 1.) He calls him apostolic bishop, c. 19. and blessed pope, c. 13. ib. His book On the Crown was written in 235, the first year of Maximinus, to defend the action of a Christian soldier who refused to put on his head a garland, like the rest, when he went to receive a donative. Tertullian says these garlands were reputed sacred to some false god or other. He alleges that by tradition alone we practise many things, as the ceremonies used at baptism, yearly oblations (or sacrifices) for the dead, and for the festivals of martyrs, standing at prayer on the Lord’s day, and from Easter to Whitsuntide, and the sign of the cross “which we make,” says he, “upon our foreheads at every action, and in all our motions at coming in or going out of doors, in dressing or bathing ourselves; when we are at table or in bed; when we sit down or light a lamp, or whatever else we do.” (De Corona, c. 3 and 4.) His book On Flight, was written about the same time to pretend to prove against the Catholics that it is a crime to fly in time of persecution.
  The most correct edition of Tertullian’s works is that of Rigaltius, even that of Pamelius being ill pointed, and abounding with faults; though Rigaltius’s notes on this and some other fathers want much amendment. [back]
Note 4. Tert. 1, ad Scapul. c. 3. [back]
 
 
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