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BirthplaceCarthage, Africa, Roman Empire


(Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus) (tûrtŭl`yən), c.160–c.230, Roman theologian and Christian apologist, b. Carthage. He was the son of a centurion and was well educated, especially in law. Converted to Christianity c.197, he became the most formidable defender of the faith in his day. His Latin is vigorous and effective and reflects his juridical training. Sentences of his that have become proverbial are "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church," and "It is certain because it is impossible" (often quoted incorrectly as "I believe it because it is impossible"). Some of Tertullian's opinions differed from the main stream of Christian thought, particularly his more rigorous view of sin and its forgiveness. After long defending the Montanists (see MontanismMontanism
, apocalyptic movement of the 2d cent. It arose in Phrygia (c.172) under the leadership of a certain Montanus and two female prophets, Prisca and Maximillia, whose entranced utterances were deemed oracles of the Holy Spirit.
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), he left the church (213) to join them; he later established his own sect, known as Tertullianists. Tertullian's most important writings are Apologeticus, Ad Nationes, and De Praescriptione.


See studies by T. D. Barnes (1971) and R. D. Sider (1971).



(Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus). Born circa 160 in Carthage; died there after 220. Christian theologian and writer.

Tertullian was educated in the law and rhetoric and practiced in Rome as an advocate. Having embraced Christianity, he returned to Carthage circa 195. He subsequently grew sympathetic to Montanism after coming into conflict with the church. Late in life, he apparently founded his own sect, which was known as the Tertullianists.

In his thinking, Tertullian was drawn to the paradox. While his contemporaries in Christian thought tried to combine biblical teaching and Greek philosophy in a single system, Tertullian underscored in every way the gap between faith and reason. Querying “What does the church have to do with the Academy?”, he states: “The Son of God has been crucified; we are not ashamed, for we ought to be ashamed. And the Son of God died. This is absolutely certain, for it is not compatible with anything. And after the burial he rose again; this is indubitable, for it is impossible.” In his polemics against abstract, theoretical reason, Tertullian emphasized the natural rights of practical understanding, revealing much in common with the Cynics and, in particular, the Roman Stoics. He called for a return to nature not only in the conduct of one’s life but also in cognition itself; he advocated that the accretions of scholarly knowledge be stripped away in order to penetrate to the primal core of the human soul. To Tertullian, this meant the assertion of empiricism in the mystical and the psychological, as well as in its aspects of sensationalism and realism.

Tertullian demanded trust in spontaneous self-manifestations of the soul, such as unpremeditated screams and stereotyped forms of speech that do not reach the consciousness. In his search for truth, he strove to peer into the human unconscious, which explains the interest in his legacy among such figures of modern psychoanalysis as C. G. Jung. At the same time, Tertullian’s empiricism drew him toward materialism—all that exists is “body,” and therefore god is to be understood as “a body that is incidentally a soul.” His prevailing mood manifested itself in an eschatological yearning for the end of the world. He opposed the Roman order with a cosmopolitanism akin to that of the Cynics and with a moral boycott of politics.


Corpus scriptorum ecclesiaslicorum latinorum, vols. 19, 47, 69, 70, 76. Vienna, 1890–1957.
In Russian translation:
Tvoreniia, part 1. Kiev, 1910.


Popov, K. Tertullian. Kiev, 1880.
Shternov, N. Tertullian, presviter karfagenskii. Kursk, 1889.
Preobrazhenskii, P. F. Tertullian i Rim. Moscow, 1926.
Nisters, V. Tertullian: Seine Persönlichkeit und sein Schicksal. Münster, 1950.




Tertullian was a third-century lawyer-turned-priest who was the first significant Christian theologian to write in Latin rather than Greek. Eight chapters of his A Treatise on the Soul dealt with the closely related phenomena of sleep and dreams. Tertullian’s views on dreams dominated western Christendom.

Tertullian believed that the ongoing activity of the mind in dreams while the body is motionless in sleep proves that the soul is independent of the body and thus immortal. As part of his adherence to the idea of the disjunction of body and soul during sleep, he discounted the idea that the condition of the body (e.g., whether one was fasting or had eaten spicy food that day) influenced one’s dreams. At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, he was critical of the idea that the soul left the body and traveled during sleep.

Tertullian also classified dreams according to their source. While God was responsible for many dreams, so were demons. With respect to the latter, Tertullian asserted confidently that dreamers would not be held responsible for sins committed in their sleep, anymore than they would receive crowns in heaven for imaginary acts of martyrdom. He believed a third source of dreams is climatic and astrological influences, and a fourth the peculiar nature of the dreaming state itself.


Latin name Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus. ?160--?220 ad, Carthaginian Christian theologian, who wrote in Latin rather than Greek and originated much of Christian terminology
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