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The ecclesiastical history of the second and third centuries, illustrated from the writings of Tertullian online

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The Ancient & Modern Library



Theological Literature*

Ecclesiastical History

Second & Third Centuries






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Js&econb anb 0irb tenfrmee







The Rights of Translation and of Reproduction are Reserved.


SOON after the first edition of this work issued from the Press,
I received a copy of a German work on the writings of
Tertullian, published at Berlin in 1825, by Dr. August Neander,
under the title of Antignosticus Geist des Tertullians, etc. As
it is probable that few other copies have yet reached England,
a short account of its object and contents may not be unaccept-
able to the reader.

The learned author states in his preface that he is engaged in
writing an Ecclesiastical History of the first three centuries,
a portion of which will be occupied by an inquiry into the
different forms under which the Christian doctrine developed
itself; in other words, into the different doctrinal and practical
systems which arose during that period. The authors of those
systems he divides into two classes, the Idealists and the Real-
ists ; the Idealists he again divides into the Ultra, from whom
the Gnostics took their rise, and the Moderate, who formed the
Alexandrian school. Of the Realists, he conceives Tertullian
to be the proper representative. His object therefore is,
by an analysis of Tertullian's writings, to present his readers
with an accurate view of the Realist system. He had done
the same with reference to the Gnostic system, in a work which
I have not seen.

vi Preface to the Second Edition.

In pursuing this object, he classes the writings of Tertullian
under three heads.

I. Those which were occasioned by the relation in whicli
the Christians of Tertullian's day stood to the heathen, which
were either composed in defence of Christianity and in con-
futation of heathenism, or referred to the sufferings and conduct
of Christians in time of persecution, and to their intercourse
with the heathen.

II. Those which related to the Christian life, and to the
discipline of the Church.

III. Tertullian's dogmatical and polemical works.

I. Under the first head he mentions, as composed before
Tertullian's secession from the Church

The tract ad Martyres,
The tract de Spectaculis, 1
The tract de Idololatria,
The two books ad Nationes,

1 I have classed the tracts de Spectaculis and de Idololatria among the works
probably composed by Tertullian after he became a Montanist ; nor do Dr.
Neander's arguments appear to me of sufficient weight to establish a different
conclusion. He supposes these tracts to have been occasioned by the public
festivities which took place after the defeat of Niger and Albinus (pp. 14, 32) ;
and contends that Tertullian, if he had been then a Montanist, would, instead of
resorting exclusively to arguments drawn from Scripture, have also appealed to
the authority of the New Prophecy (p. 26). But the references to passing events
are of too general a character to warrant us in deciding positively upon the time
when the treatises were written ; and Dr. Neander himself admits (p. 112) that in
the tract de Spectaculis Tertullian uses stronger language respecting the incom-
patibility of the military life with the profession of Christianity than in the tract
dc Corond, which was certainly composed after he became a Montanist. This
single fact, in my opinion, outweighs all the arguments on the other side.

Preface to the Second Edition. vii

The Apology, 1

The tract de Testimonio Animas ;

as composed after Tertullian became a Montanist'

The tract de Corona, 2

The tract de Fuga in Persecutione,


The tract ad Scapulam.

II. Under the second head, Dr. Neander classes

The tract de Patientia, 3

The tract de Oratione, 4

The tract de Baptismo,

The tract de Poenitentia,

The two books ad Uxorem,

The two books de Cultu Fosminarum,

among the works composed by Tertullian before he became a

The tract de Exhortatione Castitatis,
The tract de Monogamia,

1 Dr. Neander supposes the two books ad Nation es to have been anterior to the
Apology, respecting the date of which he agrees with Mosheim (pp. 58, 76 note).
He infers also (p. 79), from the answer to the charge of unprofitableness brought
against the Christians by their enemies, that Tertullian could not have imbibed
the ascetic spirit of Montanism when he wrote the Apology, But the validity of
this inference may be questioned, as it is certain that Tertullian sometimes varied
his language with his object.

3 The largess alluded to in the tract de Corona was, according to Dr. Neander,
that given to the military on account of the victories of Severus over the Parthians
(p. 114). If this supposition is correct, we must assign the year 204 as the pro-
bable date of the tract.

3 Dr. Neander remarks that a comparison of the modes in which Tertullian
applies the parables of the Lost Sheep and of the Prodigal Son in the tract de
Patientid, c. 12, and in that de Pudicitid, c. 9, will prove the former to have been
written before his secession from the Church (p. 168).

4 Dr. Neander considers the additional chapters of the tract de Oratione

viii Preface to the Second Edition.

The tract de Pudicitia,

The tract de Jejuniis,

The tract de Virginibus velandis, 1

The tract de Pallio, 2

among those written after he recognised the prophecies of

III. Of the works which fall under the third head, Dr. Neander
thinks that one only was written before Tertullian became a
Montanist the tract de Prcescriptione Hareticorum. The rest
were written by him when a Montanist.

The five books against Marcion.
The tract adversus Valentinianos.
The tract de Carne Christi.
The tract de Resurrectione Carnis.
The tract adversus Hermogenem.
The tract de Anima.
The tract adversus Praxeam. 3
The tract adversus Judseos. 4

1 From the following passage in the second chapter of this tract (" Sed eas ego
Ecclesias proposui, quas et ipsi Apostoli vel Apostolici viri condiderunt, et puto
ante quosdam, Habent igitur et illas eandem consuetudinis auctoritatem, tempora
et antecessores opponunt magis quam posteras istas"), and from other incidental
expressions, Dr. Xeander infers that the custom against which it was directed
prevailed in the Church of Rome.

3 With respect to this tract, Dr. Neander interprets the expression, " Praesentis
imperii triplex virtus, Deo tot Augustis in unum favente," of Severus, Caracalla,
and Geta, and supposes the tract to have been composed about the year 208.
He conjectures also that Tertullian was induced, after the death of his wife, to
adopt the ascetic mode of life, and, in consequence, to wear the pallium, the
peculiar dress of the f;ejT/ (p. 310).

3 Dr. Xeander thinks with Blondel (p. 487) that the Bishop of Rome mentioned
in the first chapter of the tract against Praxeas, was Eleutherus : Allix was dis-
posed rather to fix upon Victor.

4 On this tract Dr. Neander has written a short dissertation, the object of which
is to prove that the ninth and following chapters are spurious. In our remarks

Preface to the Second Edition. ix

Dr. Neander gives a more or less detailed analysis of each
tract, and occasionally introduces (most frequently in con-
sidering the works included under the last head) the sentiments
of other ecclesiastical writers on the points under discussion
a proceeding foreign from the plan which I had proposed to
myself. He is always learned and ingenious, but not altogether
free from that love of hypothesis for which the German writers
are remarkable.

There is an appendix to the work, containing two disserta-
tions, one on the last part of the tract adversu s Judaos ; the
other on Tertullian's doctrine respecting the Lord's Supper,
which Dr. Neander supposes to be something intermediate
between that of Justin and Irenasus, whom he asserts to have
maintained (he does not allege any passages in proof of the
assertion) the doctrine of consubstantiation, and the doctrine
of Origen, who did not allow that any divine influence was
united to the outward signs as sutA, but thought that the object
of sense was the symbol of the object of the understanding, only
to the worthy receiver ; though, in addition to that symbolical
relation, he conceived a sanctifying influence to be united with

upon Semler's theory respecting Tertullian's works, we stated that he grounded
an argument on the fact that a considerable portion of the third book against
Marcion is repeated in the tract against the Jews. Dr. Neander draws a different
inference from this fact. He observes that many of the passages thus repeated,
however suitable to the controversy between Tertullian and Marcion, are wholly
out of their place in a controversy with a Jew. He concludes, therefore, that
Tertullian, having proceeded as far as the quotation from Isaiah in the beginning
of the ninth chapter of the tract against the Jews, from some unknown cause left
the work unfinished ; and that the remainder of the tract was afterwards added
by some person, who thought that he could not do better than complete it, by
annexing what Tertullian had said on the same passage of Isaiah in the third
book against Marcion, with such slight variations as the difference of circum-
stances required. The instances alleged by Dr. Neander in proof of this position
are undoubtedly very remarkable ; but, if the concluding chapters of the tract are
spurious, no ground seems to be left for asserting that the genuine portion was
posterior to the third book against Marcion, and none consequently for ass rting
that it was written by a Montanist.

x Preface to the Second Edition.

the whole rite in the case of those who are capable of receiving
that influence. Dr. Neander thinks that to eat the flesh and
drink the blood of Christ meant, in Tertullian's view of the
subject, to appropriate to ourselves the divine Ao'yos who appeared
in the nature of man, and to enter into a living union with
Him through faith. He thinks also that in the words, " Caro
corpore et sanguine Christ! vescitur, ut et anima de Deo
saginetur," Tertullian intended to say that, while the body, in
a supernatural manner, comes into contact with the body of
Christ, the soul receives into itself the divine life of Christ.
Dr. Neander justly remarks that on other occasions Tertullian
speaks as if the bread and wine were merely representative signs
of the body and blood of Christ. It may be doubted, therefore,
whether, in arguing upon the above expressions, he has made
sufficient allowance for the peculiarities of Tertullian's style.
If, however, he is correct, Tertullian must be classed with
those who maintain a real presence of Christ's body in the
Eucharist, but in a spiritual, not in a gross corporeal sense.
Dr. Neander appears himself to consider the bread and wine
as mere symbols.

In the body of Dr. Neander's work are also two disquisitions,
one on a passage in the third chapter of the tract de Corona,
where Tertullian speaks of various customs observed in the
Church on the authority of tradition ; the other on an obscure
passage in the fourteenth chapter of the tract de Jejuniis, from
which Dr. Neander infers that the practice of fasting on a
Saturday already existed in the Western Church.

If the reader will compare Dr. Neander's classification of
Tertullian's writings with that which I have ventured to suggest,
he will find that the difference between us is not great; and
with respect to some of the tracts on which we differ, the

Preface to the Second Edition. xi

learned author expresses himself with great diffidence. He was
too well aware of the dubious character of the proofs on
which his conclusions necessarily rest, to adopt a more decided
language. I was myself restrained by similar considerations
from hazarding any positive decision of many of the controverted
points connected with Tertullian's life and writings. It would
have been no difficult task to bring forward the different pas-
sages produced by preceding writers upon those points ; to add
others of equally, or more, doubtful application to the subject
in debate ; and after the parade of a formal discussion, to
pronounce between the contending parties. Such a proceeding
would have been very imposing, and have carried with it an
appearance of great learning and profundity ; but it would at
last have been only solemn trifling. When the facts are not
merely scanty, but susceptible of different interpretations, 1 it
seems to follow as a necessary consequence, that the mind must
remain in a state of- suspense ; and an author ought at least to
escape censure for avowing doubts which he really feels. Diffi-
dence may imply a defect both in the moral and intellectual
character ; but it is surely less offensive in itself, and less likely
to be injurious in its consequences, than that presumptuous
rashness which ventures to deliver peremptory decisions where
there are scarcely materials even for forming an opinion.

I was naturally anxious to ascertain the opinion of Dr. Neander

1 For instance, Dr. Neander asserts that Tertullian had once been a heathen,
and produces, in support of the assertion, the first sentence in the tract de Pceni-
tentia (p. 3). " Prenitentiam, hoc genus hominum, quod et ipsi retro fuimus,"
etc. He afterwards (p. 5) alludes to the passages in the tracts de Exhortation*
Castitatis, c. 7, and de Monogamia, c. 12 (''Nonne et Laici Sacerdotis sumus?"
and "Sed quum extollimur et inflamur adversus Clerum, tune unum omnes
sumus," etc.), which have been alleged, in order to disprove the fact of Ter-
tullian's admission into the priesthood, but thinks that they do not disprove it.
In both cases Tertullian speaks in the first person and in the plural number ;
yet in the former we are to suppose that he spoke in his own, in the latter in an
assumed character. Surely there is something very arbitrary in these decisions.

xii Preface to the Second Edition.

respecting the instances of the exercise of miraculous powers
mentioned by Tertullian, and the accounts of visions which
occur in his writings. The learned author accounts for the
story of the female who came back from the theatre under the
influence of a demoniacal possession, by supposing that, being
conscience - stricken, she returned the answer recorded by
Tertullian, under the persuasion that she was possessed by an
evil spirit who made use of her organs of speech. 1 The story
of the man who was chastised in a vision because his servants
had suspended garlands on his door in his absence, may, Dr.
Neander thinks, be accounted for on psychological principles. 2
The view which he takes of the subject of visions is, that the
fermentation at first produced by Christianity in the nature of
man was accompanied by many extraordinary phenomena not
likely to occur in a similar manner at all times. New powers
were imparted to human nature, and those which had been
before concealed were brought into action. Moreover, the
necessities of the infant Church called for many unusual
interpositions of Providence. Great caution would of course be
requisite in forming a judgment respecting those phenomena,
since it would be easy to confound that which was natural with
that which was divine ; and into this error the turn of Tertullian's
mind would render him peculiarly liable to fall, by disposing
him to regard all such appearances as divine revelations. In a
subsequent part of his work, Dr. Neander mentions the story
of a female to whom the soul was exhibited in a corporeal shape

1 De Spectaciilis, c. 26 (p. 31, note).

" De Idololatria, c. 15 (p. 54). I do not perfectly comprehend the meaning of
tliis observation. It is very easy to conceive that a man of a superstitious temper
might have been so affected on finding that his servants had complied with what
he deemed an idolatrous practice, as to dream that he was severely chastised for
their misconduct. But Tertullian's words convey the idea that the chastisement
was real. " Scio fratrem per visionem eadem nocte castigatum graviter quod
januam ejus, subito annuntiatis gaudiis publicis, servi coronassent. " Are we to
suppose that the impression made on the mind by the dream affected the body,
and produced the same feeling of soreness as if the beating had been real ?

Preface to the Second Edition. xiii

as an instance of Tertullian's readiness to consider visions as
communications from heaven. 1 Although Dr. Neander has not
expressed himself decidedly, I infer from the general tenor of
his observations, that he objects altogether to the notion that the
exercise of miraculous powers was intended to be confined to
any particular persons or to any particular age. He supposes
Tertullian to have asserted that the possession of the extra-
ordinary gifts of the Spirit was the peculiar characteristic of an
apostle, and regards this assertion as a proof of Montanism. 2
He speaks also of the impropriety of confining the charismata to
the apostolic age. To what I have before said . on this disputed
subject I will now add, that we usually infer what will be the
future course of the divine government from considering what it
has fyeen ; and thus Christians living towards the end of the
second century who had either themselves conversed, or had
heard the accounts of others who had conversed, with men who
had witnessed the exercise of miraculous powers could not be
justly charged with credulity for expecting the continuance of the
same powers in the Church. Centuries have since elapsed,
during which no miraculous narrative deserving of credit can be
produced. Our case, therefore, is widely different. They who
contend that, because the first teachers of the gospel were
endowed with miraculous powers in order to prove their divine
commission, it is not unreasonable to suppose that similar
powers would be imparted to those who in subsequent ages went
forth to convert heathen nations, may fairly be called upon to
produce an instance, subsequent to the times of the immediate
successors of the apostles, in which such powers have been
actually conferred.

1 De Animd, c. 9 (p. 465).

2 The passage on which Dr. Neander builds this inference is in the tract dc
Exhortatione, 0.3: " Proprie enim Apostoli Spiritum Sanctum habent in operibus
prophetias, et efficacia virtutum, documentisque linguarum ; non ex parte, quod
cseteri," p. 242.

xiv Preface to the Second Edition.

Dr. Neander's notions respecting the authority ascribed by
the early Christians to tradition seem to coincide with my own.
He says, " These two fountains of the knowledge of the doctrine
of faith the collection of the apostolic writings and oral tradition
sent forth streams, flowing by the side of each other through
all communities which agreed in the essentials of Christianity,
and especially through the communities which were of apostolic
foundation. But as the stream of tradition necessarily became
more turbid in proportion as the distance from the apostolic
times increased, the writings of the apostles were designed by
Providence to be an unadulterated source of divine doctrine
for every age. Though on some occasions the Christians of
those days might appeal solely to the authority of tradition,
they uniformly maintained that the doctrine of Christianity in
all its parts might be deduced from Holy Writ" (p. 312).

The spirit in which Dr. Neander's remarks on Tertullian are
conceived is widely different from that in which it has been
fashionable of late years to think and speak of the Fathers. M.
Barbeyrac, whose views were directed to the systematic develop-
ment of the principles of ethics, looking only at Tertullian's
defects, regarded him as an author who was incapable either of
thinking naturally, or preserving a just medium ; who delivered
himself up to the guidance of his African imagination, which
magnified and confounded all the objects presented to it, and
did not allow him to consider any one with attention ; who, in
short, had disfigured the morality of the gospel by his extrava-
gances, and thereby inflicted a serious injury on Christianity
itself. Dr. Neander, on the contrary, to whose mind the image
of the Christian community, as it existed under the immediate
superintendence of the apostles, appears to be continually
present, discovers in Tertullian the working of that spirit which
animated the early converts ; and regarding him as a man whose

Preface to the Second Edition. xv

whole soul was absorbed in his desire to promote the practical
influence of the gospel, is little disposed to speak with harsh-
ness of errors which arose from the overflowings of Christian
zeal. 1 Looking rather to the internal feeling than to the terms in
which it is expressed, he discerns matter for commendation in pas-
sages in which others have found nothing but extravagance and
absurdity. The concluding passage of the tract de Spectaculis,
which called forth Gibbon's animadversions, appears to Dr.
Neander to contain a beautiful specimen of lively faith and
Christian confidence ; though he wishes that the vehemence of
Tertullian's zeal had been tempered by a larger infusion of
Christian love. 2 He ventures even to defend the celebrated

1 I have, in the fourth chapter of the present work, examined certain passages
of Tertullian's writings, from which it has been inferred that he did not recognise
the distinction between the clergy and laity. Dr. Neander accounts (p. 204) for
the apparent inconsistency in his language, by supposing that he stood on what
may be termed the boundary mark of two periods, the period of original simple
Christianity, and the period of the establishment of a system of Church-authority.
During the former period there was a perfect equality among Christians ; no dis-
tinction of orders ; all were priests. The separation of the clergy from the laity,
and the gradation of ranks among the former, were subsequently introduced by
injudicious attempts to transfer the institutions of the Mosaic to the Christian
dispensation. This view of the subject frequently occurs in Dr. Neander's work ;
but I must confess my inability to reconcile it either with the statements contained
in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, or with the natural course of things.
If the Church of Christ on earth was in facf what it is in theory, the distinction
between the clergy and laity would doubtless be unnecessary. But where are we
to look for the period of original simple Christianity of which Dr. Neander speaks ?
Even the apostles found themselves under the necessity of appointing particular
orders of men for the accomplishment of particular objects, and of making new
regulations in order to correct the abuses which from time to time sprang up.
The distinction, therefore, of the clergy from the laity, and of orders among the
clergy, arose out of the necessities of what Dr. Neander elsewhere (p. 341) calls
that frail compound of spiritual and sensual human nature ; not out of any
designed imitation of the Mosaic institutions. After it had once been established,
we might naturally expect to find the language of the Old Testament respecting
the Jewish priesthood applied to the Christian : at first only in the way of analogy,
but subsequently perhaps to promote the interested views of ambitious men. Dr.
Neander has pointed out a remarkable instance of the application of the phrase-
ology of the Old Testament to the celebration of the Eucharist in the tract de
Oratione, c. 14 (p. 184, note).

- P. 34-

xvi Preface to the Second Edition.

declaration, "Certum est, quia impossible," 1 which has con-
tributed more than any other circumstance to bring Tertullian's
writings into discredit; and says with great truth, that how
strangely soever it may sound when separated from the context,
yet when taken in connexion with what precedes, it is only an
exaggerated mode of stating that a Christian readily admits, on
the authority of Revelation, that which men, who rely solely on
the conclusions of their own reason, pronounce impossible.
There can be no doubt that Dr. Neander has entered more
deeply into Tertullian's character, and has, in consequence, been

Online LibraryJohn KayeThe ecclesiastical history of the second and third centuries, illustrated from the writings of Tertullian → online text (page 1 of 36)