From Tertullian’s Apology for the Christians. Chatpter XXXVII.


Tertullian was a native of Carthage, the son of a proconsulor centurion. he was educated in rome, apparently in law, which he practiced for a while, it appears, before he became a Christian in 185. he married soon after this. In 190 he became a presbyter. he was the first of the great Latin fathers and had a profound influence upon church leaders of his own and following generations. Cyrian did not let a day pass without reading a selection from his writings.

tertullian4Tertullian developed the ecclesiastical Latin later used by Jerome and the other Latin fathers. Ironically he left the Roman wing of the church and became a Montanist. (see below) He was a prolific writier, leaving a total of thirty-eight works, five books against Marcion alone. Tertullian’s lines in chapter XXXVII of his Apology constitute a classic of missionary apologetic: “We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you — cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum, — we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.

Montanism, known by its adherents as the New Prophecy, was an early Christian movement of the late 2nd century, later referred to by the name of its founder, Montanus. The movement held similar views about the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to those of the wider Church, although believing in new revelations and ecstasies, unapproved by the wider Church; the Bishop of Rome ultimately condemned the movement as heretical and excommunicated its adherents. It was a prophetic movement that called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic. Parallels have been drawn between Montanism and modern-day movements such as Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, and the New Apostolic Reformation. Montanus had two female colleagues, Prisca (sometimes called Priscilla, the diminutive form of her name) and Maximilla, who likewise claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Their popularity even exceeded Montanus’ own. “The Three” spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and to pray, so that they might share these revelations. Their followers claimed they received the prophetic gift from the prophets Quadratus and Ammia of Philadelphia, figures believed to have been part of a line of prophetic succession stretching all the way back to Agabus (1st century CE) and to the daughters of Philip the Evangelist.[11] In time, the New Prophecy spread from Montanus’s native Phrygia across the Christian world, to Africa and to Gaul.

tertullian7We Are But of Yesterday!

IF then (as I have elsewhere declared) we Christians are expressly commanded by our Master to love our enemies, whom then have we left to hate? And if when hurt we must not return the evil, for fear of being like the rest of the world, where shall we find a man to hurt?

How well we practise this command of our Master, you yourselves can tell with a witness ; for how many times, partly in compliance with a brutish passion, partly in obedience to the laws, have you judges showed a most savage cruelty to Christians! How often without your authority has the hostile mob of their own mere motion invaded us with showers of stones and fire ! The mob, I say, who acted with the furies of a Bacchanal spare not even a dead Christian, but tear him from the quiet of a tomb, the sacred refuge of death, and mangle the body, hideously deformed already, and rotting to pieces ; and in this rueful condition drag it about the streets.

But now in all this conspiracy of evils against us, in the midst of these mortal provocations, what one evil have you observed to have been returned by Christians ? Whereas we could in a night’s time with links and firebrands in our hands have made ourselves ample satisfaction by returning evil for evil, had we not thought it unlawful to quit the score of one injury with another.

But God forbid that any of this divine sect should seek revenge by fire, after the manner of men, or grudge to suffer what is sent to refine them.

But if we would not revenge ourselves, in the dark, but as professed enemies engage you in the open field, do you think we could want forces? The Moors, and Marcomans, and Parthians, which you have lately conquered, or any other people within the bounds of a country, are more numerous perhaps than those who know no other bounds than the limits of the world. We are but of yesterday, and by to-day are grown up, and overspread your empire ; your cities, your islands, your forts, towns, assemblies, and your very camps, wards, companies, palace, senate, forum, all swarm with Christians. Your temples indeed we leave to yourselves, and they are the only places you can name without Christians. What war can we now be unprepared for ?1 And supposing us unequal 105  in strength, yet considering our usage, what should we not attempt readily? we whom you see so ready to meet death in all its forms of cruelty, was it not agreeable to our religion to be killed rather than to kill.

We could also make a terrible war upon you without arms, or fighting a stroke, by being so passively revengeful as only to leave you; for if such a numerous host of Christians should but retire from the empire into some remote region of the world, the loss of so many men of all ranks and degrees would leave a hideous gap, and a shameful scar upon the government; and the very evacuation would be abundant revenge. You would stand aghast at your desolation, and be struck dumb at the general silence and horror of nature, as if the whole world was departed. You would be at a loss for men to govern, and in the pitiful remains you would find more enemies than citizens; but now you exceed in friends, because you exceed in Christians.

Besides, whom would you have left to deliver you from the incursions of your invisible enemies, who lay waste both body and soul ? From the devils I mean, from whose depredations we defend you gratis; and had we a spirit of revenge, it would make the passion full amends only to abandon you freely to the mercy of those impure beings; but without the least touch of gratitude for the benefit of so great a protection, you declare a sect of men, which are not only not burdensome, but necessary, to be public enemies; as we are indeed, but not in your sense, enemies not of human kind but of human errors only.





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