Tertullian and His Apology

(The following is from the introduction to my edition of Tertullian’s Apology, available at Amazon)


Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was a Christian writer who lived in the Roman province of Africa (Carthage) at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third century AD.  We know him better as Tertullian.  Possibly trained as a Roman lawyer, he would eventually become one of the better known early Christian apologists.  This present book reproduces his “Apologeticus” (the “Apology”), or “Defense of the Christian Faith,” which was originally written in Latin.  The English translation used here is the one provided by Rev. Sydney Thelwall as part of the Ante-Nicene Fathers book series from the 19th century and is in the public domain.

Tertullian was a strong defender of the Christian faith.  Later in his life, he deviated from the catholic Church and joined up with a group called the Montanists, who believed that they were continuing to receive divine revelations primarily through two prophetesses.  It is debatable just how divergent Montanist belief was from catholic belief.   Montanist doctrine seems to have been orthodox, while they emphasized a more aesthetic way of living than did the rest of the Church.  Due to Tertullian’s association with the Montanists, he was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, nor is everyone completely comfortable with his writings.  However, his early works are considered orthodox and important contributions to the early defense of the Christian faith.  His  “Apology” contain herein is one such work.

The book is addressed to the Roman rulers.  Tertullian’s intended audience was most probably the emperor and Senate as well as various provincial administrators.  It was written at the end of the first century AD, most likely during the joint rule of the emperor Septimius Severus (whom Tertullian mentions in chapter four) with his imperial peer Caracalla.  Tertullian’s purpose in writing was to provide a defense (i.e. an “apology” in the classical sense of the word) of the Christian faith.  He sought to show that Christians were loyal citizens and upright people who worshipped the one true God.  Therefore, rather than being hated and persecuted, they ought to be praised by the Roman people and government.  Yet, even in this deaths, Christians were victorious and bore witness to the Truth.

In this edition of Tertullian’s “Apology,” I have used the English translation of Rev. Thelwall’s, as noted above.  However, in a very few places I have selected more modern words than used in the original translation (given that Thelwall’s translation is almost 200 years old).  In addition, following each chapter of Tertullian’s text, I have included notes and a brief commentary or summary in order to provide greater context to the thrust of Tertullian’s argument and additional information where needed.

I have also included some tables as reference.  These include a list of Roman emperors up to the fifth century, as well as a list of notable early Christian Church writers.  One important note about the Roman emperors is that many times, particularly in the third and fourth centuries, there were co-emperors ruling somewhat concurrently, as well as usurpers to the throne.  In addition, many times emperors ruled for less than a year before being murdered by a faction who wished to install their own emperor (particularly in 68/69 AD and 238 AD).  Thus, there will be overlaps of the dates in the table.

My purpose in providing this edition of Tertullian’s Apology (or Defense) of the Christian Faith is to allow modern readers access to one of the great works of the early New Testament Church.  Tertullian argues with a lawyer’s wit and exhibits a great sense of irony and sarcasm, providing a unique defense of the faith.  I hope the reader enjoys this edition of Tertullian’s Apology.

(Photo is of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome.  Septimius Severus was the emperor to whom Tertullian addressed his letter).