Page images


CHAP. the pursuit of that satisfactory knowledge, which nothing but individual toil and patient study can secure. But neither a translation nor a text of the patristic writings is sufficient for the wants of the ordinary student. Of the first it need only be said, that all the well-known objections to versions even the most laboured and careful, apply with double force to the writings of the Fathers, which less than any remains of antiquity will bear to be transferred into a strange language; and as to the second, the confession of the committee themselves with respect to the author whose works we are about to enter upon, will shew how much more remains to be done before the bare text of an African presbyter can be made available for reference or research. Nor is there any thing strange in the fact, that so much difficulty should be experienced in decyphering the Latin Fathers. It is quite impossible that the authors, whose age, or country, or contents make them serviceable to the illustration of Tertullian or Cyprian, should enter into the system of our classical studies or examinations: of those students who devote themselves afterwards to the prosecution and advancement of their early labours, many prefer science to learning, and even to those who choose the latter, there is naturally more attraction in early Greek than in late Latin. This subdivision of scholars leaves a very small number who can bring the requisite aid to the critical perusal of the Fathers, or who can master their style without very considerable trouble and delay; while with the less proficient class of students, who have no other preparatory information than that furnished by a respectable classical degree, or a good school education, and who, with an interval perhaps of three years from the one, and six from the other, commence the study of these writers, the perplexities are so great as


to be almost effectually discouraging. Yet to these CHAP. originals we must be sent, for it will hardly be said, that in this single department of learning we are to acquiesce in the information of others when we have the power of satisfying ourselves. And especially at this period, when a wider scheme of theological study is about to be put in operation, which embraces in some degree, and to a certain extent, the early patristic remains, it seems not inopportune to call attention to the language of those writers whose historical, and whose doctrinal information have been so earnestly insisted on and so lucidly extracted, and to apply to this branch also of literature, that critical exactness and accuracy which has always so peculiarly characterised the classical scholarship of our University. It is this object which I have proposed to myself in the following pages; and in pursuing it, I have neglected many other points, not because they were not eminently important, but because they have been urged and investigated elsewhere. I have seldom drawn notice to any record, however remarkable, or to any narrative, however equivocal, as all this has been done by one' who has left little to be gleaned on this head from this particular writer, and to whose works I have contented myself with briefly referring. I have even passed over, or very sparingly illustrated, the numerous allusions to customs of antiquity and intricacies of mythology which this author supplies, for these will be readily recognized, or easily discovered. I have confined myself (at least as far as is consistent with the ordinary completeness of an edition) to the literal explanation of the text, as that is an aid which is not given

1 The Ecclesiastical History of the second and third centuries illustrated from the writings of

Tertullian by John, bishop of

CHAP. elsewhere, and which I hope may be found supplementary
I. to the more important efforts of others. This is the
key too, which will give access afterwards to whatever
treasures are needed. I may here add the reasons which
induced me to select for my operations this writer, and
this especial treatise.

Tertullian is not only one of the most renowned,
but he is the earliest of all the Latin Fathers, and
this priority of date is of even more than usual conse-
quence from the influence which his singular powers
exerted on his successors, and which perpetuated certain
characteristics through the writers of the African church
for many years after him. His works too are the most
important, excepting those of S. Augustine, both as re-
gards the period at which they were written, and the
mass of various information which they convey. More-
over, they are incomparably the most difficult, they shew
the student the worst at once, and tell him what he has
to expect; at the very outset he meets all the pecu-
liarities of a declining language, of provincial, theological,
and polemical Latin, and he can, at all events, console him-
self with the reflection that he will not be much perplexed
with any
other pages after mastering these. It may be ob-
served, though, that Tertullian has a double style, one for
each of two distinct species of composition-his controver-
sial, and his ethical, or apologetic tracts; and the first of
these forms of itself a separate study, and a serious one
too. Not only has his method of argument to be traced,
his fidelity to be tested, and the worth of his witnesses
to be weighed-which indeed are requisite preparations
in most other cases-but his very language and its
structure assume a new and peculiar character; strange
words are compounded to express strange and mystical
things, till at length the Latin tongue seems to fail

[ocr errors]

absolutely in finding terms for the metaphysics or cosmogony of Marcion or Valentius-ordinary words are stamped with a new superscription, and made current in dialectical negotiations with a certain value, which may indeed be preserved throughout, but which is received nowhere else-grammatical and logical subtleties are urged in the phraseology of the schools, and the figures of rhetoric are so pressed into service, irony especially, that it is exceedingly unsafe to acquiesce at once in what may appear the plain and literal acceptation of a sentence. And all this is superadded to the original impracticability of a style, which no one has ever studied without registering his protest against it. I was led by these circumstances to take one of the apologetic treatises as a subject for my attempts, as it was obviously advisable to investigate the natural sentiments and ordinary style of a writer before entering on any adventitious aggravations of character which circumstances might have induced; there is quite enough to engage us in Tertullian, considered as an African of the age of Severus, without at once introducing him also as a theologian, a schismatic, and a controversialist. I hope for a future opportunity of illustrating his tracts of this more obscure class, for they are vastly important both in extent and information, but at present, the Apology offered the best field for my own efforts, and the least disagreeable prospect to the reader. On the general utility of these Apologies, I shall offer a few remarks in a subsequent part of this Introduction, and I am now speaking only of the comparative advantages which this one possesses over the other productions of its author. It is extremely interesting, not only as a glowing picture of the church and her fortunes at the commencement of the third century, but even in the lower




CHAP. light of an eloquent and powerful composition; it carries us irresistibly with it, and would do so if, instead of defending the Christians, it were pleading the cause of Scythians or Hindoos, and it is singularly free from the peculiar asperities and difficulties which have been alluded to above: it cannot be useless, for it is a piece of authentic history; it cannot be injurious, for it recommends nothing but justice; it cannot be offensive, for it deprecates nothing but cruelty; it advances no doctrine, it urges no discipline, it attacks no sect but Pagans, and inveighs against no characters but persecutors and murderers. It is no theological work, though written by a Christian and a presbyter; we may consider it as a valuable narrative composed in a most vigorous spirit, evidently by an eye-witness and an actor in the scenes it describes, abounding with rich information and leaving indirectly a clearer and less questionable record of the state of things, than a direct history could have done. In one chapter only (the twenty-first) is there any approach to theological language or style; the rest is like any ethnical composition of the age, and capable of illustration in precisely the same manner, while at the same time it affords such copious exemplification of Tertullian's ordinary habits of thought and expression that no other single tract could serve better to introduce the


It is to this work that I have applied such ability as I possess, with the simple object, it may be repeated, of rendering assistance to the student of patristic Latinity, and of recommending that accurate examination of language in the case of the Fathers which we never lose sight of in other cases, and which we know to be the only safe foundation on which a store of knowledge can be raised. In prosecuting this design I have first

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »