BMCR 2017.01.15

Tertullianus Afer: Tertullien et la littérature chrétienne d’Afrique (IIe-VIe siècles). Instrumenta patristica et mediaevalia, 70

, , Tertullianus Afer: Tertullien et la littérature chrétienne d'Afrique (IIe-VIe siècles). Instrumenta patristica et mediaevalia, 70. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2015. 380. ISBN 9782503555782. €110.00.

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

There is a large body of research on Tertullian, the first Christian author writing in Latin. Although he shaped Latin Christianity a great deal, his reception in regard to Latin Christianity and by African Christian writers (including Cyprian of Carthage, Lactantius and Augustin of Hippogreat names in ancient Christianity) has not been studied extensively. Therefore, the present volume, “Tertullian and African Christian literature (2 nd to 6 th centuries)” is welcome. The book, published in the renowned series “Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia”, originates from a symposium organised by the “Groupe de Recherche sur l’Afrique Antique (G.R.A.A.) de l’Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3” to which both editors (Jérôme Lagouanère and Sabine Fialon) belong. The volume does not claim to deliver a complete picture of Tertullian’s reception in Christian literature from North Africa — something that seems hardly possible within 11 contributions — yet it offers a very important first step with wonderful case studies that underline Tertullian’s influence on African Christian writers and that will be a useful foundation for future research.

The arrangement of the volume’s contributions is appropriate to the intended purpose (authors and titles as well as additional material are listed at the end of the review). The contributions are mostly in French; one is in English; and one in German. In his general introduction, Lagouanère explains the volume’s methodology and overall intention to emphasise Tertullian’s literary and doctrinal impact on Christian writers from Roman Africa. The first part of the volume takes a broad perspective and looks diachronically at crucial aspects of Tertullian’s works and their general impact; the second part focuses synchronically on Tertullian’s precise reception by individual authors and works.

The first part starts with Paul Mattei’s broad and well-nuanced survey on the classical topic of Tertullian’s influence on the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology in western patristics. While Mattei argues convincingly that Tertullian’s (and especially the Adversus Praxean ’s) legacy on this field “consists rather in formulas”, the survey also could be a good starting point for a fresh investigation into the precise impact those formulae had in the 4 th and 5 th centuries. The following article by Petr Kitzler excellently analyses Tertullian’s concept of the soul and his notion of its corporality, which was mostly rejected by his followers. This contribution falls somewhat beyond the scope of the book because it emphasises Tertullian’s doctrine itself rather than its impact, which is touched upon only by a brief glance at Augustine. Nevertheless, the analysis is brilliant.

The volume returns to Tertullian’s impact on important aspects of African Christianity with contributions by Elena Zocca and Sabine Fialon. Zocca investigates the relationship between Tertullian and Donatism. She demonstrates that, beyond similarities that may express only Tertullian’s general influence on African Christianity (Church and Empire, martyrdom, baptism, penitence), there are also remarkable differences between Tertullian and Donatism owing to the changing historical contexts. Fialon scrutinises Tertullian’s influence on Christian hagiography in Roman Africa and points out probable references to Tertullian in hagiographical literature up to the 6 th century, especially in Mauretania Caesariensis.

The volume’s second part deals in particular with three authors from Roman Africa who refer to Tertullian. The chapters are arranged chronologically: one contribution on Cyprian, two on Lactantius and two on Augustine, followed by a final survey on Tertullian in medieval authors. First, Laetitia Ciccolini shows how Tertullian was a “magister” for Cyprian, as Jerome relates in De viris illustribus (chapter 53). By means of a detailed comparison between selected exegetical passages from the two authors, she compellingly shows how Cyprian learned his moral exegesis from Tertullian — although he never mentioned him by name. Blandine Colot looks at Lactantius. Comparing his and Tertullian’s common ground in Africa as well as in Roman culture, she emphasises the differences between the two and their thought (e.g., in their positions towards Church and philosophy). Colot’s paper might have been modified in light of the contribution of the following chapter by Stefan Freund (“Tertullian in Lactantius”), which excellently elucidates the partial indebtedness of some passages of Lactantius’ Divinae institutiones to Tertullian’s Apologeticum and Ad Scapulam (polemics against persecution, Christology, demonology, eschatology). Unfortunately, in this case, as with the volume in general, internal references between the contributions are lacking.

Laurence Mellerin brilliantly shows how Augustine borrowed his notion of “unforgivable sins” from Tertullian’s exegesis of 1 Joh 5,16 and Mt 12,31–32 in De pudicitia and radically transformed it in Sermon 71 and other early writings. Augustine’s conception of the soul and of its origin in De Genesi ad litteram (Book 10), is scrutinised by Jérôme Lagouanère. He excellently highlights how Augustine, at the beginning of the Pelagian crisis, used and discussed Tertullian’s arguments from De anima and how he criticised Tertullian’s “traducianism” from the perspective of Neo-Platonism and not from Stoicism. At this point it should be mentioned once more that a connection, this time to Kitzler’s analysis of the soul in Tertullian, would certainly have proven fruitful. The final contribution of Jean Meyers covers Tertullian’s reception in the Middle Ages and beyond North Africa. It might seem to be slightly misplaced in the context of the book’s second part and its focus on individual African authors, but it serves as a wonderful outlook for the whole range of contributions. Referring to examples from the manuscript tradition and from medieval and humanistic authors quoting from or alluding to Tertullian, Meyers accurately points out that, counter to widespread belief, the African author was never really forgotten.

The research articles are followed by a third part containing a “Clavis Tertulliani operum”, a general bibliography, abstracts in French and English of the contributions, and two indices (Index locorum sacrae Scripturae and Index fontium). Together with the articles, this third part makes the book an effective research tool for accessing Tertullian’s writings and their reception. The Clavis is extensive, yet also well selected and up-to-date. It presents an ideal complement to the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea. The abstracts allow Anglophone and Francophone readers to make a quick survey of the contributions.

Looking at the book as a whole, it must be emphasised once again that its great merit is to study in detail an important field of Latin Christianity that had been hitherto neglected in research. Of course, one could criticise that the cohesion between the articles could have been strengthened. And one could point to important topics that should have been added, such as, e.g., African apologetic literature in part one and the relation between Tertullian’s Apologeticum and Minucius Felix’s Octavius in part two (although this relation has been studied extensively, in the context of the present volume it would have been of great interest to scrutinise it anew). Yet, a complete survey is not what the volume claims to offer. What it does offer is an excellent starting point for further research on Tertullian’s reception, a “research tool” or an “instrumentum” in the best sense as the series it belongs to aims it to be. All of its contributions are of high quality, and together with the Clavis, they open the field for further study of Tertullian’s reception. Therefore, one can only wish that this book will find a wide readership, even beyond French academia.

Table of Contents

Jérôme Lagouanère, Présentation. Tertullien et la littérature chrétienne d’Afrique : problématiques et enjeux

Première Partie. Influence générale, doctrinaire et littéraire de Tertullien
Paul Mattei, Aspects de l’influence de Tertullien sur le développement des doctrines trinitaire et christologique dans la patristique latine
Petr Kitzler, Tertullian’s Concept of the Soul and His Corporealistic Ontology
Elena Zocca, Tertullien et le donatisme : quelques remarques
Sabine Fialon, Semen est sanguis christianorum (Apol. 50, 13). Tertullien et l’hagiographie africaine (IIe-VIe siècles)

Deuxième partie. Lectures particulières de Tertullien
Laetitia Ciccolini, Tertullianus magister : Tertullien lu par Cyprien de Carthage
Blandine Colot, Africain, romain et chrétien : l’engagement religieux de Tertullien et Lactance, chacun en son époque
Stefan Freund, Tertullians bei Laktanz
Laurence Mellerin, De Tertullien à Augustin, vers une définition de l’irrémissible
Jérôme Lagouanère, Augustin, lecteur critique du De anima de Tertullien
Jean Meyers, Conclusions : Tertullien, un auteur oublié au Moyen Âge ?

Troisième partie. Clauis Tertulliani operum
Bibliographie générale