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v2.1 Reference

Christian and Pagan in the Roman Empire

The Witness of Tertullian

Among the voices that come across the centuries from early Christianity, few speak with sharper accents, or in more highly colored tones, than that of Tertullian. First in the Latin-speaking West to leave a major corpus of writings, Tertullian is also the first in the West to address in both treatise and tract the issues confronted by Christians in their encounter with the surrounding pagan world.

Tertullian belonged to an era when Roman imperial power was at its height and paganism could proudly claim the blessings of the widespread Roman civilization. Though it was an officially tolerant world, unofficially it was suspicious of the politically incorrect: challenging social structures was an act of unthinkable bravado. Tertullian took on the challenge.

Before his conversion, Tertullian appears to have participated fully in his contemporary pagan culture. A Carthaginian, his education was thoroughly Roman; he was fluent in Latin and Greek, and widely read in literature, philosophy, rhetoric, and medicine. His conversion to Christianity brought to him a radically new vision of the world, while his pagan education provided him with the tools to express that vision with almost unparalleled power. He possessed a logic that penetrated through misty ambiguities to the heart of things; he practiced a formulaic style that sharpened inherent contrasts; and he refined a narrative art that enriched theology with vignettes of the pagan and Christian worlds of his day.

Tertullian is a primary source for a modern understanding of the issues that once confronted—and still confront—Christians living in a non-Christian world. Unfortunately, his writings have often been cast aside as too difficult to read. In this volume, Robert D. Sider undertakes a judicious pruning of the original texts and brings a fresh accessibility to the important writings of Tertullian.

"A very helpful anthology of [Tertullian's] works in an inexpensive and accessible format, one which allows modern readers to encounter a difficult and challenging writer by providing both context and annotation. . . . Sider's greatest contribution stems from his experience at reading and understanding Tertullian's rhetoric. He enables the reader to engage Tertullian and understand his argument on its own terms. . . . This volume should serve well as an introduction to Tertullian for upper-level undergraduates or for graduate students new to the world of early Christianity."—Michael Heintz, Journal of Early Christian Studies

Robert D. Sider is professor emeritus of classical languages at Dickinson College and adjunct professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan. A leading expert on Tertullian, he is the author or editor of many works, including the popular text Ancient Rhetoric and the Art of Tertullian.

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