Translation from the Ante-Nicene Fathers. For a complete electronic copy, visit the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, the New Advent Library. Italics in the text by John Wijngaards.
Tertullian was a lay theologian in Carthage, North Africa. His sincerity as a convert wasn mixed with moral rigorism and an uncompromising stand against worldly standards. This led him to leave the Church and join the Montanists in 210 AD, and later to found his own sect.
Note. In spite of his lapse from the Church, Tertullian exercise a great influence on the Latin Fathers who were to follow him. As the initiator of ecclesiastical Latin, he was instrumental in shaping the vocabulary and thought of Western Christianity for the next 1,000 years. (Robert L. Wilken in the Encyclopedia Britannica).
Here are select passages that demonstrate what Tertullian thought about women.
De Cultu Feminarum, book 1, chap. 1. You (woman) destroyed so easily God's image, man.
On the Veiling of Virgins, chap. 10. How, then, would God have failed to make any such concession to men more (than to women), whether on the ground of nearer intimacy, as being "His own image," or on the ground of harder toil? But if nothing (has been thus conceded) to the male, much less to the female.
The Prescription against Heretics, chap. 41 §1. I must
not omit an account of the conduct also of the heretics-how frivolous it is,
how worldly, how merely human, without seriousness, without authority, without
discipline, as suits their creed.
§2. To begin with, it is doubtful who is a catechumen, and who a believer; they have all access alike, they hear alike, they pray alike-even heathens, if any such happen to come among them. "That which is holy they will cast to the dogs, and their pearls," although (to be sure) they are not real ones, "they will fling to the swine."
§3. Simplicity they will have to consist in the overthrow of discipline, attention to which on our part they call brotherly. Peace also they huddle up anyhow with all comers;
§4. for it matters not to them, however different be their treatment of subjects, provided only they can conspire together to storm the citadel of the one only Truth. All are puffed up, all offer you knowledge. Their catechumens are perfect before they are full-taught.
§5. The very women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures-it may be even to baptize.
§6. Their ordinations, are carelessly. administered, capricious, changeable. At one time they put novices in office; at another time, men who are bound to some secular employment; at another, persons who have apostatized from us, to bind them by vainglory, since they cannot by the truth.
§7. Nowhere is promotion easier than in the camp of rebels, where the mere fact of being there is a foremost service.
§8. And so it comes to pass that today one man is their bishop, tomorrow another; today he is a deacon who tomorrow is a reader; today he is a presbyter who tomorrow is a layman. For even on laymen do they impose the functions of priesthood.
On the Veiling of Virgins, chap. 9. It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say (in any) sacerdotal office.
Note. All that these verses establish is that Tertullian objected to women being involved in teaching, baptizing and other priestly ministries. They do not prove a valid ecclesiastical tradition.
On the Veiling of Virgins, chap 7. So perilous a face, then, ought to be shaded, which has cast stumbling-stones even so far as heaven: that, when standing in the presence of God, at whose bar it stands accused of the driving of the angels from their (native) confines, it may blush before the other angels as well; and may repress that former evil liberty of its head,-(a liberty) now to be exhibited not even before human eyes. But even if they were females already contaminated whom those angels had desired, so much the more "on account of the angels" would it have been the duty of virgins to be veiled, as it would have been the more possible for virgins to have been the cause of the angels' sinning.
An Exhortation to Chastity, chap. 9. The Lord Himself said, Whoever has seen a woman with a view to concupiscence has already violated her in his heart. But has he who has seen her with a view to marriage done so less or more? What if he have even married her?-which he would not do had he not desired her with a view to marriage, and seen her with a view to concupiscence; unless it is possible for a wife to be married whom you have not seen or desired. I grant it makes a wide difference whether a married man or an unmarried desire another woman. Every woman, (however), even to an unmarried man, is "another," so long as she belongs to some one else; nor yet is the means through which she becomes a married woman any other than that through which withal (she becomes) an adulteress. It is laws which seem to make the difference between marriage and fornication; through diversity of illicitness, not through the nature of the thing itself. Besides, what is the thing which takes place in all men and women to produce marriage and fornication? Commixture of the flesh, of course; the concupiscence whereof the Lord put on the same footing with fornication. "Then," says (some one), "are you by this time destroying first-that is, single-marriage too? "And (if so), yes not without reason; inasmuch as it, too, consists of that which is the essence of fornication. Accordingly, the best thing for a man is not to touch a woman; and accordingly the virgin's is the principal sanctity, because it is free from affinity with fornication.
Concerning a Crown, chap. 14. Much less may the Christian put the service of idolatry on his own head-nay, I might have said, upon Christ, since Christ is the Head of the Christian man-(for his head) is as free as even Christ is, under no obligation to wear a covering, not to say a band. But even the head which is bound to have the veil, I mean woman's, as already taken possession of by this very thing, is not open also to a crown. She has the burden of her own humility to bear. If she ought not to appear with her head uncovered on account of the angels, much more with a crown on it will she offend those (elders) who perhaps are then wearing crowns above. For what is a crown on the head of a woman, but beauty made seductive, but mark of utter wantonness,-a notable casting away of modesty, a setting temptation on fire?
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