Patristic Evidence

Tertullian on John 8:1-11 (210 A.D.)

Exerpted from: Nazaroo, Previously Unconsidered Evidence (etc.),
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Last Updated: Feb 15, 2009

Section 1: - Introduction and Background for Tertullian
Section 2: - Controversy over Tertullian's Orthodoxy / Heresy
Section 3: - How Tertullian is Used in regard to John 8:1-11
Section 4: - Tertullian Re-examined more Closely
Section 5: - The Cause of Tertullian's Error
Section 6: - Tertullian and John
Section 7: - Tertullian and Scripture
Section 8: - The Attraction of Heresy

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Introduction to Tertullian

Historical Background for Tertullian

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was born about 150 A.D. in Carthage, North Africa, the city considered second in importance only to Rome in his time [and region]. His father was the captain of a Roman legion and provided Tertullian with the education and training to become a lawyer. When he was about 40 [c. 190 A.D.], Tertullian was converted to Christianity. He exuberantly embraced the gospel and ably used his legal skills to defend Christianity from pagan attackers.


Tertullian (c.200 A.D.) lived in the ancient city of Carthage in what is now Tunisia. Very little is known about his life - what is known comes from writers centuries later, or from the scanty personal notes in his works.

He was born a member of the educated classes, and had a good education. In his earlier life he indulged his passions as he saw fit, including sex, and like others attended the 'games', where gladiators killed each other and criminals were eaten alive, for entertainment.

But he witnessed Christian executions there too. He was struck with the courage with which stupid and contemptible slave men and little slave girls faced a hideous death, against all nature. After investigating, he became a Christian himself, and turned his budding talents to writing in defense of this despised and victimised group.

Tertullian was apparently the first Christian writer to write in Latin, and was described once as writing 'first, and best, and incomparably', of all the writers to do so. (by the unknown author of 'Praedestinatus', c. 500 A.D.). His writing is aggressive, sarcastic and brilliant, and at points very funny even after 2000 years. He was deeply conscious of his own failings, and had a burning desire for truth and integrity. He was described by Jerome as celebrated in all the churches as a speaker.

A glowing biography of Tertullian can be found at

Key Information about Tertullian's Works

He wrote a great number of works - how many is unknown. 31 are mostly extant; Apparently at least 18 are currently known to be missing, although some are witnessed to in fragments or quotations by others. Some works or titles may be incorrectly assigned to him.

Most of his extant writings have come down to us by the slenderest of threads, and the very nature of Tertullian's terse and ironic style, means that copyists made many errors, and in some cases his text is beyond certain restoration. Some of his works were never completed.


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Tertullian and Heresy

Recently it has become fashionable in scholarship to 'rethink' whether or not Tertullian was a heretic. This is especially true among certain Protestant denominations and sects which are strict on ethics and publicly profess high moral standards, standards held to be higher even than 'average' Christian standards. This includes groups such as fundamentalists and other strict sectarians.

"Tertullian had grown angry at what looked like compromise creeping into the church - unwillingness to be martyred, willingness to forgive more serious public sins - and aligned himself with the Montanists. It is unclear whether this involved actually leaving the church, but his later works are avowedly Montanist, and one or two explictly attack the mainstream church on these points. ..."

footnote: The earliest statements in favour of the argument that he did leave are by Jerome and Augustine. But there are some scholars who do not accept that they had any special knowledge. It is therefore argued that in view of the way that the early church venerated North African 'Montanists' like St. Perpetua, and the use of Tertullian by St. Cyprian, that he must in fact have never been condemned, or done more than take part in a para-church grouping of those influenced by Montanism.

See Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions, pt II for this, and references to other scholars. In fact this view seems to have become orthodoxy in anglophone circles. The original article was Douglas Powell, Tertullianists and Cataphrygians (1975). I understand the issue is discussed in David Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, (Cambridge University Press 1995),xvii+229 pp, 35, on p.27 with full bibliography, but I haven't seen this.


We can see why Tertullian is attractive to smaller denominations and groups who wish to distinguish themselves from mainstream Christianity. This is precisely what Tertullian himself did, when he broke away from the mainstream Church of his own time.

"Now this (my) tract against the psychici 1 can even be said to be directed against me, because earlier I was one of them...

But we, the Montanists, 2 want to prevent the greatest, most serious sins in like manner, in that we do not allow the existance of a second marriage after taking the Creed, where it (marriage) is only separated from adultery and fornication by restrictions written defining the marriage (and perhaps the dower), and so we sternly shut the door before 'remarried' persons."

(Tertullian, De Pudicitia, ch.1, v10, 20)


1. Although the term Tertullian uses here may be unclear, it is clear that he is referring to the mainline church, and that it is meant in a derogatory way. It could be rendered perhaps, "the soulish", (i.e., falsely 'spiritual') or "the intellectuals" (with something of Paul's view in mind) in modern parlance.

2. Here Tertullian clearly identifies himself as a Montanist, and it can be strongly suspected that he is in fact a leader as well as a spokesperson for their movement/sect. It seems futile to deny that at this point (c. 210 A.D.) he has completely split with the mainline Church and joined this heretical movement. This pamphlet is in fact written against the mainline Church and its bishop.

Tertullian here sets a higher standard for membership of his own sect/congregation. He does not allow Christians (those who publicly confess the creed and begin their new life in his congregation) to remarry. Many modern denominations and sects take similar strict stances, hoping to distinguish themselves from more moderate Christian groups.

It should be noted that this very booklet, written against the church and after Tertullian had become openly heretical, is the very one cited by textual critics as evidence against the Pericope de Adultera.

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Tertullian and John 8:1-11

How Textual Critics use Tertullian

The use of Tertullian as a 'witness' against the authenticity of John 8:1-11 goes back to the mid 19th century. Samuel Davidson (1848) tells us:

"But the silence of Cyprian and Tertullian is weighty, because both wrote on subjects in which the account would have been peculiarly appropriate. With regard to the latter, Granville Penn thus forcibly reasons:

"That the passage was wholly unknown to Tertullian, at the end of the 2nd century, is manifest in his book, 'De Pudicitia'. ["On Modesty"] The bishop of Rome had issued an edict, granting pardon to the crime of adultery, on repentance. This new assumption of power fired the indignation of Tertullian, who thus apostrophised him:

'Audio edictum esse propositum, et quidem peremptorium, 'Pontifex scilicet Maximus, episcopus episcoporum dicit: Ego et moechiae et fornicationis delicta, poenitentia functis, dimitto" (c.1.)
- "I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus -that is, the bishop of bishops -issues an edict: 'I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.' "

He then breaks out in terms of the highest reprobation against that invasion of the divine prerogative; and (c.6) thus challenges:

"Si ostendas de quibus patrociniis exemplorum praeceptorumque coelestium, soli moechiae, et inea fornicationi quoque, januam poenitentiae expandas, ad hanc jam lineam dimicabit nostra congressio."
- "If thou canst shew me by what authority of heavenly examples or precepts thou openest a door for penitence to adultery alone, and therein to fornication, our controversy shall be disputed on that ground."

And he concludes with asserting,

"Quaecunque auctoritas, quaccunque ratio moecho et fornicatori pacem ecclesiasticam reddit, eadem debebit et homicidae et idolatriae poenitentibus subvenire."
- "Whatever authority, whatever consideration restores the peace of the church to the adulterer and fornicator, ought to come to the relief of those who repent of murder or idolatry."

It is manifest, therefore, that the copies of St. John with which Tertullian was acquainted, did not contain the "exemplum coeleste" - the "divine example" devised in the story of the "woman taken in adultery."

(Granville Penn, Annotations to the Book of the New Covenant, pp. 267, 268) "

So Davidson and Penn tell us. Six years later, Tregelles (1864) also quotes Davidson who is in turn quoting Penn, verbatum in his own footnotes, perpetuating this argument, but failing to give Davidson the credit for at least presenting this argument to the public.

Tregelles was probably afraid to associate his own name with Davidson's, who was dismissed from his college post for his apostate views on the Old Testament. Nonetheless this did not stop Tregelles from mounting his own attack against the verses, based upon the views of his predecessors Greisbach and Davidson.

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Tertullian Revividus

Tertullian's Testimony Reexamined

But actually Tertullian is not such a good witness for the non-existance of the passage after all:

As to Tertullian, we can only remark that this is appears to be comedy of errors based upon critics being unable to see the forest for the trees. While it is true that Tertullian makes no direct use of the Pericope de Adultera, he is obviously on the other side of the argument for granting forgiveness to adulteresses.

1. It is in his interest to ignore the verses, and if they were brought up by the opposition, he could doubtless have appealed to the fact that the woman is actually not forgiven at all according to the scripture, but rather her trial was adjourned and postponed, and the passage hardly approves of adultery.

2. If this weren't enough to throw up a red flag, Tertullian himself is not the appropriate choice as an advocate for the omission as an original reading. He is a legalistic fanatic with an incredibly low and ignorant opinion of women. He is so strict and authoritarian that he is described derogatorily as the 'first Protestant' (i.e. fundamentalist extremist).

"Tertullian denounced Christian doctrines he considered heretical, but later in life adopted views that came to be regarded as heretical themselves. ...In middle life (about 207) he broke with the Catholic Church and became the local leader and exponent of Montanism, that is, he became a heretic.

But even the Montanists were not rigorous enough for Tertullian who broke with them to found his own sect. ...he declared a Christian should abstain from the theater... that virgins should ... keep themselves strictly veiled. ...and he pronounced second marriage a species of adultery.

Tertullian is occasionally considered as an example of the misogyny of the early Church Fathers... "

(, Entry -Tertullian)

3. Tertullian himself gives us a clue of his familiarity with the Pericope de Adultera, in the peculiar language of his misogynistic exaggerations. Its as if he can't help admitting guilty knowledge of the passage in the process of fighting its potential misinterpretation:

"Do you not know that you [Woman] are Eve? The judgment of God upon this gender lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also.

You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law;

You are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam.

Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die."

(De Cultu Feminarum, section I.I, part 2 - trans. C.W. Marx)

The last line in boldface here seems directly inspired by a demonic misunderstanding of our passage. Tertullian, with his temperament, had he read the Pericope, would have naturally perceived in it the provocation of our Lord's crucifixion.

And he would have been compelled by his systemic attitude to blame the woman for the entire fracas: the failure of the Pharisees to receive Jesus and the subsequent crucifixion.

In his mind, had she not committed adultery in the first place, she would never have been brought before Jesus, who then had to die because of the political conflict that ensued.

Tertullian's Christian soterology is hopelessly primitive. He is looking for blame and guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus, and finds the woman, and not only this, he extends this blame to all women henceforth.

Its incredible that critics have not picked up on this twisted but all too typical misogynist interpretation of John 8:1-11.

Contained in his vitriolic rant is strong internal evidence that Tertullian knew the passage, but was incapable of really understanding it or accepting it, or rather took it as he was predisposed to interpret it.

4. But the clincher is this: What is staring us in the face in Tertullian's complaint about the bishop of Rome (or Carthage) issuing an edict for the forgiveness of adultery, is that a bishop must actually have done so. And on what scriptural basis could that edict have been built more plausibly than the Pericope de Adultera?

That is, whatever we decideTertullian may have had in his text of John, the bishop clearly had John 7:53-8:11 in his own!

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Tertullian's Error

The Precarious steps of Tertullian

We briefly mentioned previously the fact that Tertullian's soteriology was probably to blame for his misinterpretation of John 8:1-11.

It is worthwhile to look at that more closely to help other struggling Christians avoid the same errors.

Soteriology - is the study of salvation (Greek Soter = savior). Christian soteriology focuses on how people can benefit from the Christ event, how salvation is attained, and how it is maintained.

The Wikipedia online discusses Tertullian's 'soteriology' in the following terms:

"In soteriology Tertullian does not dogmatize, he prefers to keep silence at the mystery of the cross (De Patientia, iii.).

The sufferings of Christ's life as well as of the crucifixion are efficacious to redemption. In the water of baptism, which (upon a partial quotation of John 3:5) is made necessary (De baptismate, vi.), we are born again; we do not receive the Holy Spirit in the water, but are prepared for the Holy Spirit. We little fishes, after the example of the ichthys, (fish), Jesus Christ, are born in water (De baptismate, i.).

In discussing whether sins committed subsequent to baptism may be forgiven, he calls baptism and penance "two planks" on which the sinner may be saved from shipwreck - language which he gave to the Church (De penitentia, xii.).

This may be a polite way of saying that Tertullian actually failed to develop a proper 'soteriology' at all. In spite of drawing strongly from the early Greek fathers and preachers, it seems Tertullian largely maintained a conventional view of salvation in the older 'Jewish' sense.

That is, rather than the view of the mature body of Christ, that Jesus voluntarily and in a planned manner gave Himself to the world as a part of God's predestined and foreseen plan, Tertullian was stuck in both the language and the thinking of the first evangelists like Stephen and Matthew.

Tertullian was still stuck on the problem of affixing blame for the crucifixion upon the Jewish authorities, and whoever else participated in the sins leading to the murder of Jesus the Messiah.

This in itself was certainly a natural result of the primitive impact of the plot to kill Jesus and the Passion accounts.

But even early Christian preachers and thinkers, starting with Paul had moved to a deeper understanding of God's will and providence regarding the crucifixion, inspired firstly by the ressurrection and teaching of Jesus.

Tertullian did not develop his understanding of the Gospel events and their relation to salvation. He was 'hung up' on the sin of the crucifixion, the injustice of the murder of Jesus, and the guilt of the immediate participants in those events.

A Lesson to be Learned

Because Tertullian was unable to see beyond the materialistic and pragmatic physicality of events and into the true Mystery of the Cross, he ultimately was an austere, disciplinarian, rigorus and strict Christian, susceptable to the attractions of the extreme ascetics and Stoics surrounding him.

Ultimately, and ironically, Tertullian succumbed to the temptation of a strict monastic and self-denying lifestyle that led finally to his fall away from orthodox Christianity and into the cult of Montanism.

This is a warning, one which Paul from the beginning had cautioned Christians about: namely self-denial and over-emphasized strictness, which tends to replace the grace and freedom granted by Jesus Christ through the Cross.

The urge to be 'righteous', while a natural good tendency, if exaggerated becomes a substitute 'salvation by works', making the Gospel of Salvation through the Saviour become redundant and ineffective.

In the process of insisting upon assigning blame for the crucifixion, Tertullian missed the point of Jesus' willingness to obey the Father and the voluntary nature of Jesus' self-sacrifice.

With his judgmental sunglasses on, Tertullian was unable to see past the surface facts of the Pericope de Adultera, and simply blamed the woman for the whole affair.

"... Because of what you (woman) deserve, that is, death,
even the Son of God had to die."

(De Cultu Feminarum, section I.I, part 2 - trans. C.W. Marx)

In focussing upon the woman and her probable guilt, Tertullian failed to focus upon Jesus and His message, and missed not only the allegorical and prophetic significance of John 8:1-11, but also the MAIN point Jesus wants all of us to get:

The authority to judge is Jesus' alone through the mandate from the Father, and we should not presume to pick up that stone relying upon our own righteousness.

Jesus effectively ended the authority of men to judge others in such cases, by placing the bar too high for us to clear.

This message Tertullian was unable to receive, having spent his whole life immersed in self-justification by lifestyle and deeds.

On the surface, Tertullian appears not to have known the Pericope de Adultera, because he was simply unable to hear it.

As a consequence of not developing his stunted understanding of salvation, he ended up swerving into greater errors and becoming a heretic.

His lack of vision prevented him from receiving a difficult, but necessary lesson from John 8:1-11.

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Tertullian and John

Tertullian misses the Positive Message of John

We can go further in understanding the exact mechanism of Tertullian's blunder and failure to grasp the message of John:

R. E. Brown took a form-critical or source-critical approach to John in his commentary, The Gospel According to John (1966-70). Regardless of his methodology, Brown has far more insight than Tertullian into the Book of John:

Brown notes that John made the raising of Lazarus the root cause of the decision to murder Jesus (John 11:46-53).

The raising of Lazarus takes its importance from its acting as the transition point from the earlier Signs (John chapters 1-12) and the Passion (13-21).

Although Brown thinks the causal connection between raising Lazarus and the death of Jesus has more to do with the teaching/theology of the Gospel of John than its reflecting a historical recollection, (I.p430), the fact is, this is precisely how John's Gospel really does present the raising of Lazarus.

That is, reading John, one should naturally make the connection between the raising of Lazarus and the commitment to kill Jesus.

Brown sees this, as do most other careful readers, while Tertullian DOESN'T see this.

Otherwise he would never have developed the theme of blame for Jesus' crucifixion in the direction he takes it, namely blaming Womankind for the death of the Messiah.

And we have to emphasize that the fault is not John's. His gospel, with or without the Pericope de Adultera (Jn 8:1-11) clearly builds the tension and opposition between Jesus and the religious leaders to a crescendo culminating in the fury caused by the flocking of the people to Jesus after the raising of Lazarus.

It is entirely Tertullian's own complete lack of perception that causes this severe error, not John's gospel-writing skills.

Yet no one would argue from Tertullian's dullness of perception that he had never seen the Gospel of John, or did not know of its contents (though this is what critics try to do regarding 8:1-11).

In other words, Tertullian's failure to accept John's explanation of the motivations of the religious leaders led naturally to him seeking ANOTHER cause, which he 'found' in the story of the woman taken in adultery.

Tertullian could not fully accept the message of the rest of John's Gospel, so he naturally misconstrued John 8:1-11.

Tertullian's testimony is not evidence that John lacked the Pericope de Adultera, but rather evidence that Tertullian lacked the skills to understand John's Gospel.

Tertullian's mistunderstanding of John led to poor soteriology, a wrong-headed interpretation of John 8:1-11, and finally extreme legalism, heresy and apostacy.

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Tertullian and Scripture

Tertullian: NOT a reliable guardian of Scripture...

Another reason not to trust Tertullian's apparent 'testimony' against John 8:1-11 (namely his seeming silence about it), comes from his attitude about other teachings of the New Testament.

We recall that Tertullian's alleged silence about the passage occurs in writings from his late 'Montanist' (heretical) period. Now we inquire how far Tertullian was willing to go in abandoning standard doctrine in favour of Montanist teachings:

Remarkably, Tertullian himself assists us in assessing his heretical tendencies:

"At first the Montanists appear to have had the tendency to renounce marriage (e.g. Prisca & Maximilla and their families), but later their distinctive teaching took the form of a ban on second marriages, for ministers and laity alike.
(see F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1964), 219 , and John De Soyres, Montanism And The Primitive Church (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell & Co., 1877), p. 83)

Justifying this practice Tertullian wrote:

"If Christ abrogated what Moses commanded because from the beginning it was not so, why should not the Holy Spirit alter what Paul permitted."

(Tertullian, Cited in De Soyres above, p. 58)

Tertullian's statement has led many scholars to conclude that the Montanists rejected Scripture in favour of their new revelations.
(B. Sherratt, "Montanism," The Pentecostal Vol. 1, No.1: 27.)

However, David Wright argues that there are insufficient grounds for such an assumption, though the Montanist rank and file... "may have been guilty of extravagant reverence for the teachings of their prophetic leaders, treasuring them, and even appearing to exalt them above the Scriptures themselves." (D.F. Wright, "Why Were The Montanists Condemned?" Themelios. (Sept. 1976): p.19 ) Clearly Hippolytus was among those who gained such an impression:

"They are beguiled by two females whom they consider prophetesses... They pretend that these see certain things by means of the Paraclete in them. They implicitly believe what these utter, and give out what they learnt more from their revelation than from the Law, the Prophets and the Gospels."
(Hippolytus, Refutation, 8.19 )


The essential point we want to bring out from the above statement of Tertullian, is that he is quite willing abandon the plain teachings of Paul the Apostle in favour of new 'revelations' from the "Holy Spirit", that have come through local contemporary 'prophets' of the Montanist movement.

This can only be because of a conviction of the equality if not superiority of the activity of the Spirit in the present over previous revelations.

Whether Tertullian is right or wrong on this issue of principle however, is not the key point for our problem of his witness concerning John 8:1-11.

Tertullian does not actually offer any objective or infallible methods for discerning whether or not any contemporary prophet has spoken via the Holy Spirit.

It seems reasonable to say at least that whatever methods Tertullian applied, they did not provide him with a solid and convincing Soteriology, and apparently did not prevent him from falling into heresy and the apostacy of Montanism.

In any case, whether we reject Montanist doctrines as heretical, or embrace them within a wider, more liberal 'orthodoxy', one thing is clear:

Tertullian was willing to abandon canonical scriptures like the teachings of Paul in favour of 'new revelations'. It is doubly significant that Paul is the example here, since he is a New Testament Apostle and teacher of some weight. We cannot excuse Tertullian for instance on the basis of differing views of Old Testament Law, or the value of Old Testament prophecy versus New.

Paul is simultaneously both a fundamental core for the New Covenant and Pastoral Guide for the Newly formed Church, and also, just as importantly, Paul's writings are among the oldest and most primal documents of the New Testament.

Tertullian isn't dismissing a short obscure sermon of Jude, or a questionable letter attributed to Peter, or a difficult portion of Revelation with an uncertain interpretation. Tertullian is here attacking fundamental instructions for the church in the Roman Empire, given by an Apostle expressly for the times of the Early church.

If Tertullian can so easily abandon the 'sound doctrine' of Paul in favour of new and attractive teachings involving exaggerated ascetisicm and self-denial, we can hardly be surprised that he, like other contemporary heretics actually made similar mistakes in other areas.

It is not any stretch to see Tertullian abandoning Paul's letters as unworkable for his newly discovered 'prophecy'-based Montanist teachings and movement.

And it is also a simple step for Tertullian to follow the example of the early Lectionary systems in skipping over John 8:1-11, in both public reading and commentary, and take it one step further, abandoning the passage entirely.

It would be easy to see Tertullian taking such modest practices in an excessive manner, as very signs that this portion of scripture, like many others he would name as obselete, is to be deleted and forgotten.

The only purpose from Tertullian's viewpoint for the Pericope de Adultera would be to support his own exaggerated view of the inferiority and corruption of women.

But there are plenty of other scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments that would suit Tertullian's purpose in denigrating women, without the need to risk leniency for adultery.

Tertullian has no scruple stopping him from abandoning John 8:1-11, and no reason to retain it. And he already has the example of the composers of the Lectionary system as a mandate to let it fall into obscurity.

The two early papyrii, P66 and P75 witness to a 'public' text which drops the verses. (P66 shows full knowledge of the passage's existance however. See our thread on textual evidence.)

The 'witness' of Tertullian against the Pericope de Adultera is utterly untrustworthy, and useless for establishing the authenticity of the text.

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Tertullian and Heresy

The Attraction of Heresy

Had Tertullian simply misled himself, his attitudes would have died with him, and caused harm only to himself.

Unfortunately, Tertullian's misogynist weeds found a rich soil in the Mediterranean world. Two out of three cultures were already well entrenched in a disparaging, disabling, distrustful, unappreciative viewpoint concerning women.

The Jews and the Greeks, and much of the Middle East had a longstanding lack of respect, and disenfranchisement of women.

In this respect the Western Latin world was truly superior, and furnished better soil for the true Gospel, in which there is no male or female, no slave or free, no Jew or Greek or Gentile, but all are one in Christ Jesus.

If it weren't for the Berean predisposition of the Latins, the Gospel itself might have suffered untold harm and distortion.

As it was, the early Latins were able to rescue what was worth saving of Tertullian's teachings, and carefully prune the dross.

It was St Augustine in fact, many years later that reached out to the Montanists, and corrected their excessive doctrines inspired by Tertullian's misplaced zeal.

Augustine was actually able to convert the Montanists back to orthodox Christianity, saving both souls and a growing schism among Christians from festering and poisoning the good vine planted in Rome and the central Empire.

Tertullian's misogyny was identified, and condemned along with other Montanist heresies. His later works are avowedly Montanist, and one or two explictly attack the mainstream church on these points. As such he was not recognised as a Saint, despite his orthodoxy in many areas of doctrine. His works were all marked as condemned in the 6th Century Decretum Gelasianum.

(In the Decretum Gelasianum (Gelasian Decree) de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, which appears to be a Decree issued by Pope Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.) in 494, there is a lengthy catalogue of acceptable and unacceptable books from the fathers. This work is made up of 5 chapters: De Spiritu Sancto, De canone Scripturae Sacrae, De sedibus patriachalibus, De synodis oecumenicis, De libris recipiendis. The last part has given its name to the whole work.

More details and a bibliography for the Decretum may be found in Quasten, vol. IV, p277. The actual authorship of the document seems very uncertain. Until recently, it was believed that no reference to the Decretum was made by any extant writer prior to the 9th century, and on this basis it was dismissed as a forgery, as this is the era of the Forged Decretals.

However more recent opinion has suggested that it must have been known to Isidore of Seville, in the 7th century, and that it was probably put together by an unknown hand, perhaps in North Italy, from various materials in the early 6th century. The reality would seem to be that no-one actually knows. However it became treated as authoritative during the Middle Ages.

The works of Tertullian are included in the list of non recipiendis libris. This may account for the tiny number of manuscripts known to us.)


It is likely in fact that the Montanists were responsible for at least some of the manuscripts which had excised our passage from the Gospel of John.