Against Praxeas – How Far Did Tertullian Advance The Doctrine Of The Trinity? -- By: Harold F. Carl

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 07:1 (Feb 2009)
Article: Against Praxeas – How Far Did Tertullian Advance The Doctrine Of The Trinity?
Author: Harold F. Carl

Against Praxeas – How Far Did Tertullian Advance The Doctrine Of The Trinity?

Harold F. Carl, Ph.D.

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was born between 150 and 160, believed to be the son of a centurion.1 Whether or not he was in fact a jurist, his logical argumentation and piercing rhetoric is evident in all of his 31 surviving works.2 Tertullian flourished in Carthage and Rome where he aligned himself with the Montanist sect. He died between 222 and 225.

Tertullian’s importance as an apologist and theologian cannot be overestimated. Sellers calls him the “Origen of the West.” He coined the word Trinity, and solidified the technical terminology that became the standard way of speaking about the being of God in the Trinity and the person of Christ for the Latin church after him.3

But how far did Tertullian advance the doctrine of the Trinity? Does he cover what would be considered the main areas of concern? Are there problem areas? In this study, we will show that Tertullian does teach that (1) there is one God only; (2) God exists in three distinct persons (whether or not eternally is yet to be seen); (3) aside from some functional and economic considerations these three persons are equal in being and attributes.


Before looking in depth at Tertullian’s theology, it is important to define briefly several terms.

Substantia. Substance may be the key concept for understanding Tertullian’s doctrine of the Trinity. For Tertullian, substance is “the constitutive material of a thing.”4 Substance is that which brings unity to the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be distinct persons, but they share a common divine substance. Phrases communicating the “unity of substance” among the members of the Trinity are very common in Against Praxeas.5 Son and Holy Spirit are “joined with the Father in His substance” and “members of the Father’s own substance.”6 The Son is derived “from no other source but from the substance of the Father.”7 For Tertullian, the phrase “I and my Father are One” refers to a unity of substance, not a singularity of number.8 In the incarnation, Jesus consists of two substances [natures], divine and human, not mixed but joined in one person.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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