Tertullian was born in Carthage, which at that time was second only to Rome as a cultural and educational center in the West. He received an exceptional education in grammar, rhetoric, literature, philosophy, and law.After completing his education in Carthage, he went to Rome to study further and became interested in the Christian movement, but not until he returned to Carthage toward the end of the 2nd century was he converted to the Christian faith. He left no account of his conversion experience, but in his early works, Ad martyras (“To the Martyrs”), Ad nationes (“To the Nations”), and Apologeticum (“Defense”), he indicated that he was impressed by the courage and determination of Christian martyrs, their moral rigor, and their uncompromising monotheism. By the end of the 2ndcentury the church in Carthage had become large, firmly established, and well organized and was rapidly becoming a powerful force in North Africa. Tertullian emerged as a leading member of the African church, using his talents as a teacher in instructing the unbaptized seekers and the faithful and as a literary defender (Apologist) of Christian beliefs and practices. It is not clear whether Tertullian was ordained a priest.
During the next 20 to 25 years Tertullian devoted himself almost entirely to literary pursuits. Developing an original Latin style, the fiery and tempestuous Tertullian became a lively and pungent propagandist though not the most profound writer in Christian antiquity. Like his contemporaries, Tertullian wrote works in defense of the faith (e.g., Apologeticum) and treatises on theological problems against specific opponents: Adversus Marcionem (“Against Marcion,” an Anatolian heretic who believed that the world was created by the evil god of the Jews), Adversus Hermogenem (“Against Hermogenes,” a Carthaginian painter who claimed that God created the world out of preexisting matter), Adversus Valentinianos (“Against Valentinus,” an Alexandrian Gnostic), and De resurrectione carnis (“Concerning the resurrection of the Flesh”). He also wrote the first Christian book on baptism, De Baptismo; a book on the Christian doctrine of man, De anima (“Concerning the Soul”); essays on prayer and devotion, De oratione (“Concerning Prayer”); and a treatise directed against all heresy, De praescriptione haereticorum (“Concerning the Prescription of Heretics”). In addition, he addressed himself to a wholerange of moral and practical problems: on what is appropriate dress for women and on the wearing of cosmetics in De cultu feminarum (“Concerning the Dress of Women”); on service in the military in De corona (“Concerning the Crown”—a military decoration); on whether one should flee under persecution in De fuga in persecutione (“Concerning Flight in Persecution”); on marriage and remarriage in De exhortatione castitatis (“Concerning the Exhortation to Chastity”) and De monogamia (“Concerning Monogamy”); on the arts, theater, and civic festivals in De spectaculis (“Concerning Spectacles”); and on repentance after baptism inDe poenitentia (“Concerning Repentance”).