Tertullian: invective masterclass

The other day, I was introducing my students to Tertullian's De Baptismo. As the great patrologist, Quasten, pointed out, this is "not merely the earliest work on the subject, it is the only Ante-Nicene treatise on any of the sacraments". I spoke a little about the character of Tertullian and mentioned the beginning of the Adversus Marcionem by way of illustration.

Sometimes in the blogosphere, people want to hurl theological invective but I do not think I have ever come across anything to equal the master:
The Euxine Sea, as it is called, is self-contradictory in its nature, and deceptive in its name. As you would not account it hospitable from its situation, so is it severed from our more civilised waters by a certain stigma which attaches to its barbarous character. The fiercest nations inhabit it, if indeed it can be called habitation, when life is passed in waggons. They have no fixed abode; their life has no germ of civilisation; they indulge their libidinous desires without restraint, and for the most part naked. Moreover, when they gratify secret lust, they hang up their quivers on their car-yokes, to warn off the curious and rash observer. Thus without a blush do they prostitute their weapons of war. The dead bodies of their parents they cut up with their sheep, and devour at their feasts. They who have not died so as to become food for others, are thought to have died an accursed death. Their women are not by their sex softened to modesty. They uncover the breast, from which they suspend their battle-axes, and prefer warfare to marriage. In their climate, too, there is the same rude nature. The day-time is never clear, the sun never cheerful; the sky is uniformly cloudy; the whole year is wintry; the only wind that blows is the angry North. Waters melt only by fires; their rivers flow not by reason of the ice; their mountains are covered with heaps of snow. All things are torpid, all stiff with cold. Nothing there has the glow of life, but that ferocity which has given to scenic plays their stories of the sacrifices of the Taurians, and the loves of the Colchians, and the torments of the Caucasus. Nothing, however, in Pontus is so barbarous and sad as the fact that Marcion was born there, fouler than any Scythian, more roving than the waggon-life of the Sarmatian, more inhuman than the Massagete, more audacious than an Amazon, darker than the cloud, (of Pontus) colder than its winter, more brittle than its ice, more deceitful than the Ister, more craggy than Caucasus. Nay more, the true Prometheus, Almighty God, is mangled by Marcion's blasphemies. Marcion is more savage than even the beasts of that barbarous region. For what beaver was ever a greater emasculator than he who has abolished the nuptial bond? What Pontic mouse ever had such gnawing powers as he who has gnawed the Gospels to pieces?

Tertullian
Adversus Marcionem 1.1
I can't help laughing whenever I re-read the description of all the horrors of the land of Pontus and then get to the punchline: "Nothing, however, in Pontus is so barbarous and sad as the fact that Marcion was born there". Now that's opprobrium theologicum!

If you want to look at the original, here is a list of online Latin texts of Tertullian. His Latin is terse and forceful, similar in many ways to Tacitus. The translation above is the 1885 one, published at New Advent. If you look at the Latin text, you might think there must be a whole chunk missing. It is just that the translator needed 408 English words to translate Tertullian's 220 Latin words.

(By the way, this text explains n.2 in my list for the meme about historical people.)

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