Ad Nationes background information.

Early Christian Writings

Title: Ad nationes (To the nations) 


From: (

Ante-Nicene Fathers

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

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By: Roger Pearse  

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ECST: 167.06.1.T77

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In two books. The tone is more animated and acidic than the Apologeticum and less focused, suggesting that it may never have been revised for publication.1)1. C. Becker, Tertullians Apologeticum: Werden und Leistung (1954), 58 ff. The material was reworked later in the year to produce the Apologeticum.

Earlier apologists had directed their works to the emperor. The procedure had a drawback which rendered the apologists ineffectual. Christianity was illegal and its illegality was assumed or reaffirmed by every emperor of the second and early third centuries.(v. Journal of Roman Studies LVIII (1968), 32 ff.) Persecution, however, varied in its incidence and intensity, not according to the attitude of the reigning emperor, but through the actions and attitudes of magistrates and the pagans whom they governed. Miltiades had instead directed his apology to the provincial governors, and Tertullian followed him.

The first book shows that the juridical procedure taken against the Christians is a violation of justice.  This is followed by a description of the contemporary slanders against the Christians which he refutes.  The point is then made that, even were the slanders true, they would not justify the pagan persecutors, since these do the same themselves or worse.  The second book moves onto the attack and criticises Roman religion in general and Italian deities in particular.  Tertullian’s antiquarian interests come to the fore, and he makes extensive use of Varro’s lost Rerum Divinarium Libri XVI.

The work can be dated to the early summer of 197, following Severus bloody defeat of Albinus in February 197, which is referred to in the work.


In the first book, he demonstrates that the accusations launched at the Christians are really true of the heathens. Christians strive to live open moral lives, and are accused of secret vice. The pagans who accuse them live lives of open vice, and care nothing about the moral issues, except to rubbish the Christians. (e.g. ch 20)

You indulge to the full that fault of human nature, that those things which you do not disallow in yourselves you condemn in others

Much of the material is reworked from the Greek apologists.2)2. See the analysis and detailed commentary of A. Schneider, Bibliotheca Helvetica Romana IX (1968). 


• In I.3.6 we learn that it was illegal to allege a crime without taking action to bring it to court.

• Melito connected the rise of Christianity with the development of the Roman Empire, and asserted that only the bad emperors Nero and Domitian had persecuted Christians.3)Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiasticorum IV. 26. 9. Tertullian borrowed the idea and coined the phrase ‘institutum Neronianum’ to stigmatize persecution.(I,7.8)

• He quotes from Virgil, Herodotus, Plato, Homer, Tacitus’ Histories V,2 & 4 and Ctesias – Tertullian is beginning to ground his work firmly in the ideas familiar to his educated contemporaries.

• In particular he quotes local incidents – he described a recent incident provoked by an apostate Jew, and complained about the violence offered to the Christians when they gathered for worship. (I,14.1)

• Other notorious scandals of the period are mentioned, including one where a stolen child was accidentally bought by his father to use as a catamite, and when he had grown up sent to labour in chains in the fields. This brought him into contact with others who identified him, whereupon his parents hanged themselves.(I,16.13)s

• Pagans were uncertain above whether it was Christians or Chrestians they were accusing. (An interesting modern parallel is the way journalists in the UK have similarly found difficulty in using the unfamiliar term ‘evangelicals’ and have used ‘evangelists’ (as in ‘tele-evangelists’) instead). The reference to ‘Chrestus’ in Tacitus is made clear. (I ch 3):

Even when by a faulty pronunciation you call us “Chrestians” (for you are not certain about even the sound of this noted name), you in fact lisp out the sense of pleasantness and goodness.

• Persons of evil life calling themselves Christians are referred to in chapter 6, which indicates they are expelled from the church, but still use the name.

• In I.10,41 he refers to Varro’s antiquarian discovery of 300 Jove’s, all headless.

• Pagan routine infanticide and abortion are condemned in ch. 15, as a retort to allegations against the Christians of eating babies, and the Macedonian and Persian indifference to incest discussed.

In the second book, he ridicules heathen worship, drawing on the antiquarian compilations of M. Terentius Varro (II,1.8)Rerum Divinarium Libri XVI. His approach here is more original. 

Various points are made:

• Pagan gods are just deified men(II,9.10) – this is taken from the Greek apologists, but Tertullian uses the classical authors to support the argument, quoting from Varro, Cassius Hemina (wrongly named as Cassius Severus), Cornelius Nepos, Tacitus and Diodorus Siculus, with an allusion to Pindar and quotations of Virgil,(II,12.26,14.12,13.14ff,17.6)and with an apparent borrowing from the elder Pliny.4) Ad Nat. II. 16. 5. Tertullian here substitutes Pompey for Lucullus as the man who introduced the cherry into Italy (Pliny, Nat. Hist. XV. 102). Apol. 2.8 corrects the mistake.

• A list of local pagan gods is given to demonstate the idea – the patron deity of Casinum was Delventinus, of Narnia Visidianus, of Atina Numiternus, of Asculum Ancharia and of Vulsinii Nortia, which probably wasn’t of interest in Carthage, and the same list is used in the Apologeticum as an argument instead that every community should be allowed to have its own gods.5)5. Ad Nat. II. 8. 6; Apol. 24. 8.

• Serapis is given as a sample god derived from a real person, in fact from the biblical Joseph.(II,8.10) (Evidently Tertullian had heard a tale to this effect. Recall however that classical authors generally, given the limited means of scholarship in their world, had to take such tales at face value).

• The case of Antinous, Hadrian’s catamite, who was deified is referred to in ch. 10.

• In ch. 11, it is taken for granted that voyeurism is unacceptable in contemporary society:

No one is present at the secret struggles of married life. Those very few persons who have a wish that way, go away and blush for very shame in the midst of their joy.

Footnotes (unlinked)6)see


The single MS is damaged by damp, which had rendered portions illegible.  The damp was so bad that margins were cut off, with the loss of the ends of lines, particularly in book 2.  See Codex Agobardinus for details.  The work was the last to be printed, by Gothofredus in 1625.


This work is only preserved in the Codex Agobardinus, which gives no title for this work except TERTVLIANI in almost invisible letters at the top of the page, but does list the title in the contents page as AD NATIONES, and likewise in the explicit. Jerome, Letter 70,5 refers to it as contra gentes libri.


Unless otherwise indicated, details are from Quasten’s Patrology, 2 (1955). See also Editions page and Critical Editions page for more information.

[Note: I need to add some biblio, from l’Annee Phil. for the years 1954-1974].


• Q. Sept. Florentis Tertulliani ad nationes libri duo, publ., notis etiam additis, à I. Gothofredo. Geneuæ 1625, 4o. Other Names: Godefroy, Jacques. EDITIO PRINCEPS. Not checked. (Details from Bodleian online catalogue).

A. REIFFERSCHEID & G. WISSOWA, CSEL 20 (1890), pp.59-133.  Checked.

J.W.Ph.BORLEFFSQuinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani: Ad Nationes Libri Duo, Brill, Leiden (1929), xix+155 (79-155 are indices). Checked.

J.W.Ph.BORLEFFSCCSL I (1954), pp. 9-75. Checked.  Critical text and apparatus only.



• P. HOLMES (Tr.), ANCL 11 (1869), pp.416-506. Reprinted ANF 3 (1885), pp.109-147. Online. Checked.

Q. HOWETertullian: Ad Nationes I.  (2007) Online here.


Oeuvres de Tertullien: Apologétique. Prescriptions contre les gentils. Du Baptême. De l’Ornement des femmes. [Contre les spectacles. De la Patience. De la Couronne du soldat. Contre Marcion, extrait. De la Chair de Jésus-Christ. De la Résurrection de la chair. Aux nations. – listed in table of contents but not on title page] Paris : Ed. M. Charpentier, 1844. 12o, III-504 p.  Another title page has the address:”A. Delahays, 1845″. “Oeuvres de Tertullien traduites en français” Checked (Details from BNF catalogue and personal copy).  Ad Nationes is pp.457-503, but only up to Book II, chapter 13.

A. DE GENOUDE, Aux nations. Oeuvres de Tertullien2, Paris (1852). t. 2 (Details from BNF catalogue).

A. SCHNEIDERLe premier livre Ad nationes de Tertullien: introd. trad. & comm., Bibl. Helevetica Rom. IX, Rome, Inst. Suisse, (1968), 334p, 2 indices. Not checked. (Details from L’Année Philologique). Reviews: • SPANNEUT, MSR 25 (1968), 197-199; • DANIÉLOU, RecSR 57 (1969), p.99; •  ONTAINE, REL 47 (1969), pp555-557; • SWIFT, AJPh 91 (1970), pp511-512; • BRAUN, Latomus 29 (1970), 172-3; • GREENSLADE, JTS 22 (1971), pp.602-3; • DREWERY, JEH 22 (1971), pp252-253; • H. TRÄNKLE, Gnomon 44 (1972), pp.575-582. (many others listed in L’An.Ph). Not checked. • (Details from L’Année Philologique)


H.U.MEYBOOMTertullianus, Tegen de heidenen, (Oudchristl. geschriften, dl. 42). Leiden, 1927.  Not checked.  (Details from Quasten).


• M. HAIDENTHALLERTertullianus zweites Buch ‘Ad Nationes’ und ‘De testimonio animae’. Übertragung und Kommentar. StGKA 23, 1-2. Paderborn, 1942.  Not checked.  (Details from Quasten).


• M. HAUPTConiectanea (On Ad Nationes i, 7 & De Cultu Feminarum ii, 11), Hermes. Zeitschrift für Classische Philologie 8 (1874) pp. 247-8

Th. BIRTMarginalien zu lateinischen Prosaikern (Ad nat. 1,2; 4; 7; 10; 16): Phil. (1927), 164-182.  Not checked (Details from Quasten).

J.W.Ph. BORLEFFSObservationes criticae ad Tertulliani Ad Nationes libros, Mnemosyne N.S. 56 (1928), pp.193-201, 225-242; Mnemosyne 57 (1929) 1-51. Not checked (Details from Quasten).

M. BALSAMOParalleli non ancora osservati tra l’Ad nationes e l’Apologetum, Didaskaleion, nuov. ser. 8 (1930), fasc. 1, pp.29-34. Not checked (Details from Quasten).

L. CASTIGLIONIAd Tertullianum adnotationes, Studi Ubaldi, Milan (1937), pp.255-262. Not checked (Details from Quasten).

J.H. WASZINKTertullian ad. nat. 2, 17, 14, Mnemosyne 3, 11 (1943), pp.71-72. Not checked (Details from Quasten).

Klaus THRAEDEInzest in der frühen Apologetik Tertullians, Hairesis: Festschrift für Karl Hoheisel zum 65 Geburtstag, Ed. • M. HUTTER, • W. KLEIN, U. VOLLMER.  •

Münster Westfalen: Aschendorff (2002), pp.248-260) (Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum. Ergänzungsband 34).  (Details CTC2002).  Accusartions against the Christians analysed.

References   [ + ]

1. 1. C. Becker, Tertullians Apologeticum: Werden und Leistung (1954), 58 ff.
2. 2. See the analysis and detailed commentary of A. Schneider, Bibliotheca Helvetica Romana IX (1968). 
3. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiasticorum IV. 26. 9.
4.  Ad Nat. II. 16. 5. Tertullian here substitutes Pompey for Lucullus as the man who introduced the cherry into Italy (Pliny, Nat. Hist. XV. 102). Apol. 2.8 corrects the mistake.
5. 5. Ad Nat. II. 8. 6; Apol. 24. 8.
6. see

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