On Fasting background information.

Early Christian Writings

Title: De ieiunio adversus psychicos (On fasting, against the materialistic)


From: (tertullian.org)

Ante-Nicene Fathers

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

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By: Roger Pearse  

Our Ref:
ECST: 167.33.1.T77

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The New Prophets are within their rights in ordaining as compulsory new and additional fasts.  Those in the church who don’t agree (‘Psychici’) have very likely made their belly their god.


The new prophecy was under attack, not least because the prophets enjoined additional fasting. Tertullian regards the objections as shameful, and attacks the lack of dedication among the Christians of his day who were not Montanists. The work contains a lengthy defense of fasting, with many citations from scripture showing how God blessed even gentiles who fasted. He also points out that the objection to additional fasting arose from those who had no objection to extra fasts when prescribed by a Bishop.  Finally he attacks violently those who object to the extra fasts as self-indulgent.


This work is definitely Montanist, with much use of phrases like ‘us’ and ‘you’.

The arguments in favour of fasting are well worth reading by Christians who never do, as Tertullian shows the way that God works when men deny themselves to follow Him. However he does not make his case for compulsory extra fasting successfully, and in some places the argument from scripture is rather weak. [You may treat these statements with whatever regard you feel is due to a man who read this treatise on fasting while consuming a good lunch].

But above all Tertullian reminds us we may die: let us therefore fast to prepare ourselves. We fast in training for the contest – not against flesh and blood but against the powers of the world and its governing evil spirits (Eph. 6,12). A fat Christian may please the lion more than the Lord! (ch.17).


• Ch.1 refers to De Monogamia as already published.

• Tertullian states that overindulgence in food leads to lust for sex. (ch.1).

• In ch.13 Tertullian refers with delight to councils held in Greece among the churches to decide issues of importance.

• Normal fasting for the carnal Christians was every Wednesday and Friday(ch.14), together with an Easter fast from Friday to Sunday. (ch.2,13,14). In addition there were some days without wine (xerophagies) (ch.2).

• Tertullian castigates a recent ‘martyr’, who had drugged wine smuggled to him on the last day of the trial, and so was too drunk to do more than try to apostasise when tortured (ch.12).


No manuscripts now exist. The text was transmitted in the manuscripts of the Corbie collection.  All 3 known MSS are lost, but copies were used for the 1545 (B), 1550 and 1583/4 early editions, and a single page (from De Spectaculis) of a 9th century MS from Cologne which did contain this work does exist, known as the Keppel fragment or Fragmentum Gueldriana, first published by Leiftinck.

The relevant early editions are: 

• The 1545 edition (Gagny/Mesnart) used an unknown MS of this family, and is the editio princeps.

• The 1550 edition (Gelenius) used a MS obtained from Malmesbury by John Leland, sent to Beatus Rhenanus and passed on to Gelenius.

• The 1583/4 edition (Pamelius) used a collation of a manuscript owned by a ‘John Clement’.  This is the same MS as the Malmesbury MS.  The collation has recently been rediscovered.

The other editions have no independent value for the text.

TITLE VARIATIONS[1]http://www.tertullian.org/manuscripts/title_variations.htm

de Ieiunio aduersus Psychicos Gagny/Mesnart (B)
de ieiuniis aduersus psychicos Pamelius
de ieiuniis Rigaltius


This runs up to 1994.  Where not otherwise indicated, details are from Quasten’s Patrology, 2 (1955).  I haven’t yet looked for bibliography 1955-1974. See also Editions page and Critical Editions page for more information.


A. REIFFERSCHEID, and G. WISSOWA, in CSEL 20, Vienna (1890), pp.274-297, reprinted unchanged in CCSL 2, Turnhout (1954), pp. 1255-1277, but with additional footnotes.  Text now online.  Checked.



S. THELWALLANCL 18 (1870) pp.123-153; reprinted ANF 4 (1885), pp. 102-114.  Online.  Checked.


A. DE GENOUDEDu Jeûne, in Tertullien-Oeuvres, t. 3, Paris (1852).  Not checked.  (Details from BMF catalogue).


H. KELLNER – G. ESSERÜber das Fasten, gegen die Psychiker, BKV2 24 (1915), pp. 519ff.  Online.


H.U. MEYBOOMOver de vasten tegen de Kathlieken, (Oudchristel. geschriften, dl. 46), Leiden (1931).  (Details from Quasten)


László VANYÓ &c, Tertullianus muvei (The works of Tertullian), Budapest: Szent István Társulat (1986) 1100pp. (Ókeresztény frók 12). (Details CTC 2002.75).  The older translations of István Városi (Pat, Apol, Orat, Ux, Cult) and Marcell Mosolygó (Mart) have been recycled; the rest are new.


Aemilius KROYMANNQuaestiones Tertullianae criticae, Oeniponte [=Innsbrück], (1894)  Not checked.  (Details from CCSL).

A D’ALES, La Theologie de Tertullian. 3e ed. Paris (1905).  pp.475-478.  Online.

J. SCHÜMMERDie altchristliche Fastenpraxis mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Schriften Tertullians, LQF 27. Münster (1933). Not checked.  (Details from Quasten).

Neil ADKINTertullian’s “De ieiunio” and Jerome’s “Libellus de virginitate servanda” (epist. 22), Wiener Studien.   Zeitschrift fur klassische Philologie und Patristik, 104 (1991), p.149-160.  Not checked.  (Details CTC 91, 74)  Shows a debt of Jerome to Tertullian.

Joan Bruggeman RUFEEarly Christian Fasting : a study of creative adaptation, Dissertation, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1994, 328pp.  Not Checked. (Details CTC C.132).

Andrew MCGOWANTertullian on fasting. (Online offsite)


1 http://www.tertullian.org/manuscripts/title_variations.htm

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