Tertullian: We Share Everything Except Our Wives

One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives.

—Tertullian, “The Apology,” cap. 39 in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. Thelwall, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 46.

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  1. Dr. Clark, off topic I know, but could you translate this quote from Erasmus?

    “O, sit anima mea cum Puritanis Anglicanis!” – ERASMUS.

    • David,

      I doubt that Erasmus said it. I see lots of attributions but no sources. Erasmus died in 1536. Was anyone using “Puritan” that early? The earliest English usage is about 30 years later.

      A literal translation might be, “O let my soul/life be with the Anglican Puritans.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense. It might be “Let me be done with the English Puritans.” Someone might have said it but I would surprised if it was Erasmus who said it.

  2. Dr Clark, I agree that to imply that Tertullian’s non-mention of husbands when he wrote “wives” was deliberate is probably a misrepresentation and in any case a bit of a snark, but how DOES one deal with a polygamist who wants baptism and church membership? Don’t Paul’s frequent references to “the husband of one wife” imply that there were men in church membership who were not such and, therefore, could not be church officers, however qualified they might appear to be on other grounds. And would it have been right to say to such a man “Just jettison all but your first wife, which you should have done in the first place anyway, and you can then be an elder/deacon”? I imagine some women need more from a man than just feeding, clothing, and a roof over their heads, and the first wife may not even have been, in this respect, one of the needy ones – indeed she might have been quite keen to get away.

  3. In the New Testament the Jerusalem model of surrendering all the church’s goods to the stewardship of a few high profile, justly trusted men, who could be taken away at any time from this stewardship through other callings, persecution or even martyrdom, seems not to have been adopted in other places. Rather, whilst in principle believers considered themselves stewards rather than owners, stewardship was left in the hands of those whose possessions these goods officially were, so within the church there continued to be rich and poor, the rich being responsible to share their goods when they saw the need.
    I think that what Tertullian says is consistent with either model, but it is quite possible that under the influence of Montanist “prophecies” they might have adopted the highly risky Jerusalem model – In the UK there are at least two streams of Communities-with-all-in-common dominated by charismania. Not to mention some of the cults!

  4. Yes, definitely doubtful due to Erasmus’ date of death. Anyone reading this have access to the Oxford English Dictionary to find out first use of the term Puritan though?

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