Date of Award

Spring 1945

Degree Type

Thesis - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Foreign Languages and Literatures


In the annals of church history there are few personalities more interesting than Tertullian. He was a man of prodigious mental, spiritual and physical activity. His writings alone, without the aid of biographical data, assure us on this point. In this study of Tertullian, I have selected for analysis just one facet of his many-sided nature, namely, his attitude toward women. I shall attempt to prove that he was anti-feminist. There has been no major work published on this subject. The fact is surprising since so many of his writings were directed toward the Christian women of Carthage and contained recommendations which, had they been effected, would have materially changed the lives of these women. Two entire books, for instance, he devoted to women's dress; two others were written and dedicated to his wife; and three more were, fundamentally, pleas for the celibate life--pleas as vital to women as to men. Though specific studies are lacking, one can find the subject indirectly treated in the more general books on Tertullian, particularly those in which his moral teachings are emphasized. These I have used, in addition to the entire body of Tertullian's works, in reaching an estimate of his attitude toward women. I am particularly indebted on this score to Paul Monceaux's analysis of Tertullian, "le moraliste," and to Charles Guignebert's study on "le famille" in his tertullian. All references to Monceasux are based on the first volume of his Histoire Litteraire de L'Afrique Chretienne, which I have found indispensable for both background material and analysis. In citing texts I have used Roman numerals for the volume and Arabic for the page. The only exception will be found in the references from Tertullian, where the Arabic numerals indicate chapter, rather than page. The term anti-feminism, I realize, is elastic. Its essential meaning is constant, but its application varies in each age. The feminist of one era might be regarded as anti-feminist in the next. In applying the concept to Tertullian I shall use the term as indicating an attitude that ran counter to the efforts of the women of his day to assert their rights or demand new liberties. His views will be judged on the standards of the world in which he lived. In order to avoid the verbal oscillations that a comparison of this kind suggests, I shall for the sake of convenience, divide the study into three main sections. The first, "The Defendant's Testimony." will contain excerpts from Tertullian's works which I consider representative of his attitude toward women. The second division, "The Adverse Witnesses." will be a brief survey of the progress women had made before Tertullian's day, and of the Christian and Pagan ideas that prevailed while he lived. The last chapter will constitute "The Plea for the Defense." Here I shall consider the special influences on Tertullian which tended to induce anti-feminism, and I hope to prove that these influences, despite their strength, were in no way able to force him willy-nilly into anti-feminism.