Friday, 1 May 2015

Kathryn Thostenson: Serving Two Masters: Tertullian on Marital and Christian Duties

Scholars have often labelled Tertullian a ‘rigorist’ in terms of his seemingly negative position on marriage, highlighting passages where he, in the most extreme case, refers to marriage as little more than ‘legal fornication’ (‘leges uidentur matrimonii et stupri differentiam facere’, De exhortatione castitatis, 9.3). While Tertullian is certainly consistent in praising virginity as the highest form of sexual purity, clearly he and many others in his Christian community were married, and some, as the addressee for his De exhortatione castitatis, apparently also considered remarriage after the death of a spouse. Yet second marriage, or digamy (digamia), as Tertullian referred to it, should never be tolerated. Among the reasons Tertullian gives for shunning a second union is his assertion that marriage and the family commitments it requires might hinder Christians in performing their duties for the Christian community and for God. This concern is most explicit in Ad uxorem II, where he is particularly worried about Christian women who might marry non-Christian men (gentiles), and thus risk being barred from participation in Christian activities by unsympathetic husbands.  Yet far from denigrating marriage, Tertullian’s anxiety for those who are forced to ‘serve two masters’ (‘duobus dominis seruire’, Ad uxorem II.3.4) emphasizes the weight he placed on marital obligations.  This paper will explore how Tertullian thought Christians should negotiate dual commitments to faith and marriage, and question how gender influenced his understanding of these obligations.

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