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Which the first work written in Latin by a Christian?

The Apologeticum inaugurated Christian literature in Latin. Even though the existence of partial Latin versions of the Bible prior to Tertullian, perhaps of Jewish origin, is debatable, this possibility does not seem probable. Whereas, what is more likely  is that the numerous biblical quotations which appear in Tertullian's writings were extemporaneous translations of the Septuagint by Tertullian who had also written  works in Greek.

The work by Tertullian presents various problems regarding the possibility that it is the first  work written in Latin by a Christian. The most discussed is his close literary tie with the Octavius by Minucius Felix, undisputed but not enough to be able to conclude which of the two works came first and was thus the source of the other.

Another issue regarding the link between the Apologeticum and Tertullian's short work, Ad nationes , also dating from the year 197, which could also be the first draft. As far as the Apologeticum goes, it is possible that two drafts of the text were circulated. The second draft (the so-called Fuldense) is attested by a manuscript from the German monastery of Fulda - lost but of which  variations at the end of the 16th century were transcribed by a philologist and thus published by others a few years later – and by a fragment of another Swiss codex. The hypothesis, based on a rather scanty material, is however strengthened by a fact: Tertullian, in his Adversus Marcionem attests to the existence of three editions. After the first draft, he actually prepared a larger second edition which, before a sufficient number of copies could be circulated, was taken away from him by a Christian, later an apostate. This person used the copies unscrupulously, thus making a third edition necessary with various additions which served to identify it as authentic.

In favour of the hypothesis that there were two editions of the Apologeticum is the ancient method of publishing. This consisted of the dictation of the work  to tachographers, its  transcription by copyists and then the production of the final copy entrusted to calligraphers (the copies being more than just one). Revisions were then made by the author who might gradually  modify the work thus putting more than one edition into circulation




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 19, 2019