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Rhetoric and Tertullian's De Virginibus Velandis

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image of Vigiliae Christianae

Tertullian's de Virginibus Velandis is not simply a somewhat neglected ascetic treatise but a rhetorical treatise about asceticism. The use of classical rhetoric as a modern interpretative tool for early Christian literature is common, although, as witnessed in an article recentlyin this journal, not without its critics. In this deliberative treatise Tertullian argued from Scripture (3.5c-6.3), natural law (7.1-8.4) and Christian discipline (9.1-15.3) that from puberty Christian female virgins ought to be veiled when in public. The custom of some Carthaginian virginsnot being veiled when the church gathered was attacked as being contrary to the truth. What we find is Tertullian's overwhelming concern for fidelity to the regula fidei. The presence of a well-developed rhetorical structure in de Virginibus Velandis is an argument for datingit after de Oratione, where Tertullian made some similar points, though in a less cohesive and more rudimentary manner.


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