Food, Flesh, and Fervor: Perfecting the Ascetic Body in Tertullian's De Ieiunio

Date of Graduation

Summer 2003


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Stanley Burgess


The purpose of this paper is to explore and investigate the explicit and implicit boundary markers of food, drink, fasting, and the body within the rhetoric of Tertullian's De Ieunio contra Psychicos, or On Fasting against the Psychics, while simultaneously providing an adequate historical context for understanding those markers. Food and drink were two quintessential markers for Tertullian's Carthaginian community. Tertullian's quest for perfectionism produced more than rhetoric; it produced a lifestyle that was grounded in the body and various bodily practices. All of humanity was in carne, yet it was how one used one's body in carne that determined if one were a spiritual or psychic Christian, a separation Tertullian made based on bodily practices. Tertullian sought an avenue to come into contact with the sacred, to return to the perfect, prelapsarian edenic state, through the practice of fasting and ascetism. Since ascetism incorporates a refusal of what has been socially constructed as the "ordinary" life, and martyrdom leads to a total loss of life, perhaps asceticism leads one into the "extraordinary" life, a life in which "normal" patterns are disavowed. Asceticism offers a way to "lose" one's former life and take on a new life based on abstention and self-constraint. This new life rejects many of the necessities of the former life, thus it is plausible to consider asceticism as a "life of martyrdom," which served as the ideal in Tertullian's community.

Subject Categories



© John R Kennedy