Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/Introduction, by the American Editor

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes
Introduction, by the American Editor

Introduction, by the American Editor.

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The Second Class of Tertullian’s works, according to the logical method I have endeavoured to carry out, is that which includes his treatises against the heresies of his times. In these, the genius of our author is brilliantly illustrated, while, in melancholy fact, he is demonstrating the folly of his own final lapse and the wickedness of that schism and heresy into which he fell away from Truth. Were it not that history abounds in like examples of the frailty of the human intellect and of the insufficiency of “man that walketh to direct his steps,” we should be forced to a theory of mental decay to account for inconsistencies so gross and for delusions so besotted. “Genius to madness is indeed allied,” and who knows but something like that imbecility which closed the career of Swift[1] may have been the fate of this splendid wit and versatile man of parts? Charity, admiration and love force this inquiry upon my own mind continually, as I explore his fascinating pages. And the order in which the student will find them in this series, will lead, I think, to similar reflections on the part of many readers. We observe a natural bent and turn of mind, even in his Catholic writings, which indicate his perils. These are more and more apparent in his recent works, as his enthusiasm heats itself into a frenzy which at last becomes a rage. He breaks down by degrees, as in orthodoxy so also in force and in character. It is almost like the collapse of Solomon or of Bacon. And though our own times have produced no example of stars of equal magnitude, to become falling-stars, we have seen illustrations the most humiliating, of those calm words of Bishop Kaye: “Human nature often presents the curious phenomenon of an union of the most opposite qualities in the same mind; of vigour, acuteness and discrimination on some subjects, with imbecility, dulness and bigotry on others.” Milton, himself another example of his own threnode, breaks forth in this splendid utterance of lyrical confession:

“God of our fathers what is man?

Nor do I name of men the common rout,

That, wandering loose about,

Grow up and perish as the summer fly,

Heads without name, no more remembered,

But such as thou hast solemnly elected,

With gifts and graces eminently adorned,

To some great work, thy glory

And people’s safety, which in part they effect.”

And here, I must venture a remark on the ambiguity of the expressions concerning our author’s Montanism. In the treatise against Marcion, written late in his career, Tertullian identifies himself with the Church and strenuously defends its faith and its apostolic order.  In only rare instances does his weakness for the “new prophecy” crop out, and then, it is only as one identifies himself with a school within the church. Precisely so Fenelon maintained his milder Montanism, without a thought of deserting the Latin Church. Afterwards Fenelon drew back, but at last poor Tertullian fell away. So with the Jansenists. They credited the miracles and the convulsions (or ecstasies) of their school,[2] and condemned those who rejected them, as Tertullian condemns the Psychics. The great expounder of the Nicene Faith (Bp. Bull) does indeed speak very decidedly of Tertullian as a lapser, even when he wrote his first book against Marcion. His semi-schismatic position must be allowed. But, was it a formal lapse at that time? The English non-jurors were long in communion with the Church, even while they denounced their brethren and the “Erastianizing” clergy, much as Tertullian does the Psychics. St. Augustine speaks of Tertullianists[3] with great moderation, and notes the final downfall of our author as something distinct from Tertullianism. When we reflect, therefore, that only four of all his varied writings (now extant) are proofs of an accomplished lapse, ought we not carefully to maintain the distinction between the Montanistic Tertullian and Tertullian the Montanist? Bishop Bull, it seems to me would not object to this way of putting it, when we consider his own discrimination in the following weighty words.  He says:

“A clear distinction must be made between those works which Tertullian, when already a Montanist, wrote specifically in defence of Montanism against the church, and those which he composed, as a Montanist indeed, yet not in defence of Montanism against the church, but rather, in defence of the common doctrines of the church—and of Montanus, in opposition to other heretics.”

Now in arranging the works of this second class, the Prescription comes logically first, because, written in Orthodoxy, it forcibly upholds the Scriptural Rule of Faith, the Catholic touchstone of all professed verity. It is also a necessary Introduction to the great work against Marcion which I have placed next in order; giving it the precedence to which it is entitled in part on chronological ground, in part because of the general purity of its material with the exhibition it presents of the author’s mental processes and of his very gradual decline from Truth.

Very fortunate were the Edinburgh Editors in securing for this work and some others, the valuable labours of Dr. Holmes, of whom I have elsewhere given some biographical particulars. The merit and fulness of his annotations are so marked, that I have been spared a great deal of work, such as I was forced to bestow on the former volumes of this American Edition. But on the other hand these pages have given me much patient study and toil as an editor, because of the “shreds and patches” in which Tertullian comes to us, in the Edinburgh Series; and because of some typographical peculiarities, exceptional in that Series itself, and presenting complications, when transferred to a new form of mechanical arrangement. For example, apart from some valuable material which belongs to the General Preface, and which I have transferred accordingly, the following dislocations confronted me to begin with: The Marcion is presented to us in Volume VII. apart from the other writings of Tertullian. At the close of Vol. XI. we reach the Ad Nationes, of which Dr. Holmes is the translator, another hand (Mr. Thelwall’s) having been employed on former pages of that volume.  It is not till we reach Volume XV. that Tertullian again appears, but this volume is wholly the work of Dr. Holmes.  Finally, in Volume XVIII., we meet Tertullian again, (Mr. Thelwall the able translator), but, here is placed the “Introduction” to all the works of Tertullian, which, of course, I have, transferred to its proper place. I make these explanations by no means censoriously, but to point out at once the nature of my own task, and the advantage that accrues to the reader, by the order in which the works of the great Tertullian appear in this edition, enabling him to compare different or parallel passages, all methodically arranged in consecutive pages, without a minute’s search, or delay.

Now, as to typographical difficulties to which I have referred, Dr. Holmes marks all his multiplied and useful notes with brackets, which are almost always superfluous, and which in this American Edition are used to designate my own contributions, when printed with the text, or apart from Preface and Elucidations. These, therefore, I have removed necessarily and with no appreciable loss to the work, but great gain to the beauty of the page. But, again, Dr. Holmes’ translations are all so heavily bracketed as to become an eyesore, and the disfigured pages have been often complained of as afflictive to the reader. Many words strictly implied by the original Latin, and which should therefore be unmarked, are yet put between brackets. Even minute words (and, or to wit, or again,) when, in the nature of the case the English idiom requires them, are thus marked. I have not retained these blemishes; but when an inconsiderable word or a repetition does add to the sense, or qualify it, I have italicized such words, throwing more important interpolations into parenthetical marks, which are less painful to the sight than brackets. I have found them quite as serviceable to denote the auxiliary word or phrase; and where the author himself uses a parenthesis, I have observed very few instances in which a sensible reader would confound it with the translator’s efforts to eke out the sense. Sometimes, an awkward interpolation has been thrown into a footnote.  Occasionally the crabbed sentences of the great Carthaginian are so obscure that Dr. Holmes has been unable to make them lucid, although, with the original in hand, he probably felt a force in his own rendering which the mere English reader must fail to perceive. In a few such instances, noting the fact in the margin, I have tried to bring out the sense, by slight modifications of punctuation and arrangement. Occasionally too I have dropped a superfluous interpolation (such as e.g., to conclude, or let me say again,) when I have found that it only served to clog and overcharge a sentence. Last of all, Dr. Holmes’ headings have sometimes been condensed, to avoid phrases and sentences immediately recurring in the chapter.[4] These purely mechanical parts require a terse form of statement, like those in the English Bible, and I have frequently reduced them on that model, dropping redundant adverbs and adjectives to bring out the catchwords.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. “From Marlboro’s eyes the tears of dotage flow, And Swift expires a driveller and a show.”
  2. See the story of the Abbé Paris, Guettée, Histoire de L’Eglise de France, Tom. xii. p. 12.  Also, Parton, Voltaire, Vol. I. pp. 236, 261, etc.
  3. See opp. Tom. viii. p. 46, Ed. Migne.
  4. Take e.g. the heading to chapter xxiv. of the De Præscriptione. It reads thus: “St. Peter’s further vindication. St. Paul was not at all superior to St. Peter in teaching. Nothing was imparted to the former, in the “third heaven,” to enable him to add to the faith—however foolishly the heretics may boast of him as if they had, forsooth, been favoured with some of the secrets so imparted to him in paradise.” If the reader will turn to the chapter referred to, he will observe an instance of condensation by which nothing is forfeited that is requisite to a heading, though redundancies are dropped.