Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/The Prescription Against Heretics/Chapter VII

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, The Prescription Against Heretics by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes
Chapter VII

Chapter VII.—Pagan Philosophy the Parent of Heresies. The Connection Between Deflections from Christian Faith and the Old Systems of Pagan Philosophy.

These are “the doctrines” of men and “of demons”[1] produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world’s wisdom: this the Lord called “foolishness,”[2] and “chose the foolish things of the world” to confound even philosophy itself. For (philosophy) it is which is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed[3] heresies are themselves instigated[4] by philosophy. From this source came the Æons, and I known not what infinite forms,[5] and the trinity of man[6] in the system of Valentinus, who was of Plato’s school. From the same source came Marcion’s better god, with all his tranquillity; he came of the Stoics. Then, again, the opinion that the soul dies is held by the Epicureans; while the denial of the restoration of the body is taken from the aggregate school of all the philosophers; also, when matter is made equal to God, then you have the teaching of Zeno; and when any doctrine is alleged touching a god of fire, then Heraclitus comes in. The same subject-matter is discussed over and over again[7] by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments[8] are involved. Whence comes evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of man? and in what way does he come? Besides the question which Valentinus has very lately proposed—Whence comes God? Which he settles with the answer: From enthymesis and ectroma.[9] Unhappy Aristotle! who invented for these men dialectics, the art of building up and pulling down; an art so evasive in its propositions,[10] so far-fetched in its conjectures, so harsh, in its arguments, so productive of contentions—embarrassing[11] even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of[12] nothing! Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,”[13] and “unprofitable questions,”[14] and “words which spread like a cancer?”[15] From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.”[16] He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,”[17] who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.”[18] Away with[19] all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. 1 Tim. iv. 1.
  2. 1 Cor. iii. 18 and 25.
  3. Denique.
  4. Subornantur.
  5. Formeæ, “Ideæ” (Oehler).
  6. See Tertullian’s treatises, adversus Valentinum, xxv., and de Anima, xxi.; also Epiphanius, Hær. xxxi . 23.
  7. Volutatur.
  8. Retractatus.
  9. “De enthymesi;” for this word Tertullian gives animationem (in his tract against Valentinus, ix.), which seems to mean, “the mind in operation.” (See the same treatise, x. xi.) With regard to the other word, Jerome (on Amos. iii.) adduces Valentinus as calling Christ ἔκτρωμα, that is, abortion.
  10. Sententiis.
  11. Molestam.
  12. Tractaverit, in the sense of conclusively settling.
  13. 1 Tim. i. 4.
  14. Tit. iii. 9.
  15. 2 Tim. ii. 17.
  16. Col. ii. 8. The last clause, “præter providentiam Spiritus Sancti,” is either Tertullian’s reading, or his gloss of the apostle’s οὐ κατὰ Χριστόν—“not after Christ.”
  17. Because in the beginning of the church the apostles taught in Solomon’s porch, Acts iii. 5.
  18. Wisdom of Solomon, i. 1.
  19. Viderint.