Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Fasting/Chapter 3

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Fasting by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 3

Chapter III.—The Principle of Fasting Traced Back to Its Earliest Source.

Accordingly we are bound to affirm, before proceeding further, this (principle), which is in danger of being secretly subverted; (namely), of what value in the sight of God this “emptiness” you speak of is:  and, first of all, whence has proceeded the rationale itself of earning the favour of God in this way.  For the necessity of the observance will then be acknowledged, when the authority of a rationale, to be dated back from the very beginning, shall have shone out to view.

Adam had received from God the law of not tasting “of the tree of recognition of good and evil,” with the doom of death to ensue upon tasting.[1]  However, even (Adam) himself at that time, reverting to the condition of a Psychic after the spiritual ecstasy in which he had prophetically interpreted that “great sacrament”[2] with reference to Christ and the Church, and no longer being “capable of the things which were the Spirit’s,”[3] yielded more readily to his belly than to God, heeded the meat rather than the mandate, and sold salvation for his gullet!  He ate, in short, and perished; saved (as he would) else (have been), if he had preferred to fast from one little tree:  so that, even from this early date, animal faith may recognise its own seed, deducing from thence onward its appetite for carnalities and rejection of spiritualities.  I hold, therefore, that from the very beginning the murderous gullet was to be punished with the torments and penalties of hunger.  Even if God had enjoined no preceptive fasts, still, by pointing out the source whence Adam was slain, He who had demonstrated the offence had left to my intelligence the remedies for the offence.  Unbidden, I would, in such ways and at such times as I might have been able, have habitually accounted food as poison, and taken the antidote, hunger; through which to purge the primordial cause of death—a cause transmitted to me also, concurrently with my very generation; certain that God willed that whereof He nilled the contrary, and confident enough that the care of continence will be pleasing to Him by whom I should have understood that the crime of incontinence had been condemned.  Further:  since He Himself both commands fasting, and calls “a soul[4] wholly shattered”—properly, of course, by straits of diet—“a sacrifice;” who will any longer doubt that of all dietary macerations the rationale has been this, that by a renewed interdiction of food and observation of precept the primordial sin might now be expiated, in order that man may make God satisfaction through the self-same causative material through which he had offended, that is, through interdiction of food; and thus, in emulous wise, hunger might rekindle, just as satiety had extinguished, salvation, contemning for the sake of one unlawful more lawful (gratifications)?


Footnotes[edit]

  1. See Gen. ii. 16, 17.
  2. Comp. Eph. v. 32 with Gen. ii. 23, 24.
  3. See 1 Cor. ii. 14.
  4. The reference is to Ps. li. 17 (in LXX. Ps. l. 19).