Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Monogamy/Chapter 11
|←Chapter 10||Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Monogamy by , translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter XI.—Further Remarks Upon St. Paul’s Teaching.
Grant, now, that you marry “in the Lord,” in accordance with the law and the apostle—if, notwithstanding, you care even about this—with what face do you request (the solemnizing of) a matrimony which is unlawful to those of whom you request it; of a monogamist bishop, of presbyters and deacons bound by the same solemn engagement, of widows whose Order you have in your own person refused? And they, plainly, will give husbands and wives as they would morsels of bread; for this is their rendering of “To every one who asketh thee thou shalt give!” And they will join you together in a virgin church, the one betrothed of the one Christ! And you will pray for your husbands, the new and the old. Make your election, to which of the twain you will play the adulteress. I think, to both. But if you have any wisdom, be silent on behalf of the dead one. Let your silence be to him a divorce, already endorsed in the dotal gifts of another. In this way you will earn the new husband’s favour, if you forget the old. You ought to take more pains to please him for whose sake you have not preferred to please God! Such (conduct) the Psychics will have it the apostle approved, or else totally failed to think about, when he wrote: “The woman is bound for such length of time as her husband liveth; but if he shall have died, she is free; whom she will let her marry, only in the Lord.” For it is out of this passage that they draw their defence of the licence of second marriage; nay, even of (marriages) to any amount, if of second (marriage): for that which has ceased to be once for all, is open to any and every number. But the sense in which the apostle did write will be apparent, if first an agreement be come to that he did not write it in the sense of which the Psychics avail themselves. Such an agreement, moreover, will be come to if one first recall to mind those (passages) which are diverse from the passage in question, when tried by the standard of doctrine, of volition, and of Paul’s own discipline. For, if he permits second nuptials, which were not “from the beginning,” how does he affirm that all things are being recollected to the beginning in Christ? If he wills us to iterate conjugal connections, how does he maintain that “our seed is called” in the but once married Isaac as its author? How does he make monogamy the base of his disposition of the whole Ecclesiastical Order, if this rule does not antecedently hold good in the case of laics, from whose ranks the Ecclesiastical Order proceeds? How does he call away from the enjoyment of marriage such as are still in the married position, saying that “the time is wound up,” if he calls back again into marriage such as through death had escaped from marriage? If these (passages) are diverse from that one about which the present question is, it will be agreed (as we have said) that he did not write in that sense of which the Psychics avail themselves; inasmuch as it is easier (of belief) that that one passage should have some explanation agreeable with the others, than that an apostle should seem to have taught (principles) mutually diverse. That explanation we shall be able to discover in the subject-matter itself. What was the subject-matter which led the apostle to write such (words)? The inexperience of a new and just rising Church, which he was rearing, to wit, “with milk,” not yet with the “solid food” of stronger doctrine; inexperience so great, that that infancy of faith prevented them from yet knowing what they were to do in regard of carnal and sexual necessity. The very phases themselves of this (inexperience) are intelligible from (the apostle’s) rescripts, when he says: “But concerning these (things) which ye write; good it is for a man not to touch a woman; but, on account of fornications, let each one have his own wife.” He shows that there were who, having been “apprehended by the faith” in (the state of) marriage, were apprehensive that it might not be lawful for them thenceforward to enjoy their marriage, because they had believed on the holy flesh of Christ. And yet it is “by way of allowance” that he makes the concession, “not by way of command;” that is, indulging, not enjoining, the practice. On the other hand, he “willed rather” that all should be what he himself was. Similarly, too, in sending a rescript on (the subject of) divorce, he demonstrates that some had been thinking over that also, chiefly because withal they did not suppose that they were to persevere, after faith, in heathen marriages. They sought counsel, further, “concerning virgins”—for “precept of the Lord” there was none—(and were told) that “it is good for a man if he so remain permanently;” (“so”), of course, as he may have been found by the faith. “Thou hast been bound to a wife, seek not loosing; thou hast been loosed from a wife, seek not a wife.” “But if thou shalt have taken to (thyself) a wife, thou hast not sinned;” because to one who, before believing, had been “loosed from a wife,” she will not be counted a second wife who, subsequently to believing, is the first: for it is from (the time of our) believing that our life itself dates its origin. But here he says that he “is sparing them;” else “pressure of the flesh” would shortly follow, in consequence of the straits of the times, which shunned the encumbrances of marriage: yea, rather solicitude must be felt about earning the Lord’s favour than a husband’s. And thus he recalls his permission. So, then, in the very same passage in which he definitely rules that “each one ought permanently to remain in that calling in which he shall be called;” adding, “A woman is bound so long as her husband liveth; but if he shall have fallen asleep, she is free: whom she shall wish let her marry, only in the Lord,” he hence also demonstrates that such a woman is to be understood as has withal herself been “found” (by the faith) “loosed from a husband,” similarly as the husband “loosed from a wife”—the “loosing” having taken place through death, of course, not through divorce; inasmuch as to the divorced he would grant no permission to marry, in the teeth of the primary precept. And so “a woman, if she shall have married, will not sin;” because he will not be reckoned a second husband who is, subsequently to her believing, the first, any more (than a wife thus taken will be counted a second wife). And so truly is this the case, that he therefore adds, “only in the Lord;” because the question in agitation was about her who had had a heathen (husband), and had believed subsequently to losing him: for fear, to wit, that she might presume herself able to marry a heathen even after believing; albeit not even this is an object of care to the Psychics. Let us plainly know that, in the Greek original, it does not stand in the form which (through the either crafty or simple alteration of two syllables) has gone out into common use, “But if her husband shall have fallen asleep,” as if it were speaking of the future, and thereby seemed to pertain to her who has lost her husband when already in a believing state. If this indeed had been so, licence let loose without limit would have granted a (fresh) husband as often as one had been lost, without any such modesty in marrying as is congruous even to heathens. But even if it had been so, as if referring to future time, “If any (woman’s) husband shall have died, even the future would just as much pertain to her whose husband shall die before she believed. Take it which way you will, provided you do not overturn the rest. For since these (other passages) agree to the sense (given above): “Thou hast been called (as) a slave; care not:” “Thou hast been called in uncircumcision; be not circumcised:” “Thou hast been called in circumcision; become not uncircumcised:” with which concurs, “Thou hast been bound to a wife; seek not loosing: thou hast been loosed from a wife; seek not a wife,”—manifest enough it is that these passages pertain to such as, finding themselves in a new and recent “calling,” were consulting (the apostle) on the subject of those (circumstantial conditions) in which they had been “apprehended” by the faith.
This will be the interpretation of that passage, to be examined as to whether it be congruous with the time and the occasion, and with the examples and arguments preceding as well as with the sentences and senses succeeding, and primarily with the individual advice and practice of the apostle himself: for nothing is so much to be guarded as (the care) that no one be found self-contradictory.
- See Matt. v. 42; Luke vi. 30. Comp. de Bapt., c. xviii.
- 1 Cor. vii. 39, not rendered with very strict accuracy.
- See c. v. above.
- See de Ex. Cast., c. vii.
- Comp. 1 Cor. iii. 2 with Heb. v. 11–14.
- 1 Cor. vii. 1, 2.