Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/The Prescription Against Heretics/Chapter III
Chapter III.—Weak People Fall an Easy Prey to Heresy, Which Derives Strength from the General Frailty of Mankind. Eminent Men Have Fallen from Faith; Saul, David, Solomon. The Constancy of Christ.
It is usual, indeed, with persons of a weaker character, to be so built up (in confidence) by certain individuals who are caught by heresy, as to topple over into ruin themselves. How comes it to pass, (they ask), that this woman or that man, who were the most faithful, the most prudent, and the most approved in the church, have gone over to the other side? Who that asks such a question does not in fact reply to it himself, to the effect that men whom heresies have been able to pervert ought never to have been esteemed prudent, or faithful, or approved? This again is, I suppose, an extraordinary thing, that one who has been approved should afterwards fall back? Saul, who was good beyond all others, is afterwards subverted by envy. David, a good man “after the Lord’s own heart,” is guilty afterwards of murder and adultery. Solomon, endowed by the Lord with all grace and wisdom, is led into idolatry, by women. For to the Son of God alone was it reserved to persevere to the last without sin. But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor, if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth? Do we prove the faith by the persons, or the persons by the faith? No one is wise, no one is faithful, no one excels in dignity, but the Christian; and no one is a Christian but he who perseveres even to the end. You, as a man, know any other man from the outside appearance. You think as you see. And you see as far only as you have eyes. But says (the Scripture), “the eyes of the Lord are lofty.” “Man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart.” “The Lord (beholdeth and) knoweth them that are His;” and “the plant which (my heavenly Father) hath not planted, He rooteth up;” and “the first shall,” as He shows, “be last;” and He carries “His fan in His hand to purge His threshing-floor.” Let the chaff of a fickle faith fly off as much as it will at every blast of temptation, all the purer will be that heap of corn which shall be laid up in the garner of the Lord. Did not certain of the disciples turn back from the Lord Himself, when they were offended? Yet the rest did not therefore think that they must turn away from following Him, but because they knew that He was the Word of Life, and was come from God, they continued in His company to the very last, after He had gently inquired of them whether they also would go away. It is a comparatively small thing, that certain men, like Phygellus, and Hermogenes, and Philetus, and Hymenæus, deserted His apostle: the betrayer of Christ was himself one of the apostles. We are surprised at seeing His churches forsaken by some men, although the things which we suffer after the example of Christ Himself, show us to be Christians. “They went out from us,” says (St. John,) “but they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.”
- Usitatissimi, “most experienced.”
- 1 Sam. xviii. 8, 9.
- 1 Sam. xiii. 14.
- 2 Sam. xi.
- 1 Kings xi. 4.
- Heb. iv. 15. [See p. 221, supra.]
- [Here the word martyr means no more than a witness or confessor, and may account for what are called exaggerated statements as to the number of primitive martyrs. See Kaye p. 128.]
- Fidem, “The Creed.”
- Matt. x. 22.
- Jer. xxxii. 19.
- 1 Sam. xvi. 7.
- 2 Tim. ii. 19.
- Matt. xv. 13.
- Matt. xx. 16.
- Matt. iii. 12.
- John vi. 66.
- A vestigiis ejus.
- John i. 1; vi. 68, and xvi. 30.
- John vi. 67.
- 2 Tim. i. 15; ii. 17; 1 Tim. i. 20.
- 1 John ii. 19. [i.e., with the Apostolic Churches. See Cap. xx, infra.]