Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/Ad Nationes/Elucidations/The Hatred Felt by the Heathen Against the Christians is Unjust, Because Based on Culpable Ignorance
[Translated by Dr. Holmes.]
Chapter I.—The Hatred Felt by the Heathen Against the Christians is Unjust, Because Based on Culpable Ignorance.
One proof of that ignorance of yours, which condemns whilst it excuses your injustice, is at once apparent in the fact, that all who once shared in your ignorance and hatred (of the Christian religion), as soon as they have come to know it, leave off their hatred when they cease to be ignorant; nay more, they actually themselves become what they had hated, and take to hating what they had once been. Day after day, indeed, you groan over the increasing number of the Christians. Your constant cry is, that the state is beset (by us); that Christians are in your fields, in your camps, in your islands. You grieve over it as a calamity, that each sex, every age—in short, every rank—is passing over from you to us; yet you do not even after this set your minds upon reflecting whether there be not here some latent good. You do not allow yourselves in suspicions which may prove too true, nor do you like ventures which may be too near the mark. This is the only instance in which human curiosity grows torpid. You love to be ignorant of what other men rejoice to have discovered; you would rather not know it, because you now cherish your hatred as if you were aware that, (with the knowledge,) your hatred would certainly come to an end. Still, if there shall be no just ground for hatred, it will surely be found to be the best course to cease from the past injustice. Should, however, a cause have really existed there will be no diminution of the hatred, which will indeed accumulate so much the more in the consciousness of its justice; unless it be, forsooth, that you are ashamed to cast off your faults, or sorry to free yourselves from blame. I know very well with what answer you usually meet the argument from our rapid increase. That indeed must not, you say, be hastily accounted a good thing which converts a great number of persons, and gains them over to its side. I am aware how the mind is apt to take to evil courses. How many there are which forsake virtuous living! How many seek refuge in the opposite! Many, no doubt; nay, very many, as the last days approach. But such a comparison as this fails in fairness of application; for all are agreed in thinking thus of the evil-doer, so that not even the guilty themselves, who take the wrong side, and turn away from the pursuit of good to perverse ways, are bold enough to defend evil as good. Base things excite their fear, impious ones their shame. In short, they are eager for concealment, they shrink from publicity, they tremble when caught; when accused, they deny; even when tortured, they do not readily or invariably confess (their crime); at all events, they grieve when they are condemned. They reproach themselves for their past life; their change from innocence to an evil disposition they even attribute to fate. They cannot say that it is not a wrong thing, therefore they will not admit it to be their own act. As for the Christians, however, in what does their case resemble this? No one is ashamed; no one is sorry, except for his former (sins). If he is pointed at (for his religion), he glories in it; if dragged to trial, he does not resist; if accused, he makes no defence. When questioned, he confesses; when condemned, he rejoices. What sort of evil is this, in which the nature of evil comes to a standstill?
- [As a recapitulation I insert this here to close this class of argument for the reasons following.] This treatise resembles The Apology, both in its general purport as a vindication of Christianity against heathen prejudice, and in many of its expressions and statements. So great is the resemblance that this shorter work has been thought by some to have been a first draft of the longer and perfect one. Tertullian, however, here addresses his expostulations to the general public, while in The Apology it is the rulers and magistrates of the empire whom he seeks to influence. [Dr. Allix conjectures the date of this treatise to be about a.d. 217. See Kaye, p. 50.]
- Compare The Apology, c. i.
- Revincit. “Condemnat” is Tertullian’s word in The Apology, i.
- Defendit. “Excusat” in Apol.
- Non licet rectius suspicari.
- Non lubet propius experiri.
- At quin.
- Nisi si.
- Emendari pudet.
- Excusari piget.
- Redundantiæ nostræ.
- Bona fide.
- Pro extremitatibus temporum.
- Or perhaps, “to maintain evil in preference to good.”
- Pristinorum. In the corresponding passage (Apol. i.) the phrase is, “nisi plane retro non fuisse,” i.e., “except that he was not a Christian long ago.”