Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 13

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 13
155839Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 13Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XIII.—Of St. Paul, and the Person Whom He Urges the Corinthians to Forgive.

We know plainly at this point, too, the suspicions which they raise.  For, in fact, they suspect the Apostle Paul of having, in the second (Epistle) to the Corinthians, granted pardon to the self-same fornicator whom in the first he has publicly sentenced to be “surrendered to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh,”[1]—impious heir as he was to his father’s wedlock; as if he subsequently erased his own words, writing:  “But if any hath wholly saddened, he hath not wholly saddened me, but in part, lest I burden you all.  Sufficient is such a chiding which is given by many; so that, on the contrary, ye should prefer to forgive and console, lest, perhaps, by more abundant sadness, such an one be devoured.  For which reason, I pray you, confirm toward him affection.  For to this end withal have I written, that I may learn a proof of you, that in all (things) ye are obedient to me.  But if ye shall have forgiven any, so (do) I; for I, too, if I have forgiven ought, have forgiven in the person of Christ, lest we be overreached by Satan, since we are not ignorant of his injections.”[2]  What (reference) is understood here to the fornicator? what to the contaminator of his father’s bed?[3] what to the Christian who had overstepped the shamelessness of heathens?—since, of course, he would have absolved by a special pardon one whom he had condemned by a special anger.  He is more obscure in his pity than in his indignation.  He is more open in his austerity than in his lenity.  And yet, (generally), anger is more readily indirect than indulgence.  Things of a sadder are more wont to hesitate than things of a more joyous cast.  Of course the question in hand concerned some moderate indulgence; which (moderation in the indulgence) was now, if ever, to be divined, when it is usual for all the greatest indulgences not to be granted without public proclamation, so far (are they from being granted) without particularization.  Why, do you yourself, when introducing into the church, for the purpose of melting the brotherhood by his prayers, the repentant adulterer, lead into the midst and prostrate him, all in haircloth and ashes, a compound of disgrace and horror, before the widows, before the elders, suing for the tears of all, licking the footprints of all, clasping the knees of all?  And do you, good shepherd and blessed father that you are, to bring about the (desired) end of the man, grace your harangue with all the allurements of mercy in your power, and under the parable of the “ewe” go in quest of your goats?[4] do you, for fear lest your “ewe” again take a leap out from the flock—as if that were no more lawful for the future which was not even once lawful—fill all the rest likewise full of apprehension at the very moment of granting indulgence?  And would the apostle so carelessly have granted indulgence to the atrocious licentiousness of fornication burdened with incest, as not at least to have exacted from the criminal even this legally established garb of repentance which you ought to have learned from him? as to have uttered no commination on the past? no allocution touching the future?  Nay, more; he goes further, and beseeches that they “would confirm toward him affection,” as if he were making satisfaction to him, not as if he were granting an indulgence!  And yet I hear (him speak of) “affection,” not “communion;” as (he writes) withal to the Thessalonians:  “But if any obey not our word through the epistle, him mark; and associate not with him, that he may feel awed; not regarding (him) as an enemy, but rebuking as a brother.”[5]  Accordingly, he could have said that to a fornicator, too, “affection” only was conceded, not “communion” as well; to an incestuous man, however, not even “affection;” whom he would, to be sure, have bidden to be banished from their midst[6]—much more, of course, from their mind.  “But he was apprehensive lest they should be ‘overreached by Satan’ with regard to the loss of that person whom himself had cast forth to Satan; or else lest, ‘by abundance of mourning, he should be devoured’ whom he had sentenced to ‘destruction of the flesh.’”  Here they go so far as to interpret “destruction of the flesh” of the office of repentance; in that by fasts, and squalor, and every species of neglect and studious ill-treatment devoted to the extermination of the flesh, it seems to make satisfaction to God; so that they argue that that fornicator—that incestuous person rather—having been delivered by the apostle to Satan, not with a view to “perdition,” but with a view to “emendation,” on the hypothesis that subsequently he would, on account of the “destruction” (that is, the general affliction) “of the flesh,” attain pardon, therefore did actually attain it.  Plainly, the selfsame apostle delivered to Satan Hymenæus and Alexander, “that they might be emended into not blaspheming,”[7] as he writes to his Timotheus.  “But withal himself says that ‘a stake[8] was given him, an angel of Satan,’ by which he was to be buffeted, lest he should exalt himself.”  If they touch upon this (instance) withal, in order to lead us to understand that such as were “delivered to Satan” by him (were so delivered) with a view to emendation, not to perdition; what similarity is there between blasphemy and incest, and a soul entirely free from these,—nay, rather elated from no other source than the highest sanctity and all innocence; which (elation of soul) was being restrained in the apostle by “buffets,” if you will, by means (as they say) of pain in the ear or head?  Incest, however, and blasphemy, deserved to have delivered the entire persons of men to Satan himself for a possession, not to “an angel” of his.  And (there is yet another point):  for about this it makes a difference, nay, rather withal in regard to this it is of the utmost consequence, that we find those men delivered by the apostle to Satan, but to the apostle himself an angel of Satan given.  Lastly, when Paul is praying the Lord for its removal, what does he hear?  “Hold my grace sufficient; for virtue is perfected in infirmity.”[9]  This they who are surrendered to Satan cannot hear.  Moreover, if the crime of Hymenæus and Alexander—blasphemy, to wit—is irremissible in this and in the future age,[10] of course the apostle would not, in opposition to the determinate decision of the Lord, have given to Satan, under a hope of pardon, men already sunken from the faith into blasphemy; whence, too, he pronounced them “shipwrecked with regard to faith,”[11] having no longer the solace of the ship, the Church.  For to those who, after believing, have struck upon (the rock of) blasphemy, pardon is denied; on the other hand, heathens and heretics are daily emerging out of blasphemy.  But even if he did say, “I delivered them to Satan, that they might receive the discipline of not blaspheming,” he said it of the rest, who, by their deliverance to Satan—that is, their projection outside the Church—had to be trained in the knowledge that there must be no blaspheming.  So, therefore, the incestuous fornicator, too, he delivered, not with a view to emendation, but with a view to perdition, to Satan, to whom he had already, by sinning above an heathen, gone over; that they might learn there must be no fornicating.  Finally, he says, “for the destruction of the flesh,” not its “torture”—condemning the actual substance through which he had fallen out (of the faith), which substance had already perished immediately on the loss of baptism—“in order that the spirit,” he says, “may be saved in the day of the Lord.”  And (here, again, is a difficulty):  for let this point be inquired into, whether the man’s own spirit will be saved.  In that case, a spirit polluted with so great a wickedness will be saved; the object of the perdition of the flesh being, that the spirit may be saved in penalty.  In that case, the interpretation which is contrary to ours will recognise a penalty without the flesh, if we lose the resurrection of the flesh.  It remains, therefore, that his meaning was, that that spirit which is accounted to exist in the Church must be presented “saved,” that is, untainted by the contagion of impurities in the day of the Lord, by the ejection of the incestuous fornicator; if, that is, he subjoins:  “Know ye not, that a little leaven spoileth the savour of the whole lump?”[12]  And yet incestuous fornication was not a little, but a large, leaven.


  1. See 1 Cor. v. 5.
  2. See 2 Cor. ii. 5–11.
  3. Comp. Gen. xlix. 4.
  4. Comp. Matt. xxv. 32, 33.
  5. 2 Thess. iii. 14, 15.
  6. Comp. 1 Cor. v. 2.
  7. 1 Tim. i. 20.
  8. 2 Cor. xii. 7–10.
  9. 2 Cor. xii. 9, not very exactly rendered.
  10. Ævo.  Comp. Matt. xii. 32.
  11. 1 Tim. i. 19.
  12. 1 Cor. v. 6, where Tertullian appears to have used δολοῖ, not ζυμοῖ.