Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 14

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 14
155840Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 14Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XIV.—The Same Subject Continued.

And—these intervening points having accordingly been got rid of—I return to the second of Corinthians; in order to prove that this saying also of the apostle, “Sufficient to such a man be this rebuke which (is administered) by many,” is not suitable to the person of the fornicator.  For if he had sentenced him “to be surrendered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” of course he had condemned rather than rebuked him.  Some other, then, it was to whom he willed the “rebuke” to be sufficient; if, that is, the fornicator had incurred not “rebuke” from his sentence, but “condemnation.”  For I offer you withal, for your investigation, this very question:  Whether there were in the first Epistle others, too, who “wholly saddened” the apostle by “acting disorderly,”[1] and “were wholly saddened” by him, through incurring (his) “rebuke,” according to the sense of the second Epistle; of whom some particular one may in that (second Epistle) have received pardon.  Direct we, moreover, our attention to the entire first Epistle, written (that I may so say) as a whole, not with ink, but with gall; swelling, indignant, disdainful, comminatory, invidious, and shaped through (a series of) individual charges, with an eye to certain individuals who were, as it were, the proprietors of those charges?  For so had schisms, and emulations, and discussions, and presumptions, and elations, and contentions required, that they should be laden with invidiousness, and rebuffed with curt reproof, and filed down by haughtiness, and deterred by austerity.  And what kind of invidiousness is the pungency of humility?  “To God I give thanks that I have baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, lest any say that I have baptized in mine own name.”[2]  “For neither did I judge to know anything among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”[3]  And, “(I think) God hath selected us the apostles (as) hindmost, like men appointed to fight with wild beasts; since we have been made a spectacle to this world, both to angels and to men:”  And, “We have been made the offscourings of this world, the refuse of all:”  And, “Am I not free? am I not an apostle? have I not seen Christ Jesus our Lord?”[4]  With what kind of superciliousness, on the contrary, was he compelled to declare, “But to me it is of small moment that I be interrogated by you, or by a human court-day; for neither am I conscious to myself (of any guilt);” and, “My glory none shall make empty.”[5]  “Know ye not that we are to judge angels?”[6]  Again, of how open censure (does) the free expression (find utterance), how manifest the edge of the spiritual sword, (in words like these):  “Ye are already enriched! ye are already satiated! ye are already reigning!”[7] and, “If any thinks himself to know, he knoweth not yet how it behoves him to know!”[8]  Is he not even then “smiting some one’s face,”[9] in saying, “For who maketh thee to differ?  What, moreover, hast thou which thou hast not received?  Why gloriest thou as if thou have not received?”[10]  Is he not withal “smiting them upon the mouth,”[11] (in saying):  “But some, in (their) conscience, even until now eat (it) as if (it were) an idol-sacrifice.  But, so sinning, by shocking the weak consciences of the brethren thoroughly, they will sin against Christ.”[12]  By this time, indeed, (he mentions individuals) by name:  “Or have we not a power of eating, and of drinking, and of leading about women, just as the other apostles withal, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” and, “If others attain to (a share) in power over you, (may) not we rather?”  In like manner he pricks them, too, with an individualizing pen:  “Wherefore, let him who thinketh himself to be standing, see lest he fall;” and, “If any seemeth to be contentious, we have not such a custom, nor (has) the Church of the Lord.”  With such a final clause (as the following), wound up with a malediction, “If any loveth not the Lord Jesus, be he anathema maranatha,” he is, of course, striking some particular individual through.

But I will rather take my stand at that point where the apostle is more fervent, where the fornicator himself has troubled others also.  “As if I be not about to come unto you, some are inflated.  But I will come with more speed, if the Lord shall have permitted, and will learn not the speech of those who are inflated, but the power.  For the kingdom of God is not in speech, but in power.  And what will ye? shall I come unto you in a rod, or in a spirit of lenity?”  For what was to succeed?  “There is heard among you generally fornication, and such fornication as (is) not (heard) even among the Gentiles, that one should have his own father’s wife.  And are ye inflated, and have ye not rather mourned, that he who hath committed such a deed may be taken away from the midst of you?”  For whom were they to “mourn?”  Of course, for one dead.  To whom were they to mourn?  Of course, to the Lord, in order that in some way or other he may be “taken away from the midst of them;” not, of course in order that he may be put outside the Church.  For a thing would not have been requested of God which came within the official province of the president (of the Church); but (what would be requested of Him was), that through death—not only this death common to all, but one specially appropriate to that very flesh which was already a corpse, a tomb leprous with irremediable uncleanness—he might more fully (than by simple excommunication) incur the penalty of being “taken away” from the Church.  And accordingly, in so far as it was meantime possible for him to be “taken away,” he “adjudged such an one to be surrendered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.”  For it followed that flesh which was being cast forth to the devil should be accursed, in order that it might be discarded from the sacrament of blessing, never to return into the camp of the Church.

And thus we see in this place the apostle’s severity divided, against one who was “inflated,” and one who was “incestuous:”  (we see the apostle) armed against the one with “a rod,” against the other with a sentence,—a “rod,” which he was threatening; a sentence, which he was executing:  the former (we see) still brandishing, the latter instantaneously hurtling; (the one) wherewith he was rebuking, and (the other) wherewith he was condemning.  And certain it is, that forthwith thereafter the rebuked one indeed trembled beneath the menace of the uplifted rod, but the condemned perished under the instant infliction of the penalty.  Immediately the former retreated fearing the blow, the latter paying the penalty.  When a letter of the self-same apostle is sent a second time to the Corinthians, pardon is granted plainly; but it is uncertain to whom, because neither person nor cause is advertised.  I will compare the cases with the senses.  If the “incestuous” man is set before us, on the same platform will be the “inflated” man too.  Surely the analogy of the case is sufficiently maintained, when the “inflated” is rebuked, but the “incestuous” is condemned.  To the “inflated” pardon is granted, but after rebuke; to the “incestuous” no pardon seems to have been granted, as under condemnation.  If it was to him for whom it was feared that he might be “devoured by mourning” that pardon was being granted, the “rebuked” one was still in danger of being devoured, losing heart on account of the commination, and mourning on account of the rebuke.  The “condemned” one, however, was permanently accounted as already devoured, alike by his fault and by his sentence; (accounted, that is, as one) who had not to “mourn,” but to suffer that which, before suffering it, he might have mourned.  If the reason why pardon was being granted was “lest we should be defrauded by Satan,” the loss against which precaution was being taken had to do with that which had not yet perished.  No precaution is taken in the use of a thing finally despatched, but in the case of a thing still safe.  But the condemned one—condemned, too, to the possession of Satan—had already perished from the Church at the moment when he had committed such a deed, not to say withal at the moment of being forsworn by the Church itself.  How should (the Church) fear to suffer a fraudulent loss of him whom she had already lost on his ereption, and whom, after condemnation, she could not have held?  Lastly, to what will it be becoming for a judge to grant indulgence? to that which by a formal pronouncement he has decisively settled, or to that which by an interlocutory sentence he has left in suspense?  And, of course, (I am speaking of) that judge who is not wont “to rebuild those things which he has destroyed, lest he be held a transgressor.”[13]

Come, now, if he had not “wholly saddened” so many persons in the first Epistle; if he had “rebuked” none, had “terrified”[14] none; if he had “smitten” the incestuous man alone; if, for his cause, he had sent none into panic, had struck (no) “inflated” one with consternation,—would it not be better for you to suspect, and more believing for you to argue, that rather some one far different had been in the same predicament at that time among the Corinthians; so that, rebuked, and terrified, and already wounded with mourning, he therefore—the moderate nature of his fault permitting it—subsequently received pardon, than that you should interpret that (pardon as granted) to an incestuous fornicator?  For this you had been bound to read, even if not in an Epistle, yet impressed upon the very character of the apostle, by (his) modesty more clearly than by the instrumentality of a pen:  not to steep, to wit, Paul, the “apostle of Christ,”[15] the “teacher of the nations in faith and verity,”[16] the “vessel of election,”[17] the founder of Churches, the censor of discipline, (in the guilt of) levity so great as that he should either have condemned rashly one whom he was presently to absolve, or else rashly absolved one whom he had not rashly condemned, albeit on the ground of that fornication which is the result of simple immodesty, not to say on the ground of incestuous nuptials and impious voluptuousness and parricidal lust,—(lust) which he had refused to compare even with (the lusts of) the nations, for fear it should be set down to the account of custom; (lust) on which he would sit in judgment though absent, for fear the culprit should “gain the time;”[18] (lust) which he had condemned after calling to his aid even “the Lord’s power,” for fear the sentence should seem human.  Therefore he has trifled both with his own “spirit,”[19] and with “the angel of the Church,”[20] and with “the power of the Lord,” if he rescinded what by their counsel he had formally pronounced.


  1. Comp. 2 Thess. iii. 6, 11.
  2. 1 Cor. i. 14, 15; but the Greek is, εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα.
  3. 1 Cor. ii. 2.
  4. 1 Cor. ix. 1.
  5. Comp. 1 Cor. ix. 15.
  6. 1 Cor. vi. 3.
  7. 1 Cor. iv. 8, inaccurately.
  8. 1 Cor. viii. 2, inaccurately.
  9. See 2 Cor. xi. 20.
  10. 1 Cor. iv. 7, with some words omitted.
  11. Comp. Acts xxiii. 2.
  12. 1 Cor. viii. 7, 12, inaccurately.
  13. Comp. Gal. ii. 18.
  14. Comp. 2 Cor. x. 9.
  15. Comp. Rom. i. 1, and the beginnings of his Epp. πασσιμ.
  16. 1 Tim. ii. 7.
  17. Acts ix. 15.
  18. Comp. Dan. ii. 8.
  19. Comp. 1 Cor. v. 3.
  20. Comp. Rev. i. 20; ii. 1, 8, 12, 18; iii. 1, 7, 14.