Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 16

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 16
155842Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 16Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XVI.—General Consistency of the Apostle.

Necessary it is, therefore, that the (character of the) apostle should be continuously pointed out to them; whom I will maintain to be such in the second of Corinthians withal, as I know (him to be) in all his letters.  (He it is) who even in the first (Epistle) was the first of all (the apostles) to dedicate the temple of God:  “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that in you the Lord dwells?”[1]—who likewise, for the consecrating and purifying (of) that temple, wrote the law pertaining to the temple-keepers:  “If any shall have marred the temple of God, him shall God mar; for the temple of God is holy, which (temple) are ye.”[2]  Come, now; who in the world has (ever) redintegrated one who has been “marred” by God (that is, delivered to Satan with a view to destruction of the flesh), after subjoining for that reason, “Let none seduce himself;”[3] that is, let none presume that one “marred” by God can possibly be redintegrated anew?  Just as, again, among all other crimes—nay, even before all others—when affirming that “adulterers, and fornicators, and effeminates, and co-habitors with males, will not attain the kingdom of God,” he premised, “Do not err”[4]—to wit, if you think they will attain it.  But to them from whom “the kingdom” is taken away, of course the life which exists in the kingdom is not permitted either.  Moreover, by superadding, “But such indeed ye have been; but ye have received ablution, but ye have been sanctified, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God;”[5] in as far as he puts on the paid side of the account such sins before baptism, in so far after baptism he determines them irremissible, if it is true, (as it is), that they are not allowed to “receive ablution” anew.  Recognise, too, in what follows, Paul (in the character of) an immoveable column of discipline and its rules:  “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats:  God maketh a full end both of the one and of the others; but the body (is) not for fornication, but for God:”[6]  for “Let Us make man,” said God, “(conformable) to Our image and likeness.”  “And God made man; (conformable) to the image and likeness of God made He him.”[7]  “The Lord for the body:”  yes; for “the Word was made flesh.”[8]  “Moreover, God both raised up the Lord, and will raise up us through His own power;”[9] on account, to wit, of the union of our body with Him.  And accordingly, “Know ye not your bodies (to be) members of Christ?” because Christ, too, is God’s temple.  “Overturn this temple, and I will in three days’ space resuscitate it.”[10]  “Taking away the members of Christ, shall I make (them) members of an harlot?  Know ye not, that whoever is agglutinated to an harlot is made one body? (for the two shall be (made) into one flesh):  but whoever is agglutinated to the Lord is one spirit?  Flee fornication.”[11]  If revocable by pardon, in what sense am I to flee it, to turn adulterer anew?  I shall gain nothing if I do flee it:  I shall be “one body,” to which by communion I shall be agglutinated.  “Every sin which a human being may have committed is extraneous to the body; but whoever fornicateth, sinneth against his own body.”[12]  And, for fear you should fly to that statement for a licence to fornication, on the ground that you will be sinning against a thing which is yours, not the Lord’s, he takes you away from yourself, and awards you, according to his previous disposition, to Christ:  “And ye are not your own;” immediately opposing (thereto), “for bought ye are with a price”—the blood, to wit, of the Lord:[13]  “glorify and extol the Lord in your body.”[14]  See whether he who gives this injunction be likely to have pardoned one who has disgraced the Lord, and who has cast Him down from (the empire of) his body, and this indeed through incest.  If you wish to imbibe to the utmost all knowledge of the apostle, in order to understand with what an axe of censorship he lops, and eradicates, and extirpates, every forest of lusts, for fear of permitting aught to regain strength and sprout again; behold him desiring souls to keep a fast from the legitimate fruit of nature—the apple, I mean, of marriage:  “But with regard to what ye wrote, good it is for a man to have no contact with a woman; but, on account of fornication, let each one have his own wife:  let husband to wife, and wife to husband, render what is due.”[15]  Who but must know that it was against his will that he relaxed the bond of this “good,” in order to prevent fornication?  But if he either has granted, or does grant, indulgence to fornication, of course he has frustrated the design of his own remedy. and will be bound forthwith to put the curb upon the nuptials of continence, if the fornication for the sake of which those nuptials are permitted shall cease to be feared.  For (a fornication) which has indulgence granted it will not be feared.  And yet he professes that he has granted the use of marriage “by way of indulgence, not of command.”[16]  For he “wills” all to be on a level with himself.  But when things lawful are (only) granted by way of indulgence, who hope for things unlawful?  “To the unmarried” also, “and widows,” he says, “It is good, by his example, to persevere” (in their present state); “but if they were too weak, to marry; because it is preferable to marry than to bum.”[17]  With what fires, I pray you, is it preferable to “burn”—(the fires) of concupiscence, or (the fires) of penalty?  Nay, but if fornication is pardonable, it will not be an object of concupiscence.  But it is more (the manner) of an apostle to take forethought for the fires of penalty.  Wherefore, if it is penalty which “burns,” it follows that fornication, which penalty awaits, is not pardonable.  Meantime withal, while prohibiting divorce, he uses the Lord’s precept against adultery as an instrument for providing, in place of divorce, either perseverance in widowhood, or else a reconciliation of peace:  inasmuch as “whoever shall have dismissed a wife (for any cause) except the cause of adultery, maketh her commit adultery; and he who marrieth one dismissed by a husband committeth adultery.”[18]  What powerful remedies does the Holy Spirit furnish, to prevent, to wit, the commission anew of that which He wills not should anew be pardoned!

Now, if in all cases he says it is best for a man thus to be; “Thou art joined to a wife, seek not loosing” (that you may give no occasion to adultery); “thou art loosed from a wife, seek not a wife,” that you may reserve an opportunity for yourself:  “but withal, if thou shalt have married a wife, and if a virgin shall have married, she sinneth not; pressure, however, of the flesh such shall have,”—even here he is granting a permission by way of “sparing them.”[19]  On the other hand, he lays it down that “the time is wound up,” in order that even “they who have wives may be as if they had them not.”  “For the fashion of this world is passing away,”—(this world) no longer, to wit, requiring (the command), “Grow and multiply.”  Thus he wills us to pass our life “without anxiety,” because “the unmarried care about the Lord, how they may please God; the married, however, muse about the world,[20] how they may please their spouse.”[21]  Thus he pronounces that the “preserver of a virgin” doeth “better” than her “giver in marriage.”[22]  Thus, too, he discriminatingly judges her to be more blessed, who, after losing her husband subsequently to her entrance into the faith, lovingly embraces the opportunity of widowhood.[23]  Thus he commends as Divine all these counsels of continence:  “I think,”[24] he says, “I too have the Spirit of God.”[25]

Who is this your most audacious asserter of all immodesty, plainly a “most faithful” advocate of the adulterous, and fornicators, and incestuous, in whose honour he has undertaken this cause against the Holy Spirit, so that he recites a false testimony from (the writings of) His apostle?  No such indulgence granted Paul, who endeavours to obliterate “necessity of the flesh” wholly from (the list of) even honourable pretexts (for marriage unions).  He does grant “indulgence,” I allow;—not to adulteries, but to nuptials.  He does “spare,” I allow;—marriages, not harlotries.  He tries to avoid giving pardon even to nature, for fear he may flatter guilt.  He is studious to put restraints upon the union which is heir to blessing, for fear that which is heir to curse be excused.  This (one possibility) was left him—to purge the flesh from (natural) dregs, for (cleanse it) from (foul) stains he cannot.  But this is the usual way with perverse and ignorant heretics; yes, and by this time even with Psychics universally:  to arm themselves with the opportune support of some one ambiguous passage, in opposition to the disciplined host of sentences of the entire document.


  1. 1 Cor. iii. 16, inexactly.
  2. Ver. 17, not quite correctly.
  3. Ver. 18.
  4. 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10.
  5. Ver. 11, inexactly.
  6. Ver. 13.
  7. Comp. Gen. i. 26, 27.
  8. John i. 14.
  9. 1 Cor. vi. 14.
  10. John ii. 19.
  11. 1 Cor. vi. 15–17.
  12. 1 Cor. vi. 18.
  13. Comp. 1 Pet. i. 19; and c. vi. above, ad fin.
  14. 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20, not exactly.
  15. 1 Cor. vii. 1–3.
  16. Ib., ver. 6.
  17. 1 Cor. vii. 8, 9.
  18. Matt. v. 32.
  19. 1 Cor. vii. 26–28, constantly quoted in previous treatises.
  20. Mundo.
  21. Vers. 32, 33, loosely.
  22. 1 Cor. vii. 38.
  23. Vers. 39, 40.
  24. Puto:  Gr. δοκῶ.
  25. Ver. 40 ad fin.