Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 17

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 17
155843Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 17Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XVII.—Consistency of the Apostle in His Other Epistles.

Challenge me to front the apostolic line of battle; look at his Epistles:  they all keep guard in defence of modesty, of chastity, of sanctity; they all aim their missiles against the interests of luxury, and lasciviousness, and lust.  What, in short, does he write to the Thessalonians withal?  “For our consolation[1] (originated) not of seduction, nor of impurity:”  and, “This is the will of God, your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; that each one know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, not in the lust of concupiscence, as (do) the nations which are ignorant of God.”[2]  What do the Galatians read?  “Manifest are the works of the flesh.”  What are these?  Among the first he has set “fornication, impurity, lasciviousness:”  “(concerning) which I foretell you, as I have foretold, that whoever do such acts are not to attain by inheritance the kingdom of God.”[3]  The Romans, moreover,—what learning is more impressed upon them than that there must be no dereliction of the Lord after believing?  “What, then, say we?  Do we persevere in sin, in order that grace may superabound?  Far be it.  We, who are dead to sin, how shall we live in it still?  Are ye ignorant that we who have been baptized in Christ have been baptized into His death?  Buried with Him, then, we have been, through the baptism into the death, in order that, as Christ hath risen again from the dead, so we too may walk in newness of life.  For if we have been buried together in the likeness of His death, why, we shall be (in that) of (His) resurrection too; knowing this, that our old man hath been crucified together with Him.  But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall live, too, with Him; knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, no more dieth, (that) death no more hath domination over Him.  For in that He died to sin, He died once for all; but in that He liveth, to God He liveth.  Thus, too, repute ye yourselves dead indeed to sin, but living to God through Christ Jesus.”[4]  Therefore, Christ being once for all dead, none who, subsequently to Christ, has died, can live again to sin, and especially to so heinous a sin.  Else, if fornication and adultery may by possibility be anew admissible, Christ withal will be able anew to die.  Moreover, the apostle is urgent in prohibiting “sin from reigning in our mortal body,”[5] whose “infirmity of the flesh” he knew.  “For as ye have tendered your members to servile impurity and iniquity, so too now tender them servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  For even if he has affirmed that “good dwelleth not in his flesh,”[6] yet (he means) according to “the law of the letter,”[7] in which he “was:”  but according to “the law of the Spirit,”[8] to which he annexes us, he frees us from the “infirmity of the flesh.”  “For the law,” he says, “of the Spirit of life hath manumitted thee from the law of sin and of death.”[9]  For albeit he may appear to be partly disputing from the standpoint of Judaism, yet it is to us that he is directing the integrity and plenitude of the rules of discipline,—(us), for whose sake soever, labouring (as we were) in the law, “God hath sent, through flesh, His own Son, in similitude of flesh of sin; and, because of sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh; in order that the righteousness of the law,” he says, “might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.  For they who walk according to flesh are sensible as to those things which are the flesh’s, and they who (walk) according to (the) Spirit those which (are) the Spirit’s.”[10]  Moreover, he has affirmed the “sense of the flesh” to be “death;”[11] hence too, “enmity,” and enmity toward God;[12] and that “they who are in the flesh,” that is, in the sense of the flesh, “cannot please God:”[13]  and, “If ye live according to flesh,” he says, “it will come to pass that ye die.”[14]  But what do we understand “the sense of the flesh” and “the life of the flesh” (to mean), except whatever “it shames (one) to pronounce?”[15] for the other (works) of the flesh even an apostle would have named.[16]  Similarly, too, (when writing) to the Ephesians, while recalling past (deeds), he warns (them) concerning the future:  “In which we too had our conversation, doing the concupiscences and pleasures of the flesh.”[17]  Branding, in fine, such as had denied themselves—Christians, to wit—on the score of having “delivered themselves up to the working of every impurity,”[18] “But ye,” he says, “not so have learnt Christ.”  And again he says thus:  “Let him who was wont to steal, steal no more.”[19]  But, similarly, let him who was wont to commit adultery hitherto, not commit adultery; and he who was wont to fornicate hitherto, not fornicate:  for he would have added these (admonitions) too, had he been in the habit of extending pardon to such, or at all willed it to be extended—(he) who, not willing pollution to be contracted even by a word, says, “Let no base speech proceed out of your mouth.”[20]  Again:  “But let fornication and every impurity not be even named among you, as becometh saints,”[21]—so far is it from being excused,—“knowing this, that every fornicator or impure (person) hath not God’s kingdom.  Let none seduce you with empty words:  on this account cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of unbelief.”[22]  Who “seduces with empty words” but he who states in a public harangue that adultery is remissible? not seeing into the fact that its very foundations have been dug out by the apostle, when he puts restraints upon drunkennesses and revellings, as withal here:  “And be not inebriated with wine, in which is voluptuousness.”[23]  He demonstrates, too, to the Colossians what “members” they are to “mortify” upon earth:  “fornication, impurity, lust, evil concupiscence,” and “base talk.”[24]  Yield up, by this time, to so many and such sentences, the one (passage) to which you cling.  Paucity is cast into the shade by multitude, doubt by certainty, obscurity by plainness.  Even if, for certain, the apostle had granted pardon of fornication to that Corinthian, it would be another instance of his once for all contravening his own practice to meet the requirement of the time.  He circumcised Timotheus alone, and yet did away with circumcision.[25]


  1. 1 Thess. ii. 3, omitting the last clause.
  2. 1 Thess. iv. 3–5.
  3. Gal. v. 19–21.
  4. Rom. vi. 1–11.
  5. Ver. 12.
  6. See Rom. vii. 18.
  7. This exact expression does not occur; but comp. 2 Cor. iii. 6.
  8. Comp. the last reference and Rom. viii. 2.
  9. Rom. viii. 2, omitting ἐν Χριστῷ ᾽Ιησοῦ, and substituting (unless it be a misprint) “te” for μέ.
  10. Rom. viii. 3–5.
  11. Ver. 6.
  12. Ver. 7.
  13. Ver. 8.
  14. Ver. 12.
  15. See Eph. v. 12.
  16. As he did to the Galatians:  see Gal. v. 19–21.
  17. Eph. ii. 3, briefly, and not literally.
  18. Eph. iv. 17–20.
  19. Ver. 28.
  20. Ver. 29 ad init.
  21. Eph. v. 3.
  22. Vers. 5, 6, not accurately.
  23. Ver. 18.
  24. See Col. iii. 5, 8.
  25. Comp. Acts xvi. 1–3 with Gal. v. 2–6, and similar passages.