Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 18

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 18
155844Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 18Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XVIII.—Answer to a Psychical Objection.

“But these (passages),” says (our opponent), “will pertain to the interdiction of all immodesty, and the enforcing of all modesty, yet without prejudice to the place of pardon; which (pardon) is not forthwith quite denied when sins are condemned, since the time of the pardon is concurrent with the condemnation which it excludes.”

This piece of shrewdness on the part of the Psychics was (naturally) sequent; and accordingly we have reserved for this place the cautions which, even in the times of antiquity, were openly taken with a view to the refusing of ecclesiastical communion to cases of this kind.

For even in the Proverbs, which we call Parœmiæ, Solomon specially (treats) of the adulterer (as being) nowhere admissible to expiation.  “But the adulterer,” he says, “through indigence of senses acquireth perdition to his own soul; sustaineth dolors and disgraces.  His ignominy, moreover, shall not be wiped away for the age.  For indignation, full of jealousy, will not spare the man in the day of judgment.”[1]  If you think this said about a heathen, at all events about believers you have already heard (it said) through Isaiah:  “Go out from the midst of them, and be separate, and touch not the impure.”[2]  You have at the very outset of the Psalms, “Blessed the man who hath not gone astray in the counsel of the impious, nor stood in the way of sinners, and sat in the state-chair of pestilence;”[3] whose voice,[4] withal, (is heard) subsequently:  “I have not sat with the conclave of vanity; and with them who act iniquitously will I not enter”—this (has to do with “the church” of such as act ill—“and with the impious will I not sit;”[5] and, “I will wash with the innocent mine hands, and Thine altar will I surround, Lord”[6]—as being “a host in himself”—inasmuch as indeed “With an holy (man), holy Thou wilt be; and with an innocent man, innocent Thou wilt be; and with an elect, elect Thou wilt be; and with a perverse, perverse Thou wilt be.”[7]  And elsewhere:  “But to the sinner saith the Lord, Why expoundest thou my righteous acts, and takest up my testament through thy mouth?  If thou sawest a thief, thou rannest with him; and with adulterers thy portion thou madest.”[8]  Deriving his instructions, therefore, from hence, the apostle too says:  “I wrote to you in the Epistle, not to be mingled up with fornicators:  not, of course, with the fornicators of this world”—and so forth—“else it behoved you to go out from the world.  But now I write to you, if any is named a brother among you, (being) a fornicator, or an idolater” (for what so intimately joined?), “or a defrauder” (for what so near akin?), and so on, “with such to take no food even,”[9] not to say the Eucharist:  because, to wit, withal “a little leaven spoileth the flavour of the whole lump.”[10]  Again to Timotheus:  “Lay hands on no one hastily, nor communicate with others’ sins.”[11]  Again to the Ephesians:  “Be not, then, partners with them:  for ye were at one time darkness.”[12]  And yet more earnestly:  “Communicate not with the unfruitful works of darkness; nay rather withal convict them.  For (the things) which are done by them in secrecy it is disgraceful even to utter.”[13]  What more disgraceful than immodesties?  If, moreover, even from a “brother” who “walketh idly”[14] he warns the Thessalonians to withdraw themselves, how much more withal from a fornicator!  For these are the deliberate judgments of Christ, “loving the Church,” who “hath delivered Himself up for her, that He may sanctify her (purifying her utterly by the laver of water) in the word, that He may present the Church to Himself glorious, not having stain or wrinkle”—of course after the laver—“but (that) she may be holy and without reproach;”[15] thereafter, to wit, being “without wrinkle” as a virgin, “without stain” (of fornication) as a spouse, “without disgrace” (of vileness), as having been “utterly purified.”

What if, even here, you should conceive to reply that communion is indeed denied to sinners, very especially such as had been “polluted by the flesh,”[16] but (only) for the present; to be restored, to wit, as the result of penitential suing:  in accordance with that clemency of God which prefers a sinner’s repentance to his death?[17]—for this fundamental ground of your opinion must be universally attacked.  We say, accordingly, that if it had been competent to the Divine clemency to have guaranteed the demonstration of itself even to the post-baptismally lapsed, the apostle would have said thus:  “Communicate not with the works of darkness, unless they shall have repented;” and, “With such take not food even, unless after they shall have wiped, with rolling at their feet, the shoes of the brethren;” and, “Him who shall have marred the temple of God, shall God mar, unless he shall have shaken off from his head in the church the ashes of all hearths.”  For it had been his duty, in the case of those things which he had condemned, to have equally determined the extent to which he had (and that conditionally) condemned them—whether he had condemned them with a temporary and conditional, and not a perpetual, severity.  However, since in all Epistles he both prohibits such a character, (so sinning) after believing, from being admitted (to the society of believers); and, if admitted, detrudes him from communion, without hope of any condition or time; he sides more with our opinion, pointing out that the repentance which the Lord prefers is that which before believing, before baptism, is esteemed better than the death of the sinner,—(the sinner, I say,) once for all to be washed through the grace of Christ, who once for all has suffered death for our sins.  For this (rule), even in his own person, the apostle has laid down.  For, when affirming that Christ came for this end, that He might save sinners,[18] of whom himself had been the “first,” what does he add?  “And I obtained mercy, because I did (so) ignorantly in unbelief.”[19]  Thus that clemency of God, preferring the repentance of a sinner to his death, looks at such as are ignorant still, and still unbelieving, for the sake of whose liberation Christ came; not (at such) as already know God, and have learnt the sacrament of the faith.  But if the clemency of God is applicable to such as are ignorant still, and unbelieving, of course it follows that repentance invites clemency to itself; without prejudice to that species of repentance after believing, which either, for lighter sins, will be able to obtain pardon from the bishop, or else, for greater and irremissible ones, from God only.[20]


  1. Prov. vi. 32–34.
  2. Isa. lii. 11, quoted in 2 Cor. vi. 17.
  3. Ps. i. 1 in LXX.
  4. i.e., the voice of this “blessed man,” this true “Asher.”
  5. Ps. xxvi. 4, 5 (in LXX. xxv. 4, 5).
  6. Ps. xxvi. (xxv. in LXX.) 6, not quite exactly.
  7. Ps. xviii. 25, 26 (in LXX. Ps. xviii. 26, 27), nearly.
  8. Ps. l. (xlix. in LXX.) 16, 18.
  9. 1 Cor. v. 9–11.
  10. Ver. 6.
  11. 1 Tim. v. 22.
  12. Eph. v. 7, 8 ad init.
  13. Vers. 11, 12.
  14. 2 Thess. iii. 6.
  15. Eph. v. 26, 27.
  16. Comp. Jude 23 ad fin.
  17. Comp. Ezek. xxxiii. 11, etc.; and see cc. ii., xxii.
  18. See 1 Tim. i. 15.
  19. 1 Tim. i. 13, 16.
  20. See cc. iii. and xi., above.