Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 19

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 19
155845Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 19Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XIX.—Objections from the Revelation and the First Epistle of St. John Refuted.

But how far (are we to treat) of Paul; since even John appears to give some secret countenance to the opposite side? as if in the Apocalypse he has manifestly assigned to fornication the auxiliary aid of repentance, where, to the angel of the Thyatirenes, the Spirit sends a message that He “hath against him that he kept (in communion) the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophet, and teacheth,[1] and seduceth my servants unto fornicating and eating of idol sacrifice.  And I gave her bounteously a space of time, that she might enter upon repentance; nor is she willing to enter upon it on the count of fornication.  Behold, I will give her into a bed, and her adulterers with herself into greatest pressure, unless they shall have repented of her works.”[2]  I am content with the fact that, between apostles, there is a common agreement in rules of faith and of discipline.  For, “Whether (it be) I,” says (Paul), “or they, thus we preach.”[3]  Accordingly, it is material to the interest of the whole sacrament to believe nothing conceded by John, which has been flatly refused by Paul.  This harmony of the Holy Spirit whoever observes, shall by Him be conducted into His meanings.  For (the angel of the Thyatirene Church) was secretly introducing into the Church, and urging justly to repentance, an heretical woman, who had taken upon herself to teach what she had learnt from the Nicolaitans.  For who has a doubt that an heretic, deceived by (a spurious baptismal) rite, upon discovering his mischance, and expiating it by repentance, both attains pardon and is restored to the bosom of the Church?  Whence even among us, as being on a par with an heathen, nay even more than heathen, an heretic likewise, (such an one) is purged through the baptism of truth from each character,[4] and admitted (to the Church).  Or else, if you are certain that that woman had, after a living faith, subsequently expired, and turned heretic, in order that you may claim pardon as the result of repentance, not as it were for an heretical, but as it were for a believing, sinner:  let her, I grant, repent; but with the view of ceasing from adultery, not however in the prospect of restoration (to Church-fellowship) as well.  For this will be a repentance which we, too, acknowledge to be due much more (than you do); but which we reserve, for pardon, to God.[5]

In short, this Apocalypse, in its later passages, has assigned “the infamous and fornicators,” as well as “the cowardly, and unbelieving, and murderers, and sorcerers, and idolaters,” who have been guilty of any such crime while professing the faith, to “the lake of fire,”[6] without any conditional condemnation.  For it will not appear to savour of (a bearing upon) heathens, since it has (just) pronounced with regard to believers, “They who shall have conquered shall have this inheritance; and I will be to them a God, and they to me for sons;” and so has subjoined:  “But to the cowardly, and unbelieving, and infamous, and fornicators, and murderers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, (shall be) a share in the lake of fire and sulphur, which (lake) is the second death.”  Thus, too, again:  “Blessed they who act according to the precepts, that they may have power over the tree of life and over the gates, for entering into the holy city.  Dogs, sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, out!”[7]—of course, such as do not act according to the precepts; for to be sent out is the portion of those who have been within.  Moreover, “What have I to do to judge them who are without?”[8] had preceded (the sentences now in question).

From the Epistle also of John they forthwith cull (a proof).  It is said:  “The blood of His Son purifieth us utterly from every sin.”[9]  Always then, and in every form, we will sin, if always and from every sin He utterly purifies us; or else, if not always, not again after believing; and if not from sin, not again from fornication.  But what is the point whence (John) has started?  He had predicated “God” to be “Light,” and that “darkness is not in Him,” and that “we lie if we say that we have communion with Him, and walk in darkness.”[10]  “If, however,” he says, “we walk in the light, we shall have communion with Him, and the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord purifieth us utterly from every sin.”[11]  Walking, then, in the light, do we sin? and, sinning in the light, shall we be utterly purified?  By no means.  For he who sins is not in the light, but in darkness.  Whence, too, he points out the mode in which we shall be utterly purified from sin—(by) “walking in the light,” in which sin cannot be committed.  Accordingly, the sense in which he says we “are utterly purified” is, not in so far as we sin, but in so far as we do not sin.  For, “walking in the light,” but not having communion with darkness, we shall act as they that are “utterly purified;” sin not being quite laid down, but not being wittingly committed.  For this is the virtue of the Lord’s blood, that such as it has already purified from sin, and thenceforward has set “in the light,” it renders thenceforward pure, if they shall continue to persevere walking in the light.  “But he subjoins,” you say, “If we say that we have not sin, we are seducing ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, faithful and just is He to remit them to us, and utterly purify us from every unrighteousness.”[12]  Does he say “from impurity?”  (No):  or else, if that is so, then (He “utterly purifies” us) from “idolatry” too.  But there is a difference in the sense.  For see yet again:  “If we say,” he says, “that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”[13]  All the more fully:  “Little children, these things have I written to you, lest ye sin; and if ye shall have sinned, an Advocate we have with God the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and, He is the propitiation for our sins.”[14]  “According to these words,” you say, “it will be admitted both that we sin, and that we have pardon.”  What, then, will become (of your theory), when, proceeding (with the Epistle), I find something different?  For he affirms that we do not sin at all; and to this end he treats at large, that he may make no such concession; setting forth that sins have been once for all deleted by Christ, not subsequently to obtain pardon; in which statement the sense requires us (to apply the statement) to an admonition to chastity.  “Every one,” he says, “who hath this hope, maketh himself chaste, because He too is chaste.  Every one who doeth sin, doeth withal iniquity;[15] and sin is iniquity.[16]  And ye know that He hath been manifested to take away sins”—henceforth, of course, to be no more incurred, if it is true, (as it is,) that he subjoins, “Every one who abideth in Him sinneth not; every one who sinneth neither hath seen nor knoweth Him.  Little children, let none seduce you.  Every one who doeth righteousness is righteous, as He withal is righteous.  He who doeth sin is of the devil, inasmuch as the devil sinneth from the beginning.  For unto this end was manifested the Son of God, to undo the works of the devil:”  for He has “undone” them withal, by setting man free through baptism, the “handwriting of death” having been “made a gift of” to him:[17]  and accordingly, “he who is being born of God doeth not sin, because the seed of God abideth in him; and he cannot sin, because he hath been born of God.  Herein are manifest the sons of God and the sons of the devil.”[18]  Wherein? except it be (thus):  the former by not sinning, from the time that they were born from God; the latter by sinning, because they are from the devil, just as if they never were born from God?  But if he says, “He who is not righteous is not of God,”[19] how shall he who is not modest again become (a son) of God, who has already ceased to be so?

“It is therefore nearly equivalent to saying that John has forgotten himself; asserting, in the former part of his Epistle, that we are not without sin, but now prescribing that we do not sin at all:  and in the one case flattering us somewhat with hope of pardon, but in the other asserting with all stringency, that whoever may have sinned are no sons of God.”  But away with (the thought):  for not even we ourselves forget the distinction between sins, which was the starting-point of our digression.  And (a right distinction it was); for John has here sanctioned it; in that there are some sins of daily committal, to which we all are liable:  for who will be free from the accident of either being angry unjustly, and retaining his anger beyond sunset;[20] or else even using manual violence or else carelessly speaking evil; or else rashly swearing; or else forfeiting his plighted word or else lying, from bashfulness or “necessity?”  In businesses, in official duties, in trade, in food, in sight, in hearing, by how great temptations are we plied!  So that, if there were no pardon for such sins as these, salvation would be unattainable to any.  Of these, then, there will be pardon, through the successful Suppliant of the Father, Christ.  But there are, too, the contraries of these; as the graver and destructive ones, such as are incapable of pardon—murder, idolatry, fraud, apostasy, blasphemy; (and), of course, too, adultery and fornication; and if there be any other “violation of the temple of God.”  For these Christ will no more be the successful Pleader:  these will not at all be incurred by one who has been born of God, who will cease to be the son of God if he do incur them.

Thus John’s rule of diversity will be established; arranging as he does a distinction of sins, while he now admits and now denies that the sons of God sin.  For (in making these assertions) he was looking forward to the final clause of his letter, and for that (final clause) he was laying his preliminary bases; intending to say, in the end, more manifestly:  “If any knoweth his brother to be sinning a sin not unto death, he shall make request, and the Lord shall give life to him who sinneth not unto death.  For there is a sin unto death:  not concerning that do I say that one should make request.”[21]  He, too, (as I have been), was mindful that Jeremiah had been prohibited by God to deprecate (Him) on behalf of a people which was committing mortal sins.  “Every unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin unto death.[22]  But we know that every one who hath been born of God sinneth not”[23]—to wit, the sin which is unto death.  Thus there is no course left for you, but either to deny that adultery and fornication are mortal sins; or else to confess them irremissible, for which it is not permitted even to make successful intercession.


  1. Or, “saith and teacheth that she is a prophet.”
  2. Rev. ii. 18, 20–22.
  3. 1 Cor. xv. 11.
  4. i.e., of heathen and heretic.
  5. See the end of the foregoing chapter.
  6. Rev. xxi. 8.
  7. Rev. xxii. 14, 15.
  8. 1 Cor. v. 12 ad init.
  9. 1 John i. 7 ad fin.
  10. Vers. 5, 6.
  11. Ver. 8, incorrectly.
  12. 1 John i. 8, 9.
  13. 1 John i. 9.
  14. 1 John ii. 1, 2.
  15. Iniquitatem =ἀνομίαν.
  16. Iniquitas; ἀνομία ="lawlessness.”
  17. See Col. ii. 13, 14.
  18. 1 John iii. 3–10.
  19. 1 John iii. 10.
  20. Eph. iv. 26.
  21. 1 John v. 16.  But Tertullian has rendered αἰτεῖν and ἐρωτᾶν by the one word postulare.  See Trench, N. T. Synonyms, pp. 169–173. ed. 4, 1858.
  22. So Oehler; but it appears that a “non” must have been omitted.
  23. Vers. 17, 18.