Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Modesty/Chapter 20

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 20
155846Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Modesty — Chapter 20Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XX.—From Apostolic Teaching Tertullian Turns to that of Companions of the Apostles, and of the Law.

The discipline, therefore, of the apostles properly (so called), indeed, instructs and determinately directs, as a principal point, the overseer of all sanctity as regards the temple of God to the universal eradication of every sacrilegious outrage upon modesty, without any mention of restoration.  I wish, however, redundantly to superadd the testimony likewise of one particular comrade of the apostles,—(a testimony) aptly suited for confirming, by most proximate right, the discipline of his masters.  For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas—a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself in the uninterrupted observance of abstinence:  “Or else, I alone and Barnabas, have not we the power of working?”[1]  And, of course, the Epistle of Barnabas is more generally received among the Churches than that apocryphal “Shepherd” of adulterers.  Warning, accordingly, the disciples to omit all first principles, and strive rather after perfection, and not lay again the foundations of repentance from the works of the dead, he says:  “For impossible it is that they who have once been illuminated, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have participated in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the word of God and found it sweet, when they shall—their age already setting—have fallen away, should be again recalled unto repentance, crucifying again for themselves the Son of God, and dishonouring Him.”[2]  “For the earth which hath drunk the rain often descending upon it, and hath borne grass apt for them on whose account it is tilled withal, attaineth God’s blessing; but if it bring forth thorns, it is reprobate, and nighest to cursing, whose end is (doomed) unto utter burning.”[3]  He who learnt this from apostles, and taught it with apostles, never knew of any “second repentance” promised by apostles to the adulterer and fornicator.

For excellently was he wont to interpret the law, and keep its figures even in (the dispensation of) the Truth itself.  It was with a reference, in short, to this species of discipline that the caution was taken in the case of the leper:  “But if the speckled appearance shall have become efflorescent over the skin, and shall have covered the whole skin from the head even unto the feet through all the visible surface, then the priest, when he shall have seen, shall utterly cleanse him:  since he hath wholly turned into white he is clean.  But on the day that there shall have been seen in such an one quick colour, he is defiled.”[4]  (The Law) would have the man who is wholly turned from the pristine habit of the flesh to the whiteness of faith—which (faith) is esteemed a defect and blemish in (the eyes of) the world[5]—and is wholly made new, to be understood to be “clean;” as being no longer “speckled,” no longer dappled with the pristine and the new (intermixt).  If, however, after the reversal (of the sentence of uncleanness), ought of the old nature shall have revived with its tendencies, that which was beginning to be thought utterly dead to sin in his flesh must again be judged unclean, and must no more be expiated by the priest.  Thus adultery, sprouting again from the pristine stock, and wholly blemishing the unity of the new colour from which it had been excluded, is a defect that admits of no cleansing.  Again, in the case of a house:  if any spots and cavities in the party-walls had been reported to the priest, before he entered to inspect that house he bids all (its contents) be taken away from it; thus the belongings of the house would not be unclean.  Then the priest, if, upon entering, he had found greenish or reddish cavities, and their appearance to the sight deeper down within the body of the party-wall, was to go out to the gate, and separate the house for a period within seven days.  Then, upon returning on the seventh day, if he should have perceived the taint to have become diffused in the party-walls, he was to order those stones in which the taint of the leprosy had been to be extracted and cast away outside the city into an unclean place; and other stones, polished and sound, to be taken and replaced in the stead of the first, and the house to be plastered with other mortar.[6]  For, in coming to the High Priest of the Father—Christ—all impediments must first be taken away, in the space of a week, that the house which remains, the flesh and the soul, may be clean; and when the Word of God has entered it, and has found “stains of red and green,” forthwith must the deadly and sanguinary passions “be extracted” and “cast away” out of doors—for the Apocalypse withal has set “death” upon a “green horse,” but a “warrior” upon a “red”[7]—and in their stead must be under-strewn stones polished and apt for conjunction, and firm,—such as are made (by God) into (sons) of Abraham,[8]—that thus the man may be fit for God.  But if, after the recovery and reformation, the priest again perceived in the same house ought of the pristine disorders and blemishes, he pronounced it unclean, and bade the timbers, and the stones, and all the structure of it, to be pulled down, and cast away into an unclean place.[9]  This will be the man—flesh and soul—who, subsequently to reformation, after baptism and the entrance of the priests, again resumes the scabs and stains of the flesh, and “is case away outside the city into an unclean place,”—“surrendered,” to wit, “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,”—and is no more rebuilt in the Church after his ruin.  So, too, with regard to lying with a female slave, who had been betrothed to an husband, but not yet redeemed, not yet set free:  “provision,” says (the Law), shall be made for her, and she shall not die, because she was not yet manumitted for him for whom she was being kept.[10]  For flesh not yet manumitted to Christ, for whom it was being kept,[11] used to be contaminated with impunity:  so now, after manumission, it no more receives pardon.


  1. 1 Cor. ix. 6; but our copies read, τοῦ μὴ ἐργάζεσθαι.
  2. Comp. Heb. vi. 1, 4–6.
  3. Vers. 7, 8.
  4. See Lev. xiii. 12–14 (in LXX.).
  5. Sæculo.
  6. See Lev. xiv. 33–42.
  7. See Rev. vi. 4, 8.
  8. Comp. Matt. iii. 9; Luke iii. 8.
  9. Lev. xiv. 43–45.
  10. See Lev. xix. 20.
  11. Comp. 2 Cor. xi. 2.