Tracts for the Times/Record XVIII

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Tracts for the Times by Tertullian, translated by Tractarian Movement (1833)
Record XVIII

Publication dated October 18, 1834.

(Ad Scholas.)

[Price 1d.





Tertullian's account of the Rule of Faith.


[By the "Rule of Faith" is sometimes meant the canon, or document containing the faith, (e. g. Scripture, or ascertained Apostolical tradition,) sometimes the collection of articles of faith, as in a confession, or, (as it is sometimes called) the Summa Fidei. In the former sense of course the Rule is the authority, in the latter it is the very doctrine to be proved. Tertullian uses the word in both senses in this treatise.]

Christ Jesus our Lord—whatever is His nature, (so to express myself) whatever is that God who is His Father, in whatever way He is God and man, whatever His doctrine, whatever His reward,—certainly declared all this, Himself, during His sojourn on earth, His present and pre-existent nature, His Father's will which He was fulfilling, His commands to man; declared it either openly to the people, or apart to His disciples, of whom He had especially selected twelve as His companions, and the destined teachers of the nations. Accordingly, on His departure to His Father, after His resurrection, He gave them their commission, (i. e. the eleven, for one had fallen away,) and bade them, Go teach the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. They then without delay, Apostles as they were called, or Missionaries, chose a twelfth by lot, according to the direction of the prophetic Psalm; and, when they had been visited by the promised Spirit of miracle and tongues, first preached faith in Jesus Christ, and founded churches throughout Judea; next went forward into the wide world, publishing the same doctrine to the Gentiles, and establishing Churches in every city. From these in turn the faith has been, and still is, propagated continually for the creation of new churches, which, as well as the first founded, are called Apostolic, as being the offspring of those which were really such. Every family must be referred to its first original: therefore these Churches, many though they be and flourishing, yet are but one, that one original which the Apostles established, and from which they all spring. So they are all original, and all Apostolic, all being one. That oneness is evidenced by their loving inter-communion, and the name of brotherhood, and the interchange of hospitality; and these common rights are secured solely by their unanimous tradition of one and the same sacred covenant.

From this point, therefore, we begin our plea against all who preach a new doctrine. If the Lord Jesus Christ sent the Apostles to preach, it follows that no other preachers are to be received, but those whom Christ appointed, because "no one knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son hath revealed Him." And it seems that the Son has revealed Him to no others than the Apostles, whom He sent to preach that doctrine, of course, which He revealed to them. But what they preached, that is, what Christ revealed to them, I shall here also plead should be proved in no other way, than by means of those same Churches, which the Apostles themselves founded, by preaching to them, as well as by word of mouth, as afterwards by Epistles. If these things are so, it follows immediately that all doctrine that agrees with those Apostolical Churches, the depositaries and sources of the faith, is to be reckoned for truth, preserving, as they doubtless do, what they received from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, Christ from God. But that every other doctrine is to be presumed false, that savours of contradiction to the truth of the Churches, and of the Apostles, and of Christ, and of God.

It only remains then to prove, whether this our doctrine, the rule of which we have given above, is to be considered of Apostolic tradition; and from this very fact, whether the rest come not of falsehood. Now our very inter-communion with the Apostolical Churches, which is matter of fact, is an evidence that our doctrine does not differ from theirs. This is the witness of the truth.


[To get rid of the above plain argument, the Separatists used to urge that the Apostles had a private doctrine over and above that which they taught in open church; or again, that they were not fully instructed in Christian truth, alleging, e. g. St. Peter's error in conduct at Antioch, &c. The following passage is in answer to the former of these suppositions.]

Sometimes they maintain, not that the Apostles were ignorant or discordant in their preaching, but with a like wildness, that they did not reveal all things to all: for that they entrusted some truths openly to all, but some secretly to a few. Now St. Paul uses this expression to Timothy: "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thee;" and again, "keep the good thing committed to thee." What is this thing committed, so proper to be assigned to some different doctrine? Is it of that declaration, of which he says, "This charge I entrust with thee, son Timothy." Also of that precept of which he says, "I charge thee before God, who giveth life to all things, and Jesus Christ, who witnessed before Pontius Pilate a good confession, that thou keep the precept." But what precept, and what charge? It will be understood from what is written before and after, that there is not any thing secretly pointed out by this expression relating to more abstruse doctrine, but that rather a charge is given concerning, not admitting any besides that which he had heard from himself, and I think openly. He says, "Before many witnesses." Who these many witnesses were, supposing they do not choose to understand the Church, makes no difference; since nothing can have been secret that was brought out before many witnesses. As to his admonishing him to "commit these things to faithful men, who are fit to teach others also;" this is not to be interpreted as any proof of some hidden gospel. For when he says "these things," he says it of those of which he was at present writing; but concerning hidden things, as concerning things not mentioned, and but tacitly understood, he would have said "these," but "those."

His direction about committing "to faithful men," did not imply a secresy, but of course care to choose such men for the commission as would preach the Gospel with judgment and discrimination; not casting pearls to swine, or holy things to dogs, as the Lord speaks. Our Lord himself spoke forth openly, without the least hint of any hidden covenant. He himself had ordered, that if they had heard any thing in darkness and in secret, they should proclaim it in the light, and on the house-top.

If, then, it is incredible that the Apostles either were ignorant of the fulness of the Gospel message, or abstained from publishing it to all in its completeness, let us next see whether, though the Apostles spoke with plainness and fulness, yet the Churches, by their own fault, received otherwise than the Apostles declared. You may find all such means of exciting scruples put forward by heretics. They take hold of the correction of the Churches by the Apostles: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" and "Ye did well, who hath hindered you?" and the very beginning, "I wonder that ye are so soon departed from him, who called you into grace, to another gospel;" of that too written to the Corinthians, that they were yet carnal, who ought to be fed with milk, and not yet fit for meat, as they thought they knew something, when as yet they knew nothing as it ought to be known. But, surely, the fault found with the Churches, which is their very objection, is a ground for believing it was corrected. Besides, let them also recollect those in whose faith and knowledge and conversation the Apostle rejoices, and gives thanks to God; which, be it observed, to this day share the rights of the one instituted body with those that were then blamed. However, grant all have erred; grant even an Apostle has been so mistaken as to impart his message only to a few; grant that the Holy Spirit has not vouchsafed to lead any Church into the truth, though for this cause sent by Christ, and for this cause asked of the Father, that He might be a teacher of the truth; grant that the steward of God, the vicegerent of Christ, has neglected his office, suffering the Churches meanwhile to understand and to believe otherwise than He himself declared by the Apostles:—is it likely that so many and so large Churches should have run by mistake into one belief? Different courses have different issues: the teaching of the Churches must then have varied in their form: but what we find the same throughout many, is not a mistake, but a tradition. Let a man then be bold, and say, that they erred who first delivered it. But, however the error arose, I suppose it reigned on as long as heresies were unknown. Truth awaited her release by some Marcionites and Valentinians; meanwhile the Gospel was preached amiss, men believed amiss, so many thousands were baptized amiss, so many works of faith were done amiss, so many miracles, so many spiritual gifts were wrought amiss, so many priesthoods, so many ministries discharged amiss; finally, so many martyrdoms crowned amiss. Or, if not altogether amiss, and in vain, what a thing is it, that the cause of God should be in progress before it was known of what God?—that there should have been Christians before Christ was found?—heresy before true doctrine? Nay, but in all things the truth precedes the image, the likeness comes after the reality; but it is absurd enough to suppose heresy to have come first in that teaching, even because it is that same teaching which foretold that there should be heresies. It was written to a Church holding that doctrine, yea, the doctrine itself writes to its Church: "And if an angel from heaven preach another Gospel to you, beside that we have preached, let him be accursed."


[He next proceeds to show more fully that Apostolicity is the test of truth.]

But if any heresies dare to place themselves in the Apostolic age, that they may seem therefore to have been delivered by the Apostles, because they existed under the Apostles; we may say, Let them then show the rise of their churches, let them unroll the line of their Bishops, so running down by successions from the beginning, that their first Bishop may have had for his authority and predecessor some one of the Apostles, or such Apostolic men, as continued to hold with the Apostles. For in this manner the Apostolic Churches deduce their lines; as the Church of the Smyrnæans produces Polycarp appointed by John; as that of the Romans, Clement in like manner ordained by Peter; and as the others, in like manner, point to those who were appointed as Bishops by the Apostles, to deliver down for them the Apostolic seed. Let the heretics forge any such records. For what is unlawful for them after blasphemy? But though they should have forged them they will gain nothing. For their doctrine itself compared with that of the Apostles, will declare by its own diversity and contrariety, that it has neither any Apostle nor any Apostolic man for its author: because as the Apostles would not have taught different things among themselves, so neither would the Apostolic men have put forth things contradictory to the Apostles, excepting such men as revolted from the Apostles, and preached otherwise. This is the challenge they will receive from those Churches, which though they can show none of the Apostles, or Apostolic men, for their authority, as being much later, those even that are rising every day; yet conspiring in the same faith, are held no less apostolical on account of their kindred doctrine. Thus let all heresies, challenged by our Churches to either trial, prove themselves Apostolic in whatever way they think right. However they are not so, nor can prove themselves what they are not, nor are they received into peace and communion by Churches in any sense Apostolical: forasmuch as for the difference of their faith, they are in no wise Apostolic……

Let all heresies, challenged and convicted by us on these terms, (whether such as are later than, or contemporary with the Apostles, so that they differ from them; whether generally or specially marked by them, so that they have been condemned beforehand by them,) dare to offer in answer any similar plea against our system. For if they deny the truth of it, they ought to convict it of heresy, by the same method by which themselves are convicted; and to show at the same time where that truth is to be sought, which is now sufficiently proved not to be with them. That which we maintain is not later: nay, it is before all others. This will be the testimony to the truth, as every where having the precedence in time. What, in fact, is not condemned, nay, is defended by the Apostles, this carries proof of its being theirs. For what they do not condemn, who condemn every alien system, they show to be their own, and, therefore, even maintain.

Come now, you that wish to turn this restlessness to profit in the search after salvation; run over the Apostolic Churches, in which the very chairs of the Apostles still hold place of honour, in which the very letters they wrote are recited, echoing the voice, and imaging the person of each of them. Is Achaia nearest to you? You have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi, you have the Thessalonians. If you can reach Asia, you have Ephesus. But if you are in the neighbourhood of Italy, you have Rome, whence we also draw our own authority. How happy is that Church! where the Apostles poured forth their whole doctrine together with their blood; where Peter is likened in suffering to the Lord; where Paul is crowned with an end like the Baptist's; where the Apostle John, having been plunged in heated oil and suffered nothing, was banished to his island. Let us see what this Church has learned, what she has taught, what tokens she has sent of doctrine to the African Churches. She knows One God, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus of the Virgin Mary, the Son of the Creator, and the resurrection of the flesh: she unites the law and the prophets with the Evangelical and Apostolical writings, and thence brings her faith. This she signs with water, clothes with the Holy Spirit, feeds with the eucharist, encourages by martyrdom, and therefore will acknowledge no one who opposes it. This is the teaching, I say not now which foretold future heresies, but out of which heresies have arisen, though they ceased to be scions of it from the time that they opposed it. Even from the kernel of the mild rich and serviceable olive, a harsh wild olive springs; even from the seed of the most delicious and sweetest fig, a wayward and barren wild fig-tree arises. Thus, also, heresies are from us, not of us, degenerate from the stock of truth, and running into weeds of falsehood.

The Feast of St. Luke.

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