Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: Connection Between Covetousness and Idolatry. Certain Trades, However Gainful, to Be Avoided.
Chapter XI.—Connection Between Covetousness and Idolatry. Certain Trades, However Gainful, to Be Avoided.
If we think over the rest of faults, tracing them from their generations, let us begin with covetousness, “a root of all evils,” 230 wherewith, indeed, some having been ensnared, “have suffered shipwreck about faith.” 231 Albeit covetousness is by the same apostle called idolatry. 232 In the next place proceeding to mendacity, the minister of covetousness (of false swearing I am silent, since even swearing is not lawful 233 )—is trade adapted for a servant of God? But, covetousness apart, what is the motive for acquiring? When the motive for acquiring ceases, there will be no necessity for trading. Grant now that there be some righteousness in business, secure from the duty of watchfulness against covetousness and mendacity; I take it that that trade which pertains to the very soul and spirit of idols, which pampers every demon, falls under the charge of idolatry. Rather, is not that the principal idolatry? If the selfsame merchandises—frankincense, I mean, and all other foreign productions—used as sacrifice to idols, are of use likewise to men for medicinal ointments, to us Christians also, over and above, for solaces of sepulture, let them see to it. At all events, while the pomps, while the priesthoods, while the sacrifices of idols, are furnished by dangers, by losses, by inconveniences, by cogitations, by runnings to and fro, or trades, what else are you demonstrated to be but an idols agent? Let none contend that, in this way, exception may be taken to all trades. All graver faults extend the sphere for diligence in watchfulness proportionably to the magnitude of the danger; in order that we may withdraw not only from the faults, but from the means through which they have being. For although the fault be done by others, it makes no difference if it be by my means. In no case ought I to be necessary to another, while he is doing what to me is unlawful. Hence I ought to understand that care must be taken by me, lest what I am forbidden to do be done by my means. In short, in another cause of no lighter guilt I observe that fore-judgment. In that I am interdicted from fornication, I furnish nothing of help or connivance to others for that purpose; in that I have separated my own flesh itself from stews, I acknowledge that I cannot exercise the trade of pandering, or keep that kind of places for my neighbours behoof. So, too, the interdiction of murder shows me that a trainer of gladiators also is excluded from the Church; nor will any one fail to be the means of doing what he subministers to another to do. Behold, here is a more kindred fore-judgment: if a purveyor of the public victims come over to the faith, will you permit him to remain permanently in that trade? or if one who is already a believer shall have undertaken that business, will you think that he is to be retained in the Church? No, I take it; unless any one will dissemble in the case of a frankincense-seller too. In sooth, the agency of blood pertains to some, that of odours to others. If, before idols were in the world, idolatry, hitherto shapeless, used to be transacted by these wares; if, even now, the work of idolatry is perpetrated, for the most part, without the idol, by burnings of odours; the frankincense-seller is a something even more serviceable even toward demons, for idolatry is more easily carried on without the idol, than without the ware of the frankincense-seller. 234 Let us interrogate thoroughly p. 68 the conscience of the faith itself. With what mouth will a Christian frankincense-seller, if he shall pass through temples, with what mouth will he spit down upon and blow out the smoking altars, for which himself has made provision? With what consistency will he exorcise his own foster-children, 235 to whom he affords his own house as store-room? Indeed, if he shall have ejected a demon, 236 let him not congratulate himself on his faith, for he has not ejected an enemy; he ought to have had his prayer easily granted by one whom he is daily feeding. 237 No art, then, no profession, no trade, which administers either to equipping or forming idols, can be free from the title of idolatry; unless we interpret idolatry to be altogether something else than the service of idol-tendence.
1 Tim. vi. 10.67:231
1 Tim. i. 19.67:232
Col. iii. 5. It has been suggested that for “quamvis” we should read “quum bis;” i.e., “seeing covetousness is twice called,” etc. The two places are Col. 3:5, Eph. 5:5.67:233
Matt. 5:34, Jas. 5:12.67:234
[The aversion of the early Christian Fathers passim to the ceremonial use of incense finds one explanation here.]68:235
i.e., the demons, or idols, to whom incense is burned.68:236
i.e., from one possessed.68:237
i.e., The demon, in gratitude for the incense which the man daily feeds him with, ought to depart out of the possessed at his request.
Next: Further Answers to the Plea, How Am I to Live?
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