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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Marcion's Gnostic Pretensions Vain, for the True God is Neither Unknown Nor Uncertain. The Creator, Whom He Owns to Be God, Alone Supplies an Induction, by Which to Judge of the True God.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 277 Chapter IX.—Marcion’s Gnostic Pretensions Vain, for the True God is Neither Unknown Nor Uncertain.  The Creator, Whom He Owns to Be God, Alone Supplies an Induction, by Which to Judge of the True God.

Now I know full well by what perceptive faculty they boast of their new god; even their knowledge. 2420 It is, however, this very discovery of a novel thing—so striking to common minds—as well as the natural gratification which is inherent in novelty, that I wanted to refute, and thence further to challenge a proof of this unknown god.  For him whom by their knowledge 2421 they present to us as new, they prove to have been unknown previous to that knowledge. Let us keep within the strict limits and measure of our argument.  Convince me there could have been an unknown god. I find, no doubt, 2422 that altars have been lavished on unknown gods; that, however, is the idolatry of Athens. And on uncertain gods; but that, too, is only Roman superstition.  Furthermore, uncertain gods are not well known, because no certainty about them exists; and because of this uncertainty they are therefore unknown. Now, which of these two titles shall we carve for Marcion’s god? Both, I suppose, as for a being who is still uncertain, and was formerly unknown. For inasmuch as the Creator, being a known God, caused him to be unknown; so, as being a certain God, he made him to be uncertain. But I will not go so far out of my way, as to say: 2423 If God was unknown and concealed, He was overshadowed in such a region of darkness, as must have been itself new and unknown, and be even now likewise uncertain—some immense region indeed, one undoubtedly greater than the God whom it concealed. But I will briefly state my subject, and afterwards most fully pursue it, promising that God neither could have been, nor ought to have been, unknown. Could not have been, because of His greatness; ought not to have been, because of His goodness, especially as He is (supposed, by Marcion) more excellent in both these attributes than our Creator. Since, however, I observe that in some points the proof of every new and heretofore unknown god ought, for its test, 2424 to be compared to the form of the Creator, it will be my duty 2425 first of all to show that this very course is adopted by me in a settled plan, 2426 such as I might with greater confidence 2427 use in support of my argument. Before every other consideration, (let me ask) how it happens that you, 2428 who acknowledge 2429 the Creator to be God, and from your knowledge confess Him to be prior in existence, do not know that the other god should be examined by you in exactly the same course of investigation which has taught you how to find out a god in the first case? Every prior thing has furnished the rule for the latter. In the present question two gods are propounded, the unknown and the known.  Concerning the known there is no 2430 question. It is plain that He exists, else He would not be known. The dispute is concerning the unknown god. Possibly he has no existence; because, if he had, he would have been known. Now that which, so long as it is unknown, is an object to be questioned, is an uncertainty so long as it remains thus questionable; and all the while it is in this state of uncertainty, it possibly has no existence at all. You have a god who is so far certain, as he is known; and uncertain, as unknown. This being the case, does it appear to you to be justly defensible, that uncertainties should be submitted for proof to the rule, and form, and standard of certainties?  Now, if to the subject before us, which is in itself full of uncertainty thus far, there be applied also arguments 2431 derived from uncertainties, we shall be involved in such a series of questions arising out of our treatment of these same uncertain arguments, as shall by reason of their uncertainty be dangerous to the faith, and we shall drift into those insoluble questions which the apostle has no affection for. If, again, 2432 in things wherein there is found a diversity of condition, they shall prejudge, as no doubt they will, 2433 uncertain, doubtful, and intricate points, by the certain, undoubted, and clear sides 2434 of their rule, it will probably happen that 2435 (those points) will not be submitted to the standard of certainties for determination, as being freed by the diversity of their essential condition 2436 from the application of such a standard in all other respects. As, therefore, it is two gods which are the subject of our proposition, their essential condition must be the same in both. For, as concerns their divinity, they are both unbegotten, unmade, eternal. This will be their essential condition. All other points Marcion p. 278 himself seems to have made light of, 2437 for he has placed them in a different 2438 category. They are subsequent in the order of treatment; indeed, they will not have to be brought into the discussion, 2439 since on the essential condition there is no dispute. Now there is this absence of our dispute, because they are both of them gods.  Those things, therefore, whose community of condition is evident, will, when brought to a test on the ground of that common condition, 2440 have to be submitted, although they are uncertain, to the standard 2441 of those certainties with which they are classed in the community of their essential condition, so as on this account to share also in their manner of proof. I shall therefore contend 2442 with the greatest confidence that he is not God who is to-day uncertain, because he has been hitherto unknown; for of whomsoever it is evident that he is God, from this very fact it is (equally) evident, that he never has been unknown, and therefore never uncertain.


Footnotes

277:2420

Agnitione. The distinctive term of the Gnostic pretension was the Greek equivalent Γνῶσις.

277:2421

Agnitione.

277:2422

Plane.

277:2423

Non evagabor, ut dicam.

277:2424

Provocari.

277:2425

Debebo.

277:2426

Ratione.

277:2427

Constantius.

277:2428

Quale est ut.

277:2429

Agnoscis.

277:2430

Vacat.

277:2431

Argumenta ="proofs.”

277:2432

Sin.

277:2433

Plane.

277:2434

Regulæ partibus.

277:2435

Fortasse an.

277:2436

Status principalis.

278:2437

Viderit.

278:2438

In diversitate.

278:2439

Nec admittentur.

278:2440

Sub eo.

278:2441

Formam.

278:2442

Dirigam.


Next: The Creator Was Known as the True God from the First by His Creation. Acknowledged by the Soul and Conscience of Man Before He Was Revealed by Moses.

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