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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Some of God's Laws Defended as Good, Which the Marcionites Impeached, Such as the Lex Talionis. Useful Purposes in a Social and Moral Point of View of This, and Sundry Other Enactments.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVIII.—Some of God’s Laws Defended as Good, Which the Marcionites Impeached, Such as the Lex Talionis. Useful Purposes in a Social and Moral Point of View of This, and Sundry Other Enactments.

But what parts of the law can I defend as good with a greater confidence than those which heresy has shown such a longing for?—as the statute of retaliation, requiring eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and stripe for stripe. 2912 Now there is not here any smack of a permission to mutual injury; but rather, on the whole, a provision for restraining violence. To a people which was very obdurate, and wanting in faith towards God, it might seem tedious, and even incredible, to expect from God that vengeance which was subsequently to be declared by the prophet: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” 2913 Therefore, in the meanwhile, the commission of wrong was to be checked 2914 by the fear of a retribution immediately to happen; and so the permission of this retribution was to be the prohibition of provocation, that a stop might thus be put to all hot-blooded 2915 injury, whilst by the permission of the second the first is prevented by fear, and by this deterring of the first the second fails to be committed. By the same law another result is also obtained, 2916 even the more ready kindling of the fear of retaliation by reason of the very savour of passion which is in it. There is no more bitter thing, than to endure the very suffering which you have inflicted upon others. When, again, the law took somewhat away from men’s food, by pronouncing unclean certain animals which were once blessed, you should understand this to be a measure for encouraging continence, and recognise in it a bridle imposed on that appetite which, while eating angels’ food, craved after the cucumbers and melons of the Egyptians. Recognise also therein a precaution against those companions of the appetite, even lust and luxury, which are usually chilled by the chastening of the appetite. 2917 For “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” 2918 Furthermore, that an eager wish for money might be restrained, so far as it is caused by the need of food, the desire for costly meat and drink was taken out of their power. Lastly, in order that man might be more readily educated by God for fasting, he was accustomed to such articles of food as were neither plentiful nor sumptuous, and not likely to pamper the appetite of the luxurious. Of course the Creator deserved all the greater blame, because it was from His own people that He took away food, rather than from the more ungrateful Marcionites. As for the burdensome sacrifices also, and the troublesome scrupulousness of their ceremonies 2919 and oblations, no one should blame them, as if God specially required them for Himself: for He plainly asks, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?” and, p. 312 “Who hath required them at your hand?” 2920 But he should see herein a careful provision 2921 on God’s part, which showed His wish to bind to His own religion a people who were prone to idolatry and transgression by that kind of services wherein consisted the superstition of that period; that He might call them away therefrom, while requesting it to be performed to Himself, as if He desired that no sin should be committed in making idols.


Footnotes

311:2912

Ex. xxi. 24.

311:2913

Deut. 32:35, Rom. 12:19.

311:2914

Repastinaretur.

311:2915

Æstuata.

311:2916

Qua et alias.

311:2917

Ventris.

311:2918

Ex. xxxii. 6.

311:2919

Operationes.

312:2920

Isa. 1:11, 12.

312:2921

Industriam.


Next: The Minute Prescriptions of the Law Meant to Keep the People Dependent on God. The Prophets Sent by God in Pursuance of His Goodness.  Many Beautiful Passages from Them Quoted in Illustration of This Attribute.

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