Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part III: Sins May Be Divided into Corporeal and Spiritual. Both Equally Subject, If Not to Human, Yet to Divine Investigation and Punishment.
Chapter III.—Sins May Be Divided into Corporeal and Spiritual. Both Equally Subject, If Not to Human, Yet to Divine Investigation and Punishment. 8433
What things, then, they be for which repentance seems just and due—that is, what things are to be set down under the head of sin—the occasion indeed demands that I should note down; but (to do so) may seem to be unnecessary. For when the Lord is known, our spirit, having been “looked back upon” 8434 by its own Author, emerges unbidden into the knowledge of the truth; and being admitted to (an acquaintance with) the divine precepts, is by them forthwith instructed that “that from which God bids us abstain is to be accounted sin:” inasmuch as, since it is generally agreed that God is some great essence of good, of course nothing but evil would be displeasing to good; in that, between things mutually contrary, friendship there is none. Still it will not be irksome briefly to touch upon the fact 8435 that, of sins, some are carnal, that is, corporeal; some spiritual. For since man is composed of this combination of a two-fold substance, the sources of his sins are no other than the sources of his composition. But it is not the fact that body and spirit are two things that constitute the sins mutually different—otherwise they are on this account rather equal, because the two make up one—lest any make the distinction between their sins proportionate to the difference between their substances, so as to esteem the one lighter, or else heavier, than the other: if it be true, (as it is,) that both flesh and spirit are creatures of God; one wrought by His hand, one consummated by His afflatus. Since, then, they equally pertain to the Lord, whichever of them sins equally offends the Lord. Is it for you to distinguish the acts of the flesh and the spirit, whose communion and conjunction in life, in death, and in resurrection, are p. 659 so intimate, that “at that time” 8436 they are equally raised up either for life or else for judgment; because, to wit, they have equally either sinned or lived innocently? This we would (once for all) premise, in order that we may understand that no less necessity for repentance is incumbent on either part of man, if in anything it have sinned, than on both. The guilt of both is common; common, too, is the Judge—God to wit; common, therefore, is withal the healing medicine of repentance. The source whence sins are named “spiritual” and “corporeal” is the fact that every sin is matter either of act or else of thought: so that what is in deed is “corporeal,” because a deed, like a body, is capable of being seen and touched; what is in the mind is “spiritual,” because spirit is neither seen nor handled: by which consideration is shown that sins not of deed only, but of will too, are to be shunned, and by repentance purged. For if human finitude 8437 judges only sins of deed, because it is not equal to (piercing) the lurking-places of the will, let us not on that account make light of crimes of the will in Gods sight. God is all-sufficient. Nothing from whence any sin whatsoever proceeds is remote from His sight; because He is neither ignorant, nor does He omit to decree it to judgment. He is no dissembler of, nor double-dealer with, 8438 His own clear-sightedness. What (shall we say of the fact) that will is the origin of deed? For if any sins are imputed to chance, or to necessity, or to ignorance, let them see to themselves: if these be excepted, there is no sinning save by will. Since, then, will is the origin of deed, is it not so much the rather amenable to penalty as it is first in guilt? Nor, if some difficulty interferes with its full accomplishment, is it even in that case exonerated; for it is itself imputed to itself: nor; having done the work which lay in its own power, will it be excusable by reason of that miscarriage of its accomplishment. In fact, how does the Lord demonstrate Himself as adding a superstructure to the Law, except by interdicting sins of the will as well (as other sins); while He defines not only the man who had actually invaded anothers wedlock to be an adulterer, but likewise him who had contaminated (a woman) by the concupiscence of his gaze? 8439 Accordingly it is dangerous enough for the mind to set before itself what it is forbidden to perform, and rashly through the will to perfect its execution. And since the power of this will is such that, even without fully sating its self-gratification, it stands for a deed; as a deed, therefore, it shall be punished. It is utterly vain to say, “I willed, but yet I did not.” Rather you ought to carry the thing through, because you will; or else not to will, because you do not carry it through. But, by the confession of your consciousness, you pronounce your own condemnation. For if you eagerly desired a good thing, you would have been anxious to carry it through; in like manner, as you do not carry an evil thing through, you ought not to have eagerly desired it. Wherever you take your stand, you are fast bound by guilt; because you have either willed evil, or else have not fulfilled good.
[Without reference to Luthers theory of justification, we must all adopt this as the test of “a standing or falling church,” viz. “How does it deal with sin and the sinner.”]658:8434
Luke xxii. 61.658:8435
Or, “briefly to lay down the rule.”659:8436
i.e., in the judgment-day. Compare the phrase “that day and that hour” in Scripture.659:8437
Prævaricatorem: comp. ad Ux.b. ii. c. ii. ad init.659:8439
Matt. 5:27, 28; comp. de Idol. ii.
Next: Repentance Applicable to All the Kinds of Sin. To Be Practised Not Only, Nor Chiefly, for the Good It Brings, But Because God Commands It.
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