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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part III: Of Revenge.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter X.—Of Revenge.

There is, too, another chief spur of impatience, the lust of revenge, dealing with the business either of glory or else of malice. But “glory,” on the one hand, is everywhere “vain;” 9111 and malice, on the other, is always 9112 odious to the Lord; in this case indeed most of all, when, being provoked by a neighbour’s malice, it constitutes itself superior 9113 in following out revenge, and by paying wickedness doubles that which has once been done. Revenge, in the estimation of error, 9114 seems a solace of pain; in the estimation of truth, on the contrary, it is convicted of malignity. For what difference is there between provoker and provoked, except that the former is detected as prior in evil-doing, but the latter as posterior? Yet each stands impeached of hurting a man in the eye of the Lord, who both prohibits and condemns every wickedness. In evil doing there is no account taken of order, nor does place separate what similarity conjoins. And the precept is absolute, that evil is not to be repaid with evil. 9115 Like deed involves like merit. How shall we observe that principle, if in our loathing 9116 we shall not loathe revenge? What honour, moreover, shall we be offering to the Lord God, if we arrogate to ourselves the arbitrament of vengeance? We are corrupt 9117 —earthen vessels. 9118 With our own servant-boys, 9119 if they assume to themselves the right of vengeance on their fellow-servants, we are gravely offended; while such as make us the offering of their patience we not only approve as mindful of humility, of servitude, affectionately jealous of the right of their lord’s honour; but we make them an ampler satisfaction than they would have pre-exacted 9120 for themselves. Is there any risk of a different result in the case of a Lord so just in estimating, so potent in executing? Why, then, do we believe Him a Judge, if not an Avenger too? This He promises that He will be to us in return, saying, “Vengeance belongeth to me, and I will avenge;” 9121 that is, Leave patience to me, and I will reward patience. For when He says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” 9122 does He not require patience? For who will refrain from judging another, but he who shall be patient in not revenging himself? Who judges in order to pardon? And if he shall pardon, still he has taken care to indulge the impatience of a judger, and has taken away the honour of the one Judge, that is, God. How many mischances had impatience of this kind been wont to run into! How oft has it repented of its revenge! How oft has its vehemence been found worse than the causes which led to it!—inasmuch as nothing undertaken with impatience can be effected without impetuosity:  nothing done with impetuosity fails either to stumble, or else to fall altogether, p. 714 or else to vanish headlong.  Moreover, if you avenge yourself too slightly, you will be mad; if too amply, you will have to bear the burden. 9123 What have I to do with vengeance, the measure of which, through impatience of pain, I am unable to regulate? Whereas, if I shall repose on patience, I shall not feel pain; if I shall not feel pain, I shall not desire to avenge myself.


Footnotes

713:9111

See Gal. 5:26, Phil. 2:3.

713:9112

Nunquam non.

713:9113

i.e. perhaps superior in degree of malice.

713:9114

i.e. of the world and its erroneous philosophies.

713:9115

Rom. xii. 17.

713:9116

Fastidientes, i.e. our loathing or abhorrence of sin. Perhaps the reference may be to Rom. xii. 9.

713:9117

Isa. lxiv. 6.

713:9118

Isa. 64:8, 2 Cor. 4:7.

713:9119

Servulis.

713:9120

Præsumpsissent.

713:9121

Deut. 32:35, Ps. 94:1, Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30.

713:9122

Matt. 7:1, Luke 6:37.

714:9123

i.e. the penalty which the law will inflict.


Next: Further Reasons for Practising Patience. Its Connection with the Beatitudes.

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