Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: Chapter I
p. 61 II.
[Translated by the Rev. S. Thelwall.]
Chapter I.—Wide Scope of the Word Idolatry.
The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry. 163 For, although each single fault retains its own proper feature, although it is destined to judgment under its own proper name also, yet it is marked off under the general account of idolatry. Set aside names, examine works, the idolater is likewise a murderer. Do you inquire whom he has slain? If it contributes ought to the aggravation of the indictment, no stranger nor personal enemy, but his own self. By what snares? Those of his error. By what weapon? The offence done to God. By how many blows? As many as are his idolatries. He who affirms that the idolater perishes not, 164 will affirm that the idolater has not committed murder. Further, you may recognize in the same crime 165 adultery and fornication; for he who serves false gods is doubtless an adulterer 166 of truth, because all falsehood is adultery. So, too, he is sunk in fornication. For who that is a fellow-worker with unclean spirits, does not stalk in general pollution and fornication? And thus it is that the Holy Scriptures 167 use the designation of fornication in their upbraiding of idolatry. The essence of fraud, I take it, is, that any should seize what is anothers, or refuse to another his due; and, of course, fraud done toward man is a name of greatest crime. Well, but idolatry does fraud to God, by refusing to Him, and conferring on others, His honours; so that to fraud it also conjoins contumely. But if fraud, just as much as fornication and adultery, entails death, then, in these cases, equally with the former, idolatry stands unacquitted of the impeachment of murder. After such crimes, so pernicious, so devouring of salvation, all other crimes also, after some manner, and separately disposed in order, find their own essence represented in idolatry. In it also are the concupiscences of the world. For what solemnity of idolatry is without the circumstance of dress and ornament? In it are lasciviousnesses and drunkennesses; since it is, for the most part, for the sake of food, and stomach, and appetite, that these solemnities are frequented. In it is unrighteousness. For what more unrighteous than it, which knows not the Father of righteousness? In it also is vanity, since its whole system is vain. In it is mendacity, for its whole substance is false. Thus it comes to pass, that in idolatry all crimes are detected, and in all crimes idolatry. Even otherwise, since all faults savour of opposition to God, and there is nothing which savours of opposition to God which is not assigned to demons and unclean spirits, whose property idols are; doubtless, whoever commits a fault is chargeable with idolatry, for he does that which pertains to the proprietors of idols.
[This solemn sentence vindicates the place I have given to the De Idololatria in the order adopted for this volume. After this and the Apology come three treatises confirming its positions, and vindicating the principles of Christians in conflict with Idolatry, the great generic crime of a world lying in wickedness. These three are the De Spectaculis, the De Corona and the Ad Scapulam. The De Spectaculis was written after this treatise, in which indeed it is mentioned (Cap. xiii.), but logically it follows, illustrates and enforces it. Hence my practical plan: which will be concluded by a scheme (conjectural in part) of chronological order in which precision is affirmed by all critics to be impossible, but, by which we may reach approximate accuracy, with great advantage. The De Idololatria is free from Montanism. But see Kaye, p. xvi.]61:164
Lit., “has not perished,” as if the perishing were already complete; as, of course, it is judicially as soon as the guilt is incurred, though not actually.61:165
i.e., in idolatry.61:166
A play on the word: we should say, “an adulterator.”61:167
Oehler refers to Ezek. xxiii.; but many other references might be given—in the Pentateuch and Psalms, for instance.
Next: Idolatry in Its More Limited Sense. Its Copiousness.
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