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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: Other Arts Made Subservient to Idolatry. Lawful Means of Gaining a Livelihood Abundant.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter VIII.—Other Arts Made Subservient to Idolatry. Lawful Means of Gaining a Livelihood Abundant.

There are also other species of very many arts which, although they extend not to the making of idols, yet, with the same criminality, furnish the adjuncts without which idols have no power. For it matters not whether you erect or equip: if you have embellished his temple, altar, or niche; if you have pressed out gold-leaf, or have wrought his insignia, or even his house:  work of that kind, which confers not shape, but authority, is more important. If the necessity of mainp. 65 tenance 201 is urged so much, the arts have other species withal to afford means of livelihood, without outstepping the path of discipline, that is, without the confiction of an idol. The plasterer knows both how to mend roofs, and lay on stuccoes, and polish a cistern, and trace ogives, and draw in relief on party-walls many other ornaments beside likenesses. The painter, too, the marble mason, the bronze-worker, and every graver whatever, knows expansions 202 of his own art, of course much easier of execution. For how much more easily does he who delineates a statue overlay a sideboard! 203 How much sooner does he who carves a Mars out of a lime-tree, fasten together a chest!  No art but is either mother or kinswoman of some neighbour 204 art: nothing is independent of its neighbour. The veins of the arts are many as are the concupiscences of men.  “But there is difference in wages and the rewards of handicraft;” therefore there is difference, too, in the labour required. Smaller wages are compensated by more frequent earning. How many are the party-walls which require statues? How many the temples and shrines which are built for idols? But houses, and official residences, and baths, and tenements, how many are they?  Shoe- and slipper-gilding is daily work; not so the gilding of Mercury and Serapis. Let that suffice for the gain 205 of handicrafts. Luxury and ostentation have more votaries than all superstition.  Ostentation will require dishes and cups more easily than superstition. Luxury deals in wreaths, also, more than ceremony. When, therefore, we urge men generally to such kinds of handicrafts as do not come in contact with an idol indeed and with the things which are appropriate to an idol; since, moreover, the things which are common to idols are often common to men too; of this also we ought to beware that nothing be, with our knowledge, demanded by any person from our idols’ service.  For if we shall have made that concession, and shall not have had recourse to the remedies so often used, I think we are not free of the contagion of idolatry, we whose (not unwitting) hands 206 are found busied in the tendence, or in the honour and service, of demons.



See chaps. v. and xii.


See chap. ii., “The expansiveness of idolatry.”


Abacum. The word has various meanings; but this, perhaps, is its most general use: as, for instance, in Horace and Juvenal.


Alterius = ἑτέρον which in the New Testament is = to “neighbour” in Rom. xiii. 8, etc. [Our author must have borne in mind Cicero’s beautiful words—“Etenim omnes artes quæ ad humanitatem pertinent habent quoddam commune vinculum,” etc. Pro Archia, i. tom. x. p. 10. Ed. Paris, 1817.]


Quæstum. Another reading is “questum,” which would require us to translate “plaint.”


“Quorum manus non ignorantium,” i.e., “the hands of whom not unwitting;” which may be rendered as above, because in English, as in the Latin, in adjective “unwitting” belongs to the “whose,” not to the “hands.”

Next: Professions of Some Kinds Allied to Idolatry. Of Astrology in Particular.

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