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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: Dress as Connected with Idolatry.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVIII.—Dress as Connected with Idolatry.

But we must now treat of the garb only and apparatus of office. There is a dress proper to every one, as well for daily use as for office and dignity. That famous purple, therefore, and the gold as an ornament of the neck, were, among the Egyptians and Babylonians, ensigns of dignity, in the same way as bordered, or striped, or palm-embroidered togas, and the golden wreaths of provincial priests, are now; but not on the same terms. For they used only to be conferred, under the name of honour, on such as deserved the familiar friendship of kings (whence, too, such used to be styled the “purpled-men” 294 of kings, just as among us, 295 some, from their white toga, are called “candidates” 296 ); but not on the understanding that that garb should be tied to priesthoods also, or to any idol-ceremonies. For if that were the case, of course men of such holiness and constancy 297 would instantly have refused the defiled dresses; and it would instantly have appeared that Daniel had been no zealous slave to idols, nor worshipped Bel, nor the dragon, which long after did appear. That purple, therefore, was simple, and used not at that time to be a mark of dignity 298 among the barbarians, but of nobility299 For as both Joseph, who had been a slave, and Daniel, who through 300 captivity had changed his state, attained the freedom of the states of Babylon and Egypt through the dress of barbaric nobility; 301 so among us believers also, if need so be, the bordered toga will be proper to be conceded to boys, and the stole to girls, 302 as ensigns of birth, not of power; of race, not of office; of rank, not of superstition. But the purple, or the other ensigns of dignities and powers, dedicated from the beginning to idolatry engrafted on the dignity and the powers, carry the spot of their own profanation; since, moreover, bordered and striped togas, and broad-barred ones, are put even on idols themselves; and fasces also, and rods, are borne before them; and deservedly, for demons are the magistrates of this world: they bear the fasces and the purples, the ensigns of one college. What end, then, will you advance if you use the garb indeed, but administer not the functions of it? In things unclean, none can appear clean. If you put on a tunic defiled in itself, it perhaps may not be defiled through you; but you, through it, will be unable to be clean. Now by this time, you who argue about “Joseph” and “Daniel,” know that things old and new, rude and polished, begun and developed, slavish and free, are not always comparable. For they, even by their circumstances, were slaves; but you, the slave of none, 303 in so far as you are the slave of Christ alone, 304 who has freed you likewise from the captivity of the world, will incur the duty of acting after your Lord’s pattern.  That Lord walked in humility and obscurity, with no definite home: for “the Son of man,” said He, “hath not where to lay His head;” 305 unadorned in dress, for else He had not said, p. 73 “Behold, they who are clad in soft raiment are in kings’ houses:” 306 in short, inglorious in countenance and aspect, just as Isaiah withal had fore-announced. 307 If, also, He exercised no right of power even over His own followers, to whom He discharged menial ministry; 308 if, in short, though conscious of His own kingdom, 309 He shrank back from being made a king, 310 He in the fullest manner gave His own an example for turning coldly from all the pride and garb, as well of dignity as of power. For if they were to be used, who would rather have used them than the Son of God? What kind and what number of fasces would escort Him? what kind of purple would bloom from His shoulders? what kind of gold would beam from His head, had He not judged the glory of the world to be alien both to Himself and to His? Therefore what He was unwilling to accept, He has rejected; what He rejected, He has condemned; what He condemned, He has counted as part of the devil’s pomp.  For He would not have condemned things, except such as were not His; but things which are not God’s, can be no other’s but the devil’s. If you have forsworn “the devil’s pomp,” 311 know that whatever there you touch is idolatry.  Let even this fact help to remind you that all the powers and dignities of this world are not only alien to, but enemies of, God; that through them punishments have been determined against God’s servants; through them, too, penalties prepared for the impious are ignored.  But “both your birth and your substance are troublesome to you in resisting idolatry.” 312 For avoiding it, remedies cannot be lacking; since, even if they be lacking, there remains that one by which you will be made a happier magistrate, not in the earth, but in the heavens. 313



Or, “purpurates.”


[Not us Christians, but us Roman citizens.]


Or, “white-men.”


Or, “consistency.”


i.e., Official character.


Or, “free” or “good” “birth.”


Or, “during.”


i.e., the dress was the sign that they had obtained it.


I have departed from Oehler’s reading here, as I have not succeeded in finding that the “stola” was a boy’s garment; and, for grammatical reasons, the reading of Gelenius and Pamelius (which I have taken) seems best.


See 1 Cor. ix. 19.


St. Paul in his epistle glories in the title, “Paul, a slave,” or “bondman,” “of Christ Jesus.”


Luke 9:58, Matt. 8:20.


Matt. 11:8, Luke 7:25.


Isa. liii. 2.


See John xiii. 1-17.


See John xviii. 36.


John vi. 15.


In baptism.


i.e., From your birth and means, you will be expected to fill offices which are in some way connected with idolatry.


i.e., Martyrdom (La Cerda, quoted by Oehler).  For the idea of being “a magistrate in the heavens,” [sitting on a throne] compare such passages as Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:28, 30, 1 Cor. 6:2, 3, Rev. 2:26, 27, Rev. 3:21.

Next: Concerning Military Service.

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