Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: Written Contracts in the Name of Idols. Tacit Consent.
Chapter XXIII.—Written Contracts in the Name of Idols. Tacit Consent.
But there is a certain species of that class, doubly sharpened in deed and word, and mischievous on either side, although it flatter you, as if it were free of danger in each; while it does not seem to be a deed, because it is not laid hold of as a word. In borrowing money from heathens under pledged 334 securities, Christians give a guarantee under oath, and deny themselves to have done so. Of course, the time of the prosecution, and the place of the judgment seat, and the person of the presiding judge, decide that they knew themselves to have so done. 335 Christ prescribes that there is to be no swearing. “I wrote,” says the debtor, “but I said nothing. It is the tongue, not the written letter, which kills.” Here I call Nature and Conscience as my witnesses: Nature, because even if the tongue in dictating remains motionless and quiet, the hand can write nothing which the soul has not dictated; albeit even to the tongue itself the soul may have dictated either something conceived by itself, or else something delivered by another. Now, lest it be said, “Another dictated,” I here appeal to Conscience whether, what another dictated, the soul entertains, 336 and transmits unto the hand, whether with the concomitance or the inaction of the tongue. Enough, that the Lord has said faults are committed in the mind and the conscience. If concupiscence or malice have ascended into a mans heart, He saith it is held as a deed. 337 You therefore have given a guarantee; which clearly has “ascended into your heart,” which you can neither contend you were ignorant of nor unwilling; for when you gave the guarantee, you knew that you did it; when you knew, of course you were willing: you did it as well in act as in thought; nor can you by the lighter charge exclude the heavier, 338 so as to say that it is clearly rendered false, by giving a guarantee for what you do not actually perform. “Yet I have not denied, because I have not sworn.” But you have sworn, since, even if you had done no such thing, you would still be said to swear, if you have even consented to so doing. Silence of voice is an unavailing plea in a case of writing; and muteness of sound in a case of letters. For Zacharias, when punished with a temporary privation of voice, holds colloquy with his mind, and, passing by his bootless tongue, with the help of his hands dictates from his heart, and without his mouth pronounces the name of his son. 339 Thus, in his pen there speaks a hand clearer than every sound, in his waxen tablet there is heard a letter more vocal that every mouth. 340 Inquire whether a man have spoken who is understood to have spoken. 341 Pray we the Lord that no necessity for that kind of contract may ever encompass us; and if it should so fall out, may He give our brethren the means of helping us, or give us constancy to break off all such necessity, lest those denying letters, the substitutes for our mouth, be brought forward against us in the day of judgment, sealed with the seals, not now of witnesses, but of angels!
This is, perhaps, the most obscure and difficult passage in the entire treatise. I have followed Oehlers reading, and given what appears to be his sense; but the readings are widely different, and it is doubtful whether any is correct. I can scarcely, however, help thinking that the “se negant” here, and the “tamen non negavi” below, are to be connected with the “puto autem nec negare” at the end of the former chapter; and that the true rendering is rather: “And [by so doing] deny themselves,” i.e., deny their Christian name and faith. “Doubtless a time of persecution,” such as the present time is—or “of prosecution,” which would make very good sense—“and the place of the tribunal, and the person of the presiding judge, require them to know themselves,” i.e., to have no shuffling or disguise. I submit this rendering with diffidence; but it does seem to me to suit the context better, and to harmonize better with the “Yet I have not denied,” i.e., my name and faith, which follows, and with the “denying letters” which are mentioned at the end of the chapter.—Tr.75:336
Mr. Dodgson renders “conceiveth;” and the word is certainly capable of that meaning.75:337
See Matt. v. 28.75:338
Oehler understands “the lighter crime” or “charge” to be “swearing;” the “heavier,” to be “denying the Lord Christ.”75:339
See Luke 1:20, 22, 62, 63.75:340
This is how Mr. Dodgson renders, and the rendering agrees with Oehlers punctuation. [So obscure however, is Dodgsons rendering that I have slightly changed the punctuation, to clarify it, and subjoin Oehlers text.] But perhaps we may read thus: “He speaks in his pen; he is heard in his waxen tablet: the hand is clearer than every sound; the letter is more vocal than every mouth.” [Oehler reads thus: “Cum manibus suis a corde dictat et nomen filii sine ore pronuntiat: loquitur in stilo, auditur in cera manus omni sono clarior, littera omni ore vocalior.” I see no difficulty here.]75:341
Next: General Conclusion.
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