Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: The Truth Hated in the Christians; So in Measure Was It, of Old, in Socrates. The Virtues of the Christians.
Chapter IV. 502 —The Truth Hated in the Christians; So in Measure Was It, of Old, in Socrates. The Virtues of the Christians.
But the sect, you say, is punished in the name of its founder. Now in the first place it is, no doubt, a fair and usual custom that a sect should be marked out by the name of its founder, since philosophers are called Pythagoreans and Platonists after their masters; in the same way physicians are called after Erasistratus, and grammarians after Aristarchus. If, therefore, a sect has a bad character because its founder was bad, it is punished 503 as the traditional bearer 504 of a bad name. But this would be indulging in a rash assumption. p. 112 The first step was to find out what the founder was, that his sect might be understood, instead of hindering 505 inquiry into the founders character from the sect. But in our case, 506 by being necessarily ignorant of the sect, through your ignorance of its founder, or else by not taking a fair survey of the founder, because you make no inquiry into his sect, you fasten merely on the name, just as if you vilified in it both sect and founder, whom you know nothing of whatever. And yet you openly allow your philosophers the right of attaching themselves to any school, and bearing its founders name as their own; and nobody stirs up any hatred against them, although both in public and in private they bark out 507 their bitterest eloquence against your customs, rites, ceremonies, and manner of life, with so much contempt for the laws, and so little respect for persons, that they even flaunt their licentious words 508 against the emperors themselves with impunity. And yet it is the truth, which is so troublesome to the world, that these philosophers affect, but which Christians possess: they therefore who have it in possession afford the greater displeasure, because he who affects a thing plays with it; he who possesses it maintains it. For example, 509 Socrates was condemned on that side (of his wisdom) in which he came nearest in his search to the truth, by destroying your gods. Although the name of Christian was not at that time in the world, yet truth was always suffering condemnation. Now you will not deny that he was a wise man, to whom your own Pythian (god) had borne witness. Socrates, he said, was the wisest of men. Truth overbore Apollo, and made him pronounce even against himself since he acknowledged that he was no god, when he affirmed that that was the wisest man who was denying the gods. However, 510 on your principle he was the less wise because he denied the gods, although, in truth, he was all the wiser by reason of this denial. It is just in the same way that you are in the habit of saying of us: “Lucius Titius is a good man, only he is a Christian;” while another says; “I wonder that so worthy 511 a man as Caius Seius has become a Christian.” 512 According to 513 the blindness of their folly men praise what they know, (and) blame what they are ignorant of; and that which they know, they vitiate by that which they do not know. It occurs to none (to consider) whether a man is not good and wise because he is a Christian, or therefore a Christian because he is wise and good, although it is more usual in human conduct to determine obscurities by what is manifest, than to prejudice what is manifest by what is obscure. Some persons wonder that those whom they had known to be unsteady, worthless, or wicked before they bore this 514 name, have been suddenly converted to virtuous courses; and yet they better know how to wonder (at the change) than to attain to it; others are so obstinate in their strife as to do battle with their own best interests, which they have it in their power to secure by intercourse 515 with that hated name. I know more than one 516 husband, formerly anxious about their wives conduct, and unable to bear even mice to creep into their bed-room without a groan of suspicion, who have, upon discovering the cause of their new assiduity, and their unwonted attention to the duties of home, 517 offered the entire loan of their wives to others, 518 disclaimed all jealousy, (and) preferred to be the husbands of she-wolves than of Christian women: they could commit themselves to a perverse abuse of nature, but they could not permit their wives to be reformed for the better! A father disinherited his son, with whom he had ceased to find fault. A master sent his slave to bridewell, 519 whom he had even found to be indispensable to him. As soon as they discovered them to be Christians, they wished they were criminals again; for our discipline carries its own evidence in itself, nor are we betrayed by anything else than our own goodness, just as bad men also become conspicuous 520 by their own evil. Else how is it that we alone are, contrary to the lessons of nature, branded as very evil because of our good? For what mark do we exhibit except the prime wisdom, 521 which teaches us not to worship the frivolous works of the human hand; the temperance, by which we abstain from other mens goods; the chastity, which we pollute not even with a look; the compassion, which prompts us to help the needy; the truth itself, which makes us give offence; and liberty, for which we have even learned to die? Whoever wishes to understand who the Christians are, must needs employ these marks for their discovery.
See The Apology, c. iii.111:503
Libertatem suam, “their liberty of speech.”112:509
Comp. The Apology, c. iii.112:513
i.e., the Christian.112:515
Unum atque alium. The sense being plural, we have so given it all through.112:517
Captivitatis (as if theirs was a self-inflicted captivity at home).112:518
Omnem uxorem patientiam obtulisse (comp. Apology, middle of c. xxxix.).112:519
He means the religion of Christ, which he in b. ii. c. ii. contrasts with “the mere wisdom” of the philosophers.
Next: The Inconsistent Life of Any False Christian No More Condemns True Disciples of Christ, Than a Passing Cloud Obscures a Summer Sky.
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