Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: The Christians Defamed. A Sarcastic Description of Fame; Its Deception and Atrocious Slanders of the Christians Lengthily Described.
Chapter VII. 545 —The Christians Defamed. A Sarcastic Description of Fame; Its Deception and Atrocious Slanders of the Christians Lengthily Described.
Whence comes it to pass, you will say to us, that such a character could have been attributed to you, as to have justified the lawmakers perhaps by its imputation? Let me ask on my side, what voucher they had then, or you now, for the truth of the imputation? (You answer,) Fame. Well, now, is not this—
“Fama malum, quo non aliud velocius ullum?” 546
Now, why a plague, 547 if it be always true? It never ceases from lying; nor even at the moment when it reports the truth is it so free from the wish to lie, as not to interweave the false with the true, by processes of addition, diminution, or confusion of various facts. Indeed, 548 such is its condition, that it can only continue to exist while it lies. For it lives only just so long as it fails to prove anything. As soon as it proves itself true, it falls; and, as if its office of reporting news were at an end, it quits its post: thenceforward the thing is held to be a fact, and it passes under that name. No one, then, says, to take an instance, “The report is that this happened at Rome,” or, “The rumour goes that he has got a province;” but, “He has got a province,” and, “This happened at Rome.” Nobody mentions a rumour except at an uncertainty, because nobody can be sure of a rumour, but only of certain knowledge; and none but a fool believes a rumour, because no wise man puts faith in an uncertainty. In however wide a circuit 549 a report has been circulated, it must needs have originated some time or other from one mouth; afterwards it creeps on somehow to ears and tongues which pass it on 550 and so obscures the humble error in which it began, that no one considers whether the mouth which first set it a-going disseminated a falsehood,—a circumstance which often happens either from a temper of rivalry, or a suspicious turn, or even the pleasure of feigning news. It is, however, well that time reveals all things, as your own sayings and proverbs testify; yea, as nature herself attests, which has so ordered it that nothing lies hid, not even that which fame has not reported. See, now, what a witness 551 you have suborned against us: it has not been able up to this time to prove the report it set in motion, although it has had so long a time to recommend it to our acceptance. This name of ours took its rise in the reign of Augustus; under Tiberius it was taught with all clearness and publicity; 552 under Nero it was ruthlessly condemned, 553 and you may weigh its worth and character even from the person of its persecutor. If that prince was a pious man, then the Christians are impious; if he was just, if he was pure, then the Christians are unjust and impure; if he was not a public enemy, we are enemies of our country: what sort of men we are, our persecutor himself shows, since he of course punished what produced hostility to himself. 554 Now, although every other institution which existed under Nero has been destroyed, yet this of ours has firmly remained—righteous, it would seem, as being unlike the author (of its persecution). Two hundred and fifty years, then, have not yet passed since our life began. During the interval there have been so many criminals; so many crosses have obtained immortality; 555 so many infants have been slain; so many loaves steeped in blood; so many extinctions of candles; 556 so many dissolute marriages. And up to the present time it is mere report which fights against the Christians. No doubt it has a strong support in the wickedness of the human mind, and utters its falsehoods with more success among cruel and savage men. For the more inclined you are to maliciousness, the more ready are you to believe evil; in short, men more easily believe the evil that is false, than the good which is true. Now, if injustice has left any place within you for the exercise of prudence in investigating the truth of reports, justice of course demanded p. 115 that you should examine by whom the report could have been spread among the multitude, and thus circulated through the world. For it could not have been by the Christians themselves, I suppose, since by the very constitution and law of all mysteries the obligation of silence is imposed. How much more would this be the case in such (mysteries as are ascribed to us), which, if divulged, could not fail to bring down instant punishment from the prompt resentment of men! Since, therefore, the Christians are not their own betrayers, it follows that it must be strangers. Now I ask, how could strangers obtain knowledge of us, when even true and lawful mysteries exclude every stranger from witnessing them, unless illicit ones are less exclusive? Well, then, it is more in keeping with the character of strangers both to be ignorant (of the true state of a case), and to invent (a false account). Our domestic servants (perhaps) listened, and peeped through crevices and holes, and stealthily got information of our ways. What, then, shall we say when our servants betray them to you? 557 It is better, (to be sure,) 558 for us all not to be betrayed by any; but still, if our practices be so atrocious, how much more proper is it when a righteous indignation bursts asunder even all ties of domestic fidelity? How was it possible for it to endure what horrified the mind and affrighted the eye? This is also a wonderful thing, both that he who was so overcome with impatient excitement as to turn informer, 559 did not likewise desire to prove (what he reported), and that he who heard the informers story did not care to see for himself, since no doubt the reward 560 is equal both for the informer who proves what he reports, and for the hearer who convinces himself of the credibility 561 of what he hears. But then you say that (this is precisely what has taken place): first came the rumour, then the exhibition of the proof; first the hearsay, then the inspection; and after this, fame received its commission. Now this, I must say, 562 surpasses all admiration, that that was once for all detected and divulged which is being for ever repeated, unless, forsooth, we have by this time ceased from the reiteration of such things 563 (as are alleged of us). But we are called still by the same (offensive) name, and we are supposed to be still engaged in the same practices, and we multiply from day to day; the more 564 we are, to the more become we objects of hatred. Hatred increases as the material for it increases. Now, seeing that the multitude of offenders is ever advancing, how is it that the crowd of informers does not keep equal pace therewith? To the best of my belief, even our manner of life 565 has become better known; you know the very days of our assemblies; therefore we are both besieged, and attacked, and kept prisoners actually in our secret congregations. Yet who ever came upon a half-consumed corpse (amongst us)? Who has detected the traces of a bite in our blood-steeped loaf? Who has discovered, by a sudden light invading our darkness, any marks of impurity, I will not say of incest, (in our feasts)? If we save ourselves by a bribe 566 from being dragged out before the public gaze with such a character, how is it that we are still oppressed? We have it indeed in our own power not to be thus apprehended at all; for who either sells or buys information about a crime, if the crime itself has no existence? But why need I disparagingly refer to 567 strange spies and informers, when you allege against us such charges as we certainly do not ourselves divulge with very much noise—either as soon as you hear of them, if we previously show them to you, or after you have yourselves discovered them, if they are for the time concealed from you? For no doubt, 568 when any desire initiation in the mysteries, their custom is first to go to the master or father of the sacred rites. Then he will say (to the applicant), You must bring an infant, as a guarantee for our rites, to be sacrificed, as well as some bread to be broken and dipped in his blood; you also want candles, and dogs tied together to upset them, and bits of meat to rouse the dogs. Moreover, a mother too, or a sister, is necessary for you. What, however, is to be said if you have neither? I suppose in that case you could not be a genuine Christian. Now, do let me ask you, Will such things, when reported by strangers, bear to be spread about (as charges against us)? It is impossible for such persons to understand proceedings in which they take no part. 569 The first step of the process is perpetrated with artifice; our feasts and our marriages are invented and detailed 570 by ignorant persons, p. 116 who had never before heard about Christian mysteries. And though they afterwards cannot help acquiring some knowledge of them, it is even then as having to be administered by others whom they bring on the scene. 571 Besides, how absurd is it that the profane know mysteries which the priest knows not! They keep them all to themselves, then, 572 and take them for granted; and so these tragedies, (worse than those) of Thyestes or Œdipus, do not at all come forth to light, nor find their way 573 to the public. Even more voracious bites take nothing away from the credit 574 of such as are initiated, whether servants or masters. If, however, none of these allegations can be proved to be true, how incalculable must be esteemed the grandeur (of that religion) which is manifestly not overbalanced even by the burden of these vast atrocities! O ye heathen; who have and deserve our pity, 575 behold, we set before you the promise which our sacred system offers. It guarantees eternal life to such as follow and observe it; on the other hand, it threatens with the eternal punishment of an unending fire those who are profane and hostile; while to both classes alike is preached a resurrection from the dead. We are not now concerned 576 about the doctrine of these (verities), which are discussed in their proper place. 577 Meanwhile, however, believe them, even as we do ourselves, for I want to know whether you are ready to reach them, as we do, through such crimes. Come, whosoever you are, plunge your sword into an infant; or if that is anothers office, then simply gaze at the breathing creature 578 dying before it has lived; at any rate, catch its fresh 579 blood in which to steep your bread; then feed yourself without stint; and whilst this is going on, recline. Carefully distinguish the places where your mother or your sister may have made their bed; mark them well, in order that, when the shades of night have fallen upon them, putting of course to the test the care of every one of you, you may not make the awkward mistake of alighting on somebody else: 580 you would have to make an atonement, if you failed of the incest. When you have effected all this, eternal life will be in store for you. I want you to tell me whether you think eternal life worth such a price. No, indeed, 581 you do not believe it: even if you did believe it, I maintain that you would be unwilling to give (the fee); or if willing, would be unable. But why should others be able if you are unable? Why should you be able if others are unable? What would you wish impunity (and) eternity to stand you in? 582 Do you suppose that these (blessings) can be bought by us at any price? Have Christians teeth of a different sort from others? Have they more ample jaws? 583 Are they of different nerve for incestuous lust? I trow not. It is enough for us to differ from you in condition 584 by truth alone.
Comp. The Apology, cc. vii, viii.114:546
Æneid. iv. 174.
“Fame, than which never plague that runs
Its way more swiftly wins.”—Conington.114:547
“A plague” = malum.114:548
Quid? quod “Yea more.”114:549
Prodigiam. The word is “indicem” in The Apology.114:552
Disciplina ejus illuxit.114:553
See above, c. ii. note.115:557
i.e., What is the value of such evidence?115:558
We have inserted this phrase as the sentence is strongly ironical.115:559
Deferre, an infinitive of purpose, of which construction of our author Oehler gives examples.115:560
Si etiam sibi credat.115:562
We read “quo,” and not “quod,” because.115:565
This refers to a calumny which the heathen frequently spread about the Christians.115:567
Detrectem or simply “treat of,” “refer to,” like the simple verb “tractare.”115:568
The irony of all this passage is evident.115:569
Subjiciuntur “are stealthily narrated.”116:571
It is difficult to see what this “tacent igitur” means without referring to the similar passage in The Apology (end of c. viii.), which supplies a link wanted in the context. “At all events,” says he, “they know this afterward, and yet submit to it, and allow it. They fear to be punished, while, if they proclaimed the truth, they would deserve universal approbation.” Tertullian here states what the enemies of the Christians used to allege against them. After discovering the alleged atrocities of their secret assemblies, they kept their knowledge forsooth to themselves, being afraid of the consequences of a disclosure, etc.116:573
We have for convenience treated “protrahunt” (q.d. “nor do they report them”) as a neuter verb.116:574
Even worse than Thyestean atrocities would be believed of them.116:575
Miseræ atque miserandæ.116:576
See below, in c. xix.116:578
Rudem, “hardly formed.”116:580
“An alii ordines dentium Christianorum, et alii specus faucium?” (literally, “Have Christians other sets of teeth, and other caverns of jaws?”) This seems to refer to voracious animals like the shark, whose terrible teeth, lying in several rows, and greediness to swallow anything, however incongruous, that comes in its way, are well-known facts in natural history.116:584
Next: The Calumny Against the Christians Illustrated in the Discovery of Psammetichus. Refutation of the Story.
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