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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: Christians Charged with an Obstinate Contempt of Death. Instances of the Same are Found Amongst the Heathen.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVIII. 732 —Christians Charged with an Obstinate Contempt of Death.  Instances of the Same are Found Amongst the Heathen.

The rest of your charge of obstinacy against us you sum up in this indictment, that we boldly refuse neither your swords, nor your crosses, nor your wild beasts, nor fire, nor tortures, such is our obduracy and contempt of death. But (you are inconsistent in your charges); for in former times amongst your own ancestors all these terrors have come in men’s intrepidity 733 not only to be despised, but even to be held in great praise. How many swords there were, and what brave men were willing to suffer by them, it were irksome to enumerate. 734 (If we take the torture) of the cross, of which so many instances have occurred, exquisite in cruelty, your own Regulus readily initiated the suffering which up to his day was without a precedent; 735 a queen of Egypt used wild beasts of her own (to accomplish her death); 736 the Carthaginian woman, who in the last extremity of her country was more courageous than her husband Asdrubal, 737 only followed the example, set long before by Dido herself, of going through fire to her death. Then, again, a woman of Athens defied the tyrant, exhausted his tortures, and at last, lest her person and sex might succumb through weakness, she bit off her tongue and spat out of her mouth the only possible instrument of a confession which was now out of her power. 738 But in your own instance you account such deeds glorious, in ours obstinate.  Annihilate now the glory of your ancestors, in order that you may thereby annihilate us also. Be content from henceforth to repeal the praises of your forefathers, in order that you may not have to accord commendation to us for the same (sufferings). Perhaps (you will say) the character of a more robust age may have rendered the spirits of antiquity more enduring. Now, however, (we enjoy) the blessing of quietness and peace; so that the minds and dispositions of men (should be) more tolerant even towards strangers. Well, you rejoin, be it so: you may compare yourselves with the ancients; we must needs pursue with hatred all that we find in you offensive to ourselves, because it does not obtain currency 739 among us. Answer me, then, on each particular case by itself. I am not seeking for examples on a uniform scale. 740 Since, forsooth, the sword through their contempt of death produced stories of heroism amongst your ancestors, it is not, of course, 741 from love of life that you go to the trainers sword in hand and offer yourselves as gladiators, 742 (nor) through fear of death do you enrol your names in the army. 743 Since an ordinary 744 woman makes her death famous by wild beasts, it cannot but be of your own pure accord that you encounter wild beasts day after day in the midst of peaceful times. Although no longer any Regulus among you has raised a cross as the instrument of his own crucifixion, yet a contempt of the fire has even now displayed itself, 745 since one of yourselves very lately has offered for a wager 746 to go to any place which may be fixed upon and put on the burning shirt. 747 If a woman once defiantly danced beneath the scourge, the same feat has been very recently performed again by one of your own (circus-) hunters 748 as he traversed the p. 127 appointed course, not to mention the famous sufferings of the Spartans. 749



Comp., The Apology, c. 50 [p. 54, infra.]


A virtute didicerunt.


With the “piget prosequi” to govern the preceding oblique clause, it is unnecessary to suppose (with Oehler) the omission here of some verb like “erogavit.”




Tertullian refers to Cleopatra’s death also in his tract ad Mart. c. iv. [See this Vol. infra.]


This case is again referred to in this treatise (p. 138), and in ad Mart c. iv. [See this Volume, infra.]


Eradicatæ confessionis. [See p. 55, supra.]


Non invenitur.


Eadem voce.


Utique. The ironical tone of Tertullian’s answer is evident.


Gladio ad lanistas auctoratis.


We follow Oehler in giving the clause this negative turn; he renders it: “Tretet nicht aus Furcht vor dem Tode ins Kriegsheer ein.”




Jam evasit.




Vestiendum incendiale tunica.


Inter venatorios: “venatores circi” (Oehler).


“Doubtless the stripes which the Spartans endured with such firmness, aggravated by the presence of their nearest relatives, who encouraged them, conferred honour upon their family.”—Apology, c. 50. [See p. 55, supra.]

Next: If Christians and the Heathen Thus Resemble Each Other, There is Great Difference in the Grounds and Nature of Their Apparently Similar Conduct.

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