Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: Conclusion, the Romans Owe Not Their Imperial Power to Their Gods. The Great God Alone Dispenses Kingdoms, He is the God of the Christians.
Chapter XVII. 1081 —Conclusion, the Romans Owe Not Their Imperial Power to Their Gods. The Great God Alone Dispenses Kingdoms, He is the God of the Christians.
In conclusion, without denying all those whom antiquity willed and posterity has believed to be gods, to be the guardians of your religion, there yet remains for our consideration that very large assumption of the Roman superstitions which we have to meet in opposition to you, O heathen, viz. that the Romans have become the lords and masters of the whole world, because by their religious offices they have merited this dominion to such an extent that they are within a very little of excelling even their own gods in power. One cannot wonder that Sterculus, and Mutunus, and Larentina, have severally 1082 advanced this empire to its height! The Roman people has been by its gods alone ordained to such dominion. For I could not imagine that any foreign gods would have preferred doing more for a strange nation than for their own people, and so by such conduct become the deserters and neglecters, nay, the betrayers of the native land wherein they were born and bred, and ennobled and buried. Thus not even Jupiter p. 146 could suffer his own Crete to be subdued by the Roman fasces, forgetting that cave of Ida, and the brazen cymbals of the Corybantes, and the most pleasant odour of the goat which nursed him on that dear spot. Would he not have made that tomb of his superior to the whole Capitol, so that that land should most widely rule which covered the ashes of Jupiter? Would Juno, too, be willing that the Punic city, for the love of which she even neglected Samos, should be destroyed, and that, too, by the fires of the sons of Æneas? Although I am well aware that
“Hic illius arma,
Hic currus fuit, hoc regnum des gentibus esse,
Si qua fata sinant, jam tunc tenditque fovetque.” 1083
“Here were her arms, her chariot here,
Here goddess-like, to fix one day
The seat of universal sway,
Might fate be wrung to yield assent,
Een then her schemes, her cares were bent.” 1084
Still the unhappy (queen of gods) had no power against the fates! And yet the Romans did not accord as much honour to the fates, although they gave them Carthage, as they did to Larentina. But surely those gods of yours have not the power of conferring empire. For when Jupiter reigned in Crete, and Saturn in Italy, and Isis in Egypt, it was even as men that they reigned, to whom also were assigned many to assist them. 1085 Thus he who serves also makes masters, and the bond-slave 1086 of Admetus 1087 aggrandizes with empire the citizens of Rome, although he destroyed his own liberal votary Crœsus by deceiving him with ambiguous oracles. 1088 Being a god, why was he afraid boldly to foretell to him the truth that he must lose his kingdom. Surely those who were aggrandized with the power of wielding empire might always have been able to keep an eye, as it were, 1089 on their own cities. If they were strong enough to confer empire on the Romans, why did not Minerva defend Athens from Xerxes? Or why did not Apollo rescue Delphi out of the hand of Pyrrhus? They who lost their own cities preserve the city of Rome, since (forsooth) the religiousness 1090 of Rome has merited the protection! But is it not rather the fact that this excessive devotion 1091 has been devised since the empire has attained its glory by the increase of its power? No doubt sacred rites were introduced by Numa, but then your proceedings were not marred by a religion of idols and temples. Piety was simple, 1092 and worship humble; altars were artlessly reared, 1093 and the vessels (thereof) plain, and the incense from them scant, and the god himself nowhere. Men therefore were not religious before they achieved greatness, (nor great) because they were religious. But how can the Romans possibly seem to have acquired their empire by an excessive religiousness and very profound respect for the gods, when that empire was rather increased after the gods had been slighted? 1094 Now, if I am not mistaken, every kingdom or empire is acquired and enlarged by wars, whilst they and their gods also are injured by conquerors. For the same ruin affects both city-walls and temples; similar is the carnage both of civilians and of priests; identical the plunder of profane things and of sacred. To the Romans belong as many sacrileges as trophies; and then as many triumphs over gods as over nations. Still remaining are their captive idols amongst them; and certainly, if they can only see their conquerors, they do not give them their love. Since, however, they have no perception, they are injured with impunity; and since they are injured with impunity, they are worshipped to no purpose. The nation, therefore, which has grown to its powerful height by victory after victory, cannot seem to have developed owing to the merits of its religion—whether they have injured the religion by augmenting their power, or augmented their power by injuring the religion. All nations have possessed empire, each in its proper time, as the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Egyptians; empire is even now also in the possession of some, and yet they that have lost their power used not to behave 1095 without attention to religious services and the worship of the gods, even after these had become unpropitious to them, 1096 until at last almost universal dominion has accrued to the Romans. It is the fortune of the times that has thus constantly shaken kingdoms with revolution. 1097 Inquire who has ordained these changes in the times. It is the same (great Being) who dispenses kingdoms, 1098 and has now put the supremacy of them into the hands of the Rop. 147 mans, very much as if 1099 the tribute of many nations were after its exaction amassed in one (vast) coffer. What He has determined concerning it, they know who are the nearest to Him. 1100
Compare The Apology, xxv. xxvi., pp. 39, 40.145:1082
The verb is in the singular number.146:1083
Æneid, i. 16–20.146:1084
Apollo; comp. The Apology, c. xiv., p. 30.146:1088
See Herodot. i. 50.146:1089
Morabantur. We have taken this word as if from “mores” (character). Tertullian often uses the participle “moratus” in this sense.146:1096
Compare The Apology, c. xxvi.147:1099
We have treated this “tanquam” and its clause as something more than a mere simile. It is, in fact, an integral element of the supremacy which the entire sentence describes as conferred on the Romans by the Almighty.147:1100
That is, the Christians, who are well aware of Gods purposes as declared in prophecy. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians what the order of the great events subsequent to the Roman power was to be: the destruction of that power was to be followed by the development and reign of Antichrist; and then the end of the world would come.
Next: Appendix: A Fragment Concerning the Execrable Gods of the Heathen.
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