Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: The Absurd Opinion of Epicurus and the Profane Conceits of the Heretic Menander on Death, Even Enoch and Elijah Reserved for Death.
Chapter L.—The Absurd Opinion of Epicurus and the Profane Conceits of the Heretic Menander on Death, Even Enoch and Elijah Reserved for Death.
We have by this time said enough about sleep, the mirror and image of death; and likewise about the occupations of sleep, even dreams. Let us now go on to consider the cause of our departure hence—that is, the appointment and course of death—because we must not leave even it unquestioned and unexamined, although it is itself the very end of all questions and investigations. According to the general sentiment of the human race, we declare death to be “the debt of nature.” So much has been settled by the voice of God; 1782 such is the contract with everything which is born: so that even from this the frigid conceit of Epicurus is refuted, who says that no such debt is due from us; and not only so, but the insane opinion of the Samaritan heretic Menander is also rejected, who will have it that death has not only nothing to do with his disciples, but in fact never reaches them. He pretends to have received such a commission from the secret power of One above, that all who partake of his baptism become immortal, incorruptible and instantaneously invested with resurrection-life. We read, no doubt, of very many wonderful kinds of waters: how, for instance, the vinous quality of the stream intoxicates people who drink of the Lyncestis; how at Colophon the waters of an oracle-inspiring fountain 1783 affect men with madness; how Alexander was killed by the poisonous water from Mount Nonacris in Arcadia. Then, again, there was in Judea before the time of Christ a pool of medicinal virtue. It is well known how the poet has commemorated the marshy Styx as preserving men from death; although Thetis had, in spite of the preservative, to lament her son. And for the matter of that, were Menander himself to take a plunge into this famous Styx, he would certainly have to die after all; for you must come to the Styx, placed as it is by all accounts in the regions of the dead. Well, but what and where are those blessed and charming waters which not even John Baptist ever used in his preministrations, nor Christ after him ever revealed to His disciples? What was this wondrous bath of Menander? He is a comical fellow, I ween. 1784 But why (was such a font) so seldom in request, so obscure, one to which so very few ever resorted for their cleansing? I really see something to suspect in so rare an occurrence of a sacrament to which is attached so very much security and safety, and which dispenses with the ordinary law of dying even in the service of God Himself, when, on the contrary, all nations have “to ascend to the mount of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob,” who demands of His saints in martyrdom that death which He exacted even of His Christ. No one will ascribe to magic such influence as shall exempt from death, or which shall refresh and vivify life, like the vine by the renewal of its condition. Such power was not accorded to the great Medea herself—over a human being at any rate, if allowed her over a silly sheep. Enoch no doubt was translated, 1785 and so was Elijah; 1786 nor did they experience death: it was postponed, (and only postponed,) most certainly: they are reserved for the suffering of death, that by their blood p. 228 they may extinguish Antichrist. 1787 Even John underwent death, although concerning him there had prevailed an ungrounded expectation that he would remain alive until the coming of the Lord. 1788 Heresies, indeed, for the most part spring hurriedly into existence, from examples furnished by ourselves: they procure their defensive armour from the very place which they attack. The whole question resolves itself, in short, into this challenge: Where are to be found the men whom Menander himself has baptized? whom he has plunged into his Styx? Let them come forth and stand before us—those apostles of his whom he has made immortal? Let my (doubting) Thomas see them, let him hear them, let him handle them—and he is convinced.
Gen. ii. 17. [Not ex natura, but as penalty.]227:1783
It is difficult to say what Tertullian means by his “comicum credo.” Is it a playful parody on the heretics name, the same as the comic poets (Menander)?227:1785
Gen. 5:24, Heb. 11:5.227:1786
2 Kings ii. 11.228:1787
Rev. xi. 3.228:1788
John xxi. 23.
Next: Death Entirely Separates the Soul from the Body.
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