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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Dangerous Effects to Religion and Morality of the Doctrine of So Weak a God.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXVII.—Dangerous Effects to Religion and Morality of the Doctrine of So Weak a God.

Again, he plainly judges evil by not willing it, and condemns it by prohibiting it; while, on the other hand, he acquits it by not avenging it, and lets it go free by not punishing it. What a prevaricator of truth is such a god! What a dissembler with his own decision! Afraid to condemn what he really condemns, afraid to hate what he does not love, permitting that to be done which he does not allow, choosing to indicate what he dislikes rather than deeply examine it! This will turn out an imaginary goodness, a phantom of discipline, perfunctory in duty, careless in sin. Listen, ye sinners; and ye who have not yet come to this, hear, that you may attain to such a pass! A better god has been discovered, who never takes offence, is never angry, never inflicts punishment, who has prepared no fire in hell, no gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness! He is purely and simply good. He indeed forbids all delinquency, but only in word. He is in you, if you are willing to pay him homage, 2660 for the sake of appearances, that you may seem to honour God; for your fear he does not want. And so satisfied are the Marcionites with such pretences, that they have no fear of their god at all. They say it is only a bad man who will be feared, a good man will be loved.  Foolish man, do you say that he whom you call Lord ought not to be feared, whilst the very title you give him indicates a power which must itself be feared? But how are you going to love, without some fear that you do not love?  Surely (such a god) is neither your Father, towards whom your love for duty’s sake should be consistent with fear because of His power; nor your proper 2661 Lord, whom you should love for His humanity and fear as your teacher. 2662 Kidnappers 2663 indeed are loved after this fashion, but they are not feared. For power will not be feared, except it be just and regular, although it may possibly be loved even when corrupt: for it is by allurement that it stands, not by authority; by flattery, not by proper influence. And what can be more direct flattery than not to punish sins? Come, then, if you do not fear God as being good, why do you not boil over into every kind of lust, and so realize that which is, I believe, the main enjoyment of life to all who fear not God? Why do you not frequent the customary pleasures of the maddening circus, the bloodthirsty arena, and p. 293 the lascivious theatre? 2664 Why in persecutions also do you not, when the censer is presented, at once redeem your life by the denial of your faith? God forbid, you say with redoubled 2665 emphasis. So you do fear sin, and by your fear prove that He is an object of fear Who forbids the sin. This is quite a different matter from that obsequious homage you pay to the god whom you do not fear, which is identical in perversity indeed to is own conduct, in prohibiting a thing without annexing the sanction of punishment. Still more vainly do they act, who when asked, What is to become of every sinner in that great day? reply, that he is to be cast away out of sight. Is not even this a question of judicial determination? He is adjudged to deserve rejection, and that by a sentence of condemnation; unless the sinner is cast away forsooth for his salvation, that even a leniency like this may fall in consistently with the character of your most good and excellent god! And what will it be to be cast away, but to lose that which a man was in the way of obtaining, were it not for his rejection—that is, his salvation?  Therefore his being cast away will involve the forfeiture of salvation; and this sentence cannot possibly be passed upon him, except by an angry and offended authority, who is also the punisher of sin—that is, by a judge.



Obsequium subsignare.




Propter disciplinam.


Plagiarii. The Plagiarius is the ἀνδραποδιστής or the ψυχαγωγός of Alex. Greek. This “man-stealing” profession was often accompanied with agreeable external accomplishments. Nempe ψυχαγωγοί, quia blandis et mellitis verbis servos alienos sollicitant, et ad se alliciunt. Clemens Alex. Strom. i. λύκοι ἅρπαγες προβάτων κωδίοις ἐγκεκρυμμένοι, ἀνδραποδιστοί τε καὶ ψυχαγωγοὶ εὐγλῶσσοι, κλέπτοντες μὲν ἀφανῶς, κ.τ.λ.—Desid. Herald. Animad. ad Arnobium, p. 101.


Comp. Apology, 38.


Absit, inquis, absit. [i.e., the throwing of a grain of incense into the censer, before the Emperor’s image or that of a heathen god.]

Next: This Perverse Doctrine Deprives Baptism of All Its Grace. If Marcion Be Right, the Sacrament Would Confer No Remission of Sins, No Regeneration, No Gift of the Spirit.

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