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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Marcion Forbids Marriage.  Tertullian Eloquently Defends It as Holy, and Carefully Discriminates Between Marcion's Doctrine and His Own Montanism.

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Chapter XXIX.—Marcion Forbids Marriage. Tertullian Eloquently Defends It as Holy, and Carefully Discriminates Between Marcion’s Doctrine and His Own Montanism.

The flesh is not, according to Marcion, immersed in the water of the sacrament, unless it be 2673 in virginity, widowhood, or celibacy, or has purchased by divorce a title to baptism, as if even generative impotents 2674 did not all receive their flesh from nuptial union. Now, such a scheme as this must no doubt involve the proscription of marriage.  Let us see, then, whether it be a just one: not as if we p. 294 aimed at destroying the happiness of sanctity, as do certain Nicolaitans in their maintenance of lust and luxury, but as those who have come to the knowledge of sanctity, and pursue it and prefer it, without detriment, however, to marriage; not as if we superseded a bad thing by a good, but only a good thing by a better. For we do not reject marriage, but simply refrain from it. 2675 Nor do we prescribe sanctity 2676 as the rule, but only recommend it, observing it as a good, yea, even the better state, if each man uses it carefully 2677 according to his ability; but at the same time earnestly vindicating marriage, whenever hostile attacks are made against it is a polluted thing, to the disparagement of the Creator. For He bestowed His blessing on matrimony also, as on an honourable estate, for the increase of the human race; as He did indeed on the whole of His creation, 2678 for wholesome and good uses. Meats and drinks are not on this account to be condemned, because, when served up with too exquisite a daintiness, they conduce to gluttony; nor is raiment to be blamed, because, when too costlily adorned, it becomes inflated with vanity and pride. So, on the same principle, the estate of matrimony is not to be refused, because, when enjoyed without moderation, it is fanned into a voluptuous flame. There is a great difference between a cause and a fault, 2679 between a state and its excess.  Consequently it is not an institution of this nature that is to be blamed, but the extravagant use of it; according to the judgment of its founder Himself, who not only said, “Be fruitful, and multiply,” 2680 but also, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife;” 2681 and who threatened with death the unchaste, sacrilegious, and monstrous abomination both of adultery and unnatural sin with man and beast. 2682 Now, if any limitation is set to marrying—such as the spiritual rule, 2683 which prescribes but one marriage under the Christian obedience, 2684 maintained by the authority of the Paraclete, 2685 —it will be His prerogative to fix the limit Who had once been diffuse in His permission; His to gather, Who once scattered; His to cut down the tree, Who planted it; His to reap the harvest, Who sowed the seed; His to declare, “It remaineth that they who have wives be as though they had none,” 2686 Who once said, “Be fruitful, and multiply;” His the end to Whom belonged the beginning. Nevertheless, the tree is not cut down as if it deserved blame; nor is the corn reaped, as if it were to be condemned,—but simply because their time is come. So likewise the state of matrimony does not require the hook and scythe of sanctity, as if it were evil; but as being ripe for its discharge, and in readiness for that sanctity which will in the long run bring it a plenteous crop by its reaping.  For this leads me to remark of Marcion’s god, that in reproaching marriage as an evil and unchaste thing, he is really prejudicing the cause of that very sanctity which he seems to serve.  For he destroys the material on which it subsists; if there is to be no marriage, there is no sanctity. All proof of abstinence is lost when excess is impossible; for sundry things have thus their evidence in their contraries.  Just as “strength is made perfect in weakness,” 2687 so likewise is continence made manifest by the permission to marry. Who indeed will be called continent, if that be taken away which gives him the opportunity of pursuing a life of continence? What room for temperance in appetite does famine give? What repudiation of ambitious projects does poverty afford?  What bridling of lust can the eunuch merit? To put a complete stop, however, to the sowing of the human race, may, for aught I know, be quite consistent for Marcion’s most good and excellent god.  For how could he desire the salvation of man, whom he forbids to be born, when he takes away that institution from which his birth arises? How will he find any one on whom to set the mark of his goodness, when he suffers him not to come into existence? How is it possible to love him whose origin he hates? Perhaps he is afraid of a redundant population, lest he should be weary in liberating so many; lest he should have to make many heretics; lest Marcionite parents should produce too many noble disciples of Marcion. The cruelty of Pharaoh, which slew its victims at their birth, will not prove to be more inhuman in comparison. 2688 For while he destroyed lives, our heretic’s god refuses to give them: the one removes from life, the other admits none to it.  There is no difference in either as to their homicide—man is slain by both of them; by the former just after birth, by the latter as yet unborn. Thanks should we owe thee, thou p. 295 god of our heretic, hadst thou only checked 2689 the dispensation of the Creator in uniting male and female; for from such a union indeed has thy Marcion been born!  Enough, however, of Marcion’s god, who is shown to have absolutely no existence at all, both by our definitions 2690 of the one only Godhead, and the condition of his attributes. 2691 The whole course, however, of this little work aims directly at this conclusion.  If, therefore, we seem to anybody to have achieved but little result as yet, let him reserve his expectations, until we examine the very Scripture which Marcion quotes.



Free from all matrimonial impurity.


Spadonibus. This word is more general in sense than eunuch, embracing such as are impotent both by nature and by castration, White and Riddle’s Lat. Dict. s.v.


Tertullian’s Montanism appears here.


i.e., abstinence from marriage.


Sectando. [This, indeed, seems to be a fair statement of Patristic doctrine concerning marriage.  As to our author’s variations see Kaye, p. 378.]


Universum conditionis.


Causa in its proper sense is, “that through which anything takes place;” its just and normal state, therefore. Culpa is the derangement of the cause; some flaw in it.


Gen. i. 28.


Exod. 20:14, 17.


Lev. 20:10, 13, 15.




In fide. Tertullian uses (De Pud. 18) “ante fidem” as synonymous with ante baptismum; similarly “post fidem.”


[Bad as this is, does it argue the lapse of our author as at this time complete?]


1 Cor. vii. 29.


2 Cor. xii. 9.


This is the force of the erit instead of the past tense.


Isses in, i.e., obstitisses, check or resist, for then Marcion would, of course, not have been born:  the common text has esses in.


Tertullian has discussed these “definitions” in chap. ii. vii., and the “conditions” from chap. viii. onward. He will “examine the Scripture” passages in books iv. and v.  Fr. Junius.



Next: Book II

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