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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Chapter I

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 503 IV.

Against the Valentinians.

In Which the Author Gives a Concise Account of, Together with Sundry Caustic Animadversions on, the Very Fantastic Theology of the Sect. This Treatise is Professedly Taken from the Writings of Justin, Miltiades, Irenæus, and Proculus.

[Translated by Dr. Roberts.]


Chapter I.—Introductory. Tertullian Compares the Heresy to the Old Eleusinian Mysteries.  Both Systems Alike in Preferring Concealment of Error and Sin to Proclamation of Truth and Virtue.

The Valentinians, who are no doubt a very large body of heretics—comprising as they do so many apostates from the truth, who have a propensity for fables, and no discipline to deter them (therefrom) care for nothing so much as to obscure 6611 what they preach, if indeed they (can be said to) preach who obscure their doctrine. The officiousness with which they guard their doctrine is an officiousness which betrays their guilt. 6612 Their disgrace is proclaimed in the very earnestness with which they maintain their religious system. Now, in the case of those Eleusinian mysteries, which are the very heresy of Athenian superstition, it is their secrecy that is their disgrace. Accordingly, they previously beset all access to their body with tormenting conditions; 6613 and they require a long initiation before they enrol (their members), 6614 even instruction during five years for their perfect disciples, 6615 in order that they may mould 6616 their opinions by this suspension of full knowledge, and apparently raise the dignity of their mysteries in proportion to the craving for them which they have previously created. Then follows the duty of silence. Carefully is that guarded, which is so long in finding.  All the divinity, however, lies in their secret recesses: 6617 there are revealed at last all the aspirations of the fully initiated, 6618 the entire mystery of the sealed tongue, the symbol of virility. But this allegorical representation, 6619 under the pretext of nature’s reverend name, obscures a real sacrilege by help of an arbitrary symbol, 6620 and by empty images obviates 6621 the reproach of falsehood! 6622 In like manner, the heretics who are now the object of our remarks, 6623 the Valentinians, have formed Eleusinian dissipations 6624 of their own, consecrated by a profound silence, having nothing of the heavenly in them but their mystery. 6625 By the help of the sacred names and titles and arguments of true religion, they have fabricated the vainest and foulest figment for men’s pliant liking, 6626 out of the affluent suggestions of Holy Scripture, since from its many springs many errors may well emanate. If you propose to them inquiries sincere and honest, they answer you with stern 6627 look and contracted brow, and say, “The subject is profound.” If you try them with subtle questions, with the ambiguities of their double tongue, they affirm a community of faith (with yourself). If you intimate to p. 504 them that you understand their opinions, they insist on knowing nothing themselves. If you come to a close engagement with them they destroy your own fond hope of a victory over them by a self-immolation. 6628 Not even to their own disciples do they commit a secret before they have made sure of them. They have the knack of persuading men before instructing them; although truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by first persuading.



Occultant. [This tract may be assigned to any date not earlier than a.d. 207. Of this Valentinus, see cap. iv. infra, and de Præscript. capp. 29, 30, supra.]


We are far from certain whether we have caught the sense of the original, which we add, that the reader may judge for himself, and at the same time observe the terseness of our author: “Custodiæ officium conscientiæ officium est, confusio prædicatur, dum religio asseveratur.”


Et aditum prius cruciant.


Antequam consignant.


Epoptas: see Suidas, s.v. ᾽Επόπται.










Patrocinio coactæ figuræ.




“Quid enim aliud est simulachrum nisi falsum?” (Rigalt.)


Quos nunc destinamus.






Facili caritati. Oehler, after Fr. Junius, gives, however, this phrase a subjective turn thus: “by affecting a charity which is easy to them, costing nothing.”




Sua cæde.

Next: These Heretics Brand the Christians as Simple Persons. The Charge Accepted, and Simplicity Eulogized Out of the Scriptures.

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