Early Latin Theology, Library of Christian Classics V (1956), pp. 19-64

Translated and edited by S.L.Greenslade



Tertullian

 


Tertullian

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

I

OF TERTULLIAN'S LIFE-STORY THERE IS NOT MUCH
to be said. He was born in Carthage, according to
Jerome, and was the son of a centurion. He was evi-
dently given a good education in grammar and rhetoric, and
he was a trained lawyer. In middle life he was converted to
Christianity, lived and wrote in Carthage, presumably as a
presbyter of the church there (though this cannot be proved
beyond question), gradually moved towards Montanism, even-
tually broke with the Catholics of Carthage to join that body,
and died in old age, not before A.D. 220. His Christian writings
cover the period from A.D. 197 to the papacy of Callistus,
218-222.

    After a brief exhortation to Christians facing martyrdom,
Tertullian launched out as an apologist with the Ad Nationes,
followed by the magnificent Apology, in which he is principally
anxious to remove the political and social charges commonly
brought against Christianity. These three works date from
197. The apologetic interest continues in The Testimony of the
Soul
, the witness of natural instinct to the existence of the one
God, and in the later Ad Scapulam (212). Another main group
consists of the attacks on Gnostics: the De Praescriptionibus
Haereticorum
, an early work which disposes of all heresy in
principle, removing the necessity of arguing against each in
particular; the large work against Marcion; books against
Hermogenes and the Valentinians; the treatises On the Flesh of
Christ
and On the Resurrection of the Flesh, the Scorpiace (Serpent's
Bite) and the De Anima, though the last is also a positive presen-
tation of Tertullian's doctrine of the soul. His most influential
work of controversial theology was not directed against a

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TERTULLIAN

Gnostic; this is the book against the modalist Praxeas, a major
source of western Trinitarian doctrine. Most of his other extant
writings are moral and disciplinary. From his early period,
that is, up to about 206 and before there are any traces of
Montanism, come On the (Lord's) Prayer, On Baptism, On Patience,
On Penance, On Women's Dress, To his Wife, On the Virgin's Veil.
Of these the De Baptismo is important liturgically, as is the De
Oratione
to a less extent, while the De Paenitentia is of great,
though occasionally baffling, significance for the history of the
penitential discipline. Some years later came The Soldier's
Crown
(211), a repudiation of military service for Christians,
and De Idololatria ("The Church and the World"). The Exhorta-
tion to Chastity
also dates from this period. Fully Montanist are
On Flight in Persecution (213), On Monogamy, On Fasting, On
Chastity
(De Pudicitia). Adversus Praxeam was also written in the
Montanist phase, though it is not determined by Montanism.
Tertullian wrote in Greek as well as Latin. De Spectaculis was
certainly issued also in Greek, and he wrote in Greek on
Baptism, not the extant work. Thirty-one works are extant,
the two not mentioned above being De Pallio, a jeu d'esprit on the
philosopher's cloak, and the unfinished Against the Jews. Ter-
tullian was probably also the editor (some say the author) of
the beautiful Passion of St. Perpetua. Not all his works have
survived. Lost treatises include one against Hermogenes on the
Origin of the Soul, one against the sect of Apelles, and books
on Fate, Paradise, the Christian's Hope, and Ecstasy. The last
might have told us much about Montanism.

II

    Tertullian's style is the despair of the translator. He is
passionate, vivacious, full of puns and plays on words, decorat-
ing his material with all manner of rhetorical devices. Again
and again his ingenuity over-reaches itself, and he becomes
tortuous and obscure, especially when he compresses the
material of a sentence into two or three pregnant words. He
must sometimes have had his tongue in his cheek, but there are
other times when he cannot have known how wearisome his
quibbling could become. At his best, however, he is forceful
and brilliant. He used words as he thought he would, made
them say what he wanted, and invented them if they did not
already exist. If his substance is less original than his form (so
far as that distinction is valid), the reader can never doubt that


GENERAL INTRODUCTION

23

he is in contact with a powerful and original mind. It is con-
ventional to call him the "Father of Latin Theology." The title
is deserved, but needs to be understood. Take, for example,
the De Praescriptionibus. This undoubtedly exercised a great
influence on the doctrine of the Church in the West-notably
on and through Cyprian-but the fundamental notions came
from Irenaeus, who, even if he wrote in the Greek tongue,
was a western bishop and was presumably read in the West.
Tertullian's debt to him for his material against the Gnostics
is equally obvious, and he does not conceal it. He had read
the Greek Apologists also, and was well acquainted with their
Logos doctrine. Nevertheless Tertullian's own contribution to
the doctrine of the Trinity in Adversus Praxeam is real and im-
portant. He certainly prepared the way for the serious, pessi-
mistic, doctrine of the Fall which came to characterize the
West; and in this respect he broke away from his Greek masters.
If his rigorism in morals and discipline was not accepted, the
books were there-and even the Montanist ones were copied
and read-to be used by any who wanted support for a stern
view of the Christian life. His legalistic concepts of sin as debt
and of reward and punishment were unfortunate legacies, only
too real.
    When he is described as the father of Latin theology, atten-
tion is drawn also to his contribution to the making of a Latin
theological terminology, and it is unquestionably true that
much of the language of later days can be traced back to him.
But even here a caveat must be entered. "To him we owe a
great part of the Christian Latin vocabulary," said Souter.
True, but just how much depends on the date of the earliest
Latin versions of the Bible, and perhaps of a few other Latin
translations of Greek works such as the Letter of Clement to
Corinth and the Shepherd of Hermas. As long as it was believed
that these were all later than Tertullian, or even that he himself
made the first Latin translations of Scripture, it could be said
that he created, in large part, Latin theological terminology.
Today it is more commonly held that he had at least a Latin
Bible to help him.
    Qualifications made, he stands out as one of the most
influential men of the early Church. "Hand me the Master,"
Cyprian used to, say to his secretary. Novatian's work on the
Trinity rests on Tertullian's, the Commonitorium of Vincent of
Lerins and its criterion of catholicity owe much to the De
Praescriptionibus, Leo's Tome draws on Tertullian for its


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TERTULLIAN

Christological conceptions and terms. There will be many who
prefer the subtler and, at the same time, more humane, more
generous, more reasonable, Alexandrians. Tertullian did not like
philosophy, though he could not quite get rid of his own Stoic
notion of matter. Apart from that, he genuinely tried to under-
stand Christianity as divinum negotium, as Revelation, as some-
thing that God has done. With all his exaggerations and per-
versions of detail, he was yet a major force in keeping the West
steady and sensible, historical and biblical, against the much
more fundamental perversions of theosophical and-shall we
say, premature?-philosophical speculation.


The Prescriptions against the Heretics

INTRODUCTION

I

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY HAS SEEN A PREDOMIN-
ant concern with the problem of Revelation, and, in
close connexion, with the nature and authority of the
Church which is constituted by the Revelation in Christ.
Something similar was taking place in the second century.
The Gnostics, while claiming to be Christians, looked partly
to reason and partly to mysticism and special revelations for
their teachings. They used some of the books which now form
the New Testament, but they treated them in a very high-
handed fashion, as regards both text and interpretation; and
they used other books which the Church has subsequently
repudiated. Yet there were genuine Christian elements in
or behind their teaching, and to many they must have seemed
the most up-to-date religious teachers of the time, interpreting
the Christian revelation in the light of the best contemporary
thought. To the ordinary bishop or presbyter, responsible for
the instruction of simple people, they would be at best a nuis-
ance and at worst a serious danger--if they were not actually
an attraction to him--unless he could find something firm and
clear to hold on to and to teach.
    The theologians of the second and early third century,
Justin to some extent, Irenaeus in particular, Clement of Alex-
andria and Tertullian, were prepared to argue against Gnostic
notions or teachers seriatim, and did so. But some of them recog-
nized that the over-riding question raised by Gnosticism was,
What is authentic Christianity? It was necessary to determine
the authoritative sources of the faith (that is primarily, to
delimit the sacred books, to form a Canon), and it was expedi-
ent, if it could be done, to show where authentic Christianity

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TERTULLIAN

was to be found in the contemporary world. The clue to the
answers was the one word, apostolic. The saving revelation,
it was argued, had been given once and for all in the historical
Christ through historical events at a point in history, events
which had been prophesied and prepared for in the Old Testa-
ment. The revelation had been communicated as a corpus of
teaching, "the faith," by Christ to the apostles, and by the
apostles to the churches which they founded.
    This communication took shape in three principal ways.
First, in the writings of the apostles themselves or their immedi-
ate associates. Therefore it is these books, and these alone, which
can and must be added to the Old Testament as canonical
scripture, and these books will be binding in authority. In
practice there was some division of opinion about a few books,
but, in contrast to Marcion's brief canon of Luke's Gospel plus
Paul, the core of the present New Testament was received as a
New Testament (individually the books had long been used)
by the end of the second century. Secondly, the essence of the
apostolic missionary preaching, the kerygma with which modern
scholarship has been so much concerned, could never be
forgotten, for it remained essential to straightforward evangel-
ism. Thus the local churches were always conscious of an aposto-
lic Rule of Faith or Rule of Truth, which might also be em-
bodied in a baptismal profession of faith, a creed. These were
very short, and gave theologians plenty of scope for argument
and error. However, faithfulness to the Rule provided a first
test of fundamental Christianity, and departure from it was a
danger signal. The Rule also laid down the guiding lines of
biblical exegesis. Thirdly, the original revelation was preserved
by the responsible teaching of a regular, authorized, approved
ministry, especially in those churches which had been founded
and instructed by the apostles themselves and could prove their
continuity since apostolic times. In these the ministers, prim-
arily the bishops, were in the first place the outward witness
to, and in the second place the divinely assisted organs of, this
continuity. In such churches, then, using the apostolic books,
faithful to the apostolic Rule of Faith, watched over by re-
sponsible bishops, having an unbroken continuity of faith and
worship and discipline since the days of the apostles, you can
confidently look to find authentic Christianity. Here is Christian
tradition, and here is the Christian Church. If you are doubtful
about the teaching of any one local church, you can find the
truth in the agreement of many.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

27

    The argument was built up gradually, though much of it
was instinctive in the life of the Church from very early times.
At the beginning of the second century Ignatius, already con-
scious of Gnostic perversions and the threat of schism, empha-
sized the need to hold by the bishop. Later on Hegesippus saw
the importance of the episcopal successions as witnesses to
historic continuity, and he reported that the churches which
had long lists taught the same thing. It was Irenaeus who worked
the position out with massive theological understanding. But
who would read Irenaeus? Only the scholar, then and now.
He is the great mind behind Tertullian, and the Church is
profoundly indebted to him for his understanding of the his-
torical character of redemption and the central place which he
gave to the theology of Paul. As theology everyone will prefer
his sobriety of statement to Tertullian's quips and paradoxes.
But it was Tertullian's brilliance and audacity which found
readers, and in this clever pamphlet many later theologians
saw, for good or ill, the essence of "the catholic position" and
a short way with all dissenters.
    This book has been called the "most plausible and the most
mischievous" of all Tertullian's writings, and even harder
things have been said of it. What is the value of the argument?
We must, of course, distinguish between the essential drift of
it and its frills. In many ways it was sound in its own day, and
in some ways it remains sound. The Gnostics were a strange
breed, even if one has more sympathy than Tertullian for
Marcion's strugglings with the difficulties of the Old Testa-
ment and with the Pauline antitheses of law and liberty, works
and grace. Retrospectively, however, it is obvious that the
Gnostics did not teach what we mean by Christianity, and they
are rejected because they sat loose to the crucial historic
Revelation, because they had no continuity of Christian faith
and life, and, in short, because they could not stand the test of
universality in time or space. This begs some questions, but
seems sound in the main, and it is what Tertullian's
argument comes to. On the other hand it is obvious that
he assumes far too much about the clarity and fixity of the
original revelation, which he thinks of in propositional form, as
modern critics would say. He does not allow enough for human
error in transmission locally, nor for such a rapid spread of
error as was shown to be possible in the fourth century. Time
has not facilitated the application of his principles. What
remains true is that Christianity is a religion of revelation,


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TERTULLIAN

anchored in an historic event, and that the significance of that
event, recorded in and interpreted by the Bible, is grasped by
the individual within the life of a concrete, historical, Church.

II

    The precise form which the argument takes in this work is a
tour de force, though fundamentally serious. The closing words
show that Tertullian was prepared to argue with Gnostics
about particular doctrines, and he produced a long series of
works of this kind. But here he claims that the Church need not
so argue; it can simply stand on its own authority. In so far as
the Gnostics appeal to and argue from Scripture, the Church
need not listen to them. It must simply stand on its right to the
possession of the true Scriptures and of a long and open tradi-
tion of interpretation. If the Gnostics want to be Christians
within the Church, they will accept these books and this tradi-
tion of interpretation, based on the Rule of Faith. If they will
not-and their mutilation of Scripture and rejection of some
apostolic writings give them away-they put themselves out
side the Church, and the Church need take no notice of their
teaching. But they must not be allowed to claim the Church's
Scriptures. The only way they could prove any claim would be
to show that their communities-if any are stable enough-are
churches with an historical continuity from the apostles. If the
Gnostics do not appeal to Scripture, they put themselves out of
court automatically.
    Tertullian is, of course, confident that the Gnostic groups will
not be able to prove their historic continuity in the way which
he regards as decisive, the unbroken line of bishops in each
local church. Here is one of the difficulties in his position. It
was perfectly sensible to suggest that authentic Christianity is
likely to be found where there is concrete, historical continuity,
and that a regular ministry is an element in, and a help to,
such continuity. It is a very different thing to say that authentic
Christianity cannot exist where the succession of ministry is
broken, or that it always does exist where the succession is
found. This cannot be argued out in a brief introduction. How-
ever, some aspects of the teaching of Irenaeus and Tertullian
should be made clear. Above all, their concern is always for
the preservation of true doctrine, the faith. They are only
secondarily concerned with the means by which the institutional
Church is maintained in being, though they are concerned


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

29

with that, as a means to the main object. Secondly, the
apostolic succession in question consists in the line of bishops
in each local church, not a chain of consecrator and conse-
crated, which would give quite a different list. Apostolic
succession always means the former in the early Church.
Thirdly, there is no particular stress on their being bishops.
The argument does not stand or fall by episcopacy, though
certainly Tertullian takes it for granted. Irenaeus sometimes
calls the successions successions of presbyters. The essential
point is that there should be an orderly succession of responsible
ministers in each local church.
    This understanding of the Church of the apostolic succession
lent itself to something which was not, it seems, predominantly
in the mind of Tertullian, and certainly not of Irenaeus, namely
an institutionalism in which the notes of authority, fixity, and
good churchmanship are emphasized at the expense of other,
and perhaps more important, features of the Christian life.
And it became fatally easy to test membership of the Church
simply in terms of adherence to a bishop in apostolic succession.
Tertullian was to abandon all this in favour of Montanism,
largely, it is probable, because of its moral and disciplinary
rigorism (whereas the average Christian was content to think
himself guaranteed salvation by loyalty to the institutional
Church), but also because he ceased to hold the doctrine of
authority which he expounds in the De Praescriptionibus. For
the Montanist there can be new revelation through the Spirit;
authority lies in the present and immediate work of the Spirit
and, in human terms, in spiritual men or women, not in a
collection of bishops. Tertullian's chief source, Irenaeus, and
his eventual position are illustrated briefly in the appendices.

III

    There is no need to worry about the technical meaning of
praescriptio. Tertullian had been trained in the law; he knew
what praescriptiones were still in use, and very likely he knew
the obsolete ones as well. But he is not proposing that the
Church shall actually go to law with the Gnostics, and he has
not to be minutely accurate in his legal forms. He has more than
one praescriptio in mind, and uses the plural in c. 45 and in the
reference to this work in De Carne Christi 2, "Sed plenius eiusmodi
praescriptionibus adversus omnes haereses alibi iam usi sumus."
The two oldest manuscripts have De Praescriptione as the title,


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TERTULLIAN

which has become the commoner form in modem times. Other
manuscripts and the earliest editors give De Praescriptionibus,
which may well be correct. One praescriptio is that of possession,
longae possessionis or longi temporis. This must be in Tertullian's
mind in c. 38, and no doubt is valid all through, for the Church,
historically continuous, has always possessed the Scriptures.
But the main praescriptio is that which distinguishes at the outset
a prior issue, and limits discussion to that issue. The Church will
not need to argue with Gnostics about the meaning of Scripture
if the prior point is settled, that the Gnostics have no right to use
Scripture. The Church may possess it by a prescriptive right, as
we would say, but the principal praescriptio is the plea that this
point should be decided first. Modern legal terms sometimes
used, such as demurrer, exception, limitation, are all rather mis-
leading, and it seems best to transliterate it as prescription.
    It is astonishing that some older scholars should have
thought this tract a work of Tertullian's Montanist period.
So far from having anything Montanist in it, it is completely
contradictory to the principles of that movement. The miscon-
ception arose from an allusion at the beginning of Adversus
Marcionem to another book which sustinebit against heretics a
refutation on the ground of a praescriptio novitatis, that is, the
praescriptio longi temporis. But sustinebit means that the argument
will hold good, not, that the book has still to be written. It
precedes the works which reveal Montanist influence (from
c. 206 onwards) and the books against individual Gnostics,
and may be placed about A.D. 200.
    For the text we have the chief manuscript of Tertullian,
Codex Agobardinus (Parisinus 1622), of the ninth century, as far
as chapter 40. The other important one is of the eleventh
century, Seletstadiensis or Paterniacensis 439. There are two
fifteenth-century MSS. of it at Florence, and another at Leyden.
The latest full critical edition is that by Kroymann in the Vienna
Corpus, 1942. It has the advantage of modern scientific processes
for the examination of the much-damaged Agobardinus, and
certainly improves the text in places, but Kroymann's many
conjectures and his constant resort to lacunae are not convincing.
The basis of the present translation is therefore still eclectic.
For details of editions and translations consult the bibliography.
The edition by R. F. Refoulé in Corpus Christianorum was not
available when the translation was made. He uses also the
fifteenth-century Codex Luxemburgensis 75; and, like me, he
rejects many of Kroymann's emendations.


The Prescriptions against the Heretics

THE TEXT

    1. The times we live in provoke me to remark that we ought
not to be surprised either at the occurrence of the heresies,
since they were foretold, or at their occasional subversion of
faith, since they occur precisely in order to prove faith by testing
it.1 To be scandalized, as many are, by the great power of
heresy is groundless and unthinking. What power could it have
if it never occurred? When something is unquestionably destined
to come into existence, it receives, together with the purpose
of its existence, the force by which it comes to exist and which
precludes its non-existence.

    2. Fever, for example, we are not surprised to find in its
appointed place among the fatal and excruciating issues which
destroy human life, since it does in fact exist; and we are not
surprised to find it destroying life, since that is why it exists.
Similarly, if we are alarmed that heresies which have been
produced in order to weaken and kill faith can actually do so,
we ought first to be alarmed at their very existence. Existence
and power are inseparable.

    Faced with fever, which we know to be evil in its purpose
and power, it is not surprise we feel, but loathing; and as it is
not in our power to abolish it, we take what precautions we
can against it. But when it comes to heresies, which bring
eternal death and the heat of a keener fire with them, there are
men who prefer to be surprised at their power rather than avoid
it, although they have the power to avoid it. But heresy will
lose its strength if we are not surprised that it is strong. It hap-
pens either that we expose ourselves to occasions of stumbling
by being surprised, or else that in being made to stumble we
come to be surprised, supposing the power of heresy to spring

1 Matt. 7:15; 24:4, 11, 24; 1 Cor. 11:19, the foundation text for this intro-
duction, cf. c. 4.

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TERTULLIAN

from some inherent truth. It is surprising, to be sure, that
evil should have any strength of its own--though heresy is
strongest with those who are not strong in faith! When boxers
and gladiators fight, it is very often not because he is strong or
invincible that the victor wins, but because the loser is weak.
Matched subsequently against a man of real strength, your
victor goes off beaten. Just so, heresy draws its strength from
men's weakness and has none when it meets a really strong
faith.
    3. Those who are surprised into admiration are not infre-
quently edified by the captives of heresy-edified to their down-
fall.2 Why, they ask, have so-and-so and so-and-so gone over
to that party, the most faithful and wisest and most experienced
members of the Church? Surely such a question carries its own
answer. If heresy could pervert them, they cannot be counted
wise or faithful or experienced. And is it surprising that a
person hitherto of good repute should afterwards fall? Saul;
though good beyond all others, was afterwards overthrown by
jealousy. David, a good man after the Lord's heart, was after-
wards guilty of murder and adultery. Solomon, whom the Lord
had endowed with all grace and wisdom, was led by women
into idolatry. To remain without sin was reserved for the Son of
God alone. If then a bishop or deacon, a widow, a virgin or a
teacher, or even a martyr, has lapsed from the Rule of Faith,
must we conclude that heresy possesses the truth? Do we test
the faith by persons or persons by the faith? No one is wise,
no one is faithful, no one worthy of honour unless he is a
Christian, and no one is a Christian unless he perseveres to the
end.
    You are human, and so you know other people only from
the outside. You think as you see, and you see only what your
eyes let you see. But "the eyes of the Lord are lofty."3 "Man
looketh on the outward appearance, God looketh on the
heart." 4 So "the Lord knoweth them that are his" 5 and roots
up the plant which he has not planted. He shows the last to

2 A cryptic sentence, and clumsy in my translation. The text is uncertain.
I read miriones, the lectio diffcilior, not infirmiores; and I link it with the
frequent "surprise" of c. 2. Perhaps it should be rendered more bluntly,
"some gaping fools". Aedificari in ruinam is a play on words, with allusions
to Matt. 7:26; I Cor. 8:10.
3 IV Esdras 8:20, elevati in Vulgate. Perhaps Tertullian understands alti
as "going deep" into men's hearts.
4 I Sam. 16:7.
5 II Tim. 2:19.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

33

Be first, he carries a fan in his hand to purge his floor. Let the
chaff of light faith fly away as it pleases before every wind of
temptation. So much the purer is the heap of wheat which the
Lord will gather into his garner.
    Some of the disciples were offended and turned away from
the Lord himself. Did the rest at once suppose that they too
must leave his footsteps? No, convinced that he is the word of
life, come down from God, they persevered in his company to
the end, although he had gently asked them whether they also
wished to go. It is of less consequence if some, like Phygelus
and Hermogenes, Philetus and Hymenaeus, deserted his
apostle.6 It was an apostle that betrayed Christ. Are we sur-
prised that some desert the Church when it is our sufferings
after Christ's example that show us to be Christians? "They
went out from us," the Bible says, "but they were not of us;
for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued
with us." 7
    4. Instead of dwelling on such things let us keep in mind the
Lord's sayings and the apostles' letters, which warned us that
heresies would come and ordered us to shun them. Feeling, as
we do, no alarm at their occurrence, we need not be surprised
at their ability to perform that which compels us to shun them.
The Lord teaches that many ravening wolves will come in
sheep's clothing. What is this sheep's clothing but the outward
profession of the name "Christian"? The ravening wolves are
the crafty thoughts and impulses lurking within to attack
Christ's flock. The false prophets are the false preachers, the
false apostles the spurious evangelists, the antichrists, now as
ever, the rebels against Christ. Today heresy plays this part.
The assaults of its perverse teaching upon the Church are no
whit less severe than the dreadful persecutions which the anti-
christ will carry out in his day. In fact they are worse. Perse-
cution at least makes martyrs: heresy only apostates.
    There had to be heresies so that those who are approved
might be made manifest, those who did not stray into heresy as
well as those who stood firm in persecution, in case anyone
should want those who change their faith into heresy to be
counted as approved simply because he says somewhere else:
"Prove all things, hold fast that which is good,"8 words which
they misinterpret to suit themselves. As if it were not possible
to "prove all things" wrongly, and so fasten erroneously upon
some evil choice!

6 II Tim. 1:15; 2:17.        7 I John 2:19.         8 I Thess. 5:21.


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TERTULLIAN

    5. Again, when he blames party strife and schism, which are
unquestionably evils, he at once adds heresy. 9 What he links
with evils, he is of course proclaiming to be itself an evil. Indeed
in saying that he had believed in their schisms and parties just
because he knew that heresies must come, he makes heresy
the greater evil, showing that it was in view of the greater evil
that he readily believed in the lesser ones. He cannot have
meant that he believed in the evil things because heresy is
good. He was warning them not to be surprised at temptations
of an even worse character, which were intended, he said, to
"make manifest those who are approved," that is, those whom
heresy failed to corrupt. In short, as the whole passage aims at
the preservation of unity and the restraint of faction, while
heresy is just as destructive of unity as schism and party strife,
it must be that he is setting heresy in the same reprehensible
category as schism and party. So he is not approving those who
have turned aside to heresy. On the contrary, he urges us with
strong words to turn aside from them, and teaches us all to
speak and think alike.10 That is what heresy will not allow.
    6. I need say no more on that point, for it is the same Paul
who elsewhere, when writing to the Galatians,11 classes heresy
among the sins of the flesh, and who counsels Titus to shun a
heretic after the first reproof12 because such a man is perverted
and sinful, standing self-condemned. Besides, he censures
heresy in almost every letter when he presses the duty of
avoiding false doctrine, which is in fact the product of heresy.
This is a Greek word meaning choice, the choice which
anyone exercises when he teaches heresy or adopts it. That is
why he calls a heretic self-condemned; he chooses for himself
the cause of his condemnation. We Christians are forbidden to
introduce anything on our own authority or to choose what
someone else introduces on his own authority. Our authorities
are the Lord's apostles, and they in turn chose to introduce
nothing on their own authority. They faithfully passed on to
the nations the teaching which they had received from Christ.
So we should anathematize even an angel from heaven if he
were to preach a different gospel.13 The Holy Ghost had already
at that time foreseen that an angel of deceit would come in a
virgin called Philumene, transforming himself into an angel of

9 1 Cor. 11:18-9.          10 I Cor. 1:10.
11 Gal. 5:20.
12 Titus 3:10. Tertullian's text omits "and second," cf. c. 16, n. 33.
13 Gal. 1:8.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

35

light, by whose miracles and tricks Apelles was deceived into
introducing a new heresy.14
    7. These are human and demonic doctrines, engendered
for itching ears by the ingenuity of that worldly wisdom which
the Lord called foolishness, choosing the foolish things of the
world to put philosophy to shame. For worldly wisdom cul-
minates in philosophy with its rash interpretation of God's
nature and purpose. It is philosophy that supplies the heresies
with their equipment. From philosophy come the aeons and
those infinite forms--whatever they are--and Valentinus's
human trinity. He had been a Platonist.15 From philosophy
came Marcion's God, the better for his inactivity. He had come
from the Stoics.16 The idea of a mortal soul17 was picked up
from the Epicureans, and the denial of the restitution of the
flesh was taken over from the common tradition of the philo-
sophical schools. Zeno taught them to equate God and matter,
and Heracleitus comes on the scene when anything is being
laid down about a god of fire. Heretics and philosophers per-
pend the same themes and are caught up in the same dis-
cussions. What is the origin of evil, and why? The origin of
man, and how? And-Valentinus's latest subject-what is the
origin of God? No doubt in Desire and Abortion!18 A plague
on Aristotle, who taught them dialectic, the art which destroys
as much as it builds, which changes its opinions like a coat,
forces its conjectures, is stubborn in argument, works hard at
being contentious and is a burden even to itself. For it recon-
siders every point to make sure it never finishes a discussion.
    From philosophy come those fables and endless genealogies
and fruitless questionings, those "words that creep like as
doth a canker." To hold us back from such things, the Apostle
testifies expressly in his letter to the Colossians that we should
beware of philosophy. "Take heed lest any man circumvent

14 For Philumene and Apelles see c. 30. He was Marcion's chief disciple.
15 Most Gnostics spoke of aeons, emanations of deity. On Valentinus see
c. 33, and for his human trinity, man's threefold constitution as materialis,
animalis, and spiritalis, see Tert., Adv. Valent., 1 7, 25, 26, itself based on
Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, I, i, 11 (ed. Harvey) .
16 In his Adv. Marcionem, Tertullian taunts Marcion because his good God
had cared nothing about the world before the sending of Christ. But
Marcion's teaching about God had nothing to do with Stoic apatheia.
17 Marcion's disciple, Lucanus, taught this, cf. Tert., Res. Carn., 2.
18 De enthymesi et ectromate, Greek Gnostic terms. Desire was cast forth
shapeless from the Pleroma and afterwards gave birth to the Demiurge,
the creator God, cf. Adv. Valent., 17, 18. Kroymann reads ektenoma. Arte
inserunt Aristotelem. I translate the received Miserum Aristotelem.


36

TERTULLIAN

you through philosophy or vain deceit, after the tradition of
men," against the providence of the Holy Ghost.19 He had been
at Athens where he had come to grips with the human wisdom
which attacks and perverts truth, being itself divided up into
its own swarm of heresies by the variety of its mutually antago-
nistic sects. What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church
with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic? Our
principles come from the Porch of Solomon,20 who had himself
taught that the Lord is to be sought in simplicity of heart. I
have no use for a Stoic or a Platonic or a dialectic Christianity.
After Jesus Christ we have no need of speculation, after the
Gospel no need of research. When we come to believe, we have
no desire to believe anything else; for we begin by believing
that there is nothing else which we have to believe.
    8. I come then to the point which members of the Church
adduce to justify speculation and which heretics press in order
to import scruple and hesitation. It is written, they say: "Seek,
and ye shall find."21 But we must not forget when the Lord said
these words. It was surely at the very beginning of his teaching
when everyone was still doubtful whether he was the Christ.
Peter had not yet pronounced him to be the Son of God, and
even John had lost his conviction about him. It was right to say:
"Seek, and ye shall find," at the time when, being still unrecog-
nized, he had still to be sought. Besides, it applied only to the
Jews. Every word in that criticism was pointed at those who
had the means of seeking Christ. "They have Moses and
Elijah," it says; that is, the law and the prophets which preach
Christ. Similarly he says elsewhere, and plainly: "Search the
Scriptures, in which ye hope for salvation, for they speak of
Me." 22 That will be what he meant by "Seek, and ye shall
find."
    The following words, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto
you," obviously apply to the Jews. At one time inside the
house of God, the Jews found themselves outside when they
were thrown out because of their sins. The Gentiles, however,
were never in God's house. They were but a drop from the
bucket, dust from the threshing-floor,23 always outside. How
can anyone who has always been outside knock where he has

19 I Tim. 1:4, etc.; II Tim. 2:17; Col. 2:8.
20 Cf. II Cor. 6:14. Solomon's Porch (John 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:12) is con-
trasted with the Porch (Stoa) of the Stoic Zeno. The allusion to Wisdom
1:1 (simplicity) strengthens the link with Solomon.
21 Matt. 7:; Luke 11:9.     22 Luke 16:29; John 5:39.      23 Isa. 40:15.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

37

never been? How can he recognize the door if he has never been
taken in or thrown out by it? Surely it is the man who knows
that he was once inside and was turned out, who recognizes
the door and knocks? Again, the words, "Ask, and ye shall
receive," 24 fit those who know whom to ask and by whom
something has been promised, namely the God of Abraham,
of Isaac, and of Jacob, of whose person and promises the
Gentiles were equally ignorant. Accordingly he said to Israel:
"I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25
He had not yet begun to cast the children's bread to the dogs
nor yet told the apostles to go into the way of the Gentiles. If
at the end he ordered them to go and teach and baptize the
Gentiles, it was only because they were soon to receive the Holy
Spirit, the Paraclete, who would guide them into all truth.
This also supports our conclusion. If the apostles, the appointed
teachers of the Gentiles, were themselves to receive the Para-
clete as their teacher, then the words, "Seek, and ye shall find,"
were much less applicable to us than to the Jews. For we were
to be taught by the apostles without any effort of our own, as
they were taught by the Holy Spirit. All the Lord's sayings, I
admit, were set down for all men. They have come through the
ears of the Jews to us Christians. Still, many were aimed at
particular people and constitute for us an example rather than
a command immediately applicable to ourselves.
    9. However, I shall now make you a present of that point.
Suppose that "Seek, and ye shall find" was said to us all. Even
then it would be wrong to determine the sense without refer-
ence to the guiding principles of exegesis. No word of God is so
unqualified or so unrestricted in application that the mere
words can be pleaded without respect to their underlying
meaning.
    My first principle is this. Christ laid down one definite system
of truth 26 which the world must believe without qualification,
and which we must seek precisely in order to believe it when we
find it. Now you cannot search indefinitely for a single definite
truth. You must seek until you find, and when you find, you
must believe. Then you have simply to keep what you have
come to believe, since you also believe that there is nothing else
to believe, and therefore nothing else to seek, once you have
found and believed what he taught who bids you seek nothing

24 John 16:24, used as an equivalent to Matt. 7:7.
25 Matt. 15:24.
26 A great deal of Tertullian's argument depends on this.


38

TERTULLIAN

beyond what he taught. If you feel any doubt as to what this
truth is, I undertake to establish that Christ's teaching is to be
found with us. For the moment, my confidence in my proof
allows me to anticipate it, and I warn certain people not to seek
for anything beyond what they came to believe, for that was
all they needed to seek for. They must not interpret, "Seek, and
ye shall find," without regard to reasonable methods of exegesis.
    10. The reasonable exegesis of this saying turns on three
points: matter, time, and limitation. As to matter, you are to
consider what is to be sought; as to time, when; and as to limita-
tion, how far. What you must seek is what Christ taught, and
precisely as long as you are not finding it, precisely until you
do find it. And you did find it when you came to believe. You
would not have believed if you had not found, just as you would
not have sought except in order to find. Since finding was the
object of your search and belief of your finding, your acceptance
of the faith debars any prolongation of seeking and finding.
The very success of your seeking has set up this limitation for
you. Your boundary has been marked out by him who would
not have you believe, and so would not have you seek, outside
the limits of his teaching.
    But if we are bound to go on seeking as long as there is any
possibility of finding, simply because so much has been taught
by others as well, we 'shall be always seeking and never believ-
ing. What end will there be to seeking? What point of rest for
belief? Where the fruition of finding? With Marcion? But
Valentinus also propounds: "Seek, and ye shall find." With
Valentinus? But Apelles also will knock at my door with the
same pronouncement, and Ebion and Simon27 and the whole
row of them can find no other way to ingratiate themselves
with me and bring me -over to their side. There will be no end,
as long as I meet everywhere with, "Seek and ye shall find,"
and I shall wish I had never begun to seek, if I never grasp
what Christ taught, what should be sought, what must be
believed.
    11. We may go astray without harm if we do not go wrong
-though to go astray is to go wrong; we may wander without
harm, I mean, if no desertion is intended. However, if I once
believed what I ought to believe and now think I must seek
something else afresh, presumably I am hoping that there is

27 From the Ebionite sect ("the Poor") Tertullian wrongly supposes a
personal founder called Ebion. Simon Magus (Acts 8) is the conventional
"founder" of Gnosticism. For both cf. c. 33.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

39

something else to be found. But I should never have hoped
that, unless I had either never believed, though I seemed to, or
else had stopped believing. So in deserting my faith I am shown
up as an apostate. Let me say once for all, no one seeks unless
there is something he did not possess or something he has lost.
The old woman in the parable had lost one of her ten pieces
of silver, and so she began to seek it. When she found it, she
stopped seeking. The neighbour had no bread, so he began
to knock. When the door was opened and he was given the
bread, he stopped knocking. The widow kept asking to be
heard by the judge because she was not being granted an audi-
ence. When she was heard, she insisted no longer.28 So clear is
it that there is an end to seeking and knocking and asking. For
to him that asketh, it shall be given, it says, and to him that
knocketh, it shall be opened, and by him that seeketh, it shall
be found. I have no patience with the man who is always
seeking, for he will never find. He is seeking where there will
be no finding. I have no patience with the man who is always
knocking, for the door will never be opened. He is knocking
at an empty house. I have no patience with the man who is al-
ways asking, for he will never be heard. He is asking one who
does not hear.
    12. Even if we ought to be seeking now and always, where
should we seek? Among the heretics, where everything is strange
and hostile to our truth, men we are forbidden to approach?
What slave expects his food from a stranger, let alone his
master's enemy? What soldier hopes to get bounty or pay from
neutral, let alone hostile, kings? Unless of course he is a deserter
or a runaway or a rebel! Even the old woman was seeking the
piece of silver inside her own house. Even the man who was
knocking hammered at his neighbour's door. Even the widow
was appealing to a judge who, though hard, was not hostile.
Instruction and destruction never reach us from the same
quarter. Light and darkness never come from the same source.
So let us seek in our own territory, from our own friends and
on our own business, and let us seek only what can come into
question without disloyalty to the Rule of Faith.
    13. The Rule of Faith 29--to state here and now what we

28 Luke 15:8; 11:5; 18:3.
29 Regula Fidei, a summary of the apostolic preaching, preserved--one might
almost say, instinctively--in the tradition of the churches and used as a
test of all teaching. It is similar to baptismal creeds, but not used liturgic-
ally nor fixed verbally. Irenaeus gives it in two forms, Haer., 1, ii (see


40

TERTULLIAN

maintain--is of course that by which we believe that there is
but one God, who is none other than the Creator of the world,
who produced everything from nothing through his Word,
sent forth before all things; that this Word is called his Son,
and in the Name of God was seen in divers ways by the patri-
archs, was ever heard in the prophets and finally was brought
down by the Spirit and Power of God the Father into the Virgin
Mary, was made flesh in her womb, was born of her and lived
as Jesus Christ; who thereafter proclaimed a new law and a new
promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles, was cruci-
fied, on the third day rose again, was caught up into heaven
and sat down at the right hand of the Father; that he sent in
his place the power of the Holy Spirit to guide believers; that
he will come with glory to take the saints up into the fruition
of the life eternal and the heavenly promises and to judge the
wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both good
and evil with the restoration of their flesh.
    This Rule, taught (as will be proved) by Christ, allows of
no questions among us, except those which heresies introduce
and which makes heretics.
    14. Provided the essence of the Rule is not disturbed, you
may seek and discuss as much as you like. You may give full
rein to your itching curiosity where any point seems unsettled
and ambiguous or dark and obscure. There must surely be
some brother endowed with the gift of knowledge who can teach
you, Someone who moves among the learned who will share
your curiosity and your inquiry. In the last resort, however, it
is better for you to remain ignorant, for fear that you come to
know what you should not know.30 For you do know what
you should know. "Thy faith hath saved thee," 31 it says; not
thy biblical learning. Faith is established in the Rule. There it
has its law, and it wins salvation by keeping the law. Learning
derives from curiosity and wins glory only from its zealous
pursuit of scholarship. Let curiosity give place to faith, and
glory to salvation. Let them at least be no hindrance, or let
them keep quiet. To know nothing against the Rule is to know
everything.

p. 65) and Epideixis, 6; Tertullian in three, here and in Virg. Vel., 1
and Prax., 2. For Tertullian's forms see E. Evans, Tertullian's Treatise
against Praxeas
(S.P.C.K., 1948), and for the subject in general, D. van den
Eynde, Les normes de l'enseignement chrétien (Paris, 1933) and J. N. D. Kelly,
Early Christian Creeds (Longmans, 1950)
30 The text is corrupt here.                      31 Luke 18:42.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

41

    Grant that heretics are not enemies of the truth, grant that
we were not warned to avoid them, what is the good of con-
ferring with men who themselves profess that they are still
seeking? If they are indeed still seeking, they have still found
nothing certain. Whatever they hold is only provisional. Their
continual searching shows up their hesitation. And so when you,
a seeker like them, look to men who are seekers themselves, the
doubter to the doubters, the uncertain to the uncertain, then,
blind yourself, you must needs be led by the blind into the
ditch.32 But, in fact, it is only for the sake of deceiving us that
they pretend to be still seeking. By first filling us with anxiety,
they hope to commend their own views to us. The moment
they get near us they begin to defend the very propositions
which, they had been saying, need investigation. We must be
as quick to refute them, making them understand that it is not
Christ we deny, but themselves. In that they are still seeking,
they do not yet hold any convictions. In that they possess no
convictions, they have not yet come to believe. In that they
have not yet come to believe, they are not Christians.
    An objection is raised. "They do hold convictions and believe,
but assert the necessity of 'Seeking' in order to defend their
faith." Yes, but before they defend it they deny it, confessing
by their seeking that they have not yet believed. Not Christians
even to themselves, how can they be to us? What sort of faith
are they arguing when they come with deceit? What truth are
they vindicating when they introduce it with a lie? Another
objection. "They discuss and persuade on the basis of Scrip-
ture." Naturally. From what other source than the literature
of the faith could they talk about the things of the faith?
    15. So I reach the position I had planned. I was steering
in this direction, laying the foundations by my introductory
remarks. From this point onwards I shall contest the ground of
my opponents' appeal. They plead Scripture, and some people
are influenced from the outset by this audacious plea. Then,
as the contest goes on, they weary even the strong, they capture
the weak and send the waverers off torn with anxiety. Therefore
I take my stand above all on this point: they are not to be
admitted to any discussion of Scripture at all. If the Scriptures
are to be their strong point (supposing they can get hold of
them), we must first discover who are the rightful owners of
the Scriptures, in case anyone is given access to them without
any kind of right to them.

32 Matt. 15:14.


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TERTULLIAN

    16. Do not suspect me of raising this objection from want of
confidence or from a desire to enter upon the issues in some
other way. My reason is primarily the obedience which our
faith owes to the Apostle when he forbids us to enter upon
questionings, to lend our ears to novel sayings, to associate
with a heretic after one correction33-not, observe, after one
discussion. In designating correction as the reason for meeting a
heretic, he forbade discussion, and he says one correction
because the heretic is not a Christian. He is to have no right to
a second censure, like a Christian, before two or three wit-
nesses,34 since he is to be censured for the very reason that
forbids discussion with him. Besides, arguments about Scripture
achieve nothing but a stomach-ache or a headache.
    17. Any given heresy rejects one or another book of the Bible.
What it accepts, it perverts with both additions and subtrac-
tions to suit its own teaching, and if, in some cases, it keeps
books unmaimed, it none the less alters them by inventing
different interpretations from ours. 35 False exegesis injures truth
just as much' as a corrupt text. Baseless assumptions naturally
refuse to acknowledge the instrument of their own refutation.
They rely on passages which they have put together in a false
context or fastened on because of their ambiguity. What will
you accomplish, most learned of biblical scholars, if the other
side denies what you affirmed and affirms what you denied?
True, you will lose nothing in the dispute but your voice; and
you will get nothing from their blasphemy but bile.
    18. You submit yourself to a biblical disputation in order to
strengthen some waverer. Will he in fact incline to the truth
any more than to heresy? He sees that you have accomplished
nothing, the rival party being allowed equal rights of denial
and affirmation and an equal status. As a result he will go away
from the argument even more uncertain than before, not know-
ing which he is to count as heresy. The heretics too can retort
these charges upon us. Maintaining equally that the truth is
with them, they are compelled to say that it is we who introduce
the falsifications of Scripture and the lying interpretations.
    19. It follows that we must not appeal to Scripture36 and we

33 Titus 3: 10. The true text is certainly "first and second," but many Old Latin
MSS. and Latin Fathers omit "and second," e.g., Cyprian, Ep. 59:20.
34 As in Matt. 18:16-thy <Christian> brother.
35 On this subject see c. 38.
36 That is, in dealing with heretics one must not argue about Scripture.
In general, Tertullian does, of course, appeal to Scripture as the final
authority in doctrine.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

43

must not contend on ground where victory is impossible or
uncertain or not certain enough. Even if a biblical dispute
did not leave the parties on a par, the natural order of things
would demand that one point should be decided first, the point
which alone calls for discussion now, namely, who hold the
faith to which the Bible belongs, and from whom, through
whom, when and to whom was the teaching delivered by which
men become Christians? For only where the true Christian
teaching and faith are evident will the true Scriptures, the true
interpretations, and all the true Christian traditions be found.
    20. Our Lord Jesus Christ, whoever37 he is--if he will permit
me to speak in this way for the moment--of whatever God he
is Son, of whatever matter Man and God, whatever faith he
taught, whatever reward he promised, himself declared, while
he lived on earth, what he was, what he had been, how he was
fulfilling his Father's will, what he was laying down as man's
duty. He declared all this either openly to the people or priv-
ately to the disciples, twelve of whom he had specially attached
to his person and destined to be the teachers of the nations.
One of them was struck off. The remaining eleven, on his
return to his Father after the resurrection, he ordered to go
and teach the nations, baptizing them into the Father and
into the Son and into the Holy Ghost.
    At once, therefore, the apostles (whose name means "sent")
cast lots and added a twelfth, Matthias, in the place of Judas, on
the authority of the prophecy in a psalm of David; and having
obtained the promised power of the Holy Spirit to work miracles
and to speak boldly, they set out through Judaea first, bearing
witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and founding churches, and
then out into the world, proclaiming the same doctrine of the
same faith to the nations. Again they set up churches in every
city, from which the other churches afterwards borrowed the
transmission of the faith and the seeds of doctrine and con-
tinue to borrow them every day, in order to become churches. 38
By this they are themselves reckoned apostolic as being the off
spring of apostolic churches. Things of every kind must be

37 That is, whatever the truth turns out to be, it can only be found in the
teaching of Christ, given openly to the apostles and transmitted by them
to the churches.
38 Observe that they become churches by receiving the apostolic faith and
doctrine, not by receiving a ministry in apostolic succession by ordination.
Not that the two are incompatible, but Tertullian's emphasis, as with
Irenaeus, is on the faith, even though both lay stress on apostolic success-
sion of ministry, as then conceived. For the latter see c. 32.


44

TERTULLIAN

classed according to their origin. These churches, then, numer-
ous as they are, are identical with that one primitive apostolic
Church from which they all come. All are primitive and all
apostolic. Their common unity is proved by fellowship in
communion, by the name of brother and the mutual pledge of
hospitality-rights which are governed by no other principle
than the single tradition of a common creed. 39
    21. On this ground, therefore, we rule our prescription. 40
If the Lord Christ Jesus sent the apostles to preach, none should
be received as preachers except in accordance with Christ's
institution. For no one knows the Father save the Son and he
to whom the Son has revealed him, nor is the Son known to
have revealed him to any but the apostles whom he sent to
preach--and of course to preach what he revealed to them.
And I shall prescribe now that what they preached (that is,
what Christ revealed to them) should be proved only through
the identical churches which the apostles themselves established
by preaching to them both viva voce, as one says, and afterwards
by letters. If this is so, it follows that all doctrine which is in
agreement with those apostolic churches, the wombs and
sources of the faith, is to be deemed true on the ground that
it indubitably preserves what the churches received from the
apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, It
follows, on the other hand, that all doctrine which smacks of
anything contrary to the truth of the churches and apostles
of Christ and God must be condemned out of hand as originat-
ing in falsehood.
    It remains for me to show whether this doctrine of ours, the
Rule of which I have set out above, does originate in the tradi-
tion of the apostles and whether, in consequence, the other
doctrines come from falsehood. We are in communion with the
apostolic churches. That is not true of any other doctrine. This
is evidence of truth.
    22. But since the proof is so short and simple that, if it were
brought forward at once, there would be nothing further to
discuss, let us give place for a moment to the other side, as if
we had not produced our proof. Perhaps they think they can
set something in motion to weaken this prescription. Some
times they say that the apostles did not know everything.
Then they change their ground and say that while the apostles
indeed knew everything, they did not hand everything on to

39 Sacramenti, meaning here a system of religion.
40 For the principles of this central chapter see the Introduction.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

45

everybody.41 Both suggestions are the product of the same
demented state of mind, and in both they are exposing Christ
to blame for sending out apostles who were either inadequately
instructed or not sufficiently straightforward.
    Who in his senses can believe that the men whom the Lord
gave to be teachers were ignorant of anything? For he kept
them in his company, taught them, and lived with them
inseparably. He used to explain all difficulties to them privately,
saying that they were permitted to know secrets which the
people were not allowed to understand. Was anything hidden
from Peter, the rock 42 on which the Church was to be built,
Peter who was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven and
Authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth? Was any-
thing hidden from John, most beloved of the Lord, who lay on
his breast, to whom he pointed out the traitor Judas in advance,
and whom he commended to Mary as a son in his own place?
What could he wish to keep from the knowledge of those to
whom he showed even his own glory, and Moses and Elijah
and the voice of his Father from heaven as well--not rejecting
the others, but because "by three witnesses shall every word be
established." 43 So those also were ignorant to whom after the
resurrection he deigned to expound all the Scriptures in the way!
    At one time, it is true, he did say: "I have yet many things
to say unto you; but ye cannot bear them now." But by adding:
"When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into
all the truth," 44 he showed that they who would receive the
whole truth through the Spirit of truth, as he promised, were
ignorant of nothing. That promise he certainly fulfilled. The
Acts of the Apostles proves the descent of the Holy Spirit. Those
who reject this book as scripture cannot be of the Holy Spirit
since they cannot yet recognize that the Holy Spirit was sent to
the disciples. Nor can they maintain that they are the Church,
since they cannot prove when and in what cradle this body of
theirs had its beginning. It is of considerable importance to
them to have no proof of their own position, for in that way
they stop the refutation of their own lies from the same source.45

41 Compare Irenaeus in Appendix I, B (p. 67).
42 Here the rock is Peter himself, as in Tert., Monog., 8 and Pudic., 21
(Appendix II, P. 76). In Adv. Marc., IV, 13, it is Christ.
43 Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; II Cor. 13:1.           44 John 16:12-13.
45 Marcion and his followers rejected Acts. Thus they reject their con-
tinuity with the apostolic Church. But at least they have secured that they
cannot be refuted from a book which they themselves recognize as
authoritative.


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TERTULLIAN

    23. To scoff at some measure of ignorance in the apostles,
they urge that Peter and his companions were reproved by
Paul.46 That proves that something was lacking, they say.
Thus they hope to build up their argument that a fuller
knowledge could have supervened later on, such as came to
Paul when he reproved his predecessors. At this point I can
say to those who repudiate the Acts of the Apostles: "You have
first to show who this Paul is, what he was before he became an
apostle, and how he became an apostle." For they make a
great deal of use of him on other occasions in matters of
dispute. Now to the critical mind which demands evidence, it
is not good enough that Paul should himself profess to have
been changed from persecutor to apostle. Even the Lord did
not bear witness of himself.
    However, let them believe without the Scriptures, so that
they can believe against the Scriptures. Even so, how can their
point that Peter was reproved by Paul prove that Paul intro-
duced a new form of Gospel, different from that which Peter
and the rest put out before him? No, when he was converted
from persecutor to preacher, he was taken to the brethren by
brethren as one of the brethren, to men and by men who had
"put on" faith at the apostles' hands.47 After that, as he tells
us himself, he went up to Jerusalem to meet Peter. Their
common faith and preaching made this both a duty and a right.
Had he preached some contrary faith, they would not have
marvelled that the persecutor had turned preacher. They
would not have glorified the Lord that his enemy Paul had
arrived. So they gave him their right hands, the sign of fellow-
ship and agreement, and they- arranged among themselves a
distribution of their spheres of work-not a division of the
Gospel.48 It was not that each should preach something differ-
ent, but that each should preach to different people, Peter to
the Circumcision, Paul to the Gentiles. But if Peter was re-
proved for dissociating himself from the Gentiles out of respect
of persons after he had once eaten with them, that was surely a
fault of conduct, not of preaching. It did not announce a God
other than the Creator, another Christ not born of Mary, a
hope other than the resurrection.
    24. It is not my good fortune (or rather, my misfortune)

46 Gal. 2:11 
47
Acts 9:17, 27. "Put on," fidem induerant, cf. Gal. 3:27, "put on Christ" in
baptism.
48 Gal. 1:18-24; 2:9.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

47

to set the apostles on one another. However, since these sons
of perversity bring that reproof up in order to cast suspicion
upon the earlier teaching, I will reply, as it were, for Peter.
Paul himself said that he became all things to all men, to the
Jews a Jew, to the Gentiles a Gentile, that he might gain all.
At particular times, in particular persons and cases, they would
blame actions which at other times, in other persons and cases,
they would be just as ready to sanction. Peter, for instance,
might well reprove Paul for himself circumcising Timothy
though he forbade circumcision. It is folly to pronounce
judgment on an apostle.49 How fortunate that Peter is made
equal to Paul in his martyrdom!
    No doubt Paul was caught up to the third heaven and borne
to paradise, and there heard certain things. But they were
things which could not possibly equip him to preach a different
doctrine, since by their nature they must not be communicated
to any human being.50 But if any heresy claims to be following
something which did leak out and come to someone's know-
ledge, then either Paul is guilty of betraying the secret or else
they must show that someone else was caught up into paradise
after Paul, someone who was permitted to utter what Paul was
not allowed to mutter.
    25. But, as I said before, it is just as demented to allow that
the apostles were in no respect ignorant and did not differ in
their preaching, and yet to have it that they did not reveal
everything to all alike but entrusted some things openly to all
and some things secretly to a few. This is because Paul said to
Timothy: "O Timothy, guard the deposit," and again: "Keep
the good deposit"! What is this deposit? A secret one, to be
reckoned part of another doctrine? Or was it part of that
charge of which he says: "This charge I commit unto thee,
son Timothy"? Or of that commandment of which he says:
"I charge thee in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things,
and of Jesus Christ, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the
good confession, that thou guard the commandment"? What
commandment and what charge? The context makes it clear
that in these words there is no hinting at a hidden doctrine,
but a command not to admit any but the teaching which
he had heard from Paul himself, and (I think) openly--"before
many witnesses," as he says. It makes no difference if they will

49 It is interesting to recall the discussion of the Galatians incident in the
correspondence between Jerome and Augustine.
50 II Cor. 12:2ff.


48

TERTULLIAN

not have these many witnesses to be the Church. Nothing that
was proclaimed before many witnesses could be kept secret.
Nor can they interpret as evidence of some hidden gospel
Paul's desire that Timothy should entrust "these things to
faithful men, fit to teach others." "These things" meant the
things of which he was then writing. To refer to things hidden
in their minds he would have said those, as of something absent,
not these. 51
    26. When he was entrusting the ministry of the Gospel to
anyone--a ministry not to be carried out indiscriminately or
carelessly--it was natural to add, in accordance with the Lord's
words, that the minister should not cast pearls before swine
or give that which is holy to the dogs. The Lord spoke openly
without hint of any hidden mystery. 52 He had himself com-
manded them to preach in the light and on the house-tops
whatever they had heard in the darkness and in secret. In a
figure of their ministry, he had himself instructed them by a
parable not to keep one pound (that is, one word of his) hidden
and fruitless. He himself taught that a lamp is not usually
pushed away under a bushel, but set up on a lampstand to
give light to all in the house. These commands the apostles
either neglected or failed to understand if, by hiding any of
the light (that is, of the, word of God and the mystery of Christ),
they did not fulfil them. I cannot suppose they were afraid of
anyone; they feared neither Jewish nor Gentile violence. The
men who did not keep silence in synagogues and public places
would preach all the more freely in church. No, they could not
have converted Jew or Gentile unless they had systematically
set out what they wanted them to believe. Much less would
they have withheld something from churches already believing,
to entrust it to a few other individuals separately. Even if they
discussed a few matters within the family-circle, so to speak,
it is incredible that they were such things as would introduce
a new Rule of Faith different from and contrary to the one
which they gave to all the world. They would not speak of
one God in church and another at home, describe one kind of
Christ openly and another secretly, announce one hope of
resurrection to all, another to the few. Their own letters
beseech all "to speak the same thing, and that there be no
divisions" and schisms in the Church, because they preached

51 The citations are: I Tim. 6:20; II Tim. 1:14; I Tim. 1:18; 6:13f; II
Tim. 2:2
. These, those =haec, illa.
52 Tecti sacramenti, and "mystery of Christ" below is sacramentum.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

49

the same message, whether it be Paul or any of the others.
Besides, they remembered: "Let your speech be, Yea, yea;
Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more is of evil," words which for
bade them to handle the Gospel in contradictory ways.53
    27. If we cannot believe either that the apostles did not know
the full scope of their message or that they did not publish to
all the whole content of the Rule, we have to consider whether
perhaps, while the apostles preached straightforwardly and
fully, the churches through their own fault altered what the
apostles offered them. You will find the heretics putting for-
ward all these incitements to doubt. They instance churches
reproved by the apostle: "O foolish Galatians, who hath
bewitched you?" and "Ye were running well; who did hinder
you?" and, right at the beginning: "I marvel that ye are so
quickly removed from him that called you in grace unto another
gospel." Again, they quote the Epistle to the Corinthians, that
they were still carnal, having to be fed with milk, not yet able
to bear meat, the Corinthians who thought they knew some-
thing when they did not yet know anything as they ought to
know it.54 Since they object that the churches were reproved,
let them be sure that they mended their faults. At all events
let them recognize the churches for whose faith and knowledge
and manner of life the Apostle rejoices and gives thanks to
God.55 And today these churches are one with the churches
then reproved in the privileges of a single tradition of teaching.
    28. Suppose all have erred. Suppose even the Apostle was
deceived when he gave his testimony. Suppose the Holy Spirit
had no regard for any church, to guide it into the truth,
although it was for this purpose that Christ sent him and asked
him of the Father to be the teacher of the truth. Suppose the
steward of God, the vicar of Christ, neglected his office, allow-
ing the churches for a time to understand and believe other
than as he himself preached through the apostles. Even so, is
it likely that so many churches would have erred into one
faith? 56 With so many chances you do not get a uniform result.
Doctrinal error in the churches must have shown variations.

53 I Cor. 1:10; Matt. 5:37.
54 Gal. 3:1; 5:7; 1:6; 1 Cor. 3:1f; 8:2.
55 The opening verses of Rom., Eph., Phil., Col., I and II Thess. contain
praise, mostly of faith; these are all the other churches.
56 For the argument compare Irenaeus in Appendix I, A (p. 66). This kind
of appeal to catholicity remains important, but time has weakened it.
Even in the fourth century "the whole world groaned to find itself
Arian."


50

TERTULLIAN

Where uniformity is found among many, it is not error but
tradition. Will anyone venture to affirm that the error lay in
the authors of the tradition?
    29. However the error arose, it reigned, I suppose, as
long as there were no heresies! Truth was waiting for a
Marcionite or a Valentinian to set her free. Meanwhile, every-
thing was done wrong--the preaching of the Gospel, the accept-
ance of the creed, the thousands upon thousands of baptisms,
the works of faith, the miracles, the gifts of grace, the priest
hoods and the ministries, all wrong, and even the martyrs
wrongly crowned. Or if they were not done wrongly and in
effectually, how do you explain that the things of God were
taking their course before it was known what God they be-
longed to? That there were Christians before Christ was dis-
covered? Or heresy before true doctrine? The real thing always
exists before the representation of it; the copy comes later. It
would be quite absurd that heresy should be taken for the earlier
doctrine, if for no other reason than that the earlier doctrine
itself prophesied that heresies would come and would have to
be watched. To the Church of this doctrine was it written-
indeed, Doctrine herself was writing to her own Church-
"Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than
that which we have preached, let him be anathema." 57
    30. Where was Marcion then, the ship-owner of Pontus, the
student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple
of Plato? It is well known that they lived not so long ago, about
the reign of Antoninus, and at first accepted the doctrine of the
catholic Church at Rome under Bishop Eleutherus of blessed
memory, until, on account of the ever-restless speculation with
which they were infecting the brethren also, they were expelled
once and again (Marcion indeed together with the Ł2,000
which he had given to the Church) and, when they were
finally banished into permanent excommunication, scattered
the poisonous seeds of their peculiar doctrines abroad. Later,
when Marcion professed penitence, the terms laid down for
his reconciliation were that he should restore to the Church all
whom he had instructed in the way of perdition. He accepted
the condition, but was first overtaken by death.58 For "there

57 Gal. 1:8.
58 On Marcion see E. C. Blackman, Marcion and his Teaching (London, i 948),
and on Valentinus, F. Sagnard, La Gnose Valentinienne (Paris, 1947).
Tertullian refuted Marcion seriously and at length, but his tract against
Valentinus is more of a caricature. The dates here are muddled.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

51

must be heresies." That does not make heresy a good thing.
Evil also must be. The Lord must be betrayed. But woe to the
traitor--in case anyone wants to defend heresy on this ground!
    Look next at Apelles' pedigree.59 It goes back no farther than
Marcion. It was Marcion who taught and moulded him, but
he fell with a woman, deserting Marcion's continence, and
withdrew to Alexandria, away from the eyes of his most holy
master. Returning a few years later, no better except that he
was no longer a Marcionite, he fastened on another woman, the
same virgin Philumene whom I mentioned earlier. She after-
wards became a horrible prostitute, and it was under her
malign influence that he wrote the Revelations which he learned
from her. There are still people living who remember them, in
fact their own disciples and successors, who can scarcely deny
that they were late-comers. Besides, they are convicted by their
own works, as the Lord said. If Marcion separated the New
Testament from the old, he is later than what he separated.
He could only separate what was united. And if it was united
before it was separated, its subsequent separation shows that
the separator came later. Again, when Valentinus reinterprets
and corrects whatever he corrected precisely as having been
faulty before, he proves that it had belonged to someone else.
    I mention these as the more outstanding and more
familiar corrupters of the truth. I could add a certain Nigidius
and Hermogenes and many others who go about today pervert-
ing the ways of the Lord.60 Let them show me on what authority

Antoninus Pius reigned 138-161, Eleutherus was Bishop of Rome 174-189.
Marcion went to Rome c. 140 and was excommunicated in 144. Valen-
tines went from Alexandria to Rome about the same time, but was there
somewhat longer. Some editors (e.g., Preuschen, Rauschen) reject the
sentences "Later, when Marcion ... death," since there is no other
evidence of this repentance. Willingness to make disciplinary concession
to schismatics who can bring their flocks with them into the catholic
Church (returning cum suis) is found elsewhere, e.g., in Cyprian, Ep., 55
(Rome), and in fourth century African canon law dealing with Donatism.
59 Stemma, pedigree, seems right here, though C. Agobardinus has stigma,
which Kroymann keeps. Apelles is not mentioned by Irenaeus but was
known, as an old man, to Rhodo, late in the second century (ap. Eus.,
H.E., V, 13). Tertullian wrote an Adaersus Apelleiacos, now lost, and often
mentions him and Philumene. Most later information seems to have
come from him. Marcion himself was a strict ascetic, whose orthodox
opponents acknowledge his personal sanctity.
60 Nigidius is not otherwise known. Hermogenes came from the East,
where Theophilus of Antioch wrote against him. He settled in Carthage
and was living there when Tertullian wrote his Adversus Hermogenem
C. 205-206. This is extant, but Tertullian's other work against him, De


52

TERTULLIAN

they have come forward. If they preach a different God,
why do they make use of the creatures and books and names
of the God they preach against? If it is the same God, why
preach him differently? Let them prove that they are the new
apostles, let them tell us that Christ has come down a second
time, taught a second time, was crucified a second time, dead
a second time, raised a second time. It was on that basis that
he used to make apostles 61 and give them the power to perform
the same signs as himself. I want to see their miracles produced,
though I must admit that their greatest miracle is the topsy-
turvy way they imitate the apostles. They brought the dead to
life. These heretics put the living to death.
    31. But this is a digression. I will return to my argument
that truth comes first 62 and falsification afterwards. This finds
additional support in the parable where the Lord sows the
good wheat-seed first and the enemy, the devil, afterwards
adulterates the crop with barren tares. Properly interpreted,
this represents the different doctrines, since seed is used as a
figure of the word of God in other places as well. So the order
established in the parable makes it clear that what was first
handed down is dominical and true, while what was introduced
later is foreign and false. This verdict will hold good against
all later heresies which have no firm vantage-point from which
to claim the faith for themselves with complete conviction.
    32. But if any heresies venture to plant themselves in the
apostolic age, so that they may be thought to have been handed
down by the apostles because they existed in their time, we can
say, Let them exhibit the origins of their churches, let them
unroll the list of their bishops, coming down from the beginning
by succession in such a way that their first bishop had for his
originator and predecessor one of the apostles or apostolic
men; one, I mean, who continued with the apostles. For this
is how the apostolic churches record their origins.63 The

censu animae, is lost. Tertullian frequently refers to this work and to Hermo-
genes in his De Anima. See the introduction to J. H. Waszink's commen-
tary on that work (Amsterdam, 1947).
61 The text is corrupt here. Christ did not make apostles without giving
them the power to work miracles.
62 Principalitas veritatis. This sense of principalitas as temporal priority must
be kept in mind for the interpretation of passages in Irenaeus
(Appendix I, B) and Cyprian.
63 For the argument in general see the Introduction. The succession is that
of all the bishops in a see, not a chain of consecrations. Did Tertullian
suppose that the apostolic men had been ordained by apostles, or was
he content if churches could trace their historic continuity back to


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

53

church of Smyrna, for example, reports that Polycarp was
placed there by John,64 the church of Rome that Clement was
ordained by Peter.65 In just the same way the other churches
produced men who were appointed to the office of bishop by
tile apostles and so transmitted the apostolic seed to them.
    Let the heretics invent something of the sort for themselves.
Blasphemers already, they will have no scruples. But even if
they do invent something, it will be useless to them. If their
teaching is compared with the teaching of the apostles, the
differences and contradictions between them will cry out
that theirs is not the work of any apostle or apostolic man. For
the apostles would not have differed from each other in their
teaching and the apostolic men would not have contradicted
the apostles. Or are we to believe that the men who learned
from the apostles preached something different? Consequently
they will be challenged according to this standard by those
churches which, though they can produce no apostle or aposto-
lic man as their direct founder, since they are much later
foundations (churches are being founded every day), yet,
because they agree in the same faith, are reckoned to be no less
apostolic through their kinship in doctrine.66 So, when the
heresies are challenged by our churches according to these
two standards, 67 let them one and all show how they regard
themselves as apostolic. But they are not, and they cannot
prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor can they be
received into peace and communion by churches which are in
any way apostolic when they are in no way apostolic on account
of their disagreement in creed. 68
    33. In addition, I enter an examination of the actual teach-
ings which then, in the time of the apostles, were brought to
light and rejected by those same apostles. For they will be

companions of the apostles, whose teaching could be trusted? For a similar
problem compare the "other distinguished men" of I Clement, 44.
64 Irenaeus, who had known Polycarp, says that he was appointed by the
apostles (Haer., III, iii). He was already Bishop of Smyrna when Ignatius
wrote to him (c. I I5), but still young; he was martyred in 156.
65 The early succession lists of Rome give the order as Linus, Anacletus,
Clement, e.g., Irenaeus in Appendix I, B. Clement was the first of any
eminence, and wrote the important letter to the church of Corinth,
c. A.D. 95. On these succession problems see Lightfoot's great commen-
taries on Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, and A. Ehrhardt, The Apostolic
Succession, 1953.
66 That is, Carthage will be able to deal with heretics!
67 Utramque formam, apostolic succession and apostolic doctrine.
68Sacramenti, as at the end of c. 20.


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TERTULLIAN

more easily refuted when they are discovered either to have
been already in existence at that time or to have taken their
seeds from those which then existed.
    In the First Epistle to the Corinthians Paul reproves those
who deny or doubt the resurrection. That opinion belonged to
the Sadducees. Part of it has been taken up by Marcion,
Apelles, and Valentinus, and any others who impugn the
resurrection of the flesh.69 Then, writing to the Galatians, he
inveighs against those who observe and defend circumcision
and the Law. That is Ebion's heresy.70 Instructing Timothy,
he attacks those who forbid marriage. That is taught by Mar-
cion and his follower Apelles. 71 Similarly he touches those who
said that the resurrection had already happened. The Valen-
tinians affirm this of themselves.72 And when he mentions
endless genealogies, 73 we recognize Valentinus, in whose teach-
ing some Aeon or other with a novel name, and not always
the same name, begets, from his own Grace, Sense and Truth,
who also procreate from themselves Word and Life, who in their
turn generate Man and Church. Then from this first Ogdoad
of Aeons come ten others, and a dozen more Aeons with mar-
vellous names are born to make up the whole story of the Thirty.
When the same apostle blames those who are "in bondage to the
elements," he gives us a glimpse of Hermogenes, who, introduc-
ing an unoriginate Matter, makes it equal with the unoriginate
God, and having thus made a goddess of the Mother of the ele-
ments, can be in bondage to her whom he makes equal to God. 74
    In the Apocalypse John is told to chastise those who eat things
sacrificed to idols and commit fomication. Today we have a
new kind of Nicolaitan,75 called the Gaian heresy.76 In the

69 Only part because, according to Tertullian, Res. Carn., 36, the Sadducees
did not admit the salvation of body or soul, while the Gnostics taught
the immortality of the soul.
70 Gal. 5:2. For Ebion cf. n. 27. The Ebionites were "Judaizers," cf. Iren., I,
26.
711 Tim. 4:3. Marcion made marriage a bar to baptism. The growth of his
sect depended on converts and unbaptized adherents.
72 II Tim. 2:18. The suggestion was that the resurrection happened in
baptism (Res. Carn., 19) or in the acquisition of truth (Iren., II, xlviii, 2).
73 I Tim. 1:4. On what follows see Irenaeus passim and Sagnard, op. cit.
in n. 58.
74 Gal. 4:3, 9, cf. n. 6o. Tertullian puns on materia, mater.
75 Rev. 2:14-15. The Nicolaitans are obscure, but were always included in
the old lists of Gnostic sects.
76 Gaiana, apparently the Cainites, libertinists like the Nicolaitans and
Ophites.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

55

epistle, however, he gives the name of Antichrist above all to
those who denied that "Christ is come in the flesh" and to those
who did not believe that "Jesus is the Son of God." 77 The
former position was maintained by Marcion, the latter by
on. As for the Simonian system of angel-worshipping sor-
cery, that of course ranked as idolatry and was condemned
by the apostle Peter in the person of Simon himself. 78
    34. These, I believe, are the types of spurious doctrine which,
as we learn from the apostles, existed in their day. Yet among
so many different perversions of the truth we come across no
teaching to arouse controversy about God as Creator of the
universe. No one dared to conjecture a second God.79 They
were more likely to feel doubt about the Son than the Father
until Marcion introduced another God of sheer goodness
besides the Creator; until Apelles turned some glorious creator
angel of the higher God into the God of the Law and of Israel,
declaring him to be of fire;80 until Valentinus scattered his
Aeons about and derived the origin of the Creator God from
the fault of one Aeon. 81 To these men alone and to these men
first was true divinity revealed! Doubtless they obtained greater
consideration and fuller grace from the devil, who saw a fresh
opportunity here to outdo God and, by his poisonous doctrines,
achieve what the Lord said was impossible, namely, set the
disciples above their master. 82
    So these heresies may date their beginnings as they choose.
The date makes no difference if they are not grounded in the
truth. Certainly they did not exist in the apostles' time; they
cannot have done. If they had existed then, they too would have

77 I John 2:22; 4:3. Marcion could not admit an Incarnation, flesh being
the source of evil; the Ebionites did not believe in the Deity of Christ
at all. Note that Tertullian does not need to say which Epistle of John he
quotes. He only recognized one; cf. Pudic., 19.
78 Acts 8, Iren., I, xvi. Cf. c. 10. Tertullian's argument requires him to
make the most of the earliest forms of Gnosticism, traced to founders
condemned in the New Testament. It is odd that he says so little anywhere
of Basilides; he is mentioned in Res. Carn., 2.
79 A second God, the position which the more biblical Gnostics like Mar-
cion were driven to adopt, primarily because they could not identify
the God portrayed in the old Testament with the God of the New,
revealed in Jesus, secondarily because they (and with them the more
philosophical Gnostics) would not attribute creation and contact with
matter to the absolute God.
80 For this fiery angel-god see Res. Carn., 5 and De Anima, 23, with Waszink's
note.
81 The fall of "Desire for Wisdom" from the Pleroma, cf. c. 7.
82 Matt. 10:24.


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TERTULLIAN

been expressly named, so that they too could be suppressed.
Those which did exist under the apostles are condemned at the
time they are named. Either, then, the present heresies are the
same as existed in the apostles' time, rudimentary then and
somewhat refined by now, in which case their condemnation is
carried on from that time; or else different heresies have come
into being, different but later in origin, which have taken over
some opinions from the older ones, in which case they must
share their condemnation as they share their preaching. This
follows from the principle of "later date" mentioned above,83
according to which, even if they had no part in the doctrines
condemned, they would be prejudged solely on the ground of
their age as all the more spurious in that they were not even
named by the apostles. This makes it doubly sure that they
are the heresies which were then foretold.
    35. By these rules we have challenged and convicted all
the heresies. Whether they are later than or contemporary
with the apostles, provided they differ from them, and whether
they were censured by the apostles in general or specifically,
provided they were condemned beforehand, let them for their
part venture to reply with similar prescriptions against our
teaching. If they deny its truth, they must prove it a heresy,
convicting it by the same standard by which they are themselves
convicted; and at the same time they must show where to look
for that truth which, as we have now proved, is not to be found
with them. Our teaching is not later; it is earlier than them all.
In this lies the evidence of its truth, which everywhere has the
first place. It is nowhere condemned by the apostles; they
defend it. This is the proof that it belongs to them. For seeing
that they condemn all foreign teaching, what they do not con-
demn is manifestly their own property; and that is why they
defend it.
    36. Come now, if you are ready to exercise your curiosity
better in the business of your own salvation, run through the
apostolic churches, where the very thrones of the apostles
preside to this day over their districts, where the authentic
letters of the apostles are still recited, bringing the voice and
face of each one of them to mind. 8 4 If Achaea is nearest to you,

83 Posteritas; cf, c. 31 and n. 62.
84 Eusebius, H.E., VII, 19, believed that the actual throne of James still
existed at Jerusalem. Some think that Tertullian means by cathedrae
here the physical objects. That is unnecessary, and on the whole unlikely,
but not impossible. But "authentic" will scarcely mean autograph; he
means unmutilated texts.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

57

you have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you
have Philippi and Thessalonica. If you can go to Asia, you have
Ephesus. If you are close to Italy, you have Rome, the nearest
authority for us also.85 How fortunate is that church upon which
the apostles poured their whole teaching together with their
blood, where Peter suffered like his Lord, where Paul was
crowned with John's death, where the apostle john, after he
had been immersed in boiling oil without harm, was banished
to an island.86
    Let us see what she learned, what she taught, what bond of
friendship 87 she had with the churches of Africa. She knows
one Lord God, Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus, brn
of the Virgin Mary, Son of God the Creator, and the resurrec-
tion of the flesh; she unites the Law and the Prophets with the
writings of the evangelists and the apostles; from that source
she drinks 88 her faith, and that faith she seals with water,
clothes with the Holy Spirit, 89 feeds with the eucharist, en-
courages to martyrdom; and against that teaching she receives
no one. This is the teaching, I will not say now, which foretold
heresies, but from which heresies have sprung. But they are
not of it, ever since they came to be against it. Even from the
kernel of the smooth, rich, and useful olive comes the rough wild

85 Cf. Adv. Marc., IV, 5, a very similar passage. "Us" means Carthage and
the Latin African church which, whether or not it was founded or re-
ceived its ministry from Rome, certainly looked to that apostolic see
for doctrinal authority. Auctoritas may have the double sense of origin
and authority. It does not imply jurisdiction and sovereignty. I do not
feel convinced that it should be taken here as a technical term of Roman
law, meaning "title deed to possession," as by T. G. Jalland, The Church
and the Papacy
(1944), p. 147. It is uncertain whether "and Thessalonica"
stood in the original text.
86 This is the first mention of Peter's crucifixion, but cf. John 21:18 and
Tacitus, Annals, XV, 44, which speaks of the victims of Nero as crucibus
adfixi. Origen adds head downwards (ap. Eus., H.E., III, i). Paul was
decapitated, according to tradition, like John the Baptist; this would
be his right as a Roman citizen. This is the first appearance of the story
of John and the boiling oil.
87 Reading contesserarit, cf. contesseratio hospitalitatis in c. 20, ad fin. Breaking
a tessera and taking a half each was a pledge of friendship. But in this
context there is much to be said for the other reading contestetur, "what
common witness to the faith is shared by Rome and Africa," as in the
next sentence; and contesserarit, if correct, implies that the friendship
is based on a common faith, with Rome as the giver. In the parallel
passage, Adv. Marc., IV, 5, sonent perhaps supports contestetur.
88 Potat, which could be transitive, "gives her children to drink."
89 Aqua signat, sancto spiritu vestit. On sealing, and the connexion between the
parts of baptism, see G. W. H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit (I 951).


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olive. Even from the seed of the most pleasant and sweetest of figs
springs the empty and useless wild fig. Just so have heresies come
from our stock, but not of our kind; they spring from the seed
of truth, but in their falsehood they are wild growths.
    37. If therefore truth must be adjudged to us "as many as
walk according to this rule" 90 which the Church has handed
down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ
from God, the principle which we propounded is established,
the principle which ruled that heretics are not to be allowed
to enter an appeal to Scripture, since, without using Scripture,
we prove that they have nothing to do with Scripture. If they
are heretics, they cannot be Christians, since the names which
they accept come not from Christ but from the heretics whom
they follow of their own choice. So, not being Christians, they
acquire no right to Christian literature, and we have every
right to say to them: "Who are you? When did you arrive,
and where from? You are not my people; what are you doing
on my land? By what right are you cutting down my timber,
Marcion? By whose leave are you diverting my waters, Valen-
tinus? By what authority are you moving my boundaries,
Apelles? 91 This property belongs to me. And all the rest of you,
why are you sowing and grazing here at your will? It is my pro-
perty. I have been in possession for a long time, I came into
possession before you appeared. 92 I have good title-deeds from
the original owners of the estate. I am heir to the apostles. As
they provided in their will, as they bequeathed it in trust and
confirmed it under oath, so, on their terms, I hold it. You they
permanently disinherited and disowned as strangers and ene-
mies." And how can heretics be strangers and enemies to the
apostles except through their difference in doctrine, which
each of them, on his own judgment, has either produced or
received against the apostles?
    38. Corruption of the Scriptures and of their interpretation
is to be expected wherever difference in doctrine is discovered.
Those who proposed to teach differently were of necessity
driven to tamper with the literature of doctrine, for they could
not have taught differently had they not possessed different
sources of teaching. Just as their corruption of doctrine would

90 Gal. 6:16.
91 Marcion and Apelles removed awkward passages from the Bible,
Valentinus perverted their interpretation. See next chapter.
92 Here is an allusion to the praescriptio longae possessionis or longi temporis,
but surely as an addition to the main argument, though bound up with it.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

59

not have been successful without their corruption of its litera-
ture, so our doctrinal integrity would have failed us without
the integrity of the sources by which doctrine is dealt with.
Now, in our sources, what is there to contradict our teaching?
What have we imported of our own making, that we should
find it contradicted in Scripture, and remedy the defect by
subtraction or addition or alteration? What we are; that the
Scriptures have been from their beginning. We are of them,
before there was any change, before you mutilated them.
Mutilation 93 must always be later than the original. It springs
from hostility, which is neither earlier than, nor at home
with, what it opposes. Consequently no man of sense can believe
that it is we who introduced the textual corruptions into
Scripture, we who have existed from the beginning and are the
first, any more than he can help believing that it is they, who
are later and hostile, who were the culprits. One man perverts
Scripture with his hand, another with his exegesis. If Valen-
tinus seems to have used the whole Bible, he laid violent hands
on the truth with just as much cunning as Marcion. Marcion
openly and naked used the knife, not the pen, massacring
Scripture to suit his own material. Valentinus spared the text,
since he did not invent scriptures to suit his matter, but matter
to suit the Scriptures. Yet he took more away, and added more,
by taking away the proper meanings of particular words and
by adding fantastic arrangements. 94
    39. These were a inventions of "spiritual wickedness
against which is our wrestling," brethren, inventions we had
to look into, necessary to faith, so that "they which are elect
may be made manifest" and the reprobate be discovered.95
To that end they possess a power and a facility in devising and
teaching error which need not be wondered at as something
difficult and inexplicable, since an example of a similar facility
is ready to hand in secular literature. You can see today a
completely different story put together out of Virgil, the
matter being adapted to the lines and the lines to the matter.

93 Interpolatio, but this is wider than our "interpolation," which was not
the principal abuse.
94 Marcion rejected the Old Testament, and his New Testament Canon
consisted of Luke's Gospel and ten Pauline Epistles (not the Pastorals
or Hebrews). From these many passages connecting Christ with the Old
Testament or with flesh, and many passages about the law, had to be
excised. Irenaeus gives examples of Valentinian perversions in Haer.,
I, i, 6; I, xiii, 1.
95 Eph. 6:12; 1 Cor. 11:19.


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TERTULLIAN

Hosidius Geta, for example, sucked a whole tragedy of Medea
out of Virgil.96 A relative of mine, among other pastimes of
his pen, extracted the Table of Cebes from the same poet.97
We give the name "Homerocentons" to those who make their
centos, like patchwork, out of the poems of Homer, stitching
together into one piece scraps picked up here, there, and every-
where. And the Bible is indubitably richer in its resources for
every conceivable subject. Indeed, when I read that heresies
must be, I think I may say without fear of contradiction that
by the will of God the Scriptures themselves were so arranged
as to furnish matter for the heretics. For without Scripture
there can be no heresy.
    40. I shall be asked next, Who interprets the meaning of
those passages which make for heresy? The devil, of course,
whose business it is to pervert truth, who apes even the divine
sacraments in the idol-mysteries.98 Some he baptizes--his own
believers, his own faithful. He promises the removal of sins by
his washing, and, if my memory serves, in this rite seals his sol-
diers on their foreheads. He celebrates the oblation of bread,
brings on a representation of the resurrection, and buys a wreath
at the point of the sword. Why, he actually restricts his High
Priest to one marnage.99 He has his virgins, he has his con-
tinents.1 If we turn over the religious legislation of Numa
Pompilius,2 if we look at his priestly functions and his badges

96 This Hosidius Geta is otherwise unknown, but the cento Medea is extant,
ed. Baehrens, Poet. Lat. Min. (Teubner), IV, 219 ff.
97 Cebes was a Pythagorean and a pupil of Socrates, but this dialogue is
very much later. The Pinax (Tabula) was a picture in a temple, showing
the course of human life. The dialogue allegorizes it. It is extant, ed.
Praechter, Teubner, 1893.
98 The standard explanation of the resemblance between some Christian
rites and those of pagan cults, especially some of the mystery religions.
Justin and Tertullian often use it. The following instances come from the
rites of Mithraism (for which see the writings of Cumont), but I think
Kroymann is right in removing the word Mithra, before signat (seals),
from the text as a gloss. The grammatical and logical subject throughout
the sentence is the devil.
99 Pontifex Maximus. So Tert., ad Uxor., I, 7, and elsewhere. Was it true?
Not in his own day, when the emperor was Pontifex Maximus. There is
reference, of course, to I Tim. 3:2. For Christian ideas see Ambrose,
Letter 63 (p. 2 74).
1 E.g., Vestals. Continentes may mean celibates, but can refer to discipline
or renunciation within marriage, cf. Tert., ad Uxor., I, 8.
2 Traditionally the second King of Rome, 715-673 B.C. Advised by the
nymph Egeria, he reformed Roman religion and organized the colleges
of priests. But, as with Moses, much that is later has gathered round his
name.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

61

and his privileges, the sacrificial ministrations3 and instruments
and vessels, the niceties of vows and expiations, will it not be
evident that the devil has imitated the scrupulosity4 of the
Jewish Law?
    If he was so eager to copy and express in the affairs of idolatry
the very things by which the sacraments of Christ are admini-
stered, we may be sure that he has had an equal longing and an
equal ability to adapt the literature of sacred history and the
Christian religion to his profane and emulous faith with the
same ingenuity, sentence by sentence, word by word, parable
by parable. We must not doubt, therefore, that the spiritual
wickednesses from which heresy comes were sent by the devil,
or that heresy is not far from idolatry, since both are of the
same author and handiwork. Either they invent another God
against the Creator or, if they confess one Creator, their
teaching about him is false. Every falsehood about God is a
kind of idolatry.5
    41. I must not leave out a description of the heretics' way of
life-futile, earthly, all too human, lacking in gravity, in
authority, in discipline, as suits their faith.6 To begin with,
one cannot tell who is a catechumen and who is baptized.
They come in together, listen together, pray together. Even
if any of the heathen arrive, they are quite willing to cast that
which is holy 7 to the dogs and their pearls (false ones!) before
swine. The destruction of discipline is to them simplicity, and
our attention to it they call affectation. They are in communion
with everyone everywhere. Differences of theology are of no
concern to them as long as they are all agreed in attacking

3 At the word "ministrations" we lose the chief manuscript, Agobardinus,
and there are several places in the remaining chapters where the text
is very uncertain.
4 Morositatem, cf. Adv. Marc., IV, 35, morositatem legis and ibid., II, 18,
sacrificiorum ... scrupulositates.
5 Cf. Tert., Idol., 1, tota substantia (idololatriae) mendax.
6 This interesting chapter needs fuller annotation than is possible here.
Tertullian may have been thinking as much of the Montanists, whom he
afterwards joined, as of the Marcionites and other Gnostics. Women
played an important part in Montanism as prophetesses. Something
of Tertullian's Montanist ideas about the ministry may be seen in De
Pudicitia, 21 (App. II); another important chapter in a work of his
Montanist period is De Exhortatione Castitatis, 7, where he speaks of the
priesthood of the laity. Marcion did not exclude catechumens from
attendance at the eucharist proper, as the Church did (Jerome, Comm.
in Gal., 6:6).
7 Sanctum, meaning the eucharist, as in Jerome, Letter 15 (P. 3o8).


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TERTULLIAN

the truth. They are all puffed up, they all promise knowledge.
Their catechumens are perfect8 before they are fully instructed.
As for the women of the heretics, how forward they are! They
have the impudence to teach, to argue, to perform exorcisms,
to promise cures, perhaps even to baptize.9 Their ordinations
are hasty, irresponsible and unstable. Sometimes they appoint
novices,10 Sometimes men tied to secular office, sometimes
renegades from us, hoping to bind them by ambition as they
cannot bind them by the truth. Nowhere can you get quicker
promotion than in the camp of the rebels, where your mere
presence is a merit. So one man is bishop today, another
tomorrow. The deacon of today is tomorrow's reader,11 the
priest of today is tomorrow a layman. For they impose priestly 12
functions even upon laymen.
    42. What am I to say about the ministry of the word?
Their concern is not to convert the heathen, but to subvert our
folk. The glory they seek comes from bringing the upright down,
not raising the fallen up. Since their work results from no con-
structive operations of their own, but from the destruction of
the truth, they undermine our constructions to build their own.
Take their complaints against the Law of Moses and the
prophets and God the Creator away from them, and they have
nothing to say. So it comes about that they find it easier to pull
down standing buildings than to build up fallen ruins. In such
labour only do they show themselves humble and suave and
respectful. But they have no reverence for their own leaders.
The reason why there are practically no schisms among the
heretics is that when they occur they are not noticed, for their
very unity is schism. I am much mistaken if among themselves
they do not make alterations in their own rules of faith, each
of them adapting what he has received to suit himself, just as
the man who handed it down had put it together to suit him-
self. Its development does not belie its nature and the character

8 Perfecti, Greek teleioi, a favourite Gnostic and mystery term for full
initiation. Here, baptized without adequate instruction on the Creed.
9 Cf. Virg. Vel., 9, "A woman is not allowed to speak in church, nor to
teach or baptize (tingere, as here) or offer (the sacrifice) or to claim a share
in any masculine function, much less in the priestly (sacerdotalis) office."
10 Neophytos, I Tim. 3:6, cf. Ambrose, Letter 63 (P. 276).
11 Lector, the first mention of this minor order.
12 Sacerdotalia munera. In Tertullian and Cyprian sacerdos usually, if not
always, mean bishop; and so commonly, but less exclusively, in the
fourth century. The adjective may cover presbyters. For the laity see
Exhort. Cast., 7.


PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST HERETICS

63

of its origin. The Valentinians and Marcionites have taken the
same liberty as Valentinus and Marcion themselves to make
muovations in faith at their pleasure. In short, when heresies
are closely examined, they are all found to be in disagreement
many points with their own founders. A great number of
them even have no churches. Motherless and homeless, they
wander about bereft of faith and banished from the truth.13
    43. Notorious, too, are the dealings of heretics with swarms of
magicians and charlatans and astrologers and philosophers-
of course, devotees of speculation. "Seek, and ye shall find,"
they keep reminding us. You can judge the quality of their
faith from the way they behave. Discipline is an index to doc-
trine. They say that God is not to be feared. So everything is
free to them and unrestrained. But where is God not feared,
except where he is not present? Where God is not present,
there is no truth either; and where there is no truth, discipline
like theirs is natural. But where God is present, there is the fear
of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.14 Where there is
the fear of God, there are decent gravity, vigilant care and
anxious solicitude, well-tested selection, well-weighed com-
muion and deserved promotion, religious obedience, devoted
service, modest appearance, a united Church, and all things
godly.
    44. By the same argument, the evidences of a stricter
discipline among us are additional proofs of truth. To abandon
the truth ill befits anyone who is mindful of the judgment to
come, when we must all stand before the judgment-seat of
Christ, 15 rendering an account above all of our faith. And what
Will they say whose adulterous heresy has defiled the faith, the
virgin committed to them by Christ? They will allege, I suppose,
that nothing was ever said to them by him or his apostles about
the baneful and perverse doctrines to come, no command ever
given to beware of them and loathe them. No, they16 will
acknowledge their own fault, in that they did not prepare us
in advance! They will add much more about the authority
of all the heretical teachers, how wonderfully they confirmed
faith in their own doctrines with miracles, how they raised the

13 I accept provisionally Kroymann's extorres quasi veritate vagantur. There
are numerous emendations of the corrupt text, including sibilatě, hissed
off the stage, which Refoulé retains.
14 Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10.                                15 II Cor. 5:10.
16 They, that is, Christ and the apostles, a striking sense if the change of
subject is not too harsh. Those who think it is emend the text variously.


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TERTULLIAN

dead, restored the sick, predicted the future, so that they
might properly be accepted as apostles. As if it were not written
that many should come and perform the greatest of miracles
to fortify the deceptiveness of a corrupt preaching!
    So they will deserve forgiveness. But if some, mindful of the
writings and pronouncements of the Lord and the apostles,
have stood firm in the integrity of the faith, these, I suppose,
will risk losing forgiveness when the Lord replies: "Certainly
I had told you beforehand that false teachers would arise in
my name and in the name of the prophets and apostles, and I
had commanded my disciples to tell you this; but you were not
expected to believe it.17 I had entrusted the Gospel and the
teaching of the same Rule to my apostles once for all; but after-
wards it pleased me to make a few changes in it. I had promised
resurrection, even of the flesh; but that I reconsidered, in case
I should not be able to implement it. I had declared myself
born of a Virgin; but afterwards I was ashamed of that. I had
called him Father who makes the sun and the rain; but another
and better Father adopted me. I had forbidden you to lend your
ears to heretics; but I was wrong." Such opinions may well be
entertained by those who wander from the right path and take
no precautions against the dangers which imperil the true faith.
There, for the present, is my case against all heresies in
general. I claim that by definite, just and inescapable pre
scriptions 18 they are to be disallowed any discussion of Scrip-
ture. At some future time, if the grace of God permits me, I
shall reply to some of them in particular.

17 Again the text, and in this case the order of the phrases, is not certain.
Some put this phrase later, viz., since you did not believe it (my Gospel,
etc.), I made some changes.
18 Note the plural praescriptionibus.

 

Scanned and corrected by Hannah Scurrell
and Roger Pearse
11th May 2001.
Originally published by SCM Press Ltd London, 1956


Note: I have been unable to find a copyright holder: SCM say they transferred the rights to Lion Publishing.  Lion tell me they don't have them and refer me back to SCM.  If anyone can unriddle this, I'd be glad to hear from them.


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