Library of the Fathers 10 (1842) pp. 150-157 [Translated by C. Dodgson]



[The Ad Martyras is probably Tertullian's earliest work, as being written at the very commencement of the persecution, before any had actually suffered martyrdom ; for had any so suffered, Tertullian would naturally, in his exhortation to the rest, have referred to them. The allusion, then, c. 6. fin. to the deaths on occasion of Albinus, fixes it A.D. 197. See above, notice on the Apology.]

I. AMONGST the aliments of the flesh, which both our Lady Mother the Church from her own bosom, and the brethren singly from their private store1, supply to you in your prison, blessed martyrs elect, accept somewhat from me likewise, which may serve to nourish your spirit also. For that the flesh be made fat, and the spirit hunger, is not good. Yea, if that which is weak be cared for, that which is yet weaker ought as well not to be neglected. Nor am I such an one as am worthy to speak unto you. Nevertheless not only their own masters, and superiors, but even private persons, and whosoever will, from a distance needlessly exhort even the most perfect gladiators, so that oftentimes advice suggested even by the vulgar crowd hath been profitable. First therefore, blessed men, grieve not the Holy Spirit 3, Who hath entered with you into the prison; for if He had not now entered in with you, neither would ye have been there this day. And therefore give diligence that He may abide there with you continually; so may He bring you from thence unto the Lord. Even the prison is |p151 in truth the house of the Devil, wherein he keepeth his own household. But therefore have ye come into the prison, that ye may tread him under foot even in his own house: for ye have already wrestled with him abroad, and trodden him under foot. Let him not therefore say, "They are in my own place: I will tempt them with mean enmities4 and passions, or dissensions among themselves." Let him flee from your sight, and hide himself in his inmost recess, coiled up and listless5, like a serpent that hath been charmed or fumigated away. And let him not so prosper in his own kingdom, as to set you at variance: but let him find you guarded and armed with concord, because your peace is war against him ; which peace some, not finding in the Church, have been wont to entreat of the martyrs in prison 6. And therefore ye ought, were it only for this, to have, and to cherish, and to keep it among yourselves, that ye may be able, if need be, to give it unto others also.

II. In like manner may all other hindrances of the soul have accompanied you even to the threshold of the prison, just so far as did your parents also. Thenceforth ye were separated from the world itself: how much more from the life of the world, and its concerns ! Nor will this dismay |p152 you, that you are severed from the world 11. For if we consider that the world itself rather is a prison, we shall perceive that ye have rather gone forth from prison than gone into prison. The world hath the greater darkness, which blindeth the hearts of men. The world putteth on the heavier bonds, which bind the very souls of men. The world breatheth forth the worse uncleanness, even the lusts of men. Finally the world containeth the greater number of criminals, to wit the whole race of man: it awaiteth moreover the judgment, not of the Proconsul, but of God. Wherefore, blessed men, consider that ye have been translated from a prison to a place, it may be, of safe keeping. It hath darkness, but ye yourselves are light 7, 12. It hath bonds, but ye have been made free 8 by God. An evil breath is littered there, but ye are a sweet savour 9. A judge is looked for: but ye shall judge 10 even the judges themselves 13. Let him be sad there, who sigheth for the enjoyment of the world ? The Christian, even when out of prison, hath renounced the world; but, when in prison, a prison also 14. It mattereth not where ye are in the world, who are without the world : and if ye have lost any of the joys of life, it is a goodly traffic to lose somewhat, that you may gain the more. I say nothing yet of the reward to which God calleth martyrs. Let us for the moment compare the very conversation of the world and of the prison, and see whether in the prison the spirit doth not gain more than the flesh loseth. Yea and such things as be right, the flesh loseth not, through the care of the Church, and 16 the love of the brethren; and besides this, the spirit gaineth such things as are ever profitable to the Faith. Thou seest there no strange gods: thou comest not upon their images: thou partakest not in the solemn days of the heathen 15, even by mingling with them. Thou art scourged, but not with filthy savours from the sacrifice: thou art beaten, but not |p153 by the shouts of the public shows, the cruelty, or the madness, or the lewdness 17 of the beholders. Thine eyes fall not upon the places of public lust. Thou art free from offences, from temptations, from evil recollections, and now too from persecution. The prison affordeth to the Christian that which the wilderness did to the Prophets. The Lord Himself ofttimes lived in retirement, that He might pray the more freely, that He might withdraw from the world. It was moreover in a solitary place that He shewed His glory to His disciples 18. Away with the name of a prison ! let us call it a retirement. Though the body be shut up, though the flesh be confined, all is open to the spirit. Roam freely, thou spirit 19; walk to and fro, thou spirit 19; not setting before thee shady walks, or long cloisters, but that way 20 which  leadeth unto God. As oft as thou shalt walk herein in the spirit, so oft shalt thou not be in prison. The leg suffereth nothing in the stocks, while the mind is in Heaven. The mind carrieth about with it the whole man, and removeth him whither it listeth. But where thy heart is, there will thy treasure be also 21. Let therefore our heart be there, where we would have our treasure.

III. Be it 22 now, blessed men, that a prison is grievous even to Christians. We were called to the warfare of the living God, even then when we made our answer according to the words of the Sacrament 23. No soldier 24 cometh with luxuries to the war, nor goeth forth from his chamber to the field of battle, but from slight tents, unfolded and tied down, wherein are found together every hardship, and every opposite of what is good and pleasant. Even in peace they are already learning by labour and distresses to endure war, by marching under arms, running over the plain, working at the fosse, forming the close 'testudo.' All their doings are made up of toil, lest their bodies and their minds should be terrified in passing from the shade to the sun, from the sun to the open air 25, from the vest to the coat of mail, from |p154 silence to clamour, from rest to tumult. Wherefore do ye, blessed women 26, whatsoever hardship there be in this, account it an exercise of the virtues of your mind and body. Ye are about to undergo a good fight 27, 28, wherein the President is the living God; the Trainer the Holy Spirit; the crown, Eternity; the prize, of angelic being 29, the citizenship of the Heavens 30; the glory for ever and ever. Wherefore your Master Christ Jesus, Who hath given you the unction 31 of the Spirit, and hath brought you forth unto this wrestling-ground, hath willed, before the day of the contest, to set you apart from a free manner of living unto a severer training, that your powers might be strengthened within yon. For the wrestlers also are set apart for a stricter discipline, that they may have time for building up their strength. They are kept from luxury, from the richer sorts of food, from the pleasanter kinds of drink: they are constrained, harassed, tired: the more they have toiled in their exercises, the more they hope for the victory. And they, saith the Apostle, that they may obtain a corruptible crown. 32 Let us, that are to obtain an eternal one, consider our prison as a wrestling-ground, that, having been daily exercised in all kinds of hardships, we may be brought forth to the course before the judgment-seat; for virtue is built up by hardness, but by softness is destroyed.

IV. We know, from the Lord's precept, that the flesh is weak, the spirit ready.33 Let us not therefore flatter ourselves, because the Lord hath allowed that the flesh is weak. For for this cause He first said that the spirit is ready, that He might shew which ought to be subject to the other, to wit, that the flesh should serve the spirit, the weaker the stronger, |p155 that from it it may itself also receive strength. Let the spirit confer with the flesh about the common salvation of both, not now thinking of the grievances of the prison, but of the contest and fight itself. The flesh perchance will fear the heavy sword, and the lofty cross, and the fury of the beasts, and the extreme punishment of the fire, and all the cunning of the executioner in tortures 34. But let the spirit on the other hand set this before itself and the flesh, that these things, however bitter, have been nevertheless received by many with an even mind, yea and voluntarily sought after for the sake of fame and glory; and not by men only, but even by women, that ye also, O blessed women, may match your own sex. It were a long tale to name each of those who, led only by their own spirit 35, have slain themselves with the sword. Of women, Lucretia is a ready example, who having suffered violation, thrust a knife into herself in the sight of her kinsfolk, that she might obtain glory for her chastity. Mutius burned his right hand upon the altar, that fame might lay hold on this his deed. Philosophers have done but little; (Heraclitus, who having besmeared himself with the dung of oxen 36, burnt himself to death; and Empedocles 37 who leaped down into the fires of Mount Aetna; and Peregrinus 38, who, not long since 39, threw himself upon a funeral pile,) since even women have despised fire: Dido, that she might not be compelled to marry after the loss of a most beloved husband: the wife of Asdrubal too, who, while Carthage was now burning, when she saw her own husband a suppliant before Scipio, rushed with her children into the flames of her native city 40. Regulus, a general of the Romans, taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, when he would not have his single self ransomed at the price of many Carthaginian prisoners, preferred being given back to the enemy, and being crammed into a sort of chest, and |p156 pierced on every side with nails from without, experienced so many crucifixions. A woman hath of her own will eagerly encountered beasts, yea even asps, reptiles more horrid than the bull or the bear, which Cleopatra set upon herself, that she might not come into the hands of the enemy. But the fear of death is not so great as that of tortures! And so 41 the Athenian harlot yielded to the executioner, who, being privy to a conspiracy, when on that account she was put to the torture by the tyrant, did not betray the conspirators, and at last having bitten off her tongue 42 spat it in the tyrant's face, that the torturers might know that they availed nothing, even though they should persist yet farther! Moreover, that which is at this day the chief solemnity among the Lacedaemonians, the diamasti/gwsij, that is the scourging, is not unknown: in which solemn ceremony all the noble youths are lashed with scourges before the altar 43, their parents and kinsfolk standing by and exhorting them to endure to the end. For it will be accounted a grace and a glory of an higher character in truth, if the soul rather than the body yield itself to scourgings. Wherefore if earthly glory hath so great power over the strength of body and mind, that men despise the sword, the fire, the cross, the beasts, the tortures, for the reward of the praise of men, I may say, these sufferings are trifling in the gaining of heavenly glory and a divine reward ! Is the glass bead of such value ? of how much the real pearl 44, 45. Who then is not bound to spend most willingly for that which is true, as much as others do for that which is false ?

V. I pass over for the moment, the motive of glory. All these same conflicts of cruelty and torture even mere display 46 among men, and a sort of disease of the mind, hath ere now trampled on. How many idlers doth a display of feats hire to the service of the sword! Verily they go down even to the beasts from display, and seem to themselves more comely |p157 from their bites and their scars. Some also have ere now hired themselves to the flames, to run over a certain space of ground in a burning shirt 47. Others have walked with most enduring shoulders amidst the lashes of the hunters. These things, blessed men, the Lord hath suffered to come into the world, not without a cause: but both for our encouragement now 48, and for our confusion in that Day 49, if we shall be afraid to suffer for the Truth's sake unto salvation those things, which others have made a display of suffering for vanity's sake unto perdition.

But let us pass over these examples of constancy arising from mere display. Let us turn to the actual contemplation of the condition of man, that those things too may instruct us, whatever they be, which, accustomed to befall men even against their will, must be endured with constancy. For how often have the flames burned men alive ! How often have wild beasts, both in their own woods and in the middle of cities, having escaped from their dens, devoured men! How many have been slain by robbers with the sword, and by their enemies even on the cross, having first been tortured, yea and having received, in full, every sort of indignity! There is no one who may not suffer even for the sake of man, what he scrupleth to suffer in the cause of God. For this let even the present times be a proof to us, how many persons, and of what quality, meet with deaths not to be expected either from their birth, or their rank, or their persons, or their age, for the sake of man 50, either from himself, if they act against him, or from his enemies, if they take part with him.

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150 To suffer for Christ given by the Spirit; yet diligence still needed.

1. p.150 n. a opibus, cod. W. Others "operibus," "from the labour of their hands;" the two readings differ in MSS. only by a stroke through the p ; but "opibus" agrees better with the preposition "de" and with S. Cyprian. Pam. supposes "ope ribus" to mean, each of his own handicraft, clothes, &c. but T. speaks only of food.

2. p.150 n. b Cypr. Ep. 12. ad Clerum, ed. Fell. (37. Pam.) Orig. Hom. 11. in Lev.  [NB: The 'b' missing from the text is not my error. WRP]

3. Eph. 4, 30.

To give peace, be at peace—nature of Martyrs' dissensions. 151

4. p.151 c odiis 2 Vat. MSS. oediis MS. Div. Whence Rig. conjectures " scidiis" which he explains " chips" and so, 'trifles, things of no account,' regarding "odiis" as too strong a term for those expecting martyrdom. It is probable, however, that Tertullian refers to what at least took place elsewhere, that the Montanist martyrs, as being severed from the Church, were disowned by the Church. An older author, quoted by Euseb. H. E. v. 17. says, " Whence also, whenever those who out of the Church are called to martyrdom for that which is indeed the faith, fall in with some of those who out of the-Phrygian heresy are called Martyrs, they both are at variance with them, and are themselves perfected [by Martyrdom] without holding communion with them, not willing to join themselves to the spirit, which spake through Montanus and the women." Eusebius (it seems) subjoins, " The truth of this is manifest, and happened in our times in Apamea on the Meander, in the martyrdoms of Gaius and Alexander of Eumenea." This strong language then, and the placing both upon a level, perhaps betrays a disposition, even thus early, to look favourably on Montanism. S. Cyprian, perhaps, imitates this warning against dissensions, Ep. 13. Fell. (7. Pam.) ad Rogat. Older Edd. have "inediis" " poor scanty fare ;" and it is implied c. 2. that the food was of things necessary only ; yet the word 'saginati' (init.) implies that of these there was an adequate supply ; and, as a Montanist, T. reproaches the Church with supplying the martyrs too freely in prison, (de Jejun. c. 12.)

5. p. 151 d See adv. Valent. c. 3.

6. p.151 e The lapsed—those who had sacrificed to idols, or bought themselves off, and who were restored the readier to the peace, i. c. communion of the Church, at the request of those awaiting martyrdom. See Cypr. de Laps. c. 12. p. 104. ed. Oxf. (and Bingham quoted ib.) Fell. Epp. 15—20. Fell. (10—15. Pam.) 22, 23. (22. 17.) 26, 27. 30, 31. (31, 26.) 33. (27.) 35. (29.)

152 World the worse prison; prison an escape from sight of world's sins;

7. Eph. 5, 8.

8. Gal. 5, 1.

9. 2 Cor. 2, 15.  

10. 1 Cor. 6,2.

11. f Rig. omits "ab ipso mundo, Quanto magis a seculo, rebusque ejus ! Nec hoc vos consternet, quod segregati estis, &c." If this were on the authority of any MS., the omission was doubtless occasioned by the o9moiote/leuton.

12. g Cypr. Ep. 6. Fell. (81, Pam.) ad Serg. Rogatian. &c. init. Ep. 37. (16.) ad Moys. et Max. §. 2.

13. h Cypr. Ep. 6. §. 2.

14. i i. e. conquereth Satan in his own place, as in c. 1.

15. k ad Uxor. c. 6. init.

16. 1 et restored

retirement, not confinement; toil in peace to fit all for war. 153

17. l In the amphitheatre, circus, theatre, respectively, see Apol. c. 38.

18. Mat. 17, 1.

19. 1 spiritus restored

20. John 14. 6

21. Mat. 6, 21.

22. 2 Sit

23. m in Sacramenti verba respondimus. The Baptismal vow of obedience to Christ, (see Bingham 11. 7. 6.); so that the original force of the word "sacramentum," "oath," is here preserved.

24. n Imitated by S. Jerome, Ep. 14. ad Heliodor. §. 2. as is c. 2. in §. 10.

25. o i. e. the chill sky.

154 Crowns won by previous endurance--weakness of flesh no excuse.

26. p Benedictae. Tert. uses the same word, de Cult. Fem. ii. 4. 5. 9. 13. S. Cyprian, Ep. 6. [81.] ad Serg. &c. "I salute the blessed women, who are set with you in the same glory of Confessors;" he speaks of female martyrs, de Laps. c. 2. They are also addressed below, c. 2. Rig. corrects "Benedicti."

27. 1 Tim. 6,12.

28. q Xystarches. He who had exercised, disciplined, them beforehand, so that when the time came, they should not fail; as above, "Had He not been with you, ye had not been there." Among the Greeks the Zu&stoj was a covered portico, among the Latins, the Xystum was an open space; with both it was a place where the gladiators were practised in winter, (see Hoffmann, Lex. v. Xysti. Xysta. Xystici.) and so an emblem of severe training. On the necessity of preparation for martyrdom, see S. Cypr. de Laps, c. 4 sqq. p. 56. ed. Oxf.

29. r Substantial; i.e. their substance, being, should be that of the Angels, (see Mark 12, 25.), as in the de Res. Carn. c. 26. angelificata caro.

30. Phil. 3, 20.

31. 1 John 2,20.

32. 1 Cor. 9, 25.

33. Mat. 26, 41.

Endurance in Heathen of either sex for mere glory. 155

34. s Cypr. de Laps. c. 10. p. 161. Oxf. Tr. ad Demetr. c. 6. p. 207.

35. t not led and upheld by the Holy Spirit.

36. u to avoid the sufferings of a dropsy. Laert. in vit.

37. w To be accounted a god. Laert. in vit.

38. x A Cynic philosopher, praised by Aul. Gell. (xii. 11.) Amm. Marc. (xxix. 1.) ridiculed by Lucian, (de Mort. Peregr.) who says, that he imposed on the Christians, as though he were one, and was largely relieved by them, being cast into prison, as such: his death is mentioned by Athenag. §. 26. Amm. Marc. l. c.

39. y A. 165. Basnage in Anno, §. 4. p. 126.

40. z Val. Max. 3. 2. Flor. 2.15.

156. Tortures endured for earthly glory or mere display; 

41. a Ironical. Tr. Rig. inserts an interrogation, "Did then &c. ?" Latinius and Junius needlessly alter the text, inserting "non."

42. b Apol. c. 50.

43. c of Diana Orthia. Plutarch, de Lacon. Instt. c. 4. et at. ap. Lac.

44. d Tanti vitreum? quanti verum margaritum ! as in Pam.

45. Mat. 13, 46.

46. e Affectatio, i. e. not human glory only, though vain, but the mere semblance and spurious imitation of it; and that in the sight of, and animated by the presence of, men, whereas Christians acted under the eye of God.

will be a witness against faint-hearted—suffering, lot of man. 157

47. f The tunica molesta, one of the punishments of Christians. Martial, x. 25. Juvenal, i. 155 sqq. Tae. Ann. xv. 44.

48. 1 nunc restored

49. 2 Tim. 4, 8

50. g Severus, in and after the conspiracy of Albinus. Spartian. in vit. c. 12, "After having slain numberless persons on the side of Albinus, among whom were many chiefs in the state, many women of rank, all their goods were confiscated—then many nobles of the Spaniards and Sualli were slain."

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