VIII. On Fasting.1 In Opposition to the Psychics.

[Translated by the Rev. S. Thelwall.]

Chapter I.—Connection of Gluttony and Lust. Grounds of Psychical Objections Against the Montanists.

I should wonder at the Psychics, if they were enthralled to voluptuousness alone, which leads them to repeated marriages, if they were not likewise bursting with gluttony, which leads them to hate fasts. Lust without voracity would certainly be considered a monstrous phenomenon; since these two are so united and concrete, that, had there been any possibility of disjoining them, the pudenda would not have been affixed to the belly itself rather than elsewhere. Look at the body: the region (of these members) is one and the same. In short, the order of the vices is proportionate to the arrangement of the members. First, the belly; and then immediately the materials of all other species of lasciviousness are laid subordinately to daintiness: through love of eating, love of impurity finds passage. I recognise, therefore, animal2 faith by its care of the flesh (of which it wholly consists)—as prone to manifold feeding as to manifold marrying—so that it deservedly accuses the spiritual discipline, which according to its ability opposes it, in this species of continence as well; imposing, as it does, reins upon the appetite, through taking, sometimes no meals, or late meals, or dry meals, just as upon lust, through allowing but one marriage.

It is really irksome to engage with such: one is really ashamed to wrangle about subjects the very defence of which is offensive to modesty. For how am I to protect chastity and sobriety without taxing their adversaries? What those adversaries are I will once for all mention: they are the exterior and interior botuli of the Psychics. It is these which raise controversy with the Paraclete; it is on this account that the New Prophecies are rejected: not that Montanus and Priscilla and Maximilla preach another God, nor that they disjoin Jesus Christ (from God), nor that they overturn any particular rule of faith or hope, but that they plainly teach more frequent fasting than marrying. Concerning the limit of marrying, we have already published a defence of monogamy.3 Now our battle is the battle of the secondary (or rather the primary) continence, in regard of the chastisement of diet. They charge us with keeping fasts of our own; with prolonging our Stations generally into the evening; with observing xerophagies likewise, keeping our food unmoistened by any flesh, and by any juiciness, and by any kind of specially succulent fruit; and with not eating or drinking anything with a winey flavour; also with abstinence from the bath, congruent with our dry diet. They are therefore constantly reproaching us with Novelty; concerning the unlawfulness of which they lay down a prescriptive rule, that either it must be adjudged heresy, if (the point in dispute) is a human presumption; or else pronounced pseudo-prophecy, if it is a spiritual declaration; provided that, either way, we who reclaim hear (sentence of) anathema.

Ch 12

Chapter XII—Of the Need for Some Protest Against the Psychics and Their Self-Indulgence.

For, by this time, in this respect as well as others, “you are reigning in wealth and satiety”91 —not making inroads upon such sins as fasts diminish, nor feeling need of such revelations as xerophagies extort, nor apprehending such wars of your own as Stations dispel. Grant that from the time of John the Paraclete had grown mute; we ourselves would have arisen as prophets to ourselves, for this cause chiefly: I say not now to bring down by our prayers God’s anger, nor to obtain his protection or grace; but to secure by premunition the moral position of the “latest times; ”92 enjoining every species of of ταπεινόφρονησις, since the prison must be familiarized to us, and hunger and thirst practised, and capacity of enduring as well the absence of food as anxiety about it acquired: in order that the Christian may enter into prison in like condition as if he had (just) come forth of it,—to suffer there not penalty, but discipline, and not the world’s tortures, but his own habitual observances; and to go forth out of custody to (the final) conflict with all the more confidence, having nothing of sinful false care of the flesh about him, so that the tortures may not even have material to work on, since he is cuirassed in a mere dry skin, and cased in horn to meet the claws, the succulence of his blood already sent on (heavenward) before him, the baggage as it were of his soul,—the soul herself withal now hastening (after it), having already, by frequent fasting, gained a most intimate knowledge of death!

Plainly, your habit is to furnish cookshops in the prisons to untrustworthy martyrs, for fear they should miss their accustomed usages, grow weary of life, (and) be stumbled at the novel discipline of abstinence; (a discipline) which not even the well-known Pristinus—your martyr, no Christian martyr—had ever come in contact with: he whom—stuffed as he had long been, thanks to the facilities afforded by the “free custody” (now in vogue, and) under an obligation, I suppose, to all the baths (as if they were better than baptism!), and to all the retreats of voluptuousness (as if they were more secret than those of the Church!), and to all the allurements of this life (as if they were of more worth than those of life eternal!), not to be willing to die—on the very last day of trial, at high noon, you premedicated with drugged wine as an antidote, and so completely enervated, that on being tickled—for his intoxication made it feel like tickling—with a few claws, he was unable any more to make answer to the presiding officer interrogating him “whom he confessed to be Lord; ”and, being now put on the rack for this silence, when he could utter nothing but hiccoughs and belchings, died in the very act of apostasy! This is why they who preach sobriety are “false prophets; ”this why they who practise it are “heretics!” Why then hesitate to believe that the Paraclete, whom you deny in a Montanus, exists in an Apicius?



[in chapter 3 he describes that the Paraclete has “developed doctrine” ( not expressly said “through prophetesses”, etc.)

Chapter III.—The Question of Novelty Further Considered in Connection with the Words of the Lord and His Apostles.

But (as for the question) whether monogamy be “burdensome,” let the still shameless “infirmity of the flesh” look to that: let us meantime come to an agreement as to whether it be “novel.” This (even) broader assertion we make: that even if the Paraclete had in this our day definitely prescribed a virginity or continence total and absolute, so as not to permit the heat of the flesh to foam itself down even in single marriage, even thus He would seem to be introducing nothing of “novelty; ”seeing that the Lord Himself opens “the kingdoms of the heavens” to “eunuchs,”9 as being Himself, withal, a virgin; to whom looking, the apostle also—himself too for this reason abstinent—gives the preference to continence.10 (“Yes”), you say, “but saving the law of marriage.” Saving it, plainly, and we will see under what limitations; nevertheless already destroying it, in so far as he gives the preference to continence. “Good,” he says, “(it is) for a man not to have contact with a woman.” It follows that it is evil to have contact with her; for nothing is contrary to good except evil. And accordingly (he says), “It remains, that both they who have wives so be as if they have not,”11 that it may be the more binding on them who have not to abstain from having them. He renders reasons, likewise, for so advising: that the unmarried think about God, but the married about how, in (their) marriage, each may please his (partner).12 And I may contend, that what is permitted is not absolutely good.13 For what is absolutely good is not permitted, but needs no asking to make it lawful. Permission has its cause sometimes even in necessity. Finally, in this case, there is no volition on the part of him who permits marriage. For his volition points another way. “I will,” he says, “that you all so be as I too (am).”14 And when he shows that (so to abide) is “better,” what, pray, does he demonstrate himself to “will,” but what he has premised is “better? ”And thus, if he permits something other than what he has “willed”—permitted not voluntarily, but of necessity—he shows that what he has unwillingly granted as an indulgence is not absolutely good. Finally, when he says, “Better it is to marry than to burn,” what sort of good must that be understood to be which is better than a penalty? which cannot seem “better” except when compared to a thing very bad? “Good” is that which keeps this name per se; without comparison—I say not with an evil, but even—with some other good: so that, even if it be compared to and overshadowed by another good, it nevertheless remains in (possession of) the name of good. If, on the other hand, comparison with evil is the mean which obliges it to be called good; it is not so much “good” as a species of inferior evil, which, when obscured by a higher evil, is driven to the name of good. Take away, in Short, the condition, so as not to say, “Better it is to marry than to burn; ”and I question whether you will have the hardihood to say, “Better (it is) to marry,” not adding than what it is better. This done, then, it becomes not” better; ”and while not “better,” not “good” either, the condition being taken away which, while making it “better” than another thing, in that sense obliges it to be considered “good.” Better it is to lose one eye than two. If, however, you withdraw from the comparison of either evil, it will not be better to have one eye, because it is not even good.

What, now, if he accommodatingly grants all indulgence to marry on the ground of his own (that is, of human) sense, out of the necessity which we have mentioned, inasmuch as “better it is to marry than to burn? ”In fact, when he turns to the second case, by saying, “But to the married I officially announce—not I, but the Lord”—he shows that those things which he had said above had not been (the dictates) of the Lord’s authority, but of human judgment. When, however, he turns their minds back to continence, (“But I will you all so to be,”) “I think, moreover,” he says, “I too have the Spirit of God; ”in order that, if he had granted any indulgence out of necessity, that, by the Holy Spirit’s authority, he might recall. But John, too, when advising us that “we ought so to walk as the Lord withal did,”15 of course admonished us to walk as well in accordance with sanctity of the flesh (as in accordance with His example in other respects). Accordingly he says more manifestly: “And every (man) who hath this hope in Him maketh himself chaste, just as Himself withal is chaste.”16 For elsewhere, again, (we read): “Be ye holy, just as He withal was holy “17 —in the flesh, namely. For of the Spirit he would not have said (that), inasmuch as the Spirit is without any external influence recognised as “holy,” nor does He wait to be admonished to sanctity, which is His proper nature. But the flesh is taught sanctity; and that withal, in Christ, was holy.

Therefore, if all these (considerations) obliterate the licence of marrying, whether we look into the condition on which the licence is granted, or the preference of continence which is imposed. why, after the apostles, could not the same Spirit, supervening for the purpose of conducting disciplehood18 into “all truth” through the gradations of the times (according to what the preacher says, “A time to everything”19 ), impose by this time a final bridle upon the flesh, no longer obliquely calling us away from marriage, but openly; since now more (than ever) “the time is become wound up,”20 —about 160 years having elapsed since then? Would you not spontaneously ponder (thus) in your own mind: “This discipline is old, shown beforehand, even at that early date, in the Lord’s flesh and will, (and) successively thereafter in both the counsels and the examples of His apostles? Of old we were destined to this sanctity. Nothing of novelty is the Paraclete introducing. What He premonished, He is (now) definitively appointing; what He deferred, He is (now) exacting.” And presently, by revolving these thoughts, you will easily persuade yourself that it was much more competent to the Paraclete to preach unity of marriage, who could withal have preached its annulling; and that it is more credible that He should have tempered what it would have become Him even to have abolished, if you understand what Christ’s “will” is. Herein also you ought to recognise the Paraclete in His character of Comforter, in that He excuses your infirmity21 from (the stringency of) an absolute continence.

Chapter IV.—Waiving Allusion to the Paraclete, Tertullian Comes to the Consideration of the Ancient Scriptures, and Their Testimony on the Subject in Hand.

Waiving, now, the mention of the Paraclete, as of some authority of our own, evolve we the common instruments of the primitive Scriptures. This very thing is demonstrable by us: that the rule of monogamy is neither novel nor strange, nay rather, is both ancient, and proper to Christians; so that you may be sensible that the Paraclete is rather its restitutor than institutor. As for what pertains to antiquity, what more ancient formal type can be brought forward, than the very original fount of the human race? One female did God fashion for the male, culling one rib of his, and (of course) (one) out of a plurality. But, moreover, in the introductory speech which preceded the work itself, He said, “It is not good for the man that he be alone; let us make an help-meet for him.” For He would have said “helpers” if He had destined him to have more wives (than one). He added, too, a law concerning the future; if, that is, (the words) “And two shall be (made) into one flesh”—not three, nor more; else they would be no more “two” if (there were) more—were prophetically uttered. The law stood (firm). In short, the unity of marriage lasted to the very end in the case of the authors of our race; not because there were no other women, but because the reason why there were none was that the first-fruits of the race might not be contaminated by a double marriage. Otherwise, had God (so) willed, there could withal have been (others); at all events, he might have taken from the abundance of his own daughters—having no less an Eve (taken) out of his own bones and flesh—if piety had allowed it to be done. But where the first crime (is found)homicide, inaugurated in fratricide—no crime was so worthy of the second place as a double marriage. For it makes no difference whether a man have had two wives singly, or whether individuals (taken) at the same time have made two. The number of (the individuals) conjoined and separate is the same. Still, God’s institution, after once for all suffering violence through Lamech, remained firm to the very end of that race. Second Lamech there arose none, in the way of being husband to two wives. What Scripture does not note, it denies. Other iniquities provoke the deluge: (iniquities) once for all avenged, whatever was their nature; not, however, “seventy-seven times,”22 which (is the vengeance which) double marriages have deserved.

But again: the reformation of the second human race is traced from monogamy as its mother. Once more, “two (joined) into one flesh” undertake (the duty of) “growing and multiplying,”—Noah, (namely), and his wife, and their sons, in single marriage.23 Even in the very animals monogamy is recognised, for fear that even beasts should be born of adultery. “Out of all beasts,” said (God),24 “out of all flesh, two shall thou lead into the ark, that they may live with thee, male and female: they shall be (taken) from all flying animals according to (their) kind, and from all creepers of the earth according to their kind; two out of all shall enter unto thee, male and female.” In the same formula, too, He orders sets of sevens, made up of pairs, to be gathered to him, consisting of male and female—one male and one female25 What more shall I say? Even unclean birds were not allowed to enter with two females each.




Chapter X—Application of the Subject. Advantages of Widowhood.

Renounce we things carnal, that we may at length bear fruits spiritual. Seize the opportunity —albeit not earnestly desired, yet favourable—of not having any one to whom to pay a debt, and by whom to be (yourself) repaid You have ceased to be a debtor. Happy man You have released50 your debtor; sustain the loss. What if you come to feel that what we have called a loss is a gain? For continence will be a mean whereby you will traffic in51 a mighty substance of sanctity; by parsimony of the flesh you will gain the Spirit. For let us ponder over our conscience itself, (to see) how different a man feels himself when he chances to be deprived of his wife. He savours spiritually. If he is making prayer to the Lord, he is near heaven. If he is bending over the Scriptures, he is “wholly in them.”52 If he is singing a psalm, he satisfies himself.53 If he is adjuring a demon, he is confident in himself. Accordingly, the apostle added (the recommendation of) a temporary abstinence for the sake of adding an efficacy to prayers,54 that we might know that what is profitable “for a time” should be always practised by us, that it may be always profitable. Daily, every moment, prayer is necessary to men; of course continence (is so) too, since prayer is necessary. Prayer proceeds from conscience, If the conscience blush, prayer blushes. It is the spirit which conducts prayer to God. If the spirit be self-accused of a blushing55 conscience, how will it have the hardihood to conduct prayer to the altar; seeing that, if prayer. blush, the holy minister (of prayer) itself is suffused too? For there is a prophetic utterance of the Old Testament: “Holy shall ye be, because God is holy; ”56 and again: “With the holy thou shall be sanctified; and with the innocent man thou shalt be innocent; and with the elect, elect.”57 For it is our duty so to walk in the Lord’s discipline as is “worthy,”58 not according to the filthy concupiscences of the flesh. For so, too, does the apostle say, that “to savour according to the flesh is death, but to savour according to the spirit is life eternal in Jesus Christ our Lord.”59 Again, through the holy prophetess Prisca60 the Gospel is thus preached: that “the holy minister knows how to minister sanctity.” “For purity,” says she, “is harmonious, and they. see visions; and, turning their face downward, they even hear manifest voices, as salutary as they are withal secret.” If this dulling (of the spiritual faculties), even when the carnal nature is allowed room for exercise in first marriage, averts the Holy Spirit; how much more when it is brought into play in second marriage!



1 [Written, say, circa a.d. 208.]

2 i.e., Psychic.

3 [Which is a note of time, not unimportant.]

91 1 Cor. iv. 8.

92 See the Vulg. iv. 1, 2; 2 Tim. iii. 1; and comp. therewith the Greek in both places.

[1]Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. (electronic edition of the Edinburgh ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

9 See Matt. xix. 12. Comp. de. Pa., c. xiii.; de. Cult. Fem., l. ii. c. ix.

10 See 1 Cor. vii. 1, 7, 37, 40; and comp. de Ex. Cast., c. iv.

11 1 Cor. vii. 29.

12 1 Cor. vii. 32–34.

13 Comp. ad Ux., l. i. c. iii.; de Cult. Fem., l. ii. c. x. sub fin.; and de Ex. Cast., c. iii., which agrees nearly verbatim with what follows.

14 1 Cor. vii. 7, only the Greek is θελω, not βουλομαι.

15 1 John ii. 6.

16 1 John iii. 3.

17 There is no such passage in any Epistle of St. John. There is one similar in 1 Pet. i. 15.

18 Disciplinam.

19 Eccles. iii. 1.

20 1 Cor. vii. 29.

21 Comp. Rom. viii. 26.

22 Septuagies. See Gen. iv. 19–24.

23 Comp. Gen. vii. 7 with 1 Pet. iii. 20 ad fin.

24 Comp. Gen. vi. 19, 20.

25 See Gen. vii. 3.

[2]Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. (electronic edition of the Edinburgh ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

50 Dimisisti, al. amisisti = “you have lost.”

51 Or, “amass” — negotiaberis. See Luke xix. 15.

52 Comp. 1 Tim. iv. 15.

53 Placet sibi.

54 See 1 Cor. vii. 5.

55 i.e., guilty.

56 See Lev. xi. 44, 45, xix. 2, xx. 7, LXX. and Vulg.

57 See Ps. xviii. 25, 26, esp. in Vulg. and LXX., where it is xvii. 26, 27.

58 See Eph. iv. 1; Col. i. 10; 1 Thess. ii. 12.

59 See Rom. viii. 5, 6, esp. in Vulg.

60 A Marcionite prophetess, also called Priscilla.

[3]Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. (electronic edition of the Edinburgh ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.




 (01) Athens and Jerusalem   »cont.



De praescriptione haereticorum



 (020) PRAYER   »cont. 


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