EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITERS:
Tertullian's The Apology—A horrifying glimpse at Christian persecution
The following are quotes from the writings of Tertullian's
Tertullian was a Christian writer who lived from AD 160-220, during severe persecution Christians were enduring
at the hands of the Roman Empire.
"Apology" means "defense." Tertullian in this writing defends Christianity, and appeals to the Roman leadership to recognize
their own great hypocrisy regarding their torturing and executing of Christians:
Rulers of the Roman Empire...seated for the administration of justice on your lofty tribunal, under the gaze of every eye,
and occupying there all but the highest position in the state...We lay this before you as the first ground on which we
urge that your hatred to the name of Christian is unjust.
...what is there more unfair than to hate a thing of which you know nothing, even though it deserve to be hated?
Hatred is only merited when it is known to be merited. But without that knowledge, whence is its justice to be vindicated?
...those who once hated Christianity because they knew nothing about it, no sooner come to know it than they all lay down at once their enmity:
from being its haters they become its disciples. By simply getting acquainted with it, they begin now to hate what they had formerly been,
and to profess what they had formerly hated; and their numbers are as great as are laid to our charge.
...The outcry is that the State is filled with Christians—that they are in the fields, in the citadels, in the islands: they make lamentation,
as for some calamity, that both sexes, every age and condition, even high rank, are passing over to the profession of the Christian faith;
and yet for all, their minds are not awakened to the thought of some good they have failed to notice in it.
...Because they already dislike, they want to know no more.
Thus they prejudge that of which they are ignorant to be such, that, if they came to know it, it could no longer be the object
of their aversion; since, if inquiry finds nothing worthy of dislike, it is certainly proper to cease from an unjust
[When Christians are being accused of being Christian under the threat of torture and execution]...The only shame or regret he feels, is
at not having been a Christian earlier. If he is pointed out, he glories in it; if he is accused, he offers no defence; interrogated,
he makes voluntary confession; condemned he renders thanks.
If...it is certain that we [Christians] are the most wicked of men, why do you treat us so differently from [other "criminals"]
When the charges made against us are made against others, they are permitted to make use both of their own lips and of hired pleaders [lawyers]
to show their innocence. They have full opportunity of answer and debate; in fact, it is against the law to condemn anybody undefended
and unheard. Christians alone are forbidden to say anything in exculpation of themselves, in defence of the truth,
to help the judge to a righteous decision; all that is cared about is having what the public hatred demands—the confession
of the Name [of Christ], not examination of the charge...[on the other hand, with actual criminals]...
you thoroughly examine the circumstances—what is the real character of the deed, how often, where, in what way, when he has done it,
who were privy to it, and who actually took part with him in it.
Nothing like this is done in our [the Christian's] case...But, instead of that, we find that even inquiry in regard to our case is forbidden.
...in the case of [criminals] denying [a crime they are charged with], you apply the torture to make them confess.
Christians alone you torture to make them deny...
with all the greater perversity you act, when, holding our "crimes" proved by our confession of the name of Christ, you drive us by torture
to fall from our confession, that, repudiating the Name, we may in like manner repudiate also the crimes with which, from that same confession,
you had assumed that we were chargeable...
..."I am a Christian," the man cries out. He tells you what he is; you wish to hear from him what he is not. Occupying
your place of authority to extort the truth, you do your utmost to get lies from us. "I am," he says, "that which you
ask me if I am. Why do you torture me to sin? I confess, and you put me to the rack [of torture]. What would you do if I denied?"
Certainly you give no ready credence to others when they deny. When we deny, you believe at once.
[Regarding the Roman torture rack of which Tertullian spoke]: "The rack, more properly known as the equuleus (young horse), was a favored
instrument of torture and probably looked something like a gymnasium vaulting horse. it was equipped with heavy weights that were hung from the
victim's limbs, slowly stretching him to death."
(Information on the Roman torture rack)
...Well, you think the Christian a man of every crime: an enemy of the gods,
of the emperor, of the laws, of good morals, of all nature. Yet you compel him to deny, that you may acquit him, which without him denial you
could not do. You play fast and loose with the laws. You wish him to deny his guilt, that you may, even against his will, bring him out
blameless and free from all guilt in reference to the past!
...they believe about us [Christians] things of which they have no proof...we are put to the torture if we confess,
and we are punished if we persevere—and if we deny we are acquitted, because all the contention is about a Name.
"A good man," says one, "is Gaius Seius, only that he is a Christian." So another, "I am astonished that a wise man like Lucius
should have suddenly become a Christian." Nobody thinks it needful to consider whether Gaius is not good and Lucius wise,
on this very account that he is a Christian; or a Christian, for the reason that he is wise and good.
...when you sternly lay it down in your sentencing: "It is not lawful for you [Christian] to exist," and with unhesitating rigour you enjoin
this to be carried out, you exhibit the violence and unjust domination of mere tyranny, if you deny the thing to be lawful, simply on the
ground that you wish it to be unlawful, not because it
ought to be.
What has become of the laws repressing expensive and ostentatious ways of living?
...which put down the theatres as quickly as they arose to debauch the manners of the people...
I see, too, that neither is a single theatre enough, nor are theatres unsheltered: no doubt it was that
immodest pleasure might not be torpid in the wintertime, the Lacedaemonians invented their woollen cloaks for the plays.
I see now no difference between the dress of matrons and prostitutes.
In regard to women, indeed, those laws of your fathers, which used to be such an encouragement to modesty and sobriety,
have also fallen into desuetude [a French term meaning "A state of disuse or inactivity"], when a woman had yet known no gold
upon her save on the finger, which, with the bridal ring, her husband had sacredly pledged to himself.
...when the abstinence of women from wine was carried so far, that a matron, for opening the compartments of a wine cellar,
was starved to death by her friends—while in the times of Romulus, for merely tasting wine, Mecenius killed his wife,
and suffered nothing for the deed.
With reference to this also, it was the custom of women to kiss their relatives, that they might be detected by their breath.
Where is that happiness of married life, ever so desirable, which distinguished our earlier manners, and as the result of which for
about 600 years there was not among us a single divorce? Now, women have every member of the body heavy laden with gold; wine-bibbing
is so common among them, that the kiss is never offered with their will; and as for divorce, they long for it as though it were the
natural consequence of marriage.
...Yet the very tradition of your fathers, which you still seem so faithfully to defend, and in which you find your principal
matter of accusation against the Christians—I mean [your] zeal in the worship of the [pagan] gods...
"Monsters of wickedness," we [Christians] are accused of observing a holy rite in which we kill a little child and then eat it;
in which, after the feast, we practise incest, the dogs—our pimps, forsooth, overturning the lights and getting us the shamelessness
of darkness for our impious lusts. This is what is constantly laid to our charge, and yet you take no pains to elicit the truth of what
we have been so long accused.
Either bring, then, the matter to the light of day if you believe it—or give it no credit as having never inquired into it.
On the ground of your double dealing, we are entitled to lay it down to you that there is no reality in the thing which you dare not expiscate.
...Truth and the hatred of truth come into our world together. As soon as truth appears, it is regarded as an enemy.
It has as many foes as there are strangers to it: the Jews, as was to be looked for, from a spirit of rivalry;
the soldiers, out of a desire to extort money; our very domestics, by their nature.
We are daily beset by foes, we are daily betrayed; we are oftentimes surprised in our meetings and congregations.
Whoever happened withal upon an infant wailing, according to the common story?
Every one knows what sort of thing rumour is. It is one of your own sayings, that
"among all evils, none flies so fast as rumour."
Why is rumour such an evil thing?
...[It stays alive]...so long as there is no proof;
for when the proof is given, it [rumor] ceases to exist; and, as having done its work of merely spreading a report, it delivers up a fact,
...Rumour, the very designation of uncertainty, has no place when a thing is certain. Does any but a fool put his trust in it?
For a wise man never believes the dubious. Everybody knows, however zealously it is spread abroad, on whatever strength of asseveration
it rests, that some time or other from some one fountain it has its origin
...Thence it must creep into propagating tongues and ears...[and]no one can
determine whether the lips, from which it first came forth, planted the seed of falsehood, as often happens, from a spirit of opposition,
or from a suspicious judgment, or from a confirmed, nay, in the case of some, an inborn, delight in lying.
...It is well that time brings all to light, as your proverbs and sayings testify...
...This is the witness you bring against us—one that has never been able to prove the accusation it some time or other sent abroad,
and at last by mere continuance made into a settled opinion in the world...
[These were the accusations Romans were making to justify their arrest, torture, and execution of Christians]:
"Come, plunge your knife into the babe, enemy of none, accused of none, child of all;
or if that is another's work, simply take your place beside a human being dying before he has really lived, await the
departure of the lately given soul, receive the fresh young blood, saturate your bread with it, freely partake."
...But the ignorant, forsooth, are deceived and imposed on. They were quite unaware of anything of the kind being imputed to Christians,
or they would certainly have looked into it for themselves, and searched the matter out.
...Children were openly sacrificed in Africa to Saturn as lately as the proconsulship of Tiberius, who exposed to public gaze the priests suspended on the sacred trees overshadowing their temple...
...Blush for your vile ways before the Christians, who have not even the blood of animals at their meals of simple and natural food; who abstain from things strangled and that die a natural death, for no other reason than that they may not contract pollution...
...[Evidently in your torture proceedings...] you tempt Christians with sausages of blood, just because you are perfectly aware that the thing by which you thus try to get them to transgress they hold unlawful.
"You [Christians] do not worship the gods," you say; "and you do not offer sacrifices for the emperors."
Well, we do not offer sacrifice for others, for the same reason that we do not for ourselves—namely, that your gods are
not at all the objects of our worship.
So we are accused of sacrilege and treason.
This is the chief ground of charge against us...
We do not worship your gods, because we know that there are no such beings....
But you say: "They are gods!" We protest and appeal from yourselves to your knowledge; let that judge us; let that condemn us,
if it can deny that all these gods of yours were but men.
But I pass from these remarks, for I know and I am going to show what your gods are not, by showing what they are.
In reference, then, to these, I see only names of dead men of ancient times; I hear fabulous stories; I recognize sacred rites rounded [based] on mere myths.
...You put Christians on crosses and stakes: what image is not formed from the clay in the first instance, set on cross and stake?
...You tear the sides of Christians with your claws; but in the case of your own gods, axes, and planes, and rasps are put to work more vigorously on every member of the body.
We lay our heads upon the block; before the lead, and the glue, and the nails are put in requisition, your deities are headless.
We are cast to the wild beasts, while you attach them to Bacchus, and Cybele, and Caelestis.
[The Greek "god" of wine. He was also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. He is the patron deity of agriculture and the theater. He was also known as the Liberator (Eleutherios), freeing one from one's normal self, by madness, ecstasy, or wine. The divine mission of Dionysus was to mingle the music of the aulos and to bring an end to care and worry. Scholars have discussed Dionysus' relationship to the "cult of the souls" and his ability to preside over communication between the living and the dead.
We are burned in the flames; so, too, are they in their original lump.
We are condemned to the mines; from these your gods originate.
We are banished to islands; in islands it is a common thing for your gods to have their birth or die.
If it is in this way a deity is made, it will follow that as many as are punished are deified, and tortures will have to be declared divinities.
...O impious words! O blasphemous reproaches! Gnash your teeth upon us—foam with maddened rage against us...
..if we refuse our homage to statues and frigid images, the very counterpart of their dead originals, with which hawks, and mice, and spiders are so well acquainted, does it not merit praise instead of penalty, that we have rejected what we have come to see is error?
We cannot surely be made out to injure those who we are certain are nonentities.
What does not exist, is in its nonexistence secure from suffering.
"But they are gods to us," you say.
...as we have already shown, every god depended on the decision of the senate for his godhead.
...by public law you disgrace your state gods, putting them in the auction-catalogue, and making them a source of revenue.
Men seek to get the capital, as they seek to get the herb market, under the voice of the crier, under the auction spear, under the registration of the quaestor. Deity is struck off and farmed out to the highest bidder.
..."Majesty" is made a source of gain. Religion goes about the taverns begging. You demand a price for the privilege of standing on temple ground, for access to the sacred services; there is no gratuitous knowledge of your divinities permitted—you must buy their favours with a price.
...I do not dwell on the philosophers, contenting myself with a reference to Socrates, who, in contempt of the gods, was in the habit of swearing by an oak, and a goat, and a dog. In fact, for this very thing Socrates was condemned to death, that he overthrew the worship of the gods.
You are, I suppose, more devout in the arena, where after the same fashion your deities dance on human blood, on the pollutions caused by
inflicted punishments, as they act their themes and stories, doing their turn for the wretched criminals, except that these,
too, often put on divinity and actually play the very gods.
We have seen in our day a representation of the mutilation of Attis, that famous god of Pessinus, and a man burnt alive as Hercules.
We have made merry amid the ludicrous cruelties of the noonday exhibition, at Mercury examining the bodies of the dead with his hot iron;
we have witnessed Jove's brother, mallet in hand, dragging out the corpses of the gladiators.
This it will be said, however, is all in sport.
[Furthermore]...in the temples adulteries are arranged,
that at the altars pimping [prostitution] is practiced...
...I am not sure but your gods have more reason to complain of you than of Christians.
[yet]...Christians do not enter your temples even in the day-time.
The object of our worship is the One God, He who by His commanding word, His arranging wisdom, His mighty power, brought forth from nothing
this entire mass of our world, with all its array of elements, bodies, spirits, for the glory of His majesty; whence also the Greeks have
bestowed on it the name of Kosmoj.
The eye cannot see Him, though He is (spiritually) visible. He is incomprehensible, though in grace He is manifested.
He is beyond our utmost thought, though our human faculties conceive of Him. He is therefore equally real and great.
...This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions—our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords
us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.
And this is the crowning guilt of men, that they will not recognize [the] One of Whom they cannot possibly be ignorant.
[So] that we might attain an ampler and more authoritative knowledge at once of Himself, and of His counsels and will, God has
added a written revelation for the behoof of every one whose heart is set on seeking Him, that seeking he may find, and finding believe,
and believing obey.
...We are of your stock and nature: men are made, not born, Christians.
...Nero's cruel sword sowed the seed of Christian blood at Rome.
...We say, and before all men we say, and torn and bleeding under your tortures, we cry out, "We worship God through Christ."
Count Christ a man, if you please; by Him and in Him God would be known and be adored.
You do homage, as I know, to them [your false gods]...with the blood of Christians.
In, fact, we [Christians] alone are prevented having a religion of our own. We give offence to the Romans, we are excluded from the rights and privileges of Romans, because we do not worship the gods of Rome.
It is well that there is a God of all, whose we all are, whether we will or no. But with you liberty is given to worship any god but the true God, as though He were not rather the God all should worship, to whom all belong.
Indeed, how could religion make a people [the Romans] great who have owed their greatness to their irreligion?
Some, indeed, think it a piece of insanity that, when it is in our power to offer sacrifice at once, and go away unharmed, holding as ever our convictions we prefer an obstinate persistence in our confession to our safety.
You advise us, forsooth, to take unjust advantage of you; but we know whence such suggestions come, who is at the bottom of it all, and how every effort is made, now by cunning suasion, and now by merciless persecution, to overthrow our constancy.
... For, though the whole power of demons and kindred spirits is subject to us, yet still, as ill-disposed slaves sometimes conjoin contumacy with fear, and delight to injure those of whom they at the same time stand in awe, so is it here. For fear also inspires hatred.
Besides, in their desperate condition, as already under condemnation, it gives them some comfort, while punishment delays, to have the usufruct of their malignant dispositions. And yet, when hands are laid on them, they are subdued at once, and submit to their lot; and those whom at a distance they oppose, in close quarters they supplicate for mercy.
...[We Christians] contend against them [our torturers] by persevering in that which they assail; and our triumph over them is never more complete than when we are condemned for resolute adherence to our faith.
With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us—the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment.
Let this, good rulers, be your work: wring from us the soul, beseeching God on the emperor's behalf. Upon the truth of God, and devotion to His name, put the brand of crime.
This is the reason, then, why Christians are counted public enemies: that they pay no vain, nor false, nor foolish honours to the emperor; that, as men believing in the true religion, they prefer to celebrate their festal days with a good conscience, instead of with the common wantonness.
It is, forsooth, a notable homage to bring fires and couches out before the public, to have feasting from street to street, to turn the city into one great tavern, to make mud with wine, to run in troops to acts of violence, to deeds of shamelessness to lust allurements! What! is public joy manifested by public disgrace? Do things unseemly at other times beseem the festal days of princes?
Do they who observe the rules of virtue out of reverence for Caesar, for his sake turn aside from them? Shall piety be a license to immoral deeds, and shall religion be regarded as affording the occasion for all riotous extravagance?
If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands?
In regard to this, recall your own experiences. How often you inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because it is your own inclination, and partly in obedience to the laws!
How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand, and assails us with stones and flames!
With the very frenzy of the Bacchanals [The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Roman god Bacchus [or Dionysus]; it has since come to describe any form of drunken revelry; later outlawed by Rome, these sects would—in their frenzied state—tear animals and sometimes people apart and cannibalize them], they do not even spare the Christian dead, but tear them, now sadly changed, no longer entire, from the rest of the tomb, from the asylum we might say of death, cutting them in pieces, rending them asunder.
Yet, banded together as we are, ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, what single case of revenge for injury are you able to point to, though, if it were held right among us to repay evil by evil, a single night with a torch or two could achieve an ample vengeance? But away with the idea of a sect divine avenging itself by human fires, or shrinking from the sufferings in which it is tried.
...Yet you choose to call us enemies of the human race, rather than of human error.
...Among us nothing is ever said, or seen, or heard, which has anything in common with the madness of the circus, the immodesty of the theatre, the atrocities of the arena, the useless exercises of the wrestling-ground. Why do you take offence at us because we differ from you in regard to your pleasures?
We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.
We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This violence God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation.
We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful. However it be in that respect, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more stedfast; and no less by inculcations of God's precepts we confirm good habits.
In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered. For with a great gravity is the work of judging carried on among us, as befits those who feel assured that they are in the sight of God; and you have the most notable example of judgment to come when any one has sinned so grievously as to require his severance from us in prayer, in the congregation and in all sacred intercourse.
The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honour not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God.
Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.
These gifts are, as it were, piety's deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death.
... One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives.
...Our feast explains itself by its name The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you, do parasites aspire to the glory of satisfying their licentious propensities, selling themselves for a belly-feast to all disgraceful treatment—but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly.
... If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste.
They say it is enough, as those who remember that even during the night they have to worship God; they talk as those who know that the Lord is one of their auditors. After manual ablution, and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from the holy Scriptures or one of his own composing—a proof of the measure of our drinking. As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed.
...We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.
...If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, "Away with the Christians to the lion!" What! shall you give such multitudes to a single beast?
Yes, and no one considers what the loss is to the common wealth—a loss as great as it is real—no one estimates the injury entailed upon the state, when, men of virtue as we are, we are put to death in such numbers; when so many of the truly good suffer the last penalty.
...Or when Christians are brought before you on the mere ground of their name, is there ever found among them an ill-doer of the sort?
It is always with your folk the prison is steaming, the mines are sighing, the wild beasts are fed: it is from you the exhibitors of gladiatorial shows always get their herds of criminals to feed up for the occasion.
You find no Christian there, except simply as being such; or if one is there as something else, a Christian he is no longer.
...And so, which is the ampler rule, to say, "Thou shalt not kill," or to teach, "Be not even angry? "Which is more perfect, to forbid adultery, or to restrain from even a single lustful look? Which indicates the higher intelligence, interdicting evil-doing, or evil-speaking? Which is more thorough, not allowing an injury, or not even suffering an injury done to you to be repaid?
Though withal you know that these very laws also of yours, which seem to lead to virtue, have been borrowed from the law of God as the ancient model.
We have sufficiently met, as I think, the accusation of the various crimes on the ground of which these fierce demands are made for Christian blood.
...For who compels a philosopher to sacrifice or take an oath, or put out useless lamps at midday?
Nay, they [the philosophers] openly overthrow your gods, and in their writings they attack your superstitions; and you applaud them for it.
Many of them even, with your countenance, bark out against your rulers, and are rewarded with statues and salaries, instead of being given to the wild beasts.
And very right it should be so. For they are called philosophers, not Christians. This name of philosopher has no power to put demons to the rout.
Why are they not able to do that too? since philosophers count demons inferior to gods.
Socrates used to say, "If the demon grant permission." Yet he, too, though in denying the existence of your divinities he had a glimpse of the truth, at his dying ordered a cock to be sacrificed to Aesculapius, I believe in honour of his father, for Apollo pronounced Socrates the wisest of men.
Thoughtless Apollo! testifying to the wisdom of the man who denied the existence of his race.
So, then, where is there any likeness between the Christian and the philosopher? between the disciple of Greece and of heaven? between the man whose object is fame, and whose object is life? between the talker and he doer? between the man who builds up and the man who pulls down? between the friend and the foe of error? between one who corrupts the truth, and one who restores and teaches it? between its chief and its custodier?
Finding a simple revelation of God, they [the philosophers] proceeded to dispute about Him, not as He had revealed to them, but turned aside to debate about His properties, His nature, His abode.
Some assert Him to be incorporeal; others maintain He has a body—the Platonists teaching the one doctrine, and the Stoics the other.
Some think that He is composed of atoms, others of numbers: such are the different views of Epicurus and Pythagoras.
One thinks He is made of fire; so it appeared to Heraclitus.
The Platonists, again, hold that He administers the affairs of the world; the Epicureans, on the contrary, that He is idle and inactive, and, so to speak, a nobody in human things.
Then the Stoics represent Him as placed outside the world, and whirling round this huge mass from without like a potter; while the Platonists place Him within the world, as a pilot is in the ship he steers.
So, in like manner, they [the philosophers] differ in their views about the world itself, whether it is created or uncreated, whether it is destined to pass away or to remain forever.
So again it is debated concerning the nature of the soul, which some contend is divine and eternal, while others hold that it is dissoluble.
According to each one's fancy, He has introduced either something new, or refashioned the old.
Nor need we wonder if the speculations of philosophers have perverted the older Scriptures. Some of their brood, with their opinions, have even adulterated our new-given Christian revelation, and corrupted it into a system of philosophic doctrines, and from the one path have struck off many and inexplicable by-roads.
...Everything opposed to the truth has been got up from the truth itself, the spirits of error carrying on this system of opposition. By them all corruptions of wholesome discipline have been secretly instigated; by them, too, certain fables have been introduced, that, by their resemblance to the truth, they might impair its credibility, or vindicate their own higher claims to faith; so that people might think Christians unworthy of credit because the poets or philosophers are so, or might regard the poets and philosophers as worthier of confidence from their not being followers of Christ.
Come now, if some philosopher affirms, as Laberius holds, following an opinion of Pythagoras, that a man may have his origin from a mule, a serpent from a woman, and with skill of speech twists every argument to prove his view, will he not gain acceptance for and work in some the conviction that, on account of this, they should even abstain from eating animal food?
May anyone have the persuasion that he should so abstain, lest by chance in his beef he eats of some ancestor of his?
But if a Christian promises the return of a man from a man, and the very actual Gaius from Gaius, the cry of the people will be to have him stoned; they will not even so much as grant him a hearing.
...But how, you say, can a substance which has been dissolved be made to reappear again?
Consider thyself, O man, and thou wilt believe in it! Reflect on what you were before you came into existence.
For if you had been anything, you would have remembered it. You, then, who were nothing before you existed, reduced to nothing also when you cease to be, why may you not come into being again out of nothing, at the will of the same Creator whose will created you out of nothing at the first?
Will it be anything new in your case?
You who were not, were made; when you cease to be again, you shall be made.
Explain, if you can, your original creation—and then demand to know how you shall be re-created.
Indeed, it will be still easier surely to make you what you were once, when the very same creative power made you without difficulty what you never were before.
There will be doubts, perhaps, as to the power of God, of Him who hung in its place this huge body of our world, made out of what had never existed, as from a death of emptiness and inanity, animated by the Spirit who quickens all living things, its very self the unmistakable type of the resurrection, that it might be to you a witness-nay, the exact image of the resurrection.
Light, every day extinguished, shines out again; and, with like alternation, darkness succeeds light's outgoing.
The defunct stars re-live; the seasons, as soon as they are finished, renew their course; the fruits are brought to maturity, and then are reproduced. The seeds do not spring up with abundant produce, save as they rot and dissolve away—all things are preserved by perishing, all things are refashioned out of death.
...These are what are called presumptuous speculations in our case alone; in the philosophers and poets they are regarded as sublime speculations and illustrious discoveries.
They are men of "wisdom," we are "fools." They are worthy of all honour, we are folk to have the finger pointed at; nay, besides that, we are even to have punishments inflicted on us.
...But in a thing of the kind, if this be so indeed, we should be adjudged to ridicule, not to swords, and flames, and crosses, and wild beasts, in which iniquitous cruelty not only the blinded populace exults and insults over us, but in which some of you too glory, not scrupling to gain the popular favour by your injustice. As though all you can do to us did not depend upon our pleasure.
In that case, you say, why do you complain of our persecutions? You ought rather to be grateful to us for giving you the sufferings you want.
Well, it is quite true that it is our desire to suffer, but it is in the way that the soldier longs for war. No one indeed suffers willingly, since suffering necessarily implies fear and danger.
Yet the man who objected to the conflict, both fights with all his strength, and when victorious, he rejoices in the battle, because he reaps from it glory and spoil.
It is our battle to be summoned to your tribunals that there, under fear of execution, we may battle for the truth. But the day is won when the object of the struggle is gained. This victory of ours gives us the glory of pleasing God, and the spoil of life eternal.
But we are overcome. Yes, when we have obtained our wishes. Therefore we conquer in dying; we go forth victorious at the very time we are subdued.
Call us, if you like, Sarmenticii and Semaxii, because, bound to a half-axle stake, we are burned in a circle-heap of fagots. This is the attitude in which we conquer, it is our victory-robe, it is for us a sort of triumphal, car.
Naturally enough, therefore, we do not please the vanquished; on account of this, indeed, we are counted a desperate, reckless race. But the very desperation and recklessness you object to in us, among yourselves lift high the standard of virtue in the cause of glory and of fame.
...And you cast statues in honour of persons such as these [who died for what they believe in], and you put inscriptions upon images, and cut out epitaphs on tombs, that their names may never perish. In so far you can by your monuments, you yourselves afford a son of resurrection to the dead. Yet he who expects the true resurrection from God, is insane, if for God he suffers!
But go zealously on, good presidents, you will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish, kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent.
Therefore God suffers that we thus suffer; for but very lately, in condemning a Christian woman to the leno rather than to the leo you made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death.
Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.
Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death, as Cicero in the Tusculans, as Seneca in his Chances, as Diogenes, Pyrrhus, Callinicus; and yet their words do not find so many disciples as Christians do, teachers not by words, but by their deeds.
...On this account it is that we return thanks on the very spot for your sentences. As the divine and human are ever opposed to each other, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Highest.
General information about Tertullian
The Tertullian project
The writings of Tertullian
Persecution of Christians
Additional recommended reading:
The book of Colossians—Introduction