Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Exhortation to Chastity/Chapter 12

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 12
155804Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity — Chapter 12Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XII.—Excuses Commonly Urged in Defence of Second Marriage.  Their Futility, Especially in the Case of Christians, Pointed Out.

I am aware of the excuses by which we colour our insatiable carnal appetite.[1]  Our pretexts are:  the necessities of props to lean on; a house to be managed; a family to be governed; chests[2] and keys to be guarded; the wool-spinning to be dispensed; food to be attended to; cares to be generally lessened.  Of course the houses of none but married men fare well!  The families of celibates, the estates of eunuchs, the fortunes of military men, or of such as travel without wives, have gone to rack and ruin!  For are not we, too, soldiers?  Soldiers, indeed, subject to all the stricter discipline, that we are subject to so great a General?[3]  Are not we, too, travellers in this world?[4]  Why moreover, Christian, are you so conditioned, that you cannot (so travel) without a wife?  “In my present (widowed) state, too, a consort in domestic works is necessary.”  (Then) take some spiritual wife.  Take to yourself from among the widows one fair in faith, dowered with poverty, sealed with age.  You will (thus) make a good marriage.  A plurality of such wives is pleasing to God.  “But Christians concern themselves about posterity”—to whom there is no to-morrow![5]  Shall the servant of God yearn after heirs, who has disinherited himself from the world?  And is it to be a reason for a man to repeat marriage, if from his first (marriage) he have no children?  And shall he thus have, as the first benefit (resulting therefrom), this, that he should desire longer life, when the apostle himself is in haste to be “with the Lord?”[6]  Assuredly, most free will he be from encumbrance in persecutions, most constant in martyrdoms, most prompt in distributions of his goods, most temperate in acquisitions; lastly, undistracted by cares will he die, when he has left children behind him—perhaps to perform the last rites over his grave!  Is it then, perchance, in forecast for the commonwealth that such (marriages)are contracted? for fear the States fail, if no rising generations be trained up? for fear the rights of law, for fear the branches of commerce, sink quite into decay? for fear the temples be quite forsaken? for fear there be none to raise the acclaim, “The lion for the Christians?”—for these are the acclaims which they desire to hear who go in quest of offspring!  Let the well-known burdensomeness of children—especially in our case—suffice to counsel widowhood:  (children) whom men are compelled by laws to undertake (the charge of); because no wise man would ever willingly have desired sons!  What, then, will you do if you succeed in filling your new wife with your own conscientious scruples?  Are you to dissolve the conception by aid of drugs?  I think to us it is no more lawful to hurt (a child) in process of birth, than one (already) born.  But perhaps at that time of your wife’s pregnancy you will have the hardihood to beg from God a remedy for so grave a solicitude, which, when it lay in your own power, you refused?  Some (naturally) barren woman, I suppose, or (some woman) of an age already feeling the chill of years, will be the object of your forecasting search.  A course prudent enough, and, above all, worthy of a believer!  For there is no woman whom we have believed to have borne (a child) when barren or old, when God so willed! which he is all the more likely to do if any one, by the presumption of this foresight of his own, provoke emulation on the part of God.  In fine, we know a case among our brethren, in which one of them took a barren woman in second marriage for his daughter’s sake, and became as well for the second time a father as for the second time a husband.

Footnotes edit

  1. Comp. herewith, ad Ux., l. i. c. iv.
  2. Or “purses.”
  3. Comp. 2 Tim. ii. 3, 4; Heb. ii. 10.
  4. Or “age”—sæculo.  Comp. Ps. xxxix. 12 (in LXX. xxxviii. 13, as in Vulg.) and Heb. xi. 13.
  5. Comp. Matt. vi. 34; Jas. iv. 13–15.
  6. Comp. Phil. i. 23.