Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Exhortation to Chastity/Chapter 13

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 13
155805Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity — Chapter 13Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter XIII.—Examples from Among the Heathen, as Well as from the Church, to Enforce the Foregoing Exhortation.

To this my exhortation, best beloved brother, there are added even heathenish examples; which have often been set by ourselves as well (as by others) in evidence, when anything good and pleasing to God is, even among “strangers,” recognised and honoured with a testimony.  In short, monogamy among the heathen is so held in highest honour, that even virgins, when legitimately marrying, have a woman never married but once appointed them as brideswoman; and if you say that “this is for the sake of the omen,” of course it is for the sake of a good omen; again, that in some solemnities and official functions, single-husbandhood takes the precedence:  at all events, the wife of a Flamen must be but once married, which is the law of the Flamen (himself) too.  For the fact that the chief pontiff himself must not iterate marriage is, of course, a glory to monogamy.  When, however, Satan affects God’s sacraments, it is a challenge to us; nay, rather, a cause for blushing, if we are slow to exhibit to God a continence which some render to the devil, by perpetuity sometimes of virginity, sometimes of widowhood.  We have heard of Vesta’s virgins, and Juno’s at the town[1] of Achaia, and Apollo’s among the Delphians, and Minerva’s and Diana’s in some places.  We have heard, too, of continent men, and (among others) the priests of the famous Egyptian bull:  women, moreover, (dedicated) to the African Ceres, in whose honour they even spontaneously abdicate matrimony, and so live to old age, shunning thenceforward all contact with males, even so much as the kisses of their sons.  The devil, forsooth, has discovered, after voluptuousness, even a chastity which shall work perdition; that the guilt may be all the deeper of the Christian who refuses the chastity which helps to salvation!  A testimony to us shall be, too, some of heathendom’s women, who have won renown for their obstinate persistence in single-husbandhood:  some Dido,[2] (for instance), who, refugee as she was on alien soil, when she ought rather to have desired, without any external solicitation, marriage with a king, did yet, for fear of experiencing a second union, prefer, contrariwise, to “burn” rather than to “marry;” or the famous Lucretia, who, albeit it was but once, by force, and against her will, that she had suffered a strange man, washed her stained flesh in her own blood, lest she should live, when no longer single-husbanded in her own esteem!  A little more care will furnish you with more examples from our own (sisters); and those indeed, superior to the others, inasmuch as it is a greater thing to live in chastity than to die for it.  Easier it is to lay down your life because you have lost a blessing, than to keep by living that for which you would rather die outright.  How many men, therefore, and how many women, in Ecclesiastical Orders, owe their position to continence, who have preferred to be wedded to God; who have restored the honour of their flesh, and who have already dedicated themselves as sons of that (future) age, by slaying in themselves the concupiscence of lust, and that whole (propensity) which could not be admitted within Paradise![3]  Whence it is presumable that such as shall wish to be received within Paradise, ought at last to begin to cease from that thing from which Paradise is intact.

Footnotes edit

  1. Ægium (Jos. Scaliger, in Oehler).
  2. But Tertullian overlooks the fact that both Ovid and Virgil represent her as more than willing to marry Æneas.  [Why should he note the fables of poets?  This testimony of a Carthaginian is historic evidence of the fact.]
  3. Comp. Matt. xxii. 29, 30; Mark xii. 24, 25; Luke xx. 34–36.