Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Exhortation to Chastity/Chapter 4

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 4
155796Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity — Chapter 4Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter IV.—Further Remarks Upon the Apostle’s Language.

However, touching second marriage, we know plainly that the apostle has pronounced:  “Thou hast been loosed from a wife; seek not a wife.  But if thou shalt marry, thou wilt not sin.”[1]  Still, as in the former case, he has introduced the order of this discourse too from his personal suggestion, not from a divine precept.  But there is a wide difference between a precept of God and a suggestion of man.  “Precept of the Lord,” says he, “I have not; but I give advice, as having obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.”[2]  In fact, neither in the Gospel nor in Paul’s own Epistles will you find a precept of God as the source whence repetition of marriage is permitted.  Whence the doctrine that unity (of marriage) must be observed derives confirmation; inasmuch as that which is not found to be permitted by the Lord is acknowledged to be forbidden.  Add (to this consideration) the fact, that even this very introduction of human advice, as if already beginning to reflect upon its own extravagance, immediately restrains and recalls itself, while it subjoins, “However, such shall have pressure of the flesh;” while he says that he “spares them;” while he adds that “the time is wound up,” so that “it behoves even such as have wives to act as if they had not;” while he compares the solicitude of the wedded and of the unwedded:  for, in teaching, by means of these considerations, the reasons why marrying is not expedient, he dissuades from that to which he had above granted indulgence.  And this is the case with regard to first marriage:  how much more with regard to second!  When, however, he exhorts us to the imitation of his own example, of course, in showing what he does wish us to be; that is, continent; he equally declares what he does not wish us to be, that is, incontinent.  Thus he, too, while he wills one thing, gives no spontaneous or true permission to that which he nills.  For had he willed, he would not have permitted; nay, rather, he would have commanded.  “But see again:  a woman when her husband is dead, he says, can marry, if she wish to marry any one, only ‘in the Lord.’”  Ah! but “happier will she be,” he says, “if she shall remain permanently as she is, according to my opinion.  I think, moreover, I too have the Spirit of God.”  We see two advices:  that whereby, above, he grants the indulgence of marrying; and that whereby, just afterwards, he teaches continence with regard to marrying.  “To which, then,” you say, “shall we assent?”  Look at them carefully, and choose.  In granting indulgence, he alleges the advice of a prudent man; in enjoining continence, he affirms the advice of the Holy Spirit.  Follow the admonition which has divinity for its patron.  It is true that believers likewise “have the Spirit of God;” but not all believers are apostles.  When then, he who had called himself a “believer,” added thereafter that he “had the Spirit of God,” which no one would doubt even in the case of an (ordinary) believer; his reason for saying so was, that he might reassert for himself apostolic dignity.  For apostles have the Holy Spirit properly, who have Him fully, in the operations of prophecy, and the efficacy of (healing) virtues, and the evidences of tongues; not partially, as all others have.  Thus he attached the Holy Spirit’s authority to that form (of advice) to which he willed us rather to attend; and forthwith it became not an advice of the Holy Spirit, but, in consideration of His majesty, a precept.

Footnotes edit

  1. 1 Cor. vii. 27, 28.
  2. Or, “to be a believer;” ver. 25.