Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Exhortation to Chastity/Chapter 7

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 7
155799Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Exhortation to Chastity — Chapter 7Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter VII.—Even the Old Discipline Was Not Without Precedents to Enforce Monogamy.  But in This as in Other Respects, the New Has Brought in a Higher Perfection.

Why, moreover, should we not rather recognise, from among (the store of) primitive precedents, those which communicate with the later (order of things) in respect of discipline, and transmit to novelty the typical form of antiquity?  For look, in the old law I find the pruning-knife applied to the licence of repeated marriage.  There is a caution in Leviticus:  “My priests shall not pluralize marriages.”[1]  I may affirm even that that is plural which is not once for all.  That which is not unity is number.  In short, after unity begins number.  Unity, moreover, is everything which is once for all.  But for Christ was reserved, as in all other points so in this also, the “fulfilling of the law.”[2]  Thence, therefore, among us the prescript is more fully and more carefully laid down, that they who are chosen into the sacerdotal order must be men of one marriage;[3] which rule is so rigidly observed, that I remember some removed from their office for digamy.  But you will say, “Then all others may (marry more than once), whom he excepts.”  Vain shall we be if we think that what is not lawful for priests[4] is lawful for laics.  Are not even we laics priests?  It is written:  “A kingdom also, and priests to His God and Father, hath He made us.”[5]  It is the authority of the Church, and the honour which has acquired sanctity through the joint session of the Order, which has established the difference between the Order and the laity.  Accordingly, where there is no joint session of the ecclesiastical Order, you offer, and baptize, and are priest, alone for yourself.  But where three are, a church is, albeit they be laics.  For each individual lives by his own faith,[6] nor is there exception of persons with God; since it is not hearers of the law who are justified by the Lord, but doers, according to what the apostle withal says.[7]  Therefore, if you have the right of a priest in your own person, in cases of necessity, it behoves you to have likewise the discipline of a priest whenever it may be necessary to have the right of a priest.  If you are a digamist, do you baptize?  If you are a digamist, do you offer?  How much more capital (a crime) is it for a digamist laic to act as a priest, when the priest himself, if he turn digamist, is deprived of the power of acting the priest!  “But to necessity,” you say, “indulgence is granted.”  No necessity is excusable which is avoidable.  In a word, shun to be found guilty of digamy, and you do not expose yourself to the necessity of administering what a digamist may not lawfully administer.  God wills us all to be so conditioned, as to be ready at all times and places to undertake (the duties of) His sacraments.  There is “one God, one faith,”[8] one discipline too.  So truly is this the case, that unless the laics as well observe the rules which are to guide the choice of presbyters, how will there be presbyters at all, who are chosen to that office from among the laics?  Hence we are bound to contend that the command to abstain from second marriage relates first to the laic; so long as no other can be a presbyter than a laic, provided he have been once for all a husband.

Footnotes edit

  1. I cannot find any such passage.  Oehler refers to Lev. xxi. 14, but neither the Septuagint nor the Vulgate has any such prohibition there.
  2. Matt. v. 17, very often referred to by Tertullian.
  3. Comp. 1 Tim. iii. 1, 2; Tit. i. 5, 6; and Ellicott’s Commentary.
  4. Sacerdotibus.
  5. Rev. i. 6.
  6. See Hab. ii. 4; Rom. i. 17; Gal. iii. 11; Heb. x. 38.
  7. Rom. ii. 13; Eph. vi. 9; Col. iii. 25; 1 Pet. i. 17; Deut. x. 17.
  8. Eph. iv. 5, 6.