Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Monogamy/Chapter 6

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Monogamy
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 6
155813Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Monogamy — Chapter 6Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter VI.—The Case of Abraham, and Its Bearing on the Present Question.

But let us proceed with our inquiry into some eminent chief fathers of our origin:  for there are some to whom our monogamist parents Adam and Noah are not pleasing, nor perhaps Christ either.  To Abraham, in fine, they appeal; prohibited though they are to acknowledge any other father than God.[1]  Grant, now, that Abraham is our father; grant, too, that Paul is.  “In the Gospel,” says he, “I have begotten you.”[2]  Show yourself a son even of Abraham.  For your origin in him, you must know, is not referable to every period of his life:  there is a definite time at which he is your father.  For if “faith” is the source whence we are reckoned to Abraham as his “sons” (as the apostle teaches, saying to the Galatians, “You know, consequently, that (they) who are of faith, these are sons of Abraham”[3]), when did Abraham “believe God and it was accounted to him for righteousness?”  I suppose when still in monogamy, since (he was) not yet in circumcision.  But if afterwards he changed to either (opposite)—to digamy through cohabitation with his handmaid, and to circumcision through the seal of the testament—you cannot acknowledge him as your father except at that time when he “believed God,” if it is true that it is according to faith that you are his son, not according to flesh.  Else, if it be the later Abraham whom you follow as your father—that is, the digamist (Abraham)—receive him withal in his circumcision.  If you reject his circumcision, it follows that you will refuse his digamy too.  Two characters of his mutually diverse in two several ways, you will not be able to blend.  His digamy began with circumcision, his monogamy with uncircumcision.[4]  You receive digamy; admit circumcision too.  You retain uncircumcision; you are bound to monogamy too.  Moreover, so true is it that it is of the monogamist Abraham that you are the son, just as of the uncircumcised, that if you be circumcised you immediately cease to be his son, inasmuch as you will not be “of faith,” but of the seal of a faith which had been justified in uncircumcision.  You have the apostle:  learn (of him), together with the Galatians.[5]  In like manner, too, if you have involved yourself in digamy, you are not the son of that Abraham whose “faith” preceded in monogamy.  For albeit it is subsequently that he is called “a father of many nations,”[6] still it is of those (nations) who, as the fruit of the “faith” which precedes digamy, had to be accounted “sons of Abraham.”[7]

Thenceforward let matters see to themselves.  Figures are one thing; laws another.  Images are one thing; statutes another.  Images pass away when fulfilled:  statutes remain permanently to be fulfilled.  Images prophesy:  statutes govern.  What that digamy of Abraham portends, the same apostle fully teaches,[8] the interpreter of each testament, just as he likewise lays it down that our “seed” is called in Isaac.[9]  If you are “of the free woman,” and belong to Isaac, he, at all events, maintained unity of marriage to the last.

These accordingly, I suppose, are they in whom my origin is counted.  All others I ignore.  And if I glance around at their examples—(examples) of some David heaping up marriages for himself even through sanguinary means, of some Solomon rich in wives as well as in other riches—you are bidden to “follow the better things;”[10] and you have withal Joseph but once wedded, and on this score I venture to say better than his father; you have Moses, the intimate eye-witness of God;[11] you have Aaron the chief priest.  The second Moses, also, of the second People, who led our representatives into the (possession of) the promise of God, in whom the Name (of Jesus) was first inaugurated, was no digamist.


  1. See Matt. xxiii. 9.
  2. 1 Cor. iv. 15, where it is διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου.
  3. Gal. iii. 7.
  4. This is an error.  Comp. Gen. xvi. with Gen. xvii.
  5. See Gal. iii. iv. and comp. Rom. iv.
  6. See Gen. xvii. 5.
  7. See Rom. iv. 11, 12, Gal. iii. 7; and comp. Matt. iii. 9; John viii. 39.
  8. See Gal. iv. 21–31.
  9. See vers. 28, 31.
  10. See Ps. xxxvii. 27 (in LXX. xxxvi. 27); 1 Pet. iii. 11; 3 John 11.
  11. Dei de proximo arbitrum.  See Num. xii. 6–8; Deut. xxxiv. 10.