Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Tertullian: Part Fourth/On Monogamy/Chapter 7

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Monogamy
by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Chapter 7
155814Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Tertullian: Part Fourth, On Monogamy — Chapter 7Sydney ThelwallTertullian

Chapter VII.—From Patriarchal, Tertullian Comes to Legal, Precedents.

After the ancient examples of the patriarchs, let us equally pass on to the ancient documents of the legal Scriptures, that we may treat in order of all our canon.  And since there are some who sometimes assert that they have nothing to do with the law (which Christ has not dissolved, but fulfilled),[1] sometimes catch at such parts of the law as they choose; plainly do we too assert that the law has deceased in this sense, that its burdens—according to the sentence of the apostles—which not even the fathers were able to sustain,[2] have wholly ceased:  such (parts), however, as relate to righteousness not only permanently remain reserved, but even amplified; in order, to be sure, that our righteousness may be able to redound above the righteousness of the scribes and of the Pharisees.[3]  If “righteousness” must, of course chastity must too.  If, then, forasmuch as there is in the law a precept that a man is to take in marriage the wife of his brother if he have died without children,[4] for the purpose of raising up seed to his brother; and this may happen repeatedly to the same person, according to that crafty question of the Sadducees;[5] men for that reason think that frequency of marriage is permitted in other cases as well:  it will be their duty to understand first the reason of the precept itself; and thus they will come to know that that reason, now ceasing, is among those parts of the law which have been cancelled.  Necessary it was that there should be a succession to the marriage of a brother if he died childless:  first, because that ancient benediction, “Grow and multiply,”[6] had still to run its course; secondly, because the sins of the fathers used to be exacted even from the sons;[7] thirdly, because eunuchs and barren persons used to be regarded as ignominious.  And thus, for fear that such as had died childless, not from natural inability, but from being prematurely overtaken by death, should be judged equally accursed (with the other class); for this reason a vicarious and (so to say) posthumous offspring used to be supplied them.  But (now), when the “extremity of the times” has cancelled (the command) “Grow and multiply,” since the apostles (another command), “It remaineth, that both they who have wives so be as if they have not,” because “the time is compressed;”[8] and “the sour grape” chewed by “the fathers” has ceased “to set the sons’ teeth on edge,”[9] for, “each one shall die in his own sin;” and “eunuchs” not only have lost ignominy, but have even deserved grace, being invited into “the kingdoms of the heavens:”[10]  the law of succeeding to the wife of a brother being buried, its contrary has obtained—that of not succeeding to the wife of a brother.  And thus, as we have said before, what has ceased to be valid, on the cessation of its reason, cannot furnish a ground of argument to another.  Therefore a wife, when her husband is dead, will not marry; for if she marry, she will of course be marrying (his) brother:  for “all we are brethren.”[11]  Again, the woman, if intending to marry, has to marry “in the Lord;”[12] that is, not to an heathen, but to a brother, inasmuch as even the ancient law forbids[13] marriage with members of another tribe.  Since, moreover, even in Leviticus there is a caution, “Whoever shall have taken (his) brother’s wife, (it) is uncleanness—turpitude; without children shall (he) die;”[14] beyond doubt, while the man is prohibited from marrying a second time, the woman is prohibited too, having no one to marry except a brother.  In what way, then, an agreement shall be established between the apostle and the Law (which he is not impugning in its entirety), shall be shown when we shall have come to his own epistle.  Meantime, so far as pertains to the law, the lines of argument drawn from it are more suitable for us (than for our opponents).  In short, the same (law) prohibits priests from marrying a second time.  The daughter also of a priest it bids, if widowed or repudiated, if she have had no seed, to return into her father’s home and be nourished from his bread.[15]  The reason why (it is said), “If she have had no seed,” is not that if she have she may marry again—for how much more will she abstain from marrying if she have sons?—but that, if she have, she may be “nourished” by her son rather than by her father; in order that the son, too, may carry out the precept of God, “Honour father and mother.”[16]  Us, moreover, Jesus, the Father’s Highest and Great Priest,[17] clothing us from His own store[18]—inasmuch as they “who are baptized in Christ[19] have put on Christ”—has made “priests to God His Father,”[20] according to John.  For the reason why He recalls that young man who was hastening to his father’s obsequies,[21] is that He may show that we are called priests by Him; (priests) whom the Law used to forbid to be present at the sepulture of parents:[22]  “Over every dead soul,” it says, “the priest shall not enter, and over his own father and over his own mother he shall not be contaminated.”  “Does it follow that we too are bound to observe this prohibition?”  No, of course.  For our one Father, God, lives, and our mother, the Church; and neither are we dead who live to God, nor do we bury our dead, inasmuch as they too are living in Christ.  At all events, priests we are called by Christ; debtors to monogamy, in accordance with the pristine Law of God, which prophesied at that time of us in its own priests.

Footnotes edit

  1. See Matt. v. 17.
  2. See Acts xv. 10.
  3. See Matt. v. 20.
  4. Deut. xxv. 5, 6.
  5. See Matt. xxii. 23–33; Mark xii. 18–27; Luke xx. 26–38.  Comp. ad Ux., l. i.
  6. Gen. i. 28.  Comp. de Ex. Cast., c. vi.
  7. See Ex. xx. 5; and therefore there must be sons begotten from whom to exact them.
  8. Comp. de Ex. Cast., c. vi.
  9. See Jer. xxxi. 29, 30 (in LXX. xxxviii. 29, 30); Ezek. xviii. 1–4.
  10. Matt. xix. 12, often quoted.
  11. Matt. xxiii. 8.
  12. 1 Cor. vii. 39.
  13. “Adimit;” but the two mss. extant of this treatise read “admittit” =admits.
  14. Lev. xx. 21, not exactly given.
  15. Lev. xxii. 13, where there is no command to her to return, in the Eng. ver.:  in the LXX. there is.
  16. Ex. xx. 12 in brief.
  17. Summus sacerdos et magnus patris.  But Oehler notices a conjecture of Jos. Scaliger, “agnus patris,” when we must unite “the High Priest and Lamb of the Father.”
  18. De suo.  Comp. de Bapt., c. xvii., ad fin.; de Cult. Fem., l. i. c. v., l. ii. c. ix.; de Ex. Cast., c. iii. med.; and for the ref. see Rev. iii. 18.
  19. Gal. iii. 27; where it is εἰς Χριστόν, however.
  20. See Rev. i. 6.
  21. Matt. viii. 21, 22; Luke ix. 59, 60.
  22. Lev. xxi. 11.