From the Law Tertullian Comes to the Gospel He Begins with Examples Before Proceeding to Dogmas.
Turning now to the law, which is properly ours -- that is, to the Gospel -- by what kind of examples are we met, until we come to definite dogmas? Behold, there immediately present themselves to us, on the threshold as it were, the two priestesses of Christian sanctity, Monogamy and Continence: one modest, in Zechariah the priest; one absolute, in John the forerunner: one appeasing God; one preaching Christ: one proclaiming a perfect priest; one exhibiting "more than a prophet," [639] -- him, namely, who has not only preached or personally pointed out, but even baptized Christ. For who was more worthily to perform the initiatory rite on the body of the Lord, than flesh similar in kind to that which conceived and gave birth to that (body)? And indeed it was a virgin, about to marry once for all after her delivery, who gave birth to Christ, in order that each title of sanctity might be fulfilled in Christ's parentage, by means of a mother who was both virgin, and wife of one husband. Again, when He is presented as an infant in the temple, who is it who receives Him into his hands? who is the first to recognise Him in spirit? A man "just and circumspect," and of course no digamist, (which is plain) even (from this consideration), lest (otherwise) Christ should presently be more worthily preached by a woman, an aged widow, and "the wife of one man;" who, living devoted to the temple, was (already) giving in her own person a sufficient token what sort of persons ought to be the adherents to the spiritual temple, -- that is, the Church. Such eye-witnesses the Lord in infancy found; no different ones had He in adult age. Peter alone do I find -- through (the mention of) his "mother-in-law" [640] , -- to have been married. Monogamist I am led to presume him by consideration of the Church, which, built upon him, [641] was destined to appoint every grade of her Order from monogamists. The rest, while I do not find them married, I must of necessity understand to have been either eunuchs or continent. Nor indeed, if, among the Greeks, in accordance with the carelessness of custom, women and wives are classed under a common name -- however, there is a name proper to wives -- shall we therefore so interpret Paul as if he demonstrates the apostles to have had wives? [642] For if he were disputing about marriages, as he does in the sequel, where the apostle could better have named some particular example, it would appear right for him to say, "For have we not the power of leading about wives, like the other apostles and Cephas?" But when he subjoins those (expressions) which show his abstinence from (insisting on) the supply of maintenance, saying, "For have we not the power of eating and drinking?" he does not demonstrate that "wives" were led about by the apostles, whom even such as have not still have the power of eating and drinking; but simply "women," who used to minister to them in the same way (as they did) when accompanying the Lord. [643] But further, if Christ reproves the scribes and Pharisees, sitting in the official chair of Moses, but not doing what they taught, [644] what kind of (supposition) is it that He Himself withal should set upon His own official chair men who were mindful rather to enjoin -- (but) not likewise to practise -- sanctity of the flesh, which (sanctity) He had in all ways recommended to their teaching and practising? -- first by His own example, then by all other arguments; while He tells (them) that "the kingdom of heavens" is "children's;" [645] while He associates with these (children) others who, after marriage, remained (or became) virgins;" [646] while He calls (them) to (copy) the simplicity of the dove, a bird not merely innocuous, but modest too, and whereof one male knows one female; while He denies the Samaritan woman's (partner to be) a husband, that He may show that manifold husbandry is adultery; [647] while, in the revelation of His own glory, He prefers, from among so many saints and prophets, to have with him Moses and Elias [648] -- the one a monogamist, the other a voluntary celibate (for Elias was nothing else than John, who came "in the power and spirit of Elias" [649] ); while that "man gluttonous and toping," the "frequenter of luncheons and suppers, in the company of publicans and sinners," [650] sups once for all at a single marriage, [651] though, of course, many were marrying (around Him); for He willed to attend (marriages) only so often as (He willed) them to be.


[639] See Matthew 11:9; Luke 7:26.

[640] See Mark 1:29, 30.

[641] See Matthew 16:13-19. Comp. de Pu., c. xxi.

[642] See 1 Corinthians 9:1-5.

[643] See Luke 8:1-3; Matthew 27:55, 56.

[644] Matthew 23:1-3.

[645] See Matthew 18:1-4; xix. 13-15; Mark 10:13-15.

[646] Alios post nuptias pueros. The reference seems to be to Matthew 19:12.

[647] See John 4:16-18.

[648] See Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36.

[649] See Luke 1:17.

[650] See Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34.

[651] See John 2:1-11.

chapter vii from patriarchal tertullian comes
Top of Page
Top of Page