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ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS

CHAPTER I

THE character of the present times calls upon
us to bear in mind that the heresies around us
ought not to occasion wonder either at their exist-
ence—for they were foretold as bound to exist,1 or
that they subvert the faith of some—for they exist
for the very purpose of giving an opportunity to
faith, through suffering trial, of being approved.

It is therefore due to a want of heed and reflection
that many are offended by the mere fact that
heresies have so much power. How much would
they have if they did not exist ? 2 When anything
is destined in any case to be, its being has behind
it an irresistible cause, and then this cause of its
existence makes it evident that it is impossible for
it not to exist.

1 Matt. vii. 15; xxiv. 4, 11, 24; Acts xx. 24 f.; 1 Tim.
iv. 1 f.; 2 Pet. ii. 1. In 1 Cor. xi. 19 St. Paul was probably
quoting definite words of Christ; see Knowling, Witness of
the Epistles,
p. 119.

2 A Tertullianesque paradox. The non-existence of
heresies would falsify the predictions of Scripture.

35


36 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER II

IN the case of fever, for example, to which its
own place is assigned amongst other deadly and
excruciating calamities for the destruction of man,
we do not wonder at its existence, for it does
exist; or that it destroys man, for it exists for that
purpose. Similarly in the case of heresies, which
are engendered for the weakening and destruction
of faith, if we are struck with amazement that they
have this power, we may just as well feel amaze-
ment that they exist; since as long as they exist
they have power, and as long as they have power
they have being.

Again, in the case of fever, rather than wonder
at it we loathe it as an evil, recognized as such
both from the reason of its existence and from its
power; and so far as we can we take precautions
against it, since we have not the power to annihilate
it. Yet in the case of heresies, which inflict eternal
death and the burning of a keener fire, some
persons prefer to wonder that heresies have such
power rather than to avoid their power when they
have the power to avoid it. Heresies would not
prevail a whit if men would cease to wonder at
their prevailing so greatly. For either whilst men
are wondering, they lay themselves open to an
occasion of stumbling, or because they are being
tempted to stumble, they wonder on that account,
fancying that the great power of heresies arose
from some truth that they possess. As though it
were wonderful, forsooth, that evil should have
any strength of its own. Yet it is to be observed


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 37

that heresies prevail chiefly with those who are
not valiant in the Faith.

In a contest of boxers or gladiators, in very many
cases a competitor wins the victory not because
he is strong or insuperable, but because the defeated
one was a man of no power; and hence that same
victor, when subsequently matched against a really
strong man, is himself overcome and retires. Just
in the same way heresies owe all their power to
men's weaknesses, and are powerless when they
assail a really strong faith.

CHAPTER III

IT is, indeed, not unusual for this weaker class of
men to be edified1 to their own ruin through
reliance on certain persons who have been ensnared
by heresy. Why is it, they argue, that this woman
or that man, most faithful, prudent and experienced
persons in the Church, have gone over to the other
side? Does not such a questioner himself supply
the answer ? Those whom heresy has been able
to pervert ought not to have been accounted
prudent, or faithful, or experienced. Besides, is it
anything so extraordinary for one who has been
approved afterwards to fall away again ? Saul,
good-hearted beyond the rest, was afterwards over-
thrown by envy.2 David, a man good after the
Lord's heart,3 was afterwards guilty of murder and

1 Tertullian copies St. Paul's ironical oxymoron in 1 Cor.
viii. 10.

2 1 Sam. xviii. 7 ff.

3 1 Sam. xiii. 14. But it should be noted that in the
Hebrew the phrase "after His own heart" qualifies the verb,


38 TERTULLIAN

adultery. Solomon, gifted with every grace and
wisdom by the Lord,1 was won over to idolatry
by women.2 For the Son of GOD alone was it
reserved to continue without fault.3 What then
if a bishop, or a deacon, or a widow,4 or a virgin,
or a doctor,5 or even a confessor shall have lapsed
from the Rule of Faith; are heresies on that account
to be regarded as maintaining the Truth ? Do we
test the Creed by persons or persons by the Creed ?
No one save a Christian is wise, faithful and high
in honour; but no one is a Christian save he who
shall have endured to the end.6 Thou, being a
man, knowest each one from without. Thou
judgest from what thou seest, yet thou seest only
as far as thine eyes permit thee. But "the eyes
of the Lord are high," saith the Scripture.7 "Man
looketh upon the outward appearance, GOD looketh
upon the heart." 8 And for that reason the Lord


not the object. "Yhvh after his own mind [ = uninfluenced
by human motives] hath sought a man." Acts xiii. 22 gives
a midrashic paraphrase.

1 I King's iii. 12 ; iv. 29.

2 1 Kings xi. 4 ff.

3 1 Pet. ii. 22.

4 For the early institution of the Order of Widows, see
1 Tim. v. 9; Apost. Const. II, 36; III, 7.

5 In the North African Church the special duty of the
"doctores," who might be Readers, Deacons or Presbyters,
was the instruction of the Catechumens.

6 Matt. x. 22.

7 Tertullian often quotes Scripture very loosely, sometimes
giving the sense, sometimes weaving together several texts,
as in the immediately following sentences. Other instances
will be found in Chaps. VII, VIII, XI; Apol. 33. The
present quotation has been thought to refer to 4 Esdras
viii. 20; cp. Jer. xvi. 17; xxxii. 19.

8 1 Sam, xvi. 7.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 39

seeth and knoweth who are His.1 The slip that
He hath not set He rooteth up.2 He shows that
"there shall be last from those that are first," 3 and
He carries "a fan in His hand to purge His
threshing-floor." 4 Let the chaff of a fickle faith
fly forth as it wills with every blast of temptation : 5
so will the bulk of the grain be purer which is to
be stored in the garner of the Lord. Did not some
of the disciples, being offended, turn away from
the Lord Himself ? 6 Nevertheless the rest did not
think that for that reason they too ought to depart
from His footsteps. Those who knew Him to be
the Word of Life and to have come forth from
GOD 7 continued in His company even to the end,
after He had calmly confronted them with the
question whether they also were willing to go
away.8 It is of less moment that men like Phygelus
and Hermogenes 9 and Philetus and Hymenaeus 10
deserted the Apostles : the very betrayer of Christ
was of the Apostles.

We make it a matter of wonder if Christ's
Churches are sometimes deserted; whereas the
very things which we suffer after the example of
Christ show that we are Christians. "They went
out from us," says the Apostle,11 "but they were
not of us. If they had been of us, they would
certainly have continued with us."

1 2 Tim. ii. 19.

2 Matt. xv. 13.

3 Luke xiii. 30.

4 Matt. iii. 12.

5 Eph. iv. 14.

6 John vi. 60 ff.

7 John xvi. 30.

8 John vi. 67.

9 2 Tim. i. 15.

10 2 Tim. ii. 17.

11 I John ii. 19.


40 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER IV

LET us rather be mindful both of the statements
of the Lord 1 and of the Apostolic Letters 2 which
foretold to us that heresies should be, and enjoined
that they should be avoided; and as we are not
dumbfounded at their existence, so let us not
wonder that they possess that power which makes
it necessary for them to be avoided.

The Lord taught that many ravening wolves
would come in sheep's clothing. And what is
sheep's clothing but the outward profession of the
Christian name ? 3 What are the ravening wolves
but crafty intentions and dispositions lurking
within to molest the flock of Christ ? Who are
false prophets but false preachers ? Who are false
Apostles but spurious evangelizers ? Who are the
Antichrists now and ever but the rebels against
Christ ? There are, through wilfulness of teach-
ings, heresies assailing the Church; at the present
time no less than in the future will Antichrist
attack her by cruelty of persecutions, only there
is this difference: persecution makes martyrs,
heresy only apostates. And therefore it was neces-
sary that there should be heresies, in order that
those who are approved might be made manifest—
meaning both those who shall have stood fast in
times of persecution and those who shall not have
strayed away to heresies. For the Apostle does

1 Matt. vii. 15; xxiv. 4, 11, 24.

2 1 Cor. xi. 19; 1 Tim. iv. 1 f. ; 2 Pet. ii. 1.

3 This passage evidently suggested Vincent of Lerins'
Common. 25, 66,


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 41

not wish those to be accounted approved who
change the Faith into heresy; as they perversely
interpret his words in their own favour, because
he said in another place,1 "Prove all things, hold
fast that which is good." As if it were not
possible after proving all things amiss to fasten
through error upon the choice of some evil.

CHAPTER V

BESIDES, when he rebukes dissensions and
schisms which are undoubted evils, he immediately
adds "heresies"2 also. That which he adjoins to
evil things he assuredly confesses to be an evil,
and indeed'a greater evil, since he says he believed
concerning their dissensions and schisms, because
he knew that heresies moreover must be. He
showed that in view of the greater evil he easily
believed about the lighter evils: certainly not
meaning that he thus believed concerning the evils,
because heresies were good, but to forewarn them
not to marvel about temptations of a worse char-
acter, which, he asserted, tended to make manifest
those who were approved, that is, those whom
heresies could not pervert. Similarly, since the
whole section savours of the preservation of unity
and the restraint of divisions, whilst heresies
divorce from unity no less than schisms and dissen-
'sions, undoubtedly he includes heresies in that
same category of blame in which he also places
schisms and dissensions; and hence he does make

1 1 Thess, v. 21.

2 1 Cor. xi, 18, 19.


42 TERTULLIAN

those to be approved who have turned aside to
heresies, since he pointedly exhorts men to turn
away from such, and teaches all to speak one thing
and to be minded the selfsame way 1—an ideal
which heresy does not allow.

CHAPTER VI

WE need not dwell longer on this point, since
it is the same Paul who also in another place, when
writing to the Galatians,2 classes heresies among
carnal sins, and who warns Titus3 that a man that
is an heretic must be avoided after the first admoni-
tion,4 because he that is such has become perverted
and sins, being self-condemned. Moreover, also
in nearly every Epistle, when enjoining the neces-
sity of fleeing false doctrines, he indicates heresies.
For false doctrines are the production of heresies :
heresies being so-called from a Greek word which
signifies the "choice" which any one makes when
introducing or adopting them.5 And it is for this
reason that he calls a heretic self-condemned,
because he chose for himself that wherein he is
condemned. For us, however, it is not lawful to

1 1 Cor. i. 10.                          2 Gal. v. 20.

3 Titus iii. 10.

4 The Latin version of the New Testament used by
Tertullian omitted " et alteram."

5 Ai3resij. This is the true definition of heresy. Etymo-
logically it is self-willed choice, in contrast to the receptive
docility of the Catholic temper : practically it is the invention
or espousal of new and erroneous teaching contrary to the
tradition handed down by the Apostles and Apostolic
Churches from Christ. Cp. Chaps. XIV, XXXVII; Apol. 47.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 43

introduce anything on our own authority, nor to
choose that which any one else has similarly intro-
duced. We have the Apostles of the Lord as our
authorities, who not even themselves chose to
introduce anything on their own authority, but
faithfully handed on to the nations the rule received
from Christ. Consequently, if even an angel from
heaven preached otherwise, he would be called
anathema by us.1 Already at that time had the
Holy Spirit perceived that there would be an
angel of deceit in a certain virgin Philumena,2
transforming himself into an angel of light;3 by
whose signs and deceptions Apelles,4 being led
away, introduced a new heresy.

CHAPTER VII

THESE are the doctrines of men and of daemons,5
generated for itching ears6 by the ingenuity of
that worldly wisdom which the Lord called foolish-
ness, and chose the foolish things 7 of the world
to confound even philosophy itself. For philo-

1 Gal. i. 8.

2 A virgin to whom Apelles attached himself, believing
her to be inspired by an angel and endowed with miraculous
powers. Her utterances were the source of several of his
tenets, and he wrote a book of "Revelations" at her dicta-
tion. See Chap. XXX, de carne Chr. 6. She seems to have
been a clairvoyante.

3 2 Cor. xi. 14.

4 Apelles was the most famous of Marcion's disciples, born
early in the second century. See note below on Chap. XXX.

5 1 Tim. iv. 1.                                             6 2 Tim. iv, 3.

7 1 Cor. 1. 27; iii. 19.


44 TERTULLIAN

sophy is the theme of worldly wisdom, that rash
interpreter of the Divine Nature and Order. And
in fact, heresies are themselves equipped by philo-
sophy. Thence come Valentinus' "aeons" and
I know not what infinite "ideas" and "trinity of
man." 1 He was a Platonist. Thence, too, the
"better GOD" of Marcion,2 so-called because of
his tranquillity. He came from the Stoics. And
when the soul is affirmed to perish,3 that is a tenet
taken from the Epicureans. And when the
restoration of the flesh is denied, that is assumed
from the uniform teaching of all the philosophers.
And when matter is identified with GOD, that is the
doctrine of Zeno.4 And when any statement is
made about a fiery god,5 Heracleitus comes in.
The same themes are pondered by heretics and
philosophers : the same subjects of consideration
are involved—Whence came evil, and why? and
Whence came man, and how? and—a question
lately propounded by Valentinus—Whence came
GOD? From Desire,6 forsooth, and an Abortion.

1 See below, Chap. XXXIII.

2 The Supreme GOD of pure benevolence, in Marcion's
system; not the Creator, the "just" or "severe" GOD of
the Old Testament. Cp. Justin Mart., Apol. I, 26. See
below on Chap. XXX.

3 The tenet of Marcion's disciple Lucanus : de res. carn. 2.

4 The eternity of matter was a tenet of Hermogenes :
adv. Herm. 4. Zeno taught that the universe was the
essential being of GOD : Diog. Laert. VII, 148.

5 Apelles' Creator and Old Testament Deity was a fiery
god or angel, a notion derived from Exod. iii. 2.

6 'Enqu&mhsij was the "Animatio" or "Desire" of the
"Higher Sophia" in the Valentinian system, and being a
formless abortion, e1ktrwma, was driven forth from the
Pleroma. From her was derived the Demiurge, or God
of mankind.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 45

Wretched Aristotle ! who established for them the
dialectic art, so ingenious in the construction and
refutation of propositions, so crafty in statements,
so forced in hypotheses, so inflexible in arguments,
so laborious in disputes, so damaging even to itself,
always reconsidering everything, so that it never
treats thoroughly of anything at all.

Hence come those fables and endless gene-
alogies,1 and profitless questions, and words which
spread like a cancer; in restraining us from which
the Apostle expressly mentions philosophy as that
which we ought to beware of, writing to the
Colossians,2 "Take heed lest any one beguile you
through philosophy or vain deceit, according to
the tradition of men," beyond the providence of the
Holy Spirit. The Apostle had been at Athens,
and in his argumentative encounters there had
become acquainted with that human wisdom which
affects and corrupts the Truth, itself also being
many times divided into its own heresies by the
variety of its mutually antagonistic sects.

What then hath Athens in common with
Jerusalem ? What hath the Academy in common
with the Church ? 3 What have heretics in common
with Christians ? Our principles are from the
"Porch" of Solomon,4 who himself handed down
that the Lord must be sought in simplicity of

1 1 Tim. i. 4; Titus iii. 9; 2 Tim. ii. 17, 23.

2 Col. ii. 8.

3 Tertullian models his queries on those of St. Paul, 2 Cor.
vi. 14 ff. On this attitude of the Karthaginian School, see
the Introduction, p. viii.

4 Solomon's Porch, i. e. the teaching of Christ and His
Apostles: John x. 23; Acts iii. 2; v. 12. The implied
contrast is to the Porch of Zeno.


46 TERTULLIAN

heart.1 Away with those who bring forward a
Stoic or Platonic or dialectic Christianity. We
have no need of speculative inquiry after we have
known Christ Jesus; nor of search for the Truth
after we have received the Gospel. When we
become believers, we have no desire to believe
anything besides; for the first article of our belief
is that there is nothing besides which we ought to
believe.

CHAPTER VIII

AND so I come to that sentence which our own
members bring forward to justify speculative
inquiry, and which heretics also urge as a reason
for introducing restless hesitancy. It is written,2
they say, "Seek and ye shall find."3

Now let us call to mind when it was that the
Lord uttered these words. It was surely at the very
beginning of His teaching, when as yet all were
in doubt whether He were the Christ; when as
yet Peter had not pronounced Him to be the Son
of GoD,4 when even John had ceased to be certain
about Him.5 Rightly therefore at that time was the
injunction given, "Seek and ye shall find," when

1 Wisdom, i. 1.

2 On the abuse of this formula by heretics, see Vincent of
Lerins' Common. XXVI, 69.

3 Matt. vii. 7; Luke xi. 9.

4 Matt. xvi. 14 ff.

5 Matt. xi. 2 ; Luke xii. 18; the various patristic inter-
pretations of John the Baptist's question are collected in the
Oxf. Litr. Fathers ad hoc.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 47

as yet He had to be sought Who was not yet
recognized.1

Besides, this saying was only for the Jews. For
the whole purport of that admonition was directed
to those who had in their possession the sources
whence to seek the Christ. "They have Moses
and Elias,"2 it says, that is, the Law and the
Prophets which proclaim the Christ. Similarly in
another place also expressly, "Search the Scrip-
tures in which ye hope for salvation, for they
speak of Me." 3 And this will be the meaning of
"Seek and ye shall find."

For it is plain that what follows is also pertinent
to the Jews: "Knock and it shall be opened to
you." The Jews had in times past been within
the household of GOD; but afterwards, when
rejected on account of their transgressions, they
began to be apart from GOD. Whereas the nations
were never within GOD'S household: they were
nothing more than "a drop from a bucket and dust
from a threshing-floor," 4 and were always outside
the door. How then shall one who has ever been
outside knock where he has never been ? What
door is he acquainted with whereat he has never
been either received or rejected ? Is it not rather
one who knows that he has once been within and
has been turned out, who knocks and recognizes the
door?

1 In this interpretation of the words Tertullian deserts
Clement of Alexandria, whom he elsewhere often follows
(see an article by Noldechen in the Jahrb. f. protest.
Theologie,
XII, 279). Clement applies the injunction to
urge the Christian's advance in knowledge: Strom. I, 51.

2 Luke xvi. 29; an instance of careless quotation.

3 John v. 39.                                            4 Isa. xl. 15


48 TERTULLIAN

Likewise, ''Ask and ye shall receive"1 is
relevant to the case of one who is aware to Whom
request must be made and by Whom something
has been promised, namely, by the GOD of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Whose Person the
nations had no more knowledge than they had
of any promises of His. And therefore He said
with reference to Israel, "I have not been sent but
to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 2 Not
yet had He cast the children's bread to the dogs;
not yet was He bidding them to go into the way
of the nations.3 It was only at the last that He
commanded them to go and teach and baptize the
nations4 when they were on the point of receiving
the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, Who would guide
them into all Truth.5 This therefore also supports
our interpretation. Moreover, if the Apostles, the
destined teachers of the nations, were themselves
about to receive the Paraclete as their teacher, the
injunction, "Seek and ye shall find" was still less
applicable to our case; for the doctrine was about
to come to us without research through the Apostles
as to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. All
the Lord's sayings, indeed, which have come to
us through the ears of the Jews have been set down
for all; but many of them, addressed to particular
classes of persons, only possess for us the character
of example, not of injunction.

1 John xvi. 24. Tertullian frequently confuses this verse
with Matt. vii. 7, which he evidently meant to quote here.

2 Matt. xv. 24.                              3 Matt. x. 5.

4 Matt, xxviii. 19.                          5 John xvi. 13.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 49

CHAPTER IX

Now I am going to grant you your point volun-
tarily. I will admit, for the sake of argument, that
the words "Seek and ye shall find" were addressed
to all. Yet even this view is bound to clash with
any reasonable rule of interpretation. For no
Divine word is so unqualified or so unlimited in
its application that the words alone can be used
in argument and their real purport be disregarded.

But among first principles I lay this down : that
there was a one and definite Truth taught by
Christ, which the nations are bound by every
means to believe, and therefore to seek, so that
when they have found it they may believe it. Yet
surely an indefinite search for a single and definite
teaching is impossible. Thou must seek until thou
findest, and thou must believe when thou hast
found. And then nothing more remains for thee
to do, save to keep what thou hast believed—pro-
vided that thou believest also that there is nothing
else to be believed, and therefore nothing remains
to be sought for, since thou hast found and believed
what was taught by Him Who bids thee seek for
nothing beyond that which He taught.

And if any one is in uncertainty what this is,
it will be established that Christ's teaching is to be
found with us. And for the moment, out of con-
fidence in my proof, I anticipate it, and admonish
certain persons that nothing must be sought
beyond what they believe to be the proper objects
of their search, lest they interpret "Seek and ye
shall find " without strict regard to its real purport.


50 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER X

Now the true purport of this saying is to be
found in three points—in the matter, in the time,
and in the limitation. In the matter, for thou
must consider what is to be sought; in the time,
when thou must seek it; and in the limitation,
how long. It follows that that is to be sought
which Christ taught, just so long as thou findest
not, and until thou findest. But thou didst find
when thou didst believe. For thou hadst not
believed unless thou hadst found, just as thou
wouldst not have sought except that thou mightest
find. The very object of thy seeking was to find,
and the result of thy finding was to believe. Any
further extension of seeking and finding was put
an end to by thy believing. The very issue of thy
search brought about this restriction for thee. This
limit has been fixed for thee by Him Himself Who
wills thee neither to believe nor to seek anything
beyond what He taught.

If, however, we ought to seek in proportion as
we are able to find, because so many varying
doctrines have been taught by different persons,
we shall be for ever seeking and never believing
at all. For where will be the end of seeking?
Where the resting-place of belief ? Where the ful-
filment of finding? With Marcion ? 1 But Valen-
tinus also enunciates "Seek and ye shall find."
With Valentinus, then ? But Apelles too will attack
me with this same injunction; and Ebion2 and

1 See below, Chap. XXXIII.

2 Tertullian evolved a person and a surname from the


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 51

Simon 1 and all one after another who have no
other means of ingratiating themselves with me
and winning me over to their party. And so I
shall be nowhere ! whilst I am met on all sides with
"Seek and ye shall find"; just as if I were
nowhere—as though I were one who had never
apprehended, what Christ taught, what ought to
be sought, what ought to be believed.

CHAPTER XI

ONE may safely wander, if one does not go
wrong; although, indeed, to wander is to go
wrong; but I mean that he who deserts nothing
may safely go astray. Yet surely if I believed
what I ought to believe, and still think there is
something else to be sought anew, hoping of course
that there is something to be found, this hope is
due to nothing else than either my never having
believed really when I seemed to believe, or to my
having ceased to believe. And so in deserting my
faith I am found to be the denier of it.

Let me say once for all: No one seeks save he
who either has not possessed or has lost his posses-
sion. The old woman 2 had lost one of her ten
drachmae, and therefore she was seeking it; yet as
soon as she found it she stopped her search. The
neighbour3 had no bread, and therefore he was


self-assumed title, ' Ebionites " ("The Poor"), of a sect who
claimed to be the true representatives of those who had
received the Lord's benediction : Luke vi. 20; cp. Matt. x. 3.
See further in Chap. XXXIII.

1 Simon Magus, Acts viii. 9 ff.; see below, Chap. XXXII1.

2 Luke xv. 8.                                       3 Ib. xi. 5.


52 TERTULLIAN

knocking; yet as soon as the door was opened to
him and he received the bread, he ceased to knock.
The widow 1 was asking to be heard by the judge,
because she was not granted an audience; yet as
soon as she was heard, she no longer persisted.
There is therefore a limit to seeking and knocking
and asking. "For to him that asketh it shall be
given, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened,
and by him that seeketh it shall be found." Away
with the man who is ever seeking because he does
not find ! for he is seeking in a place where he will
not find. Away with the man who is ever knock-
ing because it will never be opened to him ! for
he is knocking where no one is. Away with the
man who is ever asking because he will never be
heard ! for he is asking from one who does not
hear.

CHAPTER XII

BUT even supposing that we ought to be seeking
now and ever, where ought the search to be made ?
Amongst the heretics, where everything is strange
and antagonistic to our truth, and whom we are
forbidden to approach ? What slave looks for his
food from a stranger, let alone his master's enemy ?
What soldier seeks to obtain largess and pay from
unallied, let alone hostile, kings—unless, indeed,
he be a deserter or a runaway or a rebel ? Even
the old woman spoken of was looking for the
drachma within her own house; even the man who
knocked was thumping his neighbour's door; even

1 Luke xviii. 2 ff.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 53

the widow was making her appeal, not to a hostile
albeit a harsh judge. It is impossible for any one
to receive instruction from the same quarter whence
destruction comes; it is impossible for any one
to be enlightened by that which darkens. Let us
make our search, therefore, in our own and from
our own and concerning our own; provided only
that nothing comes into question which attacks the
Rule of Faith.

CHAPTER XIII

Now the Rule of Faith 1—that we may here at
this point make our profession of what we maintain
—is unquestionably that wherein our belief is
affirmed that there is but ONE GOD, the Selfsame
with the Creator of the world, Who produced all
things out of nothing through His Word sent
down in the beginning of all things; that this
Word is called His Son, Who in the Name of
GOD was seen under divers forms by the patriarchs,
was ever heard in the prophets, and lastly was
brought down by the Spirit and Power of GOD
the Father into the Virgin Mary, became Flesh in
her womb, and being born of her lived as Jesus
Christ; that thereafter He proclaimed a new law
and a new promise of the Kingdom of Heaven,
wrought miracles, was crucified, and on the third
day rose again, was caught up into the heavens,
and sat down at the right hand of the Father; that
He sent the Vicarious Power of the Holy Spirit
to lead believers; that He will come with glory to

1 See the Introduction, p. x.


54 TERTULLIAN

take the saints into the enjoyment of life eternal
and of the heavenly promises, and to adjudge the
wicked to fire perpetual, after the resurrection of
both good and bad has taken place together with
the restoration of their flesh.1

This Rule, taught (as it will be proved) by Christ,
admits no questionings amongst us, save those
which heresies introduce and which make heretics.

CHAPTER XIV

Now, provided that the form of this Rule be
preserved in its own place, thou mayest seek and
discuss as much as thou pleasest, and pour forth
thy whole desire for curious inquiry if any point
seem to thee to be undetermined through ambiguity
or obscure from want of clearness. There is surely
some brother, a doctor gifted with the grace of
knowledge, some one amongst those well-skilled
ones who are intimate with thee, and like thyself
curious, who although like thyself a seeker will
know that it is better for thee in the end to be
ignorant, thus avoiding thy knowing what thou
oughtest not, since thou already knowest what
thou oughtest to know. "Thy faith," Christ said,2
"hath saved thee," not thy argumentative skill in
the Scriptures. Faith is posited in a Rule : it hath
a Law, and Salvation that cometh from the observ-
ance of the Law. But argumentative skill depends
upon curious inquiry, and possesses a fame derived

1 Tertullian's materialistic views of the soul naturally led
him to equally materialistic views of the resurrection body.

2 Luke xviii. 42.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 55

solely from zeal in practice. Let curiosity yield
to faith, let fame give place to salvation. At all
events let them cease to be a hindrance, or let
them be quiet. To know nothing contrary to the
Rule is to know everything. Suppose that heretics
were not the enemies of the Truth; suppose that
we were not forewarned to avoid them, yet what
kind of an action would it be to unite with men
who even themselves profess that they are still
seeking? If they are still truly seeking, they have
as yet found nothing certain, and therefore as long
as they go on seeking they display their own hesita-
tion about any tenets which they seem for the
moment to hold; And so if thou who art similarly
a seeker lookest to them who themselves are also
seekers—a man in doubt looking to others in doubt,
a man in uncertainty to others in like plight—blind
thyself, thou art bound to be led by the blind into
the ditch.1

But when for purposes of deceit they pretend to
be still seeking, in order craftily to recommend their
own views to us through an insinuation of dis-
quietude, and having approached us immediately
defend those points which they previously said
needed investigation, we are at once bound to
refute them so as to make them understand that
we are not deniers of Christ but of themselves.
For while they are still seeking they are not yet
holding, and since they are not holding they have
not yet believed, and since they have not yet
believed they are not yet Christians.

But, it may be objected, when they do really
hold and believe, they affirm the necessity of seek-

1 Matt. xv. 14.


56 TERTULLIAN

ing in order that they may be able to defend their
belief.

Then they actually deny it before they defend
it, since whilst they are seeking they confess that
they have not yet believed. How much more are
they not Christians to us who are not even so to
themselves. What kind of a faith do they argue
for who arrive at it by deceit ? To what truth
do they lend their countenance who introduce it
with a lie ?

But they themselves treat of the Scriptures and
argue out of the Scriptures. Of course; for
whence could they speak concerning the things
of the Faith save out of the literature of the
Faith ?

CHAPTER XV

WE come, then, to our main point; for to this
indeed we were steering, and for this we were
laying the preparatory foundation in our preceding
discourse. So that from this point onward we may
contest the ground on which our opponents make
their appeal. They make the Scriptures the ground
of their plea, and by this audacious stroke of theirs
immediately influence a certain number of persons.
Moreover, in the encounter itself, they weary even
the strong, they capture the weak, and the un-
decided they send away anxious. We therefore
make our strongest stand in maintaining that
they are not to be admitted to any discussion
of the Scriptures at all. If the Scriptures are to
be their source of strength, then the question


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 57

as to who are the rightful possessors of the
Scriptures must be gone into first, so as to prevent
their use by one who has no manner of right to
them.

CHAPTER XVI

I MIGHT be bringing forward this objection from
a want of confidence, or from a wish to enter upon
the case in dispute in a different manner from the
heretics, were not a reason to be found at the outset
in that our Faith owes obedience to the Apostle
who forbids us to enter into questionings, or to
lend our ears to novel sayings, or to associate with
a heretic after one admonition 1—he does not say
after discussion. Indeed, he forbade discussion by
fixing on admonition as the reason for meeting a
heretic. And he mentions this one admonition,
because a heretic is not a Christian, and to prevent
his appearing worthy of being, like a Christian,2
censured once and again in the presence of two
or three witnesses; since he is to be censured for
the same reason that he is not to be disputed with
—because argumentative contests about the Scrip-
tures profit nothing, save of course to upset the
stomach or the brain.

CHAPTER XVII

THIS or that heresy rejects certain of the Scrip-
tures, and those which it receives it perverts both

1 1 Tim. vi. 4; Titus iii. 10.                       2 Matt, xviii. 15.


58 TERTULLIAN

by additions and excisions to agree with its own
teaching. For even when it receives them it does
not receive them entire, and if it does in some
cases receive them entire, it none the less perverts
them by fabricating heterodox interpretations.1 A
spurious interpretation injures the Truth quite as
much as a tampered text. Baseless presumptions
naturally refuse to acknowledge the means of their
own refutation. They rely on passages which they
have fraudulently rearranged or received because
of their obscurity.2 What wilt thou effect, though
thou art most skilled in the Scriptures, if what thou
maintainest is rejected by the other side and what
thou rejectest is maintained ? Thou wilt indeed
lose nothing—save thy voice in the dispute; and
gain nothing—save indignation at the blasphemy.

1 Tertullian is here following Clement Alex. (Strom.
VII, 16), and this, I think, determines his meaning. He is
not referring to spurious scriptures, such as the Psalms of
Valentinus or the Phaneroseis of Apelles, but to the genuine
Scriptures, which some of the heretics mutilated or per-
verted. Clement's words are: "Though it be true that the
heretics also have the audacity to use the prophetic Scrip-
tures, yet in the first place they do not use them all, and in
the second place they do not use them in their entirety, nor
as the general frame and tissue of the prophecy suggest;
but picking out ambiguous phrases, they turn them to their
own opinions, plucking a few scattered utterances, without
considering what is intended by them, but perverting the
bare letter as it stands. For in almost all the passages
they employ you will find how they attend to the words
alone, while they change the meaning, neither understand-
ing them as they are spoken, nor even using in their natural
sense such extracts as they adduce." On the dishonest
neglect of the context of Scripture, see Vincent of Lerins'
Comm. xxv. 64 f. ; Cyprian, de unit. eccl. II.

2 The Marcionites mutilated, the rest explained them
away : Iren, III, 12, 12.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 59

CHAPTER XVIII

BUT the man for whose sake thou mayest have
entered into an argument from the Scriptures in
order to strengthen him when wavering, will he
incline more to the Truth or to heresies? Influ-
enced by the very fact that he sees thou hast
effected nothing, since each side possesses equal
vantage-ground in denial and assertion, and is
without doubt in a like position, he will go away
rendered still more uncertain by the discussion,
and not knowing which he is to adjudge the heresy.
For they themselves are naturally bound to retort
these charges upon us. They must necessarily
assert that the falsification of the Scriptures and
lying interpretations have been introduced by us,
because they equally maintain that the Truth is
with them.

CHAPTER XIX

APPEAL, therefore, must not be made to the
Scriptures, nor must the contest be carried on con-
cerning points where victory is impossible or
uncertain or too little uncertain. For even though
the discussion from the Scriptures should not so
result as to place each side in an equal position,
the order of things would demand that this point
should first be decided—the point which alone now
calls for discussion, namely : Who holds the Faith
to which the Scriptures belong ? From whom and
through whom, and when, and to whom was the


60 TERTULLIAN

doctrinal teaching delivered whereby men are made
Christians ? For wheresoever it shall appear that
the true Christian religion and faith exist, there
will be found the true Scriptures and interpretations
and all Christian traditions.

CHAPTER XX

CHRIST JESUS our Lord (may He allow me so
to speak for the moment), Whoever He is, of
whatever GOD the Son, of whatever substance Man
and GOD, of whatever Faith the Teacher, of what-
ever reward the Promiser, did, while he was living
on earth, Himself declare what He was, what He
had been, what was His Father's will which He
carried out, what was the duty of man that He laid
down, either openly to the people or privately to
His disciples, out of the number of whom He
had attached to Himself twelve special ones who
were destined to be the teachers of the nations.
Consequently, when one of them was struck off,
He bade the eleven remaining ones to go and teach
all nations, who were to be baptized into the Father
and into the Son and into the Holy Spirit.1 Imme-
diately, therefore, the Apostles (whose title denotes
their being sent), having added to their number
by lot a twelfth,2 Matthias, in the place of Judas,
on the authority of a prophecy in a Psalm of
David,3 and having obtained the promised power
of the Holy Spirit for miracles and for utterance,

1 Matt, xxviii. 19 f.                              2 Acts i. 20.

3 Ps. cix. 8.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 61

first throughout Judaea bore witness to the faith
in Christ Jesus; and, having founded Churches,
then went forth into the world and spread abroad
the same doctrine of the same Faith to the nations.
In like manner, too, they founded Churches in
every city, from which the rest of the Churches
hereafter have derived the transmission of their
faith and the seeds of their doctrine, and are daily
deriving them in order to become Churches.
Thus these Churches themselves are also reckoned
as Apostolic because they are the offspring of
Apostolic Churches. Every kind of thing must
necessarily be classed according to its origin.
Consequently these Churches, numerous and im-
portant as they are, form but the one Primitive
Church founded by the Apostles; from which source
they all derive. So that all are primitive and all
are Apostolic; whilst that all are in one Unity is
proved by the fellowship of peace and title of
brotherhood and common pledge of amity 1—privi-
leges which nothing governs but the one tradition
of the selfsame Bond of Faith.

CHAPTER XXI

ON this ground, therefore, we rule our limita-
tion that if the Lord Jesus Christ sent the Apostles

1 Contesseratio hospitalitalis. The contesseratio was their
unity of doctrine; see below, Chap. XXXVI, for the con-
tesseratio
between Rome and the African Churches. One
practical outcome of this was the hospitable entertainment
of ordinary laymen (who were provided by their bishop with
Letters of Communion) by their Christian brethren in every
part of the world : Sozom. V, 16.


62 TERTULLIAN

to preach, no others ought to be received as
preachers save those whom Christ appointed; since
no other knoweth the Father save the Son, and
He to whom the Son hath revealed Him.1 Nor
does the Son appear to have revealed Him to any
but the Apostles whom He sent to preach—surely
only what He revealed to them.

Now what they preached—that is, what Christ
revealed to them—I rule ought to be proved by
no other means than through the same Churches
which the Apostles themselves founded by preach-
ing to them viva voce, as men say, and afterwards
by Epistles. If this is so, it follows accordingly
that all doctrine which agrees with those Apostolic
Churches and original founts of Faith must be
reckoned for Truth, as preserving unquestionably
that which the Churches received from the
Apostles, and the Apostles from Christ, and Christ
from God; and, on the other hand, that all doctrine
which savours contrary to the Truth of the
Churches and of the Apostles of Christ and of
GOD, must be condemned at once as having its
origin in falsehood. It remains therefore for us
to show whether this our doctrine—the Rule of
which we have set forth above—is derived from the
tradition of the Apostles; and, as a deduction from
this, whether the other doctrines come of falsehood.

We are in communion with the Apostolic
Churches, a privilege which no diverse doctrine
enjoys. This is evidence of Truth.

1 Matt. xi. 27.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 63

CHAPTER XXII

BUT inasmuch as the proof is so easy that were
it immediately produced nothing would remain for
consideration, let us for the moment, supposing
we had no proof to produce, give place to our
opponents to see if they think they can set aside
this limitation.

They are wont to say that the Apostles did not
know all things; driven to this by the same mad-
ness which leads them to face about again and say
that the Apostles did indeed know all things but
did not deliver all things to all persons—in either
case exposing Christ to blame for sending out
Apostles with either too little preparation or too
little simplicity.

But who in his senses can believe that those men
were ignorant of anything, whom the Lord gave
to be teachers, keeping them close to Himself in
companionship,1 in discipleship, in society; to
whom He was accustomed to explain privately
whatever was obscure,2 saying that it was granted
to them to know hidden truths which the people
were not permitted to understand ? 3 Was anything
hidden from Peter who was called the Rock4 of

1 Mark iii. 14.                            2 Ib. iv. 34.

3 Matt. xiii. 11.

4 Ib. xvi. 18. Tertullian is not quite consistent in his
interpretation of this passage. Here and de monog. 8 and
de pud. 21 he makes St. Peter the rock, but adv. Marc.
IV, 13 the rock is Christ. The patristic exegesis of this
text often varied, even in the writings of the same father,
as the point of view varied. In a somewhat similar way
Christ is regarded by St. Paul sometimes as Himself the


64 TERTULLIAN

the Church which was to be built, who obtained
the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the
power of loosing and binding in Heaven and on
earth? Was anything hidden from John, the most
beloved of the Lord, who lay on His breast,1 to
whom alone the Lord beforehand pointed out
Judas the traitor, and whom He commended to
Mary as a son in His own place ? 2 Who can main-
tain that they were ignorant to whom He even
manifested His own glory, and Moses and Elijah,
and the voice of His Father from heaven?3 not as
though He were rejecting the other Apostles, but
because "by three witnesses shall every word be
established." 4 Then too, they must be ignorant
to whom after His Resurrection He deigned to
expound all the Scriptures in the way.5

True enough He did once say, " I have yet many
things to say to you, but ye cannot bear them
now " ; 6 adding, however, "When He, the Spirit of
Truth, shall have come, He will lead you into all
Truth." He shewed that they who, according to
His promise, should attain all Truth through the
Spirit of Truth, would be ignorant of nothing.

And surely He fulfilled His promise, for the


"foundation" of the Church (1 Cor. iii. 11), and sometimes
as the "corner stone," with the Apostles and Prophets as
the foundation (Eph. ii. 20). See Lightfoot, Clem. Rom.
II, 482 ff.

1 Hence the title of the Apostle o9 e0pisth&qioj : See Westcott on
John xiii. 25.

2 Ib. xix. 26.

3 Matt. xvii. 1 ff. ; Mark ix. 1 ff.; Luke ix. 28 ff.

4 Deut. xix. 15; Matt, xviii. 16; 2 Cor. xiii. 1.

5 Luke xxiv. 32.

6 John xvi. 13 f.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 65

Acts of the Apostles prove the descent of the Holy
Spirit.1 And those who do not receive this Scrip-
ture 2 are unable either to recognize that the Holy
Spirit has yet been sent to the disciples, or to
maintain that they themselves are the Church,
since they cannot prove when or with what origin
this body was founded. It is of vast importance
to them hot to produce the proofs of their position,
lest simultaneously the exposure of their falsehoods
should be obvious.

CHAPTER XXIII

FOR the purpose of scoffing at some ignorance
in the Apostles, the heretics bring forward the
point that Peter and his companions were blamed
by Paul. "Something therefore," say they, "was
lacking in them." They say this in order to build
up that other contention of theirs, that a fuller
knowledge might afterwards have come to them,
such as came to Paul who blamed his predecessors.

Now here I may say to those who reject the
Acts of the Apostles: "The first thing for you to
do is to shew who this Paul was—both what he
was before he was an Apostle, and how he became
an Apostle".; since at other times they make very
great use of him in disputed matters. For though
he himself declares that from a persecutor he
became an Apostle, that statement is not sufficient
for one who yields credence only after proof. For
not even the Lord Himself bore witness concern-

1 Acts ii. 1 ff.

2 The Marcionites. For their other rejections and mutila-
tions of the New Testament, see below, Chap. XXXVIII.

E


66 TERTULLIAN

ing Himself. But let them believe without the
Scriptures that they may believe against the Scrip-
tures. Yet they must shew from the instance
adduced of Peter being blamed by Paul that
another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul
beside that which Peter and the rest had previously
put forth. Whereas the fact is, when changed
from a persecutor into a preacher, he is led in to
the brethren by brethren as one of themselves, and
presented to them by those who had clothed them-
selves with faith at the Apostles' hands. After-
wards, as he himself relates,1 he "went up to
Jerusalem to see Peter," because of his office, and
by right of course of an identical faith and preach-
ing. For they would not have wondered at his
having become a preacher from a persecutor if he
had preached anything contrary to their teaching;
nor would they have "glorified the Lord" if Paul
had presented himself as His adversary. Accord-
ingly they "gave him the right hand,"2 the sign
of concord and agreement, and arranged among
themselves a distribution of office, not a division
of the Gospel, namely, that each should preach
not a different message, but the same message to
different persons, Peter to the Circumcision, Paul
to the Gentiles.

But if Peter was blamed because, after he had
lived with Gentiles he separated himself from their
companionship out of respect of persons, that
surely was a fault of behaviour, not of preaching.
For no question was therein involved of any other
GOD than the Creator,3 nor of any other Christ

1 Gal. i. 18 ff.                                  2 Ib. ii. 9

3 Against Marcion.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 67

than He Who came from Mary,1 nor of any other
hope than the resurrection.2

CHAPTER XXIV

I AM not good man enough, or rather I am not
bad man enough, to pit Apostle against Apostle.
But since these most perverse persons thrust for-
ward that rebuke for the purpose of throwing
suspicion upon the earlier teaching,3 I will reply,
as it were, for Peter, that Paul himself said 4 that he
was made all things to all men—to the Jews a
Jew, and to non-Jews a non-Jew—in order to gain
all. And so in certain times, persons and cases
they would blame actions which they themselves
yet might equally perform in other times, persons
and cases. Thus, for instance, Peter might like-
wise have blamed Paul because, while forbidding
circumcision, he himself had circumcised Timothy.5
Away with those who judge Apostles. Well is it
that Peter is made equal to Paul in his martyrdom.

But although Paul was caught up as far as
the third heaven, and when brought into paradise
heard certain things there, yet these revelations
cannot be thought to be such as would render him
more qualified to teach another doctrine, since their
very nature was such that they could not be com-
municated to any human being.6 But if that
unknown revelation did leak out and become

1 Against Valentinus. See below, note on Chap. XXX.

2 Against all Gnostics.

3 That is, the teaching of St. Peter.

4 I Cor. ix. 20 ff.

5 Acts xvi. 3.                                  6 2 Cor. xii. 2 ff.


68 TERTULLIAN

known to some one, and if any heresy affirms that
it is a follower of that revelation, then either Paul
is guilty of having betrayed his secret, or some
one else must be shewn to have been subsequently
caught up into paradise to whom permission was
given to speak out what Paul was not allowed to
whisper.

CHAPTER XXV

BUT, as we have said, the same madness is seen
when they allow indeed that the Apostles were not
ignorant of anything nor preached different doc-
trines, yet will have it that they did not reveal
all things to all persons, but committed some
things openly to all, and others secretly to a few;
basing this assertion on the fact that Paul used
this expression to Timothy, "O Timothy, guard
the deposit";1 and again, "Keep the good
deposit."2 What was this "deposit" of so secret
a nature as to be reckoned to belong to another
doctrine ? Was it a part of that charge of which
he says, "This charge I commit to thee, son
Timothy " ? 3 And likewise of that commandment
of which he says, " I charge thee before GOD Who
quickeneth all things, and Jesus Christ Who
witnessed before Pontius Pilate a good confession,
that thou observe the commandment " ? 4 What
commandment, now, and what charge ? From the
context it may be gathered not that something is
obscurely hinted at in this phrase concerning a
more hidden doctrine, but rather that he was com-

1 1 Tim. vi. 20.

2 2 Tim. i. 14.

3 1 Tim. i. 18.

4 Ib. vi. 13 f.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 69

manded not to admit anything beyond that which
he had heard from Paul himself, openly too, I
take it—"before many witnesses" are his words.1
If by these many witnesses the heretics refuse to
understand the Church, it matters not, since
nothing could be kept secret which was being set
forth before many witnesses.

Nor, again, can his wish that Timothy should
"commit these things to faithful men who would
be fit to teach others also" 2 be explained as a proof
of any hidden doctrine. For when he says "these
things," he refers to things of which he was writing
at the moment. In reference to hidden things,
present only to their secret knowledge, he would,
as of absent things, use the word "those," not
"these."

CHAPTER XXVI

BUT nevertheless, it may be said, it was natural
for the Apostle, when he committed to any one
the administration of the Gospel, which was to be
ministered neither indiscriminately nor rashly, to
add the injunction in accordance with the Lord's
saying that "a pearl should not be cast before
swine nor that which is holy to the dogs." 3

The Lord spake openly without any indication
of some hidden mystery. Himself had commanded
that what they had heard in darkness and in secret
they were to preach in light and on the housetops.4
Himself had prefigured in a parable5 that they

1 2 Tim. ii. 2.

2 Ib.

3 Matt. vii. 6.

4 Ib. x. 27.

6 Luke xix, 12 ff.


70 TERTULLIAN

were not to keep even one pound, that is, one word
of His, fruitless in a hidden place. Himself used
to teach that a lamp is not wont to be thrust away
under a measure, but placed on a lampstand that
it may give light to all that are in the house.1
These instructions the Apostles either neglected or
by no means understood if they failed to fulfil
them, and concealed any portion of the light, that
is, of the Word of GOD and mystery of Christ. I
am fully assured they had no fear of any one,
neither of the violence of the Jews nor of the
Gentiles : how much more, then, would these men
preach freely in the Church who were not silent
in synagogues and public places! Nay, they
could have converted neither Jews nor Gentiles
unless they had set forth in order what they wished
them to believe! Much less would they have
kept back anything from Churches already believ-
ing to commit it to a few other persons privately!
And even if they used to discuss some things in
their private circles (so to speak), yet it is incredible
that these things would be of such a nature as to
introduce another Rule of Faith, different from and
contrary to that which they were setting forth
openly to all; so that they should be speaking of
one GOD in the Church and of another in their
private houses; and describing one substance of
Christ in public and another in private; and pro-
claiming one hope of the resurrection before all
and another before the few; at the time when
they themselves were beseeching in their own
Epistles that all would speak one and the same
thing,2 and that there should be no divisions and

1 Matt. v. 15.

2 1 Cor. i. 10.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 71

dissensions in the Church, because they them-
selves, whether it were Paul or others, were
preaching the same thing. Moreover they remem-
bered, "Let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay, nay;
for what is more than this is of evil" 1 : words
spoken to prevent them from treating the Gospel
in different ways.

CHAPTER XXVII

IF, then, it is incredible either that the Apostles
were ignorant of the full scope of their message,
or that they did not publish to all the whole plan
of the Rule of Faith, let us see whether, perchance,
whilst the Apostles indeed preached simply and
fully, the Churches through their own fault
received it otherwise than as the Apostles used to
set it forth. All these incitements to hesitancy
you will find thrust forward by heretics.

They hold up instances of Churches reproved
by the Apostle. "O foolish Galatians, who hath
bewitched you ?" 2 and "Ye were running so well :
who hath hindered you ?" 3 and at the very begin-
ning of his letter, "I wonder that ye have been
thus so soon removed from Him Who called you
in grace to another Gospel." 4 Likewise the words
written to the Corinthians because they were still
"carnal," and had to be fed on milk, not yet being
able to take meat; who thought they knew some-
thing when not yet did they know anything as
they ought to know it.5

1 Matt. v. 27.                         2 Gal. iii. 1.

3 Ib. v. 7.                              4 Ib. i. 6.

5 1 Cor. iii. I f. ; viii. 2; xvi. 19


72 TERTULLIAN

Now when they instance these reproved
Churches let them be sure that they were corrected.
Moreover, let them recognize those Churches for
whose "faith and knowledge and manner of life"
the Apostle "rejoices and gives thanks to GOD.1 :
Churches which to-day unite with those reproved
ones in the privileges of the selfsame instruction.

CHAPTER XXVIII

BUT come now, suppose that all have erred:
grant that the Apostle was deceived in bearing his
testimony, and that the Holy Spirit regarded no
Church so as to lead it into the Truth, although
sent for this purpose by Christ, asked from the
Father that He might be the Teacher of truth; 2
grant that the Steward of GOD) and Vicar of Christ
neglected His office and permitted Churches for
a time to understand differently what He Himself
was preaching through the Apostles; yet is it at
all likely that so many and such important
Churches should all have "erred" into one and
the same faith ? No uniform issue results from
many chances. Error1 of doctrine on the part of
the Churches was bound to have assumed various
forms. But when one and the same tenet is found
amongst many, that is not error, but tradition.
Will any one then dare to affirm that the authors
of the tradition were in error?

1 Rom. i. 8; xv. 14; xvi. 19; Eph. 1. 15; Phil. 1. 3 ff ;
Col. i. 4 ff. ; 1 Thess. i. 3 ff. ; 2 Thess. i. 3 f.

2 John xiv. 26.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 73

CHAPTER XXIX

HOWEVER the "error" came, it reigned for just
so long, of course, as there were no heresies.
Truth waited for the Marcionites and the Valen-
tinians to set her free. In the meantime the
Gospel was wrongly preached, men wrongly
believed, so many countless thousands were
wrongly baptized, so many works of faith were
wrongly wrought, so many spiritual powers and
gifts were wrongly put into operation, so many
priesthoods, so many ministries were wrongly
performed, so many martyrdoms were wrongly
crowned! Or if not wrongly and uselessly, how
can you characterize the fact that the things of
GOD were running their course before it was
known to which GOD they belonged? that there
were Christians before Christ was found ? heresy
before true doctrine? Unquestionably in every
case Truth precedes its copy: the counterfeit
comes afterwards. But it is absurd enough that
heresy should be mistaken for the earlier teaching;
especially since it is that very earlier teaching
which foretold that heresies would come and would
have to be guarded against.1 To a Church pos-
sessing this teaching it was written—nay, the
teaching itself writes to the Church : "Though an
angel from heaven preach any other Gospel than
that we have preached, let him be anathema." 2

1 See references above, Chap. I.

2 Gal. i. 8.


74 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER XXX

WHERE at that time was Marcion, the Pontic
shipmaster,1 the student of the Stoic philosophy?
Where, then, was Valentinus,2 the disciple of
Platonism? For it is agreed that they lived not
so very long ago in the reign of Antoninus3 for
the most part, and that at first they were believers
in the doctrine of the Catholic Church in Rome
during the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus,4
until, on account of their ever restless speculation
whereby they corrupted the brethren also, they
were expelled more than once—Marcion, indeed,
with the two hundred sesterces that he had brought
into the Church—and when at last banished into

1 Marcion's home was Sinope, of which city his father
was bishop. His heresy was free from pagan elements,
though he postulated two GODS—one the Creator or severe
GOD of the Old Testament, and the other a Supreme GOD
of pure benevolence Who was unknown to man till revealed
by Christ. He rejected the whole of the Old Testament,
and accepted only ten Epistles of St. Paul and the Gospel
of St. Luke, which he mutilated (see below, Chap. XXXIII).
He was the author of Antitheses, or instances of antagonism
between the Law and the Gospel. Tertullian combated his
tenets in his Five Books against Marcion.

2 Valentinus was an Alexandrian Platonist who settled in
Rome about the year 140. He attempted to reconcile Chris-
tian teaching with pagan philosophy, and elaborated an
intricate system of aeons or emanations from infinity in
order to bridge over the gulf between the infinite and the
finite. He denied that the body of Christ was derived from
the Virgin's substance.

3 Antoninus, A.D. 138—161.

4 Eleutherus, Bishop of Rome about 174-189; but the
excommunication of Marcion and Valentinian took place
earlier than this (in 145).


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 75

perpetual separation from the faithful, they spread
abroad the poisonous seeds of their peculiar
doctrines. Afterwards, when Marcion had pro-
fessed penitence and agreed to the condition
imposed upon him, namely, that if he could bring
back to the Church the residue whom he had
instructed to their perdition, he should be received
into communion, he was prevented by death.

For indeed heresies must needs be.1 Yet it does
not follow that heresies are good because they are
needful. As if evil also were not needful ! For it
was even needful for the Lord to be betrayed; yet
"Woe to the traitor"2 to prevent any one from
upholding heresies on this same ground of
necessity.

If we must examine also the pedigree of Apelles,3
he is not of such long standing as Marcion himself,
who was his instructor and moulder, but by a
carnal lapse he deserted the Marcionite chastity
and withdrew from the presence of his most holy
master to Alexandria. Returning thence after
some years, in no way improved save that he was
no longer a Marcionite, he fastened on another
woman, that very virgin Philumena already men-
tioned,4 who afterwards herself also became a

1 1 Cor. xi. 19.                   2 Matt. xxvi. 24; Mark xiv. 21.

3 Apelles was the most famous of Marcion's disciples;
but he modified the extreme dualism of his teacher and
wholly subordinated the world-Creator to the Supreme GOD.
The charges of immorality brought against him, and like-
wise against Philumena, were no doubt baseless slanders.
No other writers refer to them, and they may easily have
originated in the misunderstanding of some figurative
phrase. See note, Chap. XLIV. Tertullian's treatise against
Apelles is lost.

4 See Chap. VI, where see note.


76 TERTULLIAN

monstrous prostitute; and misled by her influence
he wrote the "Revelations" which he learnt from
her.1 There are those living at this day who
remember them, their own actual disciples and
followers, so that they cannot deny their later date.

Moreover, too, these men are condemned by their
own works, as the Lord said.2 For if Marcion
separated the New Testament from the Old, he is of
later date than that which he separated, since he
could only separate what was united. Having been
united then before it was separated, the fact that it
was afterwards separated shows that the separator
was later.

Similarly Valentinus, by his various exposi-
tions and unhesitating emendations, shows abso-
lutely that what he emended as being previously
faulty belonged to an earlier age.

We name these men as being the more remark-
able and assiduous corruptors of the Truth. But
a certain Nigidius 3 and Hermogenes 4 and many
others are still moving about perverting the ways
of the Lord. Let them show me by what authority
they have come forward. If they preach some
other GOD, on what ground do they use the history
and the writings and the names of that GOD against
Whom they preach ? If the same GOD, why do

1 It appears from Ps.-Tert., adv. haer. 6, that Apelles
ordered public lections to be read from tliis book of "Revela-
tions" dictated by Philumena.

2 Matt. vii. 16.

3 Of Nigidius nothing is known.

4 One of Tertullian's two treatises against Hermogenes
is extant. Hermogenes was a Karthaginian artist, who
held that God formed the world out of pre-existing (eternal)
matter.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 77

they preach Him in a different way? Let them
prove themselves to be new Apostles; let them
say that Christ came down a second time, a second
time taught, was a second time crucified, a second
time dead, a second time raised. For so the
Apostle has described Him as being wont to make
Apostles, and to give them besides the power of
showing the same signs that He Himself showed.
I desire, therefore, that the miracles of these men
be produced; save that I admit their greatest
miracle is their inverted rivalry of the Apostles.
For the latter used to make the dead alive, but
these men make the living dead.

CHAPTER XXXI

LET me, however, return from this digression
to discuss the priority of Truth and the lateness of
falsehood, with the support of that parable 1 which
places first the good seed of the wheat sown by the
Lord, and afterwards brings in the corruption of
the barren weed of the wild oats by His enemy
the Devil. For properly this parable represents
the difference of doctrines; since the Word of GOD
is also in other places likened to seed. Thus from
the very order itself it is made manifest that what
was first delivered is from the Lord, and true; and
on the other hand, that what was afterwards intro-
duced is strange and false. This sentence will
stand against all later heresies which possess no
conscientious ground of confidence whereby to
claim the truth for their own side.

1 Matt. xiii. 37 ff.


78 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER XXXII

BUT if any heresies dare to plant themselves in
Apostolic times, so as to be thought thereby to have
been handed down by the Apostles because they
existed under the Apostles, we can say : "Let them
set forth the earliest beginnings of their Churches;
let them unfold the roll of their bishops coming
down by succession from the beginning in such
a manner that their first bishop had for his ordainer
and predecessor one of the Apostles or of those
Apostolic men who never deserted the Apostles."

For in this way Apostolic Churches declare
their origin : as, for instance, the Church of the
Smyrnaeans records that Polycarp 1 was placed
there by John; and the Roman Church that
Clement was ordained thereto by Peter. And
exactly in the same way the rest of the Churches
can produce persons who, ordained to the episco-
pate by Apostles, became transmitters of the
Apostolic seed.

Let the heretics invent something of the same
sort; for what is unlawful for them after blas-
phemy ? Yet even if they should invent such a
thing, they will gain nothing by it. For their
very doctrine, when compared with the Apostolic
doctrine, will itself declare by its diverseness and
contrariety that it had neither Apostle nor Apos-
tolic man for its author : because as the Apostles
would not have taught differently from each other,

1 An account of St. Polycarp, and a translation of his
Epistle, is published in this series of Early Church Classics.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 79

so neither would Apostolic men have uttered
things contrary to the Apostles, unless those who
learnt from the Apostles taught a different doctrine.
According to this standard, consequently, they
will be tested by those Churches which can pro-
duce perhaps no Apostle or Apostolic man for
their founder, since they are of much later founda-
tion—those, for instance, that are being daily
founded. Yet since they agree in the same faith
they are none the less accounted Apostolical by
virtue of close kinship in doctrine.

In this way let all heresies, when challenged by
our Churches, according to each of these standards,
prove how they imagine themselves to be Apos-
tolical. But indeed they are not so; nor can they
prove themselves to be what they are not; nor are
they received into communion and fellowship by
Churches which are in any way Apostolical, seeing
that they are in no way Apostolical because of
their divergence in doctrine.

CHAPTER XXXIII

I ADDUCE in addition to these arguments an
examination of the doctrines themselves which
were in existence in the time of the Apostles, and
were by the same Apostles both pointed out and
rejected. For thus, too, they will be more easily
exposed when they are proved either to have
existed already at that time, or to have derived
their origin from those which did then exist.


80 TERTULLIAN

Paul, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians,
censures the deniers and doubters of the resurrec-
tion.1 This opinion is properly that of the
Sadducees.2 Marcion adopts a part of it, and
Apelles, and Valentinus, and all others who
impugn the resurrection of the flesh.3 In writing
to the Galatians4 he rebukes the observers and
defenders of circumcision and the Law. This is
the heresy of Ebion.5 When giving instructions
to Timothy 6 he also brands with reproach those
who forbid marriage. Marcion and his follower
Apelles lay down this prohibition. In similar
terms he refers to those who say that "the resur-
rection is past already."7 This the Valentinians
assert concerning themselves.8 Again, when he
mentions "endless genealogies,"9 Valentinus is
recognized, according to whom some Aeon or
other of a strange and shifting name produces
Sense and Truth out of its own Grace; and these
in like manner generate from themselves Word
and Life; while these again produce Man and
Church; from which first ogdoad of Aeons come
ten others, while twelve Aeons besides with won-

1 1 Cor. xv. 12.                2 Matt. xxii. 23 ; Acts xxiii. 8.

3 The resurrection of the flesh, or of the body, as taught
in a crude and materialistic form by Tertullian and others,
was rightly rejected by all Gnostics, but on wrong grounds,
namely, their belief in the inherent malignity of matter.

4 Gal. v. 2.

5 The Ebionites were judaizers and psilanthropists; see
above on ch. x. (p. 50).

6 1 Tim. iv. 3.                   7 2 Tim. ii. 18.

8 The Valentinians and many of the Gnostics and Docetae
admitted a spiritual resurrection in baptism.

9 1 Tim. i. 4.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 81

drous names make up the entire fiction of the
Thirty.1

The same Apostle, when he upbraids those "in
bondage to the elements," 2 points at some teach-
ing of Hermogenes, who introduces Matter as
unoriginated, and thereby makes it equal to GOD
Who is unoriginate; and while thus making the
mother of the elements a goddess, he may well be
"in bondage" to her whom he compares to GOD.

Moreover, John in the Apocalypse 3 is bidden to
chastise those who "eat idol-sacrifices and commit
fornication." Other Nicolaitans4 exist at the
present day : it is called the Gaian heresy.5 Again,
in his Epistle,6 he especially calls those Antichrists
who denied that "Christ has come in Flesh,"
and who did not regard Jesus as the Son of GOD.
The former point Marcion maintained, the latter
Ebion. The system also of Simonian sorcery,
serving angels, was expressly reckoned among
idolatries, and by the Apostle Peter condemned in
the person of Simon himself.7

1 For an excellent account of the Valentinian system see
the monograph of Dr. Lipsius in Smith's D. C. B. IV, 1076.

2 Gal. iv. 9.                                          3 Rev. ii. 14.

4 These heretics, named from Nicolas, one of the Seven,
whose teaching they probably perverted, are denounced by
early writers for their impurity, but nothing is certainly
known about them beyond what is said in the Apocalypse.

5 The name takes various forms in different writers (see
D. C. B. I, 380), but the sect is generally known as the
"Cainite," a branch of the Ophites. They worshipped the
Serpent, regarded the Creator as an evil being, and reversed
all the moral judgements of the Old Testament.

6 1 John iv. 13.                                     7 Acts viii. 9 ff.


82 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER XXXIV

THESE comprehend in my belief the classes of
corrupt doctrines which we learn from the Apostles
themselves existed in their days. And yet we do
not find amid so many varieties of perverse teach-
ing any school that occasioned a controversy con-
cerning GOD as the Creator of all things. No one
dared to conjecture a second GOD. Doubt was
felt more readily about the Son than about the
Father, until Marcion introduced, besides the
Creator, another GOD, of goodness only; and until
Apelles fashioned some kind of glorious Angel 1
of the Higher GOD as the Creator and GOD of the
Law and of Israel, affirming Him to be of fire;
and until Valentinus scattered his Aeons and
elaborated the fault of one Aeon into the generation
of GOD the Creator.2 To these persons alone, and
to these persons first, has the Truth respecting the
Divine Nature been revealed. They obtained, we
cannot doubt, greater privileges and fuller grace
from the Devil, who in this way also wished
emulously to rival GOD, and by poisonous doctrines
to make (in opposition to the saying of the Lord)
"the disciples above their Master."3

Let, therefore, any and every heresy select for
itself the time (allowing that the time is important!)
when it came into existence, so long as it is not of
the Truth, and allowing, of course, that those which
were not in existence in the Apostles' days cannot
have existed then ! For if they had existed then

1 See above, Chap. VII.

2 The fall of Sophia from the Pleroma ; see note, Chap.
VII.

3 Matt. x. 24; Luke vi. 40.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 83

they would have been named that they might
also have been repressed.

If, then, the modern heresies are the same, only
somewhat more elaborated, as those which existed
in a simpler form in the Apostles' time, they derive
their condemnation from this fact. Or, if some
indeed then existed, but others which arose after-
wards adopted certain opinions from them, these,
by sharing in their teaching, must of necessity
also share in their condemnation. The above-
mentioned definition of later date also points the
same way, whereby even though there should be
no participation in condemned doctrines, they
would be prejudged on the score of their age
alone, being so much the more corrupt because
unnamed even by the Apostles.

CHAPTER XXXV

ALL heresies have now been challenged by us
according to these rules, and convicted; now let
the heresies themselves—whether they be later
than or contemporaneous with the Apostles, pro-
vided only they differ from Apostolic teaching :
whether they be censured by them in general or
specific terms, provided only they be forecon-
demned—dare to allege in reply any rules of this
kind against our system of doctrine. For if they
deny its truth they are bound to prove it to be
heresy, convicted by the same standard whereby
they themselves are convicted; and they are bound,
at the same time, to show where the Truth is to be
sought, since it has been proved already not to be
with them.

Our system is not later, nay, it is earlier than


84 TERTULLIAN

all; and this is an evidence of its truth, for truth
everywhere holds the first place. It is nowhere
condemned by Apostles, nay, it is maintained by
them; and this is proof that it is their very own.
For they make it quite clear that that doctrine
which they refuse to condemn, whilst condemning
each one foreign to it, is their own, and therefore
they also uphold it.

CHAPTER XXXVI

COME now, thou who wiliest to exercise thy
curiosity to better purpose in the business of thy
salvation : go through the Apostolic Churches
where the very thrones of the Apostles at this very
day preside over their own districts, where their
own genuine letters are read which speak their
words and bring the presence of each before our
minds. If Achaia is nearest to thee, thou hast
Corinth. If thou art not far from Macedonia,
thou hast Philippi. If thou canst travel into Asia,
thou hast Ephesus. Or if thou art near to Italy,
thou hast Rome, where we too have an authority
close at hand.1 What a happy Church is that
whereon the Apostles poured out their whole
doctrine2 together with their blood; where Peter
suffers a passion like his Lord's,3 where Paul is
crowned with the death of John,4 whence John the

1 The African Church was not founded by an Apostle, but
from Italy : Rome was therefore its natural authority.

2 i. e. without any reservations, such as the heretics
asserted : Chap. XXV.

3 Tertullian is the first to relate that St. Peter was
crucified; Origen (apud Euseb. III, i) adds, "head down-
wards."

4 i. e. John the Baptist.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 85

Apostle, after being immersed in boiling oil and
taking no hurt,1 is banished to an island. Let us
see what she hath learnt, what she hath taught,
what bond of friendship she hath had with the
African Churches. She acknowledges one GOD
the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus the
Son of GOD the Creator, born of the Virgin Mary,
and she teaches the resurrection of the flesh.2 She
unites the Law and the Prophets with the Evangelic
and Apostolic writings : out of these she causeth
her faith to drink; and that faith she sealeth with
water, clotheth with the Holy Spirit, feedeth with
the Eucharist, stimulated! with martyrdom, and
receiveth no one who opposeth this teaching.

This is that teaching from which heresies have
gone forth—to say nothing now of its prediction
of the coming of heresies. But they were not "of
it" 3 from the moment when they became opposed
to it. Even from the kernel of the mellow, rich,
and indispensable olive springs the rough oleaster;
even from the seed of sweetest and most delicious
fig arises the useless and deceptive wild fig. So
also do heresies come of our stock, but are not of
our kind. They spring from the seed of Truth,
but, owing to their falsehood, are wild.

1 Jerome tells the same story, Comm. in Matt. xx. 23. It
comes from the Leucian Acts. See Texts and Studies, V,
144 ff. (Cambridge, 1897).

2 The articles of the Creed specially singled out for men-
tion here are those which were rejected by the Gnostics
(Marcionites and Valentinians)—the Unity of God, the real
Incarnation by a virgin-birth, the resurrection of the flesh,
and the unity of Holy Scripture. For a fuller statement of
the North African Creed see above, Chap. XIII, de virg. vel.
8; adv. Prax. 2; Apol. 17, 21 ; and the Introduction, p. viii.

3 Cp. 1 John i. 19.


86 TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER XXXVII

IF, then, it he the case that the Truth must be
adjudged to be with us "as many as walk accord-
ing to this rule," 1 which the Church has handed
down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ,
and Christ from GOD, then the principle that we
laid down is established which determined that
heretics be not allowed to enter an appeal drawn
from the Scriptures, whom we prove, apart from
the Scriptures, to have no part nor lot in them.

For if they are heretics they cannot be Christians,
because they receive the very name of heretics from
that which they adopt of their own choice 2 and do
not receive from Christ. Thus, not being Chris-
tians, they have no right to the Christian literature,
and it may well and justly be said to them : "Who
are you ? When and whence do you come ? What
have you to do with us, not being of our party?
By what right do you, Marcion, cut my wood ?
By what licence, Valentinus, do you divert my
streams ? By what power, Apelles, do you move
my landmarks? This is my possession. What
business have all the rest of you here, sowing and
pasturing at your pleasure? It is my possession.
I hold it of old. I am in possession first. I hold
sure title-deeds from the first owners themselves of
the estate. I am the heir of the Apostles. Just
as they bequeathed it in their own will, just as
they committed it to trust, just as they swore to
it, so do I hold it. You they have ever ex-
pressly disinherited and disowned as outsiders, as
enemies."

1 Gal. vi. 16.                     2 See above note, Chap. VI.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 87

Now on what grounds are heretics outsiders and
enemies to the Apostles save from divergence in
doctrine, which each one of his own mere will
hath either brought forward or received in opposi-
tion to the Apostles?

CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE corruption of the Scriptures and of their
interpretation must therefore be referred to that
quarter where divergence in doctrine is to be
found. Those who proposed to put forth a different
teaching were obliged thereby to alter the doctrinal
documents. For they would not have been able
to teach differently unless they had altered the
sources of teaching. Just as with them corruption
of doctrine could not have succeeded without a
corresponding corruption of its documents, so also
with us integrity of doctrine would not be met
with save with the integrity of those documents
whence the doctrine is drawn.

For, indeed, what is there opposed to us in our
Scriptures ? What have we introduced of our
own so that we must remedy by omission or
addition or alteration anything contrary to it which
we have found in the Scripture? What we are,
that the Scriptures are from the very beginning.
Of them are we, before there was any divergent
teaching—before they were interpolated by you.
But since every interpolation must be regarded as
later in time (since it arises essentially from
hostility, which is in every case neither prior in time
to, nor of the same household with that which it
opposes), it is as incredible to any one of sense
that we should be thought to have introduced a


88 TERTULLIAN

corrupt text into the Scriptures—we who have
existed from the beginning and are the first in
order of time—as that those persons should not
be thought to have introduced it who are both
later in date than, and opposed to the Scriptures.
One man falsifies the Scriptures with his hand :
another by his interpretation of their meaning.
For although Valentinus appears to use the whole
volume, he nevertheless laid violent hands on the
Truth with a no less cunning bent of mind than
did Marcion.1 Marcion openly and nakedly used
the knife, not the pen, since he cut the Scriptures
to suit his argument; whereas Valentinus spared
them, since he did not invent Scriptures to suit
his argument, but argument to suit the Scriptures;2
and yet all the same he took away more and
added more in taking away the proper meaning
of each particular word, and in adding arrange-
ments of systems which have no existence.

CHAPTER XXXIX

THESE were the inventions of "spiritual wicked-
nesses" 3 with which we must rightly look "to
wrestle," brethren, as being necessary to faith, that
the "elect may be made manifest"4 and the repro-
bate detected. Therefore they possess a power
and a skill in inventing and constructing errors
which is not to be greatly wondered at as if it
were difficult and inexplicable, seeing that a like
example is ready to hand in the case of secular

1 Marcion's alterations are detailed in Lardner, Hist, of
Heretics,
X, 35 ff. ; Valentinus' in Irenaeus, I, i, 15 ff.

2 Occasionally Valentinus did "invent" Scripture to suit
his theme : see my note in hoc loc.

3 Eph. vi. 12.                                   4 1 Cor. xi. 19.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 89

writings also. Thou seest in our day a totally
different story composed out of Vergil, the matter
being adapted to the verses and the verses to the
matter. Hosidius Geta,1 for instance, has very
fully extracted from Vergil the tragedy of Medea.
A near relative of my own from the same poet has
amongst other literary trifles arranged the "Table"
of Cebes.2 Moreover, "Homerocentones" is the
common name for those who from the poems of
Homer patch together into one piece, quilt-like,
works of their own, out of many scraps put
together from this passage and that. Unquestion-
ably the Divine writings are more fruitful in
affording resources for any kind of subject. Nor
do I hesitate to say that the Scriptures themselves
were arranged by the will of GOD in such a manner
as to afford material for heretics, inasmuch as I
read that there must be heresies,3 which cannot
exist without the Scriptures.

CHAPTER XL

THE question will follow, Who interprets the
meaning of those passages which make for
heresies? The Devil, we cannot doubt; for it is
his character to overturn the Truth who emulously
rivals the very realities of the Divine sacraments in
the idol-mysteries. For he too baptizes certain
persons—his own believers and faithful ones; he
promises a putting away of sins by means of the

1 Nothing is known of this writer beyond this isolated
notice of him.

2 See Dr. Rendel Harris in The Expositor, May 1901.

3 1 Cor. xi. 19.


90 TERTULLIAN

laver; and if my memory still serves me, Mithras1
seals there on their foreheads his own soldiers.
He celebrates, too, an oblation of bread, and intro-
duces a representation of the resurrection, and
purchases a crown under the sword. Why, he
even allows but a single marriage to the chief
priest.2 So, too, he has his virgins and his con-
tinent ones.3 Moreover, if we consider the
religious enactments of Numa Pompilius,4 if we
think of his priestly duties and badges and privi-
leges, the sacrificial services and the instruments
and vessels of the sacrifices themselves, and the
fantastic niceties of his expiations and vows, is it
not obvious that the Devil has imitated the scrupu-
lous observances of the Jewish Law ? He, then,
who has in such a spirit of hostile rivalry aimed
at setting forth in the functions of idolatry the very
means wherewith the sacraments of Christ are
administered, is unquestionably the same being
who exulted in the same kind of ingenuity, and
has been able to adapt to a profane and hostile
faith the actual documents concerning Divine
matters written by Christian saints, adapting
interpretations from interpretations, words from
words, parables from parables.

No one therefore ought to doubt either that
"spiritual wickednesses"5 from whence come
heresies have been sent forth by the Devil, or that

1 For an account of the Mithraic rites see King, Gnostics
and their Remains,
pp. 122 ff., and McCormack's English
translation of Cumont, Textes et Monuments Figures relatifs
aux Mystères de Mithra
(Kegan Paul).

2 Cp. 1 Tim. iii. 2; Titus i. 6.

3 The two terms are distinct. Continence is used of self-
control in and after marriage (ad uxor. I, 6), and is con-
trasted with virginity (de virg. vel. 10; adv. Marc. V, 15).

4 See Livy, I, 18 ff.                             5 Eph. vi. 12.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 91

heresies are not far removed from idolatry, since
they belong to the same author and handiwork as
idolatry. They either fashion another GOD hostile
to the Creator, or if they confess One only Creator
they treat of Him otherwise than as He truly is.
Consequently every falsehood which they utter
about God is in a certain sense a kind of idolatry.

CHAPTER XLI

I MUST not omit a description, too, of the heretics'
actual manner of life, how foolish it is, how earthly,
how materialistic, without seriousness, without
authority, without discipline—as beseems their
peculiar faith.

In the first place, it is uncertain who is a cate-
chumen and who a baptized believer; they all alike
reproach, they all alike hear, and all alike pray 1
even heathens, if any should have chanced to enter.
They will "throw that which is holy to dogs,2 and
pearls" (albeit false ones) "to swine." They will
have it that their subversion of discipline is
simplicity, and call our care for discipline affecta-
tion. They unite in communion also with every
one from every quarter. For it is of no import-

1 Marcion, on the strength of Gal. vi. 6, admitted the
catechumens and the baptized to the same prayers in public
worship (Jerome, Comm. in loc.). Tertullian's words seem
to imply that there were different classes of catechumens in
the North African Church.

2 Matt. vii. 6. For a very early application of this text
to the Holy Eucharist, see Didaché, 9 : " Let none eat or
drink of your Eucharist save they that are baptized into
the Name of the Lord; for as touching this the Lord hath
said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs." See also
Clem. Alex., Strom. II, 2, 7; and note the early use of
"Sancta Sanctis" in the Liturgies.


92 TERTULLIAN

ance to them, although they are teaching different
doctrines, so long as they agree in an attack upon
the One Truth. They are all puffed up; they all
promise knowledge. Their catechumens are per-
fected before they are instructed. The very women
amongst the heretics, how precocious they are!
They presume to teach, to dispute, to practise
exorcism, to promise cures, perchance also to
baptize! Their ordinations are heedless, capri-
cious, fickle. Now they appoint novices,1 now
men hampered by worldly ties, now apostates from
us, so as to bind them by ambition since they
cannot by truth. Nowhere is preferment readier
than in the camp of rebels, where the simple fact
of being there is itself a merit. Consequently one
man is bishop to-day, another to-morrow. To-day
he is a deacon who to-morrow will be a reader; 3
to-day he is a presbyter who will to-morrow be a
laic. For even on laics do they impose sacerdotal
functions !

CHAPTER XLII

BUT what shall I say about their ministry of the
word, seeing that they make it their business not
to convert the heathen, but to subvert our people?
This is the glory that they covet most—to effect
the fall of those who stand, not the upraising of
those who are thrown down. And since their very
work consists not in any building of their own,

1 i Tim. iii. 6.

2 This is the first mention of the Order of Readers, the
oldest of the minor orders, and early adopted by heretics :
see Bright's note on Chalcedonian Council, Canon XIV ; and
for Aegyptian Readers see Journal of Theological Studies,
II, 255


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 93

but in the destruction of the Truth, they undermine
our defences that they may build up their own.
Deprive them of the Law of Moses and the
Prophets and God the Creator, and they have not
a complaint to utter. Thus they more readily
effect the ruin of standing edifices than the recon-
struction of fallen ruins. To this end alone their
behaviour is humble and bland and respectful.
Otherwise not even for their own leaders have they
any reverence. This explains the fact that schisms
do not commonly exist among heretics, since when
they do exist they are not visible. For schism is
their very unity.

I am mistaken if they do not even among them-
selves depart from their own rules; whilst each
one adapts what he receives according to his own
fancy, just in the same way as he who handed it
down fabricated it according to his fancy. The
nature of heresy and the manner of its origin are
revealed by its subsequent career. The same
course was obviously allowable to the Valentinians
as to Valentinus, to the Marcionites as to Marcion,
of changing the faith according to their own fancy.
Indeed, when thoroughly looked into, all heresies
are found to depart in many particulars from their
own founders. Nor have the majority of them any
churches: motherless, homeless, creedless, out-
casts, they wander in their own worthlessness.1

CHAPTER XLIII

INFAMOUS, moreover, is the heretics' intercourse
with numberless magicians, with jugglers, with

1 The text is uncertain: it may mean "they wander far,
themselves their all."


94 TERTULLIAN

astrologers, with philosophers—men unquestion-
ably given over to restless speculation. "Seek
and ye shall find " 1 is their never-forgotten maxim.
The quality of their faith may thus be estimated
precisely from the nature of their conduct. Their
system of life is the index of their doctrine. They
deny that GOD is to be feared. Consequently all
things are to them open and without restraint.
But where is GOD not feared save where His
Presence is wanting? And where GOD is not,
neither is there any Truth. And where there is
no Truth there naturally follows such a system of
life as theirs. Whereas where GOD is, there also
is fear towards GOD, which is "the beginning of
wisdom." 2 And where there is fear towards GOD,
there is a becoming gravity, and awestruck dili-
gence, and anxious solicitude, and well-assured
election, and well-considered communion, and well-
deserved preferment, and religious submissiveness,
and loyal attendance, and modest procedure, and a
united Church, and all things godly.

CHAPTER XLIV

SIMILARLY these proofs of a stricter discipline
amongst us are an additional evidence of truth;
and to disregard this is not becoming in any one
who is mindful of the future Judgement, when "we
must all stand before the Judgement seat of
Christ," 3 giving an account in the first place of
our faith itself. What, then, will they say who
have defiled with the adultery of heresy that

1 See above, Chap. VIII.

2 Ps. cxi. 10; Prov. ix. 10.                3 2 Cor. v. 10.


ON THE "PRESCRIPTION" OF HERETICS 95

virgin 1 committed to them by Christ? They will
allege, 1 suppose, that nothing was ever foretold
them by Him or by His Apostles about strange
and perverse doctrines destined to come, and that
no command was given them about avoiding and
abhorring them. Christ and His Apostles will
own that the fault was rather their own and their
followers', who did not prepare us beforehand.
They will add, besides, much about the authority
of each heretical leader, how they specially con-
firmed the belief in their own teaching—how they
raised the dead, restored the sick, foretold the future
so that they might deservedly be believed to be
Apostles ! Just as though it were never written 2
that many should come working the greatest
miracles in defence of the deceitfulness of their
corrupt teaching.

Consequently they will deserve forgiveness. But
suppose some have stood firm in the integrity of
the Faith, mindful of the writings and denuncia-
tions of the Lord and His Apostles, these, I sup-
pose, will be in danger of losing their forgiveness
when the Lord replies3: "I had certainly fore-
warned you that there would be teachers of error
in My Name and in that of the Prophets and
Apostles too; and I had commanded My disciples
to teach the same to you—with the idea, of course,
that you would not believe it. I had given the
Gospel once for all, and the teaching of the same

1 Cp. 2 Cor. xi. 2. It was probably the misunderstanding
of some figurative phrase like this (taken from Hegesippus,
apud Euseb. III, 32; IV, 22) that led to the false scandals
respecting the moral character of several of the Gnostic
teachers.

2 The audacious irony of this passage can hardly be
matched even in the writings of Tertullian himself.

3 Matt. xxiv. 24.


96 TERTULLIAN

Rule to My Apostles, but it pleased Me afterwards
to alter some points therein. I had promised a
resurrection, even of the flesh; but I reconsidered
it, lest I might not be able to fulfil it. I had
declared Myself to have been born of a Virgin;
but afterwards this seemed disgraceful to Me. I
had said that My Father was He Who makes the
sunshine and the rain; but another and a better
Father 1 has adopted Me. I had forbidden you to
lend your ears to heretics; but I made a mistake."
Such are the blasphemies capable of being enter-
tained by those who wander from the right path,
and do not guard against those dangers whereby
the true Faith is imperilled.

CHAPTER XLV

HAVING in view the present circumstances, we
have argued on general grounds against all
heresies that they ought by fixed, just and neces-
sary limitations to be disallowed any discussion
of the Scriptures. At some future time, if the
grace of GOD permit, we will also furnish special
replies to some particular heresies.2

To those who read these words at leisure, in
belief of the Truth, be peace and the grace of our
GOD Jesus Christ for ever.

1 The higher GOD of Marcion who sent Christ to reveal
Him, or the summus Deus of Basilides.

2 Tertullian wrote subsequently against Marcion, Praxeas,
Valentinus, Hermogenes and Apelles.


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Translated by T. Herbert Bindley, 1914
Transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2002

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