Tertullian on Ethics

AGAINST PRAXEAS;[1]

IN WHICH HE DEFENDS, IN ALL ESSENTIAL POINTS, THE DOCTRINE OF
THE HOLY TRINITY.[2]

[TRANSLATED BY DR. HOLMES.]

CHAP. I.–SATAN’S WILES AGAINST THE TRUTH. HOW THEY TAKE THE FORM OF THE PRAXEAN HERESY. ACCOUNT OF THE pUBLICATION OF THIS HERESY.

IN various ways has the devil rivalled and resisted the truth. Sometimes his aim has been to destroy the truth by defending it. He maintains that there is one only Lord, the Almighty Creator of the world, in order that out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ. Here the old serpent has fallen out with himself, since, when he tempted Christ after John’s baptism, he approached Him as “the Son of God;” surely intimating that God had a Son, even on the testimony of the very Scriptures, out of which he was at the moment forging his temptation: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”[3] Again: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence;[4] for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning thee”–referring no doubt, to the Father–“and in their hands they shall bear thee up, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.”[5] Or perhaps, after all, he was only reproaching the Gospels with a lie, saying in fact: “Away with Matthew; away with Luke! Why heed their words? In spite of them, I declare that it was God Himself that I approached; it was the Almighty Himself that I tempted face to face; and it was for no other purpose than to tempt Him that I approached Him. If, on the contrary, it had been only the Son of God, most likely I should never have condescended to deal with Him.” However, he is himself a liar from the beginning,[6] and whatever man he instigates in his own way; as, for instance, Praxeas. For he was the first to import into Rome from Asia this kind of heretical pravity, a man in other respects of restless disposition, and above all inflated with the pride of confessorship simply and solely because he had to bear for a short time the annoyance of a prison; on which occasion, even “if he had given his body to be burned, it would have profiled him nothing,” not having the love of God,[7] whose very gifts he has resisted and destroyed. For after the Bishop of Rome[8] had acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, and, in consequence of the acknowledgment, had bestowed his peace[9] on the churches of Asia and Phrygia, he, by importunately urging false accusations against the prophets themselves and their churches, and insisting on the authority of the bishop’s predecessors in the see, compelled him to recall the pacific letter which he had issued, as well as to desist from his purpose of acknowledging the said gifts. By this Praxeas did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy; he put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father. Praxeas’ tares had been moreover sown, and had produced their fruit here also,[10] while many

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were asleep in their simplicity of doctrine; but these tares actually seemed to have been plucked up, having been discovered and exposed by him whose agency God was pleased to employ. Indeed, Praxeas had deliberately resumed his old (true) faith, teaching it after his renunciation of error; and there is his own handwriting in evidence remaining among the carnally-minded,[1] in whose society the transaction then took place; afterwards nothing was heard of him. We indeed, on our part, subsequently withdrew from the carnally-minded on our acknowledgment and maintenance of the Paraclete.[2] But the tares of Praxeas had then everywhere shaken out their seed, which having lain hid for some while, with its vitality concealed under a mask, has now broken out with fresh life. But again shall it be rooted up, if the Lord will, even now; but if not now, in the day when all bundles of tares shall be gathered together, and along with every other stumbling-block shall be burnt up with unquenchable fire.[3]

CHAP. II.–THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY AND UNITY, SOMETIMES CALLED THE DIVINE ECONOMY, OR DISPENSATION OF THE PERSONAL RELATIONS OF THE GODHEAD.

In the course of time, then, the Father forsooth was born, and the Father suffered,God Himself, the Lord Almighty, whom in their preaching they declare to be Jesus Christ. We, however, as we indeed always have done and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or oikonomia, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded[4] from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her–being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete,[5] the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date[6] which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever–that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date.[7] But keeping this prescriptive rule inviolate, still some opportunity must be given for reviewing (the statements of heretics), with a view to the instruction and protection of divers persons; were it only that it may not seem that each perversion of the truth is condemned without examination, and simply prejudged;[8] especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation[9] is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order[10] the three Persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition,[11] but in degree;[12] not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect;[13] yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.[14] How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.

CHAP. III.–SUNDRY POPULAR FEARS AND PREJUDICES. THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IN UNITY RESCUED FROM THESE MISAPPREHENSIONS.

The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute

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the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation[1] (of the Three in One), on the ground that their very rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God; not understanding that, although He is the one only God, He must yet be believed in with His own oikonomia. The numerical order and distribution of the Trinity they assume to be a division of the Unity; whereas the Unity which derives the Trinity out of its own self is so far from being destroyed, that it is actually supported by it. They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre-eminently the credit of being worshippers of the One God; just as if the Unity itself with irrational deductions did not produce heresy, and the Trinity rationally considered constitute the truth. We, say they, maintain the Monarchy (or, sole government of God).[2] And so, as far as the sound goes, do even Latins (and ignorant ones too) pronounce the word m such a way that you would suppose their understanding of the monarkia (or Monarchy) was as complete as their pronunciation of the term. Well, then Latins take pains to pronounce the monarkia (or Monarchy), while Greeks actually refuse to understand the oikonomia, or Dispensation (of the Three in One). As for myself, however, if I have gleaned any knowledge of either language, I am sure that monarkia (or Monarchy) has no other meaning than single and individual[3] rule; but for all that, this monarchy does not, because it is the government of one, preclude him whose government it is, either from having a son, or from having made himself actually a son to himself,[4] or from ministering his own monarchy by whatever agents he will. Nay more, I contend that no dominion so belongs to one only, as his own, or is in such a sense singular, or is in such a sense a monarchy, as not also to be administered through other persons most closely connected with it, and whom it has itself provided as officials to itself. If, moreover, there be a son belonging to him whose monarchy it is, it does not forthwith become divided and cease to be a monarchy, if the son also be taken as a sharer in it; but it is as to its origin equally his, by whom it is communicated to the son; and being his, it is quite as much a monarchy (or sole empire), since it is held together by two who are so inseparable.[5] Therefore, inasmuch as the Divine Monarchy also is administered by so many legions and hosts of angels, according as it is written, “Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him;”[6] and since it has not from this circumstance ceased to be the rule of one (so as no longer to be a monarchy), because it is administered by so many thousands of powers; how comes it to pass that God should be thought to suffer division and severance in the Son and in the Holy Ghost, who have the second and the third places assigned to them, and who are so closely joined with the Father in His substance, when He suffers no such (division and severance) in the multitude of so many angels? Do you really suppose that Those, who are naturally members of the Father’s own substance, pledges of His love,[7] instruments of His might, nay, His power itself and the entire system of His monarchy, are the overthrow and destruction thereof? You are not right in so thinking. I prefer your exercising yourself on the meaning of the thing rather than on the sound of the word. Now you must understand the overthrow of a monarchy to be this, when another dominion, which has a framework and a state peculiar to itself (and is therefore a rival), is brought in over and above it: when, e.g., some other god is introduced in opposition to the Creator, as in the opinions of Marcion; or when many gods are introduced, according to your Valentinuses and your Prodicuses. Then it amounts to an overthrow of the Monarchy, since it involves the destruction of the Creator.[8]

CHAP. IV.–THE UNITY OF THE GODHEAD AND THE SUPREMACY AND SOLE GOVERNMENT OF THE DIVINE BEING. THE MONARCHY NOT AT ALL IMPAIRED BY THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE.

But as for me, who derive the Son from no other source but from the substance of the Father, and (represent Him) as doing nothing without the Father’s will, and as having received all power from the Father, how can I be possibly destroying the Monarchy from the faith, when I preserve it in the Son just as it was committed to Him by the Father? The same remark (I wish also to be formally) made by me with respect to the third degree in the Godhead, because I believe the Spirit to proceed from no other source than from the Father through the Son.[9] Look to it then, that it be not you rather who are destroying the Monarchy, when you overthrow the arrangement and dispensa-

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tion of it, which has been constituted in just as many names as it has pleased God to employ. But it remains so firm and stable in its own state, notwithstanding the introduction into it of the Trinity, that the Son actuall

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