CONCERNING THE PSYCHICS


EXCERPTS FROM TERTULLIAN

EXCERPTS FROM EARLY CHURCH FATHERS


Tertullian against lenient brethren

25.  Concerning the Psychics.

26.  Concerning remittance of sins.

27.  Concerning fasting.

28.  Concerning marriage.

29.  On the New Prophecy.


25. CONCERNING THE PSYCHICS

For the new grace of God has renewed all things from carnal unto spiritual, by superinducing the Gospel, the obliterator of the whole ancient bygone system; in which our Lord Jesus Christ has been approved as the Spirit of God, and the Word of God, and the Reason of God: the Spirit, by which He was mighty; the Word, by which He taught; the Reason, by which He came (De oratione, 1).

In opposition to this (modesty), could I not have acted the dissembler? I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus -that is, the bishop of bishops-issues an edict: "I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication." O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, "Good deed!" And where shall this liberality be posted up? On the very spot, I suppose, on the very gates of the sensual appetites, beneath the very titles of the sensual appetites (De puditicia, 1).

This too, therefore, shall be a count in my indictment against the Psychics; against the fellowship of sentiment also which I myself formerly maintained with them; in order that they may the more cast this in my teeth for a mark of fickleness. Repudiation of fellowship is never a pre-indication of sin. As if it were not easier to err with the majority, when it is in the company of the few that truth is loved But, however, a profitable fickleness shall no more be a disgrace to me, than I should wish a hurtful one to be an ornament. I blush not at an error which I have ceased to hold, because I am delighted at having ceased to hold it, because I recognise myself to be better and more modest. No one blushes at his own improvement (De puditicia, 1).

But what the Psychics mean is this -that God, the Judge of righteousness, prefers the repentance to the death of that sinner who has preferred death to repentance! If this is so, it is by sinning that we merit favour (De puditicia, 10).

But I would yield my ground to you, if the scripture of "the Shepherd," which is the only one which favours adulterers, had deserved to find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been habitually judged by every council of Churches (even of your own) among apocryphal and false (writings); itself adulterous, and hence a patroness of its comrades; from which in other respects, too, you derive initiation (De puditicia, 10).

Accordingly, these who have received "another Paraclete" in and through the apostles, -(a Paraclete) whom, not recognising Him even in His special prophets, they no longer possess in the apostles either;- come, now, let them, even from the apostolic instrument, teach us the possibility that the stains of a flesh which after baptism has been repolluted, can by repentance be washed away (De puditicia, 12).

Who is this your most audacious asserter of all immodesty, plainly a "most faithful" advocate of the adulterous, and fornicators, and incestuous, in whose honour he has undertaken this cause against the Holy Spirit, so that he recites a false testimony from (the writings of) His apostle? (Paul) ... But this is the usual way with perverse and ignorant heretics; yes, and by this time even with Psychics universally: to arm themselves with the opportune support of some one ambiguous passage, in opposition to the disciplined host of sentences of the entire document (De puditicia, 16).

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, 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 (Adversus Praxean, 1).

I now inquire into your opinion, (to see) from what source you usurp this right to "the Church." If, because the Lord has said to Peter, "Upon this rock will I build My Church," "to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom; " or, "Whatsoever thou shale have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens," you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ... What, now, (has this to do) with the Church, and) your (church), indeed, Psychic? For, in accordance with the person of Peter, it is to spiritual men that this power will correspondently appertain, either to an apostle or else to a prophet. For the very Church itself is, properly and principally, the Spirit Himself, in whom is the Trinity of the One Divinity-Father, Son. and Holy Spirit (De puditicia, 21).

And accordingly "the Church," it is true, will forgive sins: but (it will be) the Church of the Spirit, by means of a spiritual man; not the Church which consists of a number of bishops. For the right and arbitrament is the Lord's, not the servant's; God's Himself, not the priest's (De puditicia, 21).

Thus far touching my eulogy of the flesh, in opposition to its enemies, who are, notwithstanding, its greatest friends also; for there is nobody who lives so much in accordance with the flesh as they who deny the resurrection of the flesh, inasmuch as they despise all its discipline, while they disbelieve its punishment. It is a shrewd saying which the Paraclete utters concerning these persons by the mouth of the prophetess Prisca: "They are carnal, and yet they hate the flesh." (De resurrectione carnis, 11).

It is plain that as they have rejected the prophecies of the Holy Spirit, they are also purposing the refusal of martyrdom. So they murmur that a peace so good and long is endangered for them. Nor do I doubt that some are already turning their back on the Scriptures, are making ready their luggage, are equipped for flight from city to city; for that is all of the gospel they care to remember. I know, too, their pastors are lions in peace, deer in the fight (De corona, 1).

I should wonder at the Psychics, if they were enthralled to voluptuousness alone, which leads them to repeated marriages, if they were not likewise bursting with gluttony, which leads them to hate fasts. Lust without voracity would certainly be considered a monstrous phenomenon; since these two are so united and concrete, that, had there been any possibility of disjoining them, the pudenda would not have been affixed to the belly itself rather than elsewhere. Look at the body: the region (of these members) is one and the same (De jejunio adversus psychicos, 1).

And accordingly (the Psychics think) us to have been even then prenoted as "in the latest times departing from the faith, giving heed to spirits which seduce the world, having a conscience inburnt with doctrines of liars." (Inburnt?) With what fires, prithee? The fires, I ween, which lead us to repeated contracting of nuptials and daily cooking of dinners! (De jejunio adversus psychicos, 2).

But all these (instances) I believe to be unknown to those who are in a state of agitation at our proceedings; or else known by the reading alone, not by careful study as well; in accordance with the greater bulk of "the unskilled" among the overboastful multitude, to wit, of the Psychics. This is why we have steered our course straight through the different individual species of fastings, of xerophagies, of stations: in order that, while we recount, according to the materials which we find in either Testament, the advantages which the dutiful observances of abstinence from, or curtailment or deferment of, food confer, we may refute those who invalidate these things as empty observances; and again, while we similarly point out in what rank of religious duty they have always had place, may confute those who accuse them as novelties: for neither is that novel which has always been, nor that empty which is useful (De jejunio adversus psychicos, 11).

Who, among you, is superior in holiness, except him who is more frequent in banqueting, more sumptuous in catering, more learned in cups? Men of soul and flesh alone as you are, justly do you reject things spiritual. If the prophets were pleasing to such, my (prophets) they were not. Why, then, do not you constantly preach, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die? " just as we do not hesitate manfully to command, "Let us fast, brethren and sisters, lest to-morrow perchance we die." (De jejunio adversus psychicos, 17).

Heretics do away with marriages; Psychics accumulate them. The former marry not even once; the latter not only once. What dost thou, Law of the Creator? Between alien eunuchs and thine own grooms, thou complainest as much of the over-obedience of thine own household as of the contempt of strangers. They who abuse thee, do thee equal hurt with them who use thee not. In fact, neither is such continence laudable because it is heretical, nor such licence defensible because it is psychical. The former is blasphemous, the latter wanton; the former destroys the God of marriages, the latter puts Him to the blush. Among us, however, whom the recognition of spiritual gifts entitles to be deservedly called Spiritual, continence is as religious as licence is modest; since both the one and the other are in harmony with the Creator (De monogamia, 1).

We admit one marriage, just as we do one God. The law of marriage reaps an accession of honour where it is associated with shamefastness. But to the Psychics, since they receive not the Spirit, the things which are the Spirit's are not pleasing. Thus, so long as the things which are the Spirit's please them not, the things which are of the flesh will please, as being the contraries of the Spirit. "The flesh," saith (the apostle), "lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." But what will the flesh "lust" after, except what is more of the flesh? For which reason withal, in. the beginning, it became estranged from the Spirit. "My Spirit," saith (God), "shall not permanently abide in these men eternally, for that they are flesh." (De monogamia, 1).

But they (the Psychics) indulge in promiscuous adulteries, even without divorcing (their partners): to us, even if we do divorce them, even marriage will not be lawful (De monogamia, 9).

What harshness, therefore, is here on our part, if we renounce (communion with) such as do not the will of God? (the Psychics). What heresy, if we judge second marriage, as being unlawful, akin to adultery? (De monogamia, 15).


Tertullian is traditionally regarded as a fiery apologist of unknown biography who burst into Latin Christianity, in the reign of Septimius Severus, with a number of remarkable treatises that he composed over a relatively short period of time, after which he fizzled out for the rest of his long-lasting life. Surprisingly, he focused his attacks on a Greek painter, and also fought some other unfamiliar character that could not share his admiration for a strange group of visionaries who lived in Phrygia long time since. Some less demanding section of the clergy unleashed his fury no less than an otherwise unrecorded persecution of Christians. Not only himself but also his epoch is elusive. Ruthless opponents of the bishop Cyprian, who fled Carthage when Decius launched his anti-Christian campaign, followed his guidelines in a religious confrontation closely mirroring the subsequent Donatist controversy that flared up in Africa after Diocletian’s resignation. Following his unrelenting defence of the orthodox stance and his proscription of all heretics, at some point in time he supposedly forsook the Church Catholic to follow the ridiculous directions and put up with the frivolities of a gang of false prophets. Such two hardly compatible stages in his career were not successive but widely overlapping.

A quite different approach is presented in Did Tertullian really exist? Did Cyprian? Did Hippolytus? according to which the efforts of early 4th-century African and Roman rigorists, forcefully denouncing an entrenched ecclesiastical body intent on preserving its former privileged position in the Church in spite of the disappointing behaviour of many of its members in times of harassment, along with the reaction of the hierarchical organization under attack, gave rise to the purported works of their respective literary champions, which conveniently came down from the preceding century to the assistance of Donatists and Caecilianists.


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