Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tertullian - ad martyrem


AMONGST the aliments of the flesh, which both our Lady Mother the Church from her own bosom, and the brethren singly from their private store, supply to you in your prison, blessed martyrs elect, accept somewhat from me likewise, which may serve to nourish your spirit also.

For that the flesh be made fat, and the spirit hunger, is not good. Yea, if that which is weak be cared for, that which is yet weaker ought as well not to be neglected.

Nor am I such an one as am worthy to speak unto you.

Nevertheless not only their own masters, and superiors, but even private persons, and whosoever will, from a distance needlessly exhort even the most perfect gladiators, so that oftentimes advice suggested even by the vulgar crowd hath been profitable.

First therefore, blessed men, grieve not the Holy Spirit [Eph. 4, 30], Who hath entered with you into the prison; for if He had not now entered in with you, neither would ye have been there this day. And therefore give diligence that He may abide there with you continually; so may He bring you from thence unto the Lord.

Even the prison is in truth the house of the Devil, wherein he keepeth his own household. But therefore have ye come into the prison, that ye may tread him under foot even in his own house: for ye have already wrestled with him abroad, and trodden him under foot. Let him not therefore say, "They are in my own place: I will tempt them with mean enmities and passions, or dissensions among themselves." Let him flee from your sight, and hide himself in his inmost recess, coiled up and listless, like a serpent that hath been charmed or fumigated away.

And let him not so prosper in his own kingdom, as to set you at variance: but let him find you guarded and armed with concord, because your peace is war against him; which peace some, not finding in the Church, have been wont to entreat of the martyrs in prison. And therefore ye ought, were it only for this, to have, and to cherish, and to keep it among yourselves, that ye may be able, if need be, to give it unto others also.

In like manner may all other hindrances of the soul have accompanied you even to the threshold of the prison, just so far as did your parents also. Thenceforth ye were separated from the world itself: how much more from the life of the world, and its concerns! Nor will this dismay you, that you are severed from the world.

For if we consider that the world itself rather is a prison, we shall perceive that ye have rather gone forth from prison than gone into prison.
The world hath the greater darkness, which blindeth the hearts of men.
The world putteth on the heavier bonds, which bind the very souls of men.
The world breatheth forth the worse uncleanness, even the lusts of men.
Finally the world containeth the greater number of criminals, to wit the whole race of man: it awaiteth moreover the judgment, not of the Proconsul, but of God.

Wherefore, blessed men, consider that ye have been translated from a prison to a place, it may be, of safe keeping.
It hath darkness, but ye yourselves are light. [Eph. 5, 8]
It hath bonds, but ye have been made free  by God. [Gal. 5, 1]
An evil breath is littered there, but ye are a sweet savour. [2 Cor. 2, 15]
A judge is looked for: but ye shall judge even the judges themselves. [1 Cor. 6, 2]

Let him be sad there, who sigheth for the enjoyment of the world? The Christian, even when out of prison, hath renounced the world; but, when in prison, a prison also. It mattereth not where ye are in the world, who are without the world: and if ye have lost any of the joys of life, it is a goodly traffic to lose somewhat, that you may gain the more.

I say nothing yet of the reward to which God calleth martyrs.

Let us for the moment compare the very conversation of the world and of the prison, and see whether in the prison the spirit doth not gain more than the flesh loseth. Yea and such things as be right, the flesh loseth not, through the care of the Church, and the love of the brethren; and besides this, the spirit gaineth such things as are ever profitable to the Faith.
Thou seest there no strange gods:
thou comest not upon their images:
thou partakest not in the solemn days of the heathen, even by mingling with them.

Thou art scourged, but not with filthy savours from the sacrifice:
thou art beaten, but not by the shouts of the public shows, the cruelty, or the madness, or the lewdness of the beholders.
Thine eyes fall not upon the places of public lust.
Thou art free from offences, from temptations, from evil recollections, and now too from persecution.

The prison affordeth to the Christian that which the wilderness did to the Prophets.

The Lord Himself ofttimes lived in retirement, that He might pray the more freely, that He might withdraw from the world. It was moreover in a solitary place that He shewed His glory to His disciples. [Mat. 17, 1]

Away with the name of a prison! let us call it a retirement.

Though the body be shut up, though the flesh be confined, all is open to the spirit. Roam freely, thou spirit; walk to and fro, thou spirit; not setting before thee shady walks, or long cloisters, but that way which  leadeth unto God.[John 14. 6]

As oft as thou shalt walk herein in the spirit, so oft shalt thou not be in prison. The leg suffereth nothing in the stocks, while the mind is in Heaven. The mind carrieth about with it the whole man, and removeth him whither it listeth. But where thy heart is, there will thy treasure be also. [Mat. 6, 21] Let therefore our heart be there, where we would have our treasure.

Be it now, blessed men, that a prison is grievous even to Christians.

We were called to the warfare of the living God, even then when we made our answer according to the words of the Sacrament. No soldier cometh with luxuries to the war, nor goeth forth from his chamber to the field of battle, but from slight tents, unfolded and tied down, wherein are found together every hardship, and every opposite of what is good and pleasant.

Even in peace they are already learning by labour and distresses to endure war, by marching under arms, running over the plain, working at the fosse, forming the close 'testudo.' All their doings are made up of toil, lest their bodies and their minds should be terrified in passing from the shade to the sun, from the sun to the open air, from the vest to the coat of mail, from silence to clamour, from rest to tumult.

Wherefore do ye, blessed women, whatsoever hardship there be in this, account it an exercise of the virtues of your mind and body. Ye are about to undergo a good fight [1 Tim. 6,12]wherein the President is the living God; the Trainer the Holy Spirit; the crown, Eternity; the prize, of angelic being, the citizenship of the Heavens [Phil. 3, 20]; the glory for ever and ever.

Wherefore your Master Christ Jesus, Who hath given you the unction of the Spirit [1 John 2, 20], and hath brought you forth unto this wrestling-ground, hath willed, before the day of the contest, to set you apart from a free manner of living unto a severer training, that your powers might be strengthened within yon.

For the wrestlers also are set apart for a stricter discipline, that they may have time for building up their strength. They are kept from luxury, from the richer sorts of food, from the pleasanter kinds of drink: they are constrained, harassed, tired: the more they have toiled in their exercises, the more they hope for the victory. And they, saith the Apostle, that they may obtain a corruptible crown.[1 Cor. 9, 25]

Let us, that are to obtain an eternal one, consider our prison as a wrestling-ground, that, having been daily exercised in all kinds of hardships, we may be brought forth to the course before the judgment-seat; for virtue is built up by hardness, but by softness is destroyed.

We know, from the Lord's precept, that the flesh is weak, the spirit ready. [Mat. 26, 41] Let us not therefore flatter ourselves, because the Lord hath allowed that the flesh is weak.

For for this cause He first said that the spirit is ready, that He might shew which ought to be subject to the other, to wit, that the flesh should serve the spirit, the weaker the stronger, that from it it may itself also receive strength.

Let the spirit confer with the flesh about the common salvation of both, not now thinking of the grievances of the prison, but of the contest and fight itself.

The flesh perchance will fear the heavy sword, and the lofty cross, and the fury of the beasts, and the extreme punishment of the fire, and all the cunning of the executioner in tortures.

But let the spirit on the other hand set this before itself and the flesh, that these things, however bitter, have been nevertheless received by many with an even mind, yea and voluntarily sought after for the sake of fame and glory; and not by men only, but even by women, that ye also, O blessed women, may match your own sex.

It were a long tale to name each of those who, led only by their own spirit [Mat. 13, 46], have slain themselves with the sword.

Of women, Lucretia is a ready example, who having suffered violation, thrust a knife into herself in the sight of her kinsfolk, that she might obtain glory for her chastity. Mutius burned his right hand upon the altar, that fame might lay hold on this his deed. Philosophers have done but little; (Heraclitus, who having besmeared himself with the dung of oxen, burnt himself to death; and Empedocles who leaped down into the fires of Mount Aetna; and Peregrinus, who, not long since, threw himself upon a funeral pile,) since even women have despised fire: Dido, that she might not be compelled to marry after the loss of a most beloved husband: the wife of Asdrubal too, who, while Carthage was now burning, when she saw her own husband a suppliant before Scipio, rushed with her children into the flames of her native city. Regulus, a general of the Romans, taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, when he would not have his single self ransomed at the price of many Carthaginian prisoners, preferred being given back to the enemy, and being crammed into a sort of chest, and pierced on every side with nails from without, experienced so many crucifixions. A woman hath of her own will eagerly encountered beasts, yea even asps, reptiles more horrid than the bull or the bear, which Cleopatra set upon herself, that she might not come into the hands of the enemy.

But the fear of death is not so great as that of tortures! And so the Athenian harlot yielded to the executioner, who, being privy to a conspiracy, when on that account she was put to the torture by the tyrant, did not betray the conspirators, and at last having bitten off her tongue spat it in the tyrant's face, that the torturers might know that they availed nothing, even though they should persist yet farther!

Moreover, that which is at this day the chief solemnity among the Lacedaemonians, the diamasti/gwsij, that is the scourging, is not unknown: in which solemn ceremony all the noble youths are lashed with scourges before the altar, their parents and kinsfolk standing by and exhorting them to endure to the end. For it will be accounted a grace and a glory of an higher character in truth, if the soul rather than the body yield itself to scourgings.

Wherefore if earthly glory hath so great power over the strength of body and mind, that men despise the sword, the fire, the cross, the beasts, the tortures, for the reward of the praise of men, I may say, these sufferings are trifling in the gaining of heavenly glory and a divine reward! Is the glass bead of such value? of how much the real pearl. Who then is not bound to spend most willingly for that which is true, as much as others do for that which is false?

I pass over for the moment, the motive of glory.

All these same conflicts of cruelty and torture even mere display among men, and a sort of disease of the mind, hath ere now trampled on. How many idlers doth a display of feats hire to the service of the sword! Verily they go down even to the beasts from display, and seem to themselves more comely from their bites and their scars. Some also have ere now hired themselves to the flames, to run over a certain space of ground in a burning shirt. Others have walked with most enduring shoulders amidst the lashes of the hunters.

These things, blessed men, the Lord hath suffered to come into the world, not without a cause: but both for our encouragement now, and for our confusion in that Day [2 Tim. 4, 8], if we shall be afraid to suffer for the Truth's sake unto salvation those things, which others have made a display of suffering for vanity's sake unto perdition.

But let us pass over these examples of constancy arising from mere display. Let us turn to the actual contemplation of the condition of man, that those things too may instruct us, whatever they be, which, accustomed to befall men even against their will, must be endured with constancy.

For how often have the flames burned men alive!
How often have wild beasts, both in their own woods and in the middle of cities, having escaped from their dens, devoured men!
How many have been slain by robbers with the sword, and by their enemies even on the cross, having first been tortured, yea and having received, in full, every sort of indignity!

There is no one who may not suffer even for the sake of man, what he scrupleth to suffer in the cause of God.

For this let even the present times be a proof to us, how many persons, and of what quality, meet with deaths not to be expected either from their birth, or their rank, or their persons, or their age, for the sake of man, either from himself, if they act against him, or from his enemies, if they take part with him.

Library of the Fathers 10 (1842) pp. 150-157
Translated by C. Dodgson

Note: Bible verses from Tertullian project where you can find more detailed notes on the text.

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