Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XVI.—The Precept of Loving One’s Enemies. It is as Much Taught in the Creator’s Scriptures of the Old Testament as in Christ’s Sermon. The Lex Talionis of Moses Admirably Explained in Consistency with the Kindness and Love Which Jesus Christ Came to Proclaim and Enforce in Behalf of the Creator. Sundry Precepts of Charity Explained.

“But I say unto you which hear” (displaying here that old injunction, of the Creator: “Speak to the ears of those who lend them to you” 4035 ), “Love your enemies, and bless 4036 those which hate you, and pray for them which calumniate you.” 4037 These commands the Creator included in one precept by His prophet Isaiah: “Say, Ye are our brethren, to those who hate you.” 4038 For if they who are our enemies, and hate us, and speak evil of us, and calumniate us, are to be called our brethren, surely He did in effect bid us bless them that hate us, and pray for them who calumniate us, when He instructed us to reckon them as brethren. Well, but Christ plainly teaches a new kind of patience, 4039 when He actually prohibits the reprisals which the Creator permitted in requiring “an eye for an eye, 4040 and a tooth for a tooth,” 4041 and bids us, on the contrary, “to him who smiteth us on the one cheek, to offer the other also, and to give up our coat to him that taketh away our cloak.” 4042 No doubt these are supplementary additions by Christ, but they are quite in keeping with the teaching of the Creator. And therefore this question must at once be determined, 4043 Whether the discipline of patience be enjoined by 4044 the Creator? When by Zechariah He commanded, “Let none of you imagine evil against his brother,” 4045 He did not expressly include his neighbour; but then in another passage He says, “Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour.” 4046 He who counselled that an injury should be forgotten, was still more likely to counsel the patient endurance of it. But then, when He said, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay,” 4047 He thereby teaches that patience calmly waits for the infliction of vengeance. Therefore, inasmuch as it is incredible 4048 that the same (God) should seem to require “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye,” in return for an injury, who forbids not only all reprisals, but even a revengeful thought or recollection of an injury, in so far does it become plain to us in what sense He required “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,”—not, indeed, for the purpose of permitting the repetition of the injury by retaliating it, which it virtually prohibited when it forbade vengeance; but for the purpose of restraining the injury in the first instance, which it had forbidden on pain of retaliation or reciprocity; 4049 so that every man, in view of the permission to inflict a second (or retaliatory) injury, might abstain from the commission of the first (or provocative) wrong. For He knows how much more easy it is to repress violence by the prospect of retaliation, than by the promise of (indefinite) vengeance.  Both results, however, it was necessary to provide, in consideration of the nature and the faith of men, that the man who believed in God might expect vengeance from God, while he who had no faith (to restrain him) might fear the laws which prescribed retaliation. 4050 This purpose 4051 of the law, which it was difficult to understand, Christ, as the Lord of the Sabbath and of the law, and of all the dispensations of the Father, both revealed and made intelligible, 4052 when He commanded that “the other cheek should be offered (to the smiter),” in order that He might the more effectually extinguish all reprisals of an injury, which the law had wished to prevent by the method of retaliation, (and) which most certainly revelation 4053 had manifestly restricted, both by prohibiting the memory of the wrong, and referring the vengeance thereof to God.  Thus, whatever (new p. 371 provision) Christ introduced, He did it not in opposition to the law, but rather in furtherance of it, without at all impairing the prescription 4054 of the Creator. If, therefore, 4055 one looks carefully 4056 into the very grounds for which patience is enjoined (and that to such a full and complete extent), one finds that it cannot stand if it is not the precept of the Creator, who promises vengeance, who presents Himself as the judge (in the case).  If it were not so, 4057 —if so vast a weight of patience—which is to refrain from giving blow for blow; which is to offer the other cheek; which is not only not to return railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; and which, so far from keeping the coat, is to give up the cloak also—is laid upon me by one who means not to help me,—(then all I can say is,) he has taught me patience to no purpose, 4058 because he shows me no reward to his precept—I mean no fruit of such patience. There is revenge which he ought to have permitted me to take, if he meant not to inflict it himself; if he did not give me that permission, then he should himself have inflicted it; 4059 since it is for the interest of discipline itself that an injury should be avenged. For by the fear of vengeance all iniquity is curbed. But if licence is allowed to it without discrimination, 4060 it will get the mastery—it will put out (a man’s) both eyes; it will knock out 4061 every tooth in the safety of its impunity.  This, however, is (the principle) of your good and simply beneficent god—to do a wrong to patience, to open the door to violence, to leave the righteous undefended, and the wicked unrestrained! “Give to every one that asketh of thee” 4062 —to the indigent of course, or rather to the indigent more especially, although to the affluent likewise. But in order that no man may be indigent, you have in Deuteronomy a provision commanded by the Creator to the creditor. 4063 “There shall not be in thine hand an indigent man; so that the Lord thy God shall bless thee with blessings,” 4064thee meaning the creditor to whom it was owing that the man was not indigent. But more than this. To one who does not ask, He bids a gift to be given. “Let there be, not,” He says, “a poor man in thine hand;” in other words, see that there be not, so far as thy will can prevent; 4065 by which command, too, He all the more strongly by inference requires 4066 men to give to him that asks, as in the following words also: “If there be among you a poor man of thy brethren, thou shalt not turn away thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him as much as he wanteth.” 4067 Loans are not usually given, except to such as ask for them. On this subject of lending, 4068 however, more hereafter. 4069 Now, should any one wish to argue that the Creator’s precepts extended only to a man’s brethren, but Christ’s to all that ask, so as to make the latter a new and different precept, (I have to reply) that one rule only can be made out of those principles, which show the law of the Creator to be repeated in Christ. 4070 For that is not a different thing which Christ enjoined to be done towards all men, from that which the Creator prescribed in favour of a man’s brethren.  For although that is a greater charity, which is shown to strangers, it is yet not preferable to that 4071 which was previously due to one’s neighbours.  For what man will be able to bestow the love (which proceeds from knowledge of character, 4072 upon strangers? Since, however, the second step 4073 in charity is towards strangers, while the first is towards one’s neighbours, the second step will belong to him to whom the first also belongs, more fitly than the second will belong to him who owned no first. 4074 Accordingly, the Creator, when following the course of nature, taught in the first instance kindness to neighbours4075 intending afterwards to enjoin it towards strangers; and when following the method of His dispensation, He limited charity first to the Jews, but afterwards extended it to the whole race of mankind. So long, therefore, as the mystery of His government 4076 was confined to Israel, He properly commanded that pity should be shown only to a man’s brethren; but when Christ had given to Him “the Gentiles for His heritage, and the ends of the earth for His possession,” then began to be accomplished what was said by Hosea: “Ye are not my people, who were my people; ye have not obtained mercy, who p. 372 once obtained mercy” 4077 —that is, the (Jewish) nation. Thenceforth Christ extended to all men the law of His Father’s compassion, excepting none from His mercy, as He omitted none in His invitation. So that, whatever was the ampler scope of His teaching, He received it all in His heritage of the nations. “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” 4078 In this command is no doubt implied its counterpart: “And as ye would not that men should do to you, so should ye also not do to them likewise.” Now, if this were the teaching of the new and previously unknown and not yet fully proclaimed deity, who had favoured me with no instruction beforehand, whereby I might first learn what I ought to choose or to refuse for myself, and to do to others what I would wish done to myself, not doing to them what I should be unwilling to have done to myself, it would certainly be nothing else than the chance-medley of my own sentiments 4079 which he would have left to me, binding me to no proper rule of wish or action, in order that I might do to others what I would like for myself, or refrain from doing to others what I should dislike to have done to myself. For he has not, in fact, defined what I ought to wish or not to wish for myself as well as for others, so that I shape my conduct 4080 according to the law of my own will, and have it in my power 4081 not to render 4082 to another what I would like to have rendered to myself—love, obedience, consolation, protection, and such like blessings; and in like manner to do to another what I should be unwilling to have done to myself—violence, wrong, insult, deceit, and evils of like sort.  Indeed, the heathen who have not been instructed by God act on this incongruous liberty of the will and the conduct. 4083 For although good and evil are severally known by nature, yet life is not thereby spent 4084 under the discipline of God, which alone at last teaches men the proper liberty of their will and action in faith, as in the fear of God. The god of Marcion, therefore, although specially revealed, was, in spite of his revelation, unable to publish any summary of the precept in question, which had hitherto been so confined, 4085 and obscure, and dark, and admitting of no ready interpretation, except according to my own arbitrary thought, 4086 because he had provided no previous discrimination in the matter of such a precept. This, however, was not the case with my God, for 4087 He always and everywhere enjoined that the poor, and the orphan, and the widow should be protected, assisted, refreshed; thus by Isaiah He says: “Deal thy bread to the hungry, and them that are houseless bring into thine house; when thou seest the naked, cover him.” 4088 By Ezekiel also He thus describes the just man: “His bread will he give to the hungry, and the naked will he cover with a garment.” 4089 That teaching was even then a sufficient inducement to me to do to others what I would that they should do unto me. Accordingly, when He uttered such denunciations as, “Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness,” 4090 —He taught me to refrain from doing to others what I should be unwilling to have done to myself; and therefore the precept developed in the Gospel will belong to Him alone, who anciently drew it up, and gave it distinctive point, and arranged it after the decision of His own teaching, and has now reduced it, suitably to its importance, 4091 to a compendious formula, because (as it was predicted in another passage) the Lord—that is, Christ—“was to make (or utter) a concise word on earth.” 4092



2 Esdras xv. 1 and comp. Luke 6:27, 28.


Benedicite. St. Luke’s word, however, is καλῶς ποιεῖτε, “do good.”


Calumniantur. St. Luke’s word applies to injury of speech as well as of act.


Isa. lxvi. 5.


“We have here the sense of Marcion’s objection. I do not suppose Tertullian quotes his very words.”—Le Prieur.


Le Prieur refers to a similar passage in Tertullian’s De Patientia, chap. vi. Oehler quotes an eloquent passage in illustration from Valerianus Episc. Hom. xiii.


Ex. xxi. 24.


Luke vi. 29.


Renuntiandum est.




Zech. vii. 10.


Zech. viii. 17.


Deut. 32:35, Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30.


Fidem non capit.


Talione, opposito.


Leges talionis. [Judicial, not personal, reprisals.]




Compotem facit. That is, says Oehler, intellectus sui.




Disciplinas: or, “lessons.”




Considerem, or, as some of the editions have it, consideremus.




In vacuum.


Præstare, i.e., debuerat præstare.






Luke vi. 30.




The author’s reading of Deut. xv. 4.


Cura ultro ne sit.




Deut. 15:7, 8.


De fenore.


Below, in the next chapter.


This obscure passage runs thus: “Immo unum erit ex his per quæ lex Creatoris erit in Christo.”


Prior ea.


This is the idea, apparently, of Tertullian’s question: “Quis enim poterit diligere extraneos?” But a different turn is given to the sense in the older reading of the passage: Quis enim non diligens proximos poterit diligere extraneos? “For who that loveth not his neighbours will be able to love strangers?” The inserted words, however, were inserted conjecturally by Fulvius Ursinus without ms. authority.




Cujus non extitit primus.


In proximos.




The sense rather than the words of Hos. 1:6, 9.


Luke vi. 31.


Passivitatem sententiæ meæ.


Parem factum.






Hac inconvenientia voluntatis et facti. Will and action.


Non agitur.




Pro meo arbitrio.


At enim. The Greek ἀλλὰ γάρ.


Isa. lviii. 7.


Ezek. xviii. 7.


Ex. xx. 13-16.




“Recisum sermonem facturus in terris Dominus.” This reading of Isa. x. 23 is very unlike the original, but (as frequently happens in Tertullian) is close upon the Septuagint version: ῞Οτι λόγον συντετμημένον Κύριος ποιήσει ἐν τῇ οἰκουμένῃ ὅλῃ. [Rom. ix. 28.]

Next: Concerning Loans.  Prohibition of Usury and the Usurious Spirit. The Law Preparatory to the Gospel in Its Provisions; So in the Present Instance.  On Reprisals. Christ's Teaching Throughout Proves Him to Be Sent by the Creator.