By My Means

From On Idolatry (ca. 203-211)

I take it that that trade which pertains to spirit of idols, which pampers every demon, falls under the charge of idolatry. Rather, is not that the principal idolatry? If the selfsame merchandises—frankincense, I mean, and all other foreign productions—used as sacrifice to idols, are of use likewise to men for medicinal ointments, to us Christians also, over and above, for solaces in burial, let them see to it. At all events, while the pomps, while the priesthoods, while the sacrifices of idols, are furnished by dangers, by losses, by inconveniences, by cogitations, by runnings to and fro, or trades, what else are you demonstrated to be but an idols’ agent?

Let none contend that, in this way, exception may be taken to all trades. All graver faults extend the sphere for diligence in watchfulness proportionably to the magnitude of the danger; in order that we may withdraw not only from the faults, but from the means through which they have being. For although the fault be done by others, it makes no difference if it be by my means. In no case ought I to be necessary to another, while he is doing what to me is unlawful. Hence I ought to understand that care must be taken by me, lest what I am forbidden to do be done by my means.

In short, in another cause of no lighter guilt I observe that fore-judgment. In that I am forbidden from fornication, I furnish nothing of help or connivance to others for that purpose… So, too, the forbidding of murder shows me that a trainer of gladiators also is excluded from the Church; nor will anyone fail to be the means of doing what he delegates to another to do. Behold, here is a more apt comparison: if a purveyor of the public victims come over to the faith, will you permit him to remain permanently in that trade? or if one who is already a believer shall have undertaken that business, will you think that he is to be retained in the Church?.. No profession, no trade, which administers either to equipping or forming idols, can be free from the title of idolatry; unless we interpret idolatry to be altogether something else than the service of tending idols.

Tertullian (ca. 155-220) was a prolific North African scholar and teacher, the first major Western theologian. He was among the first apologists, writing works vindicating the Christian faith against pagan misunderstandings, as well as treatises about discipleship and criticisms of the Gnostic movement. In his later years, he became a supporter of the rigorist Montanist sect. His On Idolatry is a polemic against pagan religious practice, which also weighs the degrees to which Christians can associate themselves with activities related to it.


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