In which the author gives a concise account of, together with sundry caustic animadversions on, the very fantastic theology of the sect. This treatise is professedly taken from the writings of Justin, Miltiades, Irenaeus, and Proculus.
Translated by Dr. Roberts.
Text edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson and first published by T&T Clark in Edinburgh in 1867. Additional introductionary material and notes provided for the American edition by A. Cleveland Coxe, 1886.
Chapter I. Introductory. Tertullian Compares the Heresy to the Old Eleusinian Mysteries. Both Systems Alike in Preferring Concealment of Error and Sin to Proclamation of Truth and Virtue.The Valentinians, who are no doubt a very large body of heretics'comprising as they do so many apostates from the truth, who have a propensity for fables, and no discipline to deter them (therefrom) care for nothing so much as to obscure  what they preach, if indeed they (can be said to) preach who obscure their doctrine. The officiousness with which they guard their doctrine is an officiousness which betrays their guilt.  Their disgrace is proclaimed in the very earnestness with which they maintain their religious system. Now, in the case of those Eleusinian mysteries, which are the very heresy of Athenian superstition, it is their secrecy that is their disgrace. Accordingly, they previously beset all access to their body with tormenting conditions;  and they require a long initiation before they enrol (their members),  even instruction during five years for their perfect disciples,  in order that they may mould  their opinions by this suspension of full knowledge, and apparently raise the dignity of their mysteries in proportion to the craving for them which they have previously created. Then follows the duty of silence. Carefully is that guarded, which is so long in finding. All the divinity, however, lies in their secret recesses:  there are revealed at last all the aspirations of the fully initiated,  the entire mystery of the sealed tongue, the symbol of virility. But this allegorical representation,  under the pretext of nature's reverend name, obscures a real sacrilege by help of an arbitrary symbol,  and by empty images obviates  the reproach of falsehood!  In like manner, the heretics who are now the object of our remarks,  the Valentinians, have formed Eleusinian dissipations  of their own, consecrated by a profound silence, having nothing of the heavenly in them but their mystery.  By the help of the sacred names and titles and arguments of true religion, they have fabricated the vainest and foulest figment for men's pliant liking,  out of the affluent suggestions of Holy Scripture, since from its many springs many errors may well emanate. If you propose to them inquiries sincere and honest, they answer you with stern  look and contracted brow, and say, "The subject is profound." If you try them with subtle questions, with the ambiguities of their double tongue, they affirm a community of faith (with yourself). If you intimate to them that you understand their opinions, they insist on knowing nothing themselves. If you come to a close engagement with them they destroy your own fond hope of a victory over them by a self-immolation.  Not even to their own disciples do they commit a secret before they have made sure of them. They have the knack of persuading men before instructing them; although truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by first persuading.
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