On Repentance - Tertullian
Translated by the Rev. S. Thelwall.
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. Of Heathen Repentance.
Repentance, men understand, so far as nature is able, to be an emotion of
the mind arising from disgust  at some previously cherished worse
sentiment: that kind of men I mean which even we ourselves were in days gone
by'blind, without the Lord's light. From the reason of repentance, however,
they are just as far as they are from the Author of reason Himself. Reason,
in fact, is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker
of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason'nothing which He has
not willed should be handled and understood by reason. All, therefore, who
are ignorant of God, must necessarily be ignorant also of a thing which is
His, because no treasure-house  at all is accessible to strangers. And
thus, voyaging all the universal course of life without the rudder of
reason, they know not how to shun the hurricane which is impending over the
world.  Moreover, how irrationally they behave in the practice of
repentance, it will be enough briefly to show just by this one fact, that
they! exercise it even in the case of their good deeds. They repent of good
faith, of love, of simple-heartedness, of patience, of mercy, just in
proportion as any deed prompted by these feelings has fallen on thankless
soil. They execrate their own selves for having done good; and that species
chiefly of repentance which is applied to the best works they fix in their
heart, making it their care to remember never again to do a good turn. On
repentance for evil deeds, on the contrary, they lay lighter stress. In
short, they make this same (virtue) a means of sinning more readily than a
means of right-doing.
Chapter II. True Repentance a Thing Divine, Originated by God, and Subject
to His Laws.
But if they acted as men who had any part in God, and thereby in reason
also, they would first weigh well the importance of repentance, and would
never apply it in such a way as to make it a ground for convicting
themselves of perverse self-amendment. In short, they would regulate the
limit of their repentance, because they would reach (a limit) in sinning
too'by fearing God, I mean. But where there is no fear, in like manner there
is no amendment; where there is no amendment, repentance is of necessity
vain, for it lacks the fruit for which God sowed it; that is, man's
salvation. For God'after so many and so great sins of human temerity, begun
by the first of the race, Adam, after the condemnation of man, together with
the dowry of the world  after his ejection from paradise and
subjection to death'when He had hasted back to His own mercy, did from that
time onward inaugurate repentance in His own self, by rescinding the
sentence of His first wrath, engaging to grant pardon to His own work and
image.  And so He gathered together a people for Himself, and fostered
them with many liberal distributions of His bounty, and, after so often
finding them most ungrateful, ever exhorted them to repentance and sent out
the voices of the universal company of the prophets to prophesy. By and by,
promising freely the grace which in the last times He was intending to pour
as a flood of light on the universal world  through His Spirit, He
bade the baptism of repentance lead the way, with the view of first
preparing,  by means of the sign and seal of repentance, them whom He
was calling, through grace, to (inherit) the promise surely made to Abraham.
John holds not his peace, saying, "Enter upon repentance, for now shall
salvation approach the nations"  'the Lord, that is, bringing
salvation according to God's promise. To Him John, as His harbinger,
directed the repentance (which he preached), whose province was the purging
of men's minds, that whatever defilement inveterate error had imparted,
whatever contamination in the heart of man ignorance had engendered, that
repentance should sweep and scrape away, and cast out of doors, and thus
prepare the home of the heart, by making it clean, for the Holy Spirit, who
was about to supervene, that He might with pleasure introduce Himself
there-into, together with His celestial blessings. Of these blessings the
title is briefly one the salvation of man'the abolition of former sins being
the preliminary step. This  is the (final) cause of repentance, this
her work, in taking in hand the business of divine mercy. What is profitable
to man does service to God. The rule of repentance, however, which we learn
when we know the Lord, retains a definite form,'viz., that no violent hands
so to speak, be ever laid on good deeds or thoughts.  For God, never
giving His sanction to the reprobation of good deeds, inasmuch as they are
His own (of which, being the author, He must necessarily be the defender
too), is in like manner the acceptor of them, and if the acceptor, likewise
the rewarder. Let, then, the ingratitude of men see to it,  if it
attaches repentance even to good works; let their gratitude see to it too,
if the desire of earning it be the incentive to well-doing: earthly and
mortal are they each. For how small is your gain if you do good to a
grateful man! or your loss if to an ungrateful! A good deed has God as its
debtor, just as an evil has too; for a judge is rewarder of every cause.
Well, since, God as Judge presides over the exacting and maintaining
 of justice, which to Him is most dear; and since it is with an eye to
justice that He appoints all the sum of His discipline, is there room for
doubting that, just as in all our acts universally, so also in the case of
repentance, justice must be rendered to God?'which duty can indeed only be
fulfilled on the condition that repentance be brought to bear only on sins.
Further, no deed but an evil one deserves to be called sin, nor does any one
err by well-doing. But if he does not err, why does he invade (the province
of) repentance, the private ground of such as do err? Why does he impose on
his goodness a duty proper to wickedness? Thus it comes to pass that, when a
thing is called into play where it ought not, there, where it ought, it is
Chapter III. Sins May Be Divided into Corporeal and Spiritual. Both Equally
Subject, If Not to Human, Yet to Divine Investigation and Punishment
What things, then, they be for which repentance seems just and due'that is,
what things are to be set down under the head of sin'the occasion indeed
demands that I should note down; but (to do so) may seem to be unnecessary.
For when the Lord is known, our spirit, having been" looked back upon"
 by its own Author, emerges unbidden into the knowledge of the truth;
and being admitted to (an acquaintance with) the divine precepts, is by them
forthwith instructed that "that from which God bids us abstain is to be
accounted sin: "inasmuch as, since it is generally agreed that God is some
great essence of good, of course nothing but evil would be displeasing to
good; in that, between things mutually contrary, friendship there is none.
Still it will not be irksome briefly to touch upon the fact  that,
of sins, some are carnal, that is, corporeal; some spiritual. For since man
is composed of this combination of a two-fold substance, the sources of his
sins are no other than the sources of his composition. But it is not the
fact that body and spirit are two things that constitute the sins mutually
different'otherwise they are on this account rather equal, because the two
make up one'lest any make the distinction between their sins proportionate
to the difference between their substances, so as to esteem the one lighter,
or else heavier, than the other: if it be true, (as it is, ) that both flesh
and spirit are creatures of God; one wrought by His hand, one consummated by
His afflatus. Since, then, they equally pertain to the Lord, whichever of
them sins equally offends the Lord. Is it for you to distinguish the acts of
the flesh and the spirit, whose communion and conjunction in life, in death,
and in resurrection, are so intimate, that "at that time"  they are
equally raised up either for life or else for judgment; because, to wit,
they have equally either sinned or lived innocently? This we would (once for
all) premise, in order that we may understand that no less necessity for
repentance is incumbent on either part of man, if in anything it have
sinned, than on both. The guilt of both is common; common, too, is the
Judge'God to wit; common, therefore, is withal the healing medicine of
repentance. The source whence sins are named "spiritual" and "corporeal" is
the fact that every sin is matter either of act or else of thought: so that
what is in deed is "corporeal," because a deed, like a body, is capable of
being seen and touched; what is in the mind is "spiritual," because spirit
is neither seen nor handled: by which consideration is shown that sins not
of deed only, but of will too, are to be shunned, and by repentance purged.
For if human finitude  judges only sins of deed, because it is not
equal to (piercing) the lurking-places of the will, let us not on that
account make light of crimes of the will in God's sight. God is
all-sufficient. Nothing from whence any sin whatsoever proceeds is remote
from His sight; because He is neither ignorant, nor does He omit to decree
it to judgment. He is no dissembler of, nor double-dealer with,  His
own clear-sightedness. What (shall we say of the fact) that will is the
origin of deed? For if any sins are imputed to chance, or to necessity, or
to ignorance, let them see to themselves: if these be excepted, there is no
sinning save by will. Since, then, will is the origin of deed, is it not so
much the rather amenable to penalty as it is first in guilt? Nor, if some
difficulty interferes with its full accomplishment, is it even in that ease
exonerated; for it is itself imputed to itself: nor; having done the work
which lay in its own power, will it be excusable by reason of that
miscarriage of its accomplishment. In fact, how does the Lord demonstrate
Himself as adding a superstructure to the Law, except by interdicting sins
of the will as well (as other sins); while He defines not only the man who
had actually invaded another's wedlock to be an adulterer, but likewise him
who had contaminated (a woman) by the concupiscence of his gaze? 
Accordingly it is dangerous enough for the mind to set before itself what it
is forbidden to perform, and rashly through the will to perfect its
execution. And since the power of this will is such that, even without fully
sating its self-gratification, it stands for a deed; as a deed, therefore,
it shall be punished. It is utterly vain to say, "I willed, but yet I did
not." Rather you ought to carry the thing through, because you will; or else
not to will, because you do not carry it through. But, by the confession of
your consciousness, you pronounce your own condemnation. For if you eagerly
desired a good thing, you would have been anxious to carry it through; in
like manner, as you do not carry an evil thing through, you ought not to
have eagerly desired it. Wherever you take your stand, you are fast bound by
guilt; because you have either willed evil, or else have not fulfilled good.
Chapter IV. Repentance Applicable to All the Kinds of Sin. To Be Practised
Not Only, Nor Chiefly, for the Good It Brings, But Because God Commands It.
To all sins, then, committed whether by flesh or spirit, whether by deed or
will, the same God who has destined penalty by means of judgment, has withal
engaged to grant pardon by means of repentance, saying to the people,
"Repent thee, and I will save thee; "  and again, "I live, saith the
Lord, and I will (have) repentance rather than death."  Repentance,
then, is "life," since it is preferred to "death." That repentance, O
sinner, like myself (nay, rather, less than myself, for pre-eminence in sins
I acknowledge to be mine  ), do you so hasten to, so embrace, as a
shipwrecked man the protection  of some plank. This will draw you
forth when sunk in the waves of sins, and will bear you forward into the
port of the divine clemency. Seize the opportunity of unexpected felicity:
that you, who sometime were in God's sight nothing but "a drop of a
bucket,"  and "dust of the threshing-floor,"  and "a
potter's vessel,"  may thenceforward become that "tree which is sown
beside  the waters, is perennial in leaves, bears fruit at its own
time,"  and shall not see fire,"  nor "axe."  Having
found "the truth,"  repent of errors; repent of having loved what
God loves not: even we ourselves do not permit our slave-lads not to hate
the things which are offensive to us; for the principle of voluntary
obedience  consists in similarity of minds.
To reckon up the good, of repentance, the subject-matter is copious, and
therefore should be committed to great eloquence. Let us, however, in
proportion to our narrow abilities, inculcate one point,'that what God
enjoins is good and best. I hold it audacity to dispute about the "good" of
a divine precept; for, indeed, it is not the fact that it is good which
binds us to obey, but the fact that God has enjoined it. To exact the
rendering of obedience the majesty of divine power has the prior 
right; the authority of Him who commands is prior to the utility of him who
serves. "Is it good to repent, or no? "Why do you ponder? God enjoins; nay,
He not merely enjoins, but likewise exhorts. He invites by (offering)
reward'salvation, to wit; even by an oath, saying "I live,"  He
desires that credence may be given Him. Oh blessed we, for whose Sake God
swears! Oh most miserable, if we believe not the Lord even when He swears!
What, therefore, God so highly commends, what He even (after human fashion)
attests on oath, we are bound of course to approach, and to guard with the
utmost seriousness; that, abiding permanently in (the faith of) the solemn
pledge  of divine grace, we may be able also to persevere in like
manner in its fruit  and its benefit.
Chapter V. Sin Never to Be Returned to After Repentance. 
For what I say is this, that the repentance which, being shown us and
commanded us through God's grace, recalls us to grace  with the
Lord, when once learned and undertaken by us ought never afterward to be
cancelled by repetition of sin. No pretext of ignorance now remains to plead
on your behalf; in that, after acknowledging the Lord, and accepting His
precepts  'in short, after engaging in repentance of (past) sins'you
again betake you self to sins. Thus, in as far as you are removed from
ignorance, in so far are you cemented  to contumacy. For if the
ground on which you had repented of having sinned was that you had begun to
fear the Lord, why have you preferred to rescind what you did for fear's
sake, except because you have ceased to fear? For there is no other thing
but contumacy which subverts fear. Since there is no exception which defends
from liability to penalty even such as are ignorant of the Lord'because
ignorance of God, openly as He is set before men, and comprehensible as He
is even on the score of His heavenly benefits, is not possible  'how
perilous is it for Him to be despised when known? Now, that man does despise
Him, who, after attaining by His help to an understanding of things good and
evil, often an affront to his own understanding'that is, to God's gift'by
resuming what he understands ought to be shunned, and what he has already
shunned: he rejects the Giver in abandoning the gift; he denies the
Benefactor in not honouring the benefit. How can he be pleasing to Him,
whose gift is displeasing to himself? Thus he is shown to be not only
contumacious toward the Lord, but likewise ungrateful. Besides, that man
commits no light sin against the Lord, who, after he had by repentance
renounced His rival the devil, and had under this appellation subjected him
to the Lord, again upraises him by his own return (to the enemy), and makes
himself a ground of exultation to him; so that the Evil One, with his prey
recovered, rejoices anew against the Lord. Does he not'what is perilous even
to say, but must be put forward with a view to edification'place the devil
before the Lord? For he seems to have made the comparison who has known
each; and to have judicially pronounced him to be the better whose (servant)
he has preferred again to be. Thus he who, through repentance for sins, had
begun to make satisfaction to the Lord, will, through another repentance of
his repentance, make satisfaction to the devil, and will be the more hateful
to God in proportion as he will be the more acceptable to His rival. But
some say that "God is satisfied if He be looked up to with the heart and the
mind, even if this be not done in outward act, and that thus they sin
without damage to their fear and their faith: "that is, that they violate
wedlock without damage to their chastity; they mingle poison for their
parent without damage to their filial duty! Thus, then, they will themselves
withal be thrust down into hell without damage to their pardon, while they
sin without damage to their fear! Here is a primary example of perversity:
they sin, because they fear!  I suppose, if they feared not, they
would not sin! Let him, therefore, who would not have God offended not
revere Him at all, if fear  is the plea for offending But these
dispositions have been wont to sprout from the seed of hypocrites, whose
friendship with the devil is indivisible, whose repentance never faithful.
Chapter VI. Baptism Not to Be Presumptously Received, It Requires Preceding
Repentance, Manifested by Amendment of Life.
Whatever, then, our poor ability has attempted to suggest with reference to
laying hold of repentance once for all, and perpetually retaining it, does
indeed bear upon all who are given up to the Lord, as being all competitors
for salvation in earning the favour of God; but is chiefly urgent in the
case of those young novices who are only just beginning to bedew 
their ears with divine discourses, and who, as whelps in yet early infancy,
and with eyes not yet perfect, creep about uncertainly, and say indeed that
they renounce their former deed, and assume (the profession of) repentance,
but neglect to complete it.  For the very end of desiring importunes
them to desire somewhat of their former deeds; just as fruits, when they are
already beginning to turn into the sourness or bitterness of age, do yet
still in some part flatter  their own loveliness. Moreover, a
presumptuous confidence in baptism introduces all kind of vicious delay and
tergiversation with regard to repentance; for, feeling sure of undoubted
pardon of their sins, men meanwhile steal the intervening time, and make it
for themselves into a holiday-time  for sinning, rather than a time
for learning not to sin. Further, how inconsistent is it to expect pardon of
sins (to be granted) to a repentance which they have not fulfilled! This is
to hold out your hand for merchandise, but not produce the price. For
repentance is the price at which the Lord has determined to award pardon: He
proposes the redemption  of release from penalty at this
compensating exchange of repentance. If, then, sellers first examine the
coin with which they make their bargains, to see whether it be cut, or
scraped, or adulterated,  we believe likewise that the Lord, when
about to make us the grant of so costly merchandise, even of eternal life,
first institutes a probation of our repentance. "But meanwhile let us defer
the reality of our repentance: it will then, I suppose, be clear that we are
amended when we are absolved."  By no means; (but our amendment
should be manifested) while, pardon being in abeyance, there is still a
prospect of penalty; while the penitent does not yet merit'so far as merit
we can'his liberation; while God is threatening, not while He is forgiving.
For what slave, after his position has been changed by reception of freedom,
charges himself with his (past) thefts and desertions? What soldier, after
his discharge, makes satisfaction for his (former) brands? A sinner is bound
to bemoan himself before receiving pardon, because the time of repentance is
coincident with that of peril and of fear. Not that I deny that the divine
benefit'the putting away of sins, I mean'is in every way sure to such as are
on the point of entering the (baptismal) water; but what we have to labour
for is, that it may be granted us to attain that blessing. For who will
grant to you, a man of so faithless repentance, one single sprinkling of any
water whatever? To approach it by stealth, indeed, and to get the minister
appointed over this business misled by your asseverations, is easy; but God
takes foresight for His own treasure, and suffers not the unworthy to steal
a march upon it. What, in fact, does He say? "Nothing hid which shall not be
revealed."  Draw whatever (veil of) darkness you please over your
deeds, "God is light."  But some think as if God were under a
necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give);
and they turn His liberality into slavery. But if it is of necessity that
God grants us the symbol of death,  then He does so unwilling. But
who permits a gift to be permanently retained which he has granted
unwillingly? For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? is not this gift
taken away from many? These, no doubt, are they who do steal a march upon
(the treasure), who, after approaching to the faith of repentance, set up on
the sands a house doomed to ruin. Let no one, then, flatter himself on the
ground of being assigned to the "recruit-classes" of learners, as if on that
account he have a licence even now to sin. As soon as you "know the Lord,
 you should fear Him; as soon as you have gazed on Him, you should
reverence Him. But what difference does your "knowing" Him make, while you
rest in the same practises as in days bygone, when you knew Him not? What,
moreover, is it which distinguishes you from a perfected  servant of
God? Is there one Christ for the baptized, another for the learners? Have
they some different hope or reward? some different dread of judgment? some
different necessity for repentance? That baptismal washing is a sealing of
faith, which faith is begun and is commended by the faith of repentance. We
are not washed in order that we may cease sinning, but because we have
ceased, since in heart we have been bathed  already. For the first
baptism of a learner is this, a perfect fear;  thenceforward, in so
far as you have understanding of the Lord faith is sound, the conscience
having once for all embraced repentance. Otherwise, if it is (only) after
the baptismal waters that we cease sinning, it is of necessity, not of
free-will, that we put on innocence. Who, then, is pro-eminent in goodness?
he who is not allowed, or he whom it displeases, to be evil? he who is
bidden, or he whose pleasure it is, to be free from crime? Let us, then,
neither keep our hands from theft unless the hardness of bars withstand us,
nor refrain our eyes from the concupiscence of fornication unless we be
withdrawn by guardians of our persons, if no one who has surrendered himself
to the Lord is to cease sinning unless he be bound thereto by baptism. But
if any entertain this sentiment, I know not whether he, after baptism, do
not feel more sadness to think that he has ceased from sinning, than
gladness that he hath escaped from it. And so it is becoming that learners
desire baptism, but do not hastily receive it: for he who desires it,
honours it; he who hastily receives it, disdains it: in the one appears
modesty, in the other arrogance; the former satisfies, the latter neglects
it; the former covets to merit it, but the latter promises it to himself as
a due return; the former takes, the latter usurps it. Whom would you judge
worthier, except one who is more amended? whom more amended, except one who
is more timid, and on that account has fulfilled the duty of true
repentance? for he has feared to continue still in sin, lest he should not
merit the reception of baptism. But the hasty receiver, inasmuch as he
promised it himself (as his due), being forsooth secure (of obtaining it),
could not fear: thus he fulfilled not repentance either, because he lacked
the instrumental agent of repentance, that is, fear.  Hasty
reception is the portion of irreverence; it inflates the seeker, it despises
the Giver. And thus it sometimes deceives,  for it promises to
itself the gift before it be due; whereby He who is to furnish the gift is
Chapter VII. Of Repentance, in the Case of Such as Have Lapsed After
So long, Lord Christ, may the blessing of learning or hearing concerning the
discipline of repentance be granted to Thy servants, as is likewise behoves
them, while learners,  not to sin; in other words, may they
thereafter know nothing of repentance, and require nothing of it. It is
irksome to append mention of a second'nay, in that case, the last'hope;
 lest, by treating of a remedial repenting yet in reserve, we seem to
be pointing to a yet further space for sinning. Far be it that any one so
interpret our meaning, as if, because there is an opening for repenting,
there were even now, on that account, an opening for sinning; and as if the
redundance of celestial clemency constituted a licence for human temerity.
Let no one be less good because God is more so, by repeating his sin as
often as he is forgiven. Otherwise be sure he will find an end of escaping,
when he shall not find one of sinning. We have escaped once: thus far and no
farther let us commit ourselves to perils, even if we seem likely to escape
a second time.  Men in general, after escaping shipwreck,
thenceforward declare divorce with ship and sea; and by cherishing the
memory of the danger, honour the benefit conferred by God,'their
deliverance, namely. I praise their fear, I love their reverence; they are
unwilling a second time to be a burden to the divine mercy; they fear to
seem to trample on the benefit which they have attained; they shun, with a
solicitude which at all events is good, to make trial a second time of that
which they have once learned to fear. Thus the limit of their temerity is
the evidence of their fear.
Moreover, man's fear  is an honour to God. But however, that most
stubborn foe (of ours) never gives his malice leisure; indeed, he is then
most savage when he fully feels that a man is freed from his clutches; he
then flames fiercest while he is fast becoming extinguished. Grieve and
groan he must of necessity over the fact that, by the grant of pardon, so
many works of death  in man have been overthrown, so many marks of
the condemnation which formerly was his own erased. He grieves that that
sinner, (now) Christ's servant, is destined to judge him and his angels.
 And so he observes, assaults, besieges him, in the hope that he may
be able in some way either to strike his eyes with carnal concupiscence, or
else to entangle his mind with worldly enticements, or else to subvert his
faith by fear of earthly power, or else to wrest him from the sure way by
perverse traditions: he is never deficient in stumbling-blocks nor in
temptations. These poisons of his, therefore, God foreseeing, although the
gate of forgiveness has been shut and fastened up with the bar of baptism,
has permitted it still to stand somewhat open.  In the vestibule He
has stationed the second repentance for opening to such as knock: but now
once far all, because now for the second time;  but never more
because the last time it had been in vain. For is not even this once enough?
You have what you now deserved not, for you had lost what you had received.
If the Lord's indulgence grants you the means of restoring what you had
lost, be thankful for the benefit renewed, not to say amplified; for
restoring is a greater thing than giving, inasmuch as having lost is more
miserable than never having received at all. However, if any do incur the
debt of a second repentance, his spirit is not to be forthwith cut down and
undermined by despair. Let it by all means be irksome to sin again, but let
not to repent again be irksome: irksome to imperil one's self again, but not
to be again set free. Let none be ashamed. Repeated sickness must have
repeated medicine. You will show your gratitude to the Lord by not refusing
what the Lord offers you. You have offended, but can still be reconciled.
You have One whom you may satisfy, and Him willing. 
Chapter VIII. Examples from Scripture to Prove the Lord's Willingness to
This if you doubt, unravel  the meaning of "what the Spirit saith to
the churches." He imputes to the Ephesians "forsaken love; " 
reproaches the Thyatirenes with "fornication," and "eating of things
sacrificed to idols; "  accuses the Sardians of "works not full; "
 censures the Pergamenes for teaching perverse things; 
upbraids the Laodiceans for trusting to their riches;  and yet gives
them all general monitions to repentance'under comminations, it is true; but
He would not utter comminations to one unrepentant if He did not forgive the
repentant. The matter were doubtful if He had not withal elsewhere
demonstrated this profusion of His clemency. Saith He not,  "He who
hath fallen shall rise again, and he who hath been averted shall be
converted? "He it is, indeed, who "would have mercy rather than
sacrifices."  The heavens, and the angels who are there, are glad at
a man's repentance.  Ho! you sinner, be of good cheer! you see where
it is that there is joy at your return. What meaning for us have those
themes of the Lord's parables? Is not the fact that a woman has lost a
drachma, and seeks it and finds it, and invites her female friends to share
her joy, an example of a restored sinner?  There strays, withal, one
little ewe of the shepherd's; but the flock was not more dear than the one:
that one is earnestly sought; the one is longed for instead of all; and at
length she is found, and is borne back on the shoulders of the shepherd
himself; for much had she toiled  in straying.  That most
gentle father, likewise, I will not pass over in silence, who calls his
prodigal son home, and willingly receives him repentant after his indigence,
slays his best fatted calf, and graces his joy with a banquet.  Why
not? He had found the son whom he had lost; he had felt him to be all the
dearer of whom he had made a gain. Who is that father to be understood by us
to be? God, surely: no one is so truly a Father;  no one so rich in
paternal love. He, then, will receive you, His own son,  back, even
if you have squandered what you had received from Him, even if you return
naked'just because you have returned; and will joy more over your return
than over the sobriety of the other;  but only if you heartily
repent'if you compare your own hunger with the plenty of your Father's
"hired servants"'if you leave behind you the swine, that unclean herd'if you
again seek your Father, offended though He be, saying, "I have sinned, nor
am worthy any longer to be called Thine." Confession of sins lightens, as
much as dissimulation aggravates them; for confession is counselled by (a
desire to make) satisfaction, dissimulation by contumacy.
Chapter IX. Concerning the Outward Manifestations by Which This Second
Repentance is to Be Accompanied.
The narrower, then, the sphere of action of this second and only (remaining)
repentance, the more laborious is its probation; in order that it may not be
exhibited in the conscience alone, but may likewise be carried out in some
(external) act. This act, which is more usually expressed and commonly
spoken of under a Greek name, is 8  whereby we confess
our sins to the Lord, not indeed as if He were ignorant of them, but
inasmuch as by confession satisfaction is settled,  of confession
repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased. And thus exomologesis is
a discipline for man's prostration and humiliation, enjoining a demeanor
calculated to move mercy. With regard also to the very dress and food, it
commands (the penitent) to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in
mourning,  to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe
treatment the sins which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and
drink but such as is plain,'not for the stomach's sake, to wit, but the
soul's; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fastings, to groan,
to weep and make outcries  unto the Lord your  God; to bow
before the feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God's dear ones; to enjoin
on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his  deprecatory
supplication (before God). All this exomologesis (does), that it may enhance
repentance; may honour God by its fear of the (incurred) danger; may, by
itself pronouncing against the sinner, stand in the stead of God's
indignation, and by temporal mortification (I will not say frustrate, but)
expunge eternal punishments. Therefore, while it abases the man, it raises
him; while it covers him with squalor, it renders him more clean; while it
accuses, it excuses; while it condemns, it absolves. The less quarter you
give yourself, the more (believe me) will God give you.
Chapter X. Of Men's Shrinking from This Second Repentance and Exomologesis,
and of the Unreasonableness of Such Shrinking.
Yet most men either shun this work, as being a public exposure of
themselves, or else defer it from day to day. I presume (as being) more
mindful of modesty than of salvation; just like men who, having contracted
some malady in the more private parts of the body, avoid the privity of
physicians, and so perish with their own bashfulness. It is intolerable,
forsooth, to modesty to make satisfaction to the offended Lord! to be
restored to its forfeited  salvation! Truly you are honourable in
your modesty; bearing an open forehead for sinning, but an abashed one for
deprecating! I give no place to bashfulness when I am a gainer by its loss;
when itself in some son exhorts the man, saying, "Respect not me; it is
better that I perish through  you, i.e. than you through me." At all
events, the time when (if ever) its danger is serious, is when it is a butt
for jeering speech in the presence of insulters, where one man raises
himself on his neighbour's ruin, where there is upward clambering over the
prostrate. But among. brethren and fellow-servants, where there is common
hope, fear,  joy, grief, suffering, because there is a common Spirit
from a common Lord and Father, why do you think these brothers to be
anything other than yourself? Why flee from the partners of your own
mischances, as from such as will derisively cheer them? The body cannot feel
gladness at the trouble of any one member,  it must necessarily join
with one consent in the grief, and in labouring for the remedy. In a company
of two  is the church;  but the church is Christ. 
When, then, you cast yourself at the brethren's knees, you are handling
Christ, you are entreating Christ. In like manner, when they shed tears over
you, it is Christ who suffers, Christ who prays the Father for mercy. What a
son  asks is ever easily obtained. Grand indeed is the reward of
modesty, which the concealment of our fault promises us! to wit, if we do
hide somewhat from the knowledge of man, shall we equally conceal it from
God? Are the judgment of men and the knowledge of God so put upon a par? Is
it better to be damned in secret than absolved in public? But you say, "It
is a miserable thing thus to come to exomologesis: "yes, for evil does bring
to misery; but where repentance is to be made, the misery ceases, because it
is turned into something salutary. Miserable it is to be cut, and
cauterized, and racked with the pungency of some (medicinal) powder: still,
the things which heal by unpleasant means do, by the benefit of the cure,
excuse their own offensiveness, and make present injury bearable for the
sake  of the advantage to supervene.
Chapter XI. Further Strictures on the Same Subject.
What if, besides the shame which they make the most account of, men dread
likewise the bodily inconveniences; in that, unwashen, sordidly attired,
estranged from gladness, they must spend their time in the roughness of
sackcloth, and the horridness of ashes, and the sunkenness of face caused by
fasting? Is it then becoming for us to supplicate for our sins in scarlet
and purple? Hasten hither with the pin for panning the hair, and the powder
for polishing the teeth, and some forked implement of steel or brass for
cleaning the nails. Whatever of false brilliance, whatever of feigned
redness, is to be had, let him diligently apply it to his lips or cheeks.
Let him furthermore seek out baths of more genial temperature in some
gardened or seaside retreat; let him enlarge his expenses; let him carefully
seek the rarest delicacy of fatted fowls; let him refine his old wine: and
when any shall ask him, "On whom are you lavishing all this? "let him say,
"I have sinned against God, and am in peril of eternally perishing: and so
now I am drooping, and wasting and torturing myself, that I may reconcile
God to myself, whom by sinning I have offended." Why, they who go about
canvassing for the obtaining of civil office, feel it neither degrading nor
irksome to struggle, in behalf of such their desires, with annoyances to
soul and body; and not annoyances merely, but likewise contumelies of all
kinds. What meannesses of dress do they not affect? what houses do they not
beset with early and late visits?'bowing whenever they meet any high
personage, frequenting no banquets, associating in no entertainments, but
voluntarily exiled from the felicity of freedom and festivity: and all that
for the sake of the fleeting joy of a single year! Do we hesitate, when
eternity is at stake, to endure what the competitor for consulship or
prætorship puts up with?  and shall we be tardy in offering to the
offended Lord a self-chastisement in food and raiment, which 
Gentiles lay upon themselves when they have offended no one at all? Such are
they of whom Scripture makes mention: "Woe to them who bind their own sins
as it were with a long rope." 
Chapter XII. Final Considerations to Induce to Exomologesis.
If you shrink back from exomologesis, consider in your heart the hell,
 which exomologesis will extinguish for you; and imagine first the
magnitude of the penalty, that you may not hesitate about the adoption of
the remedy. What do we esteem that treasure-house of eternal fire to be,
when small vent-holes  of it rouse such blasts of flames that
neighbouring cities either are already no more, or are in daily expectation
of the same fate? The haughtiest  mountains start asunder in the
birth-throes of their inly-gendered fire; and'which proves to us the
perpetuity of the judgment'though they start asunder, though they be
devoured, yet come they never to an end. Who will not account these
occasional punishments inflicted on the mountains as examples of the
judgment which menaces the impenitent? Who will not agree that such sparks
are but some few missiles and sportive darts of some inestimably vast centre
of fire? Therefore, since you know that after the first bulwarks of the
Lord's baptism  there still remains for you, in exomologesis a
second reserve of aid against hell, why do you desert your own salvation?
Why are you tardy to approach what you know heals you? Even dumb irrational
animals recognise in their time of need the medicines which have been
divinely assigned them. The stag, transfixed by the arrow, knows that, to
force out the steel, and its inextricable lingerings, he must heal himself
with dittany. The swallow, if she blinds her young, knows how to give them
eyes again by means of her own swallow-wort.  Shall the sinner,
knowing that exomologesis has been instituted by the Lord for his
restoration, pass that by which restored the Babylonian king  to
his realms? Long time had he offered to the Lord his repentance, working out
his exomologesis by a seven years' squalor, with his nails wildly growing
after the eagle's fashion, and his unkempt hair wearing the shagginess of a
lion. Hard handling! Him whom men were shuddering at, God was receiving
back. But, on the other hand, the Egyptian emperor'who, after pursuing the
once afflicted people of God, long denied to their Lord, rushed into the
battle  'did, after so many warning plagues, perish in the parted
sea, (which was permitted to be passable to "the People" alone, ) by the
backward roll of the waves:  for repentance and her handmaid
 exomologesis he had cast away.
Why should I add more touching these two planks  (as it were) of
human salvation, caring more for the business of the pen  than the
duty of my conscience? For, sinner as I am of every dye,  and born
for nothing save repentance, I cannot easily be silent about that concerning
which also the very head and fount of the human race, and of human offence,
Adam, restored by exomologesis to his own paradise,  is not silent.
Such as have lapsed, cap. vii., p. 662.
The pentitential system of the Primitive days, referred to in our author,
began to be changed when less public confessions were authorized, on account
of the scandals which publicity generated. Changes were as follows:
i. 1. A grave presbyter was appointed to receive and examine voluntary
penitents as the Penitentiary of a diocese, and to suspend or reconcile them
with due solemnities'circa a.d. 250.
ii.2. This plan also became encumbered with difficulties and was
abolished in the East, circa a.d. 400.
iii. 3. A discipline similar to that of the Anglican Church (which is but
loosely maintained therein) succeeded, under St. Chrysostom; who frequently
maintains the sufficiency of confession according to Matthew 6:6. A Gallican
author  says'" this is the period regarded by historians as the
most brilliant in Church history. At the close of the fourth century, in the
great churches of the Orient, sixty thousand Christians received the
Eucharistic communion, in one day, in both kinds, with no other than their
private confessions to Almighty God. The scandalous evil-liver alone was
repelled from the Eucharistic Table." This continued till circa a.d. 700.
iv. 4. Particular, but voluntary confessions were now made in the East and
West, but with widely various acceptance under local systems of discipline.
The absolutions were precatory: "may God absolve Thee." This lasted, even in
the West, till the compulsory system of the Lateran Council, a.d. 1215.
v.5. Since this date, so far as the West is concerned, the whole system
of corrupt casuistry and enforced confession adopted in the West has utterly
destroyed the Primitive doctrine and discipline as to sin and its remedy
wherever it prevails. In the East, private confession exists in a system
wholly different and one which maintains the Primitive Theology and the
a.(1) It is voluntary;
b.(2) it is free from the corrupt system of the casuists;
c.(3) it distinguishes between Ecclesiastical Absolution and that of Him
who alone "seeth in secret; "
d.(4) it admits no compromise with attrition, but exacts the contrite
heart and the firm resolve to go and sin no more, and
e.(5) finally, it employs a most guarded and Evangelical formula of
remission, of which see Elucidation IV.
The last hope, cap. vii. p. 662.
How absolutely the Lateran Council has overthrown the Primitive discipline
is here made manifest. The spirit of the latter is expressed by our author
in language which almost prompts to despair. It makes sin "exceeding
sinful" and even Ecclesiastical forgiveness the reverse of easy. The Lateran
System of enforced Confession makes sin easy and restoration to a sinless
state equally so: a perpetual resort to the confessor being the only
condition for evil living, and a chronic state of pardon and peace. But, let
the Greek Church be heard in this matter, rather than an Anglican Catholic.
I refer to Macarius, Bishop of Vinnitza and Rector of the Theological
Academy of St. Petersburg, as follows:  "It is requisite (for the
effective reception of Absolution) at least according to the teaching of the
Orthodox Church of the Orient, that the following conditions be observed:
1.(1) Contrition for sins, is in the very nature of Penitence,
2.(2), consequently, there must be a firm resolution to reform the life;
3.(3) also, faith in Christ and hope in his mercy, with
4.(4) auricular confession before the priest."He allows that this
latter condition was not primitive, but was a maternal concession to
penitents of later date: this, however, is voluntary, and of a widely
different form from that of the Latin, as will appear below in Elucidation
Now, he contrasts with this the system of Rome, and condemns it, on
1.1. It makes penances compensations  or "satisfaction," offered
for sins to divine Justice, this (he says) "is in contradiction with the
Christian doctrine of justification, the Scripture teaching one full and
entire satisfaction for the sins of the whole human race, once for all
presented by our Lord Jesus Christ. This doctrine is equally in conflict
with the entire teaching of the Primitive Church."
2.2. It introduces a false system of indulgences, as the consequence of
its false premisses.
3.3. He demonstrates the insufficiency of attrition, which respects the
fear of punishment, and not sin itself. But the Council of Trent affirms the
sufficiency of attrition, and permits the confessor to absolve the attrite.
Needless to say, the masses accept this wide gate and broad way to salvation
rather than the strait gate and narrow way of hating sin and reforming the
life, in obedience to the Gospel.
Among brethren, cap. x., p. 664.
A controversial writer has lately complained that Bp. Kaye speaks of the
public confession treated of by our author in this work, and adds'"
Tertullian nowhere used the word public." The answer is that he speaks of
the discipline of <i>exomologesis, which was, in its own nature, as
public as preaching. A Gallican writer, less inclined to Jesuitism in the
use of words, says frankly: "When one studies this question, with the
documents before his eyes, it is impossible not to confess that the
Primitive discipline of the Church exhibits not a vestige of the auricular
confession afterwards introduced." See Irenæus, Adv. Hæres. Vol. I. p. 335,
this Series. The Lii. of the canons called Apostolical, reflects a very
simple view of the matter, in these words: "If any Bishop or Presbyter will
not receive one who turns from his sins, but casts him out, let him be
deposed: for he grieves Christ, who said, There shall be joy in heaven over
one sinner that repenteth." The ascetic spirit of our author seems at war
with that of this Canon.
Exomologesis, cap. xii., p. 665.
To this day, in the Oriental Churches, the examination of the presbyter who
hears the voluntary confession of penitents, is often very primitive in its
forms and confined to general inquiries under the Decalogue. The Casuistry
of (Dens and Liguori) the Western Schemata Practica has not defiled our
Eastern brethren to any great extent.
In the office  we have a
simple and beautiful form of prayer and supplication in which the following
is the formula of Absolution: "My Spiritual child, who hast confessed to my
humility, I, unworthy and a sinner, have not the power to forgive sins on
Earth; God only can: and through that Divine voice which came to the
Apostles, after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying''Whosoever
sins, etc., 'we, therein confiding, say'Whatsoever thou hast confessed to my
extreme humility, and whatsoever thou hast omitted to say, either through
ignorance or forgetfulness, God forgive thee in this present world and in
that which is to come."
The plural (We therein confiding) is significant and a token of Primitive
doctrine: i.e. of confession before the whole Church, (2 Corinthians 2:10):
and note the precatory form'"God forgive thee." The perilous form Ego te
absolvo is not Catholic: it dates from the thirteenth century and is used in
the West only. It is not wholly dropped from the Anglican Office, but has
been omitted from the American Prayer-Book.
 [We pass from the polemical class of our author's writings to those
of a practical and ethical character. This treatise on Penitence is the
product of our author's best days, and may be dated A.D. 192.]
 "Offensa senteniae pejoris;" or possibly, "the miscarriage of
 Saeculo. [Erasmus doubted the genuineness of this treatise, partly
because of the comparative purity of its style. See Kaye, p. 42.]
 Saeculi dote. With which he had been endowed. Comp. Gen. i. 28, Ps.
 i.e., man.
 Comp. Matt. iii. 1, 2; Mark i. 4; Luke iii. 4-6.
 i.e., man's salvation.
 See the latter part of c. i.
 Or, "defending."
 [Without reference to Luthor's theory of justification, we must
all adopt this as the test of "a standing or falling church," viz. "How does
it deal with sin and the sinner."]
 Luke xxii. 61.
 Or, "briefly to lay down the rule."
 i.e., in the judgment-day. Compare the phrase "that day and that
hour" in Scripture.
 Praevaricatorem: comp. ad Ux. b. ii. c. ii. ad init.
 Matt. v. 27, 28; comp. de Idol. ii.
 Comp. Ezek. xviii. 30, 32.
 The substance of this is found in Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
 Compare 1 Tim. i. 16.
 Comp. c. xii. sub fin. [Ut naufragus alicuius tabulae fidem; this
expression soon passed into Theological technology, and as "the plank after
shipwreck" is universally known.]
 Isa. xl. 15.
 Dan. ii. 35; Matt. iii. 12.
 Ps. ii. 9; Rev. ii. 27.
 Ps. i. 3; Jer. xvii. 8. Compare Luke xxiii. 31.
 Jer. xvii. 8; Matt. iii. 10.
 Matt. iii. 10.
 John xiv. 6.
 Or, "paramount."
 See ref. 1 on the preceding page. The phrase is "as I live" in the
 "Asseveratione: " apparently a play on the word, as compared with
"perseverare," which follows.
 Or, "enjoyment."
 [The formidable doctrine of I. John iii. 9, v. 18, etc. must
excuse our author for his severe adherence to this principle of purifying
the heart from habitual sin. But, the church refused to press it against St.
Matt. xviii. 22. In our own self-indulgent day, we are more prone, I fear,
to presumption than to over strictness. The Roman casuists make attrition
suffice, and so turn absolution into a mere sponge, and an encouragement to
perpetual sinning and formal confession.]
 i.e., favour.
 Which is solemnly done in baptism.
 Acts xiv. 15-17: "licet" here may = "lawful," "permissible,"
 "Timent," not "metuunt." "Metus" is the word Tertullian has been
using above for religious, reverential fear.
 Deut. xxxii. 2.
 i.e., by baptism.
 "Commeatus," a military word = "furlough," hence "holiday-time."
 i.e., repurchase.
 Adulter; see de Idol. c. i.
 i.e., in baptism.
 Luke viii. 17.
 1 John i. 5.
 Symbolum mortis indulget. Comp. Rom. vi. 3, 4, 8; Col. ii. 12, 20.
 Jer. xxxi. (LXX. xxxviii.) 34; Heb. viii. 11.
 i.e., in baptism.
 See John xiii. 10 and Matt. xxiii. 26.
 Metus integer.
 Or, "disappoints," i.e., the hasty recipient himself.
 i.e., before baptism.
 [Elucidation I. See infra, this chapter, sub fine.]
 [When our author wrote to the Martyrs, (see cap. 1.) he was less
disposed to such remorseless discipline: and perhaps we have here an element
of his subsequent system, one which led him to accept the discipline of
Montanism. On this general subject, we shall find enough when we come to
Cyprian and Novatian.]
 "Mortis opera," or "deadly works:" cf. de Idol. c. iv. (mid.),
"perdition of blood," and the note there.
 1 Cor. vi. 3.
 Or, "has permitted somewhat still to stand open."
 [See cap. vii. supra.]
 To accept the satisfaction.
 Evolve: perhaps simply = "read."
 Rev. ii. 4.
 Rev. ii. 20.
 Rev. iii. 2.
 Rev. ii. 14, 15.
 Rev. iii. 17.
 Jer. viii. 4 (in LXX.) appears to be the passage meant. The Eng.
Ver. is very different.
 Hos. vi. 6; Matt. ix. 13. The words in Hosea in the LXX. are,
 Luke xv. 7, 10.
 Luke xv. 8-10.
 Or, "suffered."
 Luke xv. 3-7.
 Luke xv. 11-32.
 Cf. Matt. xxiii. 9; and Eph. iii. 14, 15, in the Greek.
 Publicly enrolled as such in baptism; for Tertullian here is
speaking solely of the "second repentance."
 See Luke xv. 29-32.
 Utter confession.
 For the meaning of "satisfaction," see Hooker Eccl. Pol. vi. 5,
where several references to the present treatise occur. [Elucidation II.]
 Cf. Ps. xxii. 1 (in LXX. xxii. 3), xxxviii. 8 (in the LXX. xxxvii.
9). Cf. Heb. v. 7.
 Tertullian changes here to the second person, unless Oehler's
"tuum" be a misprint for "suum."
 "Suae," which looks as if the "tuum" above should be "suum." [St.
James, v. 16.]
 Per. But "per," according to Oehler, is used by Tertullian as =
"propter" 'on your account, for your sake.
 1 Cor. xii. 26.
 In uno et altero.
 See Matt. xviii. 20.
 i.e. as being His body.
 Or, "the Son." Comp. John xi. 41, 42.
 Or, "by the grace."
 Quod securium virgarumque petitio sustinet.
 "Quae," neut. pl.
 Isa. v. 18 (comp. the LXX.).
 Gehennam. Comp. ad Ux. ii. c. vi. ad fin.
 Fumariola, i.e. the craters of volcanoes.
 Superbissimi: perhaps a play on the word, which is connected with
"super" and "superus," as "haughty" with "high."
 For Tertullian's distinction between "the Lord's baptism" and
"John's" see de Bapt. x.
 Or "celandine," which is perhaps only another form of
"chelidonia" ("Chelidonia major," Linn.).
 Dan. iv. 25 sqq. See de Pa. xiii.
 Ex. xiv. 15-31.
 "Ministerium," the abstract for the concrete: so "servitia" =
 See c. iv. [Tabula was the word in cap. iv. but here it becomes
planca, and planca post naufragium is the theological formula, ever since,
among Western theologians.]
 See de Bapt. xii. sub init.
 Lit. "of all brands." Comp. c. vi.: "Does the soldiermake
satisfaction for his brands."
 Cf. Gen. iii. 24 with Luke xxiii. 43, 2 Cor. xii. 4, and Rev. ii.
7 [Elucidation IV.]
 Le Confesseur, par L'Abbe * * * p. 15, Brussels 1866.
 Theol. Dogmat. Orthodoxe, pp. 529-541, etc.
 Couc. Trident. Sess. xiv. cap. 8.
 The Great Euchologion, p. 220, Venice, 1851.
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