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ANF03. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian
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Chapter XIX.—The Rich Women of Piety Who Followed Jesus Christ’s Teaching by Parables. The Marcionite Cavil Derived from Christ’s Remark, When Told of His Mother and His Brethren. Explanation of Christ’s Apparent Rejection Them.

The fact that certain rich women clave to Christ, “which ministered unto Him of their substance,” amongst whom was the wife of the king’s steward, is a subject of prophecy. By Isaiah the Lord called these wealthy ladies—“Rise up, ye women that are at ease, and hear my voice”41844184    Isa. xxxii. 9, 10. Quoted as usual, from the LXX.: Γυναῖκες πλούσιαι ἀνάστητε, καὶ ἀκούσατε τῆς φωνῆς μου· θυγατέρες ἐν ἐλπίδι εἰσακούσατε λόγους μου. ῾Ημέρας ἐνιαυτοῦ μνείαν ποιήσασθε ἐν ὀδύνῃ μετ᾽ ἐλπίδος.—that He might prove41854185    Ostenderet. them first as disciples, and then as assistants and helpers: “Daughters, hear my words in hope; this day of the year cherish the memory of, in labour with hope.” For it was “in labour” that they followed Him, and “with hope” did they minister to Him.  On the subject of parables, let it suffice that it has been once for all shown that this kind of language41864186    Eloquii. was with equal distinctness promised by the Creator. But there is that direct mode of His speaking41874187    Pronunciatio. to the people—“Ye shall hear with the ear, but ye shall not understand”41884188    Isa. vi. 9.—which now claims notice as having furnished to Christ that frequent form of His earnest instruction: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”41894189    Luke viii. 8. Not as if Christ, actuated with a diverse spirit, permitted a hearing which the Creator had refused; but because the exhortation followed the threatening.  First came, “Ye shall hear with the ear, but shall not understand;” then followed, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” For they wilfully refused to hear, although they had ears. He, however, was teaching them that it was the ears of the heart which were necessary; and with these the Creator had said that they would not hear. Therefore it is that He adds by His Christ, “Take heed how ye hear,”41904190    Luke viii. 18. and hear not,—meaning, of course, with the hearing of the heart, not of the ear. If you only attach a proper sense to the Creator’s admonition,41914191    Pronuntiationi. suitable to the meaning of Him who was rousing the people to hear by the words, “Take heed how ye hear,” it amounted to a menace to such as would not hear. In fact,41924192    Sane: with a touch of irony. that most merciful god of yours, who judges not, neither is angry, is minatory. This is proved even by the sentence which immediately follows:  “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.”41934193    Luke viii. 18. What shall be given? The increase of faith, or understanding, or even salvation. What shall be taken away? That, of course, which shall be given. By whom shall the gift and the deprivation be made? If by the Creator it be taken away, by Him also shall it be given. If by Marcion’s god it be given, by Marcion’s god also will it be taken away. Now, for whatever reason He threatens the “deprivation,” it will not be the work of a god who knows not how to threaten, because incapable of anger. I am, moreover, astonished when he says that “a candle is not usually hidden,”41944194    Luke viii. 16. who had hidden himself—a greater and more needful light—during so long a time; and when he promises that “everything shall be brought out of its secrecy and made manifest,”41954195    Luke viii. 17. who hitherto has kept his god in obscurity, waiting (I suppose) until Marcion be born. We now come to the most strenuously-plied argument of all those who call in question the Lord’s nativity. They say that He testifies Himself to His not having been born, when He asks, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?”41964196    Matt. xii. 48. In this manner heretics either wrest plain and simple words to any sense they choose by their conjectures, or else they violently resolve by a literal interpretation words which imply a conditional sense and are incapable of a simple solution,41974197    Rationales. “Quæ voces adhibita ratione sunt interpretandæ.”—Oehler. as in this passage. We, for our part, say in reply, first, that it could not possibly have been told Him that His mother and His brethren stood without, desiring to see Him, if He had had no mother and no brethren. They must have been known to him who announced them, either some time previously, or then at that very time, when they desired to see Him, or sent Him their message. To this our first position this answer is usually given by the other side. But suppose they sent Him the message for the purpose of tempting Him? Well, but the Scripture does not say so; and inasmuch as it is usual for it to indicate what is done in the way of temptation (“Behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him;”41984198    Luke x. 25. again, when inquiring about tribute, the Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him41994199    Luke xx. 20.), so, when it makes no mention of temptation, it does not admit the interpretation of temptation. However, although I do not allow this sense, I may as well ask, by way of a superfluous refutation, for the reasons of the alleged temptation, To what purpose could they have tempted Him by naming His mother and His brethren? If it was to ascertain whether He had been born or not—when was a question raised on this point, which they must resolve by tempting Him in this way? Who could doubt His having been born, when they42004200    Singular in the original, but (to avoid confusion) here made plural. saw Him before them a veritable man?—whom they had heard call Himself “Son of man?”—of whom they doubted whether He were God or Son of God, from seeing Him, as they did, in the perfect garb of human quality?—supposing Him rather to be a prophet, a great one indeed,42014201    In allusion to Luke vii. 16. See above, chap. xviii. but still one who had been born as man?  Even if it had been necessary that He should thus be tried in the investigation of His birth, surely any other proof would have better answered the trial than that to be obtained from mentioning those relatives which it was quite possible for Him, in spite of His true nativity, not at that moment to have had. For tell me now, does a mother live on contemporaneously42024202    Advivit. with her sons in every case? Have all sons brothers born for them?42034203    Adgenerantur. May a man rather not have fathers and sisters (living), or even no relatives at all? But there is historical proof42044204    Constat. [Jarvis, Introd. p. 204 and p. 536.] that at this very time42054205    Nunc: i.e., when Christ was told of His mother and brethren. a census had been taken in Judæa by Sentius Saturninus,42064206    “C. Sentius Saturninus, a consular, held this census of the whole empire as principal augur, because Augustus determined to impart the sanction of religion to his institution. The agent through whom Saturninus carried out the census in Judæa was the governor Cyrenius, according to Luke, chap. ii.”—Fr. Junius. Tertullian mentions Sentius Saturninus again in De Pallio, i. Tertullian’s statement in the text has weighed with Sanclemente and others, who suppose that Saturninus was governor of Judæa at the time of our Lord’s birth, which they place in 747 a.u.c.  “It is evident, however,” says Wieseler, “that this argument is far from decisive; for the New Testament itself supplies far better aids for determining this question than the discordant ecclesiastical traditions—different fathers giving different dates, which might be appealed to with equal justice; while Tertullian is even inconsistent with himself, since in his treatise Adv. Jud. viii., he gives 751 a.u.c. as the year of our Lord’s birth” (Wieseler’s Chronological Synopsis by Venables, p. 99, note 2). This Sentius Saturninus filled the office of governor of Syria, 744–748. For the elaborate argument of Aug. W. Zumpt, by which he defends St. Luke’s chronology, and goes far to prove that Publius Sulpicius Quirinus (or “Cyrenius”) was actually the governor of Syria at the time of the Lord’s birth, the reader may be referred to a careful abridgment by the translator of Wieseler’s work, pp. 129–135. which might have satisfied their inquiry respecting the family and descent of Christ. Such a method of testing the point had therefore no consistency whatever in it and they “who were standing without” were really “His mother and His brethren.” It remains for us to examine His meaning when He resorts to non-literal42074207    Non simpliciter. St. Mark rather than St. Luke is quoted in this interrogative sentence. words, saying “Who is my mother or my brethren?” It seems as if His language amounted to a denial of His family and His birth; but it arose actually from the absolute nature of the case, and the conditional sense in which His words were to be explained.42084208    Ex condicione rationali. See Oehler’s note, just above, on the word “rationales.” He was justly indignant, that persons so very near to Him “stood without,” while strangers were within hanging on His words, especially as they wanted to call Him away from the solemn work He had in hand. He did not so much deny as disavow42094209    Abdicavit: Rigalt thinks this is harsh, and reminds us that at the cross the Lord had not cast away his Mother. [Elucidation VI.] them. And therefore, when to the previous question, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?”42104210    This is literally from St. Matthew’s narrative, chap. xii. 48. He added the answer “None but they who hear my words and do them,” He transferred the names of blood-relationship to others, whom He judged to be more closely related to Him by reason of their faith. Now no one transfers a thing except from him who possesses that which is transferred. If, therefore, He made them “His mother and His brethren” who were not so, how could He deny them these relationships who really had them? Surely only on the condition of their deserts, and not by any disavowal of His near relatives; teaching them by His own actual example,42114211    In semetipso. that “whosoever preferred father or mother or brethren to the Word of God, was not a disciple worthy of Him.”42124212    Matt. x. 37. Besides,42134213    Ceterum. His admission of His mother and His brethren was the more express, from the fact of His unwillingness to acknowledge them.  That He adopted others only confirmed those in their relationship to Him whom He refused because of their offence, and for whom He substituted the others, not as being truer relatives, but worthier ones. Finally, it was no great matter if He did prefer to kindred (that) faith which it42144214    i.e., the kindred. [N.B. He includes the Mother!] did not possess.42154215    We have translated Oehler’s text of this passage: “Denique nihil magnum, si fidem sanguini, quam non habebat.” For once we venture to differ from that admirable editor (and that although he is supported in his view by Fr. Junius), and prefer the reading of the mss. and the other editions: “Denique nihil magnum, si fidem sanguini, quem non habebat.” To which we would give an ironical turn, usual to Tertullian, “After all, it is not to be wondered at if He preferred faith to flesh and blood, which he did not himself possess!”—in allusion to Marcion’s Docetic opinion of Christ.


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