The Five Books Against Marcion by Tertullian
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| -- that He might prove 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 language was with equal distinctness promised by the Creator. But there is that direct mode of His speaking to the people -- |Ye shall hear with the ear, but ye shall not understand| -- 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.| 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,| 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, 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, 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.| 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,| 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,| 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?| 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, 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;| again, when inquiring about tribute, the Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him ), 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 they 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, 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 contemporaneously with her sons in every case? Have all sons brothers born for them? May a man rather not have fathers and sisters (living), or even no relatives at all? But there is historical proof that at this very time a census had been taken in Judæa by Sentius Saturninus, 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-literal 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. 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 disavow them. And therefore, when to the previous question, |Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?| 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, that |whosoever preferred father or mother or brethren to the Word of God, was not a disciple worthy of Him.| Besides, 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 it did not possess.