The Five Books Against Marcion by Tertullian
Chapter XIX.--The Epistle to the Colossians Time the Criterion of Truth and Heresy. Application of the Canon. The Image of the Invisible God Explained. Pre-Existence of Our Christ in the Creator's Ancient Dispensations. What is Included in the Fulness of
I am accustomed in my prescription against all heresies, to fix my compendious criterion (of truth) in the testimony of time; claiming priority therein as our rule, and alleging lateness to be the characteristic of every heresy. This shall now be proved even by the apostle, when he says: |For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is unto all the world.| For if, even at that time, the tradition of the gospel had spread everywhere, how much more now! Now, if it is our gospel which has spread everywhere, rather than any heretical gospel, much less Marcion's, which only dates from the reign of Antoninus, then ours will be the gospel of the apostles. But should Marcion's gospel succeed in filling the whole world, it would not even in that case be entitled to the character of apostolic. For this quality, it will be evident, can only belong to that gospel which was the first to fill the world; in other words, to the gospel of that God who of old declared this of its promulgation: |Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.| He calls Christ |the image of the invisible God.| We in like manner say that the Father of Christ is invisible, for we know that it was the Son who was seen in ancient times (whenever any appearance was vouchsafed to men in the name of God) as the image of (the Father) Himself. He must not be regarded, however, as making any difference between a visible and an invisible God; because long before he wrote this we find a description of our God to this effect: |No man can see the Lord, and live.| If Christ is not |the first-begotten before every creature,| as that |Word of God by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made;| if |all things were| not |in Him created, whether in heaven or on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers;| if |all things were| not |created by Him and for Him| (for these truths Marcion ought not to allow concerning Him), then the apostle could not have so positively laid it down, that |He is before all.| For how is He before all, if He is not before all things? How, again, is He before all things, if He is not |the first-born of every creature| -- if He is not the Word of the Creator? Now how will he be proved to have been before all things, who appeared after all things? Who can tell whether he had a prior existence, when he has found no proof that he had any existence at all? In what way also could it have |pleased (the Father) that in Him should all fulness dwell?| For, to begin with, what fulness is that which is not comprised of the constituents which Marcion has removed from it, -- even those that were |created in Christ, whether in heaven or on earth,| whether angels or men? which is not made of the things that are visible and invisible? which consists not of thrones and dominions and principalities and powers? If, on the other hand, our false apostles and Judaizing gospellers have introduced all these things out of their own stores, and Marcion has applied them to constitute the fulness of his own god, (this hypothesis, absurd though it be, alone would justify him;) for how, on any other supposition, could the rival and the destroyer of the Creator have been willing that His fulness should dwell in his Christ? To whom, again, does He |reconcile all things by Himself, making peace by the blood of His cross,| but to Him whom those very things had altogether offended, against whom they had rebelled by transgression, (but) to whom they had at last returned? Conciliated they might have been to a strange god; but reconciled they could not possibly have been to any other than their own God. Accordingly, ourselves |who were sometime alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works| does He reconcile to the Creator, against whom we had committed offence -- worshipping the creature to the prejudice of the Creator. As, however, he says elsewhere, that the Church is the body of Christ, so here also (the apostle) declares that he |fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church.| But you must not on this account suppose that on every mention of His body the term is only a metaphor, instead of meaning real flesh. For he says above that we are |reconciled in His body through death;| meaning, of course, that He died in that body wherein death was possible through the flesh: (therefore he adds,) not through the Church (per ecclesiam), but expressly for the sake of the Church (proper ecclesiam), exchanging body for body -- one of flesh for a spiritual one. When, again, he warns them to |beware of subtle words and philosophy,| as being |a vain deceit,| such as is |after the rudiments of the world| (not understanding thereby the mundane fabric of sky and earth, but worldly learning, and |the tradition of men,| subtle in their speech and their philosophy), it would be tedious, and the proper subject of a separate work, to show how in this sentence (of the apostle's) all heresies are condemned, on the ground of their consisting of the resources of subtle speech and the rules of philosophy. But (once for all) let Marcion know that the principle term of his creed comes from the school of Epicurus, implying that the Lord is stupid and indifferent; wherefore he refuses to say that He is an object to be feared. Moreover, from the porch of the Stoics he brings out matter, and places it on a par with the Divine Creator. He also denies the resurrection of the flesh, -- a truth which none of the schools of philosophy agreed together to hold. But how remote is our (Catholic) verity from the artifices of this heretic, when it dreads to arouse the anger of God, and firmly believes that He produced all things out of nothing, and promises to us a restoration from the grave of the same flesh (that died) and holds without a blush that Christ was born of the virgin's womb! At this, philosophers, and heretics, and the very heathen, laugh and jeer. For |God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise| -- that God, no doubt, who in reference to this very dispensation of His threatened long before that He would |destroy the wisdom of the wise.| Thanks to this simplicity of truth, so opposed to the subtlety and vain deceit of philosophy, we cannot possibly have any relish for such perverse opinions. Then, if God |quickens us together with Christ, forgiving us our trespasses,| we cannot suppose that sins are forgiven by Him against whom, as having been all along unknown, they could not have been committed. Now tell me, Marcion, what is your opinion of the apostle's language, when he says, |Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath, which is a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ?| We do not now treat of the law, further than (to remark) that the apostle here teaches clearly how it has been abolished, even by passing from shadow to substance -- that is, from figurative types to the reality, which is Christ. The shadow, therefore, is His to whom belongs the body also; in other words, the law is His, and so is Christ. If you separate the law and Christ, assigning one to one god and the other to another, it is the same as if you were to attempt to separate the shadow from the body of which it is the shadow. Manifestly Christ has relation to the law, if the body has to its shadow. But when he blames those who alleged visions of angels as their authority for saying that men must abstain from meats -- |you must not touch, you must not taste| -- in a voluntary humility, (at the same time) |vainly puffed up in the fleshly mind, and not holding the Head,| (the apostle) does not in these terms attack the law or Moses, as if it was at the suggestion of superstitious angels that he had enacted his prohibition of sundry aliments. For Moses had evidently received the law from God. When, therefore, he speaks of their |following the commandments and doctrines of men,| he refers to the conduct of those persons who |held not the Head,| even Him in whom all things are gathered together; for they are all recalled to Christ, and concentrated in Him as their initiating principle -- even the meats and drinks which were indifferent in their nature. All the rest of his precepts, as we have shown sufficiently, when treating of them as they occurred in another epistle, emanated from the Creator, who, while predicting that |old things were to pass away,| and that He would |make all things new,| commanded men |to break up fresh ground for themselves,| and thereby taught them even then to put off the old man and put on the new.