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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter IV.--Of the Infirmity of the Flesh, and Similar Pleas.

To His Wife by Tertullian

Chapter IV.--Of the Infirmity of the Flesh, and Similar Pleas.

But we read |that the flesh is weak;| and hence we soothe ourselves in some cases. Yet we read, too, that |the spirit is strong;| for each clause occurs in one and the same sentence. Flesh is an earthly, spirit a heavenly, material. Why, then, do we, too prone to self-excuse, put forward (in our defence) the weak part of us, but not look at the strong? Why should not the earthly yield to the heavenly? If the spirit is stronger than the flesh, because it is withal of nobler origin, it is our own fault if we follow the weaker. Now there are two phases of human weakness which make marriages necessary to such as are disjoined from matrimony. The first and most powerful is that which arises from fleshly concupiscence; the second, from worldly concupiscence. But by us, who are servants of God, who renounce both voluptuousness and ambition, each is to be repudiated. Fleshly concupiscence claims the functions of adult age, craves after beauty's harvest, rejoices in its own shame, pleads the necessity of a husband to the female sex, as a source of authority and of comfort, or to render it safe from evil rumours. To meet these its counsels, do you apply the examples of sisters of ours whose names are with the Lord, -- who, when their husbands have preceded them (to glory), give to no opportunity of beauty or of age the precedence over holiness. They prefer to be wedded to God. To God their beauty, to God their youth (is dedicated). With Him they live; with Him they converse; Him they |handle| by day and by night; to the Lord they assign their prayers as dowries; from Him, as oft as they desire it, they receive His approbation as dotal gifts. Thus they have laid hold for themselves of an eternal gift of the Lord; and while on earth, by abstaining from marriage, are already counted as belonging to the angelic family. Training yourself to an emulation of (their) constancy by the examples of such women, you will by spiritual affection bury that fleshly concupiscence, in abolishing the temporal and fleeting desires of beauty and youth by the compensating gain of immortal blessings.

On the other hand, this worldly concupiscence (to which I referred) has, as its causes, glory, cupidity, ambition, want of sufficiency; through which causes it trumps up the |necessity| for marrying, -- promising itself, forsooth, heavenly things in return -- to lord it, (namely,) in another's family; to roost on another's wealth; to extort splendour from another's store to lavish expenditure which you do not feel! Far be all this from believers, who have no care about maintenance, unless it be that we distrust the promises of God, and (His) care and providence, who clothes with such grace the lilies of the field; who, without any labour on their part, feeds the fowls of the heaven; who prohibits care to be taken about to-morrow's food and clothing, promising that He knows what is needful for each of His servants -- not indeed ponderous necklaces, not burdensome garments, not Gallic mules nor German bearers, which all add lustre to the glory of nuptials; but |sufficiency,| which is suitable to moderation and modesty. Presume, I pray you, that you have need of nothing if you |attend upon the Lord;| nay, that you have all things, if you have the Lord, whose are all things. Think often on things heavenly, and you will despise things earthly. To widowhood signed and sealed before the Lord nought is necessary but perseverance.

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