To His Wife by Tertullian
Chapter II.--Of the Apostle's Meaning in 1 Cor. VII. 12-14.
Therefore, when in these days a certain woman removed her marriage from the pale of the Church, and united herself to a Gentile, and when I remembered that this had in days gone by been done by others: wondering at either their own waywardness or else the double-dealing of their advisers, in that there is no scripture which holds forth a licence of this deed, -- |I wonder,| said I, |whether they flatter themselves on the ground of that passage of the first (Epistle) to the Corinthians, where it is written: If any of the brethren has an unbelieving wife, and she consents to the matrimony, let him not dismiss her; similarly, let not a believing woman, married to an unbeliever, if she finds her husband agreeable (to their continued union), dismiss him: for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife by the believing husband; else were your children unclean.| It may be that, by understanding generally this monition regarding married believers, they think that licence is granted (thereby) to marry even unbelievers. God forbid that he who thus interprets (the passage) be wittingly ensnaring himself! But it is manifest that this scripture points to those believers who may have been found by the grace of God in (the state of) Gentile matrimony; according to the words themselves: |If,| it says, |any believer has an unbelieving wife;| it does not say, |takes an unbelieving wife.| It shows that it is the duty of one who, already living in marriage with an unbelieving woman, has presently been by the grace of God converted, to continue with his wife; for this reason, to be sure, in order that no one, after attaining to faith, should think that he must turn away from a woman who is now in some sense an |alien| and |stranger.| Accordingly he subjoins withal a reason, that |we are called in peace unto the Lord God;| and that |the unbeliever may, through the use of matrimony, be gained by the believer.| The very closing sentence of the period confirms (the supposition) that this is thus to be understood. |As each,| it says, |is called by the Lord, so let him persevere.| But it is Gentiles who |are called,| I take it, not believers. But if he had been pronouncing absolutely, (in the words under discussion,) touching the marriage of believers merely, (then) had he (virtually) given to saints a permission to marry promiscuously. If, however, he had given such a permission, he would never have subjoined a declaration so diverse from and contrary to his own permission, saying: |The woman, when her husband is dead, is free: let her marry whom she wishes, only in the Lord.| Here, at all events, there is no need for reconsidering; for what there might have been reconsideration about, the Spirit has oracularly declared. For fear we should make an ill use of what he says, |Let her marry whom she wishes,| he has added, |only in the Lord,| that is, in the name of the Lord, which is, undoubtedly, |to a Christian.| That |Holy Spirit,| therefore, who prefers that widows and unmarried women should persevere in their integrity, who exhorts us to a copy of himself, prescribes no other manner of repeating marriage except |in the Lord:| to this condition alone does he concede the foregoing of continence. |Only,| he says, |in the Lord:| he has added to his law a weight -- |only.| Utter that word with what tone and manner you may, it is weighty: it both bids and advises; both enjoins and exhorts; both asks and threatens. It is a concise, brief sentence; and by its own very brevity, eloquent. Thus is the divine voice wont (to speak), that you may instantly understand, instantly observe. For who but could understand that the apostle foresaw many dangers and wounds to faith in marriages of this kind, which he prohibits? and that he took precaution, in the first place, against the defilement of holy flesh in Gentile flesh? At this point some one says, |What, then, is the difference between him who is chosen by the Lord to Himself in (the state of) Gentile marriage, and him who was of old (that is, before marriage) a believer, that they should not be equally cautious for their flesh? -- whereas the one is kept from marriage with an unbeliever, the other bidden to continue in it. Why, if we are defiled by a Gentile, is not the one disjoined, just as the other is not bound?| I will answer, if the Spirit give (me ability); alleging, before all (other arguments), that the Lord holds it more pleasing that matrimony should not be contracted, than that it should at all be dissolved: in short, divorce He prohibits, except for the cause of fornication; but continence He commends. Let the one, therefore, have the necessity of continuing; the other, further, even the power of not marrying. Secondly, if, according to the Scripture, they who shall be |apprehended| by the faith in (the state of) Gentile marriage are not defiled (thereby) for this reason, that, together with themselves, others also are sanctified: without doubt, they who have been sanctified before marriage, if they commingle themselves with |strange flesh,| cannot sanctify that (flesh) in (union with) which they were not |apprehended.| The grace of God, moreover, sanctifies that which it finds. Thus, what has not been able to be sanctified is unclean; what is unclean has no part with the holy, unless to defile and slay it by its own (nature).