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The Five Books Against Marcion.

[Translated by Dr. Holmes.]

Introductory Notes.



To the Right Rev. The Lord Bishop of Chester.

My Dear Lord,

I am gratified to have your permission to dedicate this volume to your Lordship. It is the fruit of some two years’ leisure labour.  Every man’s occupation spares to him some λείψανα χρόνου; and thirty years ago you taught me, at Oxford, how to husband these opportunities in the pleasant studies of Biblical and Theological Science.  For that and many other kindnesses I cannot cease to be thankful to you.

But, besides this private motive, I have in your Lordship’s own past course an additional incentive for resorting to you on this occasion. You, until lately, presided over the theological studies of our great University; and you have given great encouragement to patristic literature by your excellent edition of the Apostolic Fathers.23142314    [The name of Bishop Jacobson was often introduced in our first volume, in notes to the Apostolic Fathers. He has recently “fallen asleep,” after a life of exemplary labour “with good report of all men and of the Truth itself.” His learning and piety were adorned by a profound humility, which gave a primitive cast to his character. At the Lambeth Conference, having the honour to sit at his side, I observed his extreme modesty. He rarely rose to speak, though he sometimes honoured me with words in a whisper, which the whole assembly would have rejoiced to hear. Like his great predecessor, Pearson, in many respects, the mere filings and clippings of his thoughts were gold-dust.] To whom could I more becomingly present this humble effort to make more generally known the great merits of perhaps the greatest work of the first of the Latin Fathers than to yourself?

I remain, with much respect,

My dear Lord,

Very faithfully yours,

Peter Holmes.

Mannamead, Plymouth,23152315    [Dr. Holmes is described, in the Edinburgh Edition, as “Domestic Chaplain to the Rt. Hon. the Countess of Rothes.” He was B.A. (Oxon.) in 1840, and took orders that year. Was Head-Master of Plymouth Grammar School at one time, and among his very valuable and learned works should be mentioned, as very useful to the reader of this series, his Translation of Bull’s Defensio Fidei Nicænæ (two vols. 8vo. Oxford, 1851), and of the same great author’s Judicium Ecclesiæ Catholicæ, 8vo. Oxford, 1855.]

March, 1868.

Preface by the Translator.23162316    [This preface and the frequent annotations of our author relieve the American editor, save very sparingly, from adding notes of his own.]

The reader has, in this volume a translation (attempted for the first time in English) of the largest of the extant works of the earliest Latin Fathers.  The most important of Tertullian’s writings have always been highly valued in the church, although, as was natural from their varied character, for different reasons. Thus his two best-known treatises, The Apology and The Prescription against Heretics, have divided between them for more than sixteen centuries the admiration of all intelligent readers,—the one for its masterly defence of the Christian religion against its heathen persecutors, and the other for its lucid vindication of the church’s rule of faith against its heretical assailants. The present work has equal claims on the reader’s appreciation, in respect of those qualities of vigorous thought, close reasoning, terse expression, and earnest purpose, enlivened by sparkling wit and impassioned eloquence, which have always secured for Tertullian, in spite of many drawbacks, the esteem which is given to a great and favourite author. If these books against Marcion have received, as indeed it must be allowed they have, less attention from the general reader than their intrinsic merit deserves, the neglect is mainly due to the fact that the interesting character of their contents is concealed by the usual title-page, which points only to a heresy supposed to be extinct and inapplicable, whether in the materials of its defence or confutation, to any modern circumstances. But many treatises of great authors, which have outlived their literal occasion, retain a value from their collateral arguments, which is not inferior to that effected by their primary subject. Such is the case with the work before us. If Marcionism is in the letter obsolete, there is its spirit still left in the church, which in more ways than one develops its ancient 270characteristics. What these were, the reader will soon discover in this volume; but reference may be made even here, in passing, to that prominent aim of the heresy which gave Tertullian his opportunity of proving the essential coherence of the Old and the New Testaments, and of exhibiting both his great knowledge of the details of Holy Scripture, and his fine intelligence of the progressive nature of God’s revelation as a whole. This constitutes the charm of the present volume, which might almost be designated a Treatise on the Connection between the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures. How interesting this subject is to earnest men of the present age, is proved by the frequent treatment of it in our religious literature.23172317    Two works are worth mentioning in connection with this topic for their succinct and handy form, as well as satisfactory treatment of their argument: Mr. Perowne’s Norrisian prize essay, entitled The Essential Coherence of the Old and New Testaments (1858), and Sir William Page Wood’s recent work, The Continuity of Scripture, as declared by the Testimony of our Lord, and of the evangelists and apostles. In order to assist the reader to a more efficient use of this volume, in reference to its copiousness of Scripture illustration, a full Index of Scriptural Passages has been drawn up. Another satisfactory result will, it is believed, accompany the reading of this volume, in the evidence which it affords of the venerable catholicity of that system of biblical and dogmatic truth which constitutes the belief of what is called the “orthodox” Christian of the present day. Orthodoxy has been impugned of late, as if it had suffered much deterioration in its transmission to us; and an advanced school of thinkers has demanded its reform by a manipulation which they have called “free handling.” To such readers, then, as prize the deposit of the Christian creed which they have received, in the light of St. Jude’s description, as “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” it cannot but prove satisfactory to be able to trace in Tertullian, writing more than sixteen centuries ago, the outlines of their own cherished convictions—held by one who cannot be charged with too great an obsequiousness to traditional authority, and who at the same time possessed honesty, earnestness, and intelligence enough to make him an unexceptionable witness to facts of such a kind. The translator would only add, that he has, in compliance with the wise canon laid down by the editors of this series, endeavoured always to present to the reader the meaning of the author in readable English, keeping as near as idiomatic rules allowed to the sense and even style of the original. Amidst the many well-known difficulties of Tertullian’s writings (and his Anti-Marcion is not exempt from any of these difficulties,23182318    Bishop Kaye says of Tertullian (page 62): “He is indeed the harshest and most obscure of writers, and the least capable of being accurately represented in a translation;” and he quotes the learned Ruhnken’s sentence of our author: “Latinitatis certè pessimum auctorem esse aio et confirmo.” This is surely much too sweeping. To the careful student Tertullian’s style commends itself, by and by, as suited exactly to his subject—as the terse and vigorous expression of terse and vigorous thought. Bishop Butler has been often censured for an awkward style; whereas it is a fairer criticism to say, that the arguments of the Analogy and the Sermons of Human Nature have been delivered in the language best suited to their character. This adaptation of style to matter is probably in all great authors a real characteristic of genius. A more just and favourable view is taken of Tertullian’s Latin by Niebuhr, Hist. Rom. (Schmitz), vol. v. p. 271, and his Lectures on Ancient Hist. (Schmitz), vol. ii. p. 54.) the translator cannot hope that he has accomplished his labour without mistakes, for which he would beg the reader’s indulgence. He has, however, endeavoured to obviate the inconvenience of faulty translation by quoting in foot-notes all words, phrases, and passages which appeared to him difficult.23192319    He has also, as the reader will observe, endeavoured to distinguish, by the help of type, between the true God and Marcion’s god, printing the initials of the former, and of the pronouns referring to Him, in capitals, and those of the latter in small letters. To do this was not always an easy matter, for in many passages the argument amalgamates the two. Moreover, in the earlier portion of the work the translator fears that he may have occasionally neglected to make the distinction. He has also added such notes as seemed necessary to illustrate the author’s argument, or to explain any obscure allusions. The translation has been made always from Oehler’s edition, with the aid of his scholarly Index Verborum. Use has also been made of Semler’s edition, and the variorum reprint of the Abbé Migne, the chief result of which recension has been to convince the translator of the great superiority and general excellence of Oehler’s edition. When he had completed two-thirds of his work, he happened to meet with the French translation of Tertullian by Monr. Denain, in Genoude’s series, Les Pères de l’Eglise, published some twenty-five years ago. This version, which runs in fluent language always, is very unequal in its relation to the original: sometimes it has the brevity of an abridgment, sometimes the fulness of a paraphrase.  Often does it miss the author’s point, and never does it keep his style. The Abbé Migne correctly describes it: “Elegans potius quam fidissimus interpres, qui Africanæ loquelæ asperitatem splendenti ornavit sermone, egregiaque interdum et ad vivum expressa interpretatione recreavit.”

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