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Tertullian - On Idolatry

Further Answers to the Plea, How Am I to Live?

Chapter XII.--Further Answers to the Plea, How Am I to Live?

In vain do we flatter ourselves as to the necessities of human maintenance, if--after faith sealed [238] --we say, "I have no means to live?" [239] For here I will now answer more fully that abrupt proposition. It is advanced too late. For after the similitude of that most prudent builder, [240] who first computes the costs of the work, together with his own means, lest, when he has begun, he afterwards blush to find himself spent, deliberation should have been made before. But even now you have the Lord's sayings, as examples taking away from you all excuse. For what is it you say? "I shall be in need." But the Lord calls the needy "happy." [241] "I shall have no food." But "think not," says He, "about food;" [242] and as an example of clothing we have the lilies. [243] "My work was my subsistence." Nay, but "all things are to be sold, and divided to the needy." [244] "But provision must be made for children and posterity." "None, putting his hand on the plough, and looking back, is fit" for work. [245] "But I was under contract." "None can serve two lords." [246] If you wish to be the Lord's disciple, it is necessary you "take your cross, and follow the Lord:" [247] your cross; that is, your own straits and tortures, or your body only, which is after the manner of a cross. Parents, wives, children, will have to be left behind, for God's sake. [248] Do you hesitate about arts, and trades, and about professions likewise, for the sake of children and parents? Even there was it demonstrated to us, that both "dear pledges," [249] and handicrafts, and trades, are to be quite left behind for the Lord's sake; while James and John, called by the Lord, do leave quite behind both father and ship; [250] while Matthew is roused up from the toll-booth; [251] while even burying a father was too tardy a business for faith. [252] None of them whom the Lord chose to Him said, "I have no means to live." Faith fears not famine. It knows, likewise, that hunger is no less to be contemned by it for God's sake, than every kind of death. It has learnt not to respect life; how much more food? [You ask] "How many have fulfilled these conditions?" But what with men is difficult, with God is easy. [253] Let us, however, comfort ourselves about the gentleness and clemency of God in such wise, as not to indulge our "necessities" up to the point of affinities with idolatry, but to avoid even from afar every breath of it, as of a pestilence. [And this] not merely in the cases forementioned, but in the universal series of human superstition; whether appropriated to its gods, or to the defunct, or to kings, as pertaining to the selfsame unclean spirits, sometimes through sacrifices and priesthoods, sometimes through spectacles and the like, sometimes through holy-days.