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Tertullian - Ad Nationes - Book I

The Innocence of the Christians Not Compromised by the Iniquitous Laws Which Were Made Against Them.

Chapter VI. [531] --The Innocence of the Christians Not Compromised by the Iniquitous Laws Which Were Made Against Them.

Whenever these statements and answers of ours, which truth suggests of its own accord, press and restrain your conscience, which is the witness of its own ignorance, you betake yourselves in hot haste to that poor altar of refuge, [532] the authority of the laws, because these, of course, would never punish the offensive [533] sect, if their deserts had not been fully considered by those who made the laws. Then what is it which has prevented a like consideration on the part of those who put the laws in force, when, in the case of all other crimes which are similarly forbidden and punished by the laws, the penalty is not inflicted [534] until it is sought by regular process? [535] Take, [536] for instance, the case of a murderer or an adulterer. An examination is ordered touching the particulars [537] of the crime, even though it is patent to all what its nature [538] is. Whatever wrong has been done by the Christian ought to be brought to light. No law forbids inquiry to be made; on the contrary, inquiry is made in the interest of the laws. [539] For how are you to keep the law by precautions against that which the law forbids, if you neutralize the carefulness of the precaution by your failing to perceive [540] what it is you have to keep? No law must keep to itself [541] the knowledge of its own righteousness, [542] but (it owes it) to those from whom it claims obedience. The law, however, becomes an object of suspicion when it declines to approve itself. Naturally enough, [543] then, are the laws against the Christians supposed to be just and deserving of respect and observance, just as long as men remain ignorant of their aim and purport; but when this is perceived, their extreme injustice is discovered, and they are deservedly rejected with abhorrence, [544] along with (their instruments of torture)--the swords, the crosses, and the lions. An unjust law secures no respect. In my opinion, however, there is a suspicion among you that some of these laws are unjust, since not a day passes without your modifying their severity and iniquity by fresh deliberations and decisions.