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  • The Epistle to the Colossians. Time the Criterion of Truth and Heresy. Application of the Canon. The Image of the Invisible God Explained. Pre-Existence of Our Christ in the Creator's Ancient Dispensations.  What is Included in the Fulness of Christ. The Epicurean Character of Marcion's God. The Catholic Truth in Opposition Thereto. The Law is to Christ What the Shadow is to the Substance.

    Chapter XIX.—The Epistle to the Colossians. Time the Criterion of Truth and Heresy. Application of the Canon. The Image of the Invisible God Explained. Pre-Existence of Our Christ in the Creator’s Ancient Dispensations. What is Included in the Fulness of Christ. The Epicurean Character of Marcion’s God. The Catholic Truth in Opposition Thereto. The Law is to Christ What the Shadow is to the Substance.

    I am accustomed in my prescription against all heresies, to fix my compendious criterion6057

    6057 Compendium figere.

    (of truth) in the testimony of time; claiming priority therein as our rule, and alleging lateness to be the characteristic of every heresy. This shall now be proved even by the apostle, when he says: “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is unto all the world.”6058

    6058 Col. i. 5, 6.

    For if, even at that time, the tradition of the gospel had spread everywhere, how much more now! Now, if it is our gospel which has spread everywhere, rather than any heretical gospel, much less Marcion’s, which only dates from the reign of Antoninus,6059

    6059 Antoniniani Marcionis: see above in book i. chap. xix.

    then ours will be the gospel of the apostles.  But should Marcion’s gospel succeed in filling the whole world, it would not even in that case be entitled to the character of apostolic. For this quality, it will be evident, can only belong to that gospel which was the first to fill the world; in other words, to the gospel of that God who of old declared this of its promulgation: “Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”6060

    6060 Ps. xix. 4.

    He calls Christ “the image of the invisible God.”6061

    6061 Col. i. 15.

    We in like manner say that the Father of Christ is invisible, for we know that it was the Son who was seen in ancient times (whenever any appearance was vouchsafed to men in the name of God) as the image of (the Father) Himself. He must not be regarded, however, as making any difference between a visible and an invisible God; because long before he wrote this we find a description of our God to this effect: “No man can see the Lord, and live.”6062

    6062 Ex. xxxiii. 20.

    If Christ is not “the first-begotten before every creature,”6063

    6063 Col. i. 15. Our author’s “primogenitus conditionis” is St. Paul’s πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, for the meaning of which see Bp. Ellicott, in loc.

    as that “Word of God by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made;”6064

    6064 John i. 3.

    if “all things were” not “in Him created, whether in heaven or on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers;” if “all things were” not “created by Him and for Him” (for these truths Marcion ought not to allow concerning Him), then the apostle could not have so positively laid it down, that “He is before all.”6065

    6065 Ante omnes.

    For how is He before all, if He is not before all things?6066

    6066 Ante amina.

    How, again, is He before all things, if He is not “the first-born of every creature”—if He is not the Word of the Creator?6067

    6067 Creatoris is our author’s word.

    Now how will he be proved to have been before all things, who appeared after all things?  Who can tell whether he had a prior existence, when he has found no proof that he had any existence at all?  In what way also could it have “pleased (the Father) that in Him should all fulness dwell?”6068

    6068 Col. i. 19.

    For, to begin with, what fulness is that which is not comprised of the constituents which Marcion has removed from it,—even those that were “created in Christ, whether in heaven or on earth,” whether angels or men? which is not made of the things that are visible and invisible? which consists not of thrones and dominions and principalities and powers? If, on the other hand,6069

    6069 Aut si.

    our false apostles and Judaizing gospellers6070

    6070 Evangelizatores.

    have introduced all these things out of their own stores, and Marcion has applied them to constitute the fulness of his own god, (this hypothesis, absurd though it be, alone would justify him;) for how, on any other supposition,6071

    6071 Ceterum quale.

    could the rival and the destroyer of the Creator have been willing that His fulness should dwell in his Christ? To whom, again, does He “reconcile all things by Himself, making peace by the blood of His cross,”6072

    6072 Col. i. 20.

    but to Him whom those very things had altogether6073

    6073 “Una ipsa” is Oehler’s reading instead of universa.

    offended, against whom they had rebelled by transgression, (but) to whom they had at last returned?6074

    6074 Cujus novissime fuerant.

    Conciliated they might have been to a strange god; but reconciled they could not possibly have been to any other than their own God. Accordingly, ourselves “who were sometime alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works”6075

    6075 Col. i. 21.

    does He reconcile to the Creator, against whom we had committed offence—worshipping the creature to the prejudice of the Creator. As, however, he says elsewhere,6076

    6076 Eph. i. 23.

    that the Church is the body of Christ, so here also (the apostle) declares that he “fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church.”6077

    6077 Col. i. 24.

    But you must not on this account suppose that on every mention of His body the term is only a metaphor, instead of meaning real flesh. For he says above that we are “reconciled in His body through death;”6078

    6078 Col. i. 22.

    meaning, of course, that He died in that body wherein death was possible through the flesh: (therefore he adds,) not through the Church6079

    6079 As if only in a metaphorical body, in which sense the Church is “His body.”

    (per ecclesiam), but expressly for the sake of the Church (proper ecclesiam), exchanging body for body—one of flesh for a spiritual one.  When, again, he warns them to “beware of subtle words and philosophy,” as being “a vain deceit,” such as is “after the rudiments of the world” (not understanding thereby the mundane fabric of sky and earth, but worldly learning, and “the tradition of men,” subtle in their speech and their philosophy),6080

    6080 Col. ii. 8.

    it would be tedious, and the proper subject of a separate work, to show how in this sentence (of the apostle’s) all heresies are condemned, on the ground of their consisting of the resources of subtle speech and the rules of philosophy. But (once for all) let Marcion know that the principle term of his creed comes from the school of Epicurus, implying that the Lord is stupid and indifferent;6081

    6081 “Dominum inferens hebetem;” with which may be compared Cicero (De Divin. ii. 50, 103): “Videsne Epicurum quem hebetem et rudem dicere solent Stoici…qui negat, quidquam deos nec alieni curare, nec sui.” The otiose and inert character of the god of Epicurus is referred to by Tertullian not unfrequently; see above, in book iv. chap. xv.; Apolog. 47, and Ad Nationes, ii. 2; whilst in De Anima, 3, he characterizes the philosophy of Epicurus by a similar term: “Prout aut Platonis honor, aut Zenonis vigor, aut Aristotelis tenor, aut Epicuri stupor, aut Heracliti mæror, aut Empedoclis furor persuaserunt.”

    wherefore he refuses to say that He is an object to be feared. Moreover, from the porch of the Stoics he brings out matter, and places it on a par with the Divine Creator.6082

    6082 The Stoical dogma of the eternity of matter and its equality with God was also held by Hermogenes; see his Adv. Hermogenem, c. 4, “Materiam parem Deo infert.”

    He also denies the resurrection of the flesh,—a truth which none of the schools of philosophy agreed together to hold.6083

    6083 Pliny, Nat. Hist. vii. 55, refers to the peculiar opinion of Democritus on this subject (Fr. Junius).

    But how remote is our (Catholic) verity from the artifices of this heretic, when it dreads to arouse the anger of God, and firmly believes that He produced all things out of nothing, and promises to us a restoration from the grave of the same flesh (that died) and holds without a blush that Christ was born of the virgin’s womb! At this, philosophers, and heretics, and the very heathen, laugh and jeer. For “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise6084

    6084 1 Cor. i. 27.

    —that God, no doubt, who in reference to this very dispensation of His threatened long before that He would “destroy the wisdom of the wise.”6085

    6085 Isa. xxix. 14, quoted 1 Cor. i. 19; comp. Jer. viii. 9 and Job v. 12, 13.

    Thanks to this simplicity of truth, so opposed to the subtlety and vain deceit of philosophy, we cannot possibly have any relish for such perverse opinions.  Then, if God “quickens us together with Christ, forgiving us our trespasses,”6086

    6086 Col. ii. 13.

    we cannot suppose that sins are forgiven by Him against whom, as having been all along unknown, they could not have been committed. Now tell me, Marcion, what is your opinion of the apostle’s language, when he says, “Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath, which is a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ?”6087

    6087 Col. ii. 16, 17.

    We do not now treat of the law, further than (to remark) that the apostle here teaches clearly how it has been abolished, even by passing from shadow to substance—that is, from figurative types to the reality, which is Christ. The shadow, therefore, is His to whom belongs the body also; in other words, the law is His, and so is Christ. If you separate the law and Christ, assigning one to one god and the other to another, it is the same as if you were to attempt to separate the shadow from the body of which it is the shadow. Manifestly Christ has relation to the law, if the body has to its shadow. But when he blames those who alleged visions of angels as their authority for saying that men must abstain from meats—“you must not touch, you must not taste”—in a voluntary humility, (at the same time) “vainly puffed up in the fleshly mind, and not holding the Head,”6088

    6088 Col. ii. 18, 19; 21.

    (the apostle) does not in these terms attack the law or Moses, as if it was at the suggestion of superstitious angels that he had enacted his prohibition of sundry aliments. For Moses had evidently received the law from God. When, therefore, he speaks of their “following the commandments and doctrines of men,”6089

    6089 Col. ii. 22.

    he refers to the conduct of those persons who “held not the Head,” even Him in whom all things are gathered together;6090

    6090 Recensentur: Eph. i. 10.

    for they are all recalled to Christ, and concentrated in Him as their initiating principle6091

    6091 Initium.

    —even the meats and drinks which were indifferent in their nature. All the rest of his precepts,6092

    6092 Contained in Vol. iii. and iv.

    as we have shown sufficiently, when treating of them as they occurred in another epistle,6093

    6093 In the Epistle to the Laodiceans or Ephesians; see his remarks in the preceding chapter of this book v.

    emanated from the Creator, who, while predicting that “old things were to pass away,” and that He would “make all things new,”6094

    6094 Isa. xliii. 18, 19, and lxv. 17; 2 Cor. v. 17.

    commanded men “to break up fresh ground for themselves,”6095

    6095 Jer. iv. 3. This and the passage of Isaiah just quoted are also cited together above, book iv. chap. i. and ii. p. 345.

    and thereby taught them even then to put off the old man and put on the new.


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