Early Christian Writings
Title: On the Apparel of Women BOOK I.
Link: see BOOK II
Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol IV. (Part.IV)
Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council
Original Source: (CCEL/ANF04/Tertullian: Part Fourth./)
Related link: earlychristianwritings.com
Translated by: Rev. S. Thelwall
By: Tertullianus, Quintus Septimius
Published: 197-220 A.D.
(PDF File Size: xx mb) xx pages
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Chapter I. — Introduction. Modesty in Apparel Becoming To Women, In Memory Of the Introduction of Sin into the World through a Woman.
14 If there dwelt upon earth a faith as great as is the reward of faith which is expected in the heavens, no one of you at all, best beloved sisters, from the time that she had first “known the Lord,” and learned (the truth) concerning her own (that is, woman’s) condition, would have desired too gladsome (not to say too ostentatious) a style of dress; so as not rather to go about in humble garb, and rather to affect meanness of appearance, walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve,–the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition.
“In pains and in anxieties dost thou bear (children), woman; and toward thine husband thy inclination, and he lords It over thee.” And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.
You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert–that is, death–even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins? Come, now; if from the beginning of the world the Milesians sheared sheep, and the Serians spun trees, and the Tyrians dyed, and the Phrygians embroidered with the needle, and the Babylonians with the loom, and pearls gleamed, and onyx-stones flashed; if gold itself also had already issued, with the cupidity (which accompanies it), from the ground; if the mirror, too, already had licence to lie so largely, Eve, expelled from paradise, (Eve) already dead, would also have coveted these things, I imagine! No more, then, ought she now to crave, or be acquainted with (if she desires to live again), what, when she was living, she had neither had nor known. Accordingly these things are all the baggage of woman in her condemned and dead state, instituted as if to swell the pomp of her funeral.
Chapter II. — The Origin Of Female Ornamentation, Traced Back To The Angels Who Had Fallen.
For they, withal, who instituted them are assigned, under condemnation, to the penalty of death,–those angels, to wit, who rushed from heaven on the daughters of men; so that this ignominy also attaches to woman. For when to an age much more ignorant (than ours) they had disclosed certain well-concealed material substances, and several not well-revealed scientific arts–if it is true that they had laid bare the operations of metallurgy, and had divulged the natural properties of herbs, and had promulgated the powers of 15 enchantments, and had traced out every curious art, even to the interpretation of the stars–they conferred properly and as it were peculiarly upon women that instrumental mean of womanly ostentation, the radiances of jewels wherewith necklaces are variegated, and the circlets of gold wherewith the arms are compressed, and the medicaments of orchil with which wools are coloured, and that black powder itself wherewith the eyelids and eyelashes are made prominent.
What is the quality of these things may be declared meantime, even at this point, from the quality and condition of their teachers: in that sinners could never have either shown or supplied anything conducive to integrity, unlawful lovers anything conducive to chastity, renegade spirits anything conducive to the fear of God. If (these things) are to be called teachings, ill masters must of necessity have taught ill; if as wages of lust, there is nothing base of which the wages are honourable. But why was it of so much importance to show these things as well as to confer them? Was it that women, without material causes of splendour, and without ingenious contrivances of grace, could not please men, who, while still unadorned, and uncouth and–so to say–crude and rude, had moved (the mind of) angels? or was it that the lovers would appear sordid and–through gratuitous use–contumelious, if they had conferred no (compensating) gift on the women who had been enticed into connubial connection with them?
But these questions admit of no calculation. Women who possessed angels (as husbands) could desire nothing more; they had, forsooth, made a grand match! Assuredly they who, of course, did sometimes think whence they had fallen, and, after the heated impulses of their lusts, looked up toward heaven, thus requited that very excellence of women, natural beauty, as (having proved) a cause of evil, in order that their good fortune might profit them nothing; but that, being turned from simplicity and sincerity, they, together with (the angels) themselves, might become offensive to God. Sure they were that all ostentation, and ambition, and love of pleasing by carnal means, was displeasing to God.
And these are the angels whom we are destined to judge: these are the angels whom in baptism we renounce: these, of course, are the reasons why they have deserved to be judged by man. What business, then, have their things with their judges? What commerce have they who are to condemn with them who are to be condemned? The same, I take it, as Christ has with Belial. With what consistency do we mount that (future) judgment-seat to pronounce sentence against those whose gifts we (now) seek after? For you too, (women as you are,) have the self-same angelic nature promised as your reward, the self-same sex as men: the self-same advancement to the dignity of judging, does (the Lord) promise you. Unless, then, we begin even here to prejudge, by pre-condemning their things, which we are hereafter to condemn in themselves, they will rather judge and condemn us.
Chapter III. — Concerning the Genuineness of “The Prophecy of Enoch.”
I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, which has assigned this order (of action) to angels, is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either. I suppose they did not think that, having been published before the deluge, it could have safely survived that world-wide calamity, the abolisher of all things. If that is the reason (for rejecting it), let them recall to their memory that Noah, the survivor of the deluge, was the great-grandson of Enoch himself; and he, of course, had heard and remembered, from domestic renown and hereditary tradition, concerning his own great-grandfather’s “grace in the sight of God,” and concerning all his preachings; since Enoch had given no other charge to Methuselah than that he should hand on the knowledge of them to his posterity. Noah therefore, no doubt, might have succeeded in the trusteeship of (his) preaching; or, had the case been otherwise, he would not have been silent alike concerning the disposition (of things) made by God, his Preserver, and concerning the particular glory of his own house.
If (Noah) had not had this (conservative power) by so short a route, there would (still) be this (consideration) to warrant our assertion of (the genuineness of) this Scripture: he could equally have renewed it, under the Spirit’s inspiration, after it had been destroyed by the violence of the deluge, as, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian storming of it, every document of the Jewish literature is generally agreed to have been restored through Ezra. 16
But since Enoch in the same Scripture has preached likewise concerning the Lord, nothing at all must be rejected by us which pertains to us; and we read that “every Scripture suitable for edification is divinely inspired. By the yews it may now seem to have been rejected for that (very) reason, just like all the other (portions) nearly which tell of Christ. Nor, of course, is this fact wonderful, that they did not receive some Scriptures which spake of Him whom even in person, speaking in their presence, they were not to receive. To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude.
Chapter IV. — Waiving The Question Of The Authors, Tertullian Proposes To Consider The Things On Their Own Merits.
Grant now that no mark of pre-condemnation has been branded on womanly pomp by the (fact of the) fate of its authors; let nothing be imputed to those angels besides their repudiation of heaven and (their) carnal marriage: let us examine the qualities of the things themselves, in order that we may detect the purposes also for which they are eagerly desired.
Female habit carries with it a twofold idea–dress and ornament. By “dress” we mean what they call “womanly gracing;” by “ornament,” what it is suitable should be called “womanly disgracing.” The former is accounted (to consist) in gold, and silver, and gems, and garments; the latter in care of the hair, and of the skin, and of those parts of the body which attract the eye. Against the one we lay the charge of ambition, against the other of prostitution; so that even from this early stage (of our discussion) you may look forward and see what, out of (all) these, is suitable, handmaid of God, to your discipline, inasmuch as you are assessed on different principles (from other women),–those, namely, of humility and chastity.
Chapter V. — Gold And Silver Not Superior In Origin or In Utility to Other Metals.
Gold and silver, the principal material causes of worldly splendour, must necessarily be identical (in nature) with that out of which they have their being: (they must be) earth, that is; (which earth itself is) plainly more glorious (than they), inasmuch as it is only after it has been tearfully wrought by penal labour in the deadly laboratories of accursed mines, and there left its name of “earth” in the fire behind it, that, as a fugitive from the mine, it passes from torments to ornaments, from punishments to embellishments, from ignominies to honours.
But iron, and brass, and other the vilest material substances, enjoy a parity of condition (with silver and gold), both as to earthly origin and metallurgic operation; in order that, in the estimation of nature, the substance of gold and of silver may be judged not a whit more noble (than theirs). But if it is from the quality of utility that gold and silver derive their glory, why, iron and brass excel them; whose usefulness is so disposed (by the Creator), that they not only discharge functions of their own more numerous and more necessary to human affairs, but do also none the less serve the turn of gold and silver, by dint of their own powers, in the service of juster causes.
For not only are rings made of iron, but the memory of antiquity still preserves (the fame of) certain vessels for eating and drinking made out of brass. Let the insane plenteousness of gold and silver look to it, if it serves to make utensils even for foul purposes. At all events, neither is the field tilled by means of gold, nor the ship fastened together by the strength of silver. No mattock plunges a golden edge into the ground; no nail drives a silver point into planks.
I leave unnoticed the fact that the needs of our whole life are dependent upon iron and brass; whereas those rich materials themselves, requiring both to be dug up out of mines, and needing a forging process in every use (to which they are put), are helpless without the laborious vigour of iron and brass. Already, therefore, we must judge whence it is that so high dignity accrues to gold and silver, since they get precedence over material substances which are not only cousin-german to them in point of origin, but more powerful in point of usefulness.
Chapter VI. — Of Precious Stones and Pearls.
But, in the next place, what am I to interpret those jewels to be which vie with gold in haughtiness, except little pebbles and stones and paltry particles of the self-same earth; but yet not necessary either for laying down foundations, or rearing party-walls, or supporting pediments, or giving density to roofs? The only edifice which they know how to rear is this silly pride of women: because they require slow rubbing that they may shine, and artful underlaying that they may show to advantage, and careful piercing that they may hang; and (because they) render to gold a mutual assistance in meretricious allurement.
But whatever it is that ambition fishes up from the British or the Indian sea, it is a kind of conch not 17 more pleasing in savour than–I do not say the oyster and the sea-snail, but–even the giant muscle. For let me add that I know conchs (which axe) sweet fruits of the sea. But if that (foreign) conch suffers from some internal pustule, that ought to be regarded rather as its defect than as its glory; and although it be called “pearl,” still something else must be understood than some hard, round excrescence of the fish.
Some say, too, that gems are culled from the foreheads of dragons, just as in the brains of fishes there is a certain stony substance. This also was wanting to the Christian woman, that she may add a grace to herself from the serpent! Is it thus that she will set her heel on the devil’s head,” while she heaps ornaments (taken) from his head on her own neck, or on her very head?
Chapter VII. — Rarity the Only Cause Which Makes Such Things Valuable.
It is only from their rarity and outlandishness that all these things possess their grace; in short, within their own native limits they are not held of so high worth. Abundance is always contumelious toward itself. There are some barbarians with whom, because gold is indigenous and plentiful, it is customary to keep (the criminals) in their convict establishments chained with gold, and to lade the wicked with riches–the more guilty, the more wealthy.
At last there has really been found a way to prevent even gold from being loved! We have also seen at Rome the nobility of gems blushing in the presence of our matrons at the contemptuous usage of the Parthians and Medes, and the rest of their own fellow-countrymen, only that (their gems) are not generally worn with a view to ostentation. Emeralds lurk in their belts; and the sword (that hangs) below their bosom alone is witness to the cylindrical stones that decorate its hilt; and the massive single pearls on their boots are fain to get lifted out of the mud! In short, they carry nothing so richly gemmed as that which ought not to be gemmed if it is (either) not conspicuous, or else is conspicuous only that it may be shown to be also neglected.
Chapter VIII. — The Same Rule Holds With Regard To Colours. God’s Creatures Generally Not To Be Used, Except For the Purposes to Which He Has Appointed Them.
Similarly, too, do even the servants of those barbarians cause the glory to fade from the colours of our garments (by wearing the like); nay, even their party-walls use slightingly, to supply the place of painting, the Tyrian and the violet-coloured and the grand royal hangings, which you laboriously undo and metamorphose. Purple with them is more paltry than red ochre; (and justly,) for what legitimate honour can garments derive from adulteration with illegitimate colours?
That which He Himself has not produced is not pleasing to God, unless He was unable to order sheep to be born with purple and sky-blue fleeces! If He was able, then plainly He was unwilling: what God willed not, of course ought not to be fashioned. Those things, then, are not the best by nature which are not from God, the Author of nature. Thus they are understood to be from the devil, from the corrupter of nature: for there is no other whose they can be, if they are not God’s; because what are not God’s must necessarily be His rival’s. But, beside the devil and his angels, other rival of God there is none.
Again, if the material substances are of God, it does not immediately follow that such ways of enjoying them among men (are so too). It is matter for inquiry not only whence come conchs, but what sphere of embellishment is assigned them, and where it is that they exhibit their beauty. For all those profane pleasures of worldly shows–as we have already published a volume of their own about them — (ay, and) even idolatry itself, derive their material causes from the creatures of God.
Yet a Christian ought not to attach himself to the frenzies of the racecourse, or the atrocities of the arena, or the turpitudes of the stage, simply because God has given to man the horse, and the panther, and the power of speech: just as a Christian cannot commit idolatry with impunity either, because the incense, and the wine, and the fire which feeds (thereon), and the animals which are made the victims, are God’s workmanship; since even the material thing which is adored is God’s (creature). Thus then, too, with regard to their active use, does the origin of the material substances, which descends from God, excuse (that use) as foreign to God, as guilty forsooth of worldly glory!
Chapter IX. — God’s Distribution Must Regulate Our Desires, Otherwise We Become The Prey Of Ambition And Its Attendant Evils.
For, as some particular things distributed by God over certain individual lands, and some one particular tract of sea, are mutually foreign one to the other, they are 18 reciprocally either neglected or desired: (desired) among foreigners, as being rarities; neglected (rightly), if anywhere, among their own compatriots, because in them there is no such fervid longing for a glory which, among its own home-folk, is frigid.
But, however, the rareness and outlandishness which arise out of that distribution of possessions which God has ordered as He willed, ever finding favour in the eyes of strangers, excites, from the simple fact of not having what God has made native to other places, the concupiscence of having it. Hence is educed another vice–that of immoderate having; because although, perhaps, having may be permissible, still a limit is bound (to be observed).
This (second vice) will be ambition; and hence, too, its name is to be interpreted, in that from concupiscence ambient in the mind it is born, with a view to the desire of glory,–a grand desire, forsooth, which (as we have said) is recommended neither by nature nor by truth, but by a vicious passion of the mind,– (namely,) concupiscence. And there are other vices connected with ambition and glory.
Thus they have withal enhanced the cost of things, in order that (thereby) they might add fuel to themselves also; for concupiscence becomes proportionably greater as it has set a higher value upon the thing which it has eagerly desired. From the smallest caskets is produced an ample patrimony.
On a single thread is suspended a million of sesterces. One delicate neck carries about it forests and islands. The slender lobes of the ears exhaust a fortune; and the left hand, with its every finger, sports with a several money-bag. Such is the strength of ambition– (equal) to bearing on one small body, and that a woman’s, the product of so copious wealth:
next: BOOK II.