A Strain of the Judgement of the Lord.

Early Christian Writings

Title: Tertullian: A Strain of the Judgement of the Lord.

Subheading: (CCEL Part Fourth. – Appendix)


Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol IV. (Part.IV)

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

Original Source: CCEL

Related Linkearlychristianwritings.com

Translated by: Rev. S. Thelwall

By: Tertullianus, Quintus Septimius

Published: 197-220 A.D.

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A Strain of the Judgment of the Lord.

Who will for me in fitting strain adapt
Field-haunting muses? and with flowers will grace
The spring-tide’s rosy gales? And who will give
The summer harvest’s heavy stalks mature?

5 And to the autumn’s vines their swollen grapes?
Or who in winter’s honour will commend
The olives, ever-peaceful? and will ope
Waters renewed, even at their fountainheads?
And cut from waving grass the leafy flowers?

10 Forthwith the breezes of celestial light
I will attune. Now be it granted me
To meet the lightsome muses! to disclose
The secret rivers on the fluvial top
Of Helicon, and gladsome woods that grow

15 ’Neath other star. And simultaneously
I will attune in song the eternal flames;
Whence the sea fluctuates with wave immense:
What power moves the solid lands to quake;
And whence the golden light first shot its rays

20 On the new world; or who from gladsome clay
Could man have moulded; whence in empty world
Our race could have upgrown; and what the greed
Of living which each people so inspires;
What things for ill created are; or what

25 Death’s propagation; whence have rosy wreaths
Sweet smell and ruddy hue; what makes the vine
Ferment in gladsome grapes away; and makes
Full granaries by fruit of slender stalks
distended be; or makes the tree grow ripe 136

30 ’Mid ice, with olives black; who gives to seeds
Their increments of vigour various;
And with her young’s soft shadowings protects
The mother. Good it is all things to know
Which wondrous are in nature, that it may

35 Be granted us to recognise through all
The true Lord, who light, seas, sky, earth prepared,
And decked with varied star the new-made world;
And first bade beasts and birds to issue forth;
And gave the ocean’s waters to be stocked

40 With fish; and gathered in a mass the sands,
With living creatures fertilized. Such strains
With stately muses will I spin, and waves
Healthful will from their fountainheads disclose:
And may this strain of mine the gladsome shower

45 Catch, which from placid clouds doth come, and flows
Deeply and all unsought into men’s souls,
And guide it into our new-fumed lands
In copious rills.
Now come: if any one
Still ignorant of God, and knowing naught

50 Of life to come, would fain attain to touch
The care-effacing living nymph, and through
The swift waves’ virtue his lost life repair,
And ’scape the penalties of flame eterne,
And rather win the guerdons of the life

55 To come, let such remember God is One,
Alone the object of our prayers; who ’neath
His threshold hath the whole world poised; Himself
Eternally abiding, and to be
Alway for aye; holding the ages all;

60 Alone, before all ages; unbegotten,
Limitless God; who holds alone His seat
Supernal; supereminent alone
Above high heavens; omnipotent alone;
Whom all things do obey; who for Himself

65 Formed, when it pleased Him, man for aye; and gave
Him to be pastor of beasts tame, and lord
Of wild; who by a word could stretch forth heaven;
And with a word could solid earth suspend;
And quicklier than word had the seas wave

70 Disjoined; and man’s dear form with His own hands
Did love to mould; and furthermore did will
His own fair likeness to exist in him;
And by His Spirit on his countenance
The breath of life did breathe.
Unmindful he

75 Of God, such guilt rashly t’ incur! Beyond
The warning’s range he was not ought to touch.
One fruit illicit, whence he was to know
Forthwith how to discriminate alike
Evil and equity, God him forbade

80 To touch. What functions of the world did God
Permit to man, and sealed the sweet sweet pledge
Of His own love! and jurisdiction gave
O’er birds, and granted him both deep and soil
To tame, and mandates useful did impart

85 Of dear salvation! ’Neath his sway He gave
The lands, the souls of flying things, the race
Feathered, and every race, or tame or wild,
Of beasts, and the sea’s race, and monsterforms
Shapeless of swimming things. But since so soon

90 The primal man by primal crime transgressed
The law, and left the mandates of the Lord
(Led by a wife who counselled all the ills),
By death he ’gan to perish. Woman ’twas
Who sin’s first ill committed, and (the law

95 Transgressed) deceived her husband. Eve, induced
By guile, the thresholds oped to death, and proved
To her own self, with her whole race as well,
A procreatrix of funereal woes.
Hence unanticipated wickedness,

100 Hence death, like seed, for aye, is scattered. Then
More frequent grew atrocious deed; and toil
More savage set the corrupt orb astir:
(This lure the crafty serpent spread, inspired
By envy’s self:) then peoples more invent

105 Practices of ill deeds; and by ill deeds
Gave birth to seeds of wickedness.
And so
The only Lord, whose is the power supreme. 137
Who o’er the heights the summits holds of heaven
Supreme, and in exalted regions dwells

110 In lofty light for ages, mindful too
Of present time, and of futurity
Prescient beforehand, keeps the progeny
Of ill-desert, and all the souls which move
By reason’s force much-erring man—nor less

115 Their tardy bodies governs He—against
The age decreed, so soon as, stretched in death,
Men lay aside their ponderous limbs, and light
As air, shall go, their earthly bonds undone,
And take in diverse parts their proper spheres

120 (But some He bids be forthwith by glad gales
Recalled to life, and be in secret kept
To wait the decreed law’s awards, until
Their bodies with resuscitated limbs
Revive.) Then shall men ’gin to weigh the awards

125 Of their first life, and on their crime and faults
To think, and keep them for their penalties
Which will be far from death; and mindful grow
Of pious duties, by God’s judgments taught;
To wait expectant for their penalty

130 And their descendants’, fruit of their own crime;
Or else to live wholly the life of sheep,
Without a name; and in God’s ear, now deaf,
Pour unavailing weeping. Shall not God
Almighty, ’neath whose law are all things ruled,

135 Be able after death life to restore?
Or is there ought which the creation’s Lord
Unable seems to do? If, darkness chased,
He could outstretch the light, and could compound
All the world’s mass by a word suddenly,

140 And raise by potent voice all things from nought,
Why out of somewhat could He not compound
The well-known shape which erst had been, which He
Had moulded formerly; and bid the form
Arise assimilated to Himself

145 Again? Since God’s are all things, earth the more
Gives Him all back; for she will, when He bids,
Unweave whate’er she woven had before.
If one, perhaps, laid on sepulchral pyre,
The flame consumed; or one in its blind waves

150 The ocean have dismembered; if of one
The entrails have, in hunger, satisfied
The fishes; or on any’s limbs wild beasts
Have fastened cruel death; or any’s blood,
His body reft by birds, unhid have lain:

155 Yet shall they not wrest from the mighty Lord
His latest dues. Need is that men appear
Quickened from death ’fore God, and at His bar
Stand in their shapes resumed. Thus arid seeds
Are drops into the vacant lands, and deep

160 In the fixt furrows die and rot: and hence
Is not their surface animated soon
With stalks repaired? and do they not grow strong
And yellow with the living grains? and, rich
With various usury, new harvests rise

165 In mass? The stars all set, and, born again,
Renew their sheen; and day dies with its light
Lost in dense night; and now night wanes herself
As light unveils creation presently;
And now another and another day

170 Rises from its own stars; and the sun sets,
Bright as it is with splendour—bearing light;
Light perishes when by the coming eve
The world is shaded; and the phœnix lives
By her own soot renewed, and presently

175 Rises, again a bird, O wondrous sight!
After her burnings! The bare tree in time
Shoots with her leaves; and once more are her boughs
Curved by the germen of the fruits.
While then
The world throughout is trembling at God’s voice,

180 And deeply moved are the high air’s powers,
Then comes a crash unwonted, then ensue
Heaven’s mightiest murmurs, on the approach of God,
The whole world’s Judge! His countless ministers
Forthwith conjoin their rushing march, and God 138

185 With majesty supernal fence around.
Angelic bands will from the heaven descend
To earth; all, God’s host, whose is faculty
Divine; in form and visage spirits all
Of virtue: in them fiery vigour is;

190 Rutilant are their bodies; heaven’s might
Divine about them flashes; the whole orb
Hence murmurs; and earth, trembling to her depths
(Or whatsoe’er her bulk is), echoes back
The roar, parturient of men, whom she,

195 Being bidden, will with grief upyield. All stand
In wonderment. At last disturbed are
The clouds, and the stars move and quake from height
Of sudden power. When thus God comes, with voice
Of potent sound, at once throughout all realms

200 The sepulchres are burst, and every ground
Outpours bones from wide chasms, and opening sand
Outbelches living peoples; to the hair
The members cleave; the bones inwoven are
With marrow; the entwined sinews rule

205 The breathing bodies; and the veins ’gin throb
With simultaneously infused blood:
And, from their caves dismissed, to open day
Souls are restored, and seek to find again
Each its own organs, as at their own place

210 They rise. O wondrous faith! Hence every age
Shoots forth; forth shoots from ancient dust the host
Of dead. Regaining light, there rise again
Mothers, and sires, and high-souled youths, and boys,
And maids unwedded; and deceased old men

215 Stand by with living souls; and with the cries
Of babes the groaning orb resounds. Then tribes
Various from their lowest seats will come:
Bands of the Easterns; those which earth’s extreme
Sees; those which dwell in the downsloping clime

220 Of the mid-world, and hold the frosty star’s
Riphæan citadels. Every colonist
Of every land stands frighted here: the boor;
The son of Atreus with his diadem
Of royalty put off; the rich man mixt

225 Coequally in line with pauper peers.
Deep tremor everywhere: then groans the orb
With prayers; and peoples stretching forth their hands
Grow stupid with the din!
The Lord Himself
Seated, is bright with light sublime; and fire

230 Potent in all the Virtues flashing shines.
And on His high-raised throne the Heavenly One
Coruscates from His seat; with martyrs hemmed
(A dazzling troop of men), and by His seers
Elect accompanied (whose bodies bright

235 Effulgent are with snowy stoles), He towers
Above them. And now priests in lustrous robes
Attend, who wear upon their marked front
Wreaths golden-red; and all submissive kneel
And reverently adore. The cry of all

240 Is one: “O Holy, Holy Holy, God!”
To these the Lord will mandate give, to range
The people in twin lines; and orders them
To set apart by number the depraved;
While such as have His biddings followed

245 With placid words He calls, and bids them, clad
With vigour—death quite conquered—ever dwell
Amid light’s inextinguishable airs,
Stroll through the ancients’ ever blooming realm,
Through promised wealth, through ever sunny swards,

250 And in bright body spend perpetual life.
A place there is, beloved of the Lord,
In Eastern coasts, where light is bright and clear,
And healthier blows the breeze; day is eterne,
Time changeless: ’tis a region set apart

255 By God, most rich in plains, and passing blest, 139
In the meridian of His cloudless seat.
There gladsome the air, and is in light
Ever to be; soft is the wind, and breathes
Life-giving blasts; earth, fruitful with a soil

260 Luxuriant, bears all things; in the meads
Flowers shed their fragrance; and upon the plains
The purple—not in envy—mingles all
With golden-ruddy light. One gladsome flower,
With its own lustre clad, another clothes;

265 And here with many a seed the dewy fields
Are dappled, and the snowy tilths are crisped
With rosy flowers. No region happier
Is known in other spots; none which in look
Is fairer, or in honour more excels.

270 Never in flowery gardens are there born
Such lilies, nor do such upon our plains
Outbloom; nor does the rose so blush, what time,
New-born, ’tis opened by the breeze; nor is
The purple with such hue by Tyrian dye

275 Imbued. With coloured pebbles beauteous gleams
The gem: here shines the prasinus; there glows
The carbuncle; and giant-emerald
Is green with grassy light. Here too are born
The cinnamons, with odoriferous twigs;

280 And with dense leaf gladsome amomum joins
Its fragrance. Here, a native, lies the gold
Of radiant sheen; and lofty groves reach heaven
In blooming time, and germens fruitfullest
Burden the living boughs. No glades like these

285 Hath Ind herself forth-stretcht; no tops so dense
Rears on her mount the pine; nor with a shade
So lofty-leaved is her cypress crisped;
Nor better in its season blooms her bough
In spring-tide. Here black firs on lofty peak

290 Bloom; and the only woods that know no hail
Are green eternally: no foliage falls;
At no time fails the flower. There, too, there blooms
A flower as red as Tarsine purple is:
A rose, I ween, it is (red hue it has,

295 An odour keen); such aspect on its leaves
It wears, such odour breathes. A tree it stands,
With a new flower, fairest in fruits; a crop
Life-giving, dense, its happy strength does yield.
Rich honies with green cane their fragrance join,

300 And milk flows potable in runners full;
And with whate’er that sacred earth is green,
It all breathes life; and there Crete’s healing gift
Is sweetly redolent. There, with smooth tide,
Flows in the placid plains a fount: four floods

305 Thence water parted lands. The garden robed
With flowers, I wot, keeps ever spring; no cold
Of wintry star varies the breeze; and earth,
After her birth-throes, with a kindlier blast
Repairs. Night there is none; the stars maintain

310 Their darkness; angers, envies, and dire greed
Are absent; and out-shut is fear, and cares
Driven from the threshold. Here the Evil One
Is homeless; he is into worthy courts
Out-gone, nor is’t e’er granted him to touch

315 The glades forbidden. But here ancient faith
Rests in elect abode; and life here treads,
Joying in an eternal covenant;
And health without a care is gladsome here
In placid tilths, ever to live and be

320 Ever in light.
Here whosoe’er hath lived
Pious, and cultivant of equity
And goodness; who hath feared the thundering God
With mind sincere; with sacred duteousness
Tended his parents; and his other life

325 Spent ever crimeless; or who hath consoled
With faithful help a friend in indigence;
Succoured the over-toiling needy one,
As orphans’ patron, and the poor man’s aid;
Rescued the innocent, and succoured them

330 When press with accusation; hath to guests
His ample table’s pledges given; hath done
All things divinely; pious offices
Enjoined; done hurt to none; ne’er coveted
Another’s: such as these, exulting all

335 In divine praises, and themselves at once
Exhorting, raise their voices to the stars;
Thanksgivings to the Lord in joyous wise
They psalming celebrate; and they shall go 140
Their harmless way with comrade messengers.

340 When ended hath the Lord these happy gifts,
And likewise sent away to realms eterne
The just, then comes a pitiable crowd
Wailing its crimes; with parching tears it pours
All groans effusely, and attests in acts

345 With frequent ululations. At the sight
Of flames, their merit’s due, and stagnant pools
Of fire, wrath’s weapons, they ’gin tremble all.
Them an angelic host, upsnatching them,
Forbids to pray, forbids to pour their cries

350 (Too late!) with clamour loud: pardon withheld,
Into the lowest bottom they are hurled!
O miserable men! how oft to you
Hath Majesty divine made itself known!
The sounds of heaven ye have heard; have seen

355 Its lightnings; have experienced its rains
Assiduous; its ires of winds and hail!
How often nights and days serene do make
Your seasons—God’s gifts—fruitful with fair yields!
Roses were vernal; the grain’s summer-tide

360 Failed not; the autumn variously poured
Its mellow fruits; the rugged winter brake
The olives, icy though they were: ’twas God
Who granted all, nor did His goodness fail.
At God earth trembled; on His voice the deep

365 Hung, and the rivers trembling fled and left
Sands dry; and every creature everywhere
Confesses God! Ye (miserable men!)
Have heaven’s Lord and earth’s denied; and oft
(Horrible!) have God’s heralds put to flight;

370 And rather slain the just with slaughter fell;
And, after crime, fraud ever hath in you
Inhered. Ye then shall reap the natural fruit
Of your iniquitous sowing. That God is
Ye know; yet are ye wont to laugh at Him.

375 Into deep darkness ye shall go of fire
And brimstone; doomed to suffer glowing ires
In torments just. God bids your bones descend
To penalty eternal; go beneath
The ardour of an endless raging hell;

380 Be urged, a seething mass, through rotant pools
Of flame; and into threatening flame He bids
The elements convert; and all heaven’s fire
Descend in clouds.
Then greedy Tartarus
With rapid fire enclosed is; and flame

385 Is fluctuant within with tempest waves;
And the whole earth her whirling embers blends!
There is a flamy furrow; teeth acute
Are turned to plough it, and for all the years
The fiery torrent will be armed: with force

390 Tartarean will the conflagrations gnash
Their teeth upon the world. There are they scorched
In seething tide with course precipitate;
Hence flee; thence back are borne in sharp career;
The savage flame’s ire meets them fugitive!

395 And now at length they own the penalty
Their own, the natural issue of their crime.
And now the reeling earth, by not a swain
Possest, is by the sea’s profundity
Prest, at her farthest limit, where the sun

400 (His ray out-measured) divides the orb,
And where, when traversed is the world, the stars
Are hidden. Ether thickens. O’er the light
Spreads sable darkness; and the latest flames
Stagnate in secret rills. A place there is

405 Whose nature is with sealed penalties
Fiery, and a dreadful marsh white-hot
With heats infernal, where, in furnaces
Horrific, penal deed roars loud, and seethes,
And, rushing into torments, is up-caught

410 By the flame’s vortex wide; by savage wave
And surge the turbid sand all mingled is
With miry bottom. Hither will be sent,
Groaning, the captive crowd of evil ones,
And wickedness (the sinful body’s train)

415 To burn! Great is the beating there of breasts,
By bellowing of grief accompanied;
Wild is the hissing of the flames, and thence
The ululation of the sufferers!
And flames, and limbs sonorous, will outrise

420 Afar: more fierce will the fire burn; and up
To th’ upper air the groaning will be borne.
Then human progeny its bygone deeds
Of ill will weigh; and will begin to stretch
Heavenward its palms; and then will wish to know 141

425 The Lord, whom erst it would not know, what time
To know Him had proved useful to them. There,
His life’s excesses, handiworks unjust,
And crimes of savage mind, each will confess,
And at the knowledge of the impious deeds

430 Of his own life will shudder. And now first,
Whoe’er erewhile cherished ill thoughts of God;
Had worshipped stones unsteady, lyingly
Pretending to divinity; hath e’er
Made sacred to gore-stained images

435 Altars; hath voiceless pictured figures feared;
Hath slender shades of false divinity
Revered; whome’er ill error onward hath
Seduced; whoe’er was an adulterer,
Or with the sword had slain his sons; whoe’er

440 Had stalked in robbery; whoe’er by fraud
His clients had deferred; whoe’er with mind
Unfriendly had behaved himself, or stained
His palms with blood of men, or poison mixt
Wherein death lurked, or robed with wicked guise

445 His breast, or at his neighbour’s ill, or gain
Iniquitous, was wont to joy; whoe’er
Committed whatsoever wickedness
Of evil deeds: him mighty heat shall rack,
And bitter fire; and these all shall endure,

450 In passing painful death, their punishment.
Thus shall the vast crowd lie of mourning men!
This oft as holy prophets sang of old,
And (by God’s inspiration warned) oft told
The future, none (’tis pity!) none (alas!)

455 Did lend his ears. But God Almighty willed
His guerdons to be known, and His law’s threats
’Mid multitudes of such like signs promulged.
He ’stablished them by sending prophets more,
These likewise uttering words divine; and some,

460 Roused from their sleep, He bids go from their tombs
Forth with Himself, when He, His own tomb burst,
Had risen. Many ’wildered were, indeed,
To see the tombs agape, and in clear light
Corpses long dead appear; and, wondering

465 At their discourses pious, dulcet words!
Starward they stretch their palms at the mere sound,
And offer God and so—victorious Christ
Their gratulating homage. Certain ’tis
That these no more re-sought their silent graves,

470 Nor were retained within earth’s bowels shut;
But the remaining host reposes now
In lowliest beds, until—time’s circuit run—
That great day do arrive.
Now all of you
Own the true Lord, who alone makes this soul

475 Of ours to see His light and can the same
(To Tartarus sent) subject to penalties;
And to whom all the power of life and death
Is open. Learn that God can do whate’er
He list; for ’tis enough for Him to will,

480 And by mere speaking He achieves the deed;
And Him nought plainly, by withstanding, checks.
He is my God alone, to whom I trust
With deepest senses. But, since death concludes
Every career, let whoe’er is to-day

485 Bethink him over all things in his mind.
And thus, while life remains, while ’tis allowed
To see the light and change your life, before
The limit of allotted age o’ertake
You unawares, and that last day, which is

490 By death’s law fixt, your senseless eyes do glaze,
Seek what remains worth seeking: watchful be
For dear salvation; and run down with ease
And certainty the good course. Wipe away
By pious sacred rites your past misdeeds

495 Which expiation need; and shun the storms,
The too uncertain tempests, of the world.
Then turn to right paths, and keep sanctities.
Hence from your gladsome minds depraved crime
Quite banish; and let long-inveterate fault

500 Be washed forth from your breast; and do away
Wicked ill-stains contracted; and appease
Dread God by prayers eternal; and let all
Most evil mortal things to living good
Give way: and now at once a new life keep

505 Without a crime; and let your minds begin
To use themselves to good things and to true:
And render ready voices to God’s praise.
Thus shall your piety find better things
All growing to a flame; thus shall ye, too,

510 Receive the gifts of the celestial life;
And, to long age, shall ever live with God,
Seeing the starry kingdom’s golden joys.

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