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Chapter II. 475 —The Heathen Perverted Judgment in the Trial of Christians. They Would Be More Consistent If They Dispensed with All Form of Trial.  Tertullian Urges This with Much Indignation.

In this case you actually 476 conduct trials contrary to the usual form of judicial process against criminals; for when culprits are brought up for trial, should they deny the charge, you press them for a confession by tortures. When Christians, however, confess without compulsion, you apply the torture to induce them to deny. What great perverseness is this, when you stand out against confession, and change the use of the torture, compelling the man who frankly acknowledges the charge 477 to evade it, and him who is unwilling, to deny it? You, who preside for the purpose of extorting truth, demand falsehood from us alone that we may declare ourselves not to be what we are. I suppose you do not want us to be bad men, and therefore you earnestly wish to exclude us from that character. To be sure, 478 you put others on the rack and the gibbet, to get them to deny what they have the reputation of being. Now, when they deny (the charge against them), you do not believe them but on our denial, you instantly believe us. If you feel sure that we are the most injurious of men, why, even in processes against us, are we dealt with by you differently from other offenders? I do not mean that you make no account of 479 either an accusation or a denial (for your practice is not hastily to condemn men without an indictment and a defence); but, to take an instance in the trial of a murderer, the case is not at once ended, or the inquiry satisfied, on a man’s confessing himself the murderer.  However complete his confession, 480 you do not readily believe him; but over and above this, you inquire into accessory circumstances—how often had he committed murder; with what weapons, in what place, with what plunder, accomplices, and abettors after the fact 481 (was the crime perpetrated)—to the end that nothing whatever respecting the criminal might escape detection, and that every means should be at hand for arriving at a true verdict. In our case, on the contrary, 482 whom you believe to be guilty of more atrocious and numerous crimes, you frame your indictments 483 in briefer and lighter terms. I suppose you do not care to load with accusations men whom you earnestly wish to get rid of, or else you do not think it necessary to inquire into matters which are known to you already. It is, however, all the more perverse that you compel us to deny charges about which you have the clearest evidence. But, indeed, 484 how much more consistent were it with your hatred of us to dispense with all forms of judicial process, and to strive with all your might not to urge us to say “No,” and so have to acquit the objects of your hatred; but to confess all and singular the crimes laid to our charge, that your resentments might be the better glutted with an accumulation of our punishments, when it becomes known how many of those feasts each one of us may have celebrated, and how many incests we may have committed under cover of the night! What am I saying? Since your researches for rooting out our society must needs be made on a wide scale, you ought to extend your inquiry against our friends and companions. Let our infanticides and the dressers (of our horrible repasts) be brought out,—ay, and the very dogs which minister to our (incestuous) nuptials; 485 then the business (of our trial) would be without a fault. Even to the crowds which throng the spectacles a zest would be given; for with how much greater eagerness would they resort to the theatre, when one had to fight in the lists who had devoured a hundred babies! For since such horrid and monstrous crimes are reported of us, they ought, of course, to be brought to light, lest they should seem to be incredible, and the public detestation of us should begin to cool. For most persons are slow to believe such things, 486 feeling a horrible disgust at supposing that our nature could have an appetite p. 111 for the food of wild beasts, when it has precluded these from all concubinage with the race of man.



Comp. c. ii. of The Apology.




Gratis reum.




Neque spatium commodetis.


Quanquam confessis.


Receptoribus, “concealers” of the crime.








We have for once departed from Oehler’s text, and preferred Rigault’s:  “Perducerentur infantarii et coci, ipsi canes pronubi, emendata esset res.” The sense is evident from The Apology, c. vii.: “It is said that we are guilty of most horrible crimes; that in the celebration of our sacrament we put a child to death, which we afterward devour, and at the end of our banquet revel in incest; that we employ dogs as ministers of our impure delights, to overthrow the candles, and thus to provide darkness, and remove all shame which might interfere with these impious lusts” (Chevalier’s translation). These calumnies were very common, and are noticed by Justin Martyr, Minucius Felix, Eusebius, Athenagoras, and Origen, who attributes their origin to the Jews.  Oehler reads infantariæ, after the Agobardine codex and editio princeps, and quotes Martial (Epigr. iv. 88), where the word occurs in the sense of an inordinate love of children.


Nam et plerique fidem talium temperant.

Next: The Great Offence in the Christians Lies in Their Very Name. The Name Vindicated.