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Chapter XXIII.—God’s Attribute of Goodness Considered as Rational. Marcion’s God Defective Here Also; His Goodness Irrational and Misapplied.

Here is another rule for him. All the properties of God ought to be as rational as they are natural. I require reason in His goodness, because nothing else can properly be accounted good than that which is rationally good; much less can goodness itself be detected in any irrationality. More easily will an evil thing which has something rational belonging to it be accounted good, than that a good thing bereft of all reasonable quality should escape being regarded as evil. Now I deny that the goodness of Marcion’s god is rational, on this account first, because it proceeded to the salvation of a human creature which was alien to him. I am aware of the plea which they will adduce, that that is rather 2600 a primary and perfect goodness which is shed voluntarily and freely upon strangers without any obligation of friendship, 2601 on the principle that we are bidden to love even our enemies, such as are also on that very account strangers to us.  Now, inasmuch as from the first he had no regard for man, a stranger to him from the first, he settled beforehand, by this neglect of his, that he had nothing to do with an alien creature.  Besides, the rule of loving a stranger or enemy is preceded by the precept of your loving your neighbour as yourself; and this precept, although coming from the Creator’s law, even you ought to receive, because, so far from being abrogated by Christ, it has rather been confirmed by Him. For you are bidden to love your enemy and the stranger, in order that you may love your neighbour the better. The requirement of the undue is an augmentation of the due benevolence. But the due precedes the undue, as the principal quality, and more worthy of the other, for its attendant and companion. 2602 Since, therefore, the first step in the reasonableness of the divine goodness is that it displays itself on its proper object 2603 in righteousness, and only at its second stage on an alien object by a redundant righteousness over and above that of scribes and Pharisees, how comes it to pass that the second is attributed to him who fails in the first, not having man for his proper object, and who makes his goodness on this very account defective? Moreover, how could a defective benevolence, which had no proper object whereon to expend itself, overflow 2604 on an alien one? Clear up the first step, and then vindicate the next.  Nothing can be claimed as rational without order, much less can reason itself 2605 dispense with order in any one. Suppose now the divine goodness begin at the second stage of its rational operation, that is to say, on the stranger, this second stage will not be consistent in rationality if it be impaired in any way else. 2606 For only then will even the second stage of goodness, that which is displayed towards the stranger, be accounted rational, when it operates without wrong to him who has the first claim. 2607 It is righteousness 2608 which before everything else makes all goodness rational. It will thus be rational in its principal stage, when manifested on its proper object, if it be righteous. And thus, in like manner, it will be able to appear rational, when displayed towards the stranger, if it be not unrighteous. But what sort of goodness is that which is manifested in wrong, and that p. 289 in behalf of an alien creature?  For peradventure a benevolence, even when operating injuriously, might be deemed to some extent rational, if exerted for one of our own house and home. 2609 By what rule, however, can an unjust benevolence, displayed on behalf of a stranger, to whom not even an honest one is legitimately due, be defended as a rational one? For what is more unrighteous, more unjust, more dishonest, than so to benefit an alien slave as to take him away from his master, claim him as the property of another, and suborn him against his master’s life; and all this, to make the matter more iniquitous still whilst he is yet living in his master’s house and on his master’s garner, and still trembling beneath his stripes? Such a deliverer, 2610 I had almost said 2611 kidnapper, 2612 would even meet with condemnation in the world.  Now, no other than this is the character of Marcion’s god, swooping upon an alien world, snatching away man from his God, 2613 the son from his father, the pupil from his tutor, the servant from his master—to make him impious to his God, undutiful to his father, ungrateful to his tutor, worthless to his master. If, now, the rational benevolence makes man such, what sort of being prithee 2614 would the irrational make of him? None I should think more shameless than him who is baptized to his 2615 god in water which belongs to another, who stretches out his hands 2616 to his god towards a heaven which is another’s, who kneels to his god on ground which is another’s, offers his thanksgivings to his god over bread which belongs to another, 2617 and distributes 2618 by way of alms and charity, for the sake of his god, gifts which belong to another God. Who, then, is that so good a god of theirs, that man through him becomes evil; so propitious, too, as to incense against man that other God who is, indeed, his own proper Lord?







This is the sense of the passage as read by Oehler: “Antecedit autem debita indebitam, ut principalis, ut dignior ministra et comite sua, id est indebita.” Fr. Junius, however, added the word “prior” which begins the next sentence to these words, making the last clause run thus: “ut dignior ministra, et comite sua, id est indebita, prior”—“as being more worthy of an attendant, and as being prior to its companion, that is, the undue benevolence.” It is difficult to find any good use of the “prior” in the next sentence, “Prior igitur cum prima bonitatis ratio sit,” etc., as Oehler and others point it.


In rem suam.




Ratio ipsa, i.e., rationality, or the character of reasonableness, which he is now vindicating.


Alio modo destructus.


Cujus est res.


Justitia, right as opposed to the wrong (injuria) of the preceding sentence.


Pro domestico, opposed to the pro extraneo, the alien or stranger of the preceding and succeeding context.








i.e., the Creator.


Oro te.


Alii Deo. The strength of this phrase is remarkable by the side of the oft-repeated aliena.


Therefore Christians used to lift their hands and arms towards heaven in prayer. Compare The Apology, chap. 30, (where the manibus expansis betokens the open hand, not merely as the heathen tendens ad sidera palmas). See also De Orat. c. 13, and other passages from different writers referred to in the “Tertullian” of the Oxford Library of the Fathers, p. 70.  [See the figures in the Catacombs as represented by Parker, Marriott and others.]


To the same effect Irenæus had said: “How will it be consistent in them to hold that the bread on which thanks are given is the body of their Lord, and that the cup is His blood, if they do not acknowledge that He is the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, the Word of God?” (Rigalt.)  [The consecrated bread is still bread, in Patristic theology.]


Operatur, a not unfrequent use of the word. Thus Prudentius (Psychom. 572) opposes operatio to avaritia.

Next: The Goodness of Marcion's God Only Imperfectly Manifested; It Saves But Few, and the Souls Merely of These. Marcion's Contempt of the Body Absurd.