Tertullian of Carthage: Not to be Studious of the Stomach

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Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17

“Nature herself will plainly tell with what qualities she is ever wont to find us endowed when she sets us, before taking food and drink, with our saliva still in a virgin state, to the transaction of matters, by the sense especially whereby things divine are, handled; whether (it be not) with a mind much more vigorous, with a heart much more alive, than when that whole habitation of our interior man, stuffed with meats, inundated with wines, fermenting for the purpose of excremental secretion, is already being turned into a premeditatory of privies, (a premeditatory) where, plainly, nothing is so proximately supersequent as the savouring of lasciviousness. “The people did eat and drink, and they arose to play” [Exodus 32:6; 1 Corinthians 10:7].

Understand the modest language of Holy Scripture: “play,” unless it had been immodest, it would not have reprehended. On the other hand, how many are there who are mindful of religion, when the seats of the memory are occupied, the limbs of wisdom impeded? No one will suitably, fitly, usefully, remember God at that time when it is customary for a man to forget his own self. All discipline food either slays or else wounds. I am a liar, if the Lord Himself, when upbraiding Israel with forgetfulness, does not impute the cause to “fulness:” ” beloved is waxen thick, and fat, and distent, and hath quite forsaken God, who made him, and hath gone away from the Lord his Saviour.”

In short, in the Self-same Deuteronomy, when bidding precaution to be taken against the self-same cause, He says: “Lest, when thou shalt have eaten, and drunken, and built excellent houses, thy sheep and oxen being multiplied, and (thy) silver and gold, thy heart be elated, and thou be forgetful of the Lord thy God” [Deuteronomy 8:12-14]. To the corrupting power of riches He made the enormity of edacity antecedent, for which riches themselves are the procuring agents. Through them, to wit, had “the heart of the People been made thick, lest they should see with the eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with a heart” [Isaiah 6:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27]. obstructed by the “fats” of which He had expressly forbidden the eating [Leviticus 3:17], teaching man not to be studious of the stomach [Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4].

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155-240) in On Fasting, chapter 6 (translated by Roberts and Donaldson).

There’s a lot here, and the Scriptures are gold, so my comments will be brief. The time to fast is now. The COVID season when everything is changing, and we need new wineskins for the new work God is doing globally.

And Tertullian would add, that it’s not a time for eat, drink, and play. Here fasting is linked to the activity that helps us to remember God when our proclivity is to forget Him and to pursue our own fleshly desires.

When Tertullian digs deeper into the Scriptures, he uncovers more keen insights. We cannot survive on food alone. We need to trust in God rather than the corrupting power of riches, and fasting marks the gateway.

If we have riches, we must shift from building “excellent houses” to growing God’s kingdom, lest we find ourselves among those who can no longer see, hear, or understand what God desires.

I’d suggest not to be studious of the stomach. The picture the dots of Scripture give us if we connect them is sobering. If we don’t set aside our desires, our desires will define, consume, and destroy us.