Mentitur

‘Unde ergo,’ inquitis, ‘tantum de vobis Famae licuit, cuius testimonium suffecerit forsitan conditoribus legum?’ quis, oro, sponsor aut illis tunc aut exinde vobis de fide Famae? nonne haec est ‘Fama malum, quo non aliud velocius ullum’ [cf. Vergil, Aen. 4.174] ? cur malum, si vera semper sit? non mendacio plurimum? quae ne tum quidem, cum vera defert, a libidine mendacii cessat, ut non falsa veris intexat adiciens, detrahens, varietate confundens. quid, quod ea condicio illi, ut nonnisi quod mentitur perseveret? tamdiu enim vivit quamdiu non probat quicquam, siquidem approbata cadit et quasi officio nuntiandi functa decedit; exinde res tenetur, res nominatur, nec quisquam dicit verbi gratia: ‘hoc Romae aiunt factum,’ aut ‘fama est illum provinciam sortitum,’ sed: ‘ille provinciam sortitus est,’ et ‘hoc factum est Romae.’
(Tertullian, Ad Nationes 1.7)

You will say, how is it possible that such a hideous reputation has grown up around you Christians as to convince our lawmakers of its testimony? And I shall ask who was the advocate for your lawmakers in their own time and for you in the present time to vouch for this reputation? Could it perhaps have been: ‘Rumor, an evil of matchless speed’? But why evil, if it is always true? Is it in fact not largely false? Even when it reports the truth, it does not set aside its lust for lying. Rumor weaves falsehood in with the truth by a process of addition, subtraction and scrambling. She can maintain her existence only by lying. She lives on only as long as she fails to prove anything. As soon as a rumor is proven to be true, it expires. Having conveyed its message, it departs. When the report is real and is declared a fact no one will say, ‘They say that this happened in Rome.’ Or, ‘Rumor has it that he has been assigned a province.’ Rather, it will be said, ‘This happened in Rome.’ Or ‘He has been assigned a province.’ (tr. Quincy Howe)

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