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ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL

CHAPTER I

IT were a work demanding considerable ingenuity
and a still more retentive memory, were one to
extract the testimonies to Christian Truth out of
all the most approved writings of philosophers and
poets and teachers of secular learning and wisdom,
so that its rivals and opponents might be convicted
out of their own literature both of error as regards
themselves and of injustice towards us. Some,
indeed, whose diligence in research and excellence
of memory in ancient literature have been unfailing,
have composed booklets with this end in view which
are in our hands; 1 and in these works they set
forth and attest in each particular the reason and
origin of our traditions and the proofs of our tenets,
from which it can be seen that we have upheld
nothing either novel or strange which does not find
support and countenance in popular writings in
everybody's hands, in so far as we have either
rejected error or admitted truth. But human
obstinacy arising out of credulity has impaired
men's faith even in their own teachers, who on other
points are deemed most approved and most authori-
tative, wherever they come across vindications of

1 Minucius Felix. See Intro., p. 13.

16


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 17

the Christian position. Then are the poets foolish
when they assign to the gods human passions and
stories; then are the philosophers stupid when they
knock at the doors of Truth. One will only be
regarded as wise and learned so long as one utters
sentiments nearly Christian; while if one has
really aimed at prudence and wisdom by rejecting
(heathen) ceremonies or by convicting the world
(of sin), one is at once branded as a Christian.

We will now therefore have nothing to do with
a literature and a teaching of such fertile perversity
that it is believed in for what is false in it rather
than for what is true. No matter that some have
taught one GOD and one only. Rather let them
have written nothing at all which a Christian
acknowledges, lest he may upbraid them with it.
For all do not know what has been written, and
those who do know do not agree with it with any
confidence. Far less do men agree with our
writings, to which no one comes unless he is a
Christian already.

I call a new witness, better known than all liter-
ature, more discussed than all doctrine, more public
than all publications, greater than any man, yet
which is indeed the whole of man.

Stand forth, O Soul, in the midst; whether thou
art divine and eternal (as many philosophers assert),
and therefore less likely to lie, or whether thou art
the opposite of divine because mortal (as Epicurus
is alone in thinking), and therefore oughtest the less
to lie;1 whether thou art received from heaven, or
conceived on earth; whether thou art produced from

1 i. e. being an outside, independent source of witness to
GOD.

B


18 TERTULLIAN

numbers or atoms; whether thou hast thy beginning
with the body, or art subsequently introduced into
the body; whencesoever and howsoever thou makest
man to be a rational being, the most capable of
sense and knowledge—stand forth and utter thy
testimony.

But I do not summon thee in the form in which
thou givest vent to thy wisdom when thou hast
been shaped in the schools, trained in libraries, fed
in Attic academies and Porches.1 I address thee
in thy simple, unskilled, unpolished, untaught form,
such as they possess thee who have nothing else
but thee, thy very self alone, as thou existest in the
lane, in the highway, in the loom. I need thy
inexperience, since no one credits thy experience,
however small. I demand of thee that which thou
bringest into man, which thou hast learnt to feel
either from thyself or from thine author, whoever
he may be. Thou art not, as I know, Christian, for
a soul is wont to be made, not born Christian.2
Yet now Christians extort from thee an alien, a
testimony against thine own friends, so that these
may actually blush before thee because they hate
and mock us for those very things of which now
thy conscience accuses thee.

1 i. e. brought up on Platonist or Stoic teaching.

2 So previously in his Apology Tertullian wrote: "Chris-
tians are made, not born"; cp. Augustine, de pecc. mer.
III, 9: "Not birth, but rebirth, makes Christians."


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 19

CHAPTER II

WE give offence when we preach the ONE GOD
under One Name only, from Whom are all things,1
and under Whom is the universe. Speak forth thy
testimony, if thou knowest this to be the truth.
For we hear thee everywhere openly and with full
liberty (which is denied to us), ejaculating, "May
GOD grant it," and "If GOD wills." And by these
words thou declarest that some ONE exists, and
confessest that all power belongs to Him to Whose
will thou lookest. At the same time thou sayest
that the rest are not gods, inasmuch as thou callest
them by their own names—Saturn, Jupiter, Mars,
Minerva. For thou affirmest Him alone to be GOD
Whom thou callest simply GOD; and hence when
thou dost sometimes also call the others gods, thou
seemest to do so by a derived and, as it were, a
borrowed use of the word.

Nor is the Nature of the GOD Whom we preach
hid from thee. "GOD is good," "GOD doeth good,"
are thine own expressions—obviously implying,
"But man is evil"; involving in this contrary
proposition by indirect inference the reproach that
man is evil because he has departed from the good
GOD.

Again, whereas with us every benediction in the
Name of the GOD of goodness and loving-kindness
is the most sacred bond of our faith and practice,
"GOD bless thee" runs off thy tongue as readily
as it should come from any Christian's need. And
even when thou turnest the invocation of GOD into

1 I Cor. viii. 6.


20 TERTULLIAN

a curse, by that very phrase thou dost confess
equally with us that His power is supreme over
us all.

There are some who, although they do not deny
GOD, yet do not regard Him as One Who searches
and beholds and judges (in which opinion, of
course, they markedly differ from us who cling to
that doctrine in fear of the proclaimed Judgement),
thus attempting to honour GOD by freeing Him
from the care of watching and the trouble of
censuring, not even permitting Him to be angry.
"For if GOD be angry," say they, "He is cor-
ruptible and passionate; and moreover what is
corruptible and passionate is perishable, but GOD
is not perishable." These same persons, however,
by their own confession elsewhere that the soul is
divine and GOD-given, run up against a testimony
of the soul itself which can be retorted against
their opinion just given; for if the soul be either
divine or bestowed by GOD, doubtless it knows its
Giver, and if it knows Him it surely fears Him as
its especial Endower. Doth it not fear Him Whom
it would rather have propitious towards it than
wrathful ? Whence comes, then, that natural fear
of the soul for GOD if GOD knows not how to
be angry ? How can He be feared Who cannot
be offended ? What is to be feared save anger ?
Whence arises anger save from censure ? Whence
censure save from judgement ? And whence judge-
ment save from power ? And who has the supreme
power save GOD alone ? Hence comes, O soul,
thy readiness to say from thine own inmost know-
ledge, at all times and places, no one scoffing or
objecting, "GOD seeth all things"; "I leave it to
GOD"; "GOD will repay"; "GOD shall judge


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 21

between us." Whence hast thou this knowledge,
not being Christian ?

Moreover, often in the very temples themselves,
wreathed with Ceres' fillet, or scarleted with
Saturn's cloak, or white in Isis' linen, thou suppli-
catest GOD as Judge! Thou standest under
Aesculapius, thou deckest out Juno in bronze, thou
bindest on Minerva a morion with dusky orna-
ments, and yet thou dost not adjure any one of
these deities that are present with thee ! In thine
own forum thou appealest to a Judge in another
place : in thine own temples thou sufferest another
GOD ! O Testimony of Truth, which among the
very daemons1 makes these a witness for the
Christians !

CHAPTER III

BUT when we affirm that there are daemons—as
a matter of fact we prove their existence, for we
alone expel them—some supporter of Chrysippus 2
mocks us. Yet thine own execrations confirm the
fact of their existence and of their being abomi-
nated. Thou callest a man a daemon either for his
filthiness or malice or insolence, or for some stigma
or other which we assign to daemons, in a sudden
hastiness of hatred. Thou namest Satan,3 for

1 Tertullian, and the African school of Apologists gener-
ally, held that the pagan gods were identical with the
daemons who were agents of the Evil One. See Apol. 23.

2 Chrysippus. One of the most distinguished of the Stoic
philosophers (300-220 B.C.), a disciple of Zeno and Cleanthes.

3 Tertullian's meaning seems to be that Satan is unwit-
tingly referred to in the maledictory exclamation of the


22 TERTULLIAN

instance (whom we call the angel of evil, the con-
triver of error, the corrupter of the whole world),
in every expression of vexation and scorn and
detestation—the being by whom man in the begin-
ning was beguiled to transgress GOD'S command,
and on that account was given over to death, and
brought it about that the whole race, thus infected
from his seed, became a sharer in and transmitter
of his condemnation. Thou art aware, therefore,
of thine own destroyer, and albeit that Christians
alone (including whatever sect is on GOD's side) 1
know him, yet even thou too recognizest him since
thou hatest him.

CHAPTER IV

To come now to a matter more closely related
to thine own perception—how intimately indeed
does it touch thy very being !—we affirm that thou
existest after the extinction of the bodily life, and
awaitest a day of judgement, and art destined,
according to thy deservings, either to torture or
to refreshment, in either case eternally; for the
perception of which thy original essence must
necessarily return to thee, together with the
substance of the identical human being, and
thy memory; because neither canst thou feel any-
thing of good or bad without the faculty of sensitive


vulgar, "Malum !" See Terence, Eun. IV, 7, 10; Plautus,
Epidic. V, 2, 44. Tertullian uses Malus for Satan, de cult,
fem.
5; de idol. 16, 21; so also Paulin, Carm. adv. pag.
V, 158. See my note on Apol. 22.

1 The Jews.


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 23

flesh,1 nor is there any possibility of judgement
without the presentation of the actual person who
has deserved to suffer judgement. This Christian
opinion, though nobler far than Pythagoras',
inasmuch as it doth not transmigrate thee into
animals; though fuller than Plato's, inasmuch as
it restores to thee thy dowry of body; though more
dignified than Epicurus', inasmuch as it saves
thee from perishing, is yet set down to sheer
vanity and stupidity and (as it is called) "pre-
sumption,"2 merely because it is Christian. But
we blush not if our "presumption" is found also
with thee. For in the first place, when thou
recallest in memory any one who is dead, thou
callest him "wretched man"—not surely as one
cut off from a happy life, but as one assigned to
punishment and judgement. Another time, how-
ever, thou callest the dead free from care—thus
implying the disadvantage of life and the boon
of death. Next thou callest the dead free from
care what times thou retirest outside the gate to
the tombs with thy viands and delicacies, or when
(appeasing thyself rather than them) thou returnest
from the tombs overcome with wine.

But I demand thy sober opinion. Thou callest
the dead "poor wretches" when thou speakest

1 This is worked out more fully and with equally crude
materialism in the treatise de resurrectione carnis.

2 This was quite a technical term of reproach against the
Christians, like dementia, obstinatio; see ad Nat. I, 19;
Apol. 19, "our confidence which you call presumption";
ib. 49, "tenets that in our case alone are called presump-
tions, but in the case of philosophers and poets are looked
upon as sublime and most ingenious flights of science,"
So again below, 4; compare de anima, 1.


24 TERTULLIAN

from thine own mind when thou art away from
them. For thou canst not denounce their lot in
their feast when they are, as it were, present and
reclining with thee : thou art bound to flatter those
on whose account thou art faring more joyously.
Dost thou then call him a poor wretch who feeleth
nothing ? What when thou cursest, as one who
does feel, him whose memory thou recallest with
some mordant dislike ? Thou prayest that the earth
may lie heavy on him, and that his ashes may be
tormented among the shades below. Likewise out
of good feeling for one to whom thou owest
favours, thou implorest refreshment on his bones
and ashes, and that he may rest happily among
the shades. If thou hast no capability of suffer-
ing after death, if there is no persistency of feeling,
if in fine thou art absolutely naught when thou
hast left the body, why dost thou lie against thyself
and imply the possibility of some suffering here-
after ? Nay, why dost thou fear death at all ?
There is nothing after death for thee to fear, since
there is nothing to be felt. For even were it to
be said that "death is to be feared, not because it
threatens something beyond, but because it deprives
one of the advantage of life, yet since the far more
numerous ills of life are cut off at the same time,
the fear of death is removed by a gain of greater
weight; for the loss of good is no longer to be
feared inasmuch as it is balanced by another good,
the freedom from ills. That ought not to be feared
which frees one from everything fearful. If thou
fearest to depart out of life because thou knowest
life to be best, thou certainly oughtest not to fear
death which thou dost not know to be evil. But
on the other hand, inasmuch as thou fearest it, thou


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 25

showest that thou knowest it to be evil. But thou
wouldst not know it to be evil, and therefore
wouldst not fear it, if thou didst not know that
there is something after death which makes it an
evil and a thing of dread to thee. We will say
nothing now of the instinctive fear of death. No
one should fear what cannot be avoided. I will
meet thee from the opposite side of a more joyful
hope after death. For in almost all men there is
an innate desire of fame after death. There is no
need to recount again the Curtii, and the Reguli,
and the Greek heroes of whose contempt of death
for the sake of posthumous fame there are
innumerable testimonies.1 Who now, in our own
day, does not strive that his memory may be con-
stantly borne in mind after his death, and that his
name may be preserved either by works of liter-
ature, or by simple glory of his virtues, or by
the splendour of his very tomb ? Whence is it
that to-day the soul aspires to something which it
wishes for after death, and makes such elaborate
preparations for what it can use only after its
departure? Surely it would care nothing about
the future if it knew nothing about the future.

But perhaps thou art more certain of thy sentience
after death than of thy future resurrection—the
doctrine of which we are branded as being the
"presumptuous"2 teachers. Yet this also is pro-
claimed by the soul. For if any one inquires about
some one already dead as though he were alive,
at once the answer comes, "He has just gone, and
ought to return." 3

1 See instances in Apol. 50.

2 See note above.

3 This was a conventional formula, as though the question


TERTULLIAN

CHAPTER V

THESE testimonies of the soul are as simple as
they are true, as constant as they are simple, as
common as they are habitual, as natural as they
are common, as divine as they are natural. I do
not think they could appear to any one to be trifling
or indifferent, if one meditates on the majesty of
Nature whence the authority of the soul is derived.
Howsoever much thou allowest to the mistress,
the same must thou assign to the disciple. Nature
is the mistress; the soul, the disciple. Whatever
either the mistress has taught or the soul has learnt
came from GOD, the Master in truth of the mistress
herself. What the soul can infer about its first
Teacher it is thy power to estimate from what is
in thyself. Think of that soul which enables thee
to think. Reflect on that which is in presages thy
seer, in omens thy augur, in issues thy foreseer.
Is it strange if, given by GOD, it knows how to
divine for man ? Is it very strange if it knows
Him by Whom it has been given ? Even when
outwitted by its adversary, it remembers its own
Author and His goodness and His decree both of
its own end and of that of its adversary himself.
Is it so strange if, given by GOD, it utters the truths
that GOD has given to His own people to know?

But he who does not think such outbursts of the
soul are the teaching of its essential nature and


asked in ignorance of the person's death was of good omen
to the deceased.


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 27

secret truths entrusted to its inborn consciousness,1
will rather say that the existing habit, and, as it
were, vice, of speaking in this way has been con-
firmed by the widely spread opinions amongst the
common people of published books. Surely the
soul existed before letters, and speech before books,
and ideas before the record of them, and man
himself before the philosopher and poet. Is it
then to be believed that before literature and its
publication men lived without speaking of such
matters? Used no one to speak of GOD and His
goodness, of death and of the shades below ?
Speech went a-begging, I suppose—nay, none was
possible for lack at that time of those subjects
without which it cannot exist even to-day when it
is so much more full and rich and wise—if those
things which to-day are so obvious, so pressing,
so close at hand, bred as it were on the very lips,
were formerly non-existent, before letters had
sprung up in the world, before Mercury,2 I suppose,
was born.

And whence, I pray, did letters come to know
and spread abroad for the use of speech matters
which no mind had ever conceived or tongue
produced, or ear heard ?

But in truth, since the Divine Scriptures which
are in our hands or in those of the Jews, into whose
olive 3 tree we have been grafted, precede secular

1 So again, de virg. vel. 5, Tertullian speaks of the divine
nature of the soul, through the tacit consciousness of nature,
unwittingly bringing into use forms of speech conformable
with Scripture.

2 Mercury, as identified by the Romans with Hermes, was
believed to be the inventor of the alphabet; Cicero, de nat.
deorum,
III, 22.

3 Oleastro, properly the wild olive, but if the text is correct


28 TERTULLIAN

literature by a very long period, or even by a
moderate space of time (as we have shown in the
proper place in order to demonstrate their trust-
worthiness),1 if the soul hath taken these utterances
from literature, obviously it must be believed to
have taken them from ours, not from yours, because
the earlier are more potent for instructing the soul
than the later, which were actually themselves
waiting to be instructed by the earlier. So that
even if we grant that the soul was instructed from
your writings, yet tradition belongs to its first
origin, and whatever you happen to have taken
and handed on from ours is altogether ours. Since
this is so, it matters little whether the knowledge
which the soul possesses has been implanted in it
by GOD or derived from the writings of GOD.

CHAPTER VI

BELIEVE therefore thine own writings, and also
believe our records so much the more as being
divine; but as touching the witness of the soul
itself, believe Nature in like manner. Select which
of these thou notest to be the more faithful sister to
the Truth. If thou doubtest about thine own
writings, neither GOD nor Nature speak falsely.
That thou mayest believe both Nature and GOD,
believe the soul: thus it will come to pass that
thou wilt believe thyself also. Assuredly it is the

here = olivo. Rigault and other editors suggest olea ex
oleastro.
The reference is to Rom. xi. 17 f.

1 Apol. 19.


ON THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOUL 29

soul that thou valuest as making thee as great as
thou art, whose thou art entirely; for the soul is
everything to thee, without which thou canst
neither live nor die, and for its sake thou neglectest
GOD. For since thou art afraid to become a
Christian, summon the soul and ask why, when
worshipping another, she calleth upon the name
of GOD ? 1 Why, when she brandeth spirits as
accursed, doth she speak of daemons? Why doth
she make her protestations heavenwards and her
execrations earthwards ? Why doth she worship
him in one place, and in another call upon Him as
an Avenger ? Why doth she pass judgements on
the dead ? Why hath she Christian phrases on
her lips when Christians she desires neither to hear
nor see ? Why hath she either given us those
phrases or received them from us ? Why hath she
been either our teacher or our scholar ? Hadst
thou not better suspect that there is something in
this agreement of speech amid so great a disagree-
ment of practice ? Foolish thou art if thou
attributest such to our own language only or to
the Greek (both of which are regarded as near
akin), and deniest the solidarity of Nature. The
soul descended not from heaven exclusively on the
Latins and Greeks. Man is one and the same in
all nations; the soul is one though speech be
various; the spirit is one though its voice differs;
each race has its own language, but the themes
of language are the same in all. GOD is every-
where,2 and His goodness everywhere; the daemon
is everywhere, and his curse everywhere; the

1 Above, Chap. II.

2 i. e in universal speech.


30 TERTULLIAN

invocation of divine judgement is everywhere, and
the consciousness of it everywhere; and the witness
of the soul likewise is everywhere. Every soul in
its own right shouts aloud what we are not per-
mitted even to whisper. Deservedly therefore is
every soul a culprit and a witness; for in so far as
it witnesses to the Truth, just so far is it guilty
of wrongdoing, and so it will stand before the
courts of GOD in the day of judgement speechless,
Thou usest to proclaim GOD, O Soul, and didst
not seek Him; thou didst abominate daemons, and
didst worship them; thou didst appeal to the judge-
ment of GOD, and didst not believe in its exist-
ence ; thou didst look for infernal punishments, and
tookest no precautions to avoid them; thou wert
Christianly minded, and yet didst persecute the
Christian name.


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Translated by T. Herbert Bindley, 1914
Transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2002

Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press
SPIonic font, free from here.


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