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The importance of Tertullian’s work—The dichotomic view of human nature— The relation of body and soul—Nature of the soul—The corporeity of the soul—Simple nature of the soul—Relation of soul and mind—Elements of the soul: rational, irascible, concupiscible—Origin of the soul—Pre-existence—Introduction of the soul at birth—Transmigration of souls—Metensomatosis—Traducianism—Freewill and the fall—Unity of the race and variety of characteristics. —Original sin, and grace.

ON the subject of man, his nature and origin, the teaching of Tertullian is full and clear. His work in this direction is distinctive, the treatise De Anima particularly being, as Harnack puts it, ‘an extremely important achievement,’ Tertullian manifests an interest in anthropology suchas was found later in Augustine, but was foreign to religious thinkers of the Eastern Church.

He was a dichotomist. Thenature of man as viewed by him consists of body and soul. The threefold nature (body, soul, and spirit) as held in Gnostic circles of thought herejected as untenable and indefensible. Ludwig says, ‘Man consists (according to Tertullian), not of body and soul, but of body, soul, and spirit,’ and he bases this opinion upon passages in De Testimonio Animae, c. 6; De Spectaculis, c.13; and De Anima, c. 10. He further says that Tertullian had acquired this threefold division of man in his Montanistic days. But this is a position which it is impossible to defend. Tertullian says in De Testimonio Animae, c. 6: ‘Man is the one name belonging to every nation upon earth; there is onesoul and many tongues, one spirit and various sounds; every countryhas its own speech, but the subjects of speech are common to all.’

In De Spectaculis, c. 13, he says: ‘If, then, we keep throat and belly free from such defilements, howmuch more do we withhold our nobler parts—our ears and eyes—from the idolatrous and funereal enjoyments, which are not passed |p150through the body, but are digested in the very spirit and soul, whose purity much more than that of our bodily organs God has a right to claim from us.’ In De Anima, c. 10, he says: ‘Some maintain that there is within the soul a natural substance—the spirit—which is different from it; as if to have life—the function of the soul-were one thing and to emit breath—the alleged function of the spirit—were another thing’; and later Whenever, indeed, the question is about soul and spirit, the soul will be itself the spirit, just as the day is the light itself. For a thing itself is identical with that by means of which it exists.’

What do these passages indicate? The first (De Testimonio Animae, c 6) is little more than a rhetorical device, in which, for the sake of emphasis, one soul and many tongues’ is repeated. as ‘one spirit and various sounds.’ There is no denial here that the spirit is a mere function of the soul, and no ground for asserting that Tertullian believed; that the spirit was a separate and distinct substance from the soul.

The passage from De Spectaculis, c. 13, certainly appears to indicate that the soul and spirit are distinct entities, and the sentence might well have been written by one who believed in the threefold nature of man. If the passage had stood either alone, or in company with others to the same effect, the implication would have been obvious but when it stands in contrast to an overwhelming number of passages which assert the contrary, it can hardly be imagined to be anything more than a loose statement, which is not to be taken too seriously.

As to the passage quoted from De Anima, c. 10, the statement of Ludwig derives its force from the illustration of day and light rather than from the treatment of soul and spirit. A survey of the whole chapter shows plainly that, the point Tertullian is making is that of the identity of the spirit and soul. ‘How much firmer ground have you for believing that the soul and the spirit are but one, since you assign to them no difference, so that the soul is itself the spirit, respiration being the function of that which life is also.’

But Tertullian not only expresses himself in those passages in a way that might make one imagine that he was a trichotomist; he also quotes Paul’s saying: ‘And may your whole body, and soul, and spirit, be preserved blameless unto the |p151 coming of the Lord1 without being conscious that it brought in threefold distinction where he himself saw but a twofold distinction.

 The clearest proof that Tertullian was a dichotomist is found in the whole assumption underlying the treatise De Resurrectione Carnis. There is no mention of spirit but the resurrection of body and soul is maintained. ‘For if the resurrection of the flesh be denied (that prime article of the faith) is denied; if it be asserted, that is established. There is no need, I suppose, to treat of the souls safety; for nearly all the heretics in whatever way they conceive of it, certainly refrain from denying that.’2

In dealing with the origin of man; it is but flesh and soul of which Tertullian speaks.  ‘He  now became man who was hitherto clay . . . and He breathed upon his face the breath of life, and man (i.e. the clay) became a living soul . . . so that man was clay at first and only afterwards entire. . . . Whatever God has at all purposed or promised to man is due, not to the soul simply, but to the flesh also.’3

This view is further strengthened by the fact that Tertullian speaks of the body and soul of Christ simply. ‘The first man is of the earth earthy; that is made of dust; that is Adam; the second man is from heaven, that is the Word of God which is Christ, in no other way,  however, man than as being Himself flesh and soul.’4

It is confirmed also by his arguments against. heretics. 5

It is clear from all these passages that man in Tertullian's view is composed of two parts, soul and body. It is further evident that he regards those two parts as separate substances or natures. ‘Jonah comes forth  . . . uninjured in both his natures—his flesh and his soul.’ 6 ‘For man is as much body |p152 as he is soul; so that it is impossible for one of these natures to admit a figurative sense and the other to exclude it.’ 7 ‘For since both substances are set before us (in this passage which tells us) that “ body and soul” are destroyed in hell, a distinction is obviously made between the two.’ 8 ‘For from which substance is it that Christ and Adam have a parity with one another? No doubt it is from their flesh, although it may be their soul also.’ 9  ‘The higher substance of the soul . . . the substance (flesh) with which it is fully furnished.’10 ‘The entire man consists of the union of the two substances.’ 11  ‘But in Christ we find the soul and the flesh expressed in simple, unfigurative terms. . . even by Christ Himself each substance has been separately mentioned by itself.’ 12

But these two substances are closely joined together, and make up the single human nature. Though it is permissible to say that the soul is the man, or that the flesh is the man, in reality it is the conjunction of the two substances in one nature that is correctly designated man. It is right that man should be judged in his entire state of body and soul, 13 because it was in his entire state that he lived. Man is properly called flesh, 14 but also man became a living soul. 15

THE RELATION OF BODY AND SOUL.—The soul is the dominant partner; so much so, indeed, that without the soul the body is nothing. ‘Indeed, without the soul we are nothing; there is not even the name of a human being, only that of a carcass.’ 16  ‘Certainly you value the soul as giving you your true greatness—that to which you belong, which is all things to you, without which you can neither live nor die.’ 17

But the union of body and soul is close and intimate. ‘The soul and the flesh are so closely commingled that it is deemed to be uncertain whether the flesh bears about the soul or the soul the flesh; or whether the flesh acts as apparitor to the soul or the soul to the flesh. It is more credible, however, that the soul has this service rendered to it, and has the mastery, as being more proximate in character to God.’ 18 They are therefore closely connected in their experience. The |p153 flesh shares in the guilt of the soul as the poisoned cup shares in the odium with which the poisoner is regarded, though the relation in the former case is more close than in the latter, and hence it is fitting that the flesh should share in the final punishment of the judgement. But the soul is the dominant actuating principle, the body is the obedient servant. ‘Accordingly, in the judgement, it (the body) will be held to be a servant (even though it may have no independent discretion of its own), on the ground of its being an integral portion of that which possesses such discretion, and is not a mere chattel.’ 19

Body and soul are conceived together at one and the same time. ‘We, indeed, maintain that both are conceived, and formed, and perfected, simultaneously, and that not a moment’s interval occurs in their conception, so that a prior place can be assigned to either.’ 20 They grow and develop together, attaining the stage of puberty together. 21 In death they are separated, 22 and in the resurrection they shall be united again. 23 In life they are inseparable. ‘The soul is never without the flesh as long as it is in the flesh. There is nothing which the flesh does not transact in company with the soul, when, without it, it does not exist.’ 24

THE NATURE OF THE SOUL.—The ultimate basis of Tertullian’s theory of the nature of the soul is to be found in the Scripture narrative of creation. ‘But Scripture, which has a better knowledge of the soul’s Maker, or rather God, has told us nothing more than that God breathed on man’s face the breath of life and he became a living soul, by means of which he was both to live and breathe.’ 25 The soul originated from the breathing of God, ex flatu Dei.26It follows that the soul had a beginning. ‘For when we acknowledge that the soul originates in the breath of God, it follows that we attribute a beginning to it.’ 27 But it differs from material beings in that it is born, not made, and God is the Parent thereof. ‘For the maker may really be called the parent of the thing that is made. ’ 28 Further, the soul is the image of God, ‘The work and image of God, ’ 29 and is animated out of His substance. ‘Consider first from your own self, who are made” in the image and |p154 likeness of God,” for what purpose it is that  you also possess reason in yourself who are a rational creature, as being not only made by a rational artificer but actually animated out of his substance.’30 Moreover, it is rational in its original nature as the creation of a rational God. ‘It is the rational element which we must believe to be its natural condition, imposed upon it from its very first creation by its Author, who is Himself essential1y rational.’ 31 It is noticeable that the Godlikeness of the human soul is bound up, in Tertullian's thought, with its origin in the breath of God.  

Tertullian drew a distinction between the Spirit of God and the breath of God (spiritus and flatus) , which saved his theory from the danger of Stoic pantheism. Man is not, he holds, the spirit of God, but the breath of God, and herein he found the possibility of attributing to man a separate personal existence, and a free will, able to obey his Maker, but also capable of disobeying Him. Thus he held his ground between the idealism of the heretics, whom he combated, and the material pantheism of the Stoics, whose support against his adversaries he welcomed.

THE CORPOREITY OF THE SOUL.—Corporeity is not a peculiar attribute of the soul. It is rather what it shares with everything which exists .‘Everything which exists is a bodily existence sui generis. Nothing lacks bodily existence but that which is non-existent.’ 32  This conception is frankly adopted from the Stoics in order to oppose Plato’s theory of the reality of the ‘ideas’  and the unreality of all material things.  ‘But I call upon the Stoics also to help me who while declaring almost in our own terms that the soul is a Spiritual essence . . . will yet have no difficulty in persuading us that the soul is a corporeal substance.’ 33 Zeno and Cleanthes are quoted with approval, the former, as ‘teaching the Spirit which is generated with the body and which departs from it at death is corporeal and the lattera s holding that qualities of soul are transmitted from parent to child as well as physical qualities, the basis of this theory being the idea of the souls corporeity Chrysippus lends support, inasmuch as he says that it is impossible to separate things which have body from things |p155 which have no body, and Lucretius says: ‘ For nothing but body is capabale of touching or being touched.’ 34

Tertullian argues that the soul is even nourished by corporeal substances. It is refreshed by food, and when deprived of all food it removes from the body. 35 He seizes upon the fact that the Stoics teach that the arts are corporeal, since that strengthens his view of the corporeity of the soul, which is commonly supposed to be nourished by the arts. 36  Though the origin of this theory is Stoic the support of the Gospels is claimed for it. The story of Dives and Lazarus shows that the soul of Dives is in torment, punished in flames and suffering excruciating thirst, and ‘unless the soul possessed corporeity the image of a soul could not possibly contain a figure of bodily substance, nor would the Scripture feign a statement about the limbs of a body if these had no existence.’ 37

Further, Tertullian reverts to the origin of man to support his theory. He finds that the soul is similar in form to the body.  ‘This we may at once be induced to admit from contemplating man's original formation. For only carefully consider, after God had breathed upon the face of man the breath of life, and man had consequently become a living soul, surely that breath must have passed through the face at once into the interior structure and have spread itself throughout all the spaces of the body; and as soon as by the divine inspiration it had become condensed, it must have impressed itself on each internal feature, which the condensation had filled in and so have been congealed, as it were, in shape. Hence by this densifying process there arose a fixing of the souls corporeity; and by the impression its figure was formed and moulded. This is the inner man, different from the outer, but yet one in the twofold condition. It too has eyes and ears of its own by means of which Paul must have heard and seen the Lord; it has, moreover, all the other members of the body; by the help of which it effects all processes of thinking and all activity in dreams.’ 38

THE SIMPLE NATURE OF THE SOUL—In maintaining the simplicity of the soul and the  unity of its life Tertullian turns from the Stoics to Plato. ‘It is essential to a firm faith to declare with Plato that the soul is simple; in other words, |p156 uniform and uncompounded—simple, that is to say, in ‘respect of its substance.’ The reason for this change in regard to philosophers is to be found in Tertullian’s dogmatic position. His first allegiance is to the revealed Rule of Faith, and his attitude towards the older philosophies depends upon whether they help him to support the doctrines of the regula fidei or not. Hence, when he moves from the question of the corporeity of the soul to that of its unity and simplicity, he reverts, too, from the Stoics to Plato. The result of that transition is all to the good. Instead of extravagant theories of the most realistic and material nature, he is led to sensible and useful deductions. The dogma which led him to maintain the unity of the soul was the Christian doctrine of immortality. ‘The truth is,’ he says, ‘the soul is indivisible because it is immortal, and this fact compels us to believe that death itself is an indivisible process, accruing indivisibly to the soul, not indeed because it is immortal, but because it is indivisible.’ 39

Philosophers have divided the soul into a number of parts corresponding to its various activities, e.g. motion, action, thought, seeing, tasting, touching, hearing, smelling. It is better, however, Tertullian holds, to regard these as functions of the soul, rather than as portions or organic parts of the soul’s substance. He rejects the materialistic notion that sense-experience is the only reality and that there is no ruling power beyond. There is such a ruling power of the soul, to_ h9gemoniko&n,and its seat is in the heart. Of this there is Scripture proof, for the Scriptures speak clearly of the heart as the seat of the supreme intelligence and vitality in man.

There are three elements of the one indivisible soul—the rational, the irascible, and the concupiscible. They are, however, merely the directions of its activity. As God is rational, so is man. Any irrationality in the latter proceeds from the devil. But it is quite in keeping with the rationality of God that He should be angry with those who deserve His wrath, and should desire salvation for the good. These three elements or activities were found in Christ, in that He taught and discoursed in accordance with reason, and inveighed with wrath against the scribes and Pharisees, and the principle of desire by which He desired earnestly to eat the Passover with His disciples. They are found, too, in us. By saying, ‘If |p157 any man desireth the office of a bishop he desireth a good work,’ the apostle implies that the ‘good work’ is rational, and blends it with ‘desire.’ Moreover, he permits us to feel indignation, inasmuch as he is himself moved to it. ‘I would,’ he says, ‘ that they were even cut off which trouble you.’

While, however, the senses are not the sole reality, it is important to remember that their witness is reliable. They are liable to mistake and illusion sometimes, it is true, but in the main they are dependable. It is through them that the soul and the mind obtain impressions of the outer world, and in general the opinions which the soul forms are in accordance with objective reality. To deny this would be to denude of validity the opinions, even of Christ, concerning outward realities.

THE RELATION OF THE SOUL TO THE MIND.—The relation of the soul (anima) to the mind (animus) is somewhat similar, according to Tertullian’s view, to the relation of the soul to the spirit. The mind is not separate from the soul as a thing apart; it is not identical with it: but the mind is the instrument of the soul. ‘We, however, affirm that the mind coalesces with the soul, not, indeed, as being distinct from it in substance, but as being its natural function and agent.’ 40 There is no doubt, however, as to which is the superior. The soul has so undoubtedly the superiority that the word soul has become a synonym for the whole man. So, in common phraseology, the rich man says, ‘How many souls do I keep?’ and the pilot desires to save so many ‘souls’ from shipwreck. 41

THE ORIGIN OF THE SOUL.—In his discussion of the origin of the soul Tertullian refutes the Platonic theory of the preexistence of the soul, the theory of the introduction of the soul at birth, the Pythagorean theory of the transmigration of souls, and the theory of metensomatosis.

THE PRE-EXISTENCE OF THE SOUL.—In dealing with this theory Tertullian sees that the best way of refuting the various expressions of it to be found in the several Gnostic sects is to turn to the teaching of Plato, which lies at the root of them all. In the Phaedo Plato had taught that souls wander from the heavenly world of archetypal ideas to this world and back again; while in the Timaeus he advanced the theory that the children of God, to whom had been deputed the work of fashioning mortal |p158

creatures, took for a soul the germ of immortality, around which they moulded a mortal body. This mortal creature by reason of the germ of immortality taken from the supernal world of ideas, is capable in a measure of ‘recollecting’ the eternal patterns of the things it sees in the world.  Hence the Platonic doctrine, ‘Learning is reminiscence.’

Tertullian rejected the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul on the ground of the insufficiency of the notion of reminiscence.  How could the immortal soul forget its previous experience?  Memory is, even according to Plato, the basis of intellect.  The lapse of time will not account for the lapse of memory, because : (1) Time is of no account to immortal souls ; and (2)  The lapse of time is too short.  Moreover, why should memory fail in all at precisely the same moment, i.e the moment of physical birth? Another argument which Tertullian uses is this.  The natural knowledge of man's sense faculties never fails, e.g. he never forgets to eat, see, or hear. Now, if this lower memory never fails, how can the higher knowledge of the intellect fail? Furthermore, if it is possible for the soul to forget, whence comes the power to recollect? How is it so weak in children, whose memory is admittedly so strong and how is it that even a Plato can remember so little of the former life?  And why if all are equal in forgetfulness, are not all equal in the power of recollction?

These considerations seem to Tertullian to be fatal to the doctrine of anamnesis, and if this doctrine is undermined the whole superstructure of the pre-existence of the soul falls to the ground.


THEORY OF THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SOUL INTO THE BODY AT THE MOMENT OF BIRTH. —The theory that the soul is introduced into the body at birth with the first inhalation of air is one which is held by the Stoics; and, after a fashion, by Plato. The latter taught that the already existent soul enters its human habitation with the infants first breath.

In refuting this theory Tertullian enters minutely into the evidences of pre-natal life, and shows a not inconsiderable acquaintance with medical lore.  It is sufficient to state that the evidences of pre-natal life are to Tertullian proofs of the pre-natal existence of the soul,  which is conceived together with the body. He finds support, too, for this theory in the  resemblances of disposition in parents and. children. But we |p159 shall recur to this question in dealing with Tertullian's positive treatment of the orgin of the soul.

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS.—This theory is traced back to Pythagoras, who  claimed that he had returned from the abode of the dead.

Tertullian first assails the alleged phi1osophic doctrine of contraries upon which this theory is based. The factthat some contraries appear to alternate with one another is no sufficient ground for asserting that all contraries do so, and that each produces the other. The nature of the contraries must be examined. To assert that because dead men are made out of living then, therefore living men are made out of dead; is absurd. Then the economic aspect of the question has to be considered. The inference from the doctrine is that the number of human beings inhabiting the earth must always remain the same. But, with something of the pessimism of a Malthus, Tertullian shows that the facts of life were otherwise. Population was continually increasing, so that the pressure upon the resources of the civilized world was increasing, too. Colonies, had to be instituted and developed, and more and more of the barren land turned to account, in providing the civilized world with the means of life. The notion that the return of the dead to life only takes place at the end of a thousand years Tertulliandismisses as worthless. Such an interval would be more likely to produce extinction than a return to life.

 Other complications also ensue.  If souls depart from life at different ages, some in their infancy and some in maturity, why should  they all return as infants and how are we to believe that the mature soul of an old man, and that after  lapse of a thousand years, forsooth, returns as an infant? It is reasonable to suppose that if souls did so return, they would bring something at least of their former disposition and character with them. But the difference between Pythagoras and Euphorbus was radical, as far as temperament and tastes were concerned. Moreover, not even Epicurus, and Zeno, and Cleanthes, and Chrysippus, and Plato, can tell us who they were in their previous incarnation. How futile, then, is a theory which can find so little solid support!

METENSOMATOSIS.—Tertullian cannot refrain from remarking the amusing side of this theory.  ‘But the fact is, Empedocles, |p160 who used to dream that he was a god, and on that account, I suppose, disdained to have it thought that he had ever before been merely some hero, declares in so many words, “I once was Thamnus and a fish.” Why not rather a melon, seeing that he was such a fool, or a chameleon for his inflated brag? . . . Let Thamnuses alone. Our slight notice of them in passing will be quite enough: (to dwell on them longer will inconvenience us) lest we should be obliged to have recourse to raillery, and laughter instead of serious instruction.’

But he is willing to refute it on serious grounds. Even accepting the philosophers’ contention that the soul originates out of the substances of the elements, such as fire, air, water, the theory of the passage of the human soul into beasts is untenable, because of the fact that various animals have different qualities, which are opposite in nature to those elements, e.g. water-snakes to fire, fishes to air. Moreover, human souls have developed in human bodies along lines which would make their dwelling in the bodies of swine, or lions, or eagles, an utter impossibility.

The corporeity of the soul as held by Tertullian strengthens his case against the theory of Empedocles. The soul exactly fits the body. How, then, can it fill an elephant or be enclosed in a gnat? If it be held that the soul by transmigration becomes no longer a human soul, but the soul of the animal it inhabits, the necessary inference is that the human soul has ceased to exist, and the whole theory of metensomatosis comes to naught. In conclusion, the idea of such a metensomatosis as a means of retributive justice is so degrading to God, and so ridiculous in its nature, that Tertullian can only treat it with levity and raillery.

TERTULLIAN’S TRADUCIANISM. —Tertullian does more than refute the theories of the origin of the soul at which we have glanced. He supplies a theory of his own. His theory is that the soul neither existed from eternity, nor was unborn or unmade. It was created by God when he made Adam. Scripture has taught simply that God made man, and breathed on his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul. As the body, once created, passed by natural course to the descendants of Adam, so the soul accompanied it as its inseparable companion. Thus there is no time, from the moment of conception to the instant of death, when soul and body are |p161 not joined. Body and soul of the child are, alike and together, derived from the bodies and souls of its parents.

It is worth noting briefly the grounds for, and the implications of, this theory. Among the former we shall expect to find foremost in Tertullian the influence of Scripture. But Tertullian does not quote in this connexion such passages as Gen. v. 3, Ps. li. 5, Rom. v. 14-19, which later writers drew from the armoury of Scripture, nor does he here rely upon the Scriptures, beyond affirming the simple fact of the creation of man as a living soul according to the narrative of Genesis. He rather chooses to defend what ‘we’ (i.e. the Christians) believe, in a similar manner to those who had advanced other theories, by the process of reasoning from observed facts. His belief in the corporeity of the soul favoured his traducian theory. The analogy between pure spirit and flesh is not very close, but the analogy between the semi-material soul (which inhabits every portion of the body, and fits it as a hand does a glove, or, to be more precise, as the modern spiritualist’s etheric body fits the earthly body), and the body is close and exact. A soul that eats and drinks and flourishes upon the food of the body, and departs when that food is withheld, may easily be thought of as subject to the same laws of propagation as the body itself. It is easy to press the analogy of natural law in the spiritual world when the spiritual world is inhabited by the corporeal souls of Tertullian.

Among the implications of the theory advanced by Tertullian are:

(1) The idea of the solidarity of the race finds in it strong support. One soul was created, and that soul persists. It brings forth seed, and multiplies and replenishes the earth. The human race is a brotherhood of souls. The influence of heredity is paramount. As bodily likeness is passed on from parent to child, so likeness of soul follows the same order.

(2) The importance of sin is emphasized and its universality is accounted for. If the soul, with its disposition and character, is passed on with the stock, then sinfulness is passed on, too (tradux animae, tradux peccati), and the stock is tainted with a vitium originis.

(3) It savours of determinism. If a man inherits the very substance of his soul, with all its failings and weaknesses, from his ancestors, what becomes of free will, and how is he to be  |p162 held responsible for his misdeeds? How can the individual stand against the race, and how can the transient child of a day erase what generations have written upon his soul?

(4) By blending the soul so intimately with the body it materializes the former. The supremacy of the soul, which Tertullian defends so ably, is difficult to maintain when it is reduced to a materialized spirit. We shall see to what extent these implications were realized by Tertullian.

FREE WILL AND SIN.—Having refused to believe in the pre-existence of the soul, Tertullian cannot find the relief which Origen found in dealing with the origin of sin, i.e. by referring it to a former life. So he has to face the question directly. How did man, the creature of God, come to sin? The answer that he gives is that man was created free, and that in the exercise of his free will he chose deliberately the way of disobedience and transgression. Man is not by nature good. God alone is that. But man, at his creation, was given the property of freedom of will. The narrative in Genesis of the Fall of Man is understood in a literal sense, and it shows that man was faced with the alternatives of obedience or disobedience, either of which he was free to choose indifferently. Such freedom, Tertullian maintains, was essential to the being who was made in God’s image. Without it he could not have been good; with it he might be either good or bad.

Tertullian is careful to guard against the imputation of evil to God. The Gnostics proposed this dilemma: If God created man perfect, how could he fall? If He created man imperfect, how could He be good? Tertullian asserted that the goodness of God was an indubitable fact. Then, said the Gnostic, how comes it that the ‘afflatus’ of God in man, i.e. the soul, is capable of evil? The answer of Tertullian is that we must distinguish between the spirit of God and the ‘afflatus’ of God. The latter is to the former as a breeze is to the wind, i.e. it is its image, not its essence. So man is the image of God; the soul or ‘afflatus’ is the image of the spirit. It is not, therefore, right to argue that because the image does wrong evil is inherent in the thing itself. The soul of man possesses the true lineaments of divinity, immortality (in a sense), freedom of will, foreknowledge (to a degree), reasonableness, capacity of understanding, and knowledge. But it is |p163 not on that account blessed with the actual power of deity, nor is it free from fault. Moreover, not everything that pertains to God belongs to the nature and condition of God. As a man’s breath passing through a flute does not make the flute human, so the breath of God passing into man does not make the man God. Scripture bears this out, for it says that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul—not a life-giving spirit. The work is not the workman, the pitcher is not the potter. So man is not God. Here, then, is room for attributing to the soul of man what cannot be attributed to God, i.e. sinfulness.

The onus and guilt is thrown entirely on the shoulders of man. It is his will that is to blame. The same way out of the difficulty of attributing evil to God as the Creator of the devil is taken by Tertullian. God, it is true, made the angels, and He made the good angel who afterwards became the devil, but it was of his own choice that the angel became wicked, and instigated man to sin.

The occasion of sin in man is attributed variously to impatience, to concupiscence, and to gluttony, but in none of these cases is it emphasized, and Tertullian’s strong adherence to the purity of the flesh in itself precludes the notion that sin originated in the flesh. Indeed, he expressly repudiates the notion. The flesh is but the instrument of the soul, and the chief responsibility in every case attaches to the soul.

The fact is, that Tertullian did not really face the question of how the devil and man, after being created with the power of choosing good or evil, chose the latter. They chose it— that for him is the all-sufficient explanation. In opposition to the Gnostic doctrine of determination he advanced the theory of unmotived free will.

Where they made man a weather-cock, helpless, at the mercy of every changing wind of circumstance, he made man a weather-cock that moved for no reason whatever—and created the wind by its own motion. Of man he says that, being endowed with free will, and faced with the alternative of good and evil, he chose evil. The devil tempted him, it is true, but he need not have yielded. Of the devil he says, that he chose the way of disobedience, lusting after the wickedness that arose spontaneously within him.

Tertullian did not perceive the relation of motive to will, as |p164 it is seen by the light of modern psycho-analysis. He spoke of the will of man as a separate faculty, and not as the activity of the whole man. So he was able to speak of the freedom of the will, where we speak (as Paul spoke) of the freedom of man.

THE UNITY OF THE RACE AND THE VARIETY OF CHARACTERISTICS.—The nature of man is uniform, and is transmitted through the generations unchanged and undifferentiated. It consists of the soul and its apparatus— the body, the senses, and the intellect; ‘the soul (of a human being) has been derived from Adam as its root, and has been propagated among his posterity by means of woman’s generative organs, to which it has been entrusted for transmission, and has thus sprouted into life with all its natural apparatus, both of intellect and of sense.’ This soul must be distinguished from both the spiritual quality (which is a later gift of God), and the material (as understood by the heretics). ‘Now if neither the spiritual element, nor what the heretics call the material element, was properly inherent in him, it remains that the one only original element of his nature was what is called the “animal,” which we maintain to be simple and uniform in its condition.’42

But the uniform nature which men receive by transmission is subject to development in accordance with circumstances. The natural surroundings, education, society, into which a soul is born, and within which it grows, affects its development and produces infinite variety.

But the variety does not affect the essential nature of the soul; it is confined to the accidents.

Now the question arises, Can such a nature be changed? Tertullian affirms that it can. The nature transmitted by Adam to his descendants was vitiated by sin, and it is certain that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. But as a good tree may be grafted into a corrupt stock and bring forth good fruit, so also a new nature can be grafted into the corrupt nature of man. The power that can effect this is the grace of God, more potent than nature, and exercising sway over it by means of that independent authority, to_ au0tecou&sion, within man—the freedom of the will. To put it in another way, what is born can be re-born, what is made can be re-made, because it is not immutable. But man, |p165 in common with all else except God, is born and made. So he is subject to change.

ORIGINAL SIN AND GRACE.—The idea of vitium originis is closely connected with the theory of the transmission of the soul—tradux animae, tradux peccati. The sin of the first man meant that the nature transmitted to the whole race derived a sinful tendency. ‘There is then, besides the evil which supervenes on the soul from the intervention of the evil spirit, an antecedent and in a certain sense natural evil, which arises from its corrupt origin. For, as we have said before, the corruption of our nature is another nature, having a god and father of its own, namely, the author of corruption.’43 There is also the fact, according to Tertullian, that every soul has its demon, like that of Socrates.

But at the same time there is a portion of good in every soul. This qualifies the terrible doctrine of the depravity of the human race as taught by Tertullian. It must not be forgotten, he affirms, that the soul is derived from God, and that that divine original good persists in a measure. It is not extinguished, but obscured. ‘As therefore light, when intercepted by an opaque body, still remains, although it is. not apparent by reason of the intervention of so dense a body; so likewise the good in the soul, being weighed down by the evil, is, owing to the obscuring character thereof, either not seen at all, its light being wholly hidden, or else only a stray beam is there visible, where it struggles through by an accidental outlet.'44 So it transpires that some men are bad and some are good, and in the worst there is something good, while in the best there is something bad. ‘Just as no soul is without sin, so neither is any soul without seeds of good.’45

Tertullian did not emphasize the doctrine of vitium originis to the extent of making it impossible even to will what is good. That was left to Augustine. In Tertullian’s thought there was always room for the remains at least of natural goodness, a strong belief in the free will of man, and a conviction of the power of the grace of God to energize that will for good, which went a long way to counter-balance the idea of a vitium originis.


1. p.151 n.1 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 47.

2. p.151 n.2 Ibid., c. 2; , cf. the same treatise, passim.

3. p.151 n.3 Ibid., c. 5; cf. c. 7.

4. p.151 n.4 Ibid., c. 49; cf De Carne Christi, cc. 10-13.

5. p.151 n.5 Cf. Adversus Valentinianos, c. 17: ‘She at length gave birth to an offspring, and then there arose a leash of natures from a triad of causes, one material, arising from her passion; another animal, arising from her conversion; the third spiritual, which had its origin in her imagination.’ The threefold nature of man as held by the heretics is again referred to in cc. 26 and 29, and in De Anima, c. 21. The distinction here indicated is not that of body, soul, and spirit within the individual, but of material, animal, and spiritual individuals within humanity. To this, however, Tertullian opposes the simple (animal) nature, uniform in its condition and composed of body and soul.

6. p.151 n.6 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 32.

7. p.152 n.1 De Resurrectione Carnis.

8. p.152 n.2 Ibid., c. 35.

9. p.152 n.3 Ibid., c. 53.

10. p.152 n.4 Ibid.

11. p.152 n.5 Ibid., c. 14.

12. p.152 n.6 De Carne Christi, c. 13.

13. p.152 n.7 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 14.

14. p.152 n.8 Ibid., c. 5.

15. p.152 n.9 Ibid., c. 6.

16. p.152 n.10 De Carne Christi, c. 12; cf. De Testimonio Animae, 1.

17. p.152 n.11 De Testimonio Animae, c. 6.

18. p.152 n.12 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 7.

19. p.153 n.1 Ibid., c. 16.

20. p.153 n.2 De Anima, c. 27.

21. p.153 n.3 Ibid., c. 38.

22. p.153 n.4 Ibid., c. 51.

23. p.153 n.5 De Resurrectione Carnis, c. 17.

24. p.153 n.6 Ibid., c. 15.

25. p.153 n.7 De Anima, c. 11.

26. p.153 n.8 Ibid., c. 3.

27. p.153 n.9 Ibid., c. 4.

28. p.153 n.10 Ibid., c. 4.

29. p.153 n.11 De Spectaculis, c. 2.

30. p.154 n.1 Adv Praxean, c. 5.

31. p.154 n.2 De Anima, c. 16.

32. p.154 n.3 De Carne Christi,c. 11.

33. p.154 n.4 De Anima, c. 5.

34. p.155 n.1 De Anima, c. 5.

35. p.155 n.2 Ibid., c. 6.

36. p.155 n.3 Ibid., c. 6.

37. p.155 n.4 Ibid., c. 7.

38. p.155 n.5 Ibid., c. 9.

39. p.156 n.1 De Anima, c. 51.

40. p.157 n.1 De Anima, c. 12.

41. p.157 n.2 Ibid, c.13.

42. p.164 n.1 De Anima, c. 21.

43. p.165 n.1 De Anima, c. 41.

44. p.165 n.2 Ibid.

45. p.165 n.3 Ibid., c. 41.


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