Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/On the Flesh of Christ/IV

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, On the Flesh of Christ by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes

Chapter IV.—God’s Honour in the Incarnation of His Son Vindicated.  Marcion’s Disparagement of Human Flesh Inconsistent as Well as Impious. Christ Has Cleansed the Flesh. The Foolishness of God is Most Wise.

Since, therefore, you do not reject the assumption of a body[1] as impossible or as hazardous to the character of God, it remains for you to repudiate and censure it as unworthy of Him.  Come now, beginning from the nativity itself, declaim[2] against the uncleanness of the generative elements within the womb, the filthy concretion of fluid and blood, of the growth of the flesh for nine months long out of that very mire. Describe the womb as it enlarges[3] from day to day, heavy, troublesome, restless even in sleep, changeful in its feelings of dislike and desire. Inveigh now likewise against the shame itself of a woman in travail[4] which, however, ought rather to be honoured in consideration of that peril, or to be held sacred[5] in respect of (the mystery of) nature.  Of course you are horrified also at the infant, which is shed into life with the embarrassments which accompany it from the womb;[6] you likewise, of course, loathe it even after it is washed, when it is dressed out in its swaddling-clothes, graced with repeated anointing,[7] smiled on with nurse’s fawns. This reverend course of nature,[8] you, O Marcion, (are pleased to) spit upon; and yet, in what way were you born? You detest a human being at his birth; then after what fashion do you love anybody? Yourself, of course, you had no love of, when you departed from the Church and the faith of Christ. But never mind,[9] if you are not on good terms with yourself, or even if you were born in a way different from other people. Christ, at any rate, has loved even that man who was condensed in his mother’s womb amidst all its uncleannesses, even that man who was brought into life out of the said womb, even that man who was nursed amidst the nurse’s simpers.[10] For his sake He came down (from heaven), for his sake He preached, for his sake “He humbled Himself even unto death—the death of the cross.”[11] He loved, of course, the being whom He redeemed at so great a cost. If Christ is the Creator’s Son, it was with justice that He loved His own (creature); if He comes from another god, His love was excessive, since He redeemed a being who belonged to another. Well, then, loving man He loved his nativity also, and his flesh as well. Nothing can be loved apart from that through which whatever exists has its existence. Either take away nativity, and then show us your man; or else withdraw the flesh, and then present to our view the being whom God has redeemed—since it is these very conditions[12] which constitute the man whom God has redeemed.  And are you for turning these conditions into occasions of blushing to the very creature whom He has redeemed, (censuring them), too, as unworthy of Him who certainly would not have redeemed them had He not loved them?  Our birth He reforms from death by a second birth from heaven;[13] our flesh He restores from every harassing malady; when leprous, He cleanses it of the stain; when blind, He rekindles its light; when palsied, He renews its strength; when possessed with devils, He exorcises it; when dead, He reanimates it,—then shall we blush to own it? If, to be sure,[14] He had chosen to be born of a mere animal, and were to preach the kingdom of heaven invested with the body of a beast either wild or tame, your censure (I imagine) would have instantly met Him with this demurrer: “This is disgraceful for God, and this is unworthy of the Son of God, and simply foolish.” For no other reason than because one thus judges. It is of course foolish, if we are to judge God by our own conceptions. But, Marcion, consider well this Scripture, if indeed you have not erased it: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise.”[15] Now what are those foolish things? Are they the conversion of men to the worship of the true God, the rejection of error, the whole training in righteousness, chastity, mercy, patience, and innocence?  These things certainly are not “foolish.” Inquire again, then, of what things he spoke, and when you imagine that you have discovered what they are will you find anything to be so “foolish” as believing in a God that has been born, and that of a virgin, and of a fleshly nature too, who wallowed in all the before-mentioned humiliations of nature?  But some one may say, “These are not the foolish things; they must be other things which God has chosen to confound the wisdom of the world.” And yet, according to the world’s wisdom, it is more easy to believe that Jupiter became a bull or a swan, if we listen to Marcion, than that Christ really became a man.


  1. Corporationem.
  2. Compare similar passages in the Anti-Marcion, iii. 1 and iv. 21.
  3. Insolescentem.
  4. Enitentis.
  5. Religiosum.
  6. Cum suis impedimentis profusum.
  7. Unctionibus formatur.
  8. Hanc venerationem naturæ. Compare Tertullian’s phrase, “Illa sanctissima et reverenda opera naturæ,” in the Anti-Marcion, iii. 11.
  9. Videris.
  10. Per ludibria nutritum. Compare the phrase just before, “smiled on with nurse’s fawns”—“blanditiis deridetur.” Oehler, however, compares the phrase with Tertullian’s expression (“puerperii spurcos, anxios, ludicros exitus,”) in the Anti-Marcion, iv. 21.
  11. Phil. ii. 8.
  12. Hæc: i.e. man’s nativity and his flesh.
  13. Literally, “by a heavenly regeneration.”
  14. Revera. [I cannot let the words which follow, stand in the text; they are sufficiently rendered.]
  15. 1 Cor. i. 27.