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

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

Chapter XI.—The Opposite Extravagance Exposed.  That is Christ with a Soul Composed of Flesh—Corporeal, Though Invisible. Christ’s Soul, Like Ours, Distinct from Flesh, Though Clothed in It.

But we meet another argument of theirs, when we raise the question why Christ, in assuming a flesh composed of soul, should seem to have had a soul that was made of flesh? For God, they say, desired to make the soul visible to men, by enduing it with a bodily nature, although it was before invisible; of its own nature, indeed, it was incapable of seeing anything, even its own self, by reason of the obstacle of this flesh, so that it was even a matter of doubt whether it was born or not.  The soul, therefore (they further say), was made corporeal in Christ, in order that we might see it when undergoing birth, and death, and (what is more) resurrection. But yet, how was this possible, that by means of the flesh the soul should demonstrate itself[1] to itself or to us, when it could not possibly be ascertained that it would offer this mode of exhibiting itself by the flesh, until the thing came into existence to which it was unknown,[2] that is to say, the flesh? It received darkness, forsooth, in order to be able to shine! Now,[3] let us first turn our attention to this point, whether it was requisite that the soul should exhibit itself in the manner contended for;[4] and next consider whether their previous position be[5] that the soul is wholly invisible (inquiring further) whether this invisibility is the result of its incorporeality, or whether it actually possesses some sort of body peculiar to itself. And yet, although they say that it is invisible, they determine it to be corporeal, but having somewhat that is invisible. For if it has nothing invisible how can it be said to be invisible? But even its existence is an impossibility, unless it has that which is instrumental to its existence.[6] Since, however, it exists, it must needs have a something through which it exists. If it has this something, it must be its body.  Everything which exists is a bodily existence sui generis.  Nothing lacks bodily existence but that which is non-existent. If, then, the soul has an invisible body, He who had proposed to make it[7] visible would certainly have done His work better[8] if He had made that part of it which was accounted invisible, visible; because then there would have been no untruth or weakness in the case, and neither of these flaws is suitable to God. (But as the case stands in the hypothesis) there is untruth, since He has set forth the soul as being a different thing from what it really is; and there is weakness, since He was unable to make it appear[9] to be that which it is. No one who wishes to exhibit a man covers him with a veil[10] or a mask. This, however, is precisely what has been done to the soul, if it has been clothed with a covering belonging to something else, by being converted into flesh. But even if the soul is, on their hypothesis, supposed[11] to be incorporeal, so that the soul, whatever it is, should by some mysterious force of the reason[12] be quite unknown, only not be a body, then in that case it were not beyond the power of God—indeed it would be more consistent with His plan—if He displayed[13] the soul in some new sort of body, different from that which we all have in common, one of which we should have quite a different notion,[14] (being spared the idea that)[15] He had set His mind on[16] making, without an adequate cause, a visible soul instead of[17] an invisible one—a fit incentive, no doubt, for such questions as they start,[18] by their maintenance of a human flesh for it.[19] Christ, however, could not have appeared among men except as a man. Restore, therefore, to Christ, His faith; believe that He who willed to walk the earth as a man exhibited even a soul of a thoroughly human condition, not making it of flesh, but clothing it with flesh.


  1. Demonstraretur: or, “should become apparent.”
  2. Cui latebat.
  3. Denique.
  4. Isto modo.
  5. An retro allegent.
  6. Per quod sit.
  7. Eam: the soul.
  8. Dignius: i.e., “in a manner more worthy of Himself.”
  9. Demonstrare.
  10. Cassidem.
  11. Deputetur.
  12. Aliqua vi rationis: or, “by some power of its own condition.”
  13. Demonstrare.
  14. Notitiæ.
  15. Ne.
  16. Gestisset.
  17. Ex.
  18. Istis.
  19. In illam: perhaps “in it,” as if an ablative case, not an unusual construction in Tertullian.