Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/The Five Books Against Marcion/Book III/VIII

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, The Five Books Against Marcion, Book III
by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes
155285Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, The Five Books Against Marcion, Book III — VIIIPeter HolmesTertullian

Chapter VIII.—Absurdity of Marcion’s Docetic Opinions; Reality of Christ’s Incarnation.

Our heretic must now cease to borrow poison from the Jew—“the asp,” as the adage runs, “from the viper”[1]—and henceforth vomit forth the virulence of his own disposition, as when he alleges Christ to be a phantom. Except, indeed, that this opinion of his will be sure to have others to maintain it in his precocious and somewhat abortive Marcionites, whom the Apostle John designated as antichrists, when they denied that Christ was come in the flesh; not that they did this with the view of establishing the right of the other god (for on this point also they had been branded by the same apostle), but because they had started with assuming the incredibility of an incarnate God. Now, the more firmly the antichrist Marcion had seized this assumption, the more prepared was he, of course, to reject the bodily substance of Christ, since he had introduced his very god to our notice as neither the author nor the restorer of the flesh; and for this very reason, to be sure, as pre-eminently good, and most remote from the deceits and fallacies of the Creator. His Christ, therefore, in order to avoid all such deceits and fallacies, and the imputation, if possible, of belonging to the Creator, was not what he appeared to be, and feigned himself to be what he was not—incarnate without being flesh, human without being man, and likewise a divine Christ without being God! But why should he not have propagated also the phantom of God? Can I believe him on the subject of the internal nature, who was all wrong touching the external substance? How will it be possible to believe him true on a mystery, when he has been found so false on a plain fact? How, moreover, when he confounds the truth of the spirit with the error of the flesh,[2] could he combine within himself that communion of light and darkness, or truth and error, which the apostle says cannot co-exist?[3] Since however, Christ’s being flesh is now discovered to be a lie, it follows that all things which were done by the flesh of Christ were done untruly,[4]—every act of intercourse,[5] of contact, of eating or drinking,[6] yea, His very miracles. If with a touch, or by being touched, He freed any one of a disease, whatever was done by any corporeal act cannot be believed to have been truly done in the absence of all reality in His body itself. Nothing substantial can be allowed to have been effected by an unsubstantial thing; nothing full by a vacuity. If the habit were putative, the action was putative; if the worker were imaginary, the works were imaginary. On this principle, too, the sufferings of Christ will be found not to warrant faith in Him. For He suffered nothing who did not truly suffer; and a phantom could not truly suffer.  God’s entire work, therefore, is subverted. Christ’s death, wherein lies the whole weight and fruit of the Christian name, is denied although the apostle asserts[7] it so expressly[8] as undoubtedly real, making it the very foundation of the gospel, of our salvation and of his own preaching.[9] “I have delivered unto you before all things,” says he, “how that Christ died for our sins, and that he was buried, and that He rose again the third day.”  Besides, if His flesh is denied, how is His death to be asserted; for death is the proper suffering of the flesh, which returns through death back to the earth out of which it was taken, according to the law of its Maker? Now, if His death be denied, because of the denial of His flesh, there will be no certainty of His resurrection. For He rose not, for the very same reason that He died not, even because He possessed not the reality of the flesh, to which as death accrues, so does resurrection likewise. Similarly, if Christ’s resurrection be nullified, ours also is destroyed. If Christ’s resurrection be not realized,[10] neither shall that be for which Christ came.  For just as they, who said that there is no resurrection of the dead, are refuted by the apostle from the resurrection of Christ, so, if the resurrection of Christ falls to the ground, the resurrection of the dead is also swept away.[11] And so our faith is vain, and vain also is the preaching of the apostles. Moreover, they even show themselves to be false witnesses of God, because they testified that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise. And we remain in our sins still.[12] And those who have slept in Christ have perished; destined, forsooth,[13] to rise again, but peradventure in a phantom state,[14] just like Christ.


  1. So Epiphanius, adv. Hæres. l. 23. 7, quotes the same proverb, ὡς ἀσπὶς παρ᾽ ἐχίδνης ἰὸν δανιζομένη. [Tom. II. p. 144. Ed. Oehler.]
  2. As in his Docetic views of the body of Christ.
  3. 2 Cor. vi. 14.
  4. Mendacio.
  5. Congressus.
  6. Convictus.
  7. Demandat.
  8. Tam impresse, “so strongly.”
  9. 1 Cor. xv. 3, 4, 14, 17, 18.
  10. Valebit.
  11. Aufertur.
  12. 1 Cor. xv. 13–18.
  13. Sane.
  14. Phantasmate forsitan.