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

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, The Five Books Against Marcion, Book III
by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes
155288Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, The Five Books Against Marcion, Book III — XIPeter HolmesTertullian

Chapter XI.—Christ Was Truly Born; Marcion’s Absurd Cavil in Defence of a Putative Nativity.

All these illusions of an imaginary corporeity[1] in (his) Christ, Marcion adopted with this view, that his nativity also might not be furnished with any evidence from his human substance, and that thus the Christ of the Creator might be free to have assigned to Him all predictions which treated of Him as one capable of human birth, and therefore fleshly. But most foolishly did our Pontic heresiarch act in this too. As if it would not be more readily believed that flesh in the Divine Being should rather be unborn than untrue, this belief having in fact had the way mainly prepared for it by the Creator’s angels when they conversed in flesh which was real, although unborn. For indeed the notorious Philumena[2] persuaded Apelles and the other seceders from Marcion rather to believe that Christ did really carry about a body of flesh; not derived to Him, however, from birth, but one which He borrowed from the elements. Now, as Marcion was apprehensive that a belief of the fleshly body would also involve a belief of birth, undoubtedly He who seemed to be man was believed to be verily and indeed born. For a certain woman had exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked!”[3] And how else could they have said that His mother and His brethren were standing without?[4] But we shall see more of this in the proper place.[5] Surely, when He also proclaimed Himself as the Son of man, He, without doubt, confessed that He had been born. Now I would rather refer all these points to an examination of the gospel; but still, as I have already stated, if he, who seemed to be man, had by all means to pass as having been born, it was vain for him to suppose that faith in his nativity was to be perfected[6] by the device of an imaginary flesh. For what advantage was there in that being not true which was held to be true, whether it were his flesh or his birth? Or if you should say, let human opinion go for nothing;[7] you are then honouring your god under the shelter of a deception, since he knew himself to be something different from what he had made men to think of him. In that case you might possibly have assigned to him a putative nativity even, and so not have hung the question on this point. For silly women fancy themselves pregnant sometimes, when they are corpulent[8] either from their natural flux[9] or from some other malady. And, no doubt, it had become his duty, since he had put on the mere mask of his substance, to act out from its earliest scene the play of his phantasy, lest he should have failed in his part at the beginning of the flesh. You have, of course,[10] rejected the sham of a nativity, and have produced true flesh itself. And, no doubt, even the real nativity of a God is a most mean thing.[11] Come then, wind up your cavils[12] against the most sacred and reverend works of nature; inveigh against all that you are; destroy the origin of flesh and life; call the womb a sewer of the illustrious animal—in other words, the manufactory for the production of man; dilate on the impure and shameful tortures of parturition, and then on the filthy, troublesome, contemptible issues of the puerperal labour itself! But yet, after you have pulled all these things down to infamy, that you may affirm them to be unworthy of God, birth will not be worse for Him than death, infancy than the cross, punishment than nature, condemnation than the flesh. If Christ truly suffered all this, to be born was a less thing for Him. If Christ suffered evasively,[13] as a phantom; evasively, too, might He have been born. Such are Marcion’s chief arguments by which he makes out another Christ; and I think that we show plainly enough that they are utterly irrelevant, when we teach how much more truly consistent with God is the reality rather than the falsehood of that condition[14] in which He manifested His Christ. Since He was “the truth,” He was flesh; since He was flesh, He was born. For the points which this heresy assaults are confirmed, when the means of the assault are destroyed. Therefore if He is to be considered in the flesh,[15] because He was born; and born, because He is in the flesh, and because He is no phantom,—it follows that He must be acknowledged as Himself the very Christ of the Creator, who was by the Creator’s prophets foretold as about to come in the flesh, and by the process of human birth.[16]


  1. Corpulentiæ.
  2. This woman is called in De Præscr. Hæret. 6, “an angel of deceit,” and (in 30) “a virgin, but afterwards a monstrous prostitute.” Our author adds: “Induced by her tricks and miracles, Apelles introduced a new heresy.” See also Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v. 13; Augustin, De Hæres. 42; Hieronymus, Epist. adv. Ctesiph. p. 477, tom. iv. ed. Benedictin.
  3. Luke xi. 27.
  4. Luke viii. 20.
  5. Below, iv. 26; also in De carne Christi, cap. vii.
  6. Expungendam, “consummated,” a frequent use of the word in our author.
  7. Viderit opinio humana.
  8. Inflatæ.
  9. Sanguinis tributo.
  10. Plane, ironically said.
  11. Turpissimum.
  12. Perora.
  13. Mendacio.
  14. Habitus.
  15. Carneus.
  16. Ex nativitate.