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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: An Appeal to the History of Creation.  True Meaning of the Term Beginning, Which the Heretic Curiously Wrests to an Absurd Sense.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIX.—An Appeal to the History of Creation. True Meaning of the Term Beginning, Which the Heretic Curiously Wrests to an Absurd Sense.

But I shall appeal to the original document 6316 of Moses, by help of which they on the other side vainly endeavour to prop up their conjectures, with the view, of course, of appearing to have the support of that authority which is indispensable in such an inquiry. They have found their opportunity, as is usual with heretics, in wresting the plain meaning of certain words. For instance the very beginning6317 when God made the heaven and the earth, they will construe as if it meant something substantial and embodied, 6318 to be regarded as Matter. We, however, insist on the proper signification of every word, and say that principium means beginning,—being a term which is suitable to represent things which begin to exist. For nothing which has come into being is without a beginning, nor can this its commencement be at any other moment than when it begins to have existence. Thus principium or beginning, is simply a term of inception, not the name of a substance.  Now, inasmuch as the heaven and the earth are the principal works of God, and since, by His making them first, He constituted them in an especial manner the beginning of His creation, before all things else, with good reason does the Scripture preface (its record of creation) with the words, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth;” 6319 just as it would have said, “At last God made the heaven and the earth,” if God had created these after all the rest.  Now, if the beginning is a substance, the end must also be material. No doubt, a substantial thing 6320 may be the beginning of some other thing which may be formed out of it; thus the clay is the beginning of the vessel, and the seed is the beginning of the plant. But when we employ the word beginning in this sense of origin, and not in that of order, we do not omit to mention also the name of that particular thing which we regard as the origin of the other. On the other hand, 6321 if we were to make such a statement as this, for example, “In the beginning the potter made a basin or a water-jug,” the word beginning will not here indicate a material substance (for I have not mentioned the clay, which is the beginning in this sense, but only the order of the work, meaning that the potter made the basin and the jug first, before anything else—intending afterwards to make the rest. It is, then, to the order of the works that the word beginning has reference, not to the origin of their substances. I might also explain this word beginning in another way, which would not, however, be inapposite. 6322 The Greek term for beginning, which is ἀρχή, admits the sense not only of priority of order, but of power as well; whence princes and magistrates are called ἀρχοντες. Therefore in this sense too, beginning may be taken for princely authority and power. It was, indeed, in His transcendent authority and power, that God made the heaven and the earth.


Footnotes

488:6316

Originale instrumentum: which may mean “the document which treats of the origin of all things.”

488:6317

Principium.

488:6318

Corpulentum.

488:6319

Gen. i. 1.

488:6320

Substantivum aliquid.

488:6321

De cetero.

488:6322

Non ab re tamen.


Next: Meaning of the Phrase--In the Beginning. Tertullian Connects It with the Wisdom of God, and Elicits from It the Truth that the Creation Was Not Out of Pre-Existent Matter.

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