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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Ironical Dilemmas Respecting Matter, and Sundry Moral Qualities Fancifully Attributed to It.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXVII.—Ironical Dilemmas Respecting Matter, and Sundry Moral Qualities Fancifully Attributed to It.

I see now that you are coming back again to that reason, which has been in the habit of declaring to you nothing in the way of certainty. For just as you introduce to our notice Matter as being neither corporeal nor incorporeal, so you allege of it that it is neither good nor evil; and you say, whilst arguing further on it in the same strain: “If it were good, seeing that it had ever been so, it would not require the arrangement of itself by God; 6528 if it were naturally evil, it would not have admitted of a change 6529 for the better, nor would God have ever applied to such a nature any attempt at arrangement of it, for His labour would have been in vain.” Such are your words, which it would have been well if you had remembered in other passages also, so as to have avoided any contradiction of them. As, however, we have already treated to some extent of this ambiguity of good and evil touching Matter, I will now reply to the only proposition and argument of yours which we have before us. I shall not stop to repeat my opinion, that it was your bounden duty to have said for certain that Matter was either good or bad, or in some third condition; but (I must observe) that you have not here even kept to the statement which you chose to make before. Indeed, you retract what you declared—that Matter is neither good nor evil; because you imply that it is evil when you say, “If it were good, it would not require to be set in order by God;” so again, when you add, “If it were naturally evil, it would not admit of any change for the better,” you seem to intimate 6530 that it is good. And so you attribute to it a close relation 6531 to good and evil, although you declared it neither good nor evil. With a view, however, to refute the argument whereby you thought you were going to clinch your proposition, I here contend: If Matter had always been good, why should it not have still wanted a change for the better? Does that which is good never desire, never wish, never feel able to advance, so as to change its good for a better? And in like manner, if Matter had been by nature evil, why might it not have been changed by God as the more powerful Being, as able to convert the nature of stones into children of Abraham? 6532 Surely by such means you not only compare the Lord with Matter, but you even put Him below 6533 it, since you affirm that 6534 the nature of Matter could not p. 499 possibly be brought under control by Him, and trained to something better. But although you are here disinclined to allow that Matter is by nature evil, yet in another passage you will deny having made such an admission. 6535


Footnotes

498:6528

Compositionem Dei.

498:6529

Non accepisset translationem.

498:6530

Subostendis.

498:6531

Affinem.

498:6532

Matt. iii. 9.

498:6533

Subicis.

498:6534

This is the force of the subjunctive verb.

499:6535

Te confessum.


Next: Other Speculations of Hermogenes, About Matter and Some of Its Adjuncts, Shown to Be Absurd. For Instance, Its Alleged Infinity.

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