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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Christ's Nativity Both Possible and Becoming. The Heretical Opinion of Christ's Apparent Flesh Deceptive and Dishonourable to God, Even on Marcion's Principles.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter III.—Christ’s Nativity Both Possible and Becoming. The Heretical Opinion of Christ’s Apparent Flesh Deceptive and Dishonourable to God, Even on Marcion’s Principles.

Since 6970 you think that this lay within the competency of your own arbitrary choice, you must needs have supposed that being born 6971 was either impossible for God, or unbecoming to Him. With God, however, nothing is impossible but what He does not will. Let us consider, then, whether He willed to be born (for if He had the will, He also had the power, and was born). I put the argument very briefly. If God had willed not to be born, it matters not why, He would not have presented Himself in the likeness of man. Now who, when he sees a man, would deny that he had been born?  What God therefore willed not to be, He would in no wise have willed the seeming to be. When a thing is distasteful, the very notion 6972 of it is scouted; because it makes no difference whether a thing exist or p. 523 do not exist, if, when it does not exist, it is yet assumed to exist.  It is of course of the greatest importance that there should be nothing false (or pretended) attributed to that which really does not exist. 6973 But, say you, His own consciousness (of the truth of His nature) was enough for Him.  If any supposed that He had been born, because they saw Him as a man, that was their concern. 6974 Yet with how much more dignity and consistency would He have sustained the human character on the supposition that He was truly born; for if He were not born, He could not have undertaken the said character without injury to that consciousness of His which you on your side attribute to His confidence of being able to sustain, although not born, the character of having been born even against!  His own consciousness! 6975 Why, I want to know, 6976 was it of so much importance, that Christ should, when perfectly aware what He really was, exhibit Himself as being that which He was not? You cannot express any apprehension that, 6977 if He had been born and truly clothed Himself with man’s nature, He would have ceased to be God, losing what He was, while becoming what He was not. For God is in no danger of losing His own state and condition. But, say you, I deny that God was truly changed to man in such wise as to be born and endued with a body of flesh, on this ground, that a being who is without end is also of necessity incapable of change. For being changed into something else puts an end to the former state. Change, therefore, is not possible to a Being who cannot come to an end. Without doubt, the nature of things which are subject to change is regulated by this law, that they have no permanence in the state which is undergoing change in them, and that they come to an end from thus wanting permanence, whilst they lose that in the process of change which they previously were. But nothing is equal with God; His nature is different 6978 from the condition of all things. If, then, the things which differ from God, and from which God differs, lose what existence they had whilst they are undergoing change, wherein will consist the difference of the Divine Being from all other things except in His possessing the contrary faculty of theirs,—in other words, that God can be changed into all conditions, and yet continue just as He is? On any other supposition, He would be on the same level with those things which, when changed, lose the existence they had before; whose equal, of course, He is not in any other respect, as He certainly is not in the changeful issues 6979 of their nature. You have sometimes read and believed that the Creator’s angels have been changed into human form, and have even borne about so veritable a body, that Abraham even washed their feet, 6980 and Lot was rescued from the Sodomites by their hands; 6981 an angel, moreover, wrestled with a man so strenuously with his body, that the latter desired to be let loose, so tightly was he held. 6982 Has it, then, been permitted to angels, which are inferior to God, after they have been changed into human bodily form, 6983 nevertheless to remain angels? and will you deprive God, their superior, of this faculty, as if Christ could not continue to be God, after His real assumption of the nature of man? Or else, did those angels appear as phantoms of flesh? You will not, however, have the courage to say this; for if it be so held in your belief, that the Creator’s angels are in the same condition as Christ, then Christ will belong to the same God as those angels do, who are like Christ in their condition. If you had not purposely rejected in some instances, and corrupted in others, the Scriptures which are opposed to your opinion, you would have been confuted in this matter by the Gospel of John, when it declares that the Spirit descended in the body 6984 of a dove, and sat upon the Lord. 6985 When the said Spirit was in this condition, He was as truly a dove as He was also a spirit; nor did He destroy His own proper substance by the assumption of an extraneous substance. But you ask what becomes of the dove’s body, after the return of the Spirit back to heaven, and similarly in the case of the angels. Their withdrawal was effected in the same manner as their appearance had been.  If you had seen how their production out of nothing had been effected, you would have known also the process of their return to nothing. If the initial step was out of sight, so was also the final one. Still there was solidity in their bodily substance, whatever may have been the force by which the body became visible. What is written cannot but have been.


Footnotes

522:6970

Quatenus.

522:6971

Nativitatem.

522:6972

Opinio.

523:6973

If Christ’s flesh was not real, the pretence of it was wholly wrong.

523:6974

Viderint homines.

523:6975

It did not much matter (according to the view which Tertullian attributes to Marcion) if God did practise deception in affecting the assumption of a humanity which He knew to be unreal. Men took it to be real, and that answered every purpose. God knew better: and He was moreover, strong enough to obviate all inconveniences of the deception by His unfaltering fortitude, etc. All this, however, seemed to Tertullian to be simply damaging and perilous to the character of God, even from Marcion’s own point of view.

523:6976

Edoce.

523:6977

Non potes dicere ne, etc.

523:6978

Distat.

523:6979

In exitu conversionis.

523:6980

Gen. xviii.

523:6981

Gen. xix.

523:6982

Gen. xxxii.

523:6983

See below in chap. vi. and in the Anti-Marcion, iii. 9.

523:6984

Corpore.

523:6985

Matt. iii. 16.


Next: God's Honour in the Incarnation of His Son Vindicated. Marcion's Disparagement of Human Flesh Inconsistent as Well as Impious.  Christ Has Cleansed the Flesh.  The Foolishness of God is Most Wise.

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