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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: The Soul's Vitality and Intelligence. Its Character and Seat in Man.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XV.—The Soul’s Vitality and Intelligence. Its Character and Seat in Man.

In the first place, (we must determine) whether there be in the soul some supreme principle of vitality and intelligence 1583 which they call “the ruling power of the soul”—τὸ ἡγεμονικόν for if this be not admitted, the whole condition of the soul is put in jeopardy. Indeed, those men who say that there is no such directing faculty, have begun by supposing that the soul itself is simply a nonentity. One Dicæarchus, a Messenian, and amongst the medical profession Andreas and Asclepiades, have thus destroyed the (soul’s) directing power, by actually placing in the mind the senses, for which they claim the ruling faculty. Asclepiades rides rough-shod over us with even this argument, that very many animals, after losing those parts of their body in which the soul’s principle of vitality and sensation is thought mainly to exist, still retain life in a considerable degree, as well as sensation: as in the case of flies, and wasps, and locusts, when you have cut off their heads; and of she-goats, and tortoises, and eels, when you have pulled out their hearts. (He concludes), therefore, that there is no especial principle or power of the p. 194 soul; for if there were, the soul’s vigour and strength could not continue when it was removed with its domiciles (or corporeal organs).  However, Dicæarchus has several authorities against him—and philosophers too—Plato, Strato, Epicurus, Democritus, Empedocles, Socrates, Aristotle; whilst in opposition to Andreas and Asclepiades (may be placed their brother) physicians Herophilus, Erasistratus, Diocles, Hippocrates, and Soranus himself; and better than all others, there are our Christian authorities. We are taught by God concerning both these questions—viz. that there is a ruling power in the soul, and that it is enshrined 1584 in one particular recess of the body.  For, when one reads of God as being “the searcher and witness of the heart;” 1585 when His prophet is reproved by His discovering to him the secrets of the heart; 1586 when God Himself anticipates in His people the thoughts of their heart, 1587 “Why think ye evil in your hearts?” 1588 when David prays “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” 1589 and Paul declares, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” 1590 and John says, “By his own heart is each man condemned;” 1591 when, lastly, “he who looketh on a woman so as to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart,” 1592 —then both points are cleared fully up, that there is a directing faculty of the soul, with which the purpose of God may agree; in other words, a supreme principle of intelligence and vitality (for where there is intelligence, there must be vitality), and that it resides in that most precious part 1593 of our body to which God especially looks:  so that you must not suppose, with Heraclitus, that this sovereign faculty of which we are treating is moved by some external force; nor with Moschion, 1594 that it floats about through the whole body; nor with Plato, that it is enclosed in the head; nor with Zenophanes, that it culminates in the crown of the head; nor that it reposes in the brain, according to the opinion of Hippocrates; nor around the basis of the brain, as Herophilus thought; nor in the membranes thereof, as Strato and Erasistratus said; nor in the space between the eyebrows, as Strato the physician held; nor within the enclosure 1595 of the breast, according to Epicurus:  but rather, as the Egyptians have always taught, especially such of them as were accounted the expounders of sacred truths; 1596 in accordance, too, with that verse of Orpheus or Empedocles:

“Namque homini sanguis circumcordialis est sensus.” 1597

“Man has his (supreme) sensation in the blood around his heart.”

Even Protagoras 1598 likewise, and Apollodorus, and Chrysippus, entertain this same view, so that (our friend) Asclepiades may go in quest of his goats bleating without a heart, and hunt his flies without their heads; and let all those (worthies), too, who have predetermined the character of the human soul from the condition of brute animals, be quite sure that it is themselves rather who are alive in a heartless and brainless state.







Wisd. i. 6.


Prov. xxiv. 12.


Ps. cxxxix. 23.


Matt. ix. 4.


Ps. li. 12.


Rom. x. 10.


1 John iii. 20.


Matt. v. 28.


In eo thesauro.


Not Suidas’ philosopher of that name, but a renowned physician mentioned by Galen and Pliny (Oehler).




The Egyptian hierophants.


The original, as given in Stobæus, Eclog. i. p. 1026, is this hexameter: Αἶμα γὰρ ἀνθρώποις περικάρδιόν ἐστι νόημα.


Or probably that Praxagoras the physician who is often mentioned by Athenæus and by Pliny (Pamel.).

Next: The Soul's Parts.  Elements of the Rational Soul.

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