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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: The Intellect Coeval with the Soul in the Human Being. An Example from Aristotle Converted into Evidence Favourable to These Views.

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Chapter XIX.—The Intellect Coeval with the Soul in the Human Being. An Example from Aristotle Converted into Evidence Favourable to These Views.

Nor must we fail to notice those writers who deprive the soul of the intellect even for a short period of time. They do this in order to prepare the way of introducing the intellect—and the mind also—at a subsequent time of life, even at the time when intelligence appears in a man. They maintain that the stage of infancy is supported by the soul alone, simply to promote vitality, without any intention of acquiring knowledge also, because not all things have knowledge which possess life. Trees, for instance, to quote Aristotle’s example, 1635 have vitality, but have not knowledge; and with him agrees every one who gives a share to all animated beings of the animal substance, which, according to our view, exists in man alone as his special property,—not because it is the work of God, which all other creatures are likewise, but because it is the breath of God, which this (human soul) alone is, which we say is born with the full equipment of its proper faculties. Well, let them meet us with the example of the trees: we will accept their challenge, (nor shall we find in it any detriment to our own argument;) for it is an undoubted fact, that whilst trees are yet but twigs and sprouts, and before they even reach the sapling stage, there is in them their own proper faculty of life, as soon as they spring out of their native beds. But then, as time goes on, the vigour of the tree slowly advances, as it grows and hardens into its woody trunk, until its mature age completes the condition which nature destines for it. Else what resources would trees possess in due course for the inoculation of grafts, and the formation of leaves, and the swelling of their buds, and the graceful shedding of their blossom, and the softening of their sap, were there not in them the quiet growth of the full provision of their nature, and the distribution of this life over all their branches for the accomplishment of their maturity? p. 200 Trees, therefore, have ability or knowledge; and they derive it from whence they also derive vitality—that is, from the one source of vitality and knowledge which is peculiar to their nature, and that from the infancy which they, too, begin with.  For I observe that even the vine, although yet tender and immature, still understands its own natural business, and strives to cling to some support, that, leaning on it, and lacing through it, 1636 it may so attain its growth. Indeed, without waiting for the husbandman’s training, without an espalier, without a prop, whatever its tendrils catch, it will fondly cling to, 1637 and embrace with really greater tenacity and force by its own inclination than by your volition. It longs and hastens to be secure. Take also ivy-plants, never mind how young: I observe their attempts from the very first to grasp objects above them, and outrunning everything else, to hang on to the highest thing, preferring as they do to spread over walls with their leafy web and woof rather than creep on the ground and be trodden under by every foot that likes to crush them. On the other hand, in the case of such trees as receive injury from contact with a building, how do they hang off as they grow and avoid what injures them! You can see that their branches were naturally meant to take the opposite direction, and can very well understand the vital instincts 1638 of such a tree from its avoidance of the wall.  It is contented (if it be only a little shrub) with its own insignificant destiny, which it has in its foreseeing instinct thoroughly been aware of from its infancy, only it still fears even a ruined building. On my side, then, why should I not contend for these wise and sagacious natures of trees?  Let them have vitality, as the philosophers permit it; but let them have knowledge too, although the philosophers disavow it. Even the infancy of a log, then, may have an intellect (suitable to it): how much more may that of a human being, whose soul (which may be compared with the nascent sprout of a tree) has been derived from Adam as its root, and has been propagated amongst his posterity by means of woman, to whom it has been entrusted for transmission, and thus has sprouted into life with all its natural apparatus, both of intellect and of sense! I am much mistaken if the human person, even from his infancy, when he saluted life with his infant cries, does not testify to his actual possession of the faculties of sensation and intellect by the fact of his birth, vindicating at one and the same time the use of all his senses—that of seeing by the light, that of hearing by sounds, that of taste by liquids, that of smell by the air, that of touch by the ground. This earliest voice of infancy, then, is the first effort of the senses, and the initial impulse of mental perceptions. 1639 There is also the further fact, that some persons understand this plaintive cry of the infant to be an augury of affliction in the prospect of our tearful life, whereby from the very moment of birth (the soul) has to be regarded as endued with prescience, much more with intelligence. Accordingly by this intuition 1640 the babe knows his mother, discerns the nurse, and even recognises the waiting-maid; refusing the breast of another woman, and the cradle that is not his own, and longing only for the arms to which he is accustomed. Now from what source does he acquire this discernment of novelty and custom, if not from instinctive knowledge? How does it happen that he is irritated and quieted, if not by help of his initial intellect? It would be very strange indeed that infancy were naturally so lively, if it had not mental power; and naturally so capable of impression and affection, if it had no intellect. But (we hold the contrary): for Christ, by “accepting praise out of the mouth of babes and sucklings,” 1641 has declared that neither childhood nor infancy is without sensibility, 1642 —the former of which states, when meeting Him with approving shouts, proved its ability to offer Him testimony; 1643 while the other, by being slaughtered, for His sake of course, knew what violence meant. 1644



His De Anima, ii. 2, 3.


Innixa et innexa.




Animationem. The possession and use of an “anima.”




Spiritu. The mental instinct, just mentioned.


Ps. 8:2, Matt. 21:16.




Matt. xxi. 15.


Matt. ii. 16-18.

Next: The Soul, as to Its Nature Uniform, But Its Faculties Variously Developed. Varieties Only Accidental.

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