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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: As Free-Will Actuates an Individual So May His Character Change.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXI.—As Free-Will Actuates an Individual So May His Character Change.

Now, if the soul possessed this uniform and simple nature from the beginning in Adam, previous to so many mental dispositions (being developed out of it), it is not rendered multiform by such various development, nor by the triple 1652 form predicated of it in “the Valentinian trinity” (that we may still keep the condemnation of that heresy in view), for not even this nature is discoverable in Adam. What had he that was spiritual? Is it because he prophetically declared “the great mystery of Christ and the church?” 1653 “This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and he shall cleave unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh.” 1654 But this (gift of prophecy) only came on him afterwards, when God infused into him the ecstasy, or spiritual quality, in which prophecy consists. If, again, the evil of sin was developed in him, this must not be accounted as a natural disposition: it was rather produced by the instigation of the (old) serpent as far from being incidental to his nature as it was from being material in him, for we have already excluded belief in “Matter.” 1655 Now, if neither the spiritual element, nor what the heretics call the material element, was properly inherent in him p. 202 (since, if he had been created out of matter, the germ of evil must have been an integral part of his constitution), it remains that the one only original element of his nature was what is called the animal (the principle of vitality, the soul), which we maintain to be simple and uniform in its condition. Concerning this, it remains for us to inquire whether, as being called natural, it ought to be deemed subject to change. (The heretics whom we have referred to) deny that nature is susceptible of any change, 1656 in order that they may be able to establish and settle their threefold theory, or “trinity,” in all its characteristics as to the several natures, because “a good tree cannot produce evil fruit, nor a corrupt tree good fruit; and nobody gathers figs of thorns, nor grapes of brambles.” 1657 If so, then “God will not be able any longer to raise up from the stones children unto Abraham; nor to make a generation of vipers bring forth fruits of repentance.” 1658 And if so, the apostle too was in error when he said in his epistle, “Ye were at one time darkness, (but now are ye light in the Lord:)” 1659 and, “We also were by nature children of wrath;” 1660 and, “Such were some of you, but ye are washed.” 1661 The statements, however, of holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth. A corrupt tree will never yield good fruit, unless the better nature be grafted into it; nor will a good tree produce evil fruit, except by the same process of cultivation. Stones also will become children of Abraham, if educated in Abraham’s faith; and a generation of vipers will bring forth the fruits of penitence, if they reject the poison of their malignant nature. This will be the power of the grace of God, more potent indeed than nature, exercising its sway over the faculty that underlies itself within us—even the freedom of our will, which is described as αὐτεξούσιος (of independent authority); and inasmuch as this faculty is itself also natural and mutable, in whatsoever direction it turns, it inclines of its own nature. Now, that there does exist within us naturally this independent authority (τὸ αὐτεξούσιον ), we have already shown in opposition both to Marcion 1662 and to Hermogenes. 1663 If, then, the natural condition has to be submitted to a definition, it must be determined to be twofold—there being the category of the born and the unborn, the made and not-made. Now that which has received its constitution by being made or by being born, is by nature capable of being changed, for it can be both born again and re-made; whereas that which is not-made and unborn will remain for ever immoveable. Since, however, this state is suited to God alone, as the only Being who is unborn and not-made (and therefore immortal and unchangeable), it is absolutely certain that the nature of all other existences which are born and created is subject to modification and change; so that if the threefold state is to be ascribed to the soul, it must be supposed to arise from the mutability of its accidental circumstances, and not from the appointment of nature.



i.e., the carnal, the animal, and the spiritual. Comp. Adv. Valentin. xxv., and De Resur. Carnis, lv.


Eph. v. 32.


Gen. 2:23, 24.


See Adv. Hermog. xiii.


See Adv. Valentin. xxix.


Luke 6:43, 44.


Matt. iii. 7-9.


Eph. v. 8.


Eph. ii. 3.


1 Cor. vi. 11.


See our Anti-Marcion, ii. 5–7.


In his work against this man, entitled De Censu Animæ, not now extant.

Next: Recapitulation.  Definition of the Soul.

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