Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: The Opinions of Sundry Heretics Which Originate Ultimately with Plato.
p. 203 Chapter XXIII.—The Opinions of Sundry Heretics Which Originate Ultimately with Plato.
Some suppose that they came down from heaven, with as firm a belief as they are apt to entertain, when they indulge in the prospect of an undoubted return thither. Saturninus, the disciple of Menander, who belonged to Simons sect, introduced this opinion: he affirmed that man was made by angels. A futile, imperfect creation at first, weak and unable to stand, he crawled upon the ground like a worm, because he wanted the strength to maintain an erect posture; but afterwards having, by the compassion of the Supreme Power (in whose image, which had not been fully understood, he was clumsily formed), obtained a slender spark of life, this roused and righted his imperfect form, and animated it with a higher vitality, and provided for its return, on its relinquishment of life, to its original principle. Carpocrates, indeed, claims for himself so extreme an amount of the supernal qualities, that his disciples set their own souls at once on an equality with Christ (not to mention the apostles); and sometimes, when it suits their fancy, even give them the superiority—deeming them, forsooth, to have partaken of that sublime virtue which looks down upon the principalities that govern this world. Apelles tells us that our souls were enticed by earthly baits down from their super-celestial abodes by a fiery angel, Israels God and ours, who then enclosed them firmly within our sinful flesh. The hive of Valentinus fortifies the soul with the germ of Sophia, or Wisdom; by means of which germ they recognise, in the images of visible objects, the stories and Milesian fables of their own Æons. I am sorry from my heart that Plato has been the caterer to all these heretics. For in the Phædo he imagines that souls wander from this world to that, and thence back again hither; whilst in the Timæus he supposes that the children of God, to whom had been assigned the production of mortal creatures, having taken for the soul the germ of immortality, congealed around it a mortal body,—thereby indicating that this world is the figure of some other. Now, to procure belief in all this—that the soul had formerly lived with God in the heavens above, sharing His ideas with Him, and afterwards came down to live with us on earth, and whilst here recollects the eternal patterns of things which it had learnt before—he elaborated his new formula, μαθήσεις ἀναμνήσεις, which means that “learning is reminiscence;” implying that the souls which come to us from thence forget the things amongst which they formerly lived, but that they afterwards recall them, instructed by the objects they see around them. Forasmuch, therefore, as the doctrines which the heretics borrow from Plato are cunningly defended by this kind of argument, I shall sufficiently refute the heretics if I overthrow the argument of Plato.
Next: Plato's Inconsistency. He Supposes the Soul Self-Existent, Yet Capable of Forgetting What Passed in a Previous State.
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