Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: Soul and Body Conceived, Formed and Perfected in Element Simultaneously.
Chapter XXVII.—Soul and Body Conceived, Formed and Perfected in Element Simultaneously.
How, then, is a living being conceived? Is the substance of both body and soul formed together at one and the same time? Or does one of them precede the other in natural formation? We indeed maintain that both are conceived, and formed, and perfectly simultaneously, as well as born together; and that not a moments interval occurs in their conception, so that, a prior place can be assigned to either. 1694 Judge, in fact, of the incidents of mans earliest existence by those which occur to him at the very last. As death is defined to be nothing else than the separation of body and soul, 1695 life, which is the opposite of death, is susceptible of no other definition than the conjunction of body and soul. If the severance happens at one and the same time to both substances by means of death, so the law of their combination ought to assure us that it occurs simultaneously to the two substances by means of life. Now we allow that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does. Thus, then, the processes which act together to produce separation by death, also combine in a simultaneous action to produce p. 208 life. If we assign priority to (the formation of) one of the natures, and a subsequent time to the other, we shall have further to determine the precise times of the semination, according to the condition and rank of each. And that being so, what time shall we give to the seed of the body, and what to the seed of the soul? Besides, if different periods are to be assigned to the seminations then arising out of this difference in time, we shall also have different substances. 1696 For although we shall allow that there are two kinds of seed—that of the body and that of the soul—we still declare that they are inseparable, and therefore contemporaneous and simultaneous in origin. Now let no one take offence or feel ashamed at an interpretation of the processes of nature which is rendered necessary (by the defence of the truth). Nature should be to us an object of reverence, not of blushes. It is lust, not natural usage, which has brought shame on the intercourse of the sexes. It is the excess, not the normal state, which is immodest and unchaste: the normal condition has received a blessing from God, and is blest by Him: “Be fruitful, and multiply, (and replenish the earth.)” 1697 Excess, however, has He cursed, in adulteries, and wantonness, and chambering. 1698 Well, now, in this usual function of the sexes which brings together the male and the female in their common intercourse, we know that both the soul and the flesh discharge a duty together: the soul supplies desire, the flesh contributes the gratification of it; the soul furnishes the instigation, the flesh affords the realization. The entire man being excited by the one effort of both natures, his seminal substance is discharged, deriving its fluidity from the body, and its warmth from the soul. Now if the soul in Greek is a word which is synonymous with cold, 1699 how does it come to pass that the body grows cold after the soul has quitted it? Indeed (if I run the risk of offending modesty even, in my desire to prove the truth), I cannot help asking, whether we do not, in that very heat of extreme gratification when the generative fluid is ejected, feel that somewhat of our soul has gone from us? And do we not experience a faintness and prostration along with a dimness of sight? This, then, must be the soul-producing seed, which arises at once from the out-drip of the soul, just as that fluid is the body-producing seed which proceeds from the drainage of the flesh. Most true are the examples of the first creation. Adams flesh was formed of clay. Now what is clay but an excellent moisture, whence should spring the generating fluid? From the breath of God first came the soul. But what else is the breath of God than the vapour of the spirit, whence should spring that which we breathe out through the generative fluid? Forasmuch, therefore, as these two different and separate substances, the clay and the breath, combined at the first creation in forming the individual man, they then both amalgamated and mixed their proper seminal rudiments in one, and ever afterwards communicated to the human race the normal mode of its propagation, so that even now the two substances, although diverse from each other, flow forth simultaneously in a united channel; and finding their way together into their appointed seed-plot, they fertilize with their combined vigour the human fruit out of their respective natures. And inherent in this human product is his own seed, according to the process which has been ordained for every creature endowed with the functions of generation. Accordingly from the one (primeval) man comes the entire outflow and redundance of mens souls—nature proving herself true to the commandment of God, “Be fruitful, and multiply.” 1700 For in the very preamble of this one production, “Let us make man,” 1701 mans whole posterity was declared and described in a plural phrase, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,” etc. 1702 And no wonder: in the seed lies the promise and earnest of the crop.
Comp. De Resurr. Carnis, xlv.207:1695
So Plato, Phædo, p. 64.208:1696
Gen. i. 28.208:1698
See above, c. xxv. p. 206.208:1700
Gen. i. 28.208:1701
Next: The Pythagorean Doctrine of Transmigration Sketched and Censured.
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