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Tertullian: Part I: The Opinions of Carpocrates, Another Offset from the Pythagorean Dogmas, Stated and Confuted.
Chapter XXXV.—The Opinions of Carpocrates, Another Offset from the Pythagorean Dogmas, Stated and Confuted.
However, it is not for you alone, (Simon), that the transmigration philosophy has fabricated this story. Carpocrates also makes equally good use of it, who was a magician and a fornicator like yourself, only he had not a Helen. 1727 And why should he not? since he asserted that souls are reinvested with bodies, in order to ensure the overthrow by all means of divine and human truth. For, (according to his miserable doctrine,) this life became consummated to no man until all those blemishes which are held to disfigure it have been fully displayed in its conduct; because there is nothing which is accounted evil by nature, but simply as men think of it. The transmigration of human souls, therefore, into any kind of heterogeneous bodies, he thought by all means indispensable, whenever any depravity whatever had not been fully perpetrated in the early stage of lifes passage. Evil deeds (one may be sure) appertain to life. Moreover, as often as the soul has fallen short as a defaulter in sin, it has to be recalled to existence, until it “pays the utmost farthing,” 1728 thrust out from time to time into the prison of the body. To this effect does he tamper with the whole of that allegory of the Lord which is extremely clear and simple in its meaning, and ought to be from the first understood in its plain and natural sense. Thus our “adversary” (therein mentioned 1729 ) is the heathen man, who is walking with us along the same road of life which is common to him and ourselves. Now “we must needs go out of the world,” 1730 if it be not allowed us to have conversation with them. He bids us, therefore, show a kindly disposition to such a man. “Love your enemies,” says He, “pray for them that curse you,” 1731 lest such a man in any transaction of business be irritated by any unjust conduct of yours, and “deliver thee to the judge” of his own (nation 1732 ), and you be thrown into prison, and be detained in its close and narrow cell until you have liquidated all your debt against him. 1733 Then, again, should you be disposed to apply the term “adversary” to the devil, you are advised by the (Lords) injunction, “while you are in the way with him,” to make even with him such a compact as may be deemed compatible with the requirements of your true faith. Now the compact you have made respecting him is to renounce him, and his pomp, and his angels. Such is your agreement in this matter. Now the friendly understanding you will have to carry out must arise from your observance of the compact: you must never think of getting back any of the things which you have abjured, and have restored to him, lest he should summon you as a fraudulent man, and a transgressor of your agreement, before God the Judge (for in this light do we read of him, in another passage, as “the accuser of the brethren,” 1734 or saints, where reference is made to the actual practice of legal prosecution); and lest this Judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the resurrection. 1735 What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer interpretation? If, however, according to Carpocrates, the soul is bound to the commission of all sorts of crime and evil conduct, what must we from his system understand to be its “adversary” and foe? I suppose it must be that better mind which shall compel it by force to the performance of some act of virtue, that it may be driven from body to body, until it be found in none a debtor to the claims of a virtuous life. This means, that a good tree is known by its bad fruit—in other words, that the doctrine of truth is understood from the worst possible precepts. I apprehend 1736 that heretics of this school seize with especial avidity the example of Elias, whom they assume to have been so reproduced in John (the Baptist) as to make our Lords statement sponsor for their theory of transmigration, when He said, “Elias is come already, and they knew him not;” 1737 and again, in another passage, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” 1738 Well, then, was it really in a Pythagorean sense that the Jews approached John with the inquiry, “Art thou Elias?” 1739 and not rather in the sense of the divine prep. 217 diction, “Behold, I will send you Elijah” the Tisbite? 1740 The fact, however, is, that their metempsychosis, or transmigration theory, signifies the recall of the soul which had died long before, and its return to some other body. But Elias is to come again, not after quitting life (in the way of dying), but after his translation (or removal without dying); not for the purpose of being restored to the body, from which he had not departed, but for the purpose of revisiting the world from which he was translated; not by way of resuming a life which he had laid aside, but of fulfilling prophecy,—really and truly the same man, both in respect of his name and designation, as well as of his unchanged humanity. How, therefore could John be Elias? You have your answer in the angels announcement: “And he shall go before the people,” says he, “in the spirit and power of Elias”—not (observe) in his soul and his body. These substances are, in fact, the natural property of each individual; whilst “the spirit and power” are bestowed as external gifts by the grace of God and so may be transferred to another person according to the purpose and will of the Almighty, as was anciently the case with respect to the spirit of Moses. 1741
For Carpocrates, see Irenæus, i. 24; Eusebius, H. E. iv. 7; Epiphan. Hær. 27.216:1728
Matt. v. 26.216:1729
1 Cor. v. 10.216:1731
Luke vi. 27.216:1732
Matt. v. 25.216:1733
Rev. xii. 10.216:1735
Morâ resurrectionis. For the force of this phrase, as apparently implying a doctrine of purgatory, and an explanation of Tertullians teaching on this point, see Bp. Kaye on Tertullian, pp. 328, 329. [See p. 59, supra.]216:1736
Matt. xvii. 12.216:1738
Matt. xi. 14.216:1739
John i. 21.217:1740
Mal. iv. 5.217:1741
Num. xii. 2.
Next: The Main Points of Our Author's Subject. On the Sexes of the Human Race.
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