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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: The Gradual Development of Cosmical Order Out of Chaos in the Creation, Beautifully Stated.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXIX.—The Gradual Development of Cosmical Order Out of Chaos in the Creation, Beautifully Stated.

God, indeed, consummated all His works in a due order; at first He paled them out, 6399 as it were, in their unformed elements, and then He arranged them 6400 in their finished beauty. For He did not all at once inundate light with the splendour of the sun, nor all at once temper darkness with the moon’s assuaging ray. 6401 The heaven He did not all at once bedeck 6402 with constellations and stars, nor did He at once fill the seas with their teeming monsters. 6403 The earth itself He did not endow with its varied fruitfulness all at once; but at first He bestowed upon it being, and then He filled it, that it might not be made in vain. 6404 For thus says Isaiah: “He created it not in vain; He formed it to be inhabited.” 6405 Therefore after it was made, and while awaiting its perfect state, 6406 it was “without form, and void:” “void” indeed, from the very fact that it was without form (as being not yet perfect to the sight, and at the same time unfurnished as yet with its other qualities); 6407 and “without form,” because it was still covered with waters, as if with the rampart of its fecundating moisture, 6408 by which is produced our flesh, in a form allied with its own. For to this purport does David say: 6409 “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and all that dwell therein:  He hath founded it upon the seas, and on the streams hath He established it.” 6410 It was when the waters were withdrawn into their hollow abysses that the dry land became conspicuous, 6411 which was hitherto covered with its watery envelope. Then it forthwith becomes “visible,” 6412 God saying, “Let the water be gathered together into one mass, 6413 and let the dry land appear.” 6414Appear,” says He, not “be made.” It had been already made, only in its invisible condition it was then waiting 6415 to appear. “Dry,” because it was about to become such by its severance from the moisture, but yet “land.” “And God called the dry land Earth,” 6416 not Matter. And so, when it afterwards attains its perfection, it ceases to be accounted void, when God declares, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after its kind, and according to its likeness, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit, whose seed is in itself, after its kind.” 6417 Again:  “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, after their kind.” 6418 Thus the divine Scripture accomplished its full order. For to that, which it had at first described as “without form (invisible) and void,” it gave both visibility and completion. Now no other Matter was “without form (invisible) and void.” p. 494 Henceforth, then, Matter will have to be visible and complete. So that I must 6419 see Matter, since it has become visible.  I must likewise recognize it as a completed thing, so as to be able to gather from it the herb bearing seed, and the tree yielding fruit, and that living creatures, made out of it, may minister to my need. Matter, however, is nowhere, 6420 but the Earth is here, confessed to my view.  I see it, I enjoy it, ever since it ceased to be “without form (invisible), and void.” Concerning it most certainly did Isaiah speak when he said, “Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens, He was the God that formed the earth, and made it.” 6421 The same earth for certain did He form, which He also made. Now how did He form 6422 it? Of course by saying, “Let the dry land appear.” 6423 Why does He command it to appear, if it were not previously invisible? His purpose was also, that He might thus prevent His having made it in vain, by rendering it visible, and so fit for use. And thus, throughout, proofs arise to us that this earth which we inhabit is the very same which was both created and formed 6424 by God, and that none other was “Without form, and void,” than that which had been created and formed. It therefore follows that the sentence, “Now the earth was without form, and void,” applies to that same earth which God mentioned separately along with the heaven. 6425





Dedicans: “disposed” them.


Solatio lunæ: a beautiful expression!






In vacuum: void.


Isa. xlv. 18.


Futura etiam perfecta.


De reliquo nondum instructa.


Genitalis humoris.


Canit: “sing,” as the Psalmist.


Ps. xxiv. 1.




“Visibilis” is here the opposite of the term “invisibilis,” which Tertullian uses for the Scripture phrase “without form.”


In congregatione una.


Gen. i. 9.


Sustinebat: i.e. expectabat (Oehler).


Gen. i. 10.


Gen. 1.11.


Gen. 1.24.




He means, of course, the theoretic “Matter” of Hermogenes.


Isa. xlv. 18.


Demonstravit: “make it visible.” Tertullian here all along makes form and visibility synonymous.


Gen. i. 9.


Ostensam: “manifested” (see note 10, p. 96.)


Cum cælo separavit: Gen. i. 1.

Next: Another Passage in the Sacred History of the Creation, Released from the Mishandling of Hermogenes.

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