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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: The Earthy Material of Which Flesh is Created Wonderfully Improved by God's Manipulation. By the Addition of the Soul in Man's Constitution It Became the Chief Work in the Creation.

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Chapter VII.—The Earthy Material of Which Flesh is Created Wonderfully Improved by God’s Manipulation. By the Addition of the Soul in Man’s Constitution It Became the Chief Work in the Creation.

But perhaps the dignity of the flesh may seem to be diminished, because it has not been actually manipulated by the hand of God, as the clay was at first. Now, when God handled the clay for the express purpose of the growth of flesh out of it afterwards, it was for the flesh that He took all the trouble. But I want you, moreover, to know at what time and in what manner the flesh flourished into beauty out of its clay. For it cannot be, as some will have it, that those “coats of skins” 7332 which Adam and Eve put on when they were stripped of paradise, were really themselves the forming of the flesh out of clay, 7333 because long before that Adam had already recognised the flesh which was in the woman as the propagation of his own substance (“This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” 7334 ), and the very taking of the woman out of the man was supplemented with flesh; but it ought, I should suppose, to have been made good with clay, if Adam was still clay. The clay, therefore, was obliterated and absorbed into flesh.  When did this happen? At the time that man became a living soul by the inbreathing of God—by the breath indeed which was capable of hardening clay into another substance, as into some earthenware, so now into flesh. In the same way the potter, too, has it in his power, by tempering the blast of his fire, to modify his clayey material into a stiffer one, and to mould one form after another more beautiful than the original substance, and now possessing both a kind and name of its own. For although the Scripture says, “Shall the clay say to the potter?” 7335 that is, Shall man contend with God? although the apostle speaks of “earthen vessels” 7336 he refers to man, who was originally clay.  And the vessel is the flesh, because this was made of clay by the breath of the divine afflatus; and it was afterwards clothed with “the coats of skins,” that is, with the cutaneous covering which was placed over it. So truly is this the fact, that if you withdraw the skin, you lay bare the flesh.  Thus, that which becomes a spoil when stripped off, was a vestment as long as it remained laid over. Hence the apostle, when he call circumcision “a putting off (or spoliation) of the flesh,” 7337 affirmed the skin to be a coat or tunic.  Now this being the case, you have both the clay made glorious by the hand of God, and the flesh more glorious still by His breathing upon it, by virtue of which the flesh not only laid aside its clayey rudiments, but also took on itself the ornaments of the soul.  You surely are not more careful than God, that you indeed should refuse to mount the gems of Scythia and India and the pearls of the Red Sea in lead, or brass, or iron, or even in silver, but should set them in the most precious and most highly-wrought gold; or, again, that you should provide for your finest wines and most costly unguents the most fitting vessels; or, on the same principle, should find for your swords of finished temper scabbards of equal worth; whilst God must consign to some vilest sheath the shadow of His own soul, the breath of His own Spirit, the operation of His own mouth, and by so ignominious a consignment secure, of course, its condemnation. Well, then, has He placed, or rather inserted and commingled, it with the flesh? Yes; and so intimate is the union, that it may be deemed to be uncertain whether the flesh bears about the soul, or the soul the flesh; or whether the flesh acts as apparitor to the soul, or the soul to the flesh. It is, however, more credible that the soul has service rendered to p. 551 it, 7338 and has the mastery, 7339 as being more proximate in character to God. 7340 This circumstance even redounds to the glory of the flesh, inasmuch as it both contains an essence nearest to God’s, and renders itself a partaker of (the soul’s) actual sovereignty. For what enjoyment of nature is there, what produce of the world, what relish of the elements, which is not imparted to the soul by means of the body? How can it be otherwise? Is it not by its means that the soul is supported by the entire apparatus of the senses—the sight, the hearing, the taste, the smell, the touch? Is it not by its means that it has a sprinkling of the divine power, there being nothing which it does not effect by its faculty of speech, even when it is only tacitly indicated? And speech is the result of a fleshly organ. The arts come through the flesh; through the flesh also effect is given to the mind’s pursuits and powers; all work, too, and business and offices of life, are accomplished by the flesh; and so utterly are the living acts of the soul the work of the flesh, that for the soul to cease to do living acts, would be nothing else than sundering itself from the flesh. So also the very act of dying is a function of the flesh, even as the process of life is. Now, if all things are subject to the soul through the flesh, their subjection is equally due to the flesh. That which is the means and agent of your enjoyment, must needs be also the partaker and sharer of your enjoyment. So that the flesh, which is accounted the minister and servant of the soul, turns out to be also its associate and co-heir. And if all this in temporal things, why not also in things eternal?



Gen. iii. 31.


A Valentinian notion.


Gen. ii. 23.


Rom. ix. 20.


2 Cor. vi. 7.


Col. ii. 11.






John iv. 24.

Next: Christianity, by Its Provision for the Flesh, Has Put on It the Greatest Honour. The Privileges of Our Religion in Closest Connection with Our Flesh. Which Also Bears a Large Share in the Duties and Sacrifices of Religion.

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