Tertullian and the Soul

For my religion seminar this semester I’ve written a paper arguing that all the components of Augustine’s ideas concerning original sin were already within the thought-world of the late antique. Tertullian seems to have been one of the earliest Christians to explain an explicitly biological link in the transmission of a sin nature. Borrowing from the Stoic idea of a λόγος σπερμάτικος (seminal reason), Tertullian explains that the soul is a material or quasi-material entity that permeates the being in which it resides. Because it occupies the same space as the person, it takes the form of the person. Tertullian proves this in De Anima 9 by citing Luke 16.23-24. Because the soul maintains the form of the person, even after death, “it happens that the rich man has a tongue and poor Lazarus a finger and Abraham a bosom.” (also see Adv. Her. ii.55). Tertullian also believes that the soul is a definite quantity and that when the father gives some of his “paternal germ”, his own soul decreases by a certain amount. This soul then grows in the child, who could potentially father more children. Therefore Tertullian writes that all souls, by reason of their birth, have their nature in Adam (De Anima 40) All souls are essentially offshots of Adam’s first soul, which had been corrupted by sin.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Tertullian and the Soul

  1. Lucian

    Corrupted by sin, through the death inherited from their mortal parents, but not “born guilty”: there’s a difference there.

  2. Joshua McManaway

    I think I’m with you. I don’t see original sin or Tertullian’s idea as culpa, but as you’ve said, inherited corruption. Thanks for the comment.

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