Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/A Treatise on the Soul/Chapter XX
Chapter XX.—The Soul, as to Its Nature Uniform, But Its Faculties Variously Developed. Varieties Only Accidental.
And here, therefore, we draw our conclusion, that all the natural properties of the soul are inherent in it as parts of its substance; and that they grow and develope along with it, from the very moment of its own origin at birth. Just as Seneca says, whom we so often find on our side: “There are implanted within us the seeds of all the arts and periods of life. And God, our Master, secretly produces our mental dispositions;” that is, from the germs which are implanted and hidden in us by means of infancy, and these are the intellect: for from these our natural dispositions are evolved. Now, even the seeds of plants have, one form in each kind, but their development varies: some open and expand in a healthy and perfect state, while others either improve or degenerate, owing to the conditions of weather and soil, and from the appliance of labour and care; also from the course of the seasons, and from the occurrence of casual circumstances. In like manner, the soul may well be uniform in its seminal origin, although multiform by the process of nativity. And here local influences, too, must be taken into account. It has been said that dull and brutish persons are born at Thebes; and the most accomplished in wisdom and speech at Athens, where in the district of Colythus children speak—such is the precocity of their tongue—before they are a month old. Indeed, Plato himself tells us, in the Timæus, that Minerva, when preparing to found her great city, only regarded the nature of the country which gave promise of mental dispositions of this kind; whence he himself in The Laws instructs Megillus and Clinias to be careful in their selection of a site for building a city. Empedocles, however, places the cause of a subtle or an obtuse intellect in the quality of the blood, from which he derives progress and perfection in learning and science. The subject of national peculiarities has grown by this time into proverbial notoriety. Comic poets deride the Phrygians for their cowardice; Sallust reproaches the Moors for their levity, and the Dalmatians for their cruelty; even the apostle brands the Cretans as “liars.” Very likely, too, something must be set down to the score of bodily condition and the state of the health. Stoutness hinders knowledge, but a spare form stimulates it; paralysis prostrates the mind, a decline preserves it. How much more will those accidental circumstances have to be noticed, which, in addition to the state of one’s body or one’s health, tend to sharpen or to dull the intellect! It is sharpened by learned pursuits, by the sciences, the arts, by experimental knowledge, business habits, and studies; it is blunted by ignorance, idle habits, inactivity, lust, inexperience, listlessness, and vicious pursuits. Then, besides these influences, there must perhaps be added the supreme powers. Now these are the supreme powers: according to our (Christian) notions, they are the Lord God and His adversary the devil; but according to men’s general opinion about providence, they are fate and necessity; and about fortune, it is man’s freedom of will. Even the philosophers allow these distinctions; whilst on our part we have already undertaken to treat of them, on the principles of the (Christian) faith, in a separate work. It is evident how great must be the influences which so variously affect the one nature of the soul, since they are commonly regarded as separate “natures.” Still they are not different species, but casual incidents of one nature and substance—even of that which God conferred on Adam, and made the mould of all (subsequent ones). Casual incidents will they always remain, but never will they become specific differences. However great, too, at present is the variety of men’s maunders, it was not so in Adam, the founder of their race. But all these discordances ought to have existed in him as the fountainhead, and thence to have descended to us in an unimpaired variety, if the variety had been due to nature.
- Sæpe noster.
- Tertullian perhaps mentions this “demus” of Athens as the birthplace of Plato (Oehler).
- Tit. i. 12.
- Si et alia.
- Tertullian wrote a work De Fato, which is lost. Fulgentius, p. 561, gives a quotation from it.