Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/A Treatise on the Soul/Chapter XXX

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Apologetic, A Treatise on the Soul by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes
Chapter XXX

Chapter XXX.—Further Refutation of the Pythagorean Theory.  The State of Contemporary Civilisation.

But what must we say in reply to what follows? For, in the first place, if the living come from the dead, just as the dead proceed from the living, then there must always remain unchanged one and the selfsame number of mankind, even the number which originally introduced (human) life. The living preceded the dead, afterwards the dead issued from the living, and then again the living from the dead. Now, since this process was evermore going on with the same persons, therefore they, issuing from the same, must always have remained in number the same. For they who emerged (into life) could never have become more nor fewer than they who disappeared (in death). We find, however, in the records of the Antiquities of Man,[1] that the human race has progressed with a gradual growth of population, either occupying different portions of the earth as aborigines, or as nomad tribes, or as exiles, or as conquerors—as the Scythians in Parthia, the Temenidæ in Peloponnesus, the Athenians in Asia, the Phrygians in Italy, and the Phœnicians in Africa; or by the more ordinary methods of migration, which they call ἀποικίαι or colonies, for the purpose of throwing off redundant population, disgorging into other abodes their overcrowded masses. The aborigines remain still in their old settlements, and have also enriched other districts with loans of even larger populations. Surely it is obvious enough, if one looks at the whole world, that it is becoming daily better cultivated and more fully peopled than anciently. All places are now accessible, all are well known, all open to commerce; most pleasant farms have obliterated all traces of what were once dreary and dangerous wastes; cultivated fields have subdued forests; flocks and herds have expelled wild beasts; sandy deserts are sown; rocks are planted; marshes are drained; and where once were hardly solitary cottages, there are now large cities. No longer are (savage) islands dreaded, nor their rocky shores feared; everywhere are houses, and inhabitants, and settled government, and civilized life. What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint), is our teeming population: our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race; and yet, when the hatchet has once felled large masses of men, the world has hitherto never once been alarmed at the sight of a restitution of its dead coming back to life after their millennial exile.[2] But such a spectacle would have become quite obvious by the balance of mortal loss and vital recovery, if it were true that the dead came back again to life. Why, however, is it after a thousand years, and not at the moment, that this return from death is to take place, when, supposing that the loss is not at once supplied, there must be a risk of an utter extinction, as the failure precedes the compensation? Indeed, this furlough of our present life would be quite disproportioned to the period of a thousand years; so much briefer is it, and on that account so much more easily is its torch extinguished than rekindled.  Inasmuch, then, as the period which, on the hypothesis we have discussed, ought to intervene, if the living are to be formed from the dead, has not actually occurred, it will follow that we must not believe that men come back to life from the dead (in the way surmised in this philosophy).


  1. A probable allusion to Varro’s work, De Antiqq. Rerum Humanarum.
  2. An allusion to Plato’s notion that, at the end of a thousand years, such a restoration of the dead, took place. See his Phædrus, p. 248, and De Republ. x. p. 614.