Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/A Treatise on the Soul/Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVII.—On the Formation and State of the Embryo. Its Relation with the Subject of This Treatise.
Now the entire process of sowing, forming, and completing the human embryo in the womb is no doubt regulated by some power, which ministers herein to the will of God, whatever may be the method which it is appointed to employ. Even the superstition of Rome, by carefully attending to these points, imagined the goddess Alemona to nourish the fœtus in the womb; as well as (the goddesses) Nona and Decima, called after the most critical months of gestation; and Partula, to manage and direct parturition; and Lucina, to bring the child to the birth and light of day. We, on our part, believe the angels to officiate herein for God. The embryo therefore becomes a human being in the womb from the moment that its form is completed. The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion, inasmuch as there exists already the rudiment of a human being, which has imputed to it even now the condition of life and death, since it is already liable to the issues of both, although, by living still in the mother, it for the most part shares its own state with the mother. I must also say something about the period of the soul’s birth, that I may omit nothing incidental in the whole process. A mature and regular birth takes place, as a general rule, at the commencement of the tenth month. They who theorize respecting numbers, honour the number ten as the parent of all the others, and as imparting perfection to the human nativity. For my own part, I prefer viewing this measure of time in reference to God, as if implying that the ten months rather initiated man into the ten commandments; so that the numerical estimate of the time needed to consummate our natural birth should correspond to the numerical classification of the rules of our regenerate life. But inasmuch as birth is also completed with the seventh month, I more readily recognize in this number than in the eighth the honour of a numerical agreement with the sabbatical period; so that the month in which God’s image is sometimes produced in a human birth, shall in its number tally with the day on which God’s creation was completed and hallowed. Human nativity has sometimes been allowed to be premature, and yet to occur in fit and perfect accordance with an hebdomad or sevenfold number, as an auspice of our resurrection, and rest, and kingdom. The ogdoad, or eightfold number, therefore, is not concerned in our formation; for in the time it represents there will be no more marriage. We have already demonstrated the conjunction of the body and the soul, from the concretion of their very seminations to the complete formation of the fœtus. We now maintain their conjunction likewise from the birth onwards; in the first place, because they both grow together, only each in a different manner suited to the diversity of their nature—the flesh in magnitude, the soul in intelligence—the flesh in material condition, the soul in sensibility. We are, however, forbidden to suppose that the soul increases in substance, lest it should be said also to be capable of diminution in substance, and so its extinction even should be believed to be possible; but its inherent power, in which are contained all its natural peculiarities, as originally implanted in its being, is gradually developed along with the flesh, without impairing the germinal basis of the substance, which it received when breathed at first into man. Take a certain quantity of gold or of silver—a rough mass as yet: it has indeed a compact condition, and one that is more compressed at the moment than it will be; yet it contains within its contour what is throughout a mass of gold or of silver. When this mass is afterwards extended by beating it into leaf, it becomes larger than it was before by the elongation of the original mass, but not by any addition thereto, because it is extended in space, not increased in bulk; although in a way it is even increased when it is extended: for it may be increased in form, but not in state. Then, again, the sheen of the gold or the silver, which when the metal was any in block was inherent in it no doubt really, but yet only obscurely, shines out in developed lustre. Afterwards various modifications of shape accrue, according to the feasibility in the material which makes it yield to the manipulation of the artisan, who yet adds nothing to the condition of the mass but its configuration. In like manner, the growth and developments of the soul are to be estimated, not as enlarging its substance, but as calling forth its powers.
- Causa hominis.
- The ogdoad, or number eight, mystically representing “heaven,” where they do not marry.
- Beyond the hebdomad comes the resurrection, on which see Matt. xxii. 30.