Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Novatian/A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity/Part 1

Chapter I. Argument.—Novatian, with the View of Treating of the Trinity, Sets Forth from the Rule of Faith that We Should First of All Believe in God the Father and Lord Omnipotent, the Absolute Founder of All Things. The Works of Creation are Beautifully Described. Man’s Free-Will is Asserted; God’s Mercy in Inflicting Penalty on Man is Shown; The Condition After Death of the Souls of the Righteous and Unrighteous is Determined.

The Rule of truth requires that we should first of all things believe on God the Father and Lord Omnipotent; that is, the absolutely perfect Founder of all things, who has suspended the heavens in lofty sublimity, has established the earth with its lower mass, has diffused the seas with their fluent moisture, and has distributed all these things, both adorned and supplied with their appropriate and fitting instruments. For in the solid vault of heaven He has both awakened the light-bringing Sunrisings; He has filled up the white globe of the moon in its monthly[1] waxings as a solace for the night; He, moreover, kindles the starry rays with the varied splendours of glistening light; and He has willed all these things in their legitimate tracks to circle the entire compass of the world, so as to cause days, months, years, signs, and seasons, and benefits of other kinds for the human race. On the earth, moreover, He has lifted up the loftiest mountains to a peak, He has thrown down valleys into the depths, He has smoothly levelled the plains, He has ordained the animal herds usefully for the various services of men. He has also established the oak trees of the woods for the future benefit of human uses. He has developed the harvests into food. He has unlocked the mouths of the springs, and has poured them into the flowing rivers. And after these things, lest He should not also provide for the very delights of the eyes, He has clothed all things with the various colours of the flowers for the pleasure of the beholders. Even in the sea itself, moreover, although it was in itself marvellous both for its extent and its utility, He has made manifold creatures, sometimes of moderate, sometimes of vast bodily size, testifying by the variety of His appointment to the intelligence of the Artificer. And, not content with these things, lest perchance the roaring and rushing waters should seize upon a foreign element at the expense of its human possessor, He has enclosed its limits with shores;[2] so that when the raving billow and the foaming water should come from its deep bosom, it should return again unto itself, and not transgress its concealed bounds, but keep its prescribed laws, so that man might the rather be careful to observe the divine laws, even as the elements themselves observed them. And after these things He also placed man at the head of the world, and man, too, made in the image of God, to whom He imparted mind, and reason, and foresight, that he might imitate God; and although the first elements of his body were earthly, yet the substance was inspired by a heavenly and divine breathing. And when He had given him all things for his service, He willed that he alone should be free. And lest, again, an unbounded freedom should fall into peril, He laid down a command, in which man was taught that there was no evil in the fruit of the tree; but he was forewarned that evil would arise if perchance he should exercise his free will, in the contempt of the law that was given. For, on the one hand, it had behoved him to be free, lest the image of God should, unfittingly be in bondage; and on the other, the law was to be added, so that an unbridled liberty might not break forth even to a contempt of the Giver. So that he might receive as a consequence both worthy rewards and a deserved punishment, having in his own power that which he might choose to do, by the tendency of his mind in either direction: whence, therefore, by envy, mortality comes back upon him; seeing that, although he might escape it by obedience, he rushes into it by hurrying to be God under the influence of perverse counsel. Still, nevertheless, God indulgently tempered his punishment by cursing, not so much himself, as his labours upon earth. And, moreover, what is required does not come without man’s knowledge; but He shows forth man’s hope of future discovery[3] and salvation in Christ. And that he is prevented from touching of the wood of the tree of life, is not caused by the malignant poison of envy, but lest, living for ever without Christ’s previous pardon of his sins, he should always bear about with him for his punishment an immortality of guilt.  Nevertheless also, in higher regions; that is, above even the firmament itself, regions which are not now discernible by our eyes, He previously ordained angels, he arranged spiritual powers, He put in command thrones and powers, and founded many other infinite spaces of heavens, and unbounded works of His mysteries; so that this world, immense as it is, might almost appear rather as the latest, than the only work of corporeal things. And truly,[4] what lies beneath the earth is not itself void of distributed and arranged powers. For there is a place whither the souls of the just and the unjust are taken, conscious of the anticipated dooms of future judgment; so that we might behold the overflowing greatness of God’s works in all directions, not shut up within the bosom of this world, however capacious as we have said, but might also be able to conceive of them beneath both the abysses and the depths of the world itself. And thus considering the greatness of the works, we should worthily admire the Artificer of such a structure.


  1. “Mensurnis,” or otherwise “menstruis.”
  2. [Jer. v. 22. Compare sublime page with paganism.]
  3. “Inventionis.” “Redemptionis” is a reasonable emendation.
  4. Or probably, “Neither indeed is,” etc. [Vol. iii. p. 428.]