Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

Section 7—Tertullian. A.D. 200.

Tertullian appears from many passages in his writings to have understood the doctrine of original sin, both with respect, to the imputation of it to men unto condemnation, and the derivation of a corrupt nature from it; whereby not only man is become filthy and impure, but having lost the image of God, is also impotent to, every thing that, is spiritual and heavenly. We call Satan, says he,[1] “the angel of wickedness, the artificer of every error, the interpolator of every age; by whom man from the beginning being circumvented, so as to transgress the commands of God, was therefore delivered unto death, exinde totum genus de suo semine infectum suae etiam damnationis traducem fecit, hence he has also made the whole kind, or all mankind, which springs from his seed, infected, partaker of his damnation.” And in another place,[2] having mentioned John 3:5, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God; that is, says he, he will not be holy. Ita omnis anima eousque in Adam censetur, donec in Christo recensetur, “every soul is reckoned so long in Adam until it is re-reckoned, or reckoned again, or renewed in Christ; so long unclean, as long as not recounted, sinful indeed because unclean, receiving its own disgrace from its society with the flesh. What crime,” says he,[3] “before that of  impatience was committed, is imputed to man? He was innocent, the nearest friend to God, and the husbandman of paradise? but when he once gave way to impatience, desinit Deo sapere, desinit caelestia sustinere posse, he ceased  to be wise to God, he ceased to be able to bear heavenly things.” There are indeed some passages[4] in this writer which seem to countenance the doctrine of free will, and are alleged by Dr. Whitby[5] on that account; but in these he is to be understood of the natural liberty of the will, which he defended against the Basilidians and Marcionites, and of the power and freedom of the will, about things natural and moral, with which man was at first created, wherein lay the image and likeness of God in man; but Tertullian could never think that this is to be found with man now as then, since he affirms[6] that “the image of God was destroyed by the sin of our first parents; ‘and it is abundantly manifest, that this writer so held free will as that he believed it was subject to the grace of God; his words are these,[7]An evil tree will not yield good fruit, if it is not engrafted; and a good one will' yield evil fruit, if it is not dressed; and stones will become the children of Abraham, if they are formed into the faith of Abraham; and a generation of vipers will bring forth fruit to repentance, if they spit out the poison of malignity; haec erit vis divinae gratiae potentior utique natura, habens in nobis subjacentem sibi liberam arbitrii, potestagem, quod autexousion dicitur, this will be the power of divine grace, more powerful truly than nature, having free will in us, which goes by the name of autexousion, subject to itself.”


[1] Tertullian. de Testimon. Animae, c. 3, p. 82.

[2] Ibid. de Anima. c. 40, p. 342.

[3] De Patientia, c. 5, p. 162.

[4] Adv. Marcion. 1. 2, c. 5 & 6, p. 457, 458; Exhort. Cast. c. 2, p. 665; de Monog. c. 14, p. 686.

[5] Discourse, etc. p. 96, 346, 348; ed. 2. 95, 337, 339.

[6] De Cult. Foemin. 1. 1, c. 1, p. 170; adv. Marcion. 1. 2, c. 5, p. 456.

[7] Anima, c. 21, p. 324.