Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XII.—The Strange Jumble of the Pleroma. The Frantic Delight of the Members Thereof. Their Joint Contribution of Parts Set Forth with Humorous Irony.

Thus they are all on the self-same footing in respect of form and knowledge, all of them having become what each of them severally is; none being a different being, because they are all what the others are. 6745 They are all turned into 6746 Nuses, into Homos, into Theletuses; 6747 and so in the case of the females, into Siges, into Zoes, into Ecclesias, into Fortunatas, so that Ovid would have blotted out his own Metamorphoses if he had only known our larger one in the present day.  Straightway they were reformed and thoroughly established, and being composed to rest from the truth, they celebrate the Father in a chorus 6748 of praise in the exuberance of their joy.  The Father himself also revelled 6749 in the glad feeling; of course, because his children and grandchildren sang so well. And why should he not revel in absolute delight? Was not the Pleroma freed (from all danger)? What ship’s captain 6750 fails to rejoice even with indecent frolic?  Every day we observe the uproarious ebullitions of sailors’ joys. 6751 Therefore, as sailors always exult over the reckoning they pay in common, so do these Æons enjoy a similar pleasure, one as they now all are in form, and, as I may add, 6752 in feeling too. With the concurrence of even their new brethren and masters, 6753 they contribute into one common stock the best and most beautiful thing with which they are severally adorned.  Vainly, as I suppose. For if they were all one by reason by the above-mentioned thorough equalization, there was no room for the process of a common reckoning, 6754 which for the most part consists of a pleasing variety. They all contributed the one good thing, which they all were. There would be, in all probability, a formal procedure 6755 in the mode or in the form of the very equalization in question. Accordingly, out of the donation which they contributed 6756 to the honour and glory of the Father, they jointly fashion 6757 the most beautiful constellation of the Pleroma, and its perfect fruit, Jesus. Him they also surname 6758 Soter (Saviour) and Christ, and Sermo (Word) after his ancestors; 6759 and lastly Omnia (All Things), as formed from a universally culled nosegay, 6760 like the jay of Æsop, the Pandora of Hesiod, the bowl 6761 of Accius, the honey-cake of Nestor, the miscellany of Ptolemy. How much nearer the mark, if these idle title-mongers had called him Pancarpian, after certain Athenian customs. 6762 By way of adding external honour also to their wonderful puppet, they produce for him a bodyguard of angels of like nature. If this be their mutual condition, it may be all right; if, however, they are consubstantial with Soter (for I have discovered how doubtfully the case is stated), where will be his eminence when surrounded by attendants who are co-equal with himself?



Nemo aliud quia alteri omnes.




The reader will, of course, see that we give a familiar English plural to these names, as better expressing Tertullian’s irony.






Nauclerus: “pilot.”


Tertullian lived in a seaport at Carthage.




Christ and the Holy Spirit, [i.e. blasphemously.]


Symbolæ ratio.




Ex ære collaticio. In reference to the common symbola, Tertullian adds the proverbial formula, “quod aiunt” (as they say).






De patritus. Irenæus’ word here is πατρωνυμικῶς (“patronymice”).


Ex omnium defloratione.




Alluding to the olive-branch, ornamented with all sorts of fruits (compare our “Christmas tree”), which was carried about by boys in Athens on a certain festival (White and Riddle).

Next: First Part of the Subject, Touching the Constitution of the Pleroma, Briefly Recapitulated.  Transition to the Other Part, Which is Like a Play Outside the Curtain.