Journal of Theological Studies 4 (1903) pp. 440-442


TERTULLIAN'S USE OF SUBSTANTIA, NATURA, AND PERSONA.

IN a notice in the JOURNAL (vol. iii p. 291) of my inquiry into the meaning of Homoousios in the 'Constantinopolitan' Creed (Texts and Studies vii i), Dr. Strong took exception to what I had written in regard to Tertullian's usage of the words substantia, natura, and persona, and to my acceptance of the tradition that ὁμοούσιος was condemned at the Council of Antioch in 269.

As I am repeating the same statements in a Short history of the development of Christian Doctrine to the Council of Chalcedon, which is now in the press, it seems desirable to ask for a little space in the JOURNAL in which to consider the passages to which Dr. Strong refers; lest I should seem to ignore the criticism of one who has made a special study of the matter. My short history is intended as an introduction to the subject for students beginning their work, and therefore does not afford a suitable opportunity for such a discussion.

That Tertullian's use of the words is 'philosophical' as well as 'juristic' I do not think any one would be inclined to deny. I stated clearly my own opinion that it was. Perhaps I should have said that he passed from the philosophical to the juristic, rather than from the juristic to the philosophical, sense of the terms. But I think Tertullian was a jurist first, and a philosopher second : so I do not conceive that I wronged him much, or really misrepresented the dominant bias of his thought.

With regard to the two passages to which appeal is made by Dr. Strong, |p441 I think that his criticism misses the true force of Tertullian's argument, and that, if they are taken as a test, it will be found that Tertullian's usage is clear and consistent, as I stated it.

(1) In the passage de Anima 9, he is definitely distinguishing 'substances ' from their characteristics or attributes. He has argued that the soul must be corpus. Every corpus has, as one of its properties, 'colour.' The 'colour' of the soul must be aerial and bright (aerius and luridus). But this does not mean that the 'substance' of the soul is 'air' or 'light.' And he takes two examples of precious stones--the 'ceraunia' and the beryl--to illustrate the point. No one would say that the substantia of the 'ceraunia' is fire (substantia ignita), just because it gleams with a reddish glow of colour : nor that the materia of beryls is water (aquosa materia), because there are waves of pure lustre in them (quod fluctuent colato nitore). For there are any number of things that are associated together in colour, and dissociated from one another in natura (Quanta enim et alia color sociat, natura dissociat?).

The resemblance of these last words to the expression in ch. 32 ' duritia communicat, substantia discordat' is merely superficial, and the apparent interchange of natura and substantia is illusory. It is not the case that in ch. 9 natura is used as substantia is used in ch. 32. There is no dispute as to the meaning of substantia in either place. And the context shows that natura here is used in the same general sense as in ch. 32, though here it is found in its widest and most inclusive usage-- of the sum total of the attributes or properties of a thing, and is contrasted with a particular attribute or property which is comprised in it.

The soul is a substantia with certain properties, some of which it shares with other substantiae. One of its properties is to be 'aerial,' but its substance is not air. And then comes the illustration. There is fire, and water, and precious stone. Each is itself a substantia; each has its own natura. Viewed absolutely in its fullness, the natura of each of the three distinguishes it from the others. But one precious stone has some of the characteristics of fire, and another precious stone has some of the characteristics of water. Substances, so far as they share in the same characteristics, are associated together by this similarity of nature, relatively, so far as it goes; but at the same time the difference of nature, absolutely, as a whole, dissociates them. They are alike in one attribute, but in the sum total of attributes they are not alike.

The argument is only intelligible if the distinction between substantia and natura is kept clear, and if the contrast between the relative likeness and the absolute unlikeness of the things which are compared is recognized.

(2) In the passage adv. Praxean ch. 7, the confusion between substantia and persona, of which Dr. Strong speaks, is not Tertullian's. |p442 Tertullian is quite clear. He is discussing the Scriptural and theological use of the term sermo, and is only concerned to maintain that it is no mere appellation or personification that is meant by it; it is nothing airy and meaningless and unsubstantial; but, on the contrary, it is a real existence, a substantia. 'This substantia of the Word,' he says, 'whatever it is, I say is a person (persona), and I claim for him the name of Son.' That is to say, the Word, to which reference is made in Scripture, is a real existence : one and the same with the person of Jesus Christ the Son of God. If there were no substantia, there could be no persona. The use of terms is strict, and in keeping with Tertullian's use elsewhere.

With regard to the other question which Dr. Strong raises, my argument does not depend on the accuracy of the tradition that the word ὁμοούσιος was condemned at Antioch. (All that I am concerned to maintain is that it was generally distrusted in the East, while its Latin equivalent was as generally approved and used in the West. That this was so does not require argument.) But the matter is of antiquarian interest, at all events. What Dr. Strong says about the evidence is of course true. The statement that the Council of Antioch recommended that the word be withdrawn from use comes to us from Arian sources. It would not be likely to come from Nicenes. But the Nicenes accepted the Arian statement, and only argued that it did not matter. The term was rejected by the former Council in one sense, and used by the later Council and themselves in another sense. Now these references do not amount to positive proof that the term was considered at the Council of Antioch and--for whatever reason--condemned. But, if it were not so, how could the belief that it was so ever have originated ? Not even Arian ingenuity and daring would have been capable of such an invention, in the absence of justification for it; and there is prima fade probability that Paul of Samosata did use the term in a sense inconsistent with the Catholic interpretation of the Person of Christ. Against this evidence there can only be set the fact that the extant Acts of the Council contain no reference to the matter. It is easy to see why the reference should have been omitted.

Finally, though the purpose of this note is fulfilled, I may perhaps be allowed to say that I much regret the slip of the pen which led me to cite a passage from the de Mundo as one from the Metaphysics of Aristotle. But so far as concerns my statement of the history of ὑπόστασις, if Aristotle did not use the term as I said he did, so much the better for my argument. The fact that the exposure by Dr. Strong of what he styles 'a somewhat serious inaccuracy' strengthens my argument is to me at least a satisfaction.

J. F. BETHUNE-BAKER.

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