De testimonio animae
(On the testimony of the soul)

[CPL 4]

Latin: CSEL, 1890 --- English: Dodgson, 1842; Thelwall, 1869; Bindley, 1914; Howe, 2008 --- French: Genoude, 1852 
German: Kellner, 1912 --- Russian: (Unknown) --- Slovenian: Lukman, 1945/2001

Summary Content Other points of interest Manuscripts Title variations Bibliography


A short note in 6 chapters. An appendix to the Apologeticum to explain the meaning of the phrase testimonium animae naturaliter christianae (the testimony of the soul by nature Christian) (Apol. ch 17).  He means that the soul of man is capable of perceiving that there must be a creator from the world in which he lives.


Even the unbeliever, by his swear-words and his ordinary modes of speech, gives expression to a natural knowledge of God, to belief in His existence and unity, the reality of malevolent spirits, and a life beyond the grave. All this corresponds admirably with the teachings of the Christians, rather than the teachings the unbeliever says that he lives by. So didn't you ought to stop fooling yourself?

NB: He knows that people are not born Christians: "You [the soul] are not, as I well know, Christian; for a man becomes a Christian, he is not born one" (ch.1). 


The Apologeticum was designed to be read by the learned. Tertullian saw the need for something simpler and briefer if he intended to reach a popular audience. Hence his short discourse De Testimonio Animae.

Great curiosity and a greater memory were necessary, if a man desired to extract from philosophers or poets or any other pagan writers proofs that Christianity was true, with which he might convict his enemies and persecutors of error and injustice.(1.1) Works of that sort had been composed which demonstrated that the Christian religion was nothing new or extraordinary, nothing that could not be supported from traditional literature, nothing other than the elimination of old errors. But what practical results had they achieved ? Philosophers are accounted wise in so far as they agree with the Christians, yet as soon as they attempt to put their doctrines into practice, by rejecting rituals or renouncing the world, they are vilified as Christians. An almost unbridgeable gap exists : men cannot accept the Bible since no one reads it until after his conversion.(1.2)

Tertullian brings forward a new witness, familiar to all. It is man's soul. He dismisses the vain disputes about its nature and summons the pure soul : not fashioned in the schools, trained in libraries, or belching wisdom from the Athenian Academy and Stoa, but plain and unadorned, uncorrupted by learning. It is the soul of the common people whom one finds in the street or in workshops.(1.5) This soul is not Christian, but it will bear witness to Christianity.(1.7) With a liberty which Christians do not enjoy, the soul preaches monotheism. Everywhere one can overhear men saying 'What God gives', 'If God wishes', 'Good God', or 'God bless'. That is the testimony of the soul and leads to Christianity.(2.1)

What happens in the shrines of Carthage ? Bedecked with the wreath of Ceres, clad in the saffron pallium of Saturn or the linen robes of Isis, the soul often invokes God as judge in the very temples. The soul stands in the temple of Asclepius, Juno or Minerva and refuses to acknowledge that they are living deities. In fact, they are demons.(2.7)

Tertullian renders his challenge to pagans disturbing with acute psychological insight. He invites the soul to consider its fate after death. Christians declare that it will survive, that according to its deserts it will be consigned either to eternal bliss or to everlasting torment. Men fear death. For they call the dead unfortunate and wish them a peaceful repose. They must therefore believe that the soul retains the capacity for feeling even after death. And men desire still to be remembered when they die. They try to perpetuate a record of themselves, either in works of literature or through remembrance of their virtues or simply by the ostentation of their tombs.(4.1) Tertullian could have adduced Pliny and Tacitus;1 the inhabitants of any Roman town passed a row of varied funeral monuments whenever they set foot outside the city gate. Christianity offered a more pleasing hope.

The testimony of the soul is true, simple, popular, universal, natural and therefore divine.(5.1) The majesty of nature precludes its being frivolous or absurd. The soul is a primordial and primeval witness : it is universal and must be believed.(6.3)

Tertullian closes the De Testimonio Animae with a reminder of all the points he has made so far. The soul will stand before God on the Day of Judgement. Will it have proclaimed God or disdained him, abominated demons or adored them, expected or disbelieved in the judgement to come, predicted the torments of hell or failed to escape them, will it have embraced or persecuted the name of Christian?(6.5)

(amended from B, ch 8 p113ff)

1. Pliny, Letters. V. 5. 4: qui vero posteros cogitant, et memoriam sui operibus extendunt, his nulla mors non repentina est; Tacitus, Agricola 46.4: Agricola posteritati narratus et traditus superstes erit.


1.  "Far less do men assent to our writings, to which no one comes for guidance unless he is already a Christian." ch.1,4.

2. "...since the Scriptures of God, whether belonging to Christians or to Jews, into whose olive tree we have been grafted-are much more ancient than any secular literature, (or, let us only say, are of a somewhat earlier date, as we have shown in its proper place when proving their trustworthiness)..." ch. 5, 6.  Indicating a prior work on the subject.




Only a single MS now exists:

The editio princeps is the Gagny/Mesnart edition of 1545, probably based on an independent manuscript.  No other witnesses are known.




This runs up to 1955.  Where not otherwise indicated, details are from Quasten's Patrology, 2 (1955). See also Editions page and Critical Editions page for more information, particularly on collected editions of more than one work.


F. OEHLER, 1851-3, pp.399-414. Checked.  Also an editio minor from 1854.
F.A. MARCH, The select works of Tertullian. Edited for schools and colleges by F. A. March, LL.D. With an introduction by Lyman Coleman, New York: Harper & brothers, 1876.  iv p., 1 l., viii, [9]-250 p. 20 cm. (Ref. from CSEL.  Details from US Library of Congress online catalogue).
A. REIFFERSCHEID-G. WISSOWA, CSEL 20 (1890) 134-143. Checked.  Latin online.
W. A. J. C. SCHÖLTE, Q.S.Fl. Tertulliani libellum De testimonio animae praefatione, translatione, adnot. instructum ed. (Diss. Utrecht). Amsterdam, 1934.
G. QUISPEL, Tertullianus: De testimonio animae : additis locis quibusdam ad naturalem Dei cognitionem pertinentibus / Tertulliani ; in usum academicum collegit G. Quispel. Leiden: E.J.Brill (1952). Series: Textus minores, vol 18. 46 p. ; 19 cm. Anthology of Latin and Greek texts: also includes excerpts from other works by Tertullian, Dio, Sextus Empiricus, Pseudo-Aetius and Minucius Felix. (Details from  From a dealer catalogue [May 2004]: Tertulliani de Testimonio Animae Additis Locis Quibusdam ad Naturalem Dei Cognitionem Pertinentibus, Quispel, G. Book Description: Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952. Paper. Very Good. Ex-Library. 12mo - over 6¾" - 7¾" tall. 46pp booklet. Greek and Latin text. Price: US$ 27.50 
R. WILLEMS, CCSL 1, 1954, pp.173-184. Checked.
Carlo TIBILETTI (a cura di), De testimonio animae; introduzione, testo e commentodi Carlo Tibiletti, Torino (1959). 198 p. ; 25 cm. (Details by Dr. Andrea Nicolotti)
Carlo TIBILETTI, La testimonianza dell'anima, Firenze: Nardini-Centro internazionale del libro (1984). Latin-italian (Details by Dr. Andrea Nicolotti)


English: C. DODGSON, Library of Fathers 10. Oxford, 1842, 131-142
-- S. THELWALL, ANL 11 (1869), 36-45 ; ANF 3 (1885), 175-179. Checked.  Online.
-- T. H. BINDLEY, Tertullian. On the Testimony of the Soul and on The "Prescription" of Heretics (SPCK). London, 1914. Checked.  Online complete.
-- R. ARBESMANN, Tertullian, The Testimony of the Soul: FC 10 (1950) 131-143. Checked.  (Details from personal copy)
-- Q. HOWE, Tertullian, On the Testimony of the Soul. Online.
French: A. DE GENOUDE, Témoignage de l'âme, Tertullien-Oeuvres, Paris, 1852.  t.2.  (Details from BNF catalogue)  Online.
German: H. KELLNER, Das Zeugnis der Seele, BKV2 7 (1912), pp.203-214. Checked.
-- M. HAIDENTHALLER, Tertullians zweites Buch Ad nationes und De testimonio animae. Paderborn, 1942.
-- J. H. WASZINK, Über die Seele / Tertullian. Zürich: Artemis (1980) 317p; 18cm.  Series: Die Bibliothek der Alten Welt. Reihe Antike und Christentum. Contents: Über die Seele (De anima) - Das Zeugnis der Seele (De testimonio animae) - Vom Ursprung der Seele (De censu animae). Waszink, J. H. (Jan Hendrik), 1908-1990.  (Details CUL)
Dutch: H. U. MEYBOOM, Over het getuigenis van de ziel (Oudchristl. geschriften, dl. 46). Leiden, 1930.
-- W. A. J. C. SCHÖLTE, loc. cit. 
Selvaggia BORGHINI, Opere di Tertulliano tradotte in Toscano. Rome (1756). p.109-120.  Personal copy. Checked.
Carlo TIBILETTI, loc. cit. (1984). 
Spanish: J. PELLICER DE OSSAU, Barcelona, 1639.
Portugese: António Soares PINHEIRO, Opúsculos selectos da filosofia medieval / trad. António Soares Pinheiro. Braga: Fac. de Filosofia (1982, 1984, 1990, 2001). - Contém : O testemunho da alma / Tertuliano. - O Mestre / S. Agostinho. - Proslógion ; O argumento endonoético / S. Anselmo. - O ser e a essência / S. Tomás. - Primado da psiconoética / Pedro Hispano.  (Details from BN Portugal)  2001 reprint has ISBN: 972-697-159-4.
Norwegian: 1887 : Udvalgte Skrifter af Tertullian. Oversatte af J. ARNESEN. (= Vidnesbyrd af Kirkefædrene 15), Christiania 1887, VIII+258 s. (Collection: De testimonio animae - De spectaculis - De praescriptione haereticorum? - De anima).  (Details from Holger VILLADSEN).  I do have a copy of this, but being in Fraktur and in Norwegian, I wasn't able to work out what was in it.
Slovenian: Tertulijan: Prièevanje duše (De testimonio animae).  Translated by Franc Ksaver LUKMAN during WWII and placed online 2001.
Romanian: [Unknown], Tertullianus: "De oratione" (Despre rugaciune) si "De testimonio animae" (Despre marturia sufletului). (1908). .
Hungarian: László VANYÓ &c, Tertullianus muvei (The works of Tertullian), Budapest: Szent István Társulat (1986) 1100pp. (Ókeresztény frók 12). (Details CTC 2002.75).  The older translations of István Városi (Pat, Apol, Orat, Ux, Cult) and Marcell Mosolygó (Mart) have been recycled; the rest are new.


A. MIODONSKI, "O świadectwie duszy" Tertulliana. (Tertullian de testimonio animae): Eos 10 (1904) 117-121. Checked. Online.  [Volume no incorrectly given as '5' in Quasten].
L. FUETSCHER, Die natürliche Gotteserkenntnis bei Tertullian: ZkTh (1927) 1-34, 217-251.
G. LAZZATI, Il De natura deorum fonte del De testimonio animae di Tertulliano? : Atene e Roma (1939) 153-166.
G. QUISPEL, 'Anima naturaliter Christiana': Eranos Jahrbuch 18 (1950) 173; 
'Anima naturaliter christiana': Latomus 10 (1951) 163-169; 
Het getuigenis der ziel bij Tertullianus, Leiden, 1952.
Carlo TIBILETTI, Tertulliano e la dottrina dell'Anima naturaliter christiana, Atti dell'Accademia delle Scienze di Torino (1953/1954) pp. 84-117 (Details A. Nicolotti)
Carlo TIBILETTI, S. Ireneo e l'escatologia nel De testimonio animae di Tertulliano, Atti dell'Accademia delle Scienze di Torino (1959/1960) (Details A. Nicolotti)
Carlo TIBILETTI, Note critiche al testo di Tertulliano De testimonio animae, Giornale di Filologia (1959), pp. 258-262 (Details A. Nicolotti)

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