Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume I/IRENAEUS/Against Heresies: Book I/Chapter III.

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Chapter III.—Texts of Holy Scripture used by these heretics to support their opinions.

1. Such, then, is the account they give of what took place within the Pleroma; such the calamities that flowed from the passion which seized upon the Æon who has been named, and who was within a little of perishing by being absorbed in the universal substance, through her inquisitive searching after the Father; such the consolidation[1] [of that Æon] from her condition of agony by Horos, and Stauros, and Lytrotes, and Carpistes, and Horothetes, and Metagoges.[2] Such also is the account of the generation of the later Æons, namely of the first Christ and of the Holy Spirit, both of whom were produced by the Father after the repentance[3] [of Sophia], and of the second[4] Christ (whom they also style Saviour), who owed his being to the joint contributions [of the Æons]. They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Saviour through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it. This has been done as follows. The thirty Æons are indicated (as we have already remarked) by the thirty years during which they say the Saviour performed no public act, and by the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. Paul also, they affirm, very clearly and frequently names these Æons, and even goes so far as to preserve their order, when he says, “To all the generations of the Æons of the Æon.”[5] Nay, we ourselves, when at the giving[6] of thanks we pronounce the words, “To Æons of Æons” (for ever and ever), do set forth these Æons. And, in fine, wherever the words Æon or Æons occur, they at once refer them to these beings.

2. The production, again, of the Duodecad of the Æons, is indicated by the fact that the Lord was twelve[7] years of age when He disputed with the teachers of the law, and by the election of the apostles, for of these there were twelve.[8] The other eighteen Æons are made manifest in this way: that the Lord, [according to them,] conversed with His disciples for eighteen months[9] after His resurrection from the dead. They also affirm that these eighteen Æons are strikingly indicated by the first two letters of His name [᾽Ιησοῦς], namely Iota[10] and Eta. And, in like manner, they assert that the ten Æons are pointed out by the letter Iota, which begins His name; while, for the same reason, they tell us the Saviour said, “One Iota, or one tittle, shall by no means pass away until all be fulfilled.”[11]

3. They further maintain that the passion which took place in the case of the twelfth Æon is pointed at by the apostasy of Judas, who was the twelfth apostle, and also by the fact that Christ suffered in the twelfth month. For their opinion is, that He continued to preach for one year only after His baptism. The same thing is also most clearly indicated by the case of the woman who suffered from an issue of blood. For after she had been thus afflicted during twelve years, she was healed by the advent of the Saviour, when she had touched the border of His garment; and on this account the Saviour said, “Who touched me?”[12]—teaching his disciples the mystery which had occurred among the Æons, and the healing of that Æon who had been involved in suffering. For she who had been afflicted twelve years represented that power whose essence, as they narrate, was stretching itself forth, and flowing into immensity; and unless she had touched the garment of the Son,[13] that is, Aletheia of the first Tetrad, who is denoted by the hem spoken of, she would have been dissolved into the general essence[14] [of which she participated]. She stopped short, however, and ceased any longer to suffer. For the power that went forth from the Son (and this power they term Horos) healed her, and separated the passion from her.

4. They moreover affirm that the Saviour[15] is shown to be derived from all the Æons, and to be in Himself everything by the following passage: “Every male that openeth the womb.”[16] For He, being everything, opened the womb[17] of the enthymesis of the suffering Æon, when

it had been expelled from the Pleroma. This they also style the second Ogdoad, of which we shall speak presently. And they state that it was clearly on this account that Paul said, “And He Himself is all things;”[18] and again, “All things are to Him, and of Him are all things;”[19] and further, “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead;”[20] and yet again, “All things are gathered together by God in Christ.”[21] Thus do they interpret these and any like passages to be found in Scripture.

5. They show, further, that that Horos of theirs, whom they call by a variety of names, has two faculties,—the one of supporting, and the other of separating; and in so far as he supports and sustains, he is Stauros, while in so far as he divides and separates, he is Horos. They then represent the Saviour as having indicated this twofold faculty: first, the sustaining power, when He said, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross (Stauros), and follow after me, cannot be my disciple;”[22] and again, “Taking up the cross, follow me;”[23] but the separating power when He said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”[24] They also maintain that John indicated the same thing when he said, “The fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge the floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.”[25] By this declaration He set forth the faculty of Horos. For that fan they explain to be the cross (Stauros), which consumes, no doubt, all material[26] objects, as fire does chaff, but it purifies all them that are saved, as a fan does wheat. Moreover, they affirm that the Apostle Paul himself made mention of this cross in the following words: “The doctrine of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.”[27] And again: “God forbid that I should glory in anything[28] save in the cross of Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.”

6. Such, then, is the account which they all give of their Pleroma, and of the formation[29] of the universe, striving, as they do, to adapt the good words of revelation to their own wicked inventions. And it is not only from the writings of the evangelists and the apostles that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions: they deal in the same way with the law and the prophets, which contain many parables and allegories that can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected. And others[30] of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.


  1. The reading is here very doubtful. We have followed the text of Grabe (approved by Harvey), ἐξ ἀγῶνος σύμπηξις.
  2. These are all names of the same person: see above, ii. 4. Hence some have proposed the reading ἑξαιώνιος instead of ἐξ ἀγῶνος, alluding to the sixfold appellation of the Æon Horos.
  3. Billius renders, “from the repentance of the Father,” but the above seems preferable.
  4. Harvey remarks, “Even in their Christology the Valentinians must have their part and counterpart.”
  5. Or, “to all the generations of the ages of the age.” See Eph. iii. 21. The apostle, of course, simply uses these words as a strong expression to denote “for ever.”
  6. Literally, “at the thanksgiving,” or “eucharist.” Massuet, the Benedictine editor, refers this to the Lord’s Supper, and hence concludes that some of the ancient liturgies still extant must even then have been in use. Harvey and others, however, deny that there is any necessity for supposing the Holy Eucharist to be referred to; the ancient Latin version translates in the plural, “in gratiarum actionibus.”
  7. Luke ii. 42.
  8. Luke vi. 13.
  9. This opinion is in positive contradiction to the forty days mentioned by St. Luke (Acts i. 3). But the Valentinians seem to have followed a spurious writing of their own called “The Gospel of Truth.” See iii. 11, 8.
  10. The numeral value of Iota in Greek is ten, and of Eta, eight.
  11. Matt. v. 18.
  12. Mark v. 31.
  13. The Latin reads “filii,” which we have followed. Reference is made in this word to Nous, who was, as we have already seen, also called Son, and who interested himself in the recovery of Sophia. Aletheia was his consort, and was typified by the hem of the Saviour’s garment.
  14. Her individuality (μορφή) would have been lost, while her substance (οὐσία) would have survived in the common essence of the Æons.
  15. That is, the “second Christ” referred to above, sec. 1. [It is much to be wished that this second were always distinguished by the untranslated name Soter.]
  16. Ex. xiii. 2; Luke ii. 23.
  17. Not as being born of it, but as fecundating it, and so producing a manifold offspring. See below.
  18. Col. iii. 11.
  19. Rom. xi. 36.
  20. Col. ii. 9.
  21. Eph. i. 10.
  22. Luke xiv. 27. It will be observed that the quotations of Scripture made by Irenæus often vary somewhat from the received text. This may be due to various reasons—his quoting from memory; his giving the texts in the form in which they were quoted by the heretics; or, as Harvey conjectures, from his having been more familiar with a Syriac version of the New Testament than with the Greek original.
  23. Matt. x. 21.
  24. Matt. x. 34.
  25. Luke iii. 17.
  26. Hence Stauros was called by the agricultural name Carpistes, as separating what was gross and material from the spiritual and heavenly.
  27. 1 Cor. i. 18.
  28. Gal. vi. 14. The words ἐν μηδενί do not occur in the Greek text.
  29. Billius renders, “of their opinion.”
  30. The punctuation and rendering are here slightly doubtful.