Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume I/IRENAEUS/Against Heresies: Book I/Chapter XIV.
Chapter XIV.—The various hypotheses of Marcus and others. Theories respecting letters and syllables.
1. This Marcus then, declaring that he alone was the matrix and receptacle of the Sige of Colorbasus, inasmuch as he was only-begotten, has brought to the birth in some such way as follows that which was committed to him of the defective Enthymesis. He declares that the infinitely exalted Tetrad descended upon him from the invisible and indescribable places in the form of a woman (for the world could not have borne it coming in its male form), and expounded to him alone its own nature, and the origin of all things, which it had never before revealed to any one either of gods or men. This was done in the following terms: When first the unoriginated, inconceivable Father, who is without material substance, and is neither male nor female, willed to bring forth that which is ineffable to Him, and to endow with form that which is invisible, He opened His mouth, and sent forth the Word similar to Himself, who, standing near, showed Him what He Himself was, inasmuch as He had been manifested in the form of that which was invisible. Moreover, the pronunciation of His name took place as follows:—He spoke the first word of it, which was the beginning [of all the rest], and that utterance consisted of four letters. He added the second, and this also consisted of four letters. Next He uttered the third, and this again embraced ten letters. Finally, He pronounced the fourth, which was composed of twelve letters. Thus took place the enunciation of the whole name, consisting of thirty letters, and four distinct utterances. Each of these elements has its own peculiar letters, and character, and pronunciation, and forms, and images, and there is not one of them that perceives the shape of that [utterance] of which it is an element. Neither does any one know itself, nor is it acquainted with the pronunciation of its neighbour, but each one imagines that by its own utterance it does in fact name the whole. For while every one of them is a part of the whole, it imagines its own sound to be the whole name, and does not leave off sounding until, by its own utterance, it has reached the last letter of each of the elements. This teacher declares that the restitution of all things will take place, when all these, mixing into one letter, shall utter one and the same sound. He imagines that the emblem of this utterance is found in Amen, which we pronounce in concert. The diverse sounds (he adds) are those which give form to that Æon who is without material substance and unbegotten, and these, again, are the forms which the Lord has called angels, who continually behold the face of the Father.
2. Those names of the elements which may be told, and are common, he has called Æons, and words, and roots, and seeds, and fulnesses, and fruits. He asserts that each of these, and all that is peculiar to every one of them, is to be understood as contained in the name Ecclesia. Of these elements, the last letter of the last one uttered its voice, and this sound going forth generated its own elements after the image of the [other] elements, by which he affirms, that both the things here below were arranged into the order they occupy, and those that preceded them were called into existence. He also maintains that the letter itself, the sound of which followed that sound below, was received up again by the syllable to which it belonged, in order to the completion of the whole, but that the sound remained below as if cast outside. But the element itself from which the letter with its special pronunciation descended to that below, he affirms to consist of thirty letters, while each of these letters, again, contains other letters in itself, by means of which the name of the letter is expressed. And thus, again, others are named by other letters, and others still by others, so that the multitude of letters swells out into infinitude. You may more clearly understand what I mean by the following example:—The word Delta contains five letters, viz., D, E, L, T, A: these letters again, are written by other letters, and others still by others. If, then, the entire composition of the word Delta [when thus analyzed] runs out into infinitude, letters continually generating other letters, and following one another in constant succession, how much vaster than that [one] word is the [entire] ocean of letters! And if even one letter be thus infinite, just consider the immensity of the letters in the entire name; out of which the Sige of Marcus has taught us the Propator is composed. For which reason the Father, knowing the incomprehensibleness of His own nature, assigned to the elements which He also terms Æons, [the power] of each one uttering its own enunciation, because no one of them was capable by itself of uttering the whole.
3. Moreover, the Tetrad, explaining these things to him more fully, said:—I wish to show thee Aletheia (Truth) herself; for I have brought her down from the dwellings above, that thou mayest see her without a veil, and understand her beauty —that thou mayest also hear her speaking, and admire her wisdom. Behold, then, her head on high, Alpha and Omega; her neck, Beta and Psi; her shoulders with her hands, Gamma and Chi; her breast, Delta and Phi; her diaphragm, Epsilon and Upsilon; her back, Zeta and Tau; her belly, Eta and Sigma; her thighs, Theta and Rho; her knees, Iota and Pi; her legs, Kappa and Omicron; her ankles, Lambda and Xi; her feet, Mu and Nu. Such is the body of Truth, according to this magician, such the figure of the element, such the character of the letter. And he calls this element Anthropos (Man), and says that is the fountain of all speech, and the beginning of all sound, and the expression of all that is unspeakable, and the mouth of the silent Sige. This indeed is the body of Truth. But do thou, elevating the thoughts of thy mind on high, listen from the mouth of Truth to the self-begotten Word, who is also the dispenser of the bounty of the Father.
4. When she (the Tetrad) had spoken these things, Aletheia looked at him, opened her mouth, and uttered a word. That word was a name, and the name was this one which we do know and speak of, viz., Christ Jesus. When she had uttered this name, she at once relapsed into silence. And as Marcus waited in the expectation that she would say something more, the Tetrad again came forward and said:—Thou hast reckoned as contemptible that word which thou hast heard from the mouth of Aletheia. This which thou knowest and seemest to possess, is not an ancient name. For thou possessest the sound of it merely, whilst thou art ignorant of its power. For Jesus (᾽Ιησοῦς) is a name arithmetically symbolical, consisting of six letters, and is known by all those that belong to the called. But that which is among the Æons of the Pleroma consists of many parts, and is of another form and shape, and is known by those [angels] who are joined in affinity with Him, and whose figures (mightinesses) are always present with Him.
5. Know, then, that the four-and-twenty letters which you possess are symbolical emanations of the three powers that contain the entire number of the elements above. For you are to reckon thus —that the nine mute letters are [the images] of Pater and Aletheia, because they are without voice, that is, of such a nature as cannot be uttered or pronounced. But the semi-vowels represent Logos and Zoe, because they are, as it were, midway between the consonants and the vowels, partaking of the nature of both. The vowels, again, are representative of Anthropos and Ecclesia, inasmuch as a voice proceeding from Anthropos gave being to them all; for the sound of the voice imparted to them form. Thus, then, Logos and Zoe possess eight [of these letters]; Anthropos and Ecclesia seven; and Pater and Aletheia nine. But since the number allotted to each was unequal, He who existed in the Father came down, having been specially sent by Him from whom He was separated, for the rectification of what had taken place, that the unity of the Pleromas, being endowed with equality, might develop in all that one power which flows from all. Thus that division which had only seven letters, received the power of eight, and the three sets were rendered alike in point of number, all becoming Ogdoads; which three, when brought together, constitute the number four-and-twenty. The three elements, too (which he declares to exist in conjunction with three powers, and thus form the six from which have flowed the twenty-four letters), being quadrupled by the word of the ineffable Tetrad, give rise to the same number with them; and these elements he maintains to belong to Him who cannot be named. These, again, were endowed by the three powers with a resemblance to Him who is invisible. And he says that those letters which we call double are the images of the images of these elements; and if these be added to the four-and-twenty letters, by the force of analogy they form the number thirty.
6. He asserts that the fruit of this arrangement and analogy has been manifested in the likeness of an image, namely, Him who, after six days, ascended into the mountain along with three others, and then became one of six (the sixth), in which character He descended and was contained in the Hebdomad, since He was the illustrious Ogdoad, and contained in Himself the entire number of the elements, which the descent of the dove (who is Alpha and Omega) made clearly manifest, when He came to be baptized; for the number of the dove is eight hundred and one. And for this reason did Moses declare that man was formed on the sixth day; and then, again, according to arrangement, it was on the sixth day, which is the preparation, that the last man appeared, for the regeneration of the first. Of this arrangement, both the beginning and the end were formed at that sixth hour, at which He was nailed to the tree. For that perfect being Nous, knowing that the number six had the power both of formation and regeneration, declared to the children of light, that regeneration which has been wrought out by Him who appeared as the Episemon in regard to that number. Whence also he declares it is that the double letters contain the Episemon number; for this Episemon, when joined to the twenty-four elements, completed the name of thirty letters.
7. He employed as his instrument, as the Sige of Marcus declares, the power of seven letters, in order that the fruit of the independent will [of Achamoth] might be revealed. “Consider this present Episemon,” she says—“Him who was formed after the [original] Episemon, as being, as it were, divided or cut into two parts, and remaining outside; who, by His own power and wisdom, through means of that which had been produced by Himself, gave life to this world, consisting of seven powers, after the likeness of the power of the Hebdomad, and so formed it, that it is the soul of everything visible. And He indeed uses this work Himself as if it had been formed by His own free will; but the rest, as being images of what cannot be [fully] imitated, are subservient to the Enthymesis of the mother. And the first heaven indeed pronounces Alpha, the next to this Epsilon, the third Eta, the fourth, which is also in the midst of the seven, utters the sound of Iota, the fifth Omicron, the sixth Upsilon, the seventh, which is also the fourth from the middle, utters the elegant Omega,”— as the Sige of Marcus, talking a deal of nonsense, but uttering no word of truth, confidently asserts. “And these powers,” she adds, “being all simultaneously clasped in each other’s embrace, do sound out the glory of Him by whom they were produced; and the glory of that sound is transmitted upwards to the Propator.” She asserts, moreover, that “the sound of this uttering of praise, having been wafted to the earth, has become the Framer and the Parent of those things which are on the earth.”
8. He instances, in proof of this, the case of infants who have just been born, the cry of whom, as soon as they have issued from the womb, is in accordance with the sound of every one of these elements. As, then, he says, the seven powers glorify the Word, so also does the complaining soul of infants. For this reason, too, David said: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise;” and again: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Hence also it comes to pass, that when the soul is involved in difficulties and distresses, for its own relief it calls out, “Oh” (Ω), in honour of the letter in question, so that its cognate soul above may recognise [its distress], and send down to it relief.
9. Thus it is, that in regard to the whole name, which consists of thirty letters, and Bythus, who receives his increase from the letters of this [name], and, moreover, the body of Aletheia, which is composed of twelve members, each of which consists of two letters, and the voice which she uttered without having spoken at all, and in regard to the analysis of that name which cannot be expressed in words, and the soul of the world and of man, according as they possess that arrangement, which is after the image [of things above], he has uttered his nonsensical opinions. It remains that I relate how the Tetrad showed him from the names a power equal in number; so that nothing, my friend, which I have received as spoken by him, may remain unknown to thee; and thus thy request, often proposed to me, may be fulfilled.
- This sentence has completely baffled all the critics. [Its banter, or mock gravity, has not been self-evident.] We cannot enter upon the wide field of discussion which it has opened up, but would simply state that Irenæus here seems to us, as often, to be playing upon the terms which were in common use among these heretics. Marcus probably received his system from Colorbasus, and is here declared, by the use of that jargon which Irenæus means to ridicule while so employing it, to have proceeded to develop it in the way described.
- Such appears to be the meaning of ἀνούσιος in this passage. The meaning of οὐσία fluctuated for a time in the early Church, and was sometimes used to denote material substance, instead of its usual significance of being.
- The old Latin preserves ἀρχή untranslated, implying that this was the first word which the Father spoke. Some modern editors adopt this view, while others hold the meaning simply to be, as given above, that that first sound which the Father uttered was the origin of all the rest.
- The letters are here confounded with the Æons, which they represented.
- [1 Cor. xiv. 16.]
- Matt. xviii. 10.
- By this Achamoth is denoted, who was said to give rise to the material elements, after the image of the Divine.
- That is, their names are spelt by other letters.
- The old Latin version renders ἐπίσημον, insigne, illustrious, but there seems to be a reference to the Valentinian notion of the mystic number of 888 formed (10+8+200+70+400+200) by the numerical value of the letters in the word ᾽Ιησοῦς.
- The mutes are π, κ, τ, β, γ, δ, φ, χ, θ.
- The semi-vowels are λ, μ, ν, ρ, σ, ζ, ξ, ψ.
- It seems scarcely possible to give a more definite rendering of this clause: it may be literally translated thus: “And because they receive the outflow of those above, but the turning back again of those below.”
- The ninth letter being taken from the mutes and added to the semi-vowels, an equal division of the twenty-four was thus secured.
- Viz., Pater, Anthropos, and Logos.
- Viz., ζ, ξ, ψ = δς, κς, πς.
- Matt. xvii. 7; Mark ix. 2.
- Moses and Elias being added to the company.
- Referring to the word Χρειστός, according to Harvey, who remarks, that “generally the Ogdoad was the receptacle of the spiritual seed.”
- The Saviour, as Alpha and Omega, was symbolized by the dove, the sum of the Greek numerals, π, ε, ρ, ι, σ, τ, ε, ρ, α (περιστερά, dove), being, like that of Α and Ω, 801.
- That is, the letters ζ, ξ, ψ all contain ς, whose value is six, and which was called ἐπίσημον by the Greeks.
- Referring to Aletheia, which, in Greek, contains seven letters.
- By these seven powers are meant the seven heavens (also called angels), formed by the Demiurge.
- We here follow the text of Hippolytus: the ordinary text and the old Latin read, “So does the soul of infants, weeping and mourning over Marcus, deify him.”
- Ps. viii. 2.
- Ps. xix. 1.
- The text is here altogether uncertain: we have given the probable meaning.
- That is, the name of Soter, the perfect result of the whole Pleroma.