Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Hippolytus/The Refutation of All Heresies/Book IX/Part 5

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Chapter IV.—An Account of the System of Heraclitus.

Heraclitus then says that the universe is one,[1] divisible and indivisible; generated and ungenerated; mortal and immortal; reason, eternity; Father, Son, and justice, God.[2] “For those who hearken not to me, but the doctrine, it is wise that they acknowledge all things to be one,” says Heraclitus; and because all do not know or confess this, he utters a reproof somewhat in the following terms:  “People do not understand how what is diverse (nevertheless) coincides with itself, just like the inverse harmony of a bow and lyre.”[3] But that Reason always exists, inasmuch as it constitutes the universe, and as it pervades all things, he affirms in this manner. “But in regard of this Reason, which always exists, men are continually devoid of understanding,[4] both before they have heard of it and in first hearing of it. For though all things take place according to this Reason, they seem like persons devoid of any experience regarding it. Still they attempt both words and works of such a description as I am giving an account of, by making a division according to nature, and declaring how things are.” And that a Son is the universe and throughout endless ages an eternal king of all things, he thus asserts: “A sporting child, playing at his dice, is eternity; the kingdom is that of a child.”[5] And that the Father of all things that have been generated is an unbegotten creature who is creator, let us hear Heraclitus affirming in these words:  “Contrariety is a progenitor of all things, and king of all; and it exhibited some as gods, but others as men, and made some slaves, whereas others free.” And (he likewise affirms) that there is “a harmony, as in a bow and lyre.” That obscure harmony (is better),[6] though unknown and invisible to men, he asserts in these words: “An obscure harmony is preferable to an obvious one.” He commends and admires before what is known, that which is unknown and invisible in regard of its power. And that harmony visible to men, and not incapable of being discovered, is better, he asserts in these words:  “Whatever things are objects of vision, hearing, and intelligence, these I pre-eminently honour,” he says; that is, he prefers things visible to those that are invisible.  From such expressions of his it is easy to understand the spirit of his philosophy. “Men,” he says, “are deceived in reference to the knowledge of manifest things similarly with Homer, who was wiser than all the Greeks. For even children[7] killing vermin deceived him, when they said, ‘What we have seen and seized, these we leave behind; whereas what we neither have seen nor seized, these we carry away.’”


  1. This addition seems necessary from Stobæus’ account of Heraclitus. (See Eclog. Phys., i. 47, where we have Heraclitus affirming that “unity is from plurality, and plurality from unity;” or, in other words, “that all things are one.”)
  2. Dr. Wordsworth for δίκαιον suggests εἰκαῖον, i.e., “but that the Deity is by chance.” There is some difficulty in arriving at the correct text, and consequently at the meaning of Hippolytus’ extracts from Heraclitus. The Heraclitean philosophy is explained by Stobæus, already mentioned. See likewise Bernays’ “Critical Epistle” in Bunsen’s Analect. Ante-Nicæn. (vol. iii. p. 331 et seq. of Hippolytus and his Age), and Schleiermacher in Museum der Alterthumswissenschaft, t. i. p. 408 et seq.
  3. παλίντροπος.  Miller suggests παλίντονος, the word used by Plutarch (De Isid. et Osirid., p. 369, ed. Xyland) in recounting Heraclitus’ opinion.  Παλίντονος, referring to the shape of the bow, means “reflex” or “unstrung,” or it may signify “clanging,” that is, as a consequence of its being well bent back to wing a shaft.
  4. Compare Aristotle’s Rhet., iii. 5, and Sextus Empiricus, Adv. Math., lib. vii. p. 152, ed. Aurel, 1621.
  5. See Lucian, Vit. Auct., vol. i. p. 554, ed. Hemsterh.
  6. This word seems necessary, see Plutarch, De Procreat. animæ, c. xxvii.
  7. This is a well-known anecdote in the life of Homer. See Coleridge’s Greek Poets—Homer. [The unsavoury story is decently given by Henry Nelson Coleridge in this work, republished. Boston: James Munroe & Co., 1842.]