Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V/Hippolytus/The Refutation of All Heresies/Book X/Part 8

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Chapter VII.—The Sethians.

But to the Sethians it seems that there exist three principles, which have been precisely defined. And each of the principles is fitted by nature for being able to be generated, as in a human soul every art whatsoever is developed which is capable of being learned. The result is the same as when a child, by being long conversant with a musical instrument, becomes a musician; or with geometry a geometrician, or with any other art, with a similar result. And the essences of the principles, the Sethians say, are light and darkness. And in the midst of these is pure spirit; and the spirit, they say, is that which is placed intermediate between darkness, which is below, and light, which is above. It is not spirit, as a current of wind or a certain gentle breeze which may be felt, but just as if some fragrance of ointment or incense made out of a refined mixture,—a power diffusing itself by some impulse of fragrance which is inconceivable and superior to what one can express. Since, therefore, the light is above and the darkness below, and the spirit is intermediate between these, the light, also, as a ray of sun, shines from above on the underlying darkness. And the fragrance of the spirit is wafted onwards, occupying an intermediate position, and proceeds forth, just as is diffused the odour of incense-offerings (laid) upon the fire. Now the power of the things divided threefold being of this description, the power simultaneously of the spirit and of the light is below, in the darkness that is situated beneath. The darkness, however, they say, is a horrible water, into which the light along with the spirit is absorbed, and thus translated into a nature of this description. The darkness being then endued with intelligence, and knowing that when the light has been removed from it the darkness continues desolate, devoid of radiance and splendour, power and efficiency, as well as impotent, (therefore,) by every effort of reflection and of reason, this makes an exertion to comprise in itself brilliancy, and a scintillation of light, along with the fragrance of the spirit. And of this they introduce the following image, expressing themselves thus: Just as the pupil of the eye appears dark beneath the underlying humours, but is illuminated by the spirit, so the darkness earnestly strives after the spirit, and has with itself all the powers which wish to retire and return.  Now these are indefinitely infinite, from which, when commingled, all things are figured and generated like seals. For just as a seal, when brought into contact with wax, produces a figure, (and yet the seal) itself remains of itself what it was, so also the powers, by coming into communion (one with the other), form all the infinite kinds of animals. The Sethians assert that, therefore, from the primary concourse of the three principles was generated an image of the great seal, namely heaven and earth, having a form like a womb, possessing a navel in the midst. And so that the rest of the figures of all things were, like heaven and earth, fashioned similar to a womb.

And the Sethians say that from the water was produced a first-begotten principle, namely a vehement and boisterous wind, and that it is a cause of all generation, which creates a sort of heat and motion in the world from the motion of the waters. And they maintain that this wind is fashioned like the hissing of a serpent into a perfect image. And on this the world gazes and hurries into generation, being inflamed as a womb; and from thence they are disposed to think that the generation of the universe has arisen. And they say that this wind constitutes a spirit, and that a perfect God has arisen from the fragrance of the waters, and that of the spirit, and from the brilliant light. And they affirm that mind exists after the mode of generation from a female—(meaning by mind) the supernal spark—and that, having been mingled beneath with the compounds of body, it earnestly desires to flee away, that escaping it may depart and not find dissolution on account of the deficiency in the waters. Wherefore it is in the habit of crying aloud from the mixture of the waters, according to the Psalmist, as they say, “For the entire anxiety of the light above is, that it may deliver the spark which is below from the Father beneath,”[1] that is, from wind. And the Father creates heat and disturbance, and produces for Himself a Son, namely mind, which, as they allege, is not the peculiar offspring of Himself. And these heretics affirm that the Son, on beholding the perfect Logos of the supernal light, underwent a transformation, and in the shape of a serpent entered into a womb, in order that he might be able to recover that Mind which is the scintillation from the light. And that this is what has been declared, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.”[2] And the wretched and baneful Sethians are disposed to think that this constitutes the servile form alluded to by the Apostle. These, then, are the assertions which likewise these Sethians advance.


  1. The commentators refer us to Ps. xxix. 3.
  2. Phil. ii. 6, 7.