Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume I/IRENAEUS/Against Heresies: Book I/Chapter II.
Chapter II.—The Propator was known to Monogenes alone. Ambition, disturbance, and danger into which Sophia fell; her shapeless offspring: she is restored by Horos. The production of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, in order to the completion of the Æons. Manner of the production of Jesus.
1. They proceed to tell us that the Propator of their scheme was known only to Monogenes, who sprang from him; in other words, only to Nous, while to all the others he was invisible and incomprehensible. And, according to them, Nous alone took pleasure in contemplating the Father, and exulting in considering his immeasurable greatness; while he also meditated how he might communicate to the rest of the Æons the greatness of the Father, revealing to them how vast and mighty he was, and how he was without beginning,—beyond comprehension, and altogether incapable of being seen. But, in accordance with the will of the Father, Sige restrained him, because it was his design to lead them all to an acquaintance with the aforesaid Propator, and to create within them a desire of investigating his nature. In like manner, the rest of the Æons also, in a kind of quiet way, had a wish to behold the Author of their being, and to contemplate that First Cause which had no beginning.
2. But there rushed forth in advance of the rest that Æon who was much the latest of them, and was the youngest of the Duodecad which sprang from Anthropos and Ecclesia, namely Sophia, and suffered passion apart from the embrace of her consort Theletos. This passion, indeed, first arose among those who were connected with Nous and Aletheia, but passed as by contagion to this degenerate Æon, who acted under a pretence of love, but was in reality influenced by temerity, because she had not, like Nous, enjoyed communion with the perfect Father. This passion, they say, consisted in a desire to search into the nature of the Father; for she wished, according to them, to comprehend his greatness. When she could not attain her end, inasmuch as she aimed at an impossibility, and thus became involved in an extreme agony of mind, while both on account of the vast profundity as well as the unsearchable nature of the Father, and on account of the love she bore him, she was ever stretching herself forward, there was danger lest she should at last have been absorbed by his sweetness, and resolved into his absolute essence, unless she had met with that Power which supports all things, and preserves them outside of the unspeakable greatness. This power they term Horos; by whom, they say, she was restrained and supported; and that then, having with difficulty been brought back to herself, she was convinced that the Father is incomprehensible, and so laid aside her original design, along with that passion which had arisen within her from the overwhelming influence of her admiration.
3. But others of them fabulously describe the passion and restoration of Sophia as follows: They say that she, having engaged in an impossible and impracticable attempt, brought forth an amorphous substance, such as her female nature enabled her to produce. When she looked upon it, her first feeling was one of grief, on account of the imperfection of its generation, and then of fear lest this should end her own existence. Next she lost, as it were, all command of herself, and was in the greatest perplexity while endeavouring to discover the cause of all this, and in what way she might conceal what had happened. Being greatly harassed by these passions, she at last changed her mind, and endeavoured to return anew to the Father. When, however, she in some measure made the attempt, strength failed her, and she became a suppliant of the Father. The other Æons, Nous in particular, presented their supplications along with her. And hence they declare material substance had its beginning from ignorance and grief, and fear and bewilderment.
4. The Father afterwards produces, in his own image, by means of Monogenes, the above-mentioned Horos, without conjunction, masculo-feminine. For they maintain that sometimes the Father acts in conjunction with Sige, but that at other times he shows himself independent both of male and female. They term this Horos both Stauros and Lytrotes, and Carpistes, and Horothetes, and Metagoges. And by this Horos they declare that Sophia was purified and established, while she was also restored to her proper conjunction. For her enthymesis (or inborn idea) having been taken away from her, along with its supervening passion, she herself certainly remained within the Pleroma; but her enthymesis, with its passion, was separated from her by Horos, fenced off, and expelled from that circle. This enthymesis was, no doubt, a spiritual substance, possessing some of the natural tendencies of an Æon, but at the same time shapeless and without form, because it had received nothing. And on this account they say that it was an imbecile and feminine production.
5. After this substance had been placed outside of the Pleroma of the Æons, and its mother restored to her proper conjunction, they tell us that Monogenes, acting in accordance with the prudent forethought of the Father, gave origin to another conjugal pair, namely Christ and the Holy Spirit (lest any of the Æons should fall into a calamity similar to that of Sophia), for the purpose of fortifying and strengthening the Pleroma, and who at the same time completed the number of the Æons. Christ then instructed them as to the nature of their conjunction, and taught them that those who possessed a comprehension of the Unbegotten were sufficient for themselves. He also announced among them what related to the knowledge of the Father,—namely, that he cannot be understood or comprehended, nor so much as seen or heard, except in so far as he is known by Monogenes only. And the reason why the rest of the Æons possess perpetual existence is found in that part of the Father’s nature which is incomprehensible; but the reason of their origin and formation was situated in that which may be comprehended regarding him, that is, in the Son. Christ, then, who had just been produced, effected these things among them.
6. But the Holy Spirit taught them to give thanks on being all rendered equal among themselves, and led them to a state of true repose. Thus, then, they tell us that the Æons were constituted equal to each other in form and sentiment, so that all became as Nous, and Logos, and Anthropos, and Christus. The female Æons, too, became all as Aletheia, and Zoe, and Spiritus, and Ecclesia. Everything, then, being thus established, and brought into a state of perfect rest, they next tell us that these beings sang praises with great joy to the Propator, who himself shared in the abounding exaltation. Then, out of gratitude for the great benefit which had been conferred on them, the whole Pleroma of the Æons, with one design and desire, and with the concurrence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, their Father also setting the seal of His approval on their conduct, brought together whatever each one had in himself of the greatest beauty and preciousness; and uniting all these contributions so as skilfully to blend the whole, they produced, to the honour and glory of Bythus, a being of most perfect beauty, the very star of the Pleroma, and the perfect fruit [of it], namely Jesus. Him they also speak of under the name of Saviour, and Christ, and patronymically, Logos, and Everything, because He was formed from the contributions of all. And then we are told that, by way of honour, angels of the same nature as Himself were simultaneously produced, to act as His body-guard.
- Alluding to the Gnostic notion that, in generation, the male gives form, the female substance. Sophia, therefore, being a female Æon, gave to her enthymesis substance alone, without form. Comp. Hippol., Philosop., vi. 30.
- Some render this obscure clause, “lest it should never attain perfection,” but the above seems preferable. See Hippol., vi. 31, where the fear referred to is extended to the whole Pleroma.
- “The reader will observe the parallel; as the enthymesis of Bythus produced intelligent substance, so the enthymesis of Sophia resulted in the formation of material substance.”—Harvey.
- Some propose reading these words in the dative rather than the accusative, and thus to make them refer to the image of the Father.
- The meaning of these terms is as follows: Stauros means primarily a stake, and then a cross; Lytrotes is a Redeemer; Carpistes, according to Grabe, means an Emancipator, according to Neander a Reaper; Horothetes is one that fixes boundaries; and Metagoges is explained by Neander as being one that brings back, from the supposed function of Horos, to bring back all that sought to wander from the special grade of being assigned them.
- The common text has ἀποστερηθῆναι, was deprived; but Billius proposes to read ἀποσταυρωθῆναι, in conformity with the ancient Latin version, “crucifixam.”
- That is, had not shared in any male influence, but was a purely female production.
- Literally, “fruit.” Harvey remarks on this expression, “that what we understand by emanations, the Gnostic described as spiritual fructification; and as the seed of a tree is in itself, even in the embryo state, so these various Æons, as existing always in the divine nature, were co-eternal with it.”
- This is an exceedingly obscure and difficult passage. Harvey’s rendering is: “For, say they, Christ taught them the nature of their copulæ, (namely,) that being cognisant of their (limited) perception of the Unbegotten they needed no higher knowledge, and that He enounced,” etc. the words seem scarcely capable of yielding this sense: we have followed the interpretation of Billius.
- Both the text and meaning are here very doubtful. Some think that the import of the sentence is, that the knowledge that the Father is incomprehensible secured the continued safety of the Æons, while the same knowledge conferred upon Monogenes his origin and form.
- The Greek text inserts ἕν, one, before “Holy Spirit.”