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

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. I, Against Heresies: Book II by Irenaeus, translated by Philip Schaff et al.
Chapter VII.

Chapter VII.—Created things are not the images of those Æons who are within the Pleroma.

1. While the Demiurge was thus ignorant of all things, they tell us that the Saviour conferred honour upon the Pleroma by the creation [which he summoned into existence] through means of his Mother, inasmuch as he produced similitudes and images of those things which are above. But I have already shown that it was impossible that anything should exist beyond the Pleroma (in which external region they tell us that images were made of those things which are within the Pleroma), or that this world was formed by any other one than the Supreme God. But it is a pleasant thing to overthrow them on every side, and to prove them vendors of falsehood; let us say, in opposition to them, that if these things were made by the Saviour to the honour of those which are above, after their likeness, then it behoved them always to endure, that those things which have been honoured should perpetually continue in honour. But if they do in fact pass away, what is the use of this very brief period of honour,—an honour which at one time had no existence, and which shall again come to nothing? In that case I shall prove that the Saviour is rather an aspirant after vainglory, than[1] one who honours those things which are above. For what honour can those things which are temporal confer on such as are eternal and endure for ever? or those which pass away on such as remain? or those which are corruptible on such as are incorruptible?—since, even among men who are themselves mortal, there is no value attached to that honour which speedily passes away, but to that which endures as long as it possibly can. But those things which, as soon as they are made, come to an end, may justly be said rather to have been formed for the contempt of such as are thought to be honoured by them; and that that which is eternal is contumeliously treated when its image is corrupted and dissolved. But what if their Mother had not wept, and laughed, and been involved in despair? The Saviour would not then have possessed any means of honouring the Fulness, inasmuch as her last state of confusion[2] did not have substance of its own by which it might honour the Propator.

2. Alas for the honour of vainglory which at once passes away, and no longer appears! There will be some[3] Æon, in whose case such honour will not be thought at all to have had an existence, and then the things which are above will be unhonoured; or it will be necessary to produce once more another Mother weeping, and in despair, in order to the honour of the Pleroma. What a dissimilar, and at the same time blasphemous image! Do you tell me that an image of the Only-begotten was produced by the former[4] of the world, whom[5] again ye wish to be considered the Nous (mind) of the Father of all, and [yet maintain] that this image was ignorant of itself, ignorant of creation,—ignorant, too, of the Mother,—ignorant of everything that exists, and of those things which were made by it; and are you not ashamed while, in opposition to yourselves, you ascribe ignorance even to the Only-begotten Himself? For if these things [below] were made by the Saviour after the similitude of those which are above, while He (the Demiurge) who was made after such similitude was in so great ignorance, it necessarily follows that around Him, and in accordance with Him, after whose likeness he that is thus ignorant was formed, ignorance of the kind in question spiritually exists.

For it is not possible, since both were produced spiritually, and neither fashioned nor composed, that in some the likeness was preserved, while in others the likeness of the image was spoiled, that image which was here produced that it might be according to the image of that production which is above. But if it is not similar, the charge will then attach to the Saviour, who produced a dissimilar image,—of being, so to speak, an incompetent workman. For it is out of their power to affirm that the Saviour had not the faculty of production, since they style Him All Things. If, then, the image is dissimilar, he is a poor workman, and the blame lies, according to their hypothesis, with the Saviour. If, on the other hand, it is similar, then the same ignorance will be found to exist in the Nous (mind) of their Propator, that is, in the Only-begotten. The Nous of the Father, in that case, was ignorant of Himself; ignorant, too, of the Father; ignorant, moreover, of those very things which were formed by Him. But if He has knowledge, it necessarily follows also that he who was formed after his likeness by the Saviour should know the things which are like; and thus, according to their own principles, their monstrous blasphemy is overthrown.

3. Apart from this, however, how can those things which belong to creation, various, manifold, and innumerable as they are, be the images of those thirty Æons which are within the Pleroma, whose names, as these men fix them, I have set forth in the book which precedes this? And not only will they be unable to adapt the [vast] variety of creation at large to the [comparative] smallness of their Pleroma, but they cannot do this even with respect to any one part of it, whether [that possessed by] celestial or terrestrial beings, or those that live in the waters. For they themselves testify that their Pleroma consists of thirty Æons; but any one will undertake to show that, in a single department of those [created beings] which have been mentioned, they reckon that there are not thirty, but many thousands of species. How then can those things, which constitute such a multiform creation, which are opposed in nature to each other, and disagree among themselves, and destroy the one the other, be the images and likenesses of the thirty Æons of the Pleroma, if indeed, as they declare, these being possessed of one nature, are of equal and similar properties, and exhibit no differences [among themselves]? For it was incumbent, if these things are images of those Æons,—inasmuch as they declare that some men are wicked by nature, and some, on the other hand, naturally good,—to point out such differences also among their Æons, and to maintain that some of them were produced naturally good, while some were naturally evil, so that the supposition of the likeness of those things might harmonize with the Æons. Moreover, since there are in the world some creatures that are gentle, and others that are fierce, some that are innocuous, while others are hurtful and destroy the rest; some have their abode on the earth, others in the water, others in the air, and others in the heaven; in like manner, they are bound to show that the Æons possess such properties, if indeed the one are the images of the others. And besides; “the eternal fire which the Father has prepared for the devil and his angels,”[6]— they ought to show of which of those Æons that are above it is the image; for it, too, is reckoned part of the creation.

4. If, however, they say that these things are the images of the Enthymesis of that Æon who fell into passion, then, first of all, they will act impiously against their Mother, by declaring her to be the first cause of evil and corruptible images. And then, again, how can those things which are manifold, and dissimilar, and contrary in their nature, be the images of one and the same Being? And if they say that the angels of the Pleroma are numerous, and that those things which are many are the images of these—not in this way either will the account they give be satisfactory. For, in the first place, they are then bound to point out differences among the angels of the Pleroma, which are mutually opposed to each other, even as the images existing below are of a contrary nature among themselves. And then, again, since there are many, yea, innumerable angels who surround the Creator, as all the prophets acknowledge,—[saying, for instance,] “Ten thousand times ten thousand stood beside Him, and many thousands of thousands ministered unto Him,”[7]—then, according[8] to them, the angels of the Pleroma will have as images the angels of the Creator, and the entire creation remains in the image of the Pleroma, but so that the thirty Æons no longer correspond to the manifold variety of the creation.

5. Still further, if these things [below] were made after the similitude of those [above], after the likeness of which again will those then be made? For if the Creator of the world did not form these things directly from His own[9] conception, but, like an architect of no ability, or a boy receiving his first lesson, copied them from archetypes furnished by others, then whence did their Bythus obtain the forms of that creation which He at first produced? It clearly follows

that He must have received the model from some other one who is above Him, and that one, in turn, from another. And none the less [for these suppositions], the talk about images, as about gods, will extend to infinity, if we do not at once fix our mind on one Artificer, and on one God, who of Himself formed those things which have been created. Or is it really the case that, in regard to mere men, one will allow that they have of themselves invented what is useful for the purposes of life, but will not grant to that God who formed the world, that of Himself He created the forms of those things which have been made, and imparted to it its orderly arrangement?

6. But, again, how can these things [below] be images of those [above], since they are really contrary to them, and can in no respect have sympathy with them? For those things which are contrary to each other may indeed be destructive of those to which they are contrary, but can by no means be their images—as, for instance, water and fire; or, again, light and darkness, and other such things, can never be the images of one another. In like manner, neither can those things which are corruptible and earthly, and of a compound nature, and transitory, be the images of those which, according to these men, are spiritual; unless these very things themselves be allowed to be compound, limited in space, and of a definite shape, and thus no longer spiritual, and diffused, and spreading into vast extent, and incomprehensible. For they must of necessity be possessed of a definite figure, and confined within certain limits, that they may be true images; and then it is decided that they are not spiritual. If, however, these men maintain that they are spiritual, and diffused, and incomprehensible, how can those things which are possessed of figure, and confined within certain limits, be the images of such as are destitute of figure and incomprehensible?

7. If, again, they affirm that neither according to configuration nor formation, but according to number and the order of production, those things [above] are the images [of these below], then, in the first place, these things [below] ought not to be spoken of as images and likenesses of those Æons that are above. For how can the things which have neither the fashion nor shape of those [above] be their images? And, in the next place, they would adapt both the numbers and productions of the Æons above, so as to render them identical with and similar to those that belong to the creation [below]. But now, since they refer to only thirty Æons, and declare that the vast multitude of things which are embraced within the creation [below] are images of those that are but thirty, we may justly condemn them as utterly destitute of sense.


  1. Harvey supposes that the translator here read quam instead of quâ (gloria); but Grabe, Massuet, and Stieren prefer to delete erit.
  2. Reference is here made to the supposed wretched state of Achamoth as lying in the region of shadow, vacuity, and, in fact, non-existence, until compassionated by the Christ above, who gave her form as respected substance.
  3. We have literally translated the above very obscure sentence. According to Massuet, the sense is: “There will some time be, or perhaps even now there is, some Æon utterly destitute of such honour, inasmuch as those things which the Saviour, for the sake of honouring it, had formed after its image, have been destroyed; and then those things which are above will remain without honour,” etc.
  4. The Saviour is here referred to, as having formed all things through means of Achamoth and the Demiurge.
  5. Massuet deletes quem, and reads nūn as a genitive.
  6. Matt. xxv. 41.
  7. Dan. vii. 10, agreeing neither with the Greek nor Hebrew text.
  8. This clause is exceedingly obscure. Harvey remarks upon it as follows: “The reasoning of Irenæus seems to be this: According to the Gnostic theory, the Æons and angels of the Pleroma were homogeneous. They were also the archetypes of things created. But things created are heterogeneous: therefore either these Æons are heterogeneous, which is contrary to theory; or things created are homogeneous, which is contrary to fact.”
  9. Literally, “from Himself.”