Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume I/IRENAEUS/Against Heresies: Book II/Chapter XIX.
Chapter XIX.—Absurdities of the heretics as to their own origin: their opinions respecting the Demiurge shown to be equally untenable and ridiculous.
1. But what sort of talk also is this concerning their seed—that it was conceived by the mother according to the configuration of those angels who wait upon the Saviour,—shapeless, without form, and imperfect; and that it was deposited in the Demiurge without his knowledge, in order that through his instrumentality it might attain to perfection and form in that soul which he had, [so to speak,] filled with seed? This is to affirm, in the first place, that those angels who wait upon their Saviour are imperfect, and without figure or form; if indeed that which was conceived according to their appearance was generated any such kind of being [as has been described].
2. Then, in the next place, as to their saying that the Creator was ignorant of that deposit of seed which took place into him, and again, of that impartation of seed which was made by him to man, their words are futile and vain, and are in no way susceptible of proof. For how could he have been ignorant of it, if that seed had possessed any substance and peculiar properties? If, on the other hand, it was without substance and without quality, and so was really nothing, then, as a matter of course, he was ignorant of it. For those things which have a certain motion of their own, and quality, either of heat, or swiftness, or sweetness, or which differ from others in brilliance, do not escape the notice even of men, since they mingle in the sphere of human action: far less can they [be hidden from] God, the Maker of this universe. With reason, however, [is it said, that] their seed was not known to Him, since it is without any quality of general utility, and without the substance requisite for any action, and is, in fact, a pure nonentity. It really seems to me, that, with a view to such opinions, the Lord expressed Himself thus: “For every idle word that men speak, they shall give account on the day of judgment.” For all teachers of a like character to these, who fill men’s ears with idle talk, shall, when they stand at the throne of judgment, render an account for those things which they have vainly imagined and falsely uttered against the Lord, proceeding, as they have done, to such a height of audacity as to declare of themselves that, on account of the substance of their seed, they are acquainted with the spiritual Pleroma, because that man who dwells within reveals to them the true Father; for the animal nature required to be disciplined by means of the senses. But [they hold that] the Demiurge, while receiving into himself the whole of this seed, through its being deposited in him by the Mother, still remained utterly ignorant of all things, and had no understanding of anything connected with the Pleroma.
3. And that they are the truly “spiritual,” inasmuch as a certain particle of the Father of the universe has been deposited in their souls, since, according to their assertions, they have souls formed of the same substance as the Demiurge himself, yet that he, although he received from the Mother, once for all, the whole [of the divine] seed, and possessed it in himself, still remained of an animal nature, and had not the slightest understanding of those things which are above, which things they boast that they themselves understand, while they are still on earth;—does not this crown all possible absurdity? For to imagine that the very same seed conveyed knowledge and perfection to the souls of these men, while it only gave rise to ignorance in the God who made them, is an opinion that can be held only by those utterly frantic, and totally destitute of common sense.
4. Further, it is also a most absurd and groundless thing for them to say that the seed was, by being thus deposited, reduced to form and increased, and so was prepared for all the reception of perfect rationality. For there will be in it an admixture of matter —that substance which they hold to have been derived from ignorance and defect; [and this will prove itself] more apt and useful than was the light of their Father, if indeed, when born, according to the contemplation of that [light], it was without form or figure, but derived from this [matter], form, and appearance, and increase, and perfection. For if that light which proceeds from the Pleroma was the cause to a spiritual being that it possessed neither form, nor appearance, nor its own special magnitude, while its descent to this world added all these things to it, and brought it to perfection, then a sojourn here (which they also term darkness) would seem much more efficacious and useful than was the light of their Father. But how can it be regarded as other than ridiculous, to affirm that their mother ran the risk of being almost extinguished in matter, and was almost on the point of being destroyed by it, had she not then with difficulty stretched herself outwards, and leaped, [as it were,] out of herself, receiving assistance from the Father; but that her seed increased in this same matter, and received a form, and was made fit for the reception of perfect rationality; and this, too, while “bubbling up” among substances dissimilar and unfamiliar to itself, according to their own declaration that the earthly is opposed to the spiritual, and the spiritual to the earthly? How, then, could “a little particle,” as they say, increase, and receive shape, and reach perfection, in the midst of substances contrary to and unfamiliar to itself?
5. But further, and in addition to what has been said, the question occurs, Did their mother, when she beheld the angels, bring forth the seed all at once, or only one by one [in succession]? If she brought forth the whole simultaneously and at once, that which was thus produced cannot now be of an infantile character: its descent, therefore, into those men who now exist must be superfluous. But if one by one, then she did not form her conception according to the figure of those angels whom she beheld; for, contemplating them all together, and once for all, so as to conceive by them, she ought to have brought forth once for all the offspring of those from whose forms she had once for all conceived.
6. Why was it, too, that, beholding the angels along with the Saviour, she did indeed conceive their images, but not that of the Saviour, who is far more beautiful than they? Did He not please her; and did she not, on that account, conceive after His likeness? How was it, too, that the Demiurge, whom they can call an animal being, having, as they maintain, his own special magnitude and figure, was produced perfect as respects his substance; while that which is spiritual, which also ought to be more effective than that which is animal, was sent forth imperfect, and he required to descend into a soul, that in it he might obtain form, and thus becoming perfect, might be rendered fit for the reception of perfect reason? If, then, he obtains form in mere earthly and animal men, he can no longer be said to be after the likeness of angels whom they call lights, but [after the likeness] of those men who are here below. For he will not possess in that case the likeness and appearance of angels, but of those souls in whom also he receives shape; just as water when poured into a vessel takes the form of that vessel, and if on any occasion it happens to congeal in it, it will acquire the form of the vessel in which it has thus been frozen, since souls themselves possess the figure of the body [in which they dwell]; for they themselves have been adapted to the vessel [in which they exist], as I have said before. If, then, that seed [referred to] is here solidified and formed into a definite shape, it will possess the figure of a man. and not the form of the angels. How is it possible, therefore, that that seed should be after images of the angels, seeing it has obtained a form after the likeness of men? Why, again, since it was of a spiritual nature, had it any need of descending into flesh? For what is carnal stands in need of that which is spiritual, if indeed
it is to be saved, that in it it may be sanctified and cleared from all impurity, and that what is mortal may be swallowed up by immortality; but that which is spiritual has no need whatever of those things which are here below. For it is not we who benefit it, but it that improves us.
7. Still more manifestly is that talk of theirs concerning their seed proved to be false, and that in a way which must be evident to every one, by the fact that they declare those souls which have received seed from the Mother to be superior to all others; wherefore also they have been honoured by the Demiurge, and constituted princes, and kings, and priests. For if this were true, the high priest Caiaphas, and Annas, and the rest of the chief priests, and doctors of the law, and rulers of the people, would have been the first to believe in the Lord, agreeing as they did with respect to that relationship; and even before them should have been Herod the king. But since neither he, nor the chief priests, nor the rulers, nor the eminent of the people, turned to Him [in faith], but, on the contrary, those who sat begging by the highway, the deaf, and the blind, while He was rejected and despised by others, according to what Paul declares, “For ye see your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise men among you, not many noble, not many mighty; but those things of the world which were despised hath God chosen.” Such souls, therefore, were not superior to others on account of the seed deposited in them, nor on this account were they honoured by the Demiurge.
8. As to the point, then, that their system is weak and untenable as well as utterly chimerical, enough has been said. For it is not needful, to use a common proverb, that one should drink up the ocean who wishes to learn that its water is salt. But, just as in the case of a statue which is made of clay, but coloured on the outside that it may be thought to be of gold, while it really is of clay, any one who takes out of it a small particle, and thus laying it open reveals the clay, will set free those who seek the truth from a false opinion; in the same way have I (by exposing not a small part only, but the several heads of their system which are of the greatest importance) shown to as many as do not wish wittingly to be led astray, what is wicked, deceitful, seductive, and pernicious, connected with the school of the Valentinians, and all those other heretics who promulgate wicked opinions respecting the Demiurge, that is, the Fashioner and Former of this universe, and who is in fact the only true God—exhibiting, [as I have done,] how easily their views are overthrown.
9. For who that has any intelligence, and possesses only a small proportion of truth, can tolerate them, when they affirm that there is another god above the Creator; and that there is another Monogenes as well as another Word of God, whom also they describe as having been produced in [a state of] degeneracy; and another Christ, whom they assert to have been formed, along with the Holy Spirit, later than the rest of the Æons; and another Saviour, who, they say, did not proceed from the Father of all, but was a kind of joint production of those Æons who were formed in [a state of] degeneracy, and that He was produced of necessity on account of this very degeneracy? It is thus their opinion that, unless the Æons had been in a state of ignorance and degeneracy, neither Christ, nor the Holy Spirit, nor Horos, nor the Saviour, nor the angels, nor their Mother, nor her seed, nor the rest of the fabric of the world, would have been produced at all; but the universe would have been a desert, and destitute of the many good things which exist in it. They are therefore not only chargeable with impiety against the Creator, declaring Him the fruit of a defect, but also against Christ and the Holy Spirit, affirming that they were produced on account of that defect; and, in like manner, that the Saviour [was produced] subsequently to [the existence of] that defect. And who will tolerate the remainder of their vain talk, which they cunningly endeavour to accommodate to the parables, and have in this way plunged both themselves, and those who give credit to them, in the profoundest depths of impiety?
- Matt. xii. 36. [The serious spirit of this remark lends force to it as exposition.]
- Comp. i. 6, 1.
- “Parvum emissum”—a small emission.
- That is, there could be no need for its descending into them that it might increase, receive form, and thus be prepared for the reception of perfect reason.
- Or, “on beholding Him.”
- As Massuet here remarks, we may infer from this passage that Irenæus believed souls to be corporeal, as being possessed of a definite form,—an opinion entertained by not a few of the ancients. [And, before we censure them, let us reflect whether their perceptions of “the carnal mind” as differing from the spirit of a man, may not account for it. 1 Thess. v. 23.]
- Comp. 1 Cor. xv. 44; 2 Cor. v. 4. [As a Catholic I cannot accept everything contained in the Biblical Psychology of Dr. Delitzsch, but may I entreat the reader who has not studied it to do so before dismissing the ideas of Irenæus on such topics. A translation has been provided for English readers, by the Messrs. T. & T. Clark of Edinburgh, 1867.]
- The meaning apparently is, that by the high position which all these in common occupied, they proved themselves, on the principles of the heretics, to belong to the favoured “seed,” and should therefore have eagerly have welcomed the Lord. Or the meaning may be, “hurrying together to that relationship,” that is, to the relationship secured by faith in Christ.
- 1 Cor. i. 26, 28, somewhat loosely quoted.
- “Male tractant;” literally, handle badly.