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Of Heresy according to Irenæus. IREN ÆUS, who wrote a very large work on the subject of heresy, forty or fifty years after the time of Justin, and in a country where it is probable there were fewer Unitarians than where Justin lived, again and again characterizes heretics in such a manner, as makes it evident that even he did not consider any other class of men as properly entitled to that appellation besides the Gnostics. He expresses great dislike of the Ebionites; but though he appears to have known none of them besides those who denied the miraculous conception, he never directly calls them heretics, and he takes no notice at all of any gentile Unitarians, though it will appear that they coinposed the majority of the common people, among Christians,
In the introduction to his work it is exceedingly evident, that Irenæus bad no view to any persons whatever besides the Gnostics; for be mentions their distinguishing opinions, and no others, speaking of them as “ drawing men off from him that made and governs the world, as if they had something higher and greater to shew than he who made the heavens and the earth, and all things therein, and as bolding blasphemous and impious opinions.”.
Irenæus considered Simon Magus as the person from whom all beresies sprung, † which was an opinion universally received in the Christian church, and a proof that he thought no other opinions to be properly heretical besides those which might have been derived from him. But his doctrines were those of the Gnostics, and so directly opposite to those of the Unitarians, that they were never considered as having the same source. It is likewise a proof of Irenæns considering the Gnostics as the only proper heretics, that, speaking of heretics in general, as foretold in the Scriptures, he says that,
though they come from different places, and teach different things, they all agree in the same blasphemy against the Maker of all things, and derogating from the
Ως υψηλοί εροι τι και μειζον εχονίες επιδειξαι τα τον ερανον, και την γην, και πανlα τα ν αυλοις πεποιηκολος Θεο· πειθανως με επαγομενοι δια λογων τεχνης της ακεραιες εις τον τι ζηλειν τροπου, απιθανως δε απολλωνίες αυθες εν τω βλασφημον, και ασεβη την γνωμην αυλων κατασκευαζειν εις τον Δημιεργον, μηδε εν τω διακρινειν δυναμενον το ψευδος απο τα eyes. (P.)
+ “Simon autem Samaritanus, ex quo universæ hæreses substiterunt, habet hujus. modi sectæ materiam." Lii. C. xx. p. 94. L. üi. Pref. p. 198. (P.)
salvation of men.”* He likewise says, that “ the doctrine of Valentinus comprehended all heresies; † that by overturning his system, all heresy is overturned ;"I that “they all blasphemed in supposing the Maker of all things to be an evil being; and that they blasphemed our Lord, dividing Jesus from the Christ.”'S . It could never have been said by any person, that the doctrine of Valentinus comprehended that of the Unitarians, that the Unitarians were ever said to blaspheme the Maker of all things, or to divide Jesus from the Christ.
Irenæus likewise says, that“ there was a connexion among all the heretics, except that Tatian advanced something that was new."|| But what connexion was there ever supposed to be between the tenets of the Gnostics and those of the Unitarians? He likewise speaks of all heretics “ as having quitted the church, and taxing the holy presbyters with ignorance; not considering how much better is an ignorant person, who is religious, than a blasphemous and impious sophist.”. Speaking of the Gnostics, he says, that is the apostles were so far from thinking as they did, that they signified by the holy spirit that they who then began to teach their doctrine were introduced by Satan, to overturn the faith of some, and withdraw them from life.” ** He likewise says, that “ all the heretics were much later than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the churches.”tt
* “ Per omnes hæreticos qui prædicti sunt hi enim omnes, quamvis ex differentibus locis egrediantur, et differentia doceant, in idem tamen blasphemiæ concurrunt propositum, letaliter vulnerantes, docendo blasphemiam in Deum factorem et nutritorem nostrum, et derogando salutem hominis. L. iv. Pref. p. 275. (P.)
† “ In quo et ostendimus doctrinam eorum recapitulationem esse omnium hæreticorum." Ibid. p. 274. (P.)
“ Quapropter et in secundo tanquam speculum habuimus eos totius eversionis. Qui enim his contradicunt secundum quod oportet, contradicunt omnibus qui sunt malæ sententiæ; et qui hos evertunt, evertunt omnem hæresim.” Ibid. (P.)
6 “ Super omnes est enim blasphema regula ipsorum: quando quidem factorem et fabricatorem, qui est unus Deus, secundum quod ostendimus, de labe sive defectione eum emissum dicunt. Blasphemant autem et in Dominum nostrum, abscindentes et dividentes Jesum à Christo.” Ibid. (P.)
11 “Connexio quidem factus omnium hæreticorum, quemadmodum ostendimus; hoc autem à semetipso adinvenit, uti novum aliquid præter reliquos inferens.' L. ii. C. xxxix. p. 265. (P.)
« Qui ergo relinquunt præconium ecclesiæ, imperitiam sanctorum presbytero. rum arguunt, non contemplantes quanto pluris sit idiota religiosus à blasphemo et impudente sophista.” L. v. C.xx. p. 430. (P.)
** “ Necesse habemus, universam apostolorum de Domino nostro Jesu Christo sententiam adhibere, et ostendere, eos non solum nihil tale sensisse de eo, verum amplius et significasse per spiritum sanctum, qui inciperint talia docere, summissi à Sátana, uti quorundam fidem everterent, et abstraherant eos à vita." L. ii. C. xvii. p. 238. (P.)
† † “Omnes enim ii valdè posteriores sunt quam episcopi quibus apostoli tradiderunt ecclesias.” Ibid. C. xx. p. 430. (P.)
He meant, probably, the celebrated Gnostics, who appeared in the time of Adrian; whereas he could not but know that the Ebionites, and the Unitarians in general, were very considerable before that time. He must have meant the Gnos. tics, when he said that “all heretics were agreed that the Maker of the world was ignorant of the power above him. He likewise considered all heretics to be Gnostics in many other passages of his work.t
How little is it that Irenæus says of the Ebionites, and with how little severity, in his large treatise concerning heresy! It is not one four hundredth part of the whole, while all the rest is employed on the different branches of Gnosticism. The harshest epithet that he applies to them is that of vani; which, considering the manner of the ancients, is certainly very moderate: Vani autem et Ebionæi.I He says, indeed, that “ God will judge them ;” and “ how can they be saved, if it be not God that worketh out their salvation upon earth ?”g But this is no sentence of damnation passed upon them in particular, for holding their doctrine, but an argument used by him to refute them; and is the same as if he had said, mankind in general could not be saved, if Christ had not been God as well as man.
That Irenæus did not mean to pass a sentence of what we should now call damnation upon the Ebionites, is, I think, evident from what he says concerning them in the 21st chapter of his third book, and which has the appearance of great harshness. “ If they persist,” he says, “in their error, not receiving the word of incorruption, they continue in mortal flesh, and
are subject to death, not receiving the antidote of life.”|| The idea of this writer and that of the fathers in general was, that Christ recovered for man that immortality which Adam had lost; so that without his interference the whole race of mankind must have perished in the grave. This he represents as the punishment of the Ebionites. But he certainly could not mean that the Ebionites, as such, should continue in the grave, while all the rest of mankind would rise from the dead. He must, thetefore, have meant, not that they in particular, but that mankind in general, could have had no resurrection if their doctrine had been true.
« Omnes enim hæretici decreverunt, demiurgum ignorare eam quæ sit super eum virtutem.” L. iii. C. i. p. 219. (P.)
† Sce L. ii. C. lv. p. 185. L. iii. C. i. p. 199. (P.) I L. v. C. i. p. 594. (P.)
και Ανακρινει δε και τας Hβιωνες σως δυναναι σωθήναι, ει μη ο Θεος ην και την σωτηρίαν ευλων επι γης εργασαμενος" η σως ανθρωπος χωρησει εις Θεον, ει μη ο Θεος εχωρηθη εις ayahputov; L. iv. C. lix. p. 358. (P.)
11 « Qui uude tantum hominem eum dicunt ex Joseph generatum perseverante, in servitute pristinæ inobedientiæ moriuntur. Non recipientes autem verbum incorruptionis perseverant in carne mortali, ct sunt debitores mortis, antidotum vitæ non accipientes." P. 249. (P.)
Irenæus no where directly calls the Ebionites heretics. I had thought that in one passage he had included them in that appellation ; but observing that, in his introduction, and in other places, in which he speaks of heretics, in general, he evidently meant the Gnostics only, and could not carry his views any further, I was led to re-consider that particular passage, and I found that I had been mistaken in my construction of it.
« All heretics," he says, “ being untaught, and ignorant of the dispensations of God, and especially of that which relates to man, as being blind with respect to the truth, oppose their own salvation; some introducing another Father besides the Maker of the world; others saying, that the world and the matter of it was made by angels,” &c.; and, after mentioning other similar opinions, he adds, “ others, not knowing the dispensation of the Virgin, say that he (Jesus) was begotten by Joseph. Some say that neither the soul nor the body can receive eternal life, but the internal man only,” &c. i. e. they denied the resurrection. *
Now as Cerinthus, Carpocrates and other Gnostics, denied the miraculous conception, as well as the Ebionites; and all the rest of this description, both before and after this circumstance, evidently belongs to the Gnostics only, and as in no other place whatever does he comprehend them in his definition of heresy, it is natural to conclude that he had no view to them even here, but only to those Gnostics who, in common with them, denied the miraculous conception. If there be any other passage in Irenæus in which he calls, or seems to call, the Ebionites heretics, I have overlooked it. The Ebionites were Jews, and had no communion with the Gentiles, at least that appears ; and Irenæus says nothing at all of the Unitarians among the Gentiles (who, in the time of Origen, generally believed the miraculous conception), though, as appears from other evidence, they constituted the great mass of the unlearned Christians.
* " Indocti omnes hæretici, ignorantes dispositiones Dei, et inscii ejus quæ est secundum hominem dispensationis, quippe cæcutientes circa veritatem, ipsi suæ contradicunt saluti. Alii quidem alterum introducentes præter demiurgum, patrem. A lii autem ab angelis quibusdam dicentes factum esse mundum, et substantiam ejus. Alii quidem porro et longe separatam ab eo, qui est secundum ipsos patre, à semetipsa Aoruisse, et esse ex se natam. Alii autem in his quæ contineutur à patre, de Jabe et ignorantia substantiam habuisse. Alii autem manifestum adventum Domini contemnunt, incarnationem ejus non recipientes. Alii autem rursus ignorantes vir ginis dispensationem, ex Joseph dicunt eum generatum. Et quidam quidem neque animam suam, neque corpus recipere posse dicunt æternam vitam, sed tautum hominet interiorem. Esse autem hunc eum qui in eis sit sensus, volunt, quem et solum ascendere ad perfectum decernunt. Alii autem anima salvata, non participari corpus ipsorum eam quæ est à Deo salutem." L. v. C. xix. p. 429. (P.)
It may be said that, since Irenæus condemns the Ebionites for holding an opinion which he also condemns in the Gnostics, he must have considered them as heretical, on that account. And, had this common opinion been a principal feature in the character of the Gnostics, and such as had originally a great share in rendering them odious to other Christians, the inference must have been admitted. But there are many reasons to prevent our thinking so, especially the consideration that, both from the nature of the thing, and the superabundant acknowledgment of the fathers, the great body of the primitive Christians must have been, and actually were, Unitarians, knowing nothing either of the pre-existence or divinity of Christ, and not immediately, at least, hearing any thing of his miraculous conception. Such plain Christians could never have been considered as heretics in the age in which they lived, though circumstances might arise which should make their opinions very obnoxious afterwards; and Irenæus, without making the distinction that he ought to have done, might enumerate their opinions among other offensive ones of the Gnostics, and even as a part of their heresy : and hence might arise his embarrassment in calling the Gnostics, heretics, and yet never calling the Ebionites so.
It is a conduct that I cannot account for in any other way.
SECTION V. Of Heresy according to Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian,
Origen and Firmilian. CLEMENS ALEXANDRINUS makes frequent mention of heretics, and expresses as much abhorrence of them as Justin Martyr does; but it is evident that, in all the places in which he speaks of them, his idea of heresy was confined to Gnosticism.
He considers it as an answer to all heretics to prove that “there is one God, the Almighty Lord, who was preached by the law and the prophets, and also in the blessed gospel.”*
* Και απασαις ενλευθεν ταις αιρεσεσιν, ένα δεικνυναι Θεον, και Κυριον σταυλοκρατορα, τον δια νομα και προφη/ων, προς δε και τα μακαρια ευαγγελιε γνησιας κεκηρυγμ:50». Εττοττι. L. vi. p. 475. (P.)