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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book I, Chapter 8

Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 8)

How the Valentinians pervert the Scriptures to support their own pious opinions.

1. Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked are in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives' fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma.

2. Then, again, as to those things outside of their Pleroma, the following are some specimens of what they attempt to accommodate out of the Scriptures to their opinions. They affirm that the Lord came in the last times of the world to endure suffering, for this end, that He might indicate the passion which occurred to the last of the Æons, and might by His own end announce the cessation of that disturbance which had risen among the Æons. They maintain, further, that that girl of twelve years old, the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, Luke 8:41 to whom the Lord approached and raised her from the dead, was a type of Achamoth, to whom their Christ, by extending himself, imparted shape, and whom he led anew to the perception of that light which had forsaken her. And that the Saviour appeared to her when she lay outside of the Pleroma as a kind of abortion, they affirm Paul to have declared in his Epistle to the Corinthians [in these words], And last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one born out of due time. 1 Corinthians 15:8 Again, the coming of the Saviour with His attendants to Achamoth is declared in like manner by him in the same Epistle, when he says, A woman ought to have a veil upon her head, because of the angels. Now, that Achamoth, when the Saviour came to her, drew a veil over herself through modesty, Moses rendered manifest when he put a veil upon his face. Then, also, they say that the passions which she endured were indicated by the Lord upon the cross. Thus, when He said, My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? Matthew 27:46 He simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward. Her anguish, again, was indicated when He said, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; Matthew 26:38 her fear by the words, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; Matthew 26:39 and her perplexity, too, when He said, And what I shall say, I know not.

3. And they teach that He pointed out the three kinds of men as follows: the material, when He said to him that asked Him, Shall I follow You? Luke 9:57-58 The Son of man has not where to lay His head;— the animal, when He said to him that declared, I will follow You, but suffer me first to bid them farewell that are in my house, No man, putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven Luke 9:61-62 (for this man they declare to be of the intermediate class, even as they do that other who, though he professed to have wrought a large amount of righteousness, yet refused to follow Him, and was so overcome by [the love of] riches, as never to reach perfection)— this one it pleases them to place in the animal class—the spiritual, again, when He said, Let the dead bury their dead, but go and preach the kingdom of God, Luke 9:60 and when He said to Zaccheus the publican, Make haste, and come down, for today I must abide in your house Luke 19:5 — for these they declared to have belonged to the spiritual class. Also the parable of the leaven which the woman is described as having hid in three measures of meal, they declare to make manifest the three classes. For, according to their teaching, the woman represented Sophia; the three measures of meal, the three kinds of menspiritual, animal, and material; while the leaven denoted the Saviour Himself. Paul, too, very plainly set forth the material, animal, and spiritual, saying in one place, As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; 1 Corinthians 15:48 and in another place, But the animal man receives not the things of the Spirit; 1 Corinthians 2:14 and again: He that is spiritual judges all things. 1 Corinthians 2:15 And this, The animal man receives not the things of the Spirit, they affirm to have been spoken concerning the Demiurge, who, as being animal, knew neither his mother who was spiritual, nor her seed, nor the Æons in the Pleroma. And that the Saviour received first-fruits of those whom He was to save, Paul declared when he said, And if the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy, Romans 11:16 teaching that the expression first-fruits denoted that which is spiritual, but that the lump meant us, that is, the animal Church, the lump of which they say He assumed, and blended it with Himself, inasmuch as He is the leaven.

4. Moreover, that Achamoth wandered beyond the Pleroma, and received form from Christ, and was sought after by the Saviour, they declare that He indicated when He said, that He had come after that sheep which had gone astray. Luke 15:4, 8 For they explain the wandering sheep to mean their mother, by whom they represent the Church as having been sown. The wandering itself denotes her stay outside of the Pleroma in a state of varied passion, from which they maintain that matter derived its origin. The woman, again, who sweeps the house and finds the piece of money, they declare to denote the Sophia above, who, having lost her enthymesis, afterwards recovered it, on all things being purified by the advent of the Saviour. Wherefore this substance also, according to them, was reinstated in Pleroma. They say, too, that Simeon, who took Christ into his arms, and gave thanks to God, and said, Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, Luke 2:28 was a type of the Demiurge, who, on the arrival of the Saviour, learned his own change of place, and gave thanks to Bythus. They also assert that by Anna, who is spoken of in the gospel Luke 2:36 as a prophetess, and who, after living seven years with her husband, passed all the rest of her life in widowhood until she saw the Saviour, and recognised Him, and spoke of Him to all, was most plainly indicated Achamoth, who, having for a little while looked upon the Saviour with His associates, and dwelling all the rest of the time in the intermediate place, waited for Him till He should come again, and restore her to her proper consort. Her name, too, was indicated by the Saviour, when He said, Yet wisdom is justified by her children. Luke 7:35 This, too, was done by Paul in these words, But we speak wisdom among them that are perfect. 1 Corinthians 2:6 They declare also that Paul has referred to the conjunctions within the Pleroma, showing them forth by means of one; for, when writing of the conjugal union in this life, he expressed himself thus: This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5:32

5. Further, they teach that John, the disciple of the Lord, indicated the first Ogdoad, expressing themselves in these words: John, the disciple of the Lord, wishing to set forth the origin of all things, so as to explain how the Father produced the whole, lays down a certain principle—that, namely, which was first-begotten by God, which Being he has termed both the only-begotten Son and God, in whom the Father, after a seminal manner, brought forth all things. By him the Word was produced, and in him the whole substance of the Æons, to which the Word himself afterwards imparted form. Since, therefore, he treats of the first origin of things, he rightly proceeds in his teaching from the beginning, that is, from God and the Word. And he expresses himself thus: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2 Having first of all distinguished these three— God, the Beginning, and the Word — he again unites them, that he may exhibit the production of each of them, that is, of the Son and of the Word, and may at the same time show their union with one another, and with the Father. For the beginning is in the Father, and of the Father, while the Word is in the beginning, and of the beginning. Very properly, then, did he say, In the beginning was the Word, for He was in the Son; and the Word was with God, for He was the beginning; and the Word was God, of course, for that which is begotten of God is God. The same was in the beginning with God— this clause discloses the order of production. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made; John 1:3 for the Word was the author of form and beginning to all the Æons that came into existence after Him. But what was made in Him, says John, is life. Here again he indicated conjunction; for all things, he said, were made by Him, but in Him was life. This, then, which is in Him, is more closely connected with Him than those things which were simply made by Him, for it exists along with Him, and is developed by Him. When, again, he adds, And the life was the light of men, while thus mentioning Anthropos, he indicated also Ecclesia by that one expression, in order that, by using only one name, he might disclose their fellowship with one another, in virtue of their conjunction. For Anthropos and Ecclesia spring from Logos and Zoe. Moreover, he styled life (Zoe) the light of men, because they are enlightened by her, that is, formed and made manifest. This also Paul declares in these words: For whatsoever does make manifest is light. Ephesians 5:13 Since, therefore, Zoe manifested and begot both Anthropos and Ecclesia, she is termed their light. Thus, then, did John by these words reveal both other things and the second Tetrad, Logos and Zoe, Anthropos and Ecclesia. And still further, he also indicated the first Tetrad. For, in discoursing of the Saviour and declaring that all things beyond the Pleroma received form from Him, he says that He is the fruit of the entire Pleroma. For he styles Him a light which shines in darkness, and which was not comprehended John 1:5 by it, inasmuch as, when He imparted form to all those things which had their origin from passion, He was not known by it. He also styles Him Son, and Aletheia, and Zoe, and the Word made flesh, whose glory, he says, we beheld; and His glory was as that of the Only-begotten (given to Him by the Father), full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (But what John really does say is this: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. ) Thus, then, does he [according to them] distinctly set forth the first Tetrad, when he speaks of the Father, and Charis, and Monogenes, and Aletheia. In this way, too, does John tell of the first Ogdoad, and that which is the mother of all the Æons. For he mentions the Father, and Charis, and Monogenes, and Aletheia, and Logos, and Zoe, and Anthropos, and Ecclesia. Such are the views of Ptolemæus.

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Source. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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