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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book I, Chapter 16

Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 16)

Absurd interpretations of the Marcosians.

1. Blending in one the production of their own Æons, and the straying and recovery of the sheep [spoken of in the Gospel Luke 15:4], these persons endeavour to set forth things in a more mystical style, while they refer everything to numbers, maintaining that the universe has been formed out of a Monad and a Dyad. And then, reckoning from unity on to four, they thus generate the Decad. For when one, two, three, and four are added together, they give rise to the number of the ten Æons. And, again, the Dyad advancing from itself [by twos] up to six— two, and four, and six— brings out the Duodecad. Once more, if we reckon in the same way up to ten, the number thirty appears, in which are found eight, and ten, and twelve. They therefore term the Duodecad— because it contains the Episemon, and because the Episemon [so to speak] waits upon it— the passion. And for this reason, because an error occurred in connection with the twelfth number, the sheep frisked off, and went astray; for they assert that a defection took place from the Duodecad. In the same way they oracularly declare, that one power having departed also from the Duodecad, has perished; and this was represented by the woman who lost the drachma, Luke 15:8 and, lighting a lamp, again found it. Thus, therefore, the numbers that were left, viz., nine, as respects the pieces of money, and eleven in regard to the sheep, when multiplied together, give birth to the number ninety-nine, for nine times eleven are ninety-nine. Wherefore also they maintain the word Amen contains this number.

2. I will not, however, weary you by recounting their other interpretations, that you may perceive the results everywhere. They maintain for instance, that the letter Eta (η) along with the Episemon (ς) constitutes an Ogdoad, inasmuch as it occupies the eighth place from the first letter. Then, again, without the Episemon, reckoning the number of the letters, and adding them up till we come to Eta, they bring out the Triacontad. For if one begins at Alpha and ends with Eta, omitting the Episemon, and adds together the value of the letters in succession, he will find their number altogether to amount to thirty. For up to Epsilon (ε) fifteen are formed; then adding seven to that number, the sum of twenty-two is reached. Next, Eta being added to these, since its value is eight, the most wonderful Triacontad is completed. And hence they give forth that the Ogdoad is the mother of the thirty Æons. Since, therefore, the number thirty is composed of three powers [the Ogdoad, Decad, and Duodecad], when multiplied by three, it produces ninety, for three times thirty are ninety. Likewise this Triad, when multiplied by itself, gives rise to nine. Thus the Ogdoad generates, by these means, ninety-nine. And since the twelfth Æon, by her defection, left eleven in the heights above, they maintain that therefore the position of the letters is a true coordinate of the method of their calculation (for Lambda is the eleventh in order among the letters, and represents the number thirty), and also forms a representation of the arrangement of affairs above, since, on from Alpha, omitting Episemon, the number of the letters up to Lambda, when added together according to the successive value of the letters, and including Lambda itself, forms the sum of ninety-nine; but that this Lambda, being the eleventh in order, descended to seek after one equal to itself, so as to complete the number of twelve letters, and when it found such a one, the number was completed, is manifest from the very configuration of the letter; for Lambda being engaged, as it were, in the quest of one similar to itself, and finding such an one, and clasping it to itself, thus filled up the place of the twelfth, the letter Mu (Μ) being composed of two Lambdas (ΛΛ). Wherefore also they, by means of their knowledge, avoid the place of ninety-nine, that is, the defection— a type of the left hand, — but endeavour to secure one more, which, when added to the ninety and nine, has the effect of changing their reckoning to the right hand.

3. I well know, my dear friend, that when you have read through all this, you will indulge in a hearty laugh over this their inflated wise folly! But those men are really worthy of being mourned over, who promulgate such a kind of religion, and who so frigidly and perversely pull to pieces the greatness of the truly unspeakable power, and the dispensations of God in themselves so striking, by means of Alpha and Beta, and through the aid of numbers. But as many as separate from the Church, and give heed to such old wives' fables as these, are truly self-condemned; and these men Paul commands us, after a first and second admonition, to avoid. Titus 3:10 And John, the disciple of the Lord, has intensified their condemnation, when he desires us not even to address to them the salutation of good-speed; for, says he, He that bids them be of good-speed is a partaker with their evil deeds; and that with reason, for there is no good-speed to the ungodly, Isaiah 48:22 says the Lord. Impious indeed, beyond all impiety, are these men, who assert that the Maker of heaven and earth, the only God Almighty, besides whom there is no God, was produced by means of a defect, which itself sprang from another defect, so that, according to them, He was the product of the third defect. Such an opinion we should detest and execrate, while we ought everywhere to flee far apart from those that hold it; and in proportion as they vehemently maintain and rejoice in their fictitious doctrines, so much the more should we be convinced that they are under the influence of the wicked spirits of the Ogdoad,— just as those persons who fall into a fit of frenzy, the more they laugh, and imagine themselves to be well, and do all things as if they were in good health [both of body and mind], yea, some things better than those who really are so, are only thus shown to be the more seriously diseased. In like manner do these men, the more they seem to excel others in wisdom, and waste their strength by drawing the bow too tightly, the greater fools do they show themselves. For when the unclean spirit of folly has gone forth, and when afterwards he finds them not waiting upon God, but occupied with mere worldly questions, then, taking seven other spirits more wicked than himself, Matthew 12:43 and inflating the minds of these men with the notion of their being able to conceive of something beyond God, and having fitly prepared them for the reception of deceit, he implants within them the Ogdoad of the foolish spirits of wickedness.

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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. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103116.htm>.

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