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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book I, Chapter 18

Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 18)

Passages from Moses, which the heretics pervert to the support of their hypothesis.

1. And while they affirm such things as these concerning the creation, every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed perfect, who does not develop among them some mighty fictions. It is thus necessary, first, to indicate what things they metamorphose [to their own use] out of the prophetical writings, and next, to refute them. Moses, then, they declare, by his mode of beginning the account of the creation, has at the commencement pointed out the mother of all things when he says, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth; Genesis 1:1 for, as they maintain, by naming these fourGod, beginning, heaven, and earth—he set forth their Tetrad. Indicating also its invisible and hidden nature, he said, Now the earth was invisible and unformed. Genesis 1:2 They will have it, moreover, that he spoke of the second Tetrad, the offspring of the first, in this way— by naming an abyss and darkness, in which were also water, and the Spirit moving upon the water. Then, proceeding to mention the Decad, he names light, day, night, the firmament, the evening, the morning, dry land, sea, plants, and, in the tenth place, trees. Thus, by means of these ten names, he indicated the ten Æons. The power of the Duodecad, again, was shadowed forth by him thus:— He names the sun, moon, stars, seasons, years, whales, fishes, reptiles, birds, quadrupeds, wild beasts, and after all these, in the twelfth place, man. Thus they teach that the Triacontad was spoken of through Moses by the Spirit. Moreover, man also, being formed after the image of the power above, had in himself that ability which flows from the one source. This ability was seated in the region of the brain, from which four faculties proceed, after the image of the Tetrad above, and these are called: the first, sight, the second, hearing, the third, smell, and the fourth, taste. And they say that the Ogdoad is indicated by man in this way: that he possesses two ears, the like number of eyes, also two nostrils, and a twofold taste, namely, of bitter and sweet. Moreover, they teach that the whole man contains the entire image of the Triacontad as follows: In his hands, by means of his fingers, he bears the Decad; and in his whole body the Duodecad, inasmuch as his body is divided into twelve members; for they portion that out, as the body of Truth is divided by them— a point of which we have already spoken. But the Ogdoad, as being unspeakable and invisible, is understood as hidden in the viscera.

2. Again, they assert that the sun, the great light-giver, was formed on the fourth day, with a reference to the number of the Tetrad. So also, according to them, the courts of the tabernacle constructed by Moses, being composed of fine linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, pointed to the same image. Moreover, they maintain that the long robe of the priest falling over his feet, as being adorned with four rows of precious stones, Exodus 28:17 indicates the Tetrad; and if there are any other things in the Scriptures which can possibly be dragged into the number four, they declare that these had their being with a view to the Tetrad. The Ogdoad, again, was shown as follows:— They affirm that man was formed on the eighth day, for sometimes they will have him to have been made on the sixth day, and sometimes on the eighth, unless, perchance, they mean that his earthly part was formed on the sixth day, but his fleshly part on the eighth, for these two things are distinguished by them. Some of them also hold that one man was formed after the image and likeness of God, masculo-feminine, and that this was the spiritual man; and that another man was formed out of the earth.

3. Further, they declare that the arrangement made with respect to the ark in the Deluge, by means of which eight persons were saved, Genesis 6:18; 1 Peter 3:20 most clearly indicates the Ogdoad which brings salvation. David also shows forth the same, as holding the eighth place in point of age among his brethren. 1 Samuel 16:10 Moreover, that circumcision which took place on the eighth day, Genesis 17:12 represented the circumcision of the Ogdoad above. In a word, whatever they find in the Scriptures capable of being referred to the number eight, they declare to fulfil the mystery of the Ogdoad. With respect, again, to the Decad, they maintain that it is indicated by those ten nations which God promised to Abraham for a possession. Genesis 15:19 The arrangement also made by Sarah when, after ten years, she gave Genesis 16:2 her handmaid Hagar to him, that by her he might have a son, showed the same thing. Moreover, the servant of Abraham who was sent to Rebekah, and presented her at the well with ten bracelets of gold, and her brethren who detained her for ten days; Jeroboam also, who received the ten sceptres 1 Kings 11:31 (tribes), and the ten courts Exodus 26:1Exodus 36:8 of the tabernacle, and the columns of ten cubits Exodus 36:21 [high], and the ten sons of Jacob who were at first sent into Egypt to buy grain, Genesis 42:3 and the ten apostles to whom the Lord appeared after His resurrectionThomas John 20:24 being absent—represented, according to them, the invisible Decad.

4. As to the Duodecad, in connection with which the mystery of the passion of the defect occurred, from which passion they maintain that all things visible were framed, they assert that is to be found strikingly and manifestly everywhere [in Scripture]. For they declare that the twelve sons of Jacob, Genesis 35:22Genesis 49:28 from whom also sprung twelve tribes—the breastplate of the high priest, which bore twelve precious stones and twelve little bells, — the twelve stones which were placed by Moses at the foot of the mountain, Exodus 24:4 — the same number which was placed by Joshua in the river, Joshua 4:3 and again, on the other side, the bearers of the ark of the covenant, Joshua 3:12 — those stones which were set up by Elijah when the heifer was offered as a burnt-offering; 1 Kings 18:31 the number, too, of the apostles; and, in fine, every event which embraces in it the number twelve—set forth their Duodecad. And then the union of all these, which is called the Triacontad, they strenuously endeavour to demonstrate by the ark of Noah, the height of which was thirty cubits; Genesis 6:15 by the case of Samuel, who assigned Saul the chief place among thirty guests; 1 Samuel 9:22 by David, when for thirty days he concealed himself in the field; 1 Samuel 20:5 by those who entered along with him into the cave; also by the fact that the length (height) of the holy tabernacle was thirty cubits; and if they meet with any other like numbers, they still apply these to their Triacontad.

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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/0103118.htm>.

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