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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book I, Chapter 20

Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 20)

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The apocryphal and spurious Scriptures of the Marcosians, with passages of the Gospels which they pervert.

1. Besides the above [misrepresentations], they adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth. Among other things, they bring forward that false and wicked story which relates that our Lord, when He was a boy learning His letters, on the teacher saying to Him, as is usual, Pronounce Alpha, replied [as He was bid], Alpha. But when, again, the teacher bade Him say, Beta, the Lord replied, First tell me what Alpha is, and then I will tell you what Beta is. This they expound as meaning that He alone knew the Unknown, which He revealed under its type Alpha.

2. Some passages, also, which occur in the Gospels, receive from them a coloring of the same kind, such as the answer which He gave His mother when He was twelve years of age: Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business? Luke 2:49 Thus, they say, He announced to them the Father of whom they were ignorant. On this account, also, He sent forth the disciples to the twelve tribes, that they might proclaim to them the unknown God. And to the person who said to Him, Good Master, Mark 10:17 He confessed that God who is truly good, saying, Why do you call Me good: there is One who is good, the Father in the heavens; Luke 18:18 and they assert that in this passage the Æons receive the name of heavens. Moreover, by His not replying to those who said to Him, By what power do You this? Matthew 21:23 but by a question on His own side, put them to utter confusion; by His thus not replying, according to their interpretation, He showed the unutterable nature of the Father. Moreover, when He said, I have often desired to hear one of these words, and I had no one who could utter it, they maintain, that by this expression one He set forth the one true God whom they knew not. Further, when, as He drew near to Jerusalem, He wept over it and said, If you had known, even you, in this your day, the things that belong unto your peace, but they are hidden from you, by this word hidden He showed the abstruse nature of Bythus. And again, when He said, Come unto Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, and learn of Me, Matthew 11:28 He announced the Father of truth. For what they knew not, these men say that He promised to teach them.

3. But they adduce the following passage as the highest testimony, and, as it were, the very crown of their system:— I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes. Even so, my Father; for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:25-27 In these words they affirm that He clearly showed that the Father of truth, conjured into existence by them, was known to no one before His advent. And they desire to construe the passage as if teaching that the Maker and Framer [of the world] was always known by all, while the Lord spoke these words concerning the Father unknown to all, whom they now proclaim.

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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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