Saint Irenæus

Against Heresies

Book II
Chapter 13

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Saint Irenæus (120-202)

Against Heresies

Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson

Book II

Chapter 13

I now proceed to show, as follows, that the first order of production, as conceived of by them, must be rejected. For they maintain that Nous and Aletheia were produced from Bythus and his Ennœa, which is proved to be a contradiction. For Nous is that which is itself chief, and highest, and, as it were, the principle and source of all understanding. Ennœa, again, which arises from him, is any sort of emotion concerning any subject. It cannot be, therefore, that Nous was produced by Bythus and Ennœa; it would be more like the truth for them to maintain that Ennœa was produced as the daughter of the Propator and this Nous. For Ennœa is not the daughter of Nous, as they assert, but Nous becomes the father of Ennœa. For how can Nous have been produced by the Propator, when he holds the chief and primary place of that hidden and invisible affection which is within Him? By this affection sense is produced, and Ennœa, and Enthymesis, and other things which are simply synonyms for Nous himself. As I have said already, they are merely certain definite exercises in thought of that very power concerning some particular subject. We understand the [several] terms according to their length and breadth of meaning, not according to any [fundamental] change [of signification]; and the [various exercises of thought] are limited by [the same sphere of] knowledge, and are expressed together by [the same] term, the [very same] sense remaining within, and creating, and administering, and freely governing even by its own power, and as it pleases, the things which have been previously mentioned.

For the first exercise of that [power] respecting anything, is styled Ennœa; but when it continues, and gathers strength, and takes possession of the whole soul, it is called Enthymesis. This Enthymesis, again, when it exercises itself a long time on the same point, and has, as it were, been proved, is named Sensation. And this Sensation, when it is much developed, becomes Counsel. The increase, again, and greatly developed exercise of this Counsel becomes the Examination of thought (Judgment); and this remaining in the mind is most properly termed Logos (reason), from which the spoken Logos (word) proceeds. But all the [exercises of thought] which have been mentioned are [fundamentally] one and the same, receiving their origin from Nous, and obtaining [different] appellation according to their increase. Just as the human body, which is at one time young, then in the prime of life, and then old, has received [different] appellations according to its increase and continuance, but not according to any change of substance, or on account of any [real] loss of body, so is it with those [mental exercises]. For, when one [mentally] contemplates anything, he also thinks of it; and when he thinks of it, he has also knowledge regarding it; and when he knows it, he also considers it; and when he considers it, he also mentally handles it; and when he mentally handles it, he also speaks of it. But, as I have already said, it is Nous who governs all these [mental processes], while He is himself invisible, and utters speech of himself by means of those processes which have been mentioned, as it were by rays [proceeding from Him], but He himself is not sent forth by any other.

These things may properly be said to hold good in men, since they are compound by nature, and consist of a body and a soul. But those who affirm that Ennœa was sent forth from God, and Nous from Ennœa, and then, in succession, Logos from these, are, in the first place, to be blamed as having improperly used these productions; and, in the next place, as describing the affections, and passions, and mental tendencies of men, while they [thus prove themselves] ignorant of God. By their manner of speaking, they ascribe those things which apply to men to the Father of all, whom they also declare to be unknown to all; and they deny that He himself made the world, to guard against attributing want of power to Him; while, at the same time, they endow Him with human affections and passions. But if they had known the Scriptures, and been taught by the truth, they would have known, beyond doubt, that God is not as men are; and that His thoughts are not like the thoughts of men. For the Father of all is at a vast distance from those affections and passions which operate among men. He is a simple, uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to Himself, since He is wholly understanding, and wholly spirit, and wholly thought, and wholly intelligence, and wholly reason, and wholly hearing, and wholly seeing, and wholly light, and the whole source of all that is good—even as the religious and pious are wont to speak concerning God.

He is, however, above [all] these properties, and therefore indescribable. For He may well and properly be called an Understanding which comprehends all things, but He is not [on that account] like the understanding of men; and He may most properly be termed Light, but He is nothing like that light with which we are acquainted. And so, in all other particulars, the Father of all is in no degree similar to human weakness. He is spoken of in these terms according to the love [we bear Him]; but in point of greatness, our thoughts regarding Him transcend these expressions. If then, even in the case of human beings, understanding itself does not arise from emission, nor is that intelligence which produces other things separated from the living man, while its motions and affections come into manifestation, much more will the mind of God, who is all understanding, never by any means be separated from Himself; nor can anything [in His case] be produced as if by a different Being.

For if He produced intelligence, then He who did thus produce intelligence must be understood, in accordance with their views, as a compound and corporeal Being; so that God, who sent forth [the intelligence referred to], is separate from it, and the intelligence which was sent forth separate [from Him]. But if they affirm that intelligence was sent forth from intelligence, they then cut asunder the intelligence of God, and divide it into parts. And whither has it gone? Whence was it sent forth? For whatever is sent forth from any place, passes of necessity into some other. But what existence was there more ancient than the intelligence of God, into which they maintain it was sent forth? And what a vast region that must have been which was capable of receiving and containing the intelligence of God! If, however, they affirm [that this emission took place] just as a ray proceeds from the sun, then, as the subjacent air which receives the ray must have had an existence prior to it, so [by such reasoning] they will indicate that there was something in existence, into which the intelligence of God was sent forth, capable of containing it, and more ancient than itself. Following upon this, we must hold that, as we see the sun, which is less than all things, sending forth rays from himself to a great distance, so likewise we say that the Propator sent forth a ray beyond, and to a great distance from, Himself. But what can be conceived of beyond, or at a distance from, God, into which He sent forth this ray?

If, again, they affirm that that [intelligence] was not sent forth beyond the Father, but within the Father Himself, then, in the first place, it becomes superfluous to say that it was sent forth at all. For how could it have been sent forth if it continued within the Father? For an emission is the manifestation of that which is emitted, beyond him who emits it. In the next place, this [intelligence] being sent forth, both that Logos who springs from Him will still be within the Father, as will also be the future emissions proceeding from Logos. These, then, cannot in such a case be ignorant of the Father, since they are within Him; nor, being all equally surrounded by the Father, can any one know Him less [than another] according to the descending order of their emission. And all of them must also in an equal measure continue impassible, since they exist in the bosom of their Father, and none of them can ever sink into a state of degeneracy or degradation. For with the Father there is no degeneracy, unless perchance as in a great circle a smaller is contained, and within this one again a smaller; or unless they affirm of the Father, that, after the manner of a sphere or a square, He contains within Himself on all sides the likeness of a sphere, or the production of the rest of the Æons in the form of a square, each one of these being surrounded by that one who is above him in greatness, and surrounding in turn that one who is after him in smallness; and that on this account, the smallest and the last of all, having its place in the centre, and thus being far separated from the Father, was really ignorant of the Propator. But if they maintain any such hypothesis, they must shut up their Bythus within a definite form and space, while He both surrounds others, and is surrounded by them; for they must of necessity acknowledge that there is something outside of Him which surrounds Him. And none the less will the talk concerning those that contain, and those that are contained, flow on into infinitude; and all [the Æons] will most clearly appear to be bodies enclosed [by one another].

Further, they must also confess either that He is mere vacuity, or that the entire universe is within Him; and in that case all will in like degree partake of the Father. Just as, if one forms circles in water, or round or square figures, all these will equally partake of water; just as those, again, which are framed in the air, must necessarily partake of air, and those which [are formed] in light, of light; so must those also who are within Him all equally partake of the Father, ignorance having no place among them. Where, then, is this partaking of the Father who fills [all things]? If, indeed, He has filled [all things], there will be no ignorance among them. On this ground, then, their work of [supposed] degeneracy is brought to nothing, and the production of matter with the formation of the rest of the world; which things they maintain to have derived their substance from passion and ignorance. If, on the other hand, they acknowledge that He is vacuity, then they fall into the greatest blasphemy; they deny His spiritual nature. For how can He be a spiritual being, who cannot fill even those things which are within Him?

Now, these remarks which have been made concerning the emission of intelligence are in like manner applicable in opposition to those who belong to the school of Basilides, as well as in opposition to the rest of the Gnostics, from whom these also (the Valentinians) have adopted the ideas about emissions, and were refuted in the first book. But I have now plainly shown that the first production of Nous, that is, of the intelligence they speak of, is an untenable and impossible opinion. And let us see how the matter stands with respect to the rest [of the Æons]. For they maintain that Logos and Zoe were sent forth by him (i.e., Nous) as fashioners of this Pleroma; while they conceive of an emission of Logos, that is, the Word after the analogy of human feelings, and rashly form conjectures respecting God, as if they had discovered something wonderful in their assertion that Logos was produced by Nous. All indeed have a clear perception that this may be logically affirmed with respect to men. But in Him who is God over all, since He is all Nous, and all Logos, as I have said before, and has in Himself nothing more ancient or late than another, and nothing at variance with another, but continues altogether equal, and similar, and homogeneous, there is no longer ground for conceiving of such production in the order which has been mentioned. Just as he does not err who declares that God is all vision, and all hearing (for in what manner He sees, in that also He hears; and in what manner He hears, in that also He sees), so also he who affirms that He is all intelligence, and all word, and that, in whatever respect He is intelligence, in that also He is word, and that this Nous is His Logos, will still indeed have only an inadequate conception of the Father of all, but will entertain far more becoming [thoughts regarding Him] than do those who transfer the generation of the word to which men gave utterance to the eternal Word of God, assigning a beginning and course of production [to Him], even as they do to their own word. And in what respect will the Word of God—yea, rather God Himself, since He is the Word—differ from the word of men, if He follows the same order and process of generation?

They have fallen into error, too, respecting Zoe, by maintaining that she was produced in the sixth place, when it behoved her to take precedence of all [the rest], since God is life, and incorruption, and truth. And these and such like attributes have not been produced according to a gradual scale of descent, but they are names of those perfections which always exist in God, so far as it is possible and proper for men to hear and to speak of God. For with the name of God the following words will harmonize: intelligence, word, life, incorruption, truth, wisdom, goodness, and such like. And neither can any one maintain that intelligence is more ancient than life, for intelligence itself is life; nor that life is later than intelligence, so that He who is the intellect of all, that is God, should at one time have been destitute of life. But if they affirm that life was indeed [previously] in the Father, but was produced in the sixth place in order that the Word might live, surely it ought long before, [according to such reasoning,] to have been sent forth, in the fourth place, that Nous might have life; and still further, even before Him, [it should have been] with Bythus, that their Bythus might live. For to reckon Sige, indeed, along with their Propator, and to assign her to Him as His consort, while they do not join Zoe to the number,—is not this to surpass all other madness?

Again, as to the second production which proceeds from these [Æons who have been mentioned],—that, namely, of Homo and Ecclesia,—their very fathers, falsely styled Gnostics, strive among themselves, each one seeking to make good his own opinions, and thus convicting themselves of being wicked thieves. They maintain that it is more suitable to [the theory of] production—as being, in fact, truth-like—that the Word was produced by man, and not man by the Word; and that man existed prior to the Word, and that this is really He who is God over all. And thus it is, as I have previously remarked, that heaping together with a kind of plausibility all human feelings, and mental exercises, and formation of intentions, and utterances of words, they have lied with no plausibility at all against God. For while they ascribe the things which happen to men, and whatsoever they recognise themselves as experiencing, to the divine reason, they seem to those who are ignorant of God to make statements suitable enough. And by these human passions, drawing away their intelligence, while they describe the origin and production of the Word of God in the fifth place, they assert that thus they teach wonderful mysteries, unspeakable and sublime, known to no one but themselves. It was, [they affirm,] concerning these that the Lord said, “Seek, and ye shall find,” that is, that they should inquire how Nous and Aletheia proceeded from Bythus and Sage; whether Logos and Zoe again derive their origin from these and then, whether Anthropos and Ecclesia proceed from Logos and Zoe.

Book II
Chapter 12

Book II
Chapter 14