JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

The Anti-Gnostics and Anti-Monarchianists. Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian.

§ 66

1. We have now arrived at those ecclesiastical writers of the Ante-Nicene period, whose efforts were chiefly directed to defend Christianity against the misrepresentations of the Gnostic and Monarchianist heretics. These writers did not, indeed, omit to defend Christianity against the pagans, but their immediate concern was the confutation of the Gnostic and Monarchianist errors, and this was also the chief part of their work. The most remarkable of these Apologists are Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Tertullian.

2. Irenaeus, born in Asia Minor, A.D. 140, a disciple of the martyr Polycarp, was, at a later period, presbyter of the church of Lyons, and ultimately bishop of that city. He died a martyr in the persecution of Severus, A.D. 202. His chief work, "Exposure and Refutation of the False Gnosis" (elegchos kai anatropê tês pseudonumon gnôseôs) has come down to us in an ancient Latin translation (Adv. Haeres. II. 5). Several fragments of the original text, notably a large portion of the first book, have also been preserved.

3. The Gnostics had appealed in support of their system to certain secret doctrines supposed to have been communicated by Jesus. Against this assumption Irenaeus emphatically protests. The true doctrine, the real Gnosis, is the teaching of the Church, the doctrine handed down in the Church from the Apostles. Whoever departs from this teaching departs from truth. It must not be supposed that the human mind can comprehend all things. Whoever thinks to understand everything -- to leave no secret to God -- falls into error. God is incomprehensible, and cannot be measured by man's power of thought. Our concepts of Him are all imperfect. "It is better, knowing nothing, to believe in God, and to persevere in His love, than to pursue subtle inquiries which end in atheism."

4. The Gnostics further distinguished between God and the Demiurgos, assigning to the latter a subordinate rank. Here again Irenaeus meets them with denial. God is Himself the Creator of the world. He has created all things by Himself, that is, by His Word and His Wisdom, In the work of creation He had no need of angels or other powers different from Himself. He could Himself execute whatever He proposed. For this purpose, the Logos, with the Spirit, was always with Him, and through these and in these He created the world.

5. In opposition to the Gnostic view, representing Christ as a subordinate AEon, Irenaeus maintains that the Logos (as well as the Spirit) is eternal, like the Father, and one with Him in being. The Son of God, he asserts, has not had a beginning, He is co-existent with the Father from eternity. The heretics find an analogy between the spoken word of man (logos prophorikos) and the Eternal Word of God, and argue that the latter has had a beginning and has been produced, just as the spoken word begins to exist and is produced, when it is uttered. But how, then, does the Word of God, who is Himself God, differ from the word of man, if both came into existence after the same fashion? No, the Word of God is co-existent with the Father from eternity, nor has He ever passed through any process of production, but has ever been a perfect Word. The same is true of the Spirit.

6. We must also acknowledge not only an equality in eternity but also a likeness of being between the Logos and the Father. The Divine Being is absolutely simple; the emanation of a world of AEons from God is absurd; the possibility of a partition of the Divine Being among a world of AEons is wholly impossible. The "emission" of the Logos by the Father is, therefore, not to be understood as a separation from the Father's being; for the Divine being does not admit of such partition; the Son, proceeding from His Father, remains one with Him in being. In this unity of being with the Father, the Son becomes, so to speak, the organ of divine revelation, the minister of the divine decrees, tbe dispenser of divine grace, the delegate of the Father. It is only in so far as the Father is the origin of the being and activity of the Son that the Son can be said to be subordinated to Him. In essence and being, the Son is His equal.

7. The Valentinians had maintained that the Demiurgus created the world, according to a plan given him from above; Irenaeus, on the other hand, asserts that God Himself created the world, and in his work followed a plan not derived from other sources, but contained within His own mind. The Marcionites had asserted that the true God was unknown till the coming of Christ. Irenaeus teaches that the true God could not remain unknown, for He had manifested Himself in creation, and men could rise from this creation to the knowledge of God. If, as a fact, they had not knowledge of Him, the fault was their own. God, it is true, is invisible and incomprehensible, but He is not so completely hidden that man could have no knowledge of Him without the Incarnation of the Logos. The better minds of paganism had actually attained knowledge of Him through His works.

8. Irenaeus is equally emphatic in his rejection of the doctrine of the Marcionites that the Old and the New Testament are derived from two different sources -- the Demiurgus and the "good" God. The Old Testament and the New, he holds, are the same in nature, and are both derived from the one true God. The natural law of morals God has written in the heart of man, the ceremonial law, in which Christianity was typified, was given to the Jews because of their tendency to fall away from God. Christ fulfilled the type, and by the fact, the ceremonial law was fulfilled and abrogated, but the moral law remains. The Old Law was thus merely the forerunner of the New, and is, therefore, of the same nature.

9. The Gnostics had taught that man was formed of body, soul, and spirit. Irenaeus teaches that man is composed of body and soul; the Soul being the vital principle of the compound. The (Divine) Spirit is not an attribute of man's nature, it is given only that man may become pefeet. Man, by his soul, is the image of God (imago Dei), by the Spirit he is raised to likeness with God (ad similitudinem Dei). Man participates in the (Divine) Spirit by grace only. This Spirit is bestowed on those who restrain and control their passions. Such men become Pneumatists; other men are merely Psychicists. As for the body or flesh, it is not at all the source of evil, as the Gnostics asserted; it is, like everything else, created by God. The source of evil is the abuse of free will, the deliberate surrender of man to his sensual appetites. There is no such thing as immediate contemplation (Gnosis) of truth in its fulness, such as the Gnostics lay claim to. Man must learn; his knowledge is only a partial knowledge, which grows in proportion as man learns.

10. The soul of man is immortal. But it cannot lift itself to God immediately after death. It must first enter into Hades, and there remain till the resurrection. The doctrine of the heretics regarding the resurrection of the body, as well as regarding the human nature of Christ, must be met with a peremptory denial. The reign of Antichrist, that is of Satan incarnate, precedes the resurrection by a short period. Christ, then, comes again, destroys the Kingdom of Antichrist, and restores the just to life. Thereupon begins the reign of Christ with His elect on earth -- a reign which lasts a thousand years, after which follows the General Judgment. The just enter, with Christ, into the Kingdom of the Father, the wicked are condemned to eternal reprobation.

11. With Irenaeus is associated his pupil, Hippolytus, a presbyter of Rome, who was banished to Sicily about A.D. 235. We possess a treatise written by him with the title, Kata pasôn haireseôn elegchos, of which, till a late period, only the first book was known to the learned, under the name Origenes Philosophoumena. In this work Hippolytus sets himself to prove that "the Gnostic errors have been derived, not from Sacred Scripture, nor from Christian Tradition, but from the lore of the Greeks, the teachings of philosophers, the mysteries, and astrology," an opinion to which Irenaeus had already given expression. For the rest, Hippolytus deals with the teaching of the Gnostics in much the same way as his master, Irenaeus.

12. His polemical work, Contra Haeresim Noeti, is of more importance. Hippolytus here attacks the system of the Monarchianists, and maintains, in opposition to their teaching, the Trinity of God. The Lord, he points out, does not say, "I and the Father am one," but, "I and the Father are one" -- an expression which indicates that Father and Son are two persons (prosôpa) whose power is one and the same. "And, therefore, must Noetus, whether he will or no, confess God the Almighty Father, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God who has become man, and to whom the Father has subjected all things -- Himself and the Holy Ghost excepted -- and he must further acknowledge that these (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) are really three." God is, therefore, one in power; but as regards the Economy of the Godhead (intrinsic relations), He is threefold. "We do not admit two Gods but only one, but we admit two Persons, with a third intrinsic relation (Economy) which we name the grace of the Holy Ghost. The Father is one, but there are two Persons, for there is also the Son; a third Person also is the Holy Ghost: patêr men gar eis, prosôpa de duo, hoti kai huios, to de triton (prosôpon) to hagion Pneuma."

13. The world has been created by the Logos, at the command of the Father, and has been created from nothing. The world, therefore, is not God, and may cease to be, if the Creator so wills it. Man has been created a dependent being, but endowed with freedom of will; it is in the misuse of this free will that evil has its origin. God imposed the Law upon man as upon a free being; the beast is ruled by the whip and the bridle, man by law, reward and punishment. The Law was promulgated from the beginning through just men, notably through Moses; the Logos, who at all times had been active impelling and exhorting men to its observance, at last appeared on earth as the Son of the Virgin. Man is not God; "but if you wish to become divine (ei de theleis kai theos genesthai), obey the Creator and do not transgress His law, so that, being found faithful in a few things, you may be placed over many."

14. We pass now to Tertullian. Tertullian was born at Carthage A.D. 160, of heathen parents. Nature had endowed him with a quick and penetrating intellect, and a vivid imagination. He studied philosophy and the fine arts, and adopted the law as a profession. The circumstances which led to his conversion to Christianity -- an event which happened in his thirtieth year -- have not been recorded. After his conversion, he entered the ranks of the priesthood, and devoted himself to the defence of Christianity with voice and pen. Unfortunately, the rigorism of his views led him ultimately to join the Montanists (A.D. 203.) Whether he again returned to the Catholic Church is uncertain. He died A.D. 240.

15. The writings of Tertullian are, some of them apologies on behalf of the Christian teaching, and of the conduct of the Christians under persecution; some of them dogmatic and polemical treatises against the heretics (Gnostics and Monarchianists); and some of them treatises on ethical questions. To the first class belong the Apologeticus, De Idololatria, Ad Nationes, Ad Martyres, De Spectaculis, De Testimonio anima, De Corona Militis, De fuga in Persecutione, Contra Gnosticos Scorpiace, Ad Scapulam. To the second class belong: De Praescriptionibus Haereticorum, Adv. Marcionem, Adv. Hermogenem, Adv. Valentinianos, Adv. Praxeam, De Carne Christi, De Resurrectione Carnis, De Anima. To the third class belong: De Patientia, De Oratione, De Baptismo, De Paenitentia, Ad Uxorem, De Cultu Feminarum, De Exhortatione Castitatis, De Monogamia, De Pudicitia, De Jejuniis, De Virginibus Velandis and De Pallio. The last six treatises are Montanistic, so are the last two of the first class, and all in the second, with the exception of that first named.

16. Tertullian is not so great an admirer of Greek philosophy as Justin. He takes pleasure in exposing the errors of the Greek philosophers, in order to exalt Christianity by comparison with them. But this antipathy is not directed against Greek philosophy for its own sake; Tertullian's zeal is aroused chiefly by the misuse which the heretics had made of the philosophy of the Greeks to establish their own systems, and to misrepresent Christianity. It is against the heretics his condemnation is primarily directed. His constant complaint is, that the philosophers have been the patriarchs of heresy. Valentinus, he says, was equipped by the Platonists, Marcion by the Stoics; from the Epicureans comes the denial of the immortality of the soul, and from every school of philosophy the denial of the resurrection of the dead.

17. In his apologetic writings, Tertullian directs his very sharp controversial weapons against the polytheism of paganism and the superstitions connected with it. He asks the advocates of polytheism to hear the voice of nature in themselves. If they will but listen to this voice, they will be forced to acknowledge the unity of God. The soul, in a moment of sudden fright, or under the influence of any eager desire, turns involuntarily to the one true God, and not to an idol. This is shown by the exclamations which are used involuntarily on such occasions, v.g., "God grant it," "if God wills it," or, "please God," &c. In this way the soul of itself gives testimony to the one true God, nature itself is the teacher, through whom God instructs us regarding Himself. The Soul is, by nature, Christian. (De Test. Animae.)

18. In his celebrated work, De Praescriptionibus Haereticorum, Tertullian maintains the prescriptive right of the Church against all heretics. The Church is antecedent to all heresies. Her teaching is thus the original, and therefore the only true teaching. Whatever has separated itself from her at a later period, and set itself up in opposition to her, is eo ipso false; the Church's teaching has a prescriptive right as opposed to these innovations. We can receive as truth only that which comes to us by ecclesiastical tradition. The tradition transmitted to us by the Apostles is the tradition transmitted by the Church, and conversely. The traditional teaching of the Church must not be abandoned under pretext of following the tradition received from the Apostles, as the heretics make profession of doing. "If thou art a Christian," says Tertullian, "believe what has been handed down."

19. In his controversies with the Marcionites, Tertullian, like Justin, endeavours to prove that knowledge of the true God does not come exclusively from the revelation made through Christ; tbat there is a twofold knowledge of God, a natural knowledge which begins with the works of creation, and thence ascends to the Creator, and a knowledge bestowed through prophecy (revelation). The first knowledge precedes the second. The soul exists first, prophecy comes after. But, as we have seen, the soul, of its nature, gives testimony to the true God. The consciousness of God's existence is one of its natural endowments. The true God cannot be entirely beyond its knowledge, as the Marcionites hold. He is knowable without the aid of prophecy (revelation).

20. The Marcionites are equally in error when they assume the existence of two Gods -- the God of Goodness and the God of Justice (the Supreme God, and the Demiurgus.) God is the Summum Magnum, the highest and greatest being of whom we can have conception. If this is so, God must be one. If there were another like Himself, He would cease to be the Summum Magnum, for a still higher being would be conceivable, namely, the being who would have no other like himself. It follows that if God is not one, He does not exist at all; it is easier to believe that a thing does not exist at all, than to believe that it exists otherwise than is required by its nature. The heretics are in error when they assert goodness and justice to be incompatible with one another, and ascribe them in consequence to two different Gods; so far is it from the truth that goodness and justice exclude one another, that it may be said of either that it includes the other; for the man who is not just, cannot be good, and vice versa (Adv. Marc. I., c. 3.)

21. The heretics had represented the being of God as purely ideal, and had pushed this conception so far that the belief in the reality of the Divine Being was endangered. Tertullian protests emphatically against this view. He goes so far in the contrary direction, that while holding God to be spiritual in his nature, he ascribes to Him a body also. All reality, he says, is corporeal; it is only the non-existent which can be described as incorporeal. Tertullian cannot conceive of a substance which is not of the corporeal order. "Ipsa substantia corpus est rei cujusque;" such is his formula. (Adv. Hermog., c. 35.) Following the analogy of man's nature, he distinguishes in God the body from the spirit, and understands the expressions of Scripture regarding the eyes; hands, feet, &c., of God in a strictly literal sense. This is certainly a peculiar view. We must, however, allow that he does not attribute to God a material body; such a doctrine would be in absolute contradiction with other points of his teaching regarding the nature of God. He attributes a corporeal being to God in the same sense in which he attributes a corporeal element to the human soul, a peculiarity of his system which we shall presently examine.

22. In opposition to the Monarchianists, Tertullian upholds the oneness of God in a Trinity of intrinsic Divine relations (Economy). Praxeas and his followers, he says, assert that we cannot maintain the unity of God, if we do not regard the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as one and the same thing. "Just as if all were not one, when all came from one, in virtue, that is to say, of the oneness of substance, while at the same time the mystery of the Economy (system of intrinsic relations) is maintained which determines this unity to threefold Being, distinguishing from one another the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, not indeed separating them in rank, but establishing a gradation (order) among them; not differentiating them in substance but in form (Person); not in power but in character (species). They are one in substance, in rank, and in power, for there is only one God, from whom arise these gradations, forms, or characters, which bear the names Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." (Adv. Prax., c. 2.)

23. Eternal matter, according to the conception of Hermogenes, cannot exist. "Before all things God existed alone, constituting in Himself His own universe, place of abode, and all the rest. And yet, even then, He was not wholly alone, for He bad by Him that Reason (ratio) which the Holy Scripture names Sophia. With this Sophia, which He established in Himself as a Second Person, He deliberated, so to say, on all which He had determined to produce extrinsically to Himself. When He began the creation of the world He sent forth this Sophia as His Word, in order to create all things through it. It was thus the world came into existence. In this procession of the Word from God at the creation, the perfect generation of the Word is, furthermore, accomplished. For thenceforward the Word takes a position of perfect equality with Him from whom He issues and whose Son He becomes -- the First-born Son, because generated before all other things -- the Only-begotten, because He alone is generated by God, generated from the very depth of the Divine Being, from the generative centre of the heart of God." (Adv. Prax., c. 6).

24. Here we encounter again the notion of a twofold generation of the Logos, an intrinsic, and an extrinsic, which we have already found set forth by the Apologists. Tertullian, however, expressly repudiates the notion of an extrinsic generation in the sense of the Valentinian probolê. "We do not hold the Son to be a being separated from the Father, as Valentinus does; according to our teaching this Word remains ever in the Father; and with the Father, He is never separated from the Father nor becomes other (in essence) than the Father; for 'I and the Father are one. Tertullian is equally emphatic in asserting that the intrinsic generation precedes the extrinsic, that the Sophia, before it issued forth to create the world, had previously existed in God as "Secunda Persona condita." The peculiar point of his doctrine is that in which he maintains that the Sophia was fully generated, and could properly be named "Son," only when it issued forth for the creation of the world.

25. The world has been created from nothing, not formed from a pre-existent matter, as the heretics suppose; it follows that the world has not existed from eternity. God was God before the creation; subsequently to creation He was Lord; the former is a term which designates His Being, the latter designates His Power. (Adv. Hermog., c. 3.) Man has been created to the image of God, for, in forming the first man, God took as model the manhood of the future Christ. (De Resurr. Carn., c. 6.) The gods of the heathens are fallen angels, who were seduced from allegiance to God by love of mortal women. (De Cult. Fem., I. 2.)

26. In his teaching regarding the nature of the human soul, Tertullian meets his heretical opponents with arguments similar to those which led him to attribute a body to God. The soul, according to him, is not an incorporeal essence. Just as in the whole man we distinguish two constituent parts -- soul and body -- so in the soul we must make a distinction between the spiritual and corporeal elements. These elements are, no doubt, bound together in essential unity, and are inseparable from one another; the former, however, may, in a certain sense, be styled the soul of the soul, and the latter its body. To establish this view of the corporeal nature of the soul, Tertullian has recourse to the arguments of the Stoics. If the soul were not corporeal, it could not be affected by the action of the body, nor would it be capable of suffering. No union could be effected between the corporeal and the incorporeal, for there could be no contact between them. Children resemble their parents in mind as well as in body -- a phenomena which is inexplicable if we do not suppose the soul to be corporeal. (De Anima, c. 5.)

27. In our concept of the soul, we must represent to ourselves a subtle, luminous, ethereal essence. It is possessed of the same form and the same organs as the body, inasmuch as it is diffused through every part of the body. It grows with the growth of the body; not by any addition to its substance, but rather by a development of its faculties and organs. Its growth may be compared to the gradual expansion of a plate of gold under the hammer; the metal does not increase in substance, but grows in extent and in brilliancy. Though the soul is corporeal, its substance cannot be increased or diminished; it is indivisible and indissoluble. (De Anim. c. 37.)

28. With regard to the origin of the soul, Tertullian is in favour of the theory of generation (Traducianism). The soul is generated by the parents at the same time as the body and in the same way. In generation a twofold germ is produced, a psychical and a bodily; and just as the latter is detached from the bodies of the parents, so is the former from their souls. These two elements are at first blended together, but they gradually separate, and the soul of the child is formed from the one, its body from the other. In accordance with this view it may be said that Adam's soul was the parent of all other souls. (De Anima, c. 19, 20, 29.)

29. Tertullian rejects the Gnostic view regarding the three constituents of man's nature -- body, soul, and spirit. According to him, man is made up of body and soul, he is one being composed of soul and flesh. What we call reason (nous, mens, animus), is merely a faculty of the soul -- that faculty by which it thinks and wills. Tertullian, furthermore, establishes the closest relations between intellect and sense. Intellect is indebted to sense for all its cognitions, the latter is the guide, the author, and the foundation of all intellectual activity; it is not second in rank to intellect, it rather takes rank above it.

30. The degradation and condemnation of the flesh, which formed a leading heretical tenet, receives no support from Tertullian. Soul and body are, according to his view, intimately bound together, are the complements of one another. The soul is the vital principle of the body, and the body, in its turn, is an organ for the accomplishment of the special functions of the soul. Without the soul the flesh could not live; without the flesh the soul could not act. There is no activity of the soul which is not dependent on the body and effected by means of it. So closely are soul and body united, that we might well be in doubt whether the soul, sustains the body or the body the soul, whether the soul obeys the body or the body obeys the soul. Following this line of thought, Tertullian was able at length to propose the question: "What is man other than flesh ?" (De Resurr. Carnis, c. 15.)

31. This reasoning disposed of the heretical notion that the body is the source of evil. Evil, according to Tertullian, has its source exclusively in the abuse of human liberty. It is not the flesh, as such, which stands in the way of man's salvation, but the works of the flesh, which the soul accomplishes in the body, and with its co-operation. The first man sinned by an abuse of his free will, and the souls of all other men being derived from the soul of the first man, his sin has been transmitted to his posterity. From the same source has come what we term the irrational part of the soul -- that element within it which rebels against reason. Sin was implanted in the soul, and grew with its development, till at last it seemed a part of its very nature. This is the irrational element within the soul, which may rightly be said to come from the devil. There remains in us, however, a remnant of good, something of the divine image; what comes from God may be obscured, it cannot be extinguished. (De Anima, c. 16.)

32. The heretics had taught that the flesh had not shared in the Redemption effected by Christ, that it had been the scope of the Redemption to deliver the soul from the body. This doctrine Tertullian combats with all his dialectical resources. So little is it true that the flesh is excluded from the benefits of the Redemption, that the redemption and sanctification of the soul is dependent upon the body. Redemption first affects the body, and through the body reaches the soul. In Baptism the flesh is first washed and then the soul thereby purified. In Penance the body is subjected to the imposition of hands, in order that the soul may be enlightened and purified by the fire of the Spirit. The body is refreshed with the Body and Blood of Christ, that the soul may be nurtured by God. The flesh is, therefore, the corner-stone of salvation. "Be comforted, flesh and blood," cries Tertullian, "you have won the kingdom of Christ." (De Resurr. Carnis, c. 51.)

33. Tertullian maintains the immortality of the soul against pagans and heretics. Here again he appeals to the voice of nature. An instinct of our nature forces us to wish well to the dead, to bewail them or to account them happy. If the soul is not immortal, this voice of nature has no meaning. Moreover, we have a natural fear of death. Now, if the soul is mortal, why should we fear death which is a deliverance from the ills of life? Finally, we ambition lasting renown among men. To what purpose this ambition if the soul be not immortal? (De Test. Animae, c. 4.; De Carne Christi, c. 12.)

34. Tertullian is not content with the immortality of the soul. His teaching, regarding the nature and destiny of the body, furnishes him with arguments by which to maintain, against the heretics, the resurrection of the dead. There is no transmigration of souls. No souls, with the exception of the souls of martyrs, enter heaven immediately after death; but neither do they enter into other bodies; they are all kept in Hades till the Day of Judgment. When that time comes, the bodies of men will be raised from the dead and united again to their souls. Man, in his composite nature of soul and body, has done the good and the evil of life; soul and body must, therefore, each have a share in the final retribution. Moreover, the resurrection of the dead is typified in nature, and, in a certain sense, assured, by the fact that in every sphere of nature new life springs from things inanimate. (De Resurr. Carnis, c. 14.)

35. It is hardly necessary, after this exposition of Tertullian's teaching, to mention that he was strongly adverse to the Docetism of the Gnostics. In his treatise, De Carne Christi, he sets himself to establish irrefragably the reality of the human nature of Christ. The Chiliasm, which we have seen to be a part of the doctrines of Irenaeus, we find in favour with Tertullian also. On the whole, the writings of Tertullian furnish evidence of his acuteness of intellect, his zeal for the truth, and his strong moral sense. The errors which we meet in his works may impair our admiration for his intellectual greatness, but cannot wholly destroy it. Heresy found in him a dauntless and powerful opponent.

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