Adversus haereses

St. Irenaeus of Lyons
(c. 130-202)

Chapter 16

Absurd interpretations of the Marcosians

1. Blending in one the production of their own Aeons, and the straying and recovery of the sheep [spoken of in the Gospel ], 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 Aeons. 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, m 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, 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 thee by recounting their other interpretations, that you may perceive the results everywhere. They maintain for instance, that the letter Eta (h) along with the Episemon (e) 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 Aeons. 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 Aeon, 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 Zambda 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 (M) being composed of two Lambdas (L). 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 thou hast read through all this, thou wilt 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." 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," saith 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," 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.

Chapter 17

The theory of the Marcosians, that created things were made after the image of things invisible

1. I wish also to explain to thee their theory as to the way in which the creation itself was formed through the mother by the Demiurge (as it were without his knowledge), after the image of things invisible. They maintain, then, that first of all the four elements, fire, water, earth, and air, were produced after the image of the primary Tetrad above, and that then, we add their operations, viz., heat, cold, dryness, and humidity, an exact likeness of the Ogdoad is presented. They next reckon up ten powers in the following manner: -- There are seven globular bodies, which they also call heavens; then that globular body which contains these, which also they name the eighth heaven; and, in addition to these, the sun and moon. These, being ten in number, they declare to be types of the invisible Decad, which proceeded from Logos and Zoe. As to the Duodecad, it is indicated by the zodiacal circle, as it is called; for they affirm that the twelve signs do most manifestly shadow forth the Duodecad, the daughter of Anthropos and Ecclesia. And since the highest heaven, beating upon the very sphere [of the seventh heaven], has been linked with the most rapid precession of the whole system, as a check, and balancing that system with its own gravity, so that it completes the cycle from sign to sign in thirty years -- they say that this is an image of Horus, encircling their thirty-named mother. And then, again, as the moon travels through her allotted space of heaven in thirty days, they hold, that by these days she expresses the number of the thirty Aeons. The sun also, who runs through his orbit in twelve months, and then returns to the same point in the circle, makes the Duodecad manifest by these twelve months; and the days, as being measured by twelve hours, are a type of the invisible Duodecad. Moreover, they declare that the hour, which is the twelfth part of the day, is composed of thirty parts, in order to set forth the image of the Triacontad. Also the circumference of the zodiacal circle itself contains three hundred and sixty degrees (for each of its signs comprises thirty); and thus also they affirm, that by means of this circle an image is preserved of that connection which exists between the twelve and the thirty. Still further, asserting that the earth is divided into twelve zones, and that in each zone it receives power from the heavens, according to the perpendicular [position of the sun above it], bringing forth productions corresponding to that power which sends down its influence upon it, they maintain that this is a most evident type of the Duodecad and its offspring.

2. In addition to these things, they declare that the Demiurge, desiring to imitate the infinitude, and eternity, and immensity, and freedom from all measurement by time of the Ogdoad above, but, as he was the fruit of defect, being unable to express its permanence and eternity, had recourse to the expedient of spreading out its eternity into times, and seasons, and vast numbers of years, imagining, that by the multitude of such times he might imitate its immensity. They declare further, that the truth having escaped him, he followed that which was false, and that, for this reason, when the times are fulfilled, his work shall perish.

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;" for, as they maintain, by naming these four -- God, 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." 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 Aeons. 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 failing over his feet, as being adorned with four rows of precious stones, 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, 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. Moreover, that circumcision which took place on the eighth day, 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. The arrangement also made by Sarah when, after ten years, she gave 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 sceptresa (tribes), and the ten courts of the tabernacle, and the columns of ten cubits [high], and the ten sons of Jacob who were at first sent into Egypt to buy com, and the ten apostles to whom the Lord appeared after His resurrection -- Thomas 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, 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, -- the same number which was placed by Joshua in the river, and again, on the other side, the bearers of the ark of the covenant, -- those stones which were set up by Elijah when the heifer was offered as a burnt-offering; 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; by the case of Samuel, who assigned Saul the chief place among thirty guests; by David, when for thirty days he concealed himself in the field; 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.

Chapter 19

Passages of Scripture by which they attempt to prove that the supreme Father was unknown before the coming of Christ

1. I judge it necessary to add to these details also what, by garbling passages of Scripture, they try to persuade us concerning their Propator, who was unknown to all before the coming of Christ. Their object in this is to show that our Lord announced another Father than the Maker of this universe, whom, as we said before, they impiously declare to have been the fruit of a defect. For instance, when the prophet Isaiah says, "But Israel hath not known Me, and My people have not understood Me," they pervert his words to mean ignorance of the invisible Bythus. And that which is spoken by Hosea, "There is no truth in them, nor the knowledge of God," they strive to give the same reference. And, "There is none that understandeth, or that seeketh after God: they have all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable," they maintain to be said concerning ignorance of Bythus. Also that which is spoken by Moses, "No man shall see God and live," has, as they would persuade us, the same reference.

2. For they falsely hold, that the Creator was seen by the prophets. But this passage, "No man shall see God and live," they would interpret as spoken of His greatness unseen and unknown by all; and indeed that these words, "No man shall see God," are spoken concerning the invisible Father, the Maker of the universe, is evident to us all; but that they are not used concerning that Bythus whom they conjure into existence, but concerning the Creator (and He is the invisible God), shall be shown as we proceed. They maintain that Daniel also set forth the same thing when he begged of the angels explanations of the parables, as being himself ignorant of them. But the angel, hiding from him the great mystery of Bythus, said unto him, "Go thy way quickly, Daniel, for these sayings are closed up until those who have understanding do understand them, and those who are white be made white." Moreover, they vaunt themselves as being the white and the men of good understanding.

Chapter 20

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, "Do thou first tell me what Alpha is, and then I will tell thee 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 colouring of the same kind, such as the answer which He gave His mother when He was twelve years of age: "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" 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," He confessed that God who is truly good, saying, "Why callest thou Me good: there is One who is good, the Father in the heavens;" and they assert that in this passage the Aeons receive the name of heavens. Moreover, by His not replying to those who said to Him, "By what power doest Thou this?" 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 nigh to Jerusalem, He wept over it and said, "If thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace, but they are hidden from thee," by this word "hidden" He showed the abstruse nature of Bythus. And again, when He said, "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, and learn of Me," 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 Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes. Even so, my Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him." 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.