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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book II, Chapter 5

Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 5)

This world was not formed by any other beings within the territory which is contained by the Father.

1. The remarks, therefore, which I made a little while ago are suitable in answer to those who assert that this world was formed outside of the Pleroma, or under a good God; and such persons, with the Father they speak of, will be quite cut off from that which is outside the Pleroma, in which, at the same time, it is necessary that they should finally rest. In answer to those, again, who maintain that this world was formed by certain other beings within that territory which is contained by the Father, all those points which have now been noticed will present themselves [as exhibiting their] absurdities and incoherencies; and they will be compelled either to acknowledge all those things which are within the Father, lucid, full, and energetic, or to accuse the light of the Father as if He could not illuminate all things; or, as a portion of their Pleroma [is so described], the whole of it must be confessed to be void, chaotic, and full of darkness. And they accuse all other created things as if these were merely temporal, or [at the best], if eternal, yet material. But these (the Æons) ought to be regarded as beyond the reach of such accusations, since they are within the Pleroma, or the charges in question will equally fall against the entire Pleroma; and thus the Christ of whom they speak is discovered to be the author of ignorance. For, according to their statements, when He had given a form so far as substance was concerned to the Mother they conceive of, He cast her outside of the Pleroma; that is, He cut her off from knowledge. He, therefore, who separated her from knowledge, did in reality produce ignorance in her. How then could the very same person bestow the gift of knowledge on the rest of the Æons, those who were anterior to Him [in production], and yet be the author of ignorance to His Mother? For He placed her beyond the pale of knowledge, when He cast her outside of the Pleroma.

2. Moreover, if they explain being within and without the Pleroma as implying knowledge and ignorance respectively, as certain of them do (since he who has knowledge is within that which knows), then they must of necessity grant that the Saviour Himself (whom they designate All Things) was in a state of ignorance. For they maintain that, on His coming forth outside of the Pleroma, He imparted form to their Mother [Achamoth]. If, then, they assert that whatever is outside [the Pleroma] is ignorant of all things, and if the Saviour went forth to impart form to their Mother, then He was situated beyond the pale of the knowledge of all things; that is, He was in ignorance. How then could He communicate knowledge to her, when He Himself was beyond the pale of knowledge? For we, too, they declare to be outside the Pleroma, inasmuch as we are outside of the knowledge which they possess. And once more: If the Saviour really went forth beyond the Pleroma to seek after the sheep which was lost, but the Pleroma is [co-extensive with] knowledge, then He placed Himself beyond the pale of knowledge, that is, in ignorance. For it is necessary either that they grant that what is outside the Pleroma is so in a local sense, in which case all the remarks formerly made will rise up against them; or if they speak of that which is within in regard to knowledge, and of that which is without in respect to ignorance, then their Saviour, and Christ long before Him, must have been formed in ignorance, inasmuch as they went forth beyond the Pleroma, that is, beyond the pale of knowledge, in order to impart form to their Mother.

3. These arguments may, in like manner, be adapted to meet the case of all those who, in any way, maintain that the world was formed either by angels or by any other one than the true God. For the charges which they bring against the Demiurge, and those things which were made material and temporal, will in truth fall back on the Father; if indeed the very things which were formed in the bosom of the Pleroma began by and by in fact to be dissolved, in accordance with the permission and good-will of the Father. The [immediate] Creator, then, is not the [real] Author of this work, thinking, as He did, that He formed it very good, but He who allows and approves of the productions of defect, and the works of error having a place among his own possessions, and that temporal things should be mixed up with eternal, corruptible with incorruptible, and those which partake of error with those which belong to truth. If, however, these things were formed without the permission or approbation of the Father of all, then that Being must be more powerful, stronger, and more kingly, who made these things within a territory which properly belongs to Him (the Father), and did so without His permission. If again, as some say, their Father permitted these things without approving of them, then He gave the permission on account of some necessity, being either able to prevent [such procedure], or not able. But if indeed He could not [hinder it], then He is weak and powerless; while, if He could, He is a seducer, a hypocrite, and a slave of necessity, inasmuch as He does not consent [to such a course], and yet allows it as if He did consent. And allowing error to arise at the first, and to go on increasing, He endeavours in later times to destroy it, when already many have miserably perished on account of the [original] defect.

4. It is not seemly, however, to say of Him who is God over all, since He is free and independent, that He was a slave to necessity, or that anything takes place with His permission, yet against His desire; otherwise they will make necessity greater and more kingly than God, since that which has the most power is superior to all [others]. And He ought at the very beginning to have cut off the causes of [the fancied] necessity, and not to have allowed Himself to be shut up to yielding to that necessity, by permitting anything besides that which became Him. For it would have been much better, more consistent, and more God-like, to cut off at the beginning the principle of this kind of necessity, than afterwards, as if moved by repentance, to endeavour to extirpate the results of necessity when they had reached such a development. And if the Father of all be a slave to necessity, and must yield to fate, while He unwillingly tolerates the things which are done, but is at the same time powerless to do anything in opposition to necessity and fate (like the Homeric Jupiter, who says of necessity, I have willingly given you, yet with unwilling mind), then, according to this reasoning, the Bythus of whom they speak will be found to be the slave of necessity and fate.

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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/0103205.htm>.

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