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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book II, Chapter 10

Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 10)

Perverse interpretations of Scripture by the heretics: God created all things out of nothing, and not from pre-existent matter.

1. It is therefore in the highest degree irrational, that we should take no account of Him who is truly God, and who receives testimony from all, while we inquire whether there is above Him that [other being] who really has no existence, and has never been proclaimed by any one. For that nothing has been clearly spoken regarding Him, they themselves furnish testimony; for since they, with wretched success, transfer to that being who has been conceived of by them, those parables [of Scripture] which, whatever the form in which they have been spoken, are sought after [for this purpose], it is manifest that they now generate another [god], who was never previously sought after. For by the fact that they thus endeavour to explain ambiguous passages of Scripture (ambiguous, however, not as if referring to another god, but as regards the dispensations of [the true] God), they have constructed another god, weaving, as I said before, ropes of sand, and affixing a more important to a less important question. For no question can be solved by means of another which itself awaits solution; nor, in the opinion of those possessed of sense, can an ambiguity be explained by means of another ambiguity, or enigmas by means of another greater enigma, but things of such character receive their solution from those which are manifest, and consistent and clear.

2. But these [heretics], while striving to explain passages of Scripture and parables, bring forward another more important, and indeed impious question, to this effect, Whether there be really another god above that God who was the Creator of the world? They are not in the way of solving the questions [which they propose]; for how could they find means of doing so? But they append an important question to one of less consequence, and thus insert [in their speculations] a difficulty incapable of solution. For in order that they may know knowledge itself (yet not learning this fact, that the Lord, when thirty years old, came to the baptism of truth), they do impiously despise that God who was the Creator, and who sent Him for the salvation of men. And that they may be deemed capable of informing us whence is the substance of matter, while they believe not that God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist, they have collected [a multitude of] vain discourses. They thus truly reveal their infidelity; they do not believe in that which really exists, and they have fallen away into [the belief of] that which has, in fact, no existence.

3. For, when they tell us that all moist substance proceeded from the tears of Achamoth, all lucid substance from her smile, all solid substance from her sadness, all mobile substance from her terror, and that thus they have sublime knowledge on account of which they are superior to others—how can these things fail to be regarded as worthy of contempt, and truly ridiculous? They do not believe that God (being powerful, and rich in all resources) created matter itself, inasmuch as they know not how much a spiritual and divine essence can accomplish. But they do believe that their Mother, whom they style a female from a female, produced from her passions aforesaid the so vast material substance of creation. They inquire, too, whence the substance of creation was supplied to the Creator; but they do not inquire whence [were supplied] to their Mother (whom they call the Enthymesis and impulse of the Æon that went astray) so great an amount of tears, or perspiration, or sadness, or that which produced the remainder of matter.

4. For, to attribute the substance of created things to the power and will of Him who is God of all, is worthy both of credit and acceptance. It is also agreeable [to reason], and there may be well said regarding such a belief, that the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Luke 18:27 While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. But the assertion that matter was produced from the Enthymesis of an Æon going astray, and that the Æon [referred to] was far separated from her Enthymesis, and that, again, her passion and feeling, apart from herself, became matter— is incredible, infatuated, impossible, and untenable.

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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/0103210.htm>.

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