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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book II, Chapter 25

Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 25)

God is not to be sought after by means of letters, syllables, and numbers; necessity of humility in such investigations.

1. If any one, however, say in reply to these things, What then? Is it a meaningless and accidental thing, that the positions of names, and the election of the apostles, and the working of the Lord, and the arrangement of created things, are what they are?— we answer them: Certainly not; but with great wisdom and diligence, all things have clearly been made by God, fitted and prepared [for their special purposes]; and His word formed both things ancient and those belonging to the latest times; and men ought not to connect those things with the number thirty, but to harmonize them with what actually exists, or with right reason. Nor should they seek to prosecute inquiries respecting God by means of numbers, syllables, and letters. For this is an uncertain mode of proceeding, on account of their varied and diverse systems, and because every sort of hypothesis may at the present day be, in like manner, devised by any one; so that they can derive arguments against the truth from these very theories, inasmuch as they may be turned in many different directions. But, on the contrary, they ought to adapt the numbers themselves, and those things which have been formed, to the true theory lying before them. For system does not spring out of numbers, but numbers from a system; nor does God derive His being from things made, but things made from God. For all things originate from one and the same God.

2. But since created things are various and numerous, they are indeed well fitted and adapted to the whole creation; yet, when viewed individually, are mutually opposite and inharmonious, just as the sound of the lyre, which consists of many and opposite notes, gives rise to one unbroken melody, through means of the interval which separates each one from the others. The lover of truth therefore ought not to be deceived by the interval between each note, nor should he imagine that one was due to one artist and author, and another to another, nor that one person fitted the treble, another the bass, and yet another the tenor strings; but he should hold that one and the same person [formed the whole], so as to prove the judgment, goodness, and skill exhibited in the whole work and [specimen of] wisdom. Those, too, who listen to the melody, ought to praise and extol the artist, to admire the tension of some notes, to attend to the softness of others, to catch the sound of others between both these extremes, and to consider the special character of others, so as to inquire at what each one aims, and what is the cause of their variety, never failing to apply our rule, neither giving up the [one ] artist, nor casting off faith in the one God who formed all things, nor blaspheming our Creator.

3. If, however, any one do not discover the cause of all those things which become objects of investigation, let him reflect that man is infinitely inferior to God; that he has received grace only in part, and is not yet equal or similar to his Maker; and, moreover, that he cannot have experience or form a conception of all things like God; but in the same proportion as he who was formed but today, and received the beginning of his creation, is inferior to Him who is uncreated, and who is always the same, in that proportion is he, as respects knowledge and the faculty of investigating the causes of all things, inferior to Him who made him. For you, O man, are not an uncreated being, nor did you always co-exist with God, as did His own Word; but now, through His pre-eminent goodness, receiving the beginning of your creation, you gradually learn from the Word the dispensations of God who made you.

4. Preserve therefore the proper order of your knowledge, and do not, as being ignorant of things really good, seek to rise above God Himself, for He cannot be surpassed; nor do you seek after any one above the Creator, for you will not discover such. For your Former cannot be contained within limits; nor, although you should measure all this [universe], and pass through all His creation, and consider it in all its depth, and height, and length, would you be able to conceive of any other above the Father Himself. For you will not be able to think Him fully out, but, indulging in trains of reflection opposed to your nature, you will prove yourself foolish; and if you persevere in such a course, you will fall into utter madness, while you deem yourself loftier and greater than your Creator, and imaginest that you can penetrate beyond His dominions.

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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/0103225.htm>.

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