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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book IV, Chapter 19

Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 19)

Earthly things may be the type of heavenly, but the latter cannot be the types of others still superior and unknown; nor can we, without absolute madness, maintain that God is known to us only as the type of a still unknown and superior being.

1. Now the gifts, oblations, and all the sacrifices, did the people receive in a figure, as was shown to Moses in the mount, from one and the same God, whose name is now glorified in the Church among all nations. But it is congruous that those earthly things, indeed, which are spread all around us, should be types of the celestial, being [both], however, created by the same God. For in no other way could He assimilate an image of spiritual things [to suit our comprehension]. But to allege that those things which are super-celestial and spiritual, and, as far as we are concerned, invisible and ineffable, are in their turn the types of celestial things and of another Pleroma, and [to say] that God is the image of another Father, is to play the part both of wanderers from the truth, and of absolutely foolish and stupid persons. For, as I have repeatedly shown, such persons will find it necessary to be continually finding out types of types, and images of images, and will never [be able to] fix their minds on one and the true God. For their imaginations range beyond God, they having in their hearts surpassed the Master Himself, being indeed in idea elated and exalted above [Him], but in reality turning away from the true God.

2. To these persons one may with justice say (as Scripture itself suggests), To what distance above God do you lift up your imaginations, O you rashly elated men? You have heard that the heavens are meted out in the palm of [His] hand: Isaiah 40:12 tell me the measure, and recount the endless multitude of cubits, explain to me the fullness, the breadth, the length, the height, the beginning and end of the measurement,— things which the heart of man understands not, neither does it comprehend them. For the heavenly treasuries are indeed great: God cannot be measured in the heart, and incomprehensible is He in the mind; He who holds the earth in the hollow of His hand. Who perceives the measure of His right hand? Who knows His finger? Or who does understand His hand—that hand which measures immensity; that hand which, by its own measure, spreads out the measure of the heavens, and which comprises in its hollow the earth with the abysses; which contains in itself the breadth, and length, and the deep below, and the height above of the whole creation; which is seen, which is heard and understood, and which is invisible? And for this reason God is above all principality, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, Ephesians 1:21 of all things which have been created and established. He it is who fills the heavens, and views the abysses, who is also present with every one of us. For he says, Am I a God at hand, and not a God afar off? If any man is hid in secret places, shall I not see him? Jeremiah 23:23 For His hand lays hold of all things, and that it is which illumines the heavens, and lightens also the things which are under the heavens, and tries the reins and the hearts, is also present in hidden things, and in our secret [thoughts], and does openly nourish and preserve us.

3. But if man comprehends not the fullness and the greatness of His hand, how shall any one be able to understand or know in his heart so great a God? Yet, as if they had now measured and thoroughly investigated Him, and explored Him on every side, they feign that beyond Him there exists another Pleroma of Æons, and another Father; certainly not looking up to celestial things, but truly descending into a profound abyss (Bythus) of madness; maintaining that their Father extends only to the border of those things which are beyond the Pleroma, but that, on the other hand, the Demiurge does not reach so far as the Pleroma; and thus they represent neither of them as being perfect and comprehending all things. For the former will be defective in regard to the whole world formed outside of the Pleroma, and the latter in respect of that [ideal] world which was formed within the Pleroma; and [therefore] neither of these can be the God of all. But that no one can fully declare the goodness of God from the things made by Him, is a point evident to all. And that His greatness is not defective, but contains all things, and extends even to us, and is with us, every one will confess who entertains worthy conceptions of God.

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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/0103419.htm>.

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