Ante-nicene fathers



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8. Thus far, then, by means of [ascribing to their Aeons] human feelings, and by the fact that they largely coincide in their language with many of those who are ignorant of God, they have been seen plausibly drawing a certain number away [from the truth]. They lead them on by the use of those [expressions] with which they have been familiar, to that sort of discourse which treats of all things, setting forth the production of the Word of God, and of Zoe, and of Nous, and bringing into the world, as it were, the [successive] emanations of the Deity. The views, again, which they propound, without either plausibility or parade, are simply lies from beginning to end. Just as those who, in order to lure and capture any kind of animals, place their accustomed food before them, gradually drawing them on by means of the familiar aliment, until at length they seize it, but, when they have taken them captive, they subject them to the bitterest of bendage, and drag them along with violence whithersoever they please; so also do these men gradually and gently persuading [others], by means of their plausible speeches, to accept of the emission which has been mentioned, then bring forward things which are not consistent, and forms of the remaining emissions which are not such as might have been expected. They declare, for instance, that [ten]79 Aeons were sent forth by Logos and Zoe, while from Anthropos and Ecclesia there proceeded twelve, although they have neither proof, nor testimony, nor probability, nor anything whatever of such a nature [to support these assertions]; and with equal folly and audacity do they wish it to be believed that from Logos and Zoe, being Aeons, were sent forth Bythus and Mixis, Ageratos and Henosis, Autophyes and Hedone, Acinetos and Syncrasis, Monogenes and Macaria. Moreover, [as they affirm, ] there were sent forth, in a similar way, from Anthropos and Ecclesia, being Aeons, Paracletus and Pistis, Patricos and Elpis, Metricos and Agape, Ainos and Synesis, Ecclesiasticus and Macariotes, Theletos and Sophia.

9. The passions and error of this Sophia, and how she ran the risk of perishing through her investigation [of the nature] of the Father, as they relate, and what took place outside of the Pleroma, and from what sort of a defect they teach that the Maker of the world was produced, I have set forth in the preceding book, describing in it, with all diligence, the opinions of these heretics. [I have also detailed their views] respecting Christ, whom they describe as having been produced subsequently to all these, and also regarding Soter, who, [according to them, ] derived his being from those Aeons who were formed within the Pleroma.80 But I have of necessity mentioned their names at present, that from these the absurdity of their falsehood may be made manifest, and also the confused nature of the nomenclature they have devised. For they themselves detract from [the dignity of] their Aeons by a multitude of names of this sort. They give out names plausible and credible to the heathen, [as being similar] to those who are called their twelve gods,81 and even these they will have to be images of their twelve Aeons. But the images [so called] can produce names [of their own] much more seemly, and more powerful through their etymology to indicate divinity [than are those of their fancied prototypes].

Chapter XV.—No Account Can Be Given of These Productions.

1. But let us return to the fore-mentioned question as to the production [of the Aeons]. And, in the first place, let them tell us the reason of the production of the Aeons being of such a kind that they do not come in contact with any of those things which belong to creation. For they maintain that those things [above] were not made on account of creation, but creation on account of them; and that the former are not images of the latter, but the latter of the former. As, therefore, they render a reason for the images, by saying that the month has thirty days on account of the thirty Aeons, and the day twelve hours, and the year twelve months, on account of the twelve Aeons which are within the Pleroma, with other such nonsense of the same kind, let them now tell us also the reason for that production of the Aeons, why it was of such a nature, for what reason the first and first-begotten Ogdoad was sent forth, and not a Pentad, or a Triad, or a Septenad, or any one of those which are defined by a different number? Moreover, how did it come to pass, that from Logos and Zoe were sent forth ten Aeons, and neither more nor less; while again from Anthropos and Ecclesia proceeded twelve, although these might have been either more or less numerous?

2. And then, again, with reference to the entire Pleroma, what reason is there that it should be divided into these three—an Ogdoad, a Decad, and a Duodecad—and not into some other number different from these? Moreover, with respect to the division itself, why has it been made into three parts, and not into four, or five, or six, or into some other number among those which have no connection with such numbers82 as belong to creation? For they describe those [Aeons above] as being more ancient than these [created things below], and it behoves them to possess their principle [of being] in themselves, one which existed before creation, and not after the pattern of creation, all exactly agreeing as to the point.83

3. The account which we give of creation is one harmonious with that regular order [of things prevailing in the world], for this scheme of ours is adapted to the84 things which have [actually] been made; but it is a matter of necessity that they, being unable to assign any reason belonging to the things themselves, with regard to those beings that existed before [creation], and were perfected by themselves, should fall into the greatest perplexity. For, as to the points on which they interrogate us as knowing nothing of creation, they themselves, when questioned in turn respecting the Pleroma, either make mention of mere human feelings, or have recourse to that sort of speech which bears only upon that harmony observable in creation, improperly giving us replies concerning things which are secondary, and not concerning those which, as they maintain, are primary. For we do not question them concerning that harmony which belongs to creation, nor concerning human feelings; but because they must acknowledge, as to their octiform, deciform, and duodeciform Pleroma (the image of which they declare creation to be), that their Father formed it of that figure vainly and thoughtlessly, and must ascribe to Him deformity, if He made anything without a reason. Or, again, if they declare that the Pleroma was so produced in accordance with the foresight of the Father, for the sake of creation, as if He had thus symmetrically arranged its very essence, then it follows that the Pleroma can no longer be regarded as having been formed on its own account, but for the sake of that [creation] which was to be its image as possessing its likeness (just as the clay model is not moulded for its own sake, but for the sake of the statue in brass, or gold, or silver about to be formed), then creation will have greater honour than the Pleroma, if, for its sake, those things [above] were produced.

Chapter XVI.—The Creator of the World Either Produced of Himself the Images of Things to Be Made, or the Pleroma Was Formed After the Image of Some Previous System; And So on a.d. Infinitum.

1. But if they will not yield assent to any one of these conclusions, since in that case they would be proved by us as incapable of rendering any reason for such a production of their Pleroma, they will of necessity be shut up to this—that they confess that, above the Pleroma, there was some other system more spiritual and more powerful, after the image of which their Pleroma was formed. For if the Demiurge did not of himself construct that figure of creation which exists, but made it after the form of those things which are above, then from whom did their Bythus—who, to be sure, brought it about that the Pleroma should be possessed of a configuration of this kind—receive the figure of those things which existed before Himself? For it must needs be, either that the intention [of creating] dwelt in that god who made the world, so that of his own power, and from himself, he obtained the model of its formation; or, if any departure is made from this being, then there will arise a necessity for constantly asking whence there came to that one who is above him the configuration of those things which have been made; what, too, was the number of the productions; and what the substance of the model itself? If, however, it was in the power of Bythus to impart of himself such a configuration to the Pleroma, then why may it not have been in the power of the Demiurge to form of himself such a world as exists? And then, again, if creation be an image of those things [above], why should we not affirm that those are, in turn, images of others above them, and those above these again, of others, and thus go on supposing innumerable images of images?

2. This difficulty presented itself to Basilides after he had utterly missed the truth, and was conceiving that, by an infinite succession of those beings that were formed from one another, he might escape such perplexity. When he had proclaimed that three hundred and sixty-five heavens were formed through succession and similitude by one another, and that a manifest proof [of the existence] of these was found in the number of the days of the year, as I stated before; and that above these there was a power which they also style Unnameable, and its dispensation—he did not even in this way escape such perplexity. For, when asked whence came the image of its configuration to that heaven which is above all, and from which he wishes the rest to be regarded as having been formed by means of succession, he will say, from that dispensation which belongs to the Unnameable. He must then say, either that the Unspeakable formed it of himself, or he will find it necessary to acknowledge that there is some other power above this being, from whom his unnameable One derived such vast numbers of configurations as do, according to him, exist.

3. How much safer and more accurate a course is it, then, to confess at once that which is true: that this God, the Creator, who formed the world, is the only God, and that there is no other God besides Him—He Himself receiving from Himself the model and figure of those things which have been made—than that, after wearying ourselves with such an impious and circuitous description, we should be compelled, at some point or another, to fix the mind on some One, and to confess that from Him proceeded the configuration of things created.

4. As to the accusation brought against us by the followers of Valentinus, when they declare that we continue in that Hebdomad which is below, as if we could not lift our minds on high, nor understand those things which are above, because we do not accept their monstrous assertions: this very charge do the followers of Basilides bring in turn against them, inasmuch as they (the Valentinians) keep circling about those things which are below, [going] as far as the first and second Ogdoad, and because they unskilfully imagine that, immediately after the thirty Aeons, they have discovered Him who is above all things Father, not following out in thought their investigations to that Pleroma which is above the three hundred and sixty-five heavens, which85 is above forty-five Ogdoads. And any one, again, might bring against them the same charge, by imagining four thousand three hundred and eighty heavens, or Aeons, since the days of the year contain that number of hours. If, again, some one adds also the nights, thus doubling the hours which have been mentioned, imagining that [in this way] he has discovered a great multitude of Ogdoads, and a kind of innumerable company86 of Aeons, and thus, in opposition to Him who is above all things Father, conceiving himself more perfect than all [others], he will bring the same charge against all, inasmuch as they are not capable of rising to the conception of such a multitude of heavens or Aeons as he has announced, but are either so deficient as to remain among those things which are below, or continue in the intermediate space.

Chapter XVII.—Inquiry into the Production of the Aeons: Whatever Its Supposed Nature, It is in Every Respect Inconsistent; And on the Hypothesis of the Heretics, Even Nous and the Father Himself Would Be Stained with Ignorance.

1. That system, then, which has respect to their Pleroma, and especially that part of it which refers to the primary Ogdoad being thus burdened with so great contradictions and perplexities, let me now go on to examine the remainder of their scheme. [In doing so] on account of their madness, I shall be making inquiry respecting things which have no real existence; yet it is necessary to do this, since the treatment of this subject has been entrusted to me, and since I desire all men to come to the knowledge of the truth, as well as because thou thyself hast asked to receive from me full and complete means for overturning [the views of] these men.

2. I ask, then, in what manner were the rest of the Aeons produced? Was it so as to be united with Him who produced them, even as the solar rays are with the sun; or was it actually87 and separately, so that each of them possessed an independent existence and his own special form, just as has a man from another man, and one herd of cattle from another? Or was it after the manner of germination, as branches from a tree? And were they of the same substance with those who produced them, or did they derive their substance from some other [kind of] substance? Also, were they produced at the same time, so as to be contemporaries; or after a certain order, so that some of them were older, and others younger? And, again, are they uncompounded and uniform, and altogether equal and similar among themselves, as spirit and light are produced; or are they compounded and different, unlike [to each other] in their members?

3. If each of them was produced, after the manner of men, actually and according to its own generation, then either those thus generated by the Father will be of the same substance with Him, and similar to their Author; or if88 they appear dissimilar, then it must of necessity be acknowledged that they are [formed of some different substance. Now, if the beings generated by the Father be similar to their Author, then those who have been produced must remain for ever impossible, even as is He who produced them; but if, on the other hand, they are of a different substance, which is capable of passion, then whence came this dissimilar substance to find a place within the incorruptible Pleroma? Further, too, according to this principle, each one of them must be understood as being completely separated from every other, even as men are not mixed with nor united the one to the other, but each having a distinct shape of his own, and a definite sphere of action, while each one of them, too, is formed of a particular size,—qualities characteristic of a body, and not of a spirit. Let them therefore no longer speak of the Pleroma as being spiritual, or of themselves as “spiritual,” if indeed their Aeons sit feasting with the Father, just as if they were men, and He Himself is of such a configuration as those reveal Him to be who were produced by Him.

4. If, again, the Aeons were derived from Logos, Logos from Nous, and Nous from Bythus, just as lights are kindled from a light—as, for example, torches are from a torch—then they may no doubt differ in generation and size from one another; but since they are of the same substance with the Author of their production, they must either all remain for ever impossible, or their Father Himself must participate in passion. For the torch which has been kindled subsequently cannot be possessed of a different kind of light from that which preceded it. Wherefore also their lights, when blended in one, return to the original identity, since that one light is then formed which has existed even from the beginning. But we cannot speak, with respect to light itself, of some part being more recent in its origin, and another being more ancient (for the whole is but one light); nor can we so speak even in regard to those torches which have received the light (for these are all contemporary as respects their material substance, for the substance of torches is one and the same), but simply as to [the time of] its being kindled, since one was lighted a little while ago, and another has just now been kindled.

5. The defect, therefore, of that passion which has regard to ignorance, will either attach alike to their whole Pleroma, since [all its members] are of the same substance; and the Propator will share in this defect of ignorance—that is, will be ignorant of Himself; or, on the other hand, all those lights which are within the Pleroma will alike remain for ever impassible.Whence, then, comes the passion of the youngest Aeon, if the light of the Father is that from which all other lights have been formed, and which is by nature impassible? And how can one Aeon be spoken of as either younger or older among themselves, since there is but one light in the entire Pleroma? And if any one calls them stars, they will all nevertheless appear to participate in the same nature. For if “one star differs from another star in glory,”89 but not in qualities, nor substance, nor in the fact of being passible or impassible; so all these, since they are alike derived from the light of the Father, must either be naturally impossible and immutable, or they must all, in common with the light of the Father, be passible, and are capable of the varying phases of corruption.

6. The same conclusion will follow, although they affirm that the production of Aeons sprang from Logos, as branches from a tree, since Logos has his generation from their Father. For all [the Aeons] are formed of the same substance with the Father, differing from one another only in size, and not in nature, and filling up the greatness of the Father, even as the fingers complete the hand. If therefore He exists in passion and ignorance, so must also those Aeons who have been generated by Him. But if it is impious to ascribe ignorance and passion to the Father of all, how can they describe an Aeon produced by Him as being passible; and while they ascribe the same impiety to the very wisdom (Sophia) of God, how can they still call themselves religious men?

7. If, again, they declare that their Aeons were sent forth just as rays are from the sun, then, since all are of the same substance and sprung from the same source, all must either be capable of passion along with Him who produced them, or all will remain impassible for ever. For they can no longer maintain that, of beings so produced, some are impassible and others passible. If, then, they declare all impassible, they do themselves destroy their own argument. For how could the youngest Aeon have suffered passion if all were impassible? If, on the other hand, they declare that all partook of this passion, as indeed some of them venture to maintain, then, inasmuch as it originated with Logos,90 but flowed onwards to Sophia, they will thus be convicted of tracing back the passion to Logos, who is the91 Nous of this Propator, and so acknowledging the Nous of the Propator and the Father Himself to have experienced passion. For the Father of all is not to be regarded as a kind of compound Being, who can be separated from his Nous (mind), as I have already shown; but Nous is the Father, and the Father Nous. It necessarily follows, therefore, both that he who springs from Him as Logos, or rather that Nous himself, since he is Logos, must be perfect and impassible, and that those productions which proceed from him, seeing that they are of the same substance with himself, should be perfect and impassible, and should ever remain similar to him who produced them.

8. It cannot therefore longer be held, as these men teach, that Logos, as occupying the third place in generation, was ignorant of the Father. Such a thing might indeed perhaps be deemed probable in the case of the generation of human beings, inasmuch as these frequently know nothing of their parents; but it is altogether impossible in the case of the Logos of the Father. For if, existing in the Father, he knows Him in whom he exists—that is, is not ignorant of himself—then those productions which issue from him being his powers (faculties), and always present with him, will not be ignorant of him who emitted them, any more than rays [may be supposed to be] of the sun. It is impossible, therefore, that the Sophia (wisdom) of God, she who is within the Pleroma, inasmuch as she has been produced in such a manner, should have fallen under the influence of passion, and conceived such ignorance. But it is possible that that Sophia (wisdom) who pertains to [the scheme] of Valentinus, inasmuch as she is a production of the devil, should fall into every kind of passion, and exhibit the profoundest ignorance. For when they themselves bear testimony concerning their mother, to the effect that she was the offspring of an erring Aeon, we need no longer search for a reason why the sons of such a mother should be ever swimming in the depths of ignorance.

9. I am not aware that, besides these productions [which have been mentioned], they are able to speak of any other; indeed, they have not been known to me (although I have had very frequent discussions with them concerning forms of this kind) as ever setting forth any other peculiar kind of being as produced [in the manner under consideration]. This only they maintain, that each one of these was so produced as to know merely that one who produced him, while he was ignorant of the one who immediately preceded. But they do not in this matter go forward [in their account] with any kind of demonstration as to the manner in which these were produced, or how such a thing could take place among spiritual beings. For, in whatsoever way they may choose to go forward, they will feel themselves bound (while, as regards the truth, they depart92 entirely from right reason) to proceed so far as to maintain that their Word, who springs from the Nous of the Propator,—to maintain, I say, that he was produced in a state of degeneracy. For [they hold] that perfect Nous, previously begotten by the perfect Bythus, was not capable of rendering that production which issued from him perfect, but [could only bring it forth] utterly blind to the knowledge and greatness of the Father. They also maintain that the Saviour exhibited an emblem of this mystery in the case of that man who was blind from his birth,93 since the Aeon was in this manner produced by Monogenes blind, that is, in ignorance, thus falsely ascribing ignorance and blindness to the Word of God, who, according to their own theory, holds the second [place of] production from the Propator. Admirable sophists, and explorers of the sublimities of the unknown Father, and rehearsers of those super-celestial mysteries “which the angels desire to look into!”94 —that they may learn that from the Nous of that Father who is above all, the Word was produced blind, that is, ignorant of the Father who produced him!

10. But, ye miserable sophists, how could the Nous of the Father, or rather the very Father Himself, since He is Nous and perfect in all things, have produced his own Logos as an imperfect and blind Aeon, when He was able also to produce along with him the knowledge of the Father? As ye affirm that Christ was generated95 after the rest, and yet declare that he was produced perfect, much more then should Logos, who is anterior to him in age, be produced by the same Nous, unquestionably perfect, and not blind; nor could he, again, have produced Aeons still blinder than himself, until at last your Sophia, always utterly blinded, gave birth to so vast a body of evils. And your Father is the cause of all this mischief; for ye declare the magnitude and power of your Father to be the causes of ignorance, assimilating Him to Bythus, and assigning this as a name to Him who is the unnameable Father. But if ignorance is an evil, and ye declare all evils to have derived their strength from it, while ye maintain that the greatness and power of the Father is the cause of this ignorance, ye do thus set Him forth as the author of [all] evils. For ye state as the cause of evil this fact, that [no one] could contemplate His greatness. But if it was really impossible for the Father to make Himself known from the beginning to those [beings] that were formed by Him, He must in that case be held free from blame, inasmuch as He could not remove the ignorance of those who came after Him. But if, at a subsequent period, when He so willed it, He could take away that ignorance which had increased with the successive productions as they followed each other, and thus become deeply seated in the Aeons, much more, had He so willed it might He formerly have prevented that ignorance, which as yet was not, from coining into existence.




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