ON THE GNOSTICS


EXCERPTS FROM HIPPOLYTUS

EXCERPTS FROM EARLY CHURCH FATHERS


Excerpts from Hippolytus of Rome

01.  On the tenets of the philosophers.

02.  On the systems of the astrologers.

03.  On the Gnostics.

04.  On  Peratae and Sethians.

05.  Concerning Simon Magus.

06.  Concerning Valentinus.

07.  Concerning Basilides.

08.  Concerning Marcion and Carpocrates.

09.  Concerning the Docetae.

10.  Concerning the Noetians.

11.  On Elchasai and the Jews.

12.  Hippolytus, the rightful bishop in opposition to Callistus.

 


03. ON THE GNOSTICS.

In the four preceding books I have very elaborately explained the opinions propounded by all the speculators among both Greeks and Barbarians, respecting the Divine Nature and the creation of the world; and not even have I omitted the consideration of their systems of magic ... It remains, therefore, to hasten on to the refutation of the heresies; but it is for the purpose of furnishing this (refutation) that we have put forward the statements already made by us. For from philosophers the heresiarchs deriving starting-points, (and) like cobblers patching together, according to their own particular interpretation, the blunders of the ancients, have advanced them as novelties to those that are capable of being deceived (Refutation of all heresies 5.1).

... Those who have presumed to celebrate a serpent, the originator of the error (in question), through certain expressions devised by the energy of his own (ingenuity). The priests, then, and champions of the system, have been first those who have been called Naasseni, being so denominated from the Hebrew language, for the serpent is called naas (in Hebrew). Subsequently, however, they have styled themselves Gnostics, alleging that they alone have sounded the depths of knowledge (R5.1).

These (Naasseni), then, according to the system advanced by them, magnify, (as the originating cause) of all things else, a man and a son of man ... of this man one part is rational, another psychical, another earthly ... according to these, there are three kinds of all existent things -angelic, psychical, earthly; and there are three churches- angelic, psychical, earthly; and the names of these are elect, called, captive (R5.1).

These (Gnostic heretics), collecting together the secret and ineffable mysteries of all the Gentiles, are uttering falsehoods against Christ, and are making dupes of those who are not acquainted with these orgies of the Gentiles ... In order, therefore, that finally the Great Man from above may be overpowered, "from whom," as they say, "the whole family named on earth and in the heavens has been formed, to him was given also a soul, that through the soul he might suffer; and that the enslaved image may be punished of the Great and most Glorious and Perfect Man (R5.2).

For of soul, say they, is every nature desirous, and each in a different manner. For soul is cause of all things made; all things that are nourished, (the Naassene) says, and that grow, require soul. For it is not possible, he says, to obtain any nourishment or growth where soul is not present (R5.2).

They make, however, the following assertion: he who says that all things derive consistence from one, is in error; but he who says that they are of three, is in possession of the truth, and will furnish a solution of the (phonomena of the) universe. For there is, says (the Naassene), one blessed nature of the Blessed Man, of him who is above, (namely) Adam; and there is one mortal nature, that which is below; and there is one kingless generation, which is begotten above (R5.3).

For the Samothracians expressly hand down, in the mysteries that are celebrated among them, that (same) Adam as the primal man. And habitually there stand in the temple of the Samothracians two images of naked men, having both hands stretched aloft towards heaven, and their pudenda erecta, as with the statue of Mercury on Mount Cyllene. And the aforesaid images are figures of the primal man, and of that spiritual one that is born again, in every respect of the same substance with that man (R5.3).

Now he who makes these statements is, he says, the Perfect Man that is imaged from the unportrayable one from above. The Perfect Man therefore cannot, he says, be saved, unless, entering in through this gate, he be born again (R5.3).

The secret mysteries, "which (also we speak), not in words taught of human wisdom, but in those taught of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him." And these are, he says, the ineffable mysteries of the Spirit, which we alone (the Gnostics) are acquainted with. Concerning these, he says, the Saviour has declared, "No one can come unto me, except my heavenly Father draw some one unto me." For it is very difficult, he says, to accept and receive this great and ineffable mystery ... "the ends," he says, are the seeds scattered from the unportrayable One upon the world, through which the whole cosmical system is completed; for through these also it began to exist ... none becomes a hearer of these mysteries, unless only the perfect Gnostics (R5.3).

These, he says, are the inferior mysteries, those appertaining to carnal generation. Now, those men who are initiated into these inferior (mysteries) ought to pause, and (then) be admitted into the great (and) heavenly (ones). For they, he says, who obtain their shares (in this mystery), receive greater portions. For this, he says, is the gate of heaven; and this a house of God, where the Good Deity dwells alone. And into this (gate), he says, no unclean person shall enter, nor one that is natural or carnal; but it is reserved for the spiritual only (R5.3).

The Phrygians, however, further assert that the father of the universe is "Amygdalus" ... from which proceeded and was born the Invisible (One), "by whom all things were made, and nothing was made without Him." And the Phrygians say that what has been thence produced is "Syrictas" (piper), because the Spirit that is born is harmonious ... The Spirit, however, he says, is there where likewise the Father is named, and the Son is there born from this Father. This, he says, is the many-named, thousand-eyed Incomprehensible One, of whom every nature -each, however, differently- is desirous. This, he says, is the Word of God, which, he says, is a word of revelation of the Great Power. Wherefore it will be sealed, and hid, and concealed, lying in the habitation where lies the basis of the root of the universe (R5.4).

These doctrines, then, the Naasseni attempt to establish, calling themselves Gnostics. But since the error is many-headed and diversified, resembling, in truth, the hydra that we read of in history; when, at one blow, we have struck off the heads of this (delusion) by means of refutation, employing the wand of truth, we shall entirely exterminate the monster. For neither do the remaining heresies present much difference of aspect from this, having a mutual connection through (the same) spirit of error (R5.6).


 

From his own writings, Hippolytus appears as the rightful Bishop of Rome who upheld the true apostolic tradition against the unworthy pontiff Callistus, an impostor and a villain no less than a laxist and a heretic. The surprising reconciliation of the two bitterly opposing groups subsequently took place, following which the Callistians endorsed him as another glorious martyr in a united Church. However, he was only acknowledged as a presbyter or, at most, as a bishop in some uncertain see.

 

An alternative stance that relates these events to the struggles that rent the Roman Christians in the times of Maxentius is examined in Did Tertullian really exist? Did Cyprian? Did Hippolytus? Once more tolerant tetrarchs overthrew Diocletian’s system in the west, African and Roman rigorists forcefully attempted to depose the prelates that yielded or fled under persecution. Whereas in North Africa Donatus Magnus and Caecilian of Carthage attacked one another through the works of Tertullian and Cyprian respectively, the conflicting Roman ecclesiastical heads Heraclius and Eusebius contended under the figures of Hippolytus and Callistus.

 


 

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