ON PERATAE AND SETHIANS
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.
04. ON PERATAE AND SETHIANS.
There is also unquestionably a certain other (head of the hydra, namely, the heresy) of the Peratae, whose blasphemy against Christ has for many years escaped notice. And the present is a fitting opportunity for bringing to light the secret mysteries of such (heretics). These allege that the world is one, triply divided. And of the triple division with them, one portion is a certain single originating principle, just as it were a huge fountain, which can be divided mentally into infinite segments. Now the first segment, and that which, according to them, is (a segment) in preference (to others), is a triad, and it is called a Perfect Good, (and) a Paternal Magnitude. And the second portion of the triad of these is, as it were, a certain infinite crowd of potentialities that are generated from themselves, (while) the third is formal (Refutation of all heresies 5.7).
(The Peratic) then says that Christ descended from above from unorigination, that by His descent all things triply divided might be saved. For some things, he says, being borne down from above, will ascend through Him, whereas whatever (beings) form plots against those which are carried down from above are cast off, and being placed in a state of punishment, are renounced ... For the third portion, which he styles the world (in which we are), must perish; but the two (remaining portions), which are situated above, must be rescued from corruption (R5.7).
Falsifying the name of truth, proclaim as a doctrine of Christ an insurrection of Aeons and revolts of good into (the ranks of) evil powers; and they speak of the confederations of good powers with wicked ones. Denominating them, therefore, Toparchai and Proastioi, and (though thus) framing for themselves very many other names not suggested (to them from other sources), they have yet unskilfully systematized the entire imaginary doctrine of the astrologers concerning the stars. And since they have introduced a supposition pregnant with immense error, they shall be refuted through the instrumentality of our admirable arrangement (R5.8).
(The Peratae) suppose that the causes of the generation of all begotten things are things unbegotten and superjacent, and that the world with us has been produced after the mode of emanation, which (world) they denominate formal. And (they maintain) that all those stars together which are beheld in the firmament have been causes of the generation of this world (R5.10).
According to them (the Peratae), the universe is Father, Son, (and) Matter; (but) each of these three has endless capacities in itself. Intermediate, then, between the Matter and the Father sits the Son, the Word, the Serpent, always being in motion towards the unmoved Father, and (towards) Matter itself in motion. And at one time he is turned towards the Father, and receives the powers into his own person; but at another time takes up these powers, and is turned towards Matter. And Matter, (though) devoid of attribute, and being unfashioned, moulds (into itself) forms from the Son which the Son moulded from the Father (R5.12).
If any one, he says, of those (beings) which are here will have strength to perceive that he is a paternal mark transferred hither from above, (and that he is) incarnate - just as by the conception resulting from the rod a something white is produced, - he is of the same substance altogether with the Father in heaven, and returns thither ... When, however, (the Son) remarks, "Your father is a murderer from the beginning," he alludes to the Ruler and Demiurge of matter, who, appropriating the marks delivered from the Son, generated him here who from the beginning was a murderer, for his work causes corruption and death ... as he brought down from above the paternal marks, so again he carries up from thence those marks roused from a dormant condition and rendered paternal characteristics, substantial ones from the unsubstantial Being, transferring them hither from thence (R5.12).
Let us then see what the Sethians affirm. To these it appears that there are three definite principles of the universe, and that each of these principles possesses infinite powers ... The entire system of their doctrine, however, is (derived) from the ancient theologians Musaeus, and Linus, and Orpheus, who elucidates especially the ceremonies of initiation, as well as the mysteries themselves ... The Sethians, then, affirm that the theory concerning composition and mixture is constituted according to the following method: The luminous ray from above is intermingled, and the very diminutive spark is delicately blended in the dark waters beneath; and (both of these) become united, and are formed into one compound mass (R5.14-16).
(Justinus) makes the following statement. There are three unbegotten principles of the universe, two male (and) one female. Of the male (principles), however, a certain one, is denominated good, and it alone is called after this manner, and possesses a power of prescience concerning the universe. But the other is father of all begotten things, devoid of prescience, and invisible. And the female (principle) is devoid of prescience, passionate, two-minded, two-bodied ... he says, Paradise being formed from the conjugal joy of Elohim and Edem, the angels of Elohim receiving from the most beauteous earth ... Elohim, then, coming to the highest part of heaven above, and beholding a light superior to that which He Himself had created, exclaimed, "Open me the gates, that entering in I may acknowledge the Lord; for I considered Myself to be Lord." (R5.21).
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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