CONCERNING THE DOCETAE


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.

 


09. CONCERNING THE DOCETAE.

(The Docetae maintain) that God is the primal (Being), as it were a seed of a fig-tree, which is altogether very diminutive in size, but infinite in power ... God Himself, however, remains with Himself, far separated from the three Aeons. When each of these Aeons had obtained an originating cause of generation, he grew, as has been declared, by little and little, and (by degrees) was magnified, and (ultimately) became perfect. But they think that that is perfect which is reckoned at ten. When, therefore, the Aeons had become equal in number and in perfection, they were, as (the Docetae) are of opinion, constituted thirty Aeons in all, while each of them attains full perfection in a decade (Refutation of all heresies 8.1).

All these Aeons, both the three and all those infinite (Aeons which proceed) from these indefinitely, are hermaphrodite Aeons. All these, then, after they had been increased and magnified, and had sprung from that one primary seed, (were actuated by a spirit) of concord and union, and they all coalesced into one Aeon. And in this manner they begot of a single virgin, Mary, a joint offspring, who is a Mediator, (that is,) the Saviour of all who are in the (covenant of) mediation (R8.2).

This third Aeon, however, beholding all his own distinctive attributes laid hold on collectively by the underlying darkness (which was) beneath, and not being ignorant of the power of darkness, and at the same time of the security and profusion of light, did not allow his brilliant attributes (which he derived) from above for any length of time to be snatched away by the darkness beneath. But (he acted in quite a contrary manner), for he subjected (darkness) to the Aeons (R8.2).

This fiery (Jewish) deity, then, after he became fire from light, proceeded to create the world in the manner which Moses describes. He himself, however, as devoid of subsistence, employs the darkness as (his) substance, and perpetually insults those eternal attributes of light which, (being) from above, had been laid hold on by (the darkness) beneath. Up to the time, therefore, of the appearance of the Saviour, there prevailed, by reason of the Deity of fiery light, (that is,) the Demiurge, a certain extensive delusion of souls. For the species are styled souls, because they are refrigerations from the (Aeons) above, and continue in darkness. But when (the souls) are altered from bodies to bodies, they remain under the guardianship of the Demiurge (R8.3).

When (the Son), however, became aware that the Aeons, those (that subsist) collectively, are unable to behold the Pleroma of all the Aeons, but that in a state of consternation they fear lest they may undergo corruption as being themselves perishable, and that they are overwhelmed by the magnitude and splendour of power; -(when the Son, I say, perceived this,) He contracted Himself ... He entered into this world just as we have described Him, unnoticed, unknown, obscure, and disbelieved. In order, therefore, say the Docetae, that He may be clad in the darkness that is prevalent in more distant quarters of creation ... From the thirty Aeons, therefore, (the Son) assumed thirty forms ... Those, then, that derive their nature from the places below, are not able to see the forms of the Saviour which are above them (R8.3).

Monoïmus says that man (Oceanus) is the universe. Now the universe is the originating cause of all things, unbegotten, incorruptible, (and) eternal. And (he says) that the son of (the) man previously spoken of is begotten, and subject to passion, (and) that he is generated independently of time, (as well as) undesignedly, (and) without being predestinated (R8.5).

Monoïmus himself, accordingly, in his letter to Theophrastus, expressly makes the following statement: "Omitting to seek after God, and creation, and things similar to these, seek for Him from (out of) thyself, and learn who it is that absolutely appropriates (unto Himself) all things in thee, and says, 'My God (is) my mind, my understanding, my soul, my body.' And learn from whence are sorrow, and joy, and love, and hatred, and involuntary wakefulness, and involuntary drowsiness, and involuntary anger, and involuntary affection (R8.8).

Tatian, however, although being himself a disciple of Justinus the Martyr, did not entertain similar opinions with his master. But he attempted (to establish) certain novel (tenets), and affirmed that there existed certain invisible Aeons. And he framed a legendary account (of them), similarly to those (spoken of) by Valentinus. And similarly with Marcion, he asserts that marriage is destruction (R8.9).

But a certain Hermogenes, himself also imagining that he propounded some novel opinion, said that God made all things out of coeval and ungenerated matter. For that it was impossible that God could make generated things out of things that are not ... As He gazed (upon matter) in a seething condition, like (the contents of) a pot when a fire is burning underneath, He effected a partial separation. And taking one portion from the whole, He subdued it, but another He allowed to be whirled in a disorderly manner ... He acknowledges, however, that Christ is the Son of the God who created all things (R8.10).

And certain other (heretics), contentious by nature, (and) wholly uniformed as regards knowledge, as well as in their manner more (than usually) quarrelsome, combine (in maintaining) that Easter should be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month, according to the commandment of the law, on whatever day (of the week) it should occur ... In other respects, however, these consent to all the traditions delivered to the Church by the Apostles (R8.11).

But there are others who themselves are even more heretical in nature (than the foregoing). and are Phrygians by birth. These have been rendered victims of error from being previously captivated by (two) wretched women, called a certain Priscilla and Maximilla, whom they supposed (to be) prophetesses. And they assert that into these the Paraclete Spirit had departed; and antecedently to them, they in like manner consider Montanus as a prophet ... But they magnify these wretched women above the Apostles and every gift of Grace, so that some of them presume to assert that there is in them a something superior to Christ (R8.12).

(Encratites) suppose, that by meats they magnify themselves, while abstaining from animal food, (and) being water-drinkers, and forbidding to marry, and devoting themselves during the remainder of life to habits of asceticism (R8.13).


 

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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