Book 7 Chapter 16. Scripture the Criterion by Which Truth and Heresy are Distinguished.
But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves.
There are certain criteria common to men, as the senses; and others that belong to those who have employed their wills and energies in what is true—the methods which are pursued by the mind and reason, to distinguish between true and false propositions.
Now, it is a very great thing to abandon opinion, by taking one’s stand between accurate knowledge and the rash wisdom of opinion, and to know that he who hopes for everlasting rest knows also that the entrance to it is toilsome
and strait. And let him who has once received the Gospel, even in the very hour in which he has come to the knowledge of salvation,
not turn back, like Lot’s wife, as is said; and let him not go back either to his former life, which adheres to the things of sense, or to heresies. For they form the character, not knowing the true God.
For he that loves father or mother more than Me, the Father and Teacher of the truth, who regenerates and creates anew, and nourishes the elect soul,
is not worthy of Me— He means, to be a son of God and a disciple of God, and at the same time also to be a friend, and of kindred nature.
For no man who looks back, and puts his hand to the plough, is fit for the kingdom of God. Luke 9:62
But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin.
Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth.
And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth, says the Scripture; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. Wherefore the Scriptures have conceived to Gnostics; but the heresies, not having learned them, dismissed them as not having conceived.
Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts. And the lover of truth, as I think, needs force of soul. For those who make the greatest attempts must fail in things of the highest importance; unless, receiving from the truth itself the rule of the truth, they cleave to the truth. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures.
As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god.
For we have, as the source of teaching, the Lord, both by the prophets, the Gospel, and the blessedapostles,
in various manners and at sundry times, Hebrews 1:1 leading from the beginning of knowledge to the end. But if one should suppose that another origin was required, then no longer truly could an origin be preserved.
He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.
And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature.
But the truth is not found by changing the meanings (for so people subvert all true teaching), but in the consideration of what perfectly belongs to and becomes the Sovereign God, and in establishing each one of the points demonstrated in the Scriptures again from similar Scriptures. Neither, then, do they want to turn to the truth, being ashamed to abandon the claims of self-love; nor are they able to manage their opinions, by doing violence to the Scriptures. But having first promulgated false dogmas to men; plainly fighting against almost the whole Scriptures, and constantly confuted by us who contradict them; for the rest, even now partly they hold out against admitting the prophetic Scriptures, and partly disparage us as of a different nature, and incapable of understanding what is peculiar to them. And sometimes even they deny their own dogmas, when these are confuted, being ashamed openly to own what in private they glory in teaching. For this may be seen in all the heresies, when you examine the iniquities of their dogmas. For when they are overturned by our clearly showing that they are opposed to the Scriptures, one of two things may be seen to have been done by those who defend the dogma. For they either despise the consistency of their own dogmas, or despise the prophecy itself, or rather their own hope. And they invariably prefer what seems to them to be more evident to what has been spoken by the Lord through the prophets and by the Gospel, and, besides, attested and confirmed by the apostles.
Seeing, therefore, the danger that they are in (not in respect of one dogma, but in reference to the maintenance of the heresies) of not discovering the truth; for while reading the books we have ready at hand, they despise them as useless, but in their eagerness to surpass common faith, they have diverged from the truth. For, in consequence of not learning the mysteries of ecclesiastical knowledge, and not having capacity for the grandeur of the truth, too indolent to descend to the bottom of things, reading superficially, they have dismissed the Scriptures. Elated, then, by vain opinion, they are incessantly wrangling, and plainly care more to seem than to be philosophers. Not laying as foundations the necessary first principles of things; and influenced by human opinions, then making the end to suit them, by compulsion; on account of being confuted, they spar with those who are engaged in the prosecution of the true philosophy, and undergo everything, and, as they say, ply every oar, even going the length of impiety, by disbelieving the Scriptures, rather than be removed from the honours of the heresy and the boasted first seat in their churches; on account of which also they eagerly embrace that convivial couch of honour in the Agape, falsely so called.
The knowledge of the truth among us from what is already believed, produces faith in what is not yet believed; which [faith] is, so to speak, the essence of demonstration. But, as appears, no heresy has at all ears to hear what is useful, but opened only to what leads to pleasure. Since also, if one of them would only obey the truth, he would be healed.
Now the cure of self-conceit (as of every ailment) is threefold: the ascertaining of the cause, and the mode of its removal; and thirdly, the training of the soul, and the accustoming it to assume a right attitude to the judgments come to. For, just like a disordered eye, so also the soul that has been darkened by unnatural dogmas cannot perceive distinctly the light of truth, but even overlooks what is before it.
They say, then, that in muddy water eels are caught by being blinded. And just as knavish boys bar out the teacher, so do these shut out the prophecies from their Church, regarding them with suspicion by reason of rebuke and admonition. In fact, they stitch together a multitude of lies and figments, that they may appear acting in accordance with reason in not admitting the Scriptures. So, then, they are not pious, inasmuch as they are not pleased with the divine commands, that is, with the Holy Spirit. And as those almonds are called empty in which the contents are worthless, not those in which there is nothing; so also we call those heretics empty, who are destitute of the counsels of God and the traditions of Christ; bitter, in truth, like the wild almond, their dogmas originating with themselves, with the exception of such truths as they could not, by reason of their evidence, discard and conceal.
As, then, in war the soldier must not leave the post which the commander has assigned him, so neither must we desert the post assigned by the Word, whom we have received as the guide of knowledge and of life. But the most have not even inquired, if there is one that we ought to follow, and who this is, and how he is to be followed. For as is the Word, such also must the believer’s life be, so as to be able to follow God, who brings all things to end from the beginning by the right course.
But when one has transgressed against the Word, and thereby against God; if it is through becoming powerless in consequence of some impression being suddenly made, he ought to see to have the impressions of reasons at hand. And if it is that he has become
common, as the Scripture says, in consequence of being overcome the habits which formerly had sway by over him, the habits must be entirely put a stop to, and the soul trained to oppose them. And if it appears that conflicting dogmas draw some away, these must be taken out of the way, and recourse is to be had to those who reconcile dogmas, and subdue by the charm of the Scriptures such of the untutored as are timid, by explaining the truth by the connection of the Testaments.
But, as appears, we incline to ideas founded on opinion, though they be contrary, rather than to the truth. For it is austere and grave. Now, since there are three states of the soul— ignorance, opinion, knowledge— those who are in ignorance are the Gentiles, those in knowledge, the true Church, and those in opinion, the Heretics. Nothing, then, can be more clearly seen than those, who know, making affirmations about what they know, and the others respecting what they hold on the strength of opinion, as far as respects affirmation without proof.
They accordingly despise and laugh at one another. And it happens that the same thought is held in the highest estimation by some, and by others condemned for insanity. And, indeed, we have learned that voluptuousness, which is to be attributed to the Gentiles, is one thing; and wrangling, which is preferred among the heretical sects, is another; and joy, which is to be appropriated to the Church, another; and delight, which is to be assigned to the true Gnostic, another. And as, if one devote himself to Ischomachus, he will make him a farmer; and to Lampis, a mariner; and to Charidemus, a military commander; and to Simon, an equestrian; and to Perdices, a trader; and to Crobylus, a cook; and to Archelaus, a dancer; and to Homer, a poet; and to Pyrrho, a wrangler; and to Demosthenes, an orator; and to Chrysippus, a dialectician; and to Aristotle, a naturalist; and to Plato, a philosopher: so he who listens to the Lord, and follows the prophecy given by Him, will be formed perfectly in the likeness of the teacher— made a god going about in flesh.
Accordingly, those fall from this eminence who follow not God whither He leads. And He leads us in the inspired Scriptures.
Though men’s actions are ten thousand in number, the sources of all sin are but two, ignorance and inability. And both depend on ourselves; inasmuch as we will not learn, nor, on the other hand, restrain lust. And of these, the one is that, in consequence of which people do not judge well, and the other that, in consequence of which they cannot comply with right judgments. For neither will one who is deluded in his mind be able to act rightly, though perfectly able to do what he knows; nor, though capable of judging what is requisite, will he keep himself free of blame, if destitute of power in action. Consequently, then, there are assigned two kinds of correction applicable to both kinds of sin: for the one, knowledge and clear demonstration from the testimony of the Scriptures; and for the other, the training according to the Word, which is regulated by the discipline of faith and fear. And both develop into perfect love. For the end of the Gnostic here is, in my judgment, twofold,— partly scientific contemplation, partly action.
Would, then, that these heretics would learn and be set right by these notes, and turn to the sovereign God! But if, like the deaf serpents, they listen not to the song called new, though very old, may they be chastised by God, and undergo paternal admonitions previous to the Judgment, till they become ashamed and repent, but not rush through headlong unbelief, and precipitate themselves into judgment.
For there are partial corrections, which are called chastisements, which many of us who have been in transgression incur, by falling away from the Lord’s people. But as children are chastised by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish, for punishment is retaliation for evil. He chastises, however, for good to those who are chastised, collectively and individually.
I have adduced these things from a wish to avert those, who are eager to learn, from the liability to fall into heresies, and out of a desire to stop them from superficial ignorance, or stupidity, or bad disposition, or whatever it should be called. And in the attempt to persuade and lead to the truth those who are not entirely incurable, I have made use of these words. For there are some who cannot bear at all to listen to those who exhort them to turn to the truth; and they attempt to trifle, pouring out blasphemies against the truth, claiming for themselves the knowledge of the greatest things in the universe, without having learned, or inquired, or laboured, or discovered the consecutive train of ideas,— whom one should pity rather than hate for such perversity.
But if one is curable, able to bear (like fire or steel) the outspokenness of the truth, which cuts away and burns their false opinions, let him lend the ears of the soul. And this will be the case, unless, through the propensity to sloth, they push truth away, or through the desire of fame, endeavour to invent novelties. For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy. For, in truth, what remained to be said— in ecclesiastical knowledge I mean— by such men, Marcion, for example, or Prodicus, and such like, who did not walk in the right way? For they could not have surpassed their predecessors in wisdom, so as to discover anything in addition to what had been uttered by them; for they would have been satisfied had they been able to learn the things laid down before.
Our Gnostic then alone, having grown old in the Scriptures, and maintaining apostolic and ecclesiasticorthodoxy in doctrines, lives most correctly in accordance with the Gospel, and discovers the proofs, for which he may have made search (sent forth as he is by the Lord), from the law and the prophets. For the life of the Gnostic, in my view, is nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord. But
all have not knowledge. For I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, says the apostle,
that all were under the cloud, and partook of spiritual meat and drink; clearly affirming that all who heard the word did not take in the magnitude of knowledge in deed and word. Wherefore also he added:
But with all of them He was not well pleased. Who is this? He who said,
Why do you call Me Lord, and do not the will of My Father? That is the Saviour’s teaching, which to us is spiritual food, and drink that knows no thirst, the water of gnostic life. Further it is said, knowledge is said
to puff up. To whom we say: Perchance seeming knowledge is said to puff up, if one suppose the expression means
to be swollen up. But if, as is rather the case, the expression of the apostle means,
to entertain great and true sentiments, the difficulty is solved. Following, then, the Scriptures, let us establish what has been said:
Wisdom, says Solomon,
has inflated her children. For the Lord did not work conceit by the particulars of His teaching; but He produces trust in the truth and expansion of mind, in the knowledge that is communicated by the Scriptures, and contempt for the things which drag into sin, which is the meaning of the expression
inflated. It teaches the magnificence of the wisdom implanted in her children by instruction. Now the apostle says,
I will know not the speech of those that are puffed up, but the power;1 Corinthians 4:19 if you understand the Scriptures magnanimously (which means truly; for nothing is greater than truth). For in that lies the power of the children of wisdom who are puffed up. He says, as it were, I shall know if you rightly entertain great thoughts respecting knowledge.
For God, according to David,
is known in Judea, that is, those that are Israelites according to knowledge. For Judea is interpreted
Confession. It is, then, rightly said by the apostle,
This You, shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is comprehended in this word, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Romans 13:9
For we must never, as do those who follow the heresies, adulterate the truth, or steal the canon of the Church, by gratifying our own lusts and vanity, by defrauding our neighbours; whom above all it is our duty, in the exercise of love to them, to teach to adhere to the truth. It is accordingly expressly said,
Declare among the heathen His statutes, that they may not be judged, but that those who have previously given ear may be converted. But those who speak treacherously with their tongues have the penalties that are on record.
Chapter 17. The Tradition of the Church Prior to that of the Heresies
Those, then, that adhere to impious words, and dictate them to others, inasmuch as they do not make a right but a perverse use of the divine words, neither themselves enter into the kingdom of heaven, nor permit those whom they have deluded to attain the truth. But not having the key of entrance, but a false (and as the common phrase expresses it), a counterfeit key (ἀντικλεῖς), by which they do not enter in as we enter in, through the tradition of the Lord, by drawing aside the curtain; but bursting through the side-door, and digging clandestinely through the wall of the Church, and stepping over the truth, they constitute themselves the Mystagogues of the soul of the impious.
For that the human assemblies which they held were posterior to the Catholic Church requires not many words to show.
For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius.
And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero. It was later, in the times of Adrian the king, that those who invented the heresies arose; and they extended to the age of Antoninus the elder, as, for instance, Basilides, though he claims (as they boast) for his master, Glaucias, the interpreter of Peter.
Likewise they allege that Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas. And he was the pupil of Paul. For Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, lived as an old man with the younger [heretics]. And after him Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter.
Such being the case, it is evident, from the high antiquity and perfect truth of the Church, that these later heresies, and those yet subsequent to them in time, were new inventions falsified [from the truth].
From what has been said, then, it is my opinion that the true Church, that which is really ancient, is one, and that in it those who according to God’s purpose are just, are enrolled. For from the very reason that God is one, and the Lord one, that which is in the highest degree honourable is lauded in consequence of its singleness, being an imitation of the one first principle. In the nature of the One, then, is associated in a joint heritage the one Church, which they strive to cut asunder into many sects.
Therefore in substance and idea, in origin, in pre-eminence, we say that the ancient and Catholic Church is alone, collecting as it does into the unity of the one faith— which results from the peculiar Testaments, or rather the one Testament in different times by the will of the one God, through one Lord— those already ordained, whom God predestinated, knowing before the foundation of the world that they would be righteous.
But the pre-eminence of the Church, as the principle of union, is, in its oneness, in this surpassing all things else, and having nothing like or equal to itself. But of this afterwards.
Of the heresies, some receive their appellation from a [person’s] name, as that which is called after Valentinus, and that after Marcion, and that after Basilides, although they boast of adducing the opinion of Matthew [without truth]; for as the teaching, so also the tradition of the apostles was one. Some take their designation from a place, as the Peratici; some from a nation, as the [heresy] of the Phrygians; some from an action, as that of the Encratites; and some from peculiar dogmas, as that of the Docetæ;, and that of the Hærmatites; and some from suppositions, and from individuals they have honoured, as those called Cainists, and the Ophians; and some from nefarious practices and enormities, as those of the Simonians called Entychites.