A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists – Part 3.18
You will find many lineages in the Bible (also called genealogies). Genesis chapters 4, 5, 10 and 11 are examples. The first several chapters of 1 Chronicles contain one of the most extensive lineages in the Bible. Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain the all-important genealogies of Jesus Christ. Lineage is apparently important to God.
Some of the Christian leaders of the 2nd Century AD were mentored by men who knew the Apostles of Christ. Those include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Others in the 2nd century were mentored by men who knew the men who were Apostles of Christ. One of the best known was Irenaeus,
The direct lineage to the teaching of the Apostles of Christ widened by the time Christianity got to the 3rd century. The persecution of the Church by the government of Rome and the many heresies swirling in and around the Church made for a challenging time for Christian apologists. In this next section about A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists we will look at some of the leading apologists of the 3rd century and what they wrote that might help us in our 21st century apologetics ministries.
As we have mentioned before, we can trust the writings of the Old and New Testament, but who we can trust after that will be more difficult to determine. The key, I believe, is in how closely the writer stays to the biblical text. That means we as Christian apologists must know the Scriptures well – very well. How else can we compare the writings of men to the Word of God? Though we can learn a great deal about early Christianity and the apologists who fought many battles in the name of Christ, we must not lose sight of the Authority of God’s Word when discerning truth and error.
Hippolytus of Rome
Hippolytus was born toward the end of the 2nd century and may have been a disciple of Irenaeus. Hippolytus wrote several apologetic works including Treatise on Christ and AntiChrist, Expository Treatise Against The Jews, Against Plato On The Cause Of The Universe, Against The Heresy Of One Noetus, Against Beron And Helix, The Discourse On The Holy Theophany, Discourse On The Resurrection And Incorruption, On The Hexaemeron Or Six Days’ Work, and The Refutation Of All Heresies.
Hippolytus may be known best for his ten books refuting the heresies of the early part of the third century. He wrote about the beliefs of pagans and more than 30 gnostic Christian individuals and groups. Manuscripts for eight of the books have been discovered and translated. Manuscripts for books II and III have not been found yet.
Hippolytus wrote about a wide variety of heretics and heresies active in the early part of the third century. They included:
- Simon Magus
- Marcion of Sinope
- Carpocrates of Alexandria
- Jews: Pharisees and Sadducees
Here are some highlights from Book I, which is a summary of what Hippolytus addressed in his series.
“We propose to furnish an account of the tenets of natural philosophers, and who these are, as well as the tenets of moral philosophers, and who these are; and thirdly, the tenets of logicians, and who these logicians are.
Among natural philosophers may be enumerated Thales, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Archelaus, Parmenides, Leucippus, Democritus, Xenophanes, Ecphantus, Hippo.
Among moral philosophers are Socrates, pupil of Archelaus the physicist, (and) Plato the pupil of Socrates. This (speculator) combined three systems of philosophy.
Among logicians is Aristotle, pupil of Plato. He systematized the art of dialectics. Among the Stoic (logicians) were Chrysippus (and) Zeno. Epicurus, however, advanced an opinion almost contrary to all philosophers. Pyrrho was an Academic; this (speculator) taught the in-comprehensibility of everything. The Brahmins among the Indians, and the Druids among the Celts, and Hesiod (devoted themselves to philosophic pursuits).” The Refutation of All Heresies, Book I, Introduction, Translated by J.H. MacMahon
“Employing these accounts, (the heretics) think to deceive as many of these as devote themselves over-sedulously to the astrologers, from thence striving to construct a system of religion that is widely divergent from the thoughts of these (speculators). Wherefore, beloved, let us avoid the habit of admiring trifles, secured by which the bird (styled) the owl (is captured). For these and other such speculations are, (as it were), dancing, and not Truth. For neither do the stars yield these points of information; but men of their own accord, for the designation of certain stars, thus called them by names, in order that they might become to them easily distinguishable. For what similarity with a bear or lion, or kid, or waterman, or Cepheus, or Andromeda, or the spectres that have names given them in Hades, have the stars that are scattered over the firmament–for we must remember that these men, and the titles themselves, came into existence long after the origin of man,– (what, I say, is in common between the two), that the heretics, astonished at the marvel, should thus strive by means of such discourses to strengthen their own opinions?” Book IV, Chapter 50
“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. And the first, which is good, is unbegotten, and the second is a self-producing good, and the third is created; and hence it is that they expressly declare that there are three Gods, three Logoi, three Minds, three Men. For to each portion of the world, after the division has been made, they assign both Gods, and Logoi, and Minds, and Men, and the rest; but that from unorigination and the first segment of the world, when afterwards the world had attained unto its completion, there came down from above, for causes that we shall afterwards declare, in the time of Herod a certain man called Christ, with a threefold nature, and a threefold body, and a threefold power, (and) having in himself all (species of) concretions and potentialities (derivable) from the three divisions of the world; and that this, says (the Peratic), is what is spoken: “It pleased him that in him should dwell all fulness bodily,” and in Him the entire Divinity resides of the triad as thus divided. For, he says, that from the two superjacent worlds–namely, from that (portion of the triad) which is unbegotten, and from that which is self-producing–there have been conveyed down into this world in which we are, seeds of all sorts of potentialities.
What, however, the mode of the descent is, we shall afterwards declare.
(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. This, he says, is what is spoken: “For the Son of man came not into the world to destory the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” The world, he says, he denominates those two parts that are situated above, viz., both the unbegotten (portion of the triad), and the self-produced one. And when Scripture, he says, uses the words, “that we may not be condemned with the world,” it alludes to the third portion of (the triad, that is) the formal world. 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.” Book V, Chapter VII
“For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of the Marcosians,) on meeting with (Irenaeus’ work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption. But not even has this secret of theirs escaped (our scrutiny). For these opinions, however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school.
But Marcus, imitating his teacher, himself also feigns a vision, imagining that in this way he would be magnified. For Valentinus likewise alleges that he had seen an infant child lately born; and questioning (this child), he proceeded to inquire who it might be. And (the child) replied, saying that he himself is the Logos, and then subjoined a sort of tragic legend; and out of this (Valentinus) wishes the heresy attempted by him to consist. Marcus, making a similar attempts with this (heretic), asserts that the Telrad came to him in the form of a woman,–since the world could not bear, he says, the male (form) of this Tetrad,and that she revealed herself who she was, and explained to this (Marcus) alone the generation of the universe, which she never had revealed to any, either of gods or of men, expressing herself after this mode: When first the self-existent Father, He who is inconceivable and without substance, He who is neither male nor female, willed that His own ineffability should become realized in something spoken, and that His invisibility should become realized in form, He opened His mouth, and sent forth similar to Himself a Logos. And this (Logos) stood by Him, and showed unto Him who he was, viz., that he himself had been manifested as a (realization in) form of the Invisible One. And the pronunciation of the name was of the following description. He was accustomed to utter the first word of the name itself, which was Arche, and the syllable of this was (composed) of four letters. Then he subjoined the second (syllable), and this was also (composed) of four letters. Next he uttered the third (syllable), which was (composed) of ten letters; and he uttered the fourth (syllable), and this was (composed) of twelve letters. Then ensued the pronunciation of the entire name, (composed) of thirty letters, but of four syllables. And each of the elements had its own peculiar letters, and its own peculiar form, and its own peculiar pronunciation, as well as figures and images. And not one of these was there that beholds the form of that (letter) of which this was an element. And of course none of them could know the pronunciation of the (letter) next to this, but (only) as he himself pronounces it, (and that in such a way) as that, in pro nouncing the whole (word), he supposed that he was uttering the entire (name). For each of these (elements), being part of the entire (name), he denominates (according to) its own peculiar sound, as if the whole (of the word). And he does not intermit sounding until he arrived at the last letter of the last element, and uttered it in a single articulation. Then he said, that the restoration of the entire ensued when all the (elements), coming down into the one letter, sounded one and the same pronunciation, and an image of the pronunciation he supposed to exist when we simultaneously utter the word Amen. And that these sounds are those which gave form to the insubstantial and unbegotten Aeon, and that those forms are what the Lord declared to be angels–the (forms) that uninterruptedly behold the face of the Father.” Book VI, Chapter XXXVII
“Basilides, therefore, and Isidorus, the true son and disciple of Basilides, say that Matthias communicated to them secret discourses, which, I being specially instructed, he heard from the Saviour. Let us, then, see how clearly Basilides, simultaneously with Isidorus, and the entire band of these (heretics), not only absolutely belies Matthias, but even the Saviour Himself.
(Time) was, says (Basilides), when there was nothing. Not even, however, did that nothing constitute anything of existent things; but, to express myself undisguisedly and candidly, and without any quibbling, it is altogether nothing. But when, he says, I employ the expression “was,”I do not say that it was; but (I speak in this way) in order to signify the meaning of what I wish to elucidate. I affirm then, he says, that it was “altogether nothing.” For, he says, that is not absolutely ineffable which is named,–although undoubtedly we call this ineffable,–but that which is “non-ineffable.” For that which is “non-ineffable” is not denominated ineffable, but is, he says, above every name that is named. For, he says, by no means for the world are these names sufficient, but so manifold are its divisions that there is a deficiency (of names). And I do not take it upon myself to discover, he says, proper denominations for all things. Undoubtedly, however, one ought mentally, not by means of names, to conceive, after an ineffable manner, the peculiarities (of things) denominated. For an equivocal terminology, (when employed by teachers,) has created for their pupils confusion and a source of error concerning objects. (The Basilidians), in the first instance, laying hold on this borrowed and furtively derived tenet from the Peripatetic (sage), play upon the folly of those who herd together with them. For Aristotle, born many generations before Basilides, first lays down a system in The Categories concerning homonymous words. And these heretics bring this (system) to light as if it were peculiarly their own, and as if it were some novel (doctrine), and some secret disclosure from the discourses of Matthias.” Book VII, Chapter VIII
“Since the great body of (the heretics) do not employ the counsel of the Lord, by having the beam in the eye, and announce that they see when in reality labouring under blindness, it seems to us expedient in no wise to be silent concerning the tenets of these. Our object is, that by the refutation accomplished by us, the (heretics), being of themselves ashamed, may be brought to know how the Saviour has advised (men) first to take away the beam, then to behold clearly the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. Having therefore adequately and sufficiently explained the doctrines of the majority (of the heretics) in the seven books before this, we shall not now be silent as regards the (heterodox) opinions that follow (from these). We shall by this means exhibit the abundance of the grace of the Holy Spirit; and we shall refute those (who suppose) that they have acquired stedfastness of doctrine, when it is only in appearance. Now these have styled themselves Docetae, and propound the following opinions:- (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. (This seed constitutes, according to the Docetae,) a lowly magnitude, incalculable in multitude, (and) labouring under no deficiency as regards generation. (This seed is) a refuge for the terror-stricken, a shelter of the naked, a veil for modesty, (and) the sought-for produce, to which He came in search (for fruit), he says, three times, and did not discover (any). Wherefore, he says, He cursed the fig-tree, because He did not find upon it that sweet fruit–the sought-for produce. And inasmuch as the Deity is, according to them to express myself briefly–of this description and so great, that is, small and minute, the world, as it seems to them, was made in some such manner as the following: When the branches of the fig-tree became tender, leaves budded (first), as one may (generally) see, and next in succession the fruit. Now, in this (fruit) is pre served treasured the infinite and incalculable seed of the fig-tree. We think, therefore, (say the Docetae,) that there are three (parts) which are primarily produced by the seed of the fig-tree, (viz.,) stem, which constitutes the fig-tree, leaves, and fruit–the fig itself, as we have previously declared. In this manner, the (Docetic) affirms, have been produced three AEons, which are principles from the primal originating cause of the universe. And Moses has not been silent on this point, when he says, that there are three words of God, “darkness, gloom, tempest, and added no more.” For the (Docetic) says, God has made no addition to the three AEons; but these, in every respect. have been sufficient for (the exigencies of) those who have been begotten and are sufficient. God Himself, however, remains with Himself, far separated froth 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. And the three are mutually distinct, and hold one (degree of) honour relatively to one another, differing in position merely, because one of them is first, and the other second, and the other of these third. Position, however, afforded them diversity of power. For he who has obtained a position nearest to the primal Deity–who is, as it were, a seed–possessed a more productive power than the rest, inasmuch as he himself who is the immeasurable one, measured himself tenfold in bulk. He, however, who in position is second to the primal Deity, has, inasmuch as he is the incomprehensible one, comprehended himself sixfold. But he who is now third in position is conveyed to an infinite distance, in consequence of the dilatation of his brethren. (And when this third AEon) had thrice realized himself in thought, he encircled himself with, as it were, some eternal chain of union.” Book VIII, Chapter I
“There has appeared one, Noetus by name, and by birth a native of Smyrna. This person introduced a heresy from the tenets of Heraclitus. Now a certain man called Epigonus becomes his minister and pupil, and this person during his sojourn at Rome disseminated his godless opinion. But Cleomenes, who had become his disciple, an alien both in way of life and habits from the Church, was wont to corroborate the (Noetian) doctrine. At that time, Zephyrinus imagines that he administers the affairs of the Church –an uninformed and shamefully corrupt man. And he, being persuaded by proffered gain, was accustomed to connive at those who were present for the purpose of becoming disciples of Cleomenes. But (Zephyrinus) himself, being in process of time enticed away, hurried headlong into the same opinions; and he had Callistus as his adviser, and a fellow-champion of these wicked tenets. But the life of this (Callistus), and the heresy invented by him, I shall after a little explain. The school of these heretics during the succession of such bishops, continued to acquire strength and augmentation, from the fact that Zephyrinus and Callistus helped them to prevail. Never at any time, however, have we been guilty of collusion with them; but we have frequently offered them opposition, and have refuted them, and have forced them reluctantly to acknowledge the truth. And they, abashed and constrained by the truth, have confessed their errors for a short period, but after a little, wallow once again in the same mire.” Book IX, Chapter II
“But Theodotus of Byzantium introduced a heresy of the following description, alleging that all things were created by the true God; whereas that Christ, he states, in a manner similar to that advocated by the Gnostics already mentioned, made His appearance according to some mode of this description. And Theodotus affirms that Christ is a man of a kindred nature with all men, but that He surpasses them in this respect, that, according to the counsel of God, He had been born of a virgin, and the Holy Ghost had overshadowed His mother. This heretic, however, maintained that Jesus had not assumed flesh in the womb of the Virgin, but that afterwards Christ descended upon Jesus at His baptism in form of a dove. And from this circumstance, the lowers of Theodotus affirm that at first miraculous powers did not acquire operating energy in Saviour Himself. Theodotus, however, determines to deny the divinity of Christ. Now, opinions of this description were advaned by Theodotus.” Book X, Chapter XIX
“Such is the true doctrine in regard of the divine nature, O ye men, Greeks and Barbarians, Chaldeans and Assyrians, Egyptians and Libyans, Indians and Ethiopians, Celts, and ye Latins, who lead armies, and all ye that inhabit Europe, and Asia, and Libya. And to you I am become an adviser, inasmuch as I am a disciple of the benevolent Logos, and hence humane, in order that you may hasten and by us may be taught who the true God is, and what is His well-ordered creation. Do not devote your attention to the fallacies of artificial discourses, nor the vain promises of plagiarizing heretics, but to the venerable simplicity of unassuming truth. And by means of this knowledge you shall escape the approaching threat of the fire of judgment, and the rayless scenery of gloomy Tartarus, where never shines a beam from the irradiating voice of the Word!
You shall escape the boiling flood of hell’s eternal lake of fire and the eye ever fixed in menacing glare of fallen angels chained in Tartarus as punishment for their sins; and you shall escape the worm that ceaselessly coils for food around the body whose scum has bred it. Now such (torments) as these shall thou avoid by being instructed in a knowledge of the true God. And thou shalt possess an immortal body, even one placed beyond the possibility of corruption, just like the soul. And thou shalt receive the kingdom of heaven, thou who, whilst thou didst sojourn in this life, didst know the Celestial King. And thou shalt be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved by lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease. For thou hast become God: for whatever sufferings thou didst undergo while being a man, these He gave to thee, because thou wast of mortal mould, but whatever it is consistent with God to impart, these God has promised to bestow upon thee, because thou hast been deified, and begotten unto immortality. This constitutes the import of the proverb, “Know thyself;” i.e., discover God within thyself, for He has formed thee after His own image. For with the knowledge of self is conjoined the being an object of God’s knowledge, for thou art called by the Deity Himself. Be not therefore inflamed, O ye men, with enmity one towards another, nor hesitate to retrace with all speed your steps. For Christ is the God above all, and He has arranged to wash away sin from human beings, rendering regenerate the old man. And God called man His likeness from the beginning, and has evinced in a figure His love towards thee. And provided thou obeyest His solemn injunctions, and becomest a faithful follower of Him who is good, thou shall resemble Him, inasmuch as thou shall have honour conferred upon thee by Him.
For the Deity, (by condescension,) does not diminish aught of the divinity of His divine perfection; having made thee even God unto His glory.” Book X, Chapter XXX
We will continue looking at many of the leading Christian apologists during the 3rd century in future posts. We invite you to read any of the past posts we have shared in this series and to join us again for future posts about A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists.