Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: 1.08.12 Iranaeus - Against Heresies - Book 2 Ch 33-End

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Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: 1.08.12 Iranaeus - Against Heresies - Book 2 Ch 33-End

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SUBJECT: 1.08.12 Iranaeus - Against Heresies - Book 2 Ch 33-End

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Irenaeus Against Heresies. (Cont.)

Book II. (Cont.)

Chap. XXXIII. — Absurdity of the Doctrine of the Transmigration of Souls.

1. We may subvert their doctrine as to transmigration from body to body by this fact, that souls remember nothing whatever of the events which took place in their previous states of existence. For if they were sent forth with this object, that they should have experience of every kind of action, they must of necessity retain a remembrance of those things which have been previously accomplished, that they might fill up those in which they were still deficient, and not by always hovering, without intermission, round the same pursuits, spend their labour wretchedly in vain (for the mere union of a body [with a soul] could not altogether extinguish the memory and contemplation of those things which had formerly been experienced209), and especially as they came [into the world] for this very purpose. For as, when the body is asleep and at rest, whatever things the soul sees by herself, and does in a vision, recollecting 410 many of these, she also communicates them to the body; and as it happens that, when one awakes, perhaps after a long time, he relates what he saw in a dream, so also would he undoubtedly remember those things which he did before he came into this particular body. For if that which is seen only for a very brief space of time, or has been conceived of simply in a phantasm, and by the soul alone, through means of a dream, is remembered after she has mingled again with the body, and been dispersed through all the members, much more would she remember those things in connection with which she stayed during so long a time, even throughout the whole period of a bypast life.

2. With reference to these objections, Plato, that ancient Athenian, who also was the first210 to introduce this opinion, when he could not set them aside, invented the [notion of] a cup of oblivion, imagining that in this way he would escape this son of difficulty. He attempted no kind of proof [of his supposition], but simply replied dogmatically [to the objection in question], that when souls enter into this life, they are caused to drink of oblivion by that demon who watches their entrance [into the world], before they effect an entrance into the bodies [assigned them]. It escaped him, that [by speaking thus] he fell into another greater perplexity. For if the cup of oblivion, after it has been drunk, can obliterate the memory of all the deeds that have been done, how, O Plato, dost thou obtain the knowledge of this fact (since thy soul is now in the body), that, before it entered into the body, it was made to drink by the demon a drug which caused oblivion? For if thou hast a remembrance of the demon, and the cup, and the entrance [into life], thou oughtest also to be acquainted with other things; but if, on the other hand, thou art ignorant of them, then there is no truth in the story of the demon, nor in the cup of oblivion prepared with art.

3. In opposition, again, to those who affirm that the body itself is the drug of oblivion, this observation may be made: How, then, does it come to pass, that whatsoever the soul sees by her own instrumentality, both in dreams and by reflection or earnest mental exertion, while the body is passive, she remembers, and reports to her neighbours? But, again, if the body itself were [the cause of] oblivion, then the soul, as existing in the body, could not remember even those things which were perceived long ago either by means of the eyes or the ears; but, as soon as the eye was turned from the things looked at, the memory of them also would undoubtedly be destroyed. For the soul, as existing in the very [cause of] oblivion, could have no knowledge of anything else than that only which it saw at the present moment. How, too, could it become acquainted with divine things, and retain a remembrance of them while existing in the body, since, as they maintain, the body itself is [the cause of] oblivion? But the prophets also, when they were upon the earth, remembered likewise, on their returning to their ordinary state of mind,211 whatever things they spiritually saw or heard in visions of heavenly objects, and related them to others. The body, therefore, does not cause the soul to forget those things which have been spiritually witnessed; but the soul teaches the body, and shares with it the spiritual vision which it has enjoyed.

4. For the body is not possessed of greater power than the soul, since indeed the former is inspired, and vivified, and increased, and held together by the latter; but the soul possesses212 and rules over the body. It is doubtless retarded in its velocity, just in the exact proportion in which the body shares in its motion; but it never loses the knowledge which properly belongs to it. For the body may be compared to an instrument; but the soul is possessed of the reason of an artist. As, therefore, the artist finds the idea of a work to spring up rapidly in his mind, but can only carry it out slowly by means of an instrument, owing to the want of perfect pliability in the matter acted upon, and thus the rapidity of his mental operation, being blended with the slow action of the instrument, gives rise to a moderate kind of movement [towards the end contemplated]; so also the soul, by being mixed up with the body belonging to it, is in a certain measure impeded, its rapidity being blended with the body’s slowness. Yet it does not lose altogether its own peculiar powers; but while, as it were, sharing life with the body, it does not itself cease to live. Thus, too, while communicating other things to the body, it neither loses the knowledge of them, nor the memory of those things which have been witnessed.

5. If, therefore, the soul remembers nothing213 of what took place in a former state of existence, but has a perception of those things which are here, it follows that she never existed in other bodies, nor did things of which she has no knowledge, nor [once] knew things which she cannot [now mentally] contemplate. But, as each one of us receives his body through the skilful 411 working of God, so does he also possess his soul. For God is not so poor or destitute in resources, that He cannot confer its own proper soul on each individual body, even as He gives it also its special character. And therefore, when the number [fixed upon] is completed, [that number] which He had predetermined in His own counsel, all those who have been enrolled for life [eternal] shah rise again, having their own bodies, and having also their own souls, and their own spirits, in which they had pleased God. Those, on the other hand, who are worthy of punishment, shall go away into it, they too having their own souls and their own bodies, in which they stood apart from the grace of God. Both classes shall then cease from any longer begetting and being begotten, from marrying and being given in marriage; so that the number of mankind, corresponding to the fore-ordination of God, being completed, may fully realize the scheme formed by the Father.214

Chap. XXXIV. — Souls Can Be Recognised in the Separate State, and Are Immortal Although They Once Had a Beginning.

1. The Lord has taught with very great fulness, that souls not only continue to exist, not by passing from body to body, but that they preserve the same form215 [in their separate state] as the body had to which they were adapted, and that they remember the deeds which they did in this state of existence, and from which they have now ceased, — in that narrative which is recorded respecting the rich man and that Lazarus who found repose in the bosom of Abraham. In this account He states (Luk_16:19, etc.) that Dives knew Lazarus after death, and Abraham in like manner, and that each one of these persons continued in his own proper position, and that [Dives] requested Lazarus to be sent to relieve him — [Lazarus], on whom he did not [formerly] bestow even the crumbs [which fell] from his table. [He tells us] also of the answer given by Abraham, who was acquainted not only with what respected himself, but Dives also, and who enjoined those who did not wish to come into that place of torment to believe Moses and the prophets, and to receive216 the preaching of Him who was217 to rise again from the dead. By these things, then, it is plainly declared that souls continue to exist, that they do not pass from body to body, that they possess the form of a man, so that they may be recognised, and retain the memory of things in this world; moreover, that the gift of prophecy was possessed by Abraham, and that each class of souls] receives a habitation such as it has deserved, even before the judgment.

2. But if any persons at this point maintain that those souls, which only began a little while ago to exist, cannot endure for any length of time; but that they must, on the one hand, either be unborn, in order that they may be immortal, or if they have had a beginning in the way of generation, that they should die with the body itself — let them learn that God alone, who is Lord of all, is without beginning and without end, being truly and for ever the same, and always remaining the same unchangeable Being. But all things which proceed from Him, whatsoever have been made, and are made, do indeed receive their own beginning of generation, and on this account are inferior to Him who formed them, inasmuch as they are not unbegotten. Nevertheless they endure, and extend their existence into a long series of ages in accordance with the will of God their Creator; so that He grants them that they should be thus formed at the beginning, and that they should so exist afterwards.

3. For as the heaven which is above us, the firmament, the sun, the moon, the rest of the stars, and all their grandeur, although they had no previous existence, were called into being, and continue throughout a long course of time according to the will of God, so also any one who thinks thus respecting souls and spirits, and, in fact, respecting all created things, will not by any means go far astray, inasmuch as all things that have been made had a beginning when they were formed, but endure as long as God wills that they should have an existence and continuance. The prophetic Spirit bears testimony to these opinions, when He declares, “For He spake, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created: He hath established them for ever, yea, forever and ever.” (Psa_148:5, Psa_148:6) And again, He thus speaks respecting the salvation of man: “He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest him length of days for ever and ever;” (Psa_21:4) indicating that it is the Father of all who imparts continuance for ever and ever on those who are saved. For life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature; but it is bestowed according to the grace of God. And therefore he who shall preserve the life bestowed upon him, and give thanks to Him who imparted it, shall receive also length of days for ever and ever. But he who shall reject it, and prove himself ungrateful to his Maker, inasmuch as he has been created, and has not recognised Him who 412 bestowed [the gift upon him], deprives himself of [the privilege of] continuance for ever and ever.218 And, for this reason, the Lord declared to those who showed themselves ungrateful towards Him: “If ye have not been faithful in that which is little, who will give you that which is great?”219 indicating that those who, in this brief temporal life, have shown themselves ungrateful to Him who bestowed it, shall justly not receive from Him length of days for ever and ever.

4. But as the animal body is certainly not itself the soul, yet has fellowship with the soul as long as God pleases; so the soul herself is not life,220 but partakes in that life bestowed upon her by God. Wherefore also the prophetic word declares of the first-formed man, “He became a living soul,” (Gen_2:7) teaching us that by the participation of life the soul became alive; so that the soul, and the life which it possesses, must be understood as being separate existences. When God therefore bestows life and perpetual duration, it comes to pass that even souls which did not previously exist should henceforth endure [for ever], since God has both willed that they should exist, and should continue in existence. For the will of God ought to govern and rule in all things, while all other things give way to Him, are in subjection, and devoted to His service. Thus far, then, let me speak concerning the creation and the continued duration of the soul.

Chap. XXXV. — Refutation of Basilides, and of the Opinion That the Prophets Uttered Their Predictions Under the Inspiration of Different Gods.

1. Moreover, in addition to what has been said, Basilides himself will, according to his own principles, find it necessary to maintain not only that there are three hundred and sixty-five heavens made in succession by one another, but that an immense and innumerable multitude of heavens have always been in the process of being made, and are being made, and will continue to be made, so that the formation of heavens of this kind can never cease. For if from the efflux221 of the first heaven the second was made after its likeness, and the third after the likeness of the second, and so on with all the remaining subsequent ones, then it follows, as a matter of necessity, that from the efflux of our heaven, which he indeed terms the last, another be formed like to it, and from that again a third; and thus there can never cease, either the process of efflux from those heavens which have been already made, or the manufacture of [new] heavens, but the operation must go on ad infinitum, and give rise to a number of heavens which will be altogether indefinite.

2. The remainder of those who are falsely termed Gnostics, and who maintain that the prophets uttered their prophecies under the inspiration of different gods, will be easily overthrown by this fact, that all the prophets proclaimed one God and Lord, and that the very Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things which are therein; while they moreover announced the advent of His Son, as I shall demonstrate from the Scriptures themselves, in the books which follow.

3. If, however, any object that, in the Hebrew language, diverse expressions [to represent God] occur in the Scriptures, such as Sabaoth, Eloë, Adonai, and all other such terms, striving to prove from these that there are different powers and gods, let them learn that all expressions of this kind are but announcements and appellations of one and the same Being. For the term Eloë in the Jewish language denotes God, while Eloeim222 and Eloeuth in the Hebrew language signify “that which contains all.” As to the appellation Adonai, sometimes it denotes what is nameable223 and admirable; but at other times, when the letter Daleth in it is doubled, and the word receives an initial224 guttural sound — thus Addonai — [it signifies], “One who bounds and separates the land from the water,” so that the water should not subsequently225 submerge the land. In like manner also, Sabaoth,226 when it [is spelled by a Greek Omega in the last syllable [Sabaoth], denotes “a voluntary agent;” but when it is spelled with a Greek Omicron — as, for instance, Sabaoth — it expresses “the first heaven.” In the same way, too, the word Jaoth,227 when the last syllable is made long and aspirated, 413 denotes “a predetermined measure;” but when it is written shortly by the Greek letter Omicron, namely Jaoth, it signifies “one who puts evils to flight.” All the other expressions likewise bring out228 the title of one and the same Being; as, for example (in English229), The Lord of Powers, The Father of all, God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker, and such like. These are not the names and titles of a succession of different beings, but of one and the same, by means of which the one God and Father is revealed, He who contains all things, and grants to all the boon of existence.

4. Now, that the preaching of the apostles, the authoritative teaching of the Lord, the announcements of the prophets, the dictated utterances of the apostles,230 and the ministration of the law — all of which praise one and the same Being, the God and Father of all, and not many diverse beings, nor one deriving his substance from different gods or powers, but [declare] that all things [were formed] by one and the same Father (who nevertheless adapts this works] to the natures and tendencies of the materials dealt with), things visible and invisible, and, in short, all things that have been made [were created] neither by angels, nor by any other power, but by God alone, the Father — are all in harmony with our statements, has, I think, been sufficiently proved, while by these weighty arguments it has been shown that there is but one God, the Maker of all things. But that I may not be thought to avoid that series of proofs which may be derived from the Scriptures of the Lord (since, indeed, these Scriptures do much more evidently and clearly proclaim this very point), I shall, for the benefit of those at least who do not bring a depraved mind to bear upon them, devote a special book to the Scriptures referred to, which shall fairly follow them out [and explain them], and I shall plainly set forth from these divine Scriptures proofs to [satisfy] all the lovers of truth.231 414


209 Harvey thinks that this parenthesis has fallen out of its proper place, and would insert it immediately after the opening period of the chapter.

210 It is a mistake of Irenaeus to say that the doctine of metempsychosis originated with Plato: it was first publicly taught by Pythagoras, who learned it from the Egyptians. Comp. Clem. Alex., Strom., i. 15: Herodot., ii. 123.

211 “In hominem conversi,” literally, “returning into man.”

212 “Possidet.” Massuet supposes this word to represent κυριεύει, “rules over” and Stieren κρατύνει, governs; while Harvey thinks the whole clause corresponds to κρατεῖ καὶ κυριεύει τοῦ σώματος, which we have rendered above.

213 Literally, none of things past.

214 The Latin text is here very confused, but the Greek original of the greater part of this section has happily been preserved. [This Father here anticipates in outline many ideas which St. Augustine afterwards corrected and elaborated.]

215 Grabe refers to Tertullian, De Anima, ch. vii., as making a similiar statement. Massuet, on the other hand, denies that Irenaeus here expresses an opinion like that of Tertullian in the passage referred to, and thinks that the special form (character) mentioned is to be understood as simply denoting individual spiritual properties. But his remarks are not satisfactory.

216 With Massuet and Stieren, we here supply esse.

217 Some read resurgeret, and others resurrexerit; we deem the former reading preferable.

218 As Massuet observes, this statement is to be understood in harmony with the repeated assertion of Irenaeus that the wicked will exist in misery for ever. It refers not to annihilation, but to deprivation of happiness.

219 Luk_16:11, quoted loosely from memory. Grabe, however, thinks they are cited from the apocryphal Gospel according to the Egyptians.

220 Comp. Justin Martyr, Dial. c. Tryph., ch. vi.

221 Ex defluxu, corresponding to ἐξ ἀποῤῥοίας in the Greek.

222 Eloae here occurs in the Latin text, but Harvey supposes that the Greek had been Ἐλωείμ. He also remarks that Eloeuth (אֱלָהוּ) is the rabbinical abstract term, Godhead.

223 All that can be remarked on this is, that the Jews substituted the term Adonai (אֲדֹנַ) for the name Jehovah, as often as the latter occurred in the sacred text. The former might therefore be styled nameable.

224 The Latin text is, “aliquando autem duplicata litera delta cum aspiratione,” and Harvey supposes that the doubling of the Daleth would give “to the scarcely articulate n  a more decidedly guttural character;” but the sense is extremely doubtful.

225 Instead of “nec posteaquam insurgere,” Feuardent and Massuet read “ne possit insurgere,” and include the clause in the definition of Addonai.

226 The author is here utterly mistaken, and, notwithstanding Harvey’s earnest claim for him of a knowledge of Hebrew, seems clearly to betray his ignorance of that language. The term Sabaoth is never written with an Omicron, either in the LXX. or by the Greek Fathers, but always with an Omega (Σαβαώθ). Although Harvey remarks in his preface, that “it is hoped the Hebrew attainments of Irenaeus will no longer be denied,” there appears enough, in the etymologies and explanations of Hebrew terms given in this chapter by the venerable Father, to prevent such a conclusion; and Massuet’s observation on the passage seems not improbable, when he says, “Sciolus quispiam Irenaeo nostro, in Hebraicis haud satis perito, hic fucum ecisse videtur.”

227 Probably corresponding to the Hebrew term Jehovah (יְהֹוָ).

228 Literally, “belong to one and the same name.”

229 “Secundum Latinitatem” in the text.

230 The words are “apostolorum dictatio,” probably referring to the letters of the apostles, as distinguished from their preaching already mentioned.

231 This last sentence is very confused and ambiguous, and the editors throw but little light upon it. We have endeavoured to translate it according to the ordinary text and punctuation, but strongly suspect interpolation and corruption. If we might venture to strike out “has Scripturas,” and connect “his tamen” with “praedicantibus,” a better sense would be yielded, as follows: “But that I may not be thought to avoid that series of proofs which may be derived from the Scriptures of the Lord (since, indeed, these Scriptures do much more evidently and clearly set forth this very point, to those at least who do not bring a depraved mind to their consideration), I shall devote the particular book which follows to them, and shall,” etc.