We concluded our preceding article with a very brief resume of the history of Irenaeus, whom we wish to quote in connection with the history of the doctrine of creation. To this very brief resume we wish to add the following quotation from the same book, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, page 310: “The Episcopate of Irenaeus was distinguished by labors, ‘in season and out of season,’ for the evangelization of Southern Gaul; and he seems to have sent missionaries into other regions of what we now call France. In spite of Paganism and heresy, he rendered Lyons a Christian city; and Marcus seems to have retreated before his terrible castigation, taking himself off to regions beyond the Pyrenees. But the pacific name he bears, was rendered yet more illustrious by his interposition to compose the Easter Controversy, then threatening to impair, if not to destroy, the unity of the Church. The beautiful concordat between East and West, in which Polycarp and Anicetus had left the question, was not disturbed by Victor, Bishop of Rome, whose turbulent catholic spirit would not accept the compromise of his predecessor. Irenaeus remonstrates with him in a catholic spirit, and overrules his impetuous temper. At the Council of Nice, the rule for the observance of Easter was finally settled by the whole Church; and the forbearing example of this great triumph, for a short time only, closing his life, like a true shepherd, with thousands of his flock, in the massacre (A.D. 202) stimulated by the wolfish Emperor Severus.”
Irenaeus opposed the heresy of Gnosticism. The word, Gnosticism, is derived from the Greek word, gnosis, which means knowledge. Of course, Gnosticism was not true knowledge; only Christianity is true knowledge. The gnostics were those who claimed to have the true knowledge of the Scriptures, who claimed to have been inducted into the mysteries of the Word of God, who claimed to possess the discerning grace and power of the Spirit of God, to whom had been revealed the mysteries of the truth and of the kingdom of God.
Gnosticism advocated the heresy of dualism. Of interest is the following presentation in the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, page 499: “Then the radical Gnostic tendency that gave special offense to the orthodox mode of thinking was its dualism which was strongly opposed to orthodox Christianity, based on monism. This dualism was plain in every way, and may be treated under the following heads: (1) Dualism in theology and cosmology: for the Gnostics separated the supreme God and the creator of the world. So, too, in the elaborated forms of gnosis, the supreme God was considered as the God of the new covenant, the creator of the world as the God of the old covenant; but in seeking to show the highest honor to Christianity by separating its God from the God of Judaism, they thereby uprooted Christianity from the very soil in which it had been planted as a historic religion. (2) Dualism in Christology: the divine eon, sent from on high to redeem the spiritual that is in the material, was Christ, but a sharp distinction was drawn between this super mundane Christ and the historical Jesus. With the latter the eon either merely contracted a temporary union (joined him in baptism, but forsook him before death); or the Jewish Jesus was only the manifestation of the heavenly redeemer, who was obliged to assume a body in order to become visible; or, lastly, the entire visible apparition of the redeemer, his birth, life and death, was in semblance only. (3) Dualism in anthropology: men were distinguished as spiritual men, in whom the divine portion to be redeemed lived bound to the material portion; and as material men, who, having deteriorated into matter, were not an object of redemption. There were besides, in certain cases, the men “of soul,” who were destined to a certain degree of blessedness, and for whose understanding the verities of salvation had to be clothed in their historic. dress. (4) Dualism in soteriology: redemption was separation of spirit from matter: a. beginning even at present; hence there was either mortification and contempt of the material, by way of asceticism, or else libertinism. b. The process became complete in the future: hence there was a rejection of the primitive Christian hopes as to a future life: especially the belief in the resurrection of the body.”
Irenaeus opposed these heretics. Writing against their conception of the creation of the world, he writes (Vol. I, page 370), and we quote: “But these (heretics), while striving to explain passages of Scripture and parables, bring forward another more important, and indeed impious question, to this effect, ‘Whether there be really another god above that God who was the Creator of the world?’ They are not in the way of solving the questions (which they propose); for how could they find means of doing so? But they append an important question to one of less consequence, and thus insert (in their speculations) a difficulty incapable of solution. For in order that they may know ‘knowledge’ itself (yet not learning this fact, that the Lord, when thirty years old, came to the baptism of truth), they do impiously despise that God who was the Creator, and who sent Him for the salvation of men. And that they may be deemed capable of informing us whence is the substance of matter, while they believe not that God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist, they have collected (a multitude of) vain discourses. They thus truly reveal their infidelity; they do not believe in that which really exists, and they have fallen away into (the belief of) that which has, in fact, no existence.”
And then Irenaeus continues: “For, when they tell us that all moist substance proceeded from the tears of Achamoth, all lucid substance from her smile, all solid substance from her sadness, all mobile substance from her terror, and that thus they have sublime knowledge on account of which they are superior to others,—how can these things fail to be regarded as worthy of contempt, and truly ridiculous? They do not believe that God (being powerful, and rich in all resources) created matter itself, inasmuch as they know not how much a spiritual and divine essence can accomplish. But they do believe that their Mother, whom they style a female from a female, produced from her passions aforesaid the so vast material substance of creation. They inquire, too, whence the substance of creation was supplied to the Creator; but they do not inquire whence (were supplied) to their Mother (whom they call the Enthymesis and impulse of the Aeon that went astray) so great an amount of tears, or perspiration, or sadness, or that which produced the remainder of matter.
“For, to attribute the substance of created things to the power and will of Him who is God of all, is worthy both of credit and acceptance. It is also agreeable (to reason), and there may be well said regarding such a belief, that ‘the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’ While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point preeminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. But the assertion that matter was produced from the Enthymesis of an Aeon going astray, and that the Aeon (referred to) was far separated from her Enthymesis, and that, again, her passion and feeling, apart from herself, became matter—is incredible, infatuated, impossible, and untenable.”
In connection with the above quotation, we wish to make the following remarks. First, in this writing Irenaeus declares that God, creating the world, made all things out of nothing. He declares emphatically that the Lord did not make things out of already existing matter. The Lord created all things, and He made all things out of nothing. Secondly, in holy and righteous irony the consecrated Church Father writes that the heretics do not believe that God, being powerful; and rich in all resources, created matter itself, inasmuch as they know not how much a spiritual and divine essence can accomplish, but they do believe that their Mother produced from her passions aforesaid the so vast material substance of creation. Doesn’t this remind us of the present day evolutionist? He refuses to believe that an almighty Creator created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is therein, but he does accept that m-an developed from a monkey. What, I ask you, is more rational? That an almighty God created all things, the heavens and the earth and all that is therein? Or, that man, with a moral-rational mind and will, descended from an irrational monkey? We know the answer. Indeed, the world believes in the doctrine of evolution and denies the Scriptural account of creation, not because the theory of evolution is more rational, but only because they hate the living God and refuse to bow before Him. And the reason why the world refuses to acknowledge the living God as Creator of all things is obvious. To acknowledge the living God as the Creator of the universe surely implies that they must serve Him and love Him with all their hearts and minds and souls and strength. Thirdly, notice, too, how carnal is the conception of the Gnostics. They speak of the tears of Achamoth, of all lucid substance as proceeding from her smile, all solid substance from her sadness, all mobile substance from her terror. What does all this emphasize? How truly the truth of Scripture is verified by these heretics! The second commandment forbids all image worship. This commandment forbids us to make any graven image of anything that is in heaven, or on the earth, or in the waters under the earth. The implication of this second commandment is that, once we have forsaken the living God and worship other gods before Him, we always made a graven image of our god(s). The point is that we either serve the living God or a creature. There is no other possibility. And when we serve a creature, we are able to make a graven image of him. We cannot make a graven image of the living God. Is not this truth of the Word of God verified by Gnostic heretics? They speak of the tears, the smile, the sadness, the terror of Achamoth. It is obvious that they conceive of their god as a creature. They refuse to ascribe to the living God the power to make matter, but they do not hesitate to ascribe this power to their god. Such is the vain imagination of man when once he has forsaken the living God and chosen himself other gods, gods which they have chosen according to and after their own imagination. The conception of the evolutionist is always carnal, materialistic, sensuous, from below. However, as Irenaeus remarks, and this in the fourth place, to attribute the substance of created things to the power and will of Him who is God of all, is worthy both of credit and acceptance. It is indeed true, as the Scriptures declare, that what is impossible with men is possible with God. It is indeed, true that, while men cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point preeminently superior to men, and that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. This is surely rational, adapted to the human mind. And that it is adapted to the human mind is because man was created in the image of God, so created as to be able to understand that the Creator is surely above the creature, the Infinite above that which is finite, that the living God is the sole Creator of the universe and all things therein contained.