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A Handbook of Patrology


  1. The Anti-Gnostic Writers - Hegesippus
  2. St. Irenaeus
  3. Anti-Montanastic and Other Writers


We have seen that most of the Gnostic writings have perished. The same is true of the answers which they called forth. As they were mostly occasional writings, once the heresy abated, people ceased to read and copy them, so that many of them disappeared with the danger which had occasioned them.

To this class belong the writings mentioned above, namely those of Justin against heresy in general and against Marcion in particular, and those of Theophilus of Antioch against Marcion and against Hermogenes. To these may be added the works of the Apologist Miltiades,[1] the treatise of Agrippa Castor, who wrote against Basilides in the reign of Hadrian (117-138),[2] and the writings of the Asiatic Rhodon, disciple of Tatian, against Marcion, against Apelles, and perhaps also against Tatian himself.[3] Eusebius names besides, among the champions of orthodoxy, Philip, bishop of Gortyna in Crete,[4] Modestus,[5] and Musanus,[6]— all three under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus (161-192), — and Heraclitus, Maximus,[7] and Candidus, and Apion, at the end of the reign of Commodus and under Septimus Severus. The last two wrote on the Hexaemeron. Eusebius also mentions a work of Sextus on the Resurrection and another of Arabianus on some other subject. He then adds that there existed a multitude of other writers whose date, works and names he could not indicate in detail,

[1] Tertullian, Adv. Valentinianos, 5.

[2] Eusebius, H. E., iv, 7, 6-8.

[3] Ibid., v, 13.

[4] iv, 21; 23, 5; 25.

[5] iv, 25; cf. 21.

[6] iv, 28; cf. 21.

[7] Maximus is perhaps a fictitious personage, due to some mistake of Eusebius.


as many of the writing were anonymous. It is surprising he does not speak of one of his predecessors, Zachaeus, bishop of Caesarea, mentioned by the Praedestinatus as having written, towards the end of the second century, against the Valentinians.

Side by side with these polemists, who are scarcely known to us, and whose works were not copied, there are some whose memory has been better preserved or whose names have even remained famous in the Church. Such are, in the second century, Hegesippus and St. Irenaeus.

Very little is known of Hegesippus.[8] Probably he was a Palestinian Jew, born c. 110, and later converted to Christianity. Under Pope Anicetus (155-166) he undertook a journey throughout Christendom, which led him to Corinth and later to Rome. The purpose of this trip was to collect on the spot the teachings of the various churches which he visited, and to ascertain their uniformity with Rome. He determined in this city the list of the succession of bishops down to Anicetus. On his return to his native land he composed, during the pontificate of Pope Eleutherius (174-189), the work of which we are about to speak. According to the Paschal Chronicle, he died c. 180.

The work of Hegesippus bears the title of Memoirs ('Upomnhmata). It comprised five books, but is almost entirely lost. We are able, however, to form some idea of the work with the aid of indications and citations furnished by Eusebius. It was not, as St. Jerome would have it, a coherent history of the Church from the passion of our Lord until the middle of the second century, but rather a polemical treatise against the Gnostics, setting forth the facts and the evidence for the truth of the Church's official teaching. Eusebius does not hesitate to rank Hegesippus among the defenders of tradition. "He has narrated," he says, "in a very simple way the infallible tradition of the Apostolic teaching."[10] This is the reason why Hegesippus was so interested in the traditions of the churches and in the succession of the bishops who guaranteed their integrity.

Hegesippus does not seem to have been a very learned man nor a very able writer. His Greek is awkward and

[8] See H. Dannreuther, Du temoignage d'Hegesippe sur l'Eglise Chretienne aux deux Premiers Siecles, Nancy, 1878.

[9] H. E., iv, 21; 22, 1.

[10] Ibid., iv, 8, 2.


he lacked critical acumen; but he was an attentive observer and a sincere witness, highly esteemed by Eusebius.


St. Irenaeus was born in or near Smyrna c. 135-140. Polycarp was then bishop of that city. and from his childhood Irenaeus listened to his discourses and received his instructions. The profound impression made upon his mind proves that he was, if not a disciple, at least an assiduous and thoughtful listener of the aged Bishop, and he loved to appeal later on to his authority. Polycarp was not his only master, for Irenaeus often mentions Asiatic presbyters with whom he had conversed and whose teachings he relates.

We do not know the circumstances which led Irenaeus to leave Asia and go to Gaul, nor do we know when this transfer took place. What we have said only proves that at this time he had reached the age of manhood and his intellectual and religious formation was already completed. In 177 we find him in Lyons, as a priest in the church of which St. Pothinus was bishop. Afterwards, he was delegated by the martyrs of Lyons, most of whom were still in prison, to carry to Pope Eleutherius a letter concerning the Montanistic troubles. He was furnished with a letter of recommendation, in which the martyrs styled him "one zealous for the Testament of Christ." It was perhaps owing to this journey that Irenaeus escaped the fury of the persecutors. In 177 or 178 he was made bishop of Lyons, succeeding St. Pothinus. Three circumstances relative to his activities as a bishop are known: he combatted the Gnostics, he labored in the evangelization of the country about Lyons, he interceded (c. 190-191) with Pope Victor I in the question of the Paschal observance, in order to preserve peace between the Church of Rome and the churches of Asia. It is com- monly thought that he died in 202-203. The Church honors him as a martyr. St. Jerome is the first to give him this title in his commentary on Isaias, written between 408-410, and this is astonishing. However, the silence of ancient authors may be explained by the small notice which would

[1] Edition by D. Massuet in P. G., VII, or by Harvey, Cambridge, 1857. See Freppel, Saint Irenee, Paris, 3rd ed., 1886. A. Dufourcq, Saint Irenee, Paris, 1904 (coll. Les Saints) and Paris, 1905 (coll. La Pensee Chretienne).


be taken of the violent death of Irenaeus if he had been put to death under Septimus Severus in the general massacre of the Christians of Lyons.

Two complete works of St. Irenaeus have been preserved together with a few fragments of other writings that have disappeared. The first of these complete works is the treatise Adversus Haereses, whose proper title is The Detection and Overthrow of the Pretended but False Gnosis ('ElegcoV kai anatroph thV yeudwnomou gnwsewV). The greater part of the original Greek text is lost; but there exists a contemporary Latin version, which is, happily, literal to a fault, and also fragments of an Armenian and some Syriac translations. Of its five books, the first two were written and sent to their addressee first; then the third and fourth, and finally the fifth. In the third, Eleutherius is designated as "Bishop of Rome" (iii, 3, 3), and the Church is spoken of as enjoying peace, whence we conclude that the first three books were written between 180 and 189. The two other books may be more recent, i.e. written under the pontificate of Victor I (189-198), but it is equally probable that they were composed at some earlier date, before the death of Eleutherius.

Irenaeus wrote the Adversus Haereses at the request of a friend, perhaps a bishop, who desired an exposition of the errors of heretics with which he was not well acquainted. The author originally intended the work to be very short, but it seems to have grown larger as he wrote. The first book is devoted to the detection (elegcoV) or exposure of the errors of the different Gnostic sects. The Bishop of Lyons seems to have in view particularly the system of Ptolemaeus. He then passes to the other forms of Valentinianism, and from Valentinianism to the other forms of the Gnosis. The second and fifth books are devoted to a refutation (anatroph) of these errors. In the second book, dialectics — philosophical arguments — are chiefly resorted to. Irenaeus shows the absurdity of his adversaries and of the arguments they adduce. In the third and most important book he lays special stress on tradition. He argues that the rule of faith is to be found in the teaching of the Apostles, as preserved in its integrity by the Church, and this teaching of the Church and the Apostles contradicts that of the Gnostics. Qn the fourth book, the argument is confirmed "by the words of Jesus Christ" (per Domini sermones),


among which he includes also the teachings of the Old Testament, since it was always the Divine Logos who spoke through the sacred writers. In this book, Irenaeus proves the identity of origin of both Testaments against the Marcionites. No new arguments are used in the fifth book, but Irenaeus deals more especially with the question of our last end, which is neglected in the previous books. The work ends with a few lines on the harmony of the divine plan in humanity.

From a theological point of view, the Adversus Haereses is a work of the first order and goes beyond the needs of the particular question of Gnosticism. It may even be said that, by the principles which he establishes concerning the doctrinal authority of the Church, and of the Church of Rome especially, St. Irenaeus has refuted in advance all future heresies. In his exposition of the Gnostic systems he proves to be sincere and well informed, although he does not always take into account the exact age of his documents. In refutation his dialectic is both strong and flexible. Of a clear and precise mind, he was never overawed by the pretentious abstractions of his opponents and even took a malicious pleasure in exposing their follies. His style is simple and easy and appears diffuse and awkward in the Latin translation only because the latter is literal to a fault. In the introduction to his work (i, Pref., 3), the Bishop of Lyons expresses the fear that his habit of speaking Celtic may influence his Greek style. This fear seems to have been groundless.

The second treatise of St. Irenaeus, entirely preserved, is the Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching ('EpideixiV tou apostolikou khrugmatoV), discovered recently in a literal Armenian translation of the seventh or eighth century.[2] The work was composed after the Adversus Haereses and was addressed to a friend, whom the author calls Marcian. It contains, first, an exposition of the principal Christian dogmas; secondly, a demonstration of the truth of these dogmas from the prophecies. It was meant to be a small

[2] Edition K. Ter-Mekerttschian and E. Ter-Minassiantz, Des hl. Irenaeus Schrift "Zum Erweise der apostolischen Verkundigung" (Texte und Unters., xxxi, 1), Leipzig, 1907. French transl. by J. Barthoulot, Saint Irenee, Demonstration de la Predication Apostolique, introduction and notes by J. Tixeront, Paris, 1917 (Reprint from Recherches de Science Religieuse, 1916, nos. 5-6).


apology to be placed in the hands of the faithful. St. Irenaeus does not go beyond the ideas he has developed in the Adversus Haereses.

Among the fragmentary writings of the Bishop of Lyons must first be mentioned a Letter to Florinus, On the Monarchy of God or that God is not the Author of Evil. Florinus had received the teaching of Polycarp with Irenaeus in Asia but later had joined the Gnostics. In a fragment, which has been preserved, Irenaeus recalls to his mind the teachings of their common master.[3]

The heresy of this same Florinus gave rise to another treatise of St. Irenaeus, On the Ogdoad, and perhaps to the letter to Pope Victor, of which a fragment is preserved. Eusebius quotes the final clause of the treatise On the Ogdoad.[4]

Eusebius mentions also a letter to Blastus, On Schism;[5] a brief and very useful work against the Greeks (pagans), entitled On Science;[6] a book of miscellaneous discourses;[7] and lastly some letters to Pope Victor and other bishops on the Paschal question.[8] Five citations are preserved of the Discourses on Faith to Demetrius, Deacon of Vienne, but their authenticity is doubtful. The four Greek remains, known as the Pfaffian Fragments,[9] are spurious.


Montanism, like Gnosticism, found in the Church, and especially among the bishops, ardent opponents, who fought it by word of mouth and in writing, but whose works have disappeared, or are known to us only through a few citations. Such are the work of Apollinarus, bishop of Hierapolis between 170 and 175,[1] and that of the apologist Miltiades, That a Prophet must not Speak when in Ecstacy,[2] both of which are lost. On the other hand, Eusebius made several excerpts from the work of an anonymous writer, bishop or priest, of Eastern Phrygia, not far from Ortrys,

[3] Eusebius, H. E., v, 20, 4-7.

[4] H. E., v, 20, 1, 2.

[5] H. E., v, 20, 1; cf. v, 15.

[6] v, 26; probably an apology.

[7] Ibid.

[8] H. E., v, 23, 3; 24, 11-i8.

[9] From their editor, Chr. M. Pfaff.

[1] Eusebius, H. E., v, 16, i; 19, 1 ff.

[2] Ibid., v. 17, l.


published c. 192-193.[3] This treatise, in three books, was dedicated to a certain Avircius Marcellus, whom we shall mention again later.

Other writers against Montanism are the Asiatic Apollonius, c. 196-197, cited by Eusebius,[4] and, in the reign of Zephyrinus (199-217), the Roman priest Caius, who denied that the Apostle John was the author of the Apocalypse, and even of the fourth Gospel, in order to deprive the heretics of one of their main arguments.[5]

Other refutations, more or less direct, might be pointed out. Nothing prevents us, either, from ranking among the anti-Montanistic writers a few authors of the end of the second century who busied themselves in the condemnation of heresy. They are:

Pope Victor (189-199), who dealt vigorously in Rome with the Montanists, with those who retained the quartodeciman customs, and with the Adoptianists. According to St. Jerome,[6] he wrote some theological treatises and is to be considered, with Apollonius, as the first Latin ecclesiastical writer, even before Tertullian.[7] We are at a loss to know what exact interpretation is to be placed on this information.

Three bishops deserve our attention in the East.

The first is Dionysius of Corinth (c. 170), who was one of the most frequently consulted men of his time, Eusebius was acquainted with eight letters of Dionysius and has briefly indicated their contents. The first six are addressed to various communities: the seventh, to Pope Soter, and the eighth, to a Christian lady named Chrysophora. Eusebius cites passages from the letter to Pope Soter.

After Dionysius we must name Serapion of Antioch (191-212). Eusebius admits that he probably does not know all of Serapion's works.[8] He mentions, however, certain writings To Domnus, who had fallen away from the Christian faith and become a Jew; To Pontius and to Caricus, and various letters, especially one to the Christians

[3] H. E., v, 16-17.

[4] H. E., v, 18.

[5] H. E., vi, 20; cf. ii, 25, 6, 7; iii, 28, 1, 2; 31, 4, See P. de Labriolle, La Crise Montaniste, p. 278 ff.

[6] De Vir. Ill., 53.

[7] Ibid., 34.

[8] H. E., vi, 12.


of Rhossus, On the Gospel Attributed to Peter, warning them not to read it.

The most famous of the three bishops, and the one whose literary title is best established, is Melito, bishop of Sardis in Lydia. Very little is known of his life. He was well known already under Antoninus Pius (138-161) and reached the apogee of his fame under Marcus Aurelius (161-180). Eusebius has given us the titles of about twenty of his works, among which are two books On Easter, others On the Church, On Sunday, On Baptism, On Prophecy, On the Apocalypse of John, On the Corporeity of God, etc., and a book entitled The Key. Anastasius Sinaita[9] mentions two more, On the Passion (of our Lord) and On the Incarnation of Christ. Besides the citations of Eusebius and Anastasius, there remain of all these works only a few Greek and Syriac fragments, and even their authenticity is not always sure.[10] This is all the more to be regretted as it seems that Melito was representative of the Asiatic school, to which he belonged.

Two other documents must be named to make this section more complete : a) The Letter of Polycratus, bishop of Edessa, to Pope Victor (c. 190), in which he vindicates for the churches of Asia the right to follow their own tradition in the celebration of the feast of Easter;[11] and b) The inscription of Aabercius.[12] Prof. Ramsay in 1883 discovered a large part of the text of this inscription, together with the funerary cippus which bore it. It is the self-written epitaph, in twenty-two verses, of a certain Abercius, a citizen of Hierapolis in Phrygia. Abercius, in language of simple allegory, declares himself a disciple of the Good Shepherd, speaks of his journeys to Rome and Syria, and mentions Baptism and the Eucharist. The inscription is certainly Christian and dates from the end of the second century. Abercius is probably the Avircius Marcellus, to whom the anonymous anti-Montanist, mentioned above, had dedicated his work. Msgr. Duchesne thinks he was bishop of Hierapolis.

[9] Hodegos, xii, xiii.

[10] See Otto, Corpus Apologetarum, ix, p. 374 ff., 497 ff.

[11] Eusebius, H. E., v, 24, 1-8; iii, 31, 2, 3.

[12] See J. Wilpeet, Fractio Panis, Paris, 1896, p. 95 ff. Dictionnaire d'Apologetique, "Epigraphie," p. 1435 ff.

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