Monday, April 5, 2010

Irenaeus' Polemic Against the Alexandrian Church in the Fourth Book of the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called

I think that the text that now appears as Book Four of Irenaeus' Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called was actually an anti-Alexandrian treatise which was carefully edited by Hippolytus (i.e. introduced with a long introduction which argued that it was a continuation of the anti-Valentinian polemic of Book One). Yet if the reader actually reads the material carefully and in order it is obvious what the text really is - a condemnation of the Alexandrian tradition for 'going back to Judaism' in the manner in which some of the ancient Israelites wanted to 'go back to Egypt' with the establishment of the Golden Calf.

There can be no doubt about this. The only question is why did someone change the original argument. The answer might have something to do with Hippolytus' meeting with Origen in the middle of the third century. Perhaps both were cooperating together AGAINST the dominant tradition in Rome which both men opposed. It is difficult to say.

What is clear is that the charge that the Alexandrian tradition was 'went over to Judaism' is not only present in Irenaeus but follows Origen and the Origenist Patriarchs which followed him (Tim Vivian demonstrates effectively that there were only 'Origenists' until Alexander in the fourth century).

We must remember the one inescapable fact - that it was only with Victor's appeal to Demetrius (wrongly identified as 'Theophilus' in the Liber Pontificalis) that Alexandria gave up calculating Passover 'according to the manner of the Jews.' I have argued that the original liturgy developed along the seven days of Passover culminating with baptism as the seventh day 'went out' into the eighth. This explains the original Alexandrian interest in the ogdoad.

In any event, the important thing to see with Irenaeus' argument in Book Four is that it is not pastoral. We only see it as a collection of 'random thoughts' because no one has alerted us to a common thread which 'holds it all together.' I will argue that the thread here is that the Egyptian Church is likened to the Israelites who 'went back to Egypt' and venerated the Golden Calf because they weren't sure of a 'second coming' (for Moses). Irenaeus developed these thoughts in terms of not only a 'second advent' of Jesus, but in fact a 'second advent' of the Church in Rome (which necessarily means that contemporary readers of his work must have recognized that the Roman Sees importance was only a recent phenomenon undoubtedly tied to the closeness of a select group of Christians to the Emperor Commodus).

But that confession only appears in Chapter Thirty. Let's start with the beginning of the original work.


Irenaeus begins by saying that the heretics wrongly venerate a living man sitting in a throne as a 'symbol' or 'sign' of, what he considers to be a non-existent superior God in heaven to the Creator. As Irenaeus makes explicit in the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching the Creator lives in the seventh heaven. The heretics argue that their god is associated with the 'eighth' or the Ogdoad.

Yet at the beginning of this work Irenaeus goes beyond anything he has said anywhere else and make explicit that these same heretics held that the Jews held that the hebdomad of the Creator would one day give way to the manifestation of the Ogdoad. As Irenaeus reports, this revelation will ultimately be manifest apparently through the revelation of a living man sitting in a throne:

Again, as to their malignantly asserting that if heaven is indeed the throne of God, and earth His footstool, and if it is declared that the heaven and earth shall pass away, then when these pass away the God who sitteth above must also pass away, and therefore He cannot be the God who is over all; in the first place, they are ignorant what the expression means, that heaven is [His] throne and earth [His] footstool. For they do not know what God is, but they imagine that He sits after the fashion of a man, and is contained within bounds, but does not contain. [AH iv.3.1]

This is very important as it clearly infers that those who Irenaeus condemns clearly have the image of a man sitting in a real throne as their representation of the Ogdoad.

Of course traditional Patristic scholars haven't a clue but the heretical formulation is very much at home with tradition Jewish mystical thought. The numbers six, seven and eight are always related to (a) Creation and the World to Come and (b) the Sabbatical years and the Jubilee. Whenever Irenaeus comes up against these 'Jewish ideas' in the writings of the heretics he scolds them for their ignorance.

I for one think that the Alexandrians were only maintaining the original tradition.


In the chapter which follows Irenaeus makes specific reference that 'those of the throne' begin their theology with an assumption that Jerusalem is not the place where the enthroned king at the center of their religion sat:

Further, also, concerning Jerusalem and the Lord, they venture to assert that, if it had been "the city of the great King," it would not have been deserted. [ibid iv.4.1]

I think statement is never understood in its proper context. It clearly represents a traditional Alexandrian counter argument to the claims that ONLY JERUSALEM has true sanctity. In other words, I think the heretical tradition that Irenaeus is refuting here and else where is the Alexandrian episcopal tradition of St. Mark.

Of course scholars have great difficulty conceiving of an Israelite tradition which denies the sanctity of Jerusalem. Of course the Samaritans represent such a tradition. I have already argued that BECAUSE the rabbinic sources tell us that the Alexandrian temple had an altar where sacrifices were always carried out, the only way that this could have occurred is if the Alexandrian Jews thought that the Jerusalem altar had any sanctity. There just isn't another way.

Some will say that I am confusing an 'Alexandrian Jewish tradition' which lasted from Ptolemaic times to the first century or longer, with an 'Alexandrian Christian tradition' that began with the coming of St. Mark. Yet I see clear signs that there was a natural overlap going on. The Christians of Alexandria saw themselves as an extension of the teachings of Philo and the original Alexandrian Jewish community in a way that is never paralleled in Roman sources.

Irenaeus for his part has to argue that Christianity only begins when Judaism is acknowledged to have 'died' with the advent of Jesus (AH iv.4.2) Yet Irenaeus' argument doesn't only apply to the 'Jews' as we would understand the term (i.e. those who are literally 'of Jewish blood'). In all the material which follows Irenaeus' argument is that God only established 'things' for a time in order to usher 'something better' in a subsequent age:

God, therefore, is one and the same, who rolls up the heaven as a book, and renews the face of the earth; who made the things of time. for man, so that coming to maturity in them, he may produce the fruit of immortality [AH iv.5.1]

Given that we will eventually see the heretics themselves identified as 'Jews' and that the Roman tradition represents 'the true Exodus' from the beliefs of the heretics, it is not all difficult to see that these ideas COULD ALSO HAVE APPLIED TO THE ALEXANDRIAN TRADITION WHICH WAS PRE-ORDAINED TO PASS AWAY WITH THE ADVENT OF THE ROMAN CHURCH in the time of Commodus.


Of course the explicit language of Irenaeus' polemic inevitably deals with the heretics 'introduction' of another God beside the Creator. Yet anyone with any knowledge of Jewish mysticism realizes at once that the Jews HAVE ALWAYS held that there are a multitude of powers in heaven. The god that was seen by the Israelites - the one who sat on a throne of jewels - is only the lowest power in heaven.

So it is not surprising that Irenaeus moves from an attack against the claims of the heretics that the real enthroned king at the heart of the mystery rites of their tradition [ibid iv.5] one who is greater than the Creator in their mysteries [ibid iv.6.7]. The Alexandrian 'messianic' tradition was only develop traditional Jewish mystical ideas.

Irenaeus says that they are to be condemned for their mysteries because there can be only one God, Jesus, who is also Christ. There heretics in turn want to go beyond this 'simple' understanding and posit the existence of their enthroned Patriarch (who is of the line of St. Mark) as representing something superior to the Creator. Yet consistent through Irenaeus' argument is the idea that the heretics are 'like' the Jews, even for doing this (i.e. positing a superior God to the Creator!).

How is this possible? Well, part of the answer is rooted in the idea that most New Testament scholars don't have a #%#^^ clue what Judaism is or what it's mystical beliefs are. The other part of the equation is that where Irenaeus has trained us to call Jesus 'the Son,' I will argue that the Alexandrians identified him instead as the living presence of 'the Father' and that 'the Son' was St. Mark the young disciple who only became the Father when he and Jesus 'became one' at the Transformation (or Passion as the Aramaic yetser can be rendered nif‘al).

In any event what is important for our discussion is that Irenaeus for the first time in the essay identifies the heretics of Alexandria as 'the Jews' as we read:

For the Lord, revealing Himself to His disciples, that He Himself is the Word, who imparts knowledge of the Father, and reproving the Jews, who imagined that they, had God, while they nevertheless rejected His Word, through whom God is made known, declared, "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whom the Son has willed to reveal [Him]." Thus hath Matthew set it down, and Luke in like manner, and Mark the very same; for John omits this passage. They (i.e. the heretics/Jews), however, who would be wiser than the apostles, write in the following manner: "No man knew the Father, but the Son; nor the Son, but the Father, and he to whom the Son has willed to reveal [Him];" and they explain it as if the true God were known to none prior to our Lord's advent; and that God who was announced by the prophets, they allege not to be the Father of Christ. [ibid iv.7.4]

It is amazing how scholars miss EVERYTHING that is hidden away in this reference. We have already mentioned the Alexandrian heretics as 'Jews' but notice also that Irenaeus identifies this saying as being in the Gospel according to Mark(!) AND the Alexandrian heretics 'who consider themselves wiser than the apostles' have a gospel which renders the same saying in a slightly different manner.

Now the reader will have to remember that the context here is 'the gospel narrative.' We know from what Irenaeus writes in Book Three that it is not that the heretics consider themselves 'superior to the gospel' through some supernatural intervention on the part of God. It is because they believe that they have a SUPERIOR GOSPEL written after an initial period when the disciples of Jesus produced works which were ultimately imperfect - "For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles ... [for] they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God." [AH iii.1.1]

I have written over and over again that there is an underlying parallel here which connects us back to the Gospel according to Mark of Alexandria which Clement says, in absolutely explicit terms, was 'for perfection' and completed only after Peter completed an account of the 'accomplishments of the Lord' which by inference was NOT PERFECT.

The context of all Irenaeus' vitriol is the Alexandrian Gospel according to Mark which makes the reference here to the saying 'No man has seen the Father' in Irenaeus' canonical Mark all the more significant.

Yet we should also realize that Irenaeus is also attacking the understanding of the heretics that 'the Son' is not Jesus but someone else (presumably the disciple he loved). Of course Tertullian reports that the Marcionites also held that Jesus denied that he was the Son throughout the gospel (Against Marcion iv.8 etc.).

Scholars don't know how to read Irenaeus 'with a grain of salt.' For his argument is entirely rhetorical - blurring the fact that the Alexandrians rejected the THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION that Jesus was the Son, with the Jews who rejected Jesus:

Therefore have the Jews departed from God, in not receiving His Word, but imagining that they could know the Father by Himself, without the Word, that is, without the Son; they being ignorant of that God who spake in human shape to Abraham, and again to Moses, saying, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have come down to deliver them." [AH iv.7.4]

Irenaeus may argue that Jesus came down during the various events described in the Torah as 'the Logos' but his opponents would certainly have argued that Jesus represented the coming of something totally superior to the angels who formerly visited mankind. He was the Ogdoad (made explicit in the fact that Iesous adds up to 888) whereas the other angels which visited mankind were of the hebdomad.

The bottom line is that we should let the pious argue about questions like 'was Jesus the Son or the Father?' The writings of the Church Fathers are filled with proofs that the idea that Jesus was the Father was very well known in the early days of the Church. Whether called 'Patripassians' or Monarchians the idea was established at a very early date and can be argued to still be present behind the Monophysite leanings of the Alexandrian Church (even if they Church itself denies that it is Monophysite).


It is amazing to see how Irenaeus continues to argue in the subsequent chapters that God reinforced that Jesus was his Son to 'the Jews.' The idea that the heresies were identified as 'Jews' is not limited to Origen and Origenists. Marcion and the Marcionites are not only accused of 'borrowing from the Jews' but Book Three of Against Marcion was developed from an original treatise called Against the Jews. What could be clearer than that!

The point is however that we have to see that when Irenaeus is attacking 'the Jews' in Book Four he is not thinking in terms of Jews of the flesh and blood but rather the Alexandrian Christian tradition which was seen as still being connected to Judaism.

All that follows in subsequent parts of the book develops from an important saying which appears in Chapter Ten in which Irenaeus levels two accusations against the 'heretical Jews' (who I identify with the Alexandrian Christian tradition):

Wherefore also John does appropriately relate that the Lord said to the Jews: "Ye search the Scriptures, in which ye think ye have eternal life; these are they which testify of me. And ye are not willing to come unto Me, that ye may have life." How therefore did the Scriptures testify of Him, unless they were from one and the same Father, instructing men beforehand as to the advent of His Son, and foretelling the salvation brought in by Him? "For if ye had believed Moses, ye would also have believed Me; for he wrote of Me;" [saying this,] no doubt, because the Son of God is implanted everywhere throughout his writings: at one time, indeed, speaking with Abraham, when about to eat with him; at another time with Noah, giving to him the dimensions [of the ark]; at another; inquiring after Adam; at another, bringing down judgment upon the Sodomites; and again, when He becomes visible, and directs Jacob on his journey, and speaks with Moses from the bush. And it would be endless to recount [the occasions] upon which the Son of God is shown forth by Moses. Of the day of His passion, too, he was not ignorant; but foretold Him, after a figurative manner, by the name given to the passover; and at that very festival, which had been proclaimed such a long time previously by Moses, did our Lord suffer, thus fulfilling the passover.[AH iv.10.1]

I cannot express how important it is to scrutinize this passage. There are two critical points reinforced here. The first is that Irenaeus attacks 'the Jews' for ONLY believing in the Father. He re-interprets John chapter 5 to 'prove' that Moses knew that there was a figure called 'the Son of God.' Yet this is only a pretext for claiming that all who denied Jesus was the Son were engaging in 'Jewish lies.' Secondly, the 'denial' of the heretics that the Passion was foretold by the writings of Moses is similarly turned around into an argument that the Alexandrians were 'Jewish' for denying the Passion of Christ.

So let us get this straight for our readership. The Alexandrian 'heretics' argued that Moses and the Law did not have foreknowledge that the Father would come down as Jesus and take up a 'Son' - i.e. the young disciple he loved viz. Mark who was called John - and 'become one' with him through the Passion of Christ. Irenaeus is working to argue that this tradition was heretical, turning its back on the supposed 'pre-existent truths' that it knew always existed but owing to their seduction by Satan fell into 'Jewish truths' about 'Christ.'


It is in this chapter that the argument against the 'Jewish' Alexandrian tradition of Christ moves forward one step further. Yet we have to go back to the end of Chapter Fourteen to see its natural progression.

Irenaeus begins by trying to explain why the Creator would have allowed the Jews to establish a sacrificial cult in Jerusalem only to apparently 'change his mind' and bring his Son Jesus to bring a religion without any form of animal sacrifices. He writes:

Thus, too, He imposed upon the people the construction of the tabernacle, the building of the temple, the election of the Levites, sacrifices also, and oblations, legal monitions, and all the other service of the law. He does Himself truly want none of these things, for He is always full of all good, and had in Himself all the odour of kindness, and every perfume of sweet- smelling savours, even before Moses existed. Moreover, He instructed the people, who were prone to turn to idols, instructing them by repeated appeals to persevere and to serve God, calling them to the things of primary importance by means of those which were secondary; that is, to things that are real, by means of those that are typical; and by things temporal, to eternal; and by the carnal to the spiritual; and by the earthly to the heavenly; as was also said to Moses, "Thou shalt make all things after the pattern of those things which thou sawest in the mount." For during forty days He was learning to keep the words of God, and the celestial patterns, and the spiritual images, and the types of things to come; as also Paul says: "For they drank of the rock which followed them: and the rock was Christ." And again, having first mentioned what are contained in the law, he goes on to say: "Now all these things happened to them in a figure; but they were written for our admonition, upon whom the end of the ages is come." For by means of types they learned to fear God, and to continue devoted to His service.[AH iv.14.3]

Now we have to remember that Irenaeus says all of this because the Alexandrian heretics had a much simpler explanation. The Jewish religion was according to the number seven (the Sabbath, the seven heavens etc.) and its godhead was represented by the hebdomad, but Christianity, developed in a Jubilee year represents the power of the ogdoad. Their services - like baptizing as the seven day of Passover went out into 'the eighth' was still rooted in Judaism in a sense, but at the same time one could argue (as Irenaeus inevitably does) that they were also annulling the authority of the Jewish god and the Jewish Law.

Now we should notice that in this last passage Irenaeus never once uses the term 'Jews' to describe the Israelites. He consistently refers to them as 'the people.' This is entirely deliberate.

So now in Chapter Fifteen he continues by saying:

They had therefore a law, a course of discipline, and a prophecy of future things. For God at the first, indeed, warning them by means of natural precepts, which from the beginning He had implanted in mankind, that is, by means of the Decalogue (which, if any one does not observe, he has no salvation), did then demand nothing more of them. As Moses says in Deuteronomy, "These are all the words which the Lord spake to the whole assembly of the sons of Israel on the mount, and He added no more; and He wrote them on two tables of stone, and gave them to me."(Deut v.22) For this reason [He did so], that they who are willing to follow Him might keep these commandments. But when they turned themselves to make a calf, and had gone back in their minds to Egypt, desiring to be slaves instead of free-men, they were placed for the future in a state of servitude suited to their wish,--[a slavery] which did not indeed cut them off from God, but subjected them to the yoke of bondage; as Ezekiel the prophet, when stating the reasons for the giving of such a law, declares: "And their eyes were after the desire of their heart; and I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments in which they shall not live."(Ezek xx.24)[AH iv.15.1]

Of course scholars read this material as if it were just a GENERAL condemnation of those who want to remain 'under the Law' of Moses. Yet I think this is not exactly what Irenaeus is getting at.

Clearly the ancient Israelites were 'meant' to remain under the Law of Moses until the coming of Christ. Irenaeus does not mean that Ezekiel was telling those of his own generation that they should abandon the Torah. Rather Irenaeus is thinking in terms of Moses and the prophets knowing 'through the Spirit' that in the FUTURE when the Messiah comes the 'literal' observance of the Law will end.

While most scholars take this for granted as 'the Christian position' as such, it has to be noted that this is not so in the oldest forms of the Coptic tradition. Indeed we can see in the early Alexandrian veneration of Easter as a Passover (i.e over seven days). There are a great number of other ways to demonstrate it. But we should notice that the things Irenaeus rails against in the subsequent chapters - circumcision (AH iv.16), sacrifices (AH iv.17) - continue to be an important part of the Coptic Churches.


The word 'Jew' hasn't appeared for a long series of chapters. Irenaeus is continuing to distinguish between 'the people' who formerly venerated God through sacrifices and the new Christian Church in Rome where human sacrifices (martyrs) have replaced animal offerings:

And the class of oblations in general has not been set aside; for there were both oblations there, and there are oblations here. Sacrifices there were among the people; sacrifices there are, too, in the Church: but the species alone has been changed, inasmuch as the offering is now made, not by slaves, but by freemen [AH iv.18.2]

It is interesting then that Irenaeus will eventually introduce the term 'Jew' into the discussion again a little later in this chapter where it is used in the sense that we noted earlier - i.e. a term of derision for those who 'deny' that Jesus was the Son or claim that the Passion was a mystery unknown to the Law and the prophets.

Yet it is important to remember that when Irenaeus juxtaposes 'the people' (i.e. the Israelites who sacrificed animals) with 'the Church' whose members engage in self-sacrifice he emphasizes their ultimate compatibility. Now notice that when the term 'Jew' is used again, it specifically means 'heretic':

Inasmuch, then, as the Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God ... And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, from His creation. But the Jews do not offer thus: for their hands are full of blood; for they have not received the Word, through whom it is offered to God. Nor, again, do any of the synagogues of the heretics. For some, by maintaining that the Father is different from the Creator, do, when they offer to Him what belongs to this creation of ours, set Him forth as being covetous of another's property, and desirous of what is not His own. Those, again, who maintain that the things around us originated from apostasy, ignorance, and passion, do, while offering unto Him the fruits of ignorance, passion, and apostasy, sin against their Father, rather subjecting Him to insult than giving Him thanks. But how can they be consistent with themselves, [when they say] that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord, and the cup His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives "first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." [AH iv.18.4]

It could not be clearer than here. The heretics are identified as 'the Jews' because they deny that Jesus is the Son of God. They gather in 'synagogues' too. Yet now that this connection is finally made explicit, Irenaeus will go on to develop the argument one step further - the 'Jews,' viz. the heretics, turned away from Christ and went to Alexandria in the same way as the ancient Israelites turned away from Moses and set up the Golden Calf 'going back to Egypt' and its polytheistic practices.


So let's go back now to 'the big picture.' We should see that Irenaeus envisions a scenario where Moses and the prophets of Israel foretold a 'second Exodus' out of Egypt in the time after the advent of Christ. He starts with an allegorical understanding of Moses' marriage to Zipporah which supposedly 'foretells' the Church's eventual abandonment of Egypt (and undoubtedly Alexandria):

Thus, too, did Moses also take to wife an Ethiopian woman, whom he thus made an Israelitish one, showing by anticipation that the wild olive tree is grafted into the cultivated olive, and made to partake of its fatness. For as He who was born Christ according to the flesh, had indeed to be sought after by the people in order to be slain, but was to be set free in Egypt, that is, among the Gentiles, to sanctify those who were there in a state of infancy, from whom also He perfected His Church in that place (for Egypt was Gentile from the beginning, as was Ethiopia also); for this reason, by means of the marriage of Moses, was shown forth the marriage of the Word; and by means of the Ethiopian bride, the Church taken from among the Gentiles was made manifest; and those who do detract from, accuse, and deride it, shall not be pure.

For they shall be full of leprosy, and expelled from the camp of the righteous. Thus also did Rahab the harlot, while condemning herself, inasmuch as she was a Gentile, guilty of all sins, nevertheless receive the three spies, who were spying out all the land, and hid them at her home; [which three were] doubtless [a type of] the Father and the Son, together with the Holy Spirit. And when the entire city in which she lived fell to ruins at the sounding of the seven trumpets, Rahab the harlot was preserved, when all was over [in ultimis], together with all her house, through faith of the scarlet sign; as the Lord also declared to those who did not receive His advent,--the Pharisees, no doubt, nullify the sign of the scarlet thread, which meant the passover, and the redemption and exodus of the people from Egypt,-- when He said, "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you."
[AH iv.20.12]

It is important to note that this idea of the 'exodus from MODERN Egypt' is the running theme throughout Book Four of Irenaeus' book. The underlying idea is of course that 'Egypt' (i.e. Alexandria) was necessary to give the promise of redemption but that redemption was only fulfilled by the eventual triumph of the Roman Church under Irenaeus' watchful eye during the reign of Commodus.

Irenaeus goes on to continually reinforce the idea that 'redemption' did not come at the time of Jesus' crucifixion but Irenaeus' own day (some one hundred and fifty years later). This idea is made absolutely explicit in Book Two (AH ii.22) where Irenaeus rejects the Alexandrian notion that the year and day of Jesus' crucifixion are connected with the 'year of favor' and the 'day of retribution.' Again, Irenaeus' point is that THE WHOLE PERIOD FROM the crucifixion is the year of favor and the 'day of retribution' is only meant figuratively (complete bullshit; the Alexandrians were following the traditional Jewish interpretation of connecting Isa 61 with the Jubilee).

Now in Book Four again Irenaeus exclaims against the Alexandrian tradition that:

Now in the last days, when the fulness of the time of liberty had arrived ... for this is the end of the human race inheriting God; that as in the beginning, by means of our first [parents], we were all brought into bondage, by being made subject to death; so at last, by means of the New Man, all who from the beginning [were His] disciples, having been cleansed and washed from things pertaining to death, should come to the life of God. [Ah iv.22.1]

And again this is made clear in the next paragraph:

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Caesar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who are now alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practised justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ, and to hear His voice. Wherefore He shall, at His second coming, first rouse from their sleep all persons of this description, and shall raise them up, as well as the rest who shall be judged, and give them a place in His kingdom. For it is truly "one God who" directed the patriarchs towards His dispensations, and "has justified the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith." For as in the first we were prefigured, so, on the other hand, are they represented in us, that is, in the Church, and receive the recompense for those things which they accomplished. [AH iv.22.2]

The point is never fully appreciated by scholars who I think are put to sleep by hypnotic nature of Irenaeus' writings style. The point is that there is a Manichaean-like argument at the heart of the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called that 'redemption' did not occur at the time of Jesus but the time of Irenaeus. At the very least it is ONLY COMPLETED in the age when this Roman Church was finally established and if we look carefully THE TRANSITION period BETWEEN Jesus and Irenaeus is understood in terms of an 'assembly' (ekklesia) of Israel waiting in Egypt to receive its 'redemption' in the promised land of Rome.


I believe I have made a very compelling case that Irenaeus uses the term 'the Jews' in Book Four to signify the Alexandrian tradition. Yet I don't want to lose site of the overarching argument. The Alexandrians are not only like 'the Jews' who turned away from Jesus the Son but they are also like the ancient Israelites who turned to the Golden Calf when they were impatient waiting for Moses' return from the mountain.

Yet Irenaeus only sets up these ideas so that he can claim that the establishment of the Roman Church is akin to the 'second coming' or if you will - the 'true Exodus of Israel' for which Moses' story was only a type.

It is in this present chapter that we see Irenaeus, in a very gnostic or mysterious manner put forward the argument that there is a 'secret' in the Bible which was misunderstood by the 'Jews' (i.e. the Alexandrian Church or 'those who went back to Egypt'). He writes that:

when at this present time the law is read to the Jews, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature; but when it is read by the Christians, it is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God and declaring His dispensations with regard to man, and forming the kingdom of Christ beforehand, and preaching by anticipation the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem [AH iv.26.1]

What is this 'hidden treasure' that was unknown to previous generations of Christians? It is the existence of an episcopal line in Rome (apparently Irenaeus is confessing it was unknown to the world before he 'discovered' it in modern times).

Irenaeus goes on in the next chapters to make absolutely clear that 'the enemy' of this tradition is another Church with another (false) episcopal succession. As we read:

wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church,--those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismaries puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God--namely, strange doctrines--shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did.

Those, however, who are believed to be presbyters by many (i.e. the Alexandrian episcopal line), but serve their own lusts, and, do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt towards others, and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat, and work evil deeds in secret ...

From all such persons, therefore, it be-bores us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of priesthood (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others ... Such presbyters does the Church nourish, of whom also the prophet says: "I will give thy rulers in peace, and thy bishops in righteousness" ...

Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behoves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles? and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.
[AH iv.26.2 - 5]

There can be no other interpretation than mine. There are two episcopal lines being contrasted here by Irenaeus. The 'bad' presbytery is that 'of Egypt' or Alexandria. This explains the constant reference to Egypt throughout the work.


Now let's pick up the argument in the next chapter where Irenaeus continues to attack the 'heretical' episcopal line as specifically 'Egyptian' once again. In chapter twenty seven Irenaeus points to those who say that the crucifixion was designed to transform someone other than Jesus (i.e. his beloved disciple) into the Christ. Irenaeus begins by saying to his audience that:

Thou wilt notice, too, that the transgressions of the common people [of Israel] have been described in like manner, not for the sake of those who did then transgress, but as a means of instruction unto us, and that we should understand that it is one and the same God against whom these men sinned, and against whom certain persons do now transgress from among those who profess to have believed in Him. But this also has Paul declared most plainly in the Epistle to the Corinthians, when he says, "Brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and were all baptized unto Moses in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. These things were for our example (in figuram nostri), to the intent that we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted; neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them, as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them also did, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. But all these things happened to them in a figure, and were written for our admonition, upon whom the end of the world (saeculorum) is come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."[AH iv.27.3]

In other words a 'disobedience' again occurred in Egypt where the Catholic epistles of 'Paul' are interpreted by Irenaeus as warning against a second 'going back to Egypt' (the Golden Calf incident). Yet I want to make clear that there was another version of that same letter (called 'according to the Alexandrians' by the Marcionites as I have shown) where the apostle was understood to only refer POSITIVELY to the example of the Exodus (Epiphanius has the Marcionite text remove most of what Irenaeus cites here). For the apostle's point was ONLY that baptism was prefigured by the washing in the sea and the cloud in the Exodus narrative (I have further connected this to the description of LGM 1 in the letter to Theodore).

The point is again that Irenaeus' arguments are based on a set of 'scriptures' which were remodeled, edited by him to advance the very arguments he was developing AGAINST Alexandria. Not only was the ascription of this letter 'to the Alexandrians' changed under Irenaeus's hand to 'to the Corinthians,' he also added in the claim that the apostle first put forward this anti-Alexandrian polemic. Look again how he introduces this long quote just cited:

But this also has Paul declared most plainly in the Epistle to the Corinthians, when he says ...

Irenaeus' genius in this regard to frame new arguments in the names of the established leaders of the church is so diabolically evil it is almost fun to watch!

In any event, it is important for our sake to understand what exactly Irenaeus was trying to do by introduce this passage into the original 'letter to the Alexandrians' (rebaptized as 'to the Corinthians'). As he explains:

the disobedience of a vast number of them [i.e. the heretics of Alexandria] who do allege that there was indeed one God of these men [i.e. 'common men' of Israel cited earlier], and that He was the maker of the world, and existed in a state of degeneracy; but that there was another Father declared by Christ, and that this Being is He who has been conceived by the mind of each of them; not understanding that as, in the former case, God showed Himself not well pleased in many stances towards those who sinned, so also in the latter, "many are called, but few are chosen." [AH iv.27.4]

Clearly for Irenaeus's 'those who went back to Egypt' in MODERN times are the members of the Alexandrian Church who engage in the same kind of 'heresy' as those whom the apostle supposedly warned against in the Letter to the Corinthians (again the letter to the Alexandrians he adulterated). Just as the ancient Israelites went away from the true God of Israel, the Creator, to venerate an object made by their own handiwork, the modern assembly of Israel (i.e. the Church) is understood to have within its body some who decided to 'go back to Egypt' and venerate an object which manifests a 'Father' who was above 'the ruler of the world' or Cosmocrator.

What was this object? Clearly it must have been something like throne of St. Mark (perhaps its precursor also built of gold as Rabbi Judah ben Ilai seems to imply). The 'ruler of the world' was thus interpreted politically. He is either the Emperor or the representative of the Roman Church. The Father venerated by the heretics is the Alexandrian patriarch who is called Father and sat in a throne openly identifying him as God. The manner in which this rival episcopal line is established is clearly through St. Mark who the Copts to this day believe was an eyewitness (if not a participant) in the Passion of Christ.


So it is that Irenaeus turns around the Alexandran argument that St Mark was made Christ after Jesus' crucifixion to the very example of the sin that emerge in the Church, prophetically announced in the 'example' of the Golden Calf (and witnessed by the epistles of pseudo-Paul). Irenaeus goes on to say:

thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire," these shall be damned for ever ... since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word. [AH iv.28.3]

Indeed Irenaeus makes the condemnation of the Alexandrian 'heretics' even clearer in what immediately follows when he writes again:

For the sesame heretics already mentioned by us have fallen away from themselves, by accusing the Lord [of not having a physical body], in whom they say that they believe. For those points to which they call attention with regard to the God who then awarded temporal punishments to the unbelieving, and smote the Egyptians, while He saved those that were obedient; these same [things, I say,] shall nevertheless repeat themselves in the Lord, who judges for eternity those whom He doth judge, and lets go free for eternity those whom He does let go free: and He shall [thus] be discovered, according to the language used by these men, as having been the cause of their most heinous sin to those who laid hands upon Him, and pierced Him. For if He had not so come, it follows that these men could not have become the slayers of their Lord; and if He had not sent prophets to them, they certainly could not have killed them, nor the apostles either. To those, therefore, who assail us, and say, If the Egyptians had not been afflicted with plagues, and, when pursuing after Israel, been choked in the sea, God could not have saved His people, this answer may be given;--Unless, then, the Jews had become the slayers of the Lord (which did, indeed, take eternal life away from them), and, by killing the apostles and persecuting the Church, had fallen into an abyss of wrath, we could not have been saved. For as they were saved by means of the blindness of the Egyptians, so are we, too, by that of the Jews; if, indeed, the death of the Lord is the condemnation of those who fastened Him to the cross, and who did not believe His advent, but the salvation of those who believe in Him. [AH iv.28.1]

Because Jesus is not held to have had an actual physical body the transformation at the heart of the Passion is understood to have taken place in the disciple who eye=witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus (viz. St. Mark). The Alexandrians understand to this day that BECAUSE Mark eyewitnessed the Passion a divine spark came into his being - even the Christ soul itself - and this spark was passed on through a divine mystery to each of his successors. As such, the transformation from mortal to immortal bodies is understood to have taken place in the person of the Patriarch and dispensed through him to members of the body of the Alexandrian Church.

For Irenaeus of course this is nothing short of the same idolatry as that of the Golden Calf. He essentially infers that the Alexandrians (i.e. 'the heretics') are venerating something or someone instead of God in heaven and this is an abomination.


Now we are about to take on the final chapter in our investigation - Chapter Thirty - where Irenaeus declares that the Roman Church is the 'true Exodus' from the Alexandrian tradition mired in Judaism and idolatry. Yet in order to understand the context of Irenaeus' statement we will have to pay close attention to the chapter which precedes it.

Before we study this chapter we should note that Irenaeus throughout these last chapters seems to be responding to an RIVAL argument put forward by the Alexandrian heretics, a different way of interpreting the Exodus narrative.

Irenaeus cites these unknown heretics at the beginning of this chapter that:

"But," say they, "God hardened the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants." [AH iv.29.1]

What follows is a lengthy (and at times wandering) argument which ALMOST doesn't allow us to know the context of the heretical interpretation. Yet from is written in Chapter Twenty Nine and what follows and what precedes it the heretics are clearly referencing the punishments they are undergoing in the present age. The heretics groan under the weight that Caesar has forced upon them.

So it is that we should see that both the 'heretics' and Irenaeus are laying out two different interpretations of 'how the present age is like the Exodus.' We have already explained how Irenaeus likens the Alexandrian Church to the Israelites who turned away from Moses and God and set up the Golden Calf. But it is only in Chapter Thirty that we learn that the Alexandrians were the ones who interpreted the Exodus story as a type for the present age. According to their interpretation 'God hardening the heart of Pharaoh and his servants' represents Caesar and those unfaithful presbyters who assisted him in corrupting the canon (i.e. Irenaeus himself).

Yet as we shall see from this final chapter the Alexandrians also argued that the 'Golden Calf' is the idolatry associated with Commodus, made from the gold which was plundered from the Alexandrian Church as we read:

Those, again, who cavil and find fault because the people did, by God's command, upon the eve of their departure, take vessels of all kinds and raiment from the Egyptians," and so went away, from which [spoils], too, the tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness, prove themselves ignorant of the righteous dealings of God, and of His dispensations; as also the presbyter (i.e. Polycarp) remarked: For if God had not accorded this in the typical exodus, no one could now be saved in our true exodus; that is, in the faith in which we have been established, and by which we have been brought forth from among the number of the Gentiles. For in some cases there follows us a small, and in others a large amount of property, which we have acquired from the mammon of unrighteousness. For from what source do we derive the houses in which we dwell, the garments in which we are clothed, the vessels which we use, and everything else ministering to our every-day life, unless it be from those things which, when we were Gentiles, we acquired by avarice, or received them from our heathen parents, relations, or friends who unrighteously obtained them?--not to mention that even now we acquire such things when we are in the faith. For who is there that sells, and does not wish to make a profit from him who buys? Or who purchases anything, and does not wish to obtain good value from the seller? Or who is there that carries on a trade, and does not do so that he may obtain a livelihood thereby? And as to those believing ones who are in the royal palace, do they not derive the utensils they employ from the property which belongs to Caesar; and to those who have not, does not each one of these [Christians] give according to his ability? The Egyptians were debtors to the people, not alone as to property, but as their very lives, because of the kindness of the patriarch Joseph in former times; but in what way are the heathen debtors to us, from whom we receive both gain and profit? Whatsoever they amass with labour, these things do we make use of without labour, although we are in the faith.[AH iv.30.1]

As we have now seen quite clearly, Irenaeus has been misrepresenting the other side throughout the polemic. Not only does he call them Jews and accuse them of blasphemy throughout the text but now in Chapter Thirty he inevitably ignores their charge that the Roman Church was 'bought' with Caesar's money by focusing instead on the implausibility of their allegory that these things are 'like' the events of the Exodus.

In the chapter that follows Irenaeus writs that:

And these allege they/we acted dishonestly, because, for-sooth, they/we took away for the recompense of their labours, as I have observed, unstamped gold and silver in a few vessels; while they say that they themselves (for lot truth be spoken, although to some it may seem ridiculous) do act honestly, when they carry away in their girdles from the labours of others, coined gold, and silver, and brass, with Caesar's inscription and image upon it. [ibid]

And again in what immediately follows:

If, however, a comparison be instituted between us and them, [I would ask] which party shall seem to have received [their worldly goods] in the fairer manner? Will it be the people from the Egyptians, who were at all points their debtors; or we from the Romans and other nations, who are under no similar obligation to us? Yea, moreover, through their instrumentality the world is at peace, and we walk on the highways without fear, and sail where we will. Therefore, against men of this kind (namely, the heretics) the word of the Lord applies, which says: "Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote out of thy brother's eye." For if he who lays these things to thy charge, and glories in his own wisdom, has been separated from the company of the Gentiles, and possesses nothing [derived from] other people's goods, but is literally naked, and barefoot, and dwells homeless among the mountains, as any of those animals do which feed on grass, he will stand excused [in using such language], as being ignorant of the necessities of our mode of life. But if he do partake of what, in the opinion of men, is the property of others, and if [at the same time] he runs down their type,(5) he proves himself most unjust, turning this kind of accusation against himself. For he will be found carrying about property not belonging to him, and coveting goods which are not his. And therefore has the Lord said: "Judge not, that ye be not judged: for with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged." [The meaning is] not certainly that we should not find fault with sinners, nor that we should consent to those who act wickedly; but that we should not pronounce an unfair judgment on the dispensations of God, inasmuch as He has Himself made provision that all things shall turn out for good, in a way consistent with justice. For, because He knew that we would make a good use of our substance which we should possess by receiving it from another, He says, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." ... For whatsoever we acquired from unrighteousness when we were heathen, we are proved righteous, when we have become believers, by applying it to the Lord's advantage. [AH iv.30.3]

This is utterly amazing stuff which never once gets the scrutiny it deserves from scholars. The Alexandrian church is clearly being identified as 'hypocritical' while Irenaeus shrugs his shoulders when the same community accuses the Roman Church of being in Caesar's pocket. His defense - 'but we give money to the poor'!

Yet the whole point of this exercise was to get to the conclusion where Irenaeus in effect admits that his tradition was in fact only established out of the original Church of Egypt, as he writes:

As a matter of course, therefore, these things were done beforehand in a type, and from them was the tabernacle of God constructed; those persons justly receiving them, as I have shown, while we were pointed out beforehand in them,--[we] who should afterwards serve God by the things of others. For the whole exodus of the people out of Egypt, which took place under divine guidance, was a type and image of the exodus of the Church which should take place from among the Gentiles;(i.e. the Egyptians see above) and for this cause He leads it out at last from this world into His own inheritance, which Moses the servant of God did not [bestow], but which Jesus the Son of God shall give for an inheritance. [ibid iv.30.4]

Have to go to sleep. Will finish up tomorrow ...

Irenaeus's arguments are clearly directed at the Alexandrian emphasis on the divine nature of Jesus. As we have noted many times at this post, Jesus for the early Alexandrians was ONLY a divine hypostasis, even the presence of the Father. Irenaeus is envisioning the current age as one in which

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