St Irenaeus of Lyons: Are You Discarding the Truth?

Feast of St Paul the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople

Irenaeus_Square_3.jpgCERTAIN PEOPLE are discarding the Truth and introducing deceitful “myths and endless genealogies,” which, as the Apostle says, “promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith” (1 Tim. 1.4). By specious argumentation, craftily patched together, they mislead the minds of the more ignorant and ensnare them by falsifying the Lord’s words. Thus they become wicked interpreters of genuine words. They bring many to ruin by leading them, under the pretense of knowledge, away from Him who established and adorned this universe, as if they had something more sublime and excellent to manifest than the God “who made heaven and . . . all things in them” (Cf. Gen. 1.1; Ex. 20.11; Ps. 145.6; Acts 4.44, 14.15). By cleverness with words they persuasively allure the simple folk to this style of searching, but then, absurdly, bring them to perdition by trumping up their blasphemous and impious opinion against the Creator. In this manner they just cannot distinguish what is false from what is true.

Error, in fact, does not show its true self, lest on being stripped naked it should be detected. Instead, it craftily decks itself out in an attractive dress, and thus, by an outward false appearance, presents itself to the more ignorant, truer than Truth itself, ridiculous as it is even to say this. With regard to such people, one greater than we has said: “An artful imitation in glass is a mockery to a precious stone, though it is an emerald and highly prized by some people, so long as no one is at hand to evaluate it and skillfully expose the crafty counterfeit. And when copper is alloyed to silver, what man, if he is unskilled, will readily be able to evaluate it.” Therefore, we will see to it that it will not be our fault if some are snatched away, like sheep by wolves, whom they would fail to recognize because of the treachery of the sheepskin, since they speak the same language we do, but intend different meanings. Of such the Lord admonished us to beware. And so, after chancing upon the commentaries of the disciples of Valentinus—as they style themselves—and after conversing with some of them and becoming acquainted with their doctrine, we thought it necessary to inform you, our dear friend, about these portentous and profound ‘mysteries’ which not all grasp, because not all have purged their brains. Thus, having learned of these mysteries yourself, you can make them clear to all your people and warn them to be on guard against this profundity of nonsense and of blasphemy against God. To the best of our ability we will give you a concise and clear report on the doctrine of these people who are at present spreading false teaching. We are speaking of the disciples of Ptolemaeus, an offshoot of the Valentinian school. We will also offer suggestions to the best of our limited capacity, for refuting this doctrine, by showing how utterly absurd, inconsistent, and incongruous with the Truth their statements are. Not that we are accustomed to writing books, or practiced in the art of rhetoric; but it is love that prompts us to acquaint you and all your people with the teachings which up till now have been kept secret, which, however, by the grace of God have at last come to light. “For nothing is covered that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be known” (Mt. 10.26; see also Lk. 8.17, 12.2; Mk. 4.22).

—St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies

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