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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Heretic Cerinthus

"Cerinthus, a traditional opponent of St. John. It will
probably always remain an open question whether his fundamentally Ebionite
sympathies inclined him to accept Jewish rather than gnostic additions. Modern
scholarship has therefore preferred to view his doctrine as a fusing together
and incorporating in a single system tenets collected from Jewish, Oriental, and
Christian sources; but the nature of that doctrine is sufficiently clear, and
its opposition to the instruction of St. John as decided ad that of the
Nicolaitanes. Cerinthus was of Egyptian origin, and in religion a Jew. He
received his education in the Judaeo-Philonic school of Alexandria. On leaving
Egypt he visited Jerusalem Caesarea, and Antioch. From Palestine he passed into
Asia and there developed της αυτου απωλειας βαραθρον (Epiph. xxviii. 2).
Galatia, according to the same authority, was selected as his headquarters,
whence he circulated his errors. On one of his journeys he arrived at Ephesus,
and met St. John in the public baths. The Apostle, hearing who was there, fled
from the place as if for life, crying to those about him: "Let us flee, lest the
bath fall in while Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is there."
.....................skipped a paragraph........Unlike Simon Magus and Menander,
Cerinthus did not claim a sacred and mystic power. Caius the Presbyter can only
assert against him that he pretended to angeilic revelations (Eus., Theod.). But
his mind, like theirs, brooded over the co-existence of good and evil, spirit
and matter; and his scheme seems intended to free the "unknown God" and the
Christ from the bare imputation of infection through contact with nature and
man. Trained as he was in the philosophy of Philo, the Gnosis of Cerinthus did
not of necessity compel him to start from -opposition- in the sense of
malignity-of evil to good, matter to spirit. He recognized opposition in the
sense of difference between the one active perfect principle of life-God-and
that lower imperfect passive existence which was dependent upon God; but this
fell far short of malignity. He therefore conceived the material world to have
been formed not by "the First God," but by angelic Beings of an inferior grade
of Emanation (Epiph.). More precisely still he described the main agent as a
certain power (δυναμις) separate and distinct from the "principality" (η υπερ τα
ολα αυθεντεια, V. Suicer, Thes.s.v. αυθ.) and ignorant of τον υπερ
παντα θεον. He refused in the spirit of a true Jew to consider the "God of the
Jews" identical with that author of the material world who was alleged by
Gnostic teachers to be inferior and evil. He preferred to identify him with the
Angel who delivered the Law (Epiph. and Philastr.). Neander and Ewald have
pointed out that these are legitimate deductions from the teaching of Philo. The
conception is evidently that of an age when hereditary and instinctive reverence
for the law served as a check upon the system maker. Cerinthus is a long way
from the bolder and more hostile schools of later
Gnosticism.................skipped a paragraph..............The Chiliastic
eschatology of Cerinthus is very clearly stated by Theodoret, Caius,
Dionysius(Eus.), and Augustine, but not alluded to by Irenaeus. His silence need
perhaps cause no surprise: Irenaeus was himself a chiliast of the spiritual
school, and in his notes upon Cerinthus he is only careful to mention what was
peculiar to his system. The conception of Cerinthus was highly coloured. In his
"dream" and phantasy the Lord shall have an earthly Kingdom in which the elect
are to enjoy pleasures, feasts, marriages, and sacrifices. Its capital is
Jerusalem and its duration 1000 years: thereafter shall ensue the restoration of
all things. Cerinthus derived this notion from Jewish sources. His notions of
eschatology are radically Jewish: they may have originated, but do not
contain, the Valentinian notion of a spiritual marriage between the souls of the
elect and the Angels of the Pleroma.

Other peculiar features of his teaching may be noted.
He held that if a man died unbaptized, another was to be baptized in his stead
and in his name, that at the day of resurrection he might not suffer punishment
nd be made subject to the εξουσια κοσμοποιος (cf. I. Cor. xv. 29). He had
learned at Alexandria to distinguish between the different degrees of
inspiration, and attributed to different Angels the dictation severally of the
words of Moses and of the Prophets; ......................skipped a
................The Chiliasm of Cerinthus was an exaaeration of
language so ingenuously as the Apocalpse. The conclusion was easy that Cerinthus
had but ascribed the Apocalypse to the Apostle to obtain credit and currency for
his own forgery. The "Alogi" argued upon similar grounds against the Fourth
Gospel. It did not agree with the Synoptists, and though it did not agree with
the Synoptists, and though it disagreed in every possible way with the alleged
doctrines of Cerinthus, yet the false-hearted author of the Apocalypse was, they
asserted, certainly the writer of the Gospel."



[1] pages 154-156 edited by Henry Wace & William C. Piercy, in the book "A dictionary of early Christian Biography"


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