According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Covering all topics of history and the interpretation of texts, posts here should conform to the norms of academic discussion: respectful and with a tight focus on the subject matter.

Moderator: andrewcriddle

Secret Alias
Posts: 18748
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Secret Alias »

Clement of Alexandria and his Alexandrian tradition is the real focus of Adversus Haereses.
Secret Alias
Posts: 18748
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Secret Alias »

In scrolls of time, where wisdom's threads intertwine,
A tale unfolds of Clement and Irenaeus, minds aligned.
Through passages parallel, in silent agreement they bind,
Echoes of ancient words, in scholarly pursuit entwined.

Beneath the gaze of predecessors, their whispers caught,
A pattern emerges, a connection long sought.
Adversus Haereses, its origin debated, fraught
With interpretations, in scholarly battles fought.

The elephant parable, a mirror of sight unseen,
Assumptions of precedence, where truth lies in between.
Clement’s voice, thought to echo Irenaeus's scene,
Yet deeper inquiry reveals a narrative unforeseen.

Irenaeus, with Polycarp's lineage in his hold,
Attributed to an era, by episcopal lists told.
Yet not in Eleutherius’s time, as stories of old,
But in Polycarp’s teachings, the true source bold.

An apostolic authority, from Peter to Paul's chain,
Magnified by an "error", a scholarly refrain.
Through Polycarp, the lineage gains its famed acclaim,
A testament to the gospel's everlasting name.

In the dawn of the third century, a new light is cast,
Adversus Haereses, its chronology recast.
Irenaeus’s efforts, to the early Christians a vast
Peace with Asia, while Alexandria’s influence outlast.

As the narrative unfolds, in historical debate,
The scholars ponder, the truth they contemplate.
For in the annals of history, they articulate,
A tale of ancient wisdom, and scholarly estate.
Posts: 160
Joined: Sat Oct 28, 2017 6:47 am

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by mbuckley3 »

Peter Kirby wrote: Wed Mar 27, 2024 8:24 pm It seems like a simple question, but Irenaeus provides vague remarks on the subject.

So far, I think we can identify relatively clear claims that these people according to Irenaeus were so-called "Gnostics":
Peter Kirby wrote: Mon Feb 19, 2024 5:37 pm Simon Magus, succeeded by Menander
  • Saturninus
  • Basilides
  • Carpocrates --> Marcellina
  • Cerinthus
  • Nicolas
  • Cerdo, succeeded by Marcion
  • Valentinus --> Secundus, Ptolemy, Colorbasus(?), Marcus
  • Tatian (influenced by Valentinus and Marcion/Saturninus)
It's currently less clear to me that Cerinthus, Nicolas, Cerdo, Marcion, or Tatian are numbered among the gnostics by Irenaeus.

The clearest statements on Marcion (which still seem vague) are those times when he is listed alongside other heretics.
Not necessarily so. Back to the OP, and a sketch of a different way of understanding Irenaeus..

Part-way through their edition of the AH, the editors of the Sources Chrétiennes volumes changed their minds and found a consistency in Irenaeus' usage. The nominative plural οι Γνωστικοι/ "the Gnostics' (capitalized) refers to the specific groups whose documents are covered in 1.29-31. The adjective, however, has a more general meaning :

"1. Dans le Livre I, on relève cinq emplois de l'adjectif γνωστικος sens premier et habituel de ce mot, c'est-à-dire 'qui sait','sage','savant'. Deux fois il s'agit du simple adjectif γνωστικος, deux fois du comparatif γνωστικωτερος et une fois du superlatif γνωστικωτατος. Ainsi, en I.11.3, voyons-nous un maître se tendre 'vers quelque chose de plus élevé et de plus 'savant' (επι το υψηλοτερον και γνωστικωτερον)'. En I.11.5, il est question de docteurs qui, renchérissant les uns sur les autres, veulent passer pour 'plus parfaits que les parfaits et plus 'savants' que les 'savants' (τελειων τελειοτεροι...και γνωστικων γνωστικωτεροι)'. En I.13.1, nous voyons Marc le Magicien faire en sorte que l'on s'attache à lui 'comme à l'homme le plus 'savant' et le plus parfait qui soit (ως γνωστικωτατω και τελειοτατω )'. Enfin, en I.25.6, Irénée nous apprend que les Carpocratiens se décernaient à eux-mêmes le titre de γνωστικοι, 'savants'. Soulignons que, dans ce dernier cas, il s'agit bien d'un simple titre : les Carpocratiens s'appelaient γνωστικοι, 'savants', exactement comme les Marcosiens s'appelaient eux-mêmes τελειοι, 'parfaits' (cf. I.13.6). Selon l'acception courante qui vient d'être dite, le terme γνωστικος ne se retrouvera dans aucun des quatres derniers Livres de l'Adversus Haereses.

"2. Dès le Livre I et dans chacun des Livres suivants, en revanche, se rencontre le mot Γνωστικος - que..nous écrirons avec une majuscule - . Toujours employé au pluriel et substantivement, sauf, une seule fois, dans l'expression η Γνωστικη αιρεσις (I.11.1), ce mot désigne alors, sous la plume d'Irénée, un groupement bien circonscrit d'hérétiques : οι Γνωστικοι, les 'Gnostiques'. Distincts aussi bien des Valentiniens que de Simon, de Ménandre et de tous ceux qu'Irénée considère comme les ancêtres lointains des Valentiniens, les 'Gnostiques' sont ce groupe particulier d'hérétiques dont Irénée rapporte les doctrines en I.29-30 et en qui il voit les ascendants immédiats ou 'pères' des Valentiniens."

As part of their argument, they note the confusion caused by mistranslation. At 2.13.8, where Basilides is bracketed with 'the rest of the gnostics' (similar cases at 2.31.1,2.35.2), 'reliquos gnosticos' (= τους λοιπους γνωστικους) is much more likely to mean 'the Gnostics as well'.

And while Valentinus is accused of promoting a 'knowledge falsely so-called', Irenaeus never actually terms him a Gnostic. The similarities of his system to that of the Gnostics are demonstrated, but it's similarity, not identity.

So perhaps we need to reframe the question. Let"s start with genealogy. AH1.22-27 has a tolerably focussed account of the anti-apostolic succession. The root of all heresy is Simon, and his follower Menander. Saturninus and Basilides took their impetus from them. Without an obvious link, there come descriptions of Carpocrates and Marcellina, Cerinthus, the Ebionites, the Nicolaitans, Cerdo and Marcion. At 1.28, heretics deriving from those previously mentioned are inserted; Encratites derive from Saturninus and Marcion, 'others' from Basilides and Carpocrates. Finally, at 1.29, the mother lode, the system of the Barbelo Gnostics is explicated. As they are glibly described as Simonians by Irenaeus, rhetorically this infects the entire genealogy, yet Irenaeus does not actually describe those in 1.22-28 as Gnostics. Again, while at 1.11.1 Valentinus is accused of adapting the 'the so-called Gnostic αιρεσις', he is not termed a Γνωστικος.

Genealogy is key because it is an essential part of Irenaeus' presentation of the Hypothesis (υποθεσις, in translation : argumentum, argumentatio, regula, controversia). There are at least ten extended passages in the AH where Irenaeus uses this concept. The heretics have their own Hypothesis, "which neither the prophets announced nor the Lord taught nor the apostles delivered" (1.8.1). In contrast, the church can "reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the churches and the succession of these men to our own times..who neither taught nor knew anything like what these men rave about...We put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings...[a list of the bishops of Rome is included as an example]...In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles and the preaching of the truth have come down to us" (3.3.1-3).

In short, I don't think it's a particular category of knowledge that is Irenaeus' main focus. It's rather where that knowledge comes from. His Hypothesis is institutional in form and application. It's an assertion that (redemptive) knowledge is the preserve of bishops and presbyters, not of freelancers.
Secret Alias
Posts: 18748
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Secret Alias »

In the shadowed halls of ancient lore,
Where wisdom’s roots delve deep,
There whispers a word, both myth and core,
מַשְׂכִּיל, a secret keep.

From Daniel’s scroll, the twelfth chapter calls,
A prophecy unveiled,
To those who stand where the last light falls,
מַּשְׂכִּלִים, by Irenaeus hailed.

They followed Marcus, in Gnosis wrapped,
A truth, esoteric and bold,
In the hidden depths, their spirits mapped,
Ancient mysteries told.

γνωστικός, the knowing ones, seek
The cross of four hundred score,
Not merely a sign for the meek,
But a key to the secret door.

For תָ, the mark on Cain did rest,
And Ezekiel’s vision did bear,
The shape of salvation, east to west,
A cross, the universe’s heir.

Through ages dark and ages light,
This wisdom winds its way,
A beacon for those who seek insight,
At the breaking of the day.

So ponder deep, ye seekers true,
On מַשְׂכִּיל, the word, the sign,
For within its folds, a clue,
To the divine, the mortal bind.

Let us then, with minds unfurled,
Embrace the cross, the mark, the word,
And in our hearts, forever hold,
The mysteries, of old.
Last edited by Secret Alias on Fri Mar 29, 2024 7:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

This is great. I think the replies are correct that "the gnostics" are an even narrower group in the text than I imagined. Here I was thinking I was being daring in how many not "the Gnostic" groups are being identified. It turns out that my error was in the other direction.

I wonder if there's more to be said for who or what is and isn't brought in close relation to "the Gnostics."
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

GakuseiDon wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 1:52 am believed that the Creator god was not the true God
This can be called "demiurgical." It is a description of a doctrine or idea, the way that "vegetarian" describes people with certain dietary habits or "trinitarian" describes a certain concept in theology.

In the second century, "demiurgical" thought is not a specifically Christian heresy. It was well documented, for example, that Platonists assumed that the Creator god wasn't the first God.

Some suggest "biblical demiurgical" as a phrase to distinguish demiurgical thought that uses biblical texts and interprets them consistently with this doctrine.

This phrase doesn't assume that it was specifically associated with Judaism or with Christianity; it can encompass possible "pre-Christian," "Jewish," or any demiurgical doctrine that also makes use of biblical texts.

For clarity, "demiurgical" has much to commend it if that is literally the "dividing line" by definition.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

davidmartin wrote: Fri Mar 29, 2024 2:24 am the best way to know who the gnostics were is from the gnostic texts
i mean if you want to know what they are, just read their texts and go from there. problem solved ,right?
Not entirely, no. For one thing, how would you know which texts are "gnostic texts"?
Post Reply