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Chapter XIV.—The System of the Sethians; Their Triad of Infinite Principles; Their Heresy Explained; Their Interpretation of the Incarnation.
Let us then see what the Sithians511511 This is the form in which the name occurs in Hippolytus, but the correct one is Sethians. As regards this sect, see Irenæus, Contr. Hæres., i. 30; Tertullian, Præscript., c. lxvii.; Theodoret, Hæret. Fabul., i. 14; Epiphanius, Advers. Hæres., c. xxviii., xxxvii., and xxxix.; Augustine, De Hæret., c. xix.; Josephus, Antiq. Judaic., i. 2; Suidas on the word “Seth.” affirm. To these it appears that there are three definite principles of the universe, and that each of these principles possesses infinite powers. And when they speak of powers512512 For δυνάμεις …λογιζέσθω, Bernays reads δυνάται…λογίζεσθαι: “While these make (such) assertions, he is able to calculate,” etc. let him that heareth take into account that they make this statement. Everything whatsoever you discern by an act of intelligence, or also omit (to discern) as not being understood, this by nature is fitted to become each of the principles, as in the human soul every art whatsoever which is made the subject of instruction. Just for instance, he says, this child will be a musician, having waited the requisite time for (acquiring a knowledge of) the harp; or a geometrician, (having previously undergone the necessary study for acquiring a knowledge) of geometry; (or) a grammarian, (after having sufficiently studied) grammar; (or) a workman, (having acquired a practical acquaintance) with a handicraftsman’s business; and to one brought into contact with the rest of the arts a similar occurrence will take place. Now of principles, he says, the substances are light and darkness; and of these, spirit is intermediate without admixture. The spirit, however, is that which has its appointed place in the midst of darkness which is below, and light which is above. It is not spirit as a current of wind, or some gentle breeze that can be felt; but, as it were, some odour of ointment or of incense formed out of a compound. (It is) a subtle power, that insinuates itself by means of some impulsive quality in a fragrance, which is inconceivable and better than could be expressed by words. Since, however, light is above and darkness below, and spirit is intermediate in such a way as stated between these; and since light is so constituted, that, like a ray of the sun, it shines from above upon the underlying darkness; and again, since the fragrance of the spirit, holding an intermediate place, is extended and carried in every direction, as in the case of incense-offerings placed upon fire, we detect the fragrance that is being wafted in every direction: when, I say, there is a power of this description belonging unto the principles which are classified under three divisions, the power of spirit and light simultaneously exists in the darkness that is situated underneath them. But the darkness is a terrible water, into which light is absorbed and translated into a nature of the same description with spirit. The darkness, however, is not devoid of intelligence, but altogether reflective, and is conscious that, where the light has been abstracted from the darkness, the darkness remains isolated, invisible, obscure, impotent, inoperative, (and) feeble. Wherefore it is constrained, by all its reflection and understanding, to collect into itself the lustre and scintillation of light with the fragrance of the spirit. And it is possible to behold an image of the nature of these in the human countenance; for instance, the pupil of the eye, dark from the subjacent humours, (but) illuminated with spirit. As, then, the darkness seeks after the splendour, that it may keep in bondage the spark, and may have perceptive power, so the light and spirit seek after the power that belongs to themselves, and strive to uprear, and towards each other to carry up their intermingled powers into the dark and formidable water lying underneath.
But all the powers of the three originating principles, which are as regards number indefinitely infinite, are each according to its own substance reflective and intelligent, unnumbered in multitude. And since what are reflective and intelligent are numberless in multitude, while they continue by themselves, they are all at rest. If, however, power approaches power, the dissimilarity of (what is set in) juxtaposition produces a certain motion and energy, which are formed from the motion resulting from the concourse effected by the juxtaposition of the coalescing powers. For the concourse of the powers ensues, just like any mark of a seal513513 Or, “form of a seal.” that is impressed by means of the concourse correspondingly with (the seal) which prints the figure on the substances that are brought up (into contact with it). Since, therefore, the powers of the three principles are infinite in number, and from infinite powers (arise) infinite concourses, images of infinite seals are necessarily produced. These images, therefore, are the forms of the different sorts of animals. From the first great concourse, then, of the three principles, ensues a certain great form, a seal of heaven and earth. The heaven and the earth have a figure similar to the womb, having a navel in the midst; and if, he says, any one is desirous of bringing this figure under the organ of vision, let him artfully scrutinize the pregnant womb of whatsoever animal he wishes, and he will discover an image of the heaven and the earth, and of the things which in the midst of all are unalterably situated underneath.
(And so it is, that the first great concourse of the three principles) has produced such a figure of heaven and earth as is similar to a womb after the first coition. But, again, in the midst of the heaven and the earth have been generated infinite concourses of powers. And each concourse did not effect and fashion anything else than a seal of heaven and earth similar to a womb. But, again, in the earth, from the infinite seals are produced infinite crowds of various animals. But into all this infinity of the different animals under heaven is diffused and distributed, along with the light, the fragrance of the Spirit from above. From the water, therefore, has been produced a first-begotten originating principle, viz., wind, (which is) violent and boisterous, and a cause of all generation. For producing a sort of ferment in the waters, (the wind) uplifts waves out of the waters; and the motion514514 Or, “production.” of the waves, just as when some impulsive power of pregnancy is the origin of the production of a man or mind,515515 This is Cruice’s mode of supplying the hiatus. Miller has “man or ox.” is caused when (the ocean), excited by the impulsive power of spirit, is propelled forward. When, however, this wave that has been raised out of the water by the wind, and rendered pregnant in its nature, has within itself obtained the power, possessed by the female, of generation, it holds together the light scattered from above along with the fragrance of the spirit—that is, mind moulded in the different species. And this (light) is a perfect God, who from the unbegotten radiance above, and from the spirit, is borne down into human nature as into a temple, by the impulsive power of Nature, and by the motion of wind. And it is produced from water being commingled516516 Or, “concealed.” and blended with bodies as if it were a salt517517 ἅλας τῶν γενομένων: Miller reads ἀλάλων of existent things, and a light of darkness. And it struggles to be released from bodies, and is not able to find liberation and an egress for itself. For a very diminutive spark, a severed splinter from above like the ray of a star, has been mingled in the much compounded waters of many (existences),518518 The hiatus, as filled up by Miller, is adopted above. The Abbe Cruice suggests the following emendation: “For there has been intermingled a certain very diminutive spark from the light (subsisting) along with the supernal fragrance, from the spirit producing, like a ray, composition in things dissolved, and dissolution in things compounded.” as, says he, (David) remarks in a psalm.519519 Ps. xxix. 3. Every thought, then, and solicitude actuating the supernal light is as to how and in what manner mind may be liberated, by the death of the depraved and dark body, from the Father that is below, which is the wind that with noise520520 βρόμῳ: some read βρασμῷ, i.e., agitation, literally a boiling up. and tumult uplifted the waves, and who generated a perfect mind his own Son; not, however, being his peculiar (offspring) substantially. For he was a ray (sent down) from above, from that perfect light, (and) was overpowered in the dark,521521 σκοτεινῷ: some read σκολῷ (which is of similar import), crooked, i.e., involved, obscure. and formidable, and bitter, and defiled water; and he is a luminous spirit borne down over the water.522522 Or, “the light.” When, therefore, the waves that have been upreared from the waters have received within themselves the power of generation possessed by females, they contain, as a certain womb, in different species, the infused radiance, so as that it is visible in the case of all animals.523523 A hiatus occurs here. The deficiency is supplied by Cruice from previous statements of Hippolytus, and is adopted above. But the wind, at the same time fierce and formidable,524524 Or, “strong.” whirling along, is, in respect of its hissing sound, like a serpent.525525 This passage is obscure. The translation above follows Schneidewin and Cruice. Miller’s text would seem capable of this meaning: “The wind, simultaneously fierce and formidable, is whirled along like a trailing serpent supplied with wings.” His text is, τῷ σύρματι ὄφει παραπλήσιος πτέρωτος, but suggests πτερωτῷ· ὡς ἀπὸ
First, then, from the wind—that is, from the serpent—has resulted the originating principle of generation in the manner declared, all things having simultaneously received the principle of generation. After, then, the light and the spirit had been received, he says, into the polluted and baneful (and) disordered womb, the serpent—the wind of the darkness, the first-begotten of the waters—enters within and produces man, and the impure womb neither loves nor recognises any other form. The perfect Word of supernal light being therefore assimilated (in form) to the beast, (that is,) the serpent, entered into the defiled womb, having deceived (the womb) through the similitude of the beast itself, in order that (the Word) may loose the chains that encircle the perfect mind which has been begotten amidst impurity of womb by the primal offspring of water, (namely,) serpent, wind, (and) beast.526526 Schneidewin has a full stop after “wind,” and begins the next sentence with θηρίου (beast). This, he says, is the form of the servant,527527 Phil. ii. 7. and this the necessity of the Word of God coming down into the womb of a virgin. But he says it is not sufficient that the Perfect Man, the Word, has entered into the womb of a virgin, and loosed the pangs528528 Acts ii. 24. which were in that darkness. Nay, more than this was requisite; for after his entrance529529 Miller would read μετὰ τὰ…ἐξελθὼν, “after the foul mysteries of the womb he went forth,” etc. into the foul mysteries of the womb, he was washed, and drank of the cup of life-giving bubbling water.530530 John iv. 7–14. For πιεῖν some read ποιεῖν, “a course which he must pursue who,” etc. And it was altogether needful that he should drink who was about to strip off the servile form, and assume celestial raiment.
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