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History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325.
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§ 123. Cerinthus.


Iren. I. (25) 26, § 1; III. 3,§ 4; III. 11, § 1; Hippol. VII. 21; Euseb. III. 28; IV. 14. Comp. Dorner: Lehre v. der Person Christi, I. 314 sq. Art. Cerinth in "Smith and Wace," I. 447.


Cerinthus838838    Κήρινθος.38 appeared towards the close of the first century in Asia Minor, and came in conflict with the aged Apostle John, who is supposed by Irenaeus to have opposed his Gnostic ideas in the Gospel and Epistles. The story that John left a public bath when he saw Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, fearing that the bath might fall in, and the similar story of Polycarp meeting Marcion and calling him "the first born of Satan," reveal the intense abhorrence with which the orthodox churchmen of those days looked upon heresy.839839    Both recorded by, Irenaeus III.c. 3, § 4 as illustrating Tit. 3:10. But the same story of John in the bath is also told of Ebion, whose very existence is doubtful.39

Cerinthus was (according to the uncertain traditions collected by Epiphanius) an Egyptian and a Jew either by birth or conversion, studied in the school of Philo in Alexandria, was one of the false apostles who opposed Paul and demanded circumcision (Gal. 2:4; 2 Cor. 11:13), claimed to have received angelic revelations, travelled through Palestine and Galatia, and once came to Ephesus. The time of his death is unknown.

His views, as far as they can be ascertained from confused accounts, assign him a position between Judaism and Gnosticism proper. He rejected all the Gospels except a mutilated Matthew, taught the validity of the Mosaic law and the millennial kingdom. He was so far strongly Judaistic, and may be counted among the Ebionites; but in true Gnostic style he distinguished the world-maker from God, and represented the former as a subordinate power, as an intermediate, though not exactly hostile, being. In his Christology he separates the earthly man Jesus, who was a son of Joseph and Mary, from the heavenly Christ,840840    ὁ ἄ́νω Χριστός. He also calls the Holy Spirit ἡ ἄνω δύναμις , the power from on high which came down upon Jesus. Valentine called the Jewish Messiah (ὁ κάτω Χριστός). The best account of Cerinth’s Christology is given by Dorner.40 who descended upon the man Jesus in the form of a dove at the baptism in the Jordan, imparted to him the genuine knowledge of God and the power of miracles, but forsook him in the passion, to rejoin him only at the coming of the Messianic kingdom of glory. The school of Valentine made more clearly the same distinction between the Jesus of the Jesus and the divine Saviour, or the lower and the higher Christ—a crude anticipation of the modern distinction (of Strauss) between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith. The millennium has its centre in Jerusalem, and will be followed by the restoration of all things.841841    The chiliastic eschatology of Cerinthus is omitted by Irenaeus, who was himself a chiliast, though of a higher spiritual order, but it is described by Caius, Dionysius (in Eusebius), Theodoret, and Augustin.41

The Alogi, an obscure anti-trinitarian and anti-chiliastic sect of the second century, regarded Cerinthus as the author of the Apocalypse of John on account of the chiliasm taught in it. They ascribed to him also the fourth Gospel, although it is the best possible refutation of all false Gnosticism from the highest experimental Gnosis of faith.

Simon Magus, the Nicolaitans and Cerinthus belong to the second half of the first century. We now proceed to the more developed systems of Gnosticism, which belong to the first half of the second century, and continued to flourish till the middle of the third.

The most important and influential of these systems bear the names of Basilides, Valentinus, and Marcion. They deserve, therefore, a fuller consideration. They were nearly contemporaneous, and matured during the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. Basilides flourished in Alexandria a.d. 125; Valentine came to Rome in 140; Marcion taught in Rome between 140 and 150.



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