Enjoying a Laugh with Irenaeus of Lyons

In a few weeks I hope to participate in a discussion group on the Trinity. In preparation for that I began reading Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. I was debating internally about whether to start at the beginning or just jump to the part where Irenaeus begins his defense of orthodox doctrine. I am glad I started at the beginning.

In the first two books of Against Heresies Irenaeus goes into great detail about the history and beliefs of Gnosticism. In this portion he is addressing their belief concerning the creation of water.

 I feel somewhat inclined myself to contribute a few hints towards the development of their system. For when I perceive that waters are in part fresh, such as fountains, rivers, showers, and so on, and in part salt; such as those in the sea, I reflect with myself that all such waters cannot be derived from her tears, inasmuch as these are of a saline quality only. It is clear, therefore, that the waters which are salt are alone those which are derived from her tears. But it is probable that she, in her intense agony and perplexity, was covered with perspiration. And hence, following out their notion, we may conceive that fountains and rivers, and all the fresh water in the world, are due to this source. For it is difficult, since we know that all tears are of the same quality, to believe that waters both salt and fresh proceeded from them. The more plausible supposition is, that some are from her tears, and some from her perspiration. And since there are also in the world certain waters which are hot and acrid in their nature, thou must be left to guess their origin, how and whence. Such are some of the results of their hypothesis. (I.IV.4)

Such argumentation is just brilliant. Irenaeus enters into their system to seemingly improve on it: not all the water on earth could have come from the tears of Achamoth because there is fresh water and salt water. Some of the earth’s waters must have come from her sweat, other water from her tears. But what about earth’s hot and acrid water? Where would that come from? He leaves us to imagine.


Christians do not need to fear heresy; we should have fun demonstrating its foolishness.

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