Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part II: Ophites, Cainites, Sethites.
Chapter II.—Ophites, Cainites, Sethites.
To these are added those heretics likewise who are called Ophites: 8354 for they magnify the serpent to such a degree, that they prefer him even to Christ Himself; for it was he, they say, who gave us the origin of the knowledge of good and of evil. 8355 His power and majesty (they say) Moses perceiving, set up the brazen serpent; and whoever gazed upon him obtained health. 8356 Christ Himself (they say further) in His gospel imitates Moses serpents sacred power, in saying: “And as Moses upreared the serpent in the desert, so it behoveth the Son of man to be upreared.” 8357 Him they introduce to bless their eucharistic (elements). 8358 Now the whole parade and doctrine of this error flowed from the following source. They say that from the supreme primary Æon whom men speak of 8359 there emanated several other inferior Æons. To all these, however, there opposed himself an Æon who name is Ialdabaoth. 8360 He had been conceived by the permixture of a second Æon with inferior Æons; and afterwards, when he 8361 had been desirous of forcing his way into the higher regions, had been disabled by the permixture of the gravity of matter with himself to arrive at the higher regions; had been left in the midst, and had extended himself to his full dimensions, and thus had made the sky. 8362 Ialdabaoth, however, had descended lower, and had made him seven sons, and had shut from their view the upper regions by self-distension, in order that, since (these) angels could not know what was above, 8363 they might think him the sole God. These inferior Virtues and angels, therefore, had made man; and, because he had been originated by weaker and mediocre powers, he lay crawling, worm-like. That Æon, however, out of which Ialdaboath had proceeded, moved to the heart with envy, had injected into man as he lay a certain spark; excited whereby, he was through prudence to grow wise, and be able to understand the things above. So, again, the Ialdaboath aforesaid, turning indignant, had emitted out of himself the Virtue and similitude of the serpent; and this had been p. 651 the Virtue in paradise—that is, this had been the serpent—whom Eve had believed as if he had been God the Son. 8364 He 8365 plucked, say they, from the fruit of the tree, and thus conferred on mankind the knowledge of things good and evil. 8366 Christ, moreover, existed not in substance of flesh: salvation of the flesh is not to be hoped for at all.
Moreover, also, there has broken out another heresy also, which is called that of the Cainites. 8367 And the reason is, that they magnify Cain as if he had been conceived of some potent Virtue which operated in him; for Abel had been procreated after being conceived of an inferior Virtue, and accordingly had been found inferior. They who assert this likewise defend the traitor Judas, telling us that he is admirable and great, because of the advantages he is vaunted to have conferred on mankind; for some of them think that thanksgiving is to be rendered to Judas on this account: viz., Judas, they say, observing that Christ wished to subvert the truth, betrayed Him, in order that there might be no possibility of truths being subverted. And others thus dispute against them, and say: Because the powers of this world 8368 were unwilling that Christ should suffer, lest through His death salvation should be prepared for mankind, he, consulting for the salvation of mankind, betrayed Christ, in order that there might be no possibility at all of the salvation being impeded, which was being impeded through the Virtues which were opposing Christs passion; and thus, through the passion of Christ, there might be no possibility of the salvation of mankind being retarded.
But, again, the heresy has started forth which is called that of the Sethites. 8369 The doctrine of this perversity is as follows. Two human beings were formed by the angels—Cain and Abel. On their account arose great contentions and discords among the angels; for this reason, that Virtue which was above all the Virtues—which they style the Mother—when they said 8370 that Abel had been slain, willed this Seth of theirs to be conceived and born in place of Abel, in order that those angels might be escheated who had created those two former human beings, while this pure seed rises and is born. For they say that there had been iniquitous permixtures of two angels and human beings; for which reason that Virtue which (as we have said) they style the Mother brought on the deluge even, for the purpose of vengeance, in order that that seed of permixture might be swept away, and this only seed which was pure be kept entire. But (in vain): for they who had originated those of the former seed sent into the ark (secretly and stealthily, and unknown to that Mother-Virtue), together with those “eight souls,” 8371 the seed likewise of Ham, in order that the seed of evil should not perish, but should, together with the rest, be preserved, and after the deluge be restored to the earth, and, by example of the rest, should grow up and diffuse itself, and fill and occupy the whole orb. 8372 Of Christ, moreover, their sentiments are such that they call Him merely Seth, and say that He was instead of the actual Seth.
Or, “Serpentarians,” from ὄφις, a serpent.650:8355
See Gen. iii. 1-7.650:8356
See Num. xxi. 4-9.650:8357
John iii. 14.650:8358
Eucharistia (neut. pl.) = εὐχαριστεῖα (Fr. Junius in Oehler): perhaps “the place in which they celebrate the eucharist.”650:8359
These words are intended to give the force of the “illo” of the original.650:8360
Roberston (Ch. Hist. i. p. 39, note 2, ed. 2. 1858) seems to take this word to mean “Son of Darkness or Chaos.”650:8361
“Seque” Oehler reads here, which appears bad enough Latin, unless his “se” after “extendisse” is an error.650:8362
Or, “what the upper regions were.”651:8364
Or, “she;” but perhaps the text is preferable.651:8366
See Gen. iii. 1-7.651:8367
See de Bapt. c. i.651:8368
“Dicerent;” but Routh (I think) has conjectured “disceret” “when she learned,” etc., which is very simple and apt.651:8371
See 1 Pet. iii. 20.651:8372
Cf. Gen. 9:1, 2, 7, 19.
Next: Carpocrates, Cerinthus, Ebion.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at