St. Ephraim

Prose Refutations Against Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan (I)

Translated by C.W. Mitchell.
Published by Williams and Norgate (1912).

Marcion's Teaching; the heavens of the Stranger.

I DESIRE to utter one more refutation against the three of them (i.e, Marcion, Mani, and Bardaisan), that is against Marcion in the first place who (says) that a heaven is found also beneath the Stranger. Let us ask who bears up those heavens, and what is in them. For a power is neceesary to bear them. Or can it be that the heavens of the Stranger are resting on the heavens of the Maker, so that he is the all-sustaining Maker, as indeed is the case? But if they say that the heavens of the Stranger hang by the power of the Stranger, we also will deal frowardly with the froward, (and say) that he who is above the heavens cannot support the heavens, but (only) if he were beneath them. But if he is the same person who is above the heavens and below them, it is clear that the place of his possessions is the same, and in the midst of it are collected those Souls whom ISU brought up hence. For a Supporter is required for those heavy Souls whom he brought up thence . . . [ inasmuch as when his possessions are found enfolded within his bosom there is required for them another power which supports them.] For we cannot accept from them just as they do not accept from us I that there should be anything set up without a foundation.

The heavens of the Stranger and his Boundaries

But know that if the Stranger has heavens which have been created from nothing, we must inquire by whom they were created. And if they are his in virtue of (their) 'essential being' beneath him, which he cannot cross. And just as he is not able to go forth from that Place which surrounds him so as to be something which does not exist in a Place, and has no Creator, so he is not able to cross that boundary which is beneath him. Nor were the Souls able to go up hence to cross it.

The Relations of the Stranger and the Maker.

But if that boundary was capable of being crossed so that also the Stranger crossed it and came down to us, as they say, and the Souls also rent it asunder and ascended, as they falsely state, then (it follows that) a boundary which could be crossed would not be able to prevent the Maker from going up to the Domain of the Stranger. If, therefore, when he was able to go up he was unwilling to trample down the boundary of his Companion, he is a God who is worthy of praise, since even those things which he (i.e., Marcion) has invented, redound (lit., cry out) to his praise. But if he had the will to go up, and the Stranger above allowed him, let them show us why.... And if the Good (Being) was guarding himself, he was verily afraid lest he (i.e., the Maker) should injure him. And how did he who was afraid in his own Domain, come to the Domain of the Maker to struggle with him? And if he guarded his freedom that there should be no Strife and contention between him and his neighbour, let his Heralds be despised who make him quarrelsome and contentious. And if they say that the Maker did not perceive the Stranger, it is unlikely. For how did he not perceive him when he was his neighbour? And if they say that he was far from him, infinitely far, if it was a mountain immeasurable and an endless path, and a vast extent without any limit, then how was that Stranger able to proceed and come down the immeasurable mountain, and (through) a dead region in which there was no living air, and (across) a bitter waste which nothing had ever crossed? And if they make the improbable statement that "the Stranger like a man of war was able to come," well if he came as a man of war-[though he did not come), (take the case of) those weak Souls whom he brought up hence, how were these sickly ones able to travel through all that region which God their Maker and Creator was not able to traverse, as they say?

Surely the Maker could reach the Domain of the Stranger

And if they say that these were able but their Maker was not, if they say anything they like, they must hear something they dislike, (namely), that if the Soul, which is all the creation of this Creator, was strong enough so that with the strength of the Stranger, it was able to cross and to go, and did not remain anywhere(?) on that immeasurable journey, how much more able would the Creator be to go, not only up to the Domain of the Stranger, but even to explore the other regions inside of it, if there were any there !... [ Thou mayest know that the system of statements that they make is impossible.) For (being) a Person who grows not old nor ever dies or grows weary, who has no need of a conveyance of any kind, and requires no food,-and in that Domain there were no walls to hinder him,-how was the Maker hindered from travelling to see what was above him, (to see) whether that Domain was empty or had something in it or not? But if he reached the heavens of the Stranger, even if he did not actually enter he must have struck them to see what they were or whose they were.

The Stranger and His Domain

And when the Stranger went forth from his Domain to come hither, it is clear that he vacated his Domain. For anything which is limited, and in the midst of a place, when it goes forth from its place, the whole of it goes forth and no part of it remains in its place. But if half of it goes forth and half remains, or some portion of it, these things prove concerning its nature that it is divisible. And if again they wish to change their ground, and say a thing which cannot be, (namely), that when he went forth to come from his Domain, his Domain was not deprived of him at all, because he is a Fullness which does not lack, and a Greatness which is not lessened, then how was his Domain full of him, and the Domain which was in the middle full of him-a place infinite and unlimited? And, moreover, the Domain of the Maker would be full of him (i.e., of the Stranger), and this creation would be full of him; even unto Sheol beneath would his extent reach. If before he went out he was the sole occupant (lit., fullness) of that Domain wherein he dwelt, and after he went out that Domain was likewise full of him as before, it is clear that he is something which was found to belong to that Domain, and was (nevertheless) outside.

How the Stranger may be both inside and outside of His Domain

It is necessary that we should inquire whence this addition arose or perhaps some veil was upon his face as upon the face of the Sun; and when that veil was drawn aside he extended his rays unto us. And when he gathered himself in and confined himself to his Domain he filled the whole of the Domain in which he dwelt from of old. And it is necessary that we should inquire from whence are those causes which arose in front of him, and impeded the Light; and here his nature is found to fill all (space), and our place is not found to be foreign to his rays, just as also the vault of creation is not foreign to the rays of the Sun, even if by means of other veils it is concealed from us.

If the Marcionites use the Light to illustrate the omni-presence of the Stranger, they dishonour him.

But the Sun is one thing and its effulgence is another thing. For the Sun has substance and a circumference, too, and the eye sets bounds to the Sun, but its effulgence has no limit and sub-stance. For the eye cannot set bounds to it. And by this proof it is discovered that the child is greater than its parent, since the parent is limited and the child that springs from the parent unlimited. But it (i.e., the effulgence) is not really greater; it really is less than it, in that it has not substance like it (i.e., the Sun). But because also the Sun is fire we learn to know it (i.e., the Sun) from this lower fire; for thus also a flame of fire has a substance, but the Light of the fire has no substance. And bodies come and go in the midst of its Light and are not injured, but bodies cannot approach very near to the substance (of the flame). And just as there are flowers or blossoms or one of the roots which have sweet-smelling fruits and one small place is able to accommodate them because they are substances, but their scent is diffused outside of them because it has no localised substance; and we do not say that the scent of spices is more than the spices, or the perfumes of ointments more than the ointments, for they themselves are sold for a price, but the scent of fragrant herbs is freely given to all who come near them; and (just as) the censer cannot fill the house, but its smoke is greater than the house, for it is even diffused outside of it, (so) if they have made, therefore, their God like a perfume, which is dissipated and like a flame which is scattered, though they wish to honour him, they reduce him to inferiority, for they make him (to be) without an in-dependent substantial Existence.

Bardaisan's Teaching; what supports his Entities in Space?

Again, let the party of Bardaisan be asked concerning those Entities which he speaks of, what supports these things of his also, seeing that they are placed in a deserted and empty Space in which there is no breath of air supporting all, especially inasmuch as he mentions that there are both light and heavy Entities there? For Light is lighter than Wind and Wind than Fire, just as also Fire is lighter than Water. But light and heavy things cannot exist unitedly in one enclosure without the force of another (supporting them). For the light (thing) must dwell above just as the heavy (thing) beneath all. Therefore, Fire cannot exist in the same rank in which Light exists, nor can Water, which is heavy, be in rank of Fire, or of Wind, because there is no force to support them.Water puts an end to Fire, which is opposite it. For heaviness and weight cannot exist in one rank just as they cannot by the same weight . . . things which are light and heavy in the midst of Water or in Air. These things convince concerning themselves how (far) the heavy approach the light. And if these which are heavier by measure than their companions, do greatly flee towards the depths, how much more distant from those things which are beneath, without weight and without measure, will the Darkness be which exists more heavily than all! For lo, all its heaviness, too, is beneath all . . . [how did the Darkness] go up from them because its heaviness. . . . But if it is able to exist and be quiet, let them tell us what thing it was which came upon its heaviness (?) . . . for it is unable to be raised by itself ... But if they say that it crossed its boundary and when it crossed it, it crossed it in an upward direction, then (let me ask), which is easier-for a heavy thing to go upwards, which is not natural, or to be sent downwards according to its nature? For so... [owing to some cause or other] to cross its boundary and make an Assault upwards. Above all [the proper nature of its (i.e., of the Darkness) heaviness, demands that it] should be continually sent beneath. And because from of old and from eternity everything was actually going down and down the Fire would not be able [to find its way down through the great distance to the darkness beneath or to reach) the Depths which are immeasurable.

If a Primal Wind stirred up the Entities, who caused this Wind? God?

But let us inquire as to this Fire, what was the cause that stirred it up also to cross the Boundary which it had never crossed before? They say that the Wind beat upon it and stirred it up. Let us come to the succession of causes and let us ask also concerning the Wind,-what stirred it up too? And if the causes are multiplied, what, then, was that which was the Cause of all the causes? If it be not known, there is a great error, but if it be known, there is a right question in reply to which a true argument should be offered. For if it was God, then He is the cause of all confusion, He who disturbed things in their state of order and mingled things that were pure and introduced Strife and Contention among Natures that were at peace; then He Who, they say, is the real cause of all beauty turns out to be the cause of all ugliness.

But whoever stirred up that Evil which was asleep, and gave power to what was powerless and found out a method and arranged the Cause to make the Evil cross the Boundary, a thing that had never crossed its Boundary, that misdeed of his teaches us what name we should give him, with what eye we should look upon him, and with what amazement we should wonder at him !

Why would the Upper Being do so?

But if the same Upper Being stirred the Element of the Wind in a manner contrary to its nature, then that Upper Being must have crept and come down from his natural height; and what Cause, then, stirred him up, too, that he should hurl Contention and Strife among the Entities and Natures which were in a peaceful state, and, if they know not, whence did this cause spring? For as regards these other things which they say concerning the Entities, whence did they learn that they are as they say? If the spirit of revelation made (it) known to them, it ought to have revealed to them (something) concerning the Cause on which all the causes depended. But one must wonder at this Wind that it was not revealed to Moses, the chief of the Prophets, who divided the sea and went through its midst, nor again to Simon, the chief of the Apostles, was it revealed, he who went down and walked upon the waters, and moved lightly upon the waves of the sea! But it was revealed to this Bardaisan who was unable to prevent the dew which dropped upon his bed! But let them give us the signs and wonders which he did, that by means of the open signs the secrets which he taught may be believed. But if the Prophets and Apostles who did many signs and wonders did not say one of the things which Bardaisan by himself denied, and if Bardaisan, who denied many things which are foreign to the teaching of the Prophets and Apostles, did not do any of the signs which they did, is it not clear and evident to any one who wishes to see clearly that there is a great gulf between his Error and their true Knowledge?

What supported the Entities in Space?

Let us ask [what force it is which supported] all those creatures which Bardaisan preached and the Firmament (?) and the Earth and those whom he calls PANPHLGOS ["the all-flaming"] (?) and all that earth (?) which is beneath everything and above the Darkness - who supports all these? Or how does the Darkness, which is beneath everything, support everything so as to be the foundation of all? But if they say that everything is placed on nothing, let Bardaisan who said how can it be explained that something comes from nothing, (let him) repeat the thing which went forth from his mouth (and ask) how can something be supported by nothing? For how can a thing which does not exist support a thing which does exist? But if he says that it would be easy for God to hang everything on nothing, he confesses, though unwillingly, that it would not be difficult for God to create everything out of nothing. For if he was unable to create something from nothing, neither would he be able to set something on nothing . . . [and Bardaisan cannot say that the Will of God supported everthing]. For (how) was that Will which they say is light [and unable to make anything from nothing able even to support it?] And, therefore, as it was necessary for the Will to have something out of which to create creatures [so it needed something] on which to place its creatures.

[And if creatures are made from Entities] which are not dependent on something which supports them, [are not these Entities dependent] upon something which is not dependent ? And if they say that there is a myriad of . . . each supporting one another . . . [they are not Wise in What] they say; [ for let us ask about that last supporter] of them all, who bears it up? Until of necessity one great and perfect One is found Who is perfect in every respect, Who is identical with His own Domain and exists by His own power, and from nothing makes everything. For if He lacks any one of these things, then He is not perfect, and, therefore, He is in some sort an imperfect God who requires three things -that is, something from which to create created things, and a Pillar which upholds His creatures and a Domain in which His Divinity may dwell. But if the Will of God is supporting by its power the creatures which come from the Entities, it is clear that also that Will of God was supporting the Entities from the first and the same confused them. And if it was not supporting the Entities, then it does not support anything that comes from them. And if the Entities were dependent (i.e. the Divine Will) and existing by His power, they were not even Entities, especially as the Darkness also is found to exist likewise by the power of the Good One.

Mani's Teaching; he placed the Light-World in contact with the Darkness, and thereby introduced great difficulties.

And, therefore, on these grounds we have opposed Mani also with a true refutation. For he, too, calls God the Earth of Light, which (Earth) is not perfect, but if it is a deficient thing, the very word deficiency is enough to refute its claim to perfection. For its one side proclaims concerning the whole if it, that if on its side which is near the Darkness, it is limited by the Darkness, and if it is (so) by nature, its nature is very deficient and imperfect, inasmuch as that which limits it on one side is not a thing which is fair but the Darkness. Now, in the case of a thing which is limited by the Evil, inquire no further as to its weakness; for it is enough that the Evil limited it. And how, 0 Mani, shall we call that thing the perfect Good which is limited by the Darkness, or perfect Light that which is bounded by the Darkness? For it (i.e., the Darkness) confined and limited its inferiority (i.e., the inferiority of the Light), and did not suffer it to fill all (Space), in addition to the fact that it (i.e., the Darkness) waxed bold like a strong one to trample down its Domain and to enter its Boundaries, and to plunder its Possessions. But they say that it (i.e., the Darkness) came as one in need; but if it was in need, know that this (i.e., the Light) also is weak, and if the former plunders the latter is plundered. And, in order that they may be refuted in all points, if the two frontiers of Good and Evil were thus contiguous, all that side which bordered on the unclean became unclean and defiled, and infected, and corrupted by the contact of the Darkness. And if they say that that side which bordered on the Darkness was not injured by the contact of the Darkness, then that side which could not be injured is more excellent than those Souls which were injured by the contact of the Darkness, for it (i.e., the Darkness) is said to have acquired power over the inferior, since this inferior was all injured. But although it (i.e., the side) has contact with the corrupt Darkness from everlasting to everlasting, the injurious contact could not injure it. And if the Enemy was unable to get dominion over it, and the Foe to tread it down and the Marauder to ascend and cross it, then why was it necessary for the Good One to take the pure Souls who belonged to him, and to 'hurl' them beyond his own victorious Frontier into the jaws of the Darkness? For it has been said that the Darkness could not even cross that mighty Frontier. But if it was a defenceless Frontier, one which could be overcome, and laid low, and trodden down and crossed, then its weakness could also be injured by the contact of the Darkness. And if the Darkness had been able to get dominion over it, if it had wished to destroy it, lo, it would have destroyed it by degrees, and made an Assault. And if it desired to rob it, behold it would have approached it stealthily by degrees, and moved onwards. And if (it had wished) to feel a Passion for it and to enjoy it, lo, what gave it Pleasure was at its side... if what gave it Pleasure was in close contact on its side from everlasting to everlasting; and if it carried its will into action, the Darkness had no need to make an Assault and enter the midst of the Earth of Light, because the same Pleasantness was diffused throughout the whole of it (i.e., the Earth). For the Light is one in its nature, and wherever a man has pleasure in it, it is the same. Look, therefore, at the fabricated system of deceit, for in all this the Pleasantness of the Light is in contact with the Darkness, as they say. If it is after the fashion of a park, the one side which bordered on the Sons of the Darkness was entirely akin to the Darkness- for it is with them. And if the Fragrance of that pleasant thing is sent forth into their nostrils, and if that Light is diffused upon their eyes, andif the Melodies of that sweet Player are poured into their ears, how since all this was present with him, did he smell and perceive as from a far mountain that "there was something pleasant there"? And if from the centre of the Earth (of Light) or from the inner sides he received the smell of the Pleasantness of Light, this, too, is against them. For how did it come about that the sweet smell and effulgence burst forth and entered even there? And how did this beautiful Fragrance ever smite the Darkness?

If Darkness has foreknowledge it is more excellent than the Light.

For if the Darkness had foreknowledge, and by means of that he knew that there would be something pleasant (in the realm of Light) then is that Entity (of the Darkness) greater and more excellent than this Good, in that it has this foreknowledge. But lo, the Souls who are from this (Entity) are today existing in Ignorance and Error. And if he had great foreknowledge, when do the Souls who have strayed expect to be refined, seeing that 'he who leads them astray' is so great? For by his knowledge he made them to be without knowledge. But, above all, they cannot go forth hence, because, howsoever that Good (Being) may contrive to form ways and means for their departure hence, that Evil One knows beforehand all the movements and secrets which are planned there against him; and that Good (Being) cannot even conceal his secret thoughts from him. And if he cannot conceal from him the thoughts in his own heart and in his own Domain, how does he expect to release from under the hand of this mighty One the Souls who are subject to his authority, especially, too, if they are stored up in the midst of him and 'swallowed,' as they say! And if, when they were not swallowed, he contrived to swallow them, now that he has swallowed them, who is there that can bring them forth from his midst? (This is a thought) which even Mani himself may have muttered from the midst of the Darkness when he was swallowed. And in his muttering whose help would be invoke[d]? (Would he invoke) Him who even in his own Domain is guarding himself from that which he fears? For he is afraid to come because he knows that if he comes he is swallowed; but they are ashamed to say that he can be swallowed. And how can they conceal it? For behold those Souls which were swallowed up (so as to be removed) from him make them ashamed. And if they were not swallowed, again they are all the more ashamed in this point, (namely): Why did that Nature which cannot be swallowed not contend (?) with the Darkness and swallow all of it?

The Evil One had or had not foreknowledge.

Behold, two alternatives are set before them; let them choose one, whichever they wish, that they may be put to confusion in it. But if in both directions they are put to confusion, this is not due to us, but to their wise Teacher, who concocted for them a Teaching which is put to confusion in every respect. But if they say that he had no foreknowledge, [then let them hear my former questions about the contact of the Darkness with the Light].If the Evil One has foreknowledge from the first, how is it that he sometimes (?) perceived as if he sometimes knew? And if when he knew he did not feel desire; the question is one which resolves itself into two alternatives, (namely), if he verily made an Assault with his eyes (open?), it is a thing repugnant to his nature; but if, though he felt desire, he did not make an Assault he remained by reason of his self-restraint for a long time in a state of desire perforce. But these Souls who are from the Good (Being) are put to shame by his self-restraint, since they are found to be fornicators, and they run corruptly into all evils. And who caused that false ascetic to offend? Can it have been that Virgin of the Light about whom they say that she manifested her beauty to the Archons, so that they were ravished to run after her? But it is not possible for pure mouths to speak as they do about the things after this; so that we will not commit them to writing, but we will take refuge in such discourse as it is possible to use (and argue), that if that Virgin of Light appeared to him and made him offend by her purity, her folly is seen in this. And in what respect was the beauty or pleasantness or fragrance of the Virgin of Light different from that of that Luminous Earth? So that if there is a question of Passion, behold, as a harlot, she embraces the fornicator. For the borders of both Domains embrace one another after the manner of bodies. And, because from eternity and from everlasting they were touching one another, perhaps, also, that Evil one became weary of the perpetual contact. But if a comparison such as that which they employ (lit., bring) is applicable to the matter, (namely), that one loves and another is loved, the experience of debauchees refutes them. (namely), that, although they love, there comes a time when they are sated and weary of that thing which they love. And if our questions do not please them, neither does it please us that they should speak all this blasphemy against the Truth. If, therefore, they wish to hear many things, in a single word . . . that is to say, when they confess that they are in an evil case. And, therefore, silence is our part, and they will have profit. But if . . . And if they do not wish to come to that which overthrows them (?.),let them show how at one time the Darkness had a Passion for the Light, though they were from everlasting hidden in one another. If this Fragrance was diffused recently, first we must inquire what was the cause which made it spread, and what was the power which stirred it up, and why all this was. (?) And it is clear that that is the cause of the trouble and war. But if the Darkness acquired Thought which . . . , and a Mind which he had not (formerly) and Knowledge which he had not, lo again [we refute them by asking how Mind could be acquired by a Nature which did not contain it. It could only come from an outside source- from a region above the Darkness].