« Hermias (5), a Christian philosopher Hermogenes (1), teacher of heretical doctrine Hesychius (3), Egyptian bp »

Hermogenes (1), teacher of heretical doctrine

Hermogenes (1), a teacher of heretical doctrine towards the close of 2nd cent., the chief error ascribed to him being the doctrine that God had formed the world, not out of nothing, but out of previously existing uncreated matter. Tertullian wrote two tracts in answer, one of which is extant, and is our chief source of information about Hermogenes. The minuteness with which his arguments are answered indicates that Tertullian is replying to a published work of Hermogenes, apparently written in Latin. Another doctrine of Hermogenes preserved by Clement of Alexandria (Eclog. ex Script. Proph. 56 p. 1002, being unlike anything told of him by Tertullian, was conjectured by Mosheim (de Rebus Christ. ante Const. p. 435) to belong to some different Hermogenes. But the since recovered treatise on heresies by Hippolytus combines in its account of Hermogenes (viii. 17, p. 273) the doctrines attributed to him by Clement and by Tertullian. Probably Clement and Hippolytus drew from a common source, namely, the work "against the heresy of Hermogenes," which, Eusebius tells us (H. E, iv. 24), was written by Theophilus of Antioch, and which is mentioned also by Theodoret (Haer. Fab. i. 19), who probably drew from it his account of Hermogenes, in which he clearly employs some authority different from the tenth book, or summary, of Hippolytus, of which he makes large use of elsewhere. Theodoret adds that Hermogenes was also answered by Origen, from which it has been supposed that he refers under this name to the summary now ascribed to Hippolytus; but there is no evidence that Theodoret regarded this work as Origen's (see Volkmar, Hippolytus und die römischen Zeitgenossen, p. 54), so that some lost work of Origen's must be presumed. The passages cited are all our primary authorities about Hermogenes, except some statements of Philaster (see below).

A considerable distance of time and place separates the notices by Theophilus and Tertullian. THEOPHILUS survived the accession of Commodus in 180, but probably not more than two years. Hence 180 would be our latest date for the teaching of Hermogenes, which may have been earlier. He probably had disciples at Antioch, and therefore must have taught at or near there, and any writing of his answered by Theophilus must have been written in Greek. Tertullian's tract against Hermogenes is assigned by Uhlhorn (Fundamenta Chron. Tert. p. 60) to a.d. 206 or 207. In it Hermogenes is spoken of as still living ("ad hodiernum homo in saeculo") and coupled with one Nigidius in the work on Prescription, c. 30, as among the heretics "who still walk perverting the ways of God." There are indications that the work to which Tertullian replies was in Latin, and every reason to think that Hermogenes (though probably, as his name indicates, of Greek descent) was then living in Carthage, for Tertullian assails his private character, entering into details in a way which would not be intelligible unless both were inhabitants of the same city. The same inference may be drawn from the frequency of Tertullian's references to Hermogenes in works of which his errors are not the subject (de Monog. 16; de Praescrip. 30, 33 adv. Valent. 16; de Animâ, 1, 11, 21, 22, 24); for apparently proximity gave this heretic an importance in his eyes greater than was otherwise warranted. Tertullian describes him as a turbulent man, who took loquacity for eloquence and impudence for firmness. Two things in particular are shocking to his then Montanist principles, that Hermogenes was a painter, and that he had married frequently. Neander and others have supposed that the offence of Hermogenes was that he painted mythological subjects. But there is no trace 455of this limitation in Tertullian's treatise, which shews all through a dislike of the pictorial art, and Tertullian seems to have considered the representation of the human form absolutely forbidden by the 2nd commandment. As for the charge of frequent marriages, if Hermogenes, who in 207 would be advanced in life, was then married to a third wife, a writer so fond of rhetorical exaggeration as Tertullian might describe him as one who had formed a practice of marrying (nubit assidue), or who had "married more women than he had painted." Tertullian's language may imply that Hermogenes had also endeavoured to prove from Scripture that a second marriage was not unlawful.

With regard to the doctrines of Hermogenes, the language of Hippolytus suggests that he denied the physical possibility of creation from nothing; but in the representation of Tertullian no stress is laid on the philosophic maxim, "Nihil ex nihilo," and the eternal existence of matter seems only assumed to account for the origin of evil. The argument of Hermogenes was, either God made the world out of His own substance, or out of nothing, or out of previously existing matter. The first or emanation hypothesis is rejected, since He Who is indivisible and immutable could not separate Himself into parts, or make Himself other than He had ever been. The second is disproved by the existence of evil, for if God made all things out of nothing unrestrained by any condition, His work would have been all good and perfect like Himself. It remained, therefore, that God must have formed the world out of previously existent matter, through the fault of which evil was possible. Further, God must have been always God and Lord, therefore there must always have existed something of which He was God and Lord. Tertullian replies that God was always God but not always Lord, and appeals to Genesis, where the title God is given to the Creator from the first, but the title Lord not till after the creation of man. Concerning Tertullian's assertion that God was not always Father, see Bull, Del. Fid. Nic. iii. 10. From the assertion of Hermogenes that God was always Lord of matter, Neander inferred that he must have denied any creation in time, and held that God had been from eternity operating in a formative manner on matter. Tertullian does not appear to have drawn this consequence, and (c. 44) assumes as undisputed some definite epoch of creation. But the account of Hippolytus shews Neander to have been right. With regard to the general argument, Tertullian shews that the hypothesis of the eternity of matter relieves none of the difficulties of reconciling the existence of evil with the attributes of God. If God exercised lordship over matter, why did He not clear it of evil before He employed it in the work of creation? Or why did He employ in His work that which He knew to be evil? It would really, he says, be more honourable to God to make Him the free and voluntary author of evil than to make him the slave of matter, compelled to use it in His work, though knowing it to be evil. He contends that the hypothesis of Hermogenes amounts to Ditheism, since, though he does not give to matter the name of God, he ascribes to it God's essential attribute of eternity. He asks what just claim of lordship God could have over matter as eternal as Himself; nay, which might claim to be the superior; for matter could do without God, but God, it would seem, could not carry out His work without coming to matter for assistance. In the discussion every word in the Mosaic account of creation receives minute examination and there is a good deal of strained verbal interpretation on both sides. But the authority, and apparently the canon, of Scripture were subjects on which both were agreed. Tertullian holds Scripture so exclusive an authority that its mere silence is decisive, and, since it does not mention pre-existent matter, that those who assert its existence incur the woe denounced against those who add to that which is written.

Though the word "materialist" is first heard of in this controversy, the views of Hermogenes were very unlike those now known by that name, and it is doubtful whether our word matter exactly corresponds to the hyle of Hermogenes. This apparently included the ideas of shapelessness and disorderly motion, so that all the sensible world could not, as in our modern language, be described as material. That which became κόσμος ceased to be hyle, and, in fact, Tertullian does not admit the existence of matter in the sense of Hermogenes. Hermogenes held matter to be infinite and refused to apply to it any predicate. It is without form, and is described as in a perpetual state of turbulent restless motion, like water boiling in a pot. It is not to be called good, since it needed the Deity to fashion it; nor bad, since it was capable of being reduced to order. It is not to be called corporeal, because motion, one of its essential attributes, is incorporeal, nor incorporeal because out of it bodies are made. Hermogenes repudiated the Stoic notion that God pervades matter, or is in it like honey in a honeycomb; his idea was that the Deity, without intermixing with matter, operated on it by His mere approach and by shewing Himself, just as beauty affects the mind by the mere sight of it (a very appropriate illustration for a painter) or as a magnet causes motion without contact merely on being brought near. By this approach part of matter was reduced to order and became the κόσμος, but part remains unsubdued; and this, it is to be supposed, was in the theory of Hermogenes the source of evil. Tertullian acutely remarks that this language about God's drawing near to matter as well as the use of the words above and below with reference to the relative position of God and matter cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of Hermogenes as to the infinity of matter.

The lost tract of Tertullian against Hermogenes discussed the origin of the soul, which Hermogenes ascribed to matter, Tertullian to the breath of life inspired by God at the formation of man (Gen. ii. 7). Tertullian accuses his opponent of mistranslation in substituting "Spirit" for "breath," apparently in order to exclude the possibility of interpreting this part of the verse of the communication of the soul, since the Divine 456Spirit could not be supposed capable of falling into sin. This supplies one indication that the tract to which Tertullian replies was in Latin; and Hermogenes, as a Greek by birth, would probably not use the current Latin translation of the Bible, but render for himself.

The opinion of Hermogenes (not mentioned by Tertullian, but recorded by Clement, Hippolytus, and Theodoret) is that our Lord on His ascension left His body in the sun and Himself ascended to the Father, a doctrine which he derived or confirmed from Ps. xix., "He hath placed his tabernacle in the sun." (Theodoret adds that Hermogenes taught that the devil and the demons would be resolved into hyle. This agrees very well with the doctrine that the soul derived its origin from matter.) It is a common point of Gnostic doctrine that our Lord's nature was after the passion resolved into its elements and that only the purely spiritual part ascended to the Father. But on no other point does Hermogenes approach Gnostic teaching; in his theory of creation, he recognizes neither emanation from God nor anything intervening between God and matter; his general doctrine was confessedly orthodox and he would seem to have no wish to separate from the church nor to consider himself as transgressing the limits of Christian philosophic speculations.

It remains to notice Philaster's confused account of Hermogenes. It would not cause much difficulty that he counts (Haer. 53) the Hermogenians as a school of Sabellians, called after Hermogenes as the Praxeani were after Praxeas. Though the silence of Tertullian leads us to believe that Hermogenes himself was orthodox on this point, his followers may very possibly have allied themselves with those of Praxeas against their common opponent. But in the next section Philaster tells of Galatian heretics, Seleucus and Hermias, and attributes to them the very doctrines of Hermogenes that matter was co-eternal with God, that man's soul was from matter, and that our Lord deposited His body in the sun in accordance with the Psalm already quoted. It is beyond all probability that such a combination of doctrines could have been taught independently by two heretics and it is not likely that Hermogenes had disciples in Galatia; we may therefore reasonably believe that Philaster's Hermias is Hermogenes. Philaster, however, attributes to his heretics other doctrines which we have no reason to think were held by Hermogenes: that evil proceeded sometimes from God, sometimes from matter; that there was no visible Paradise; that water-baptism was not to be used, seeing that souls had been formed from wind and fire, and that the Baptist had said that Christ should baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire; that angels, not Christ, had created men's souls; that this world was the only "infernum," and that the only resurrection is that of the human race occurring daily in the procreation of children. Philaster may have read tracts not now extant, in which Tertullian made mention of Hermogenes, and possibly if we had the lost tract de Paradiso it might throw light on Philaster's statements. But we may safely reject his account as untrustworthy, even though we cannot now trace the origin of his confusion.

The tract against Hermogenes has been analysed by writers on Tertullian; e.g. Neander, Antignosticus, p. 448, Bohn's trans.; Kaye, Tertullian, p. 532; Hauck, Tertullian, p. 240. Consult also arts. s.v. in Tillemont, iii. and Walch, Hist. der Ketz. i. 576; and E. Heintzel Hermogenes (Berlin, 1902).


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