Theophilus have been preserved. Tertullian's Adversus Hermogenem is our most important source. Hermogenes was not so much interested in the origin of the universe; his primary concern is the origin of evil. While the Gnostics explained the existence of evil in the cosmos by the imperfection of the demiurge, Hermogenes maintains firmly the unity of God and puts evil down to matter.51 He does not propose a Gnostic but a Platonic solution of the problem. For this reason in modern discussion Hermogenes should not be called a Gnostic, but a Christian Platonist.
Christian theology had by this time become aware of the dangers of dualism. When Hermogenes put forward his ideas, polemic against him started almost immediately. Hermogenes realised the weakness of his argument. He emphasised that matter and God do not share an equal ontological rank. God is Lord over matter. As he is eternally Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord of from eternity God is incomparable with any other being. His very use of matter for creation is just the proof of his unique power.52
Hermogenes finds the biblical proof for his theory in Genesis 1:2: in the sentence 'But the earth was without form and void', 'earth' means matter, the imperfect tense 'was' means eternal duration, and by 'without form and void' the unordered chaotic state of matter is described. In Genesis 1:1 'beginning' also refers to matter, and Genesis 1:2b mentions the four elements.53
Matter itself is neither good nor evil, although Hermogenes derives evil from it. If matter were essentially evil, it could not have served God for his creation. Through formation matter has changed for the better, but traces of the original chaotic state have remained in every created being. This explains the presence of evil in the world. Contemporaries called Hermogenes a Platonist. According to modern research, they were right. J. H. Waszink54 has shown in a careful analysis that most of Hermogenes' thought and terminology have parallels in Middle Platonism. In his exegesis of Genesis 1, Hermogenes follows traditions which go back to Hellenistic Judaism. Parallels are to be found in Philo, Justin, Theophilus of Antioch and Origen.
The heresy of Hermogenes was his bold synthesis of biblical doctrine with Platonism. It went too far beyond the limits which ecclesiastical theology had set. But Hermogenes was not an outsider, as his opponents wished to suggest. Christian intellectuals in the second and third century held on to the opinion that formless matter was a necessary substrate of creation. Clement of
51 Greschat, Apelles und Hermogenes, I37ff.
54 See his edition of Tertullian's Adversus Hermogenem.
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