Patristic Polemical Works
The principal patristic texts of interest to Gnostic studies are listed in
this section (all texts from Alexander Roberts, ed. The Ante-Nicene Fathers and
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection). The writings of Augustine against the the Manichaeans are
also included here.
A collection of the complete patristic writings, all carefully and
recently reedited, is available at the
CECL Early Church Fathers
collection. The collection there offers the entire Ante-Nicene Fathers and
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collections (about 38 volumes in the
print edition), and includes a search function. The texts hosted here have been in our collection since 1995, most have been recently reformatted. Older versions of the texts have been copied and reproduced by many other sites on the internet
The advantage of our Gnostic Society Library collection is
that all the major and "anti-gnostic" patristic writings, as well as numerous
Gnostic works, are indexed here together by our search function. This
allows rapid comparative searches on key names and subjects. We also provide a search function focused on just these principal Patristic writings.
To quickly grasp the tenor and intensity of the argument against Gnosticsm, start by reading the opening section of Tertullian's polemic against the Valentinians, in the fine modern translation by M.T. Riley of Against the Valentinians. (The first paragraph is a classic.)
Search the Patristic Polemical Works Section (search limited to the major Patristic writings given below):
Patristic Polemical Works Against the Gnostics
Irenaeus of Lyon: (c. 140 – c. 202 AD)
Irenaeus (died c. 202) was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire (and now Lyons, France). His writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology.
Irenaeus' best-known book is Adversus Haereses ("The Destruction and Overthrow of Falsely So-called Knowledge," c. 180). It is a detailed attack on Gnosticism and especially on the theology of the leading Gnostic Christian of his age, Valentinus. He thus unwittingly provided one of the best historical sources on Valentinian tradition.
Tertullian: (c. 160 – c. 220 AD)
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was a prolific and argumentative early Christian author from Carthage, in the Roman province of Africa. A notable apologist and polemicist against heresy, in middle life (about 207) he joined the "New Prophecy" of Montanism and himself became a nominal heretic. (A very fine edition of Tertullian's works along with commentary is available at The Tertullian Project.)
Hippolytus: (170 – 235 AD)
Hippolytus of Rome was the most important third-century theologian in the developing orthodox church in Rome, where he was probably born; nonetheless, his works were composed in Greek. He is described as a disciple of Irenaeus. He came into conflict with the popes of his time and seems to have headed a schismatic group as a rival bishop of Rome. All but Book One of "Refutations of all Heresies" (also occasionally sited by the Greek title "Elenchos") were lost to the West until 1842, when Books 4 through 10 were discovered in the monastery at Mt. Athos in Greece. (The second and third books remain lost.)
Augustine: (354 – 430 AD)
Augustine of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis) was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province. In his early years he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his conversion to Christianity and baptism (387), Augustine became a principal figure in the orthodox contest with the Manichaean Gnosis.
Others Early Heresiological Works against the Gnostics:
Patristic Works with Gnostic Interest
Clement of Alexandria: (c.150 - c. 215 AD)
Titus Flavius Clemens, known as Clement of Alexandria, was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria, Egypt. Clement is remembered also as the teacher of Origen (below). He united Hellenistic philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine. He is the most "Gnostic" in viewpoint of all the early orthodox theologians; Clement even used the term "gnostic" for Christians who had attained the deeper teaching of the Logos.
Like Origen, as an Alexandrian Christian he was well versed in pagan and Hellenistic literature. (See also: Clement of Alexandria and The Secret Gospel of Mark.)
(Stromata Book 3 was only published in Latin in the The Ante-Nicene Fathers edition -- it deals with alleged Gnostic sexual practices and was judged too obscene by nineteenth century translators. The translation here is from the Library of Christian Classics. The Latin original is available at CECL; the Google Latin-English translation app gives a thoroughly buggered version.)
The Pseudo-Clementine Writings are not by Clement of Alexandria; they contain a supposed record made by another "Clement" of discourses and travels involving the apostle Peter. Included here is the tale of the supposed duel between Simon Magus
Origen: (c. 185 – 254 AD)
Origen (in Greek: Ὠριγένης) was an early Alexandrian Christian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. According to tradition, he was born in Egypt and taught in Alexandria where he was a student of Clement of Alexandria. In later life under orthodox persecution he relocated to Caesarea Palaestina (near current Tel Aviv); he died there a martyr under pagan persecution in 254 AD. Many of Origen's views have a recognizable Alexandrian Gnostic influence.
Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) was written in response to a pagan critic of Christianity, and not against the Gnostics. It preserves several comments about the Gnosis as understood by Origen.
Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John (written around 230 AD and surviving only in part) ) has been called the first historical work of scriptural exegesis. In fact, the first known Gospel commentary was a commentary on the Gospel of John written around 170 AD by a prominent Gnostic Christian and disciple of Valentinus, Heracleon. Origen responds to Heracleon in his commentary and gives about 48 quotes from this otherwise lost commentary of Heracleon.