Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Irenaeus (?-202AD) :  Patience pays off ...

This has to do with the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras and the Flat Earth theory.  I have been accumulating references as I go along from classical writers for anything that might indicate a flat earth belief, since this is what was preached to us in the government schools when I was young regarding Christians.  I still haven't found a person affirming such a belief in their own writings, but Irenaeus includes a note that invites some extrapolation in conjunction with quotes from other authors:

"Anaxagoras, again, who has also been surnamed "Atheist," gave it as his opinion that animals were formed from seeds falling down from heaven upon earth. This thought, too, these men have transferred to "the seed" of their Mother, which they maintain to be themselves; thus acknowledging at once, in the judgment of such as are possessed of sense, that they themselves are the offspring of the irreligious Anaxagoras." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II

I don't fully understand that, but it seems to be a naturalistic explanation for human origins.  As I already noted, Anaxagoras was the recipient of the first recorded Flat Earth insult, delivered by Socrates:

"And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and then he would further explain the cause and the necessity of this ..." - Plato (424-348BC), Phaedo.

In fact Socrates is disappointed and concludes that Anaxagoras is devoid of knowledge and a mere babbler of nonsense.  A bit more research turned up this note on the beliefs of Anaxagoras in a philosophical catalog prepared by Hyppolitus (170AD-235):

"And that the earth is in figure plane; and that it continues suspended aloft, by reason of its magnitude, and by reason of there being no vacuum, and by reason of the air, which was most powerful, bearing along the wafted earth." - Hyppolitus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book I

Thus, we have the curious fact that the first known attribution of a flat earth belief is to an atheist!  Irenaeus brings up Anaxagoras as one of the numerous sources from which Gnostics take their imagery, but he is not noted as being a source of Gnosticism.

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