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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Hieracas, an Egyptian Teacher

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Hieracas (Hierax) an Egyptian teacher from whom the sect of Hieracitae took their name. Our knowledge of him is almost entirely derived from Epiphanius (Haer. 67 p. 709) who states that he was contemporary with the Egyptian bp. Meletius and Peter of Alexandria and lived under Diocletian's persecution. This agrees very well with the notice of him by Arius (vide infra) so that he may be placed at the very beginning of the 4th cent. Epiphanius treats him with more respect than other founders of heretical sects and is willing to believe that he practised asceticism bond fide which in the case of his followers he counts but as hypocrisy. According to Epiphanius Hieracas lived at Leontopolis in Egypt abstaining from wine and animal food; and by his severity of life and the weight of his personal character did much to gain reception for his doctrines especially among other Egyptian ascetics. He had great ability and learning being well trained in Greek and Egyptian literature and science and wrote several works in both languages. Epiphanius ascribes to him a good knowledge of medicine and with more hesitation of astronomy and magic. He practised the art of calligraphy and is said to have lived to 90 years of age and to have retained such perfect eyesight as to be able to continue the practice of his art to the time of his death. Besides composing hymns he wrote several expository works on Scripture of which one on the Hexaemeron is particularly mentioned. It was doubtless in this work that he put forward a doctrine censured by Epiphanius viz. the denial of a material Paradise. Mosheim connects this with his reprobation of marriage imagining that it arose from the necessity of replying to the objection that marriage was a state ordained by God in Paradise. Neander with more probability conceives that the notion of the essential evil of matter was at the bottom of this as well as of other doctrines of Hieracas. This would lead him to allegorize the Paradise of Genesis interpreting it of that higher spiritual world from which the heavenly spirit fell by an inclination to earthly matter. This notion would also account for a second doctrine which according to Epiphanius he held in common with Origen viz. that the future resurrection would be of the soul only not of the material body; for all who counted it a gain to the soul to be liberated by death from the bonds of matter found it hard to believe that it could be again imprisoned in a body at the resurrection. The same notion would explain the prominence which the mortification of the body held in his practical teaching; so that according to this view Hieracas would be referred to the class of Gnostic ENCRATITES. The most salient point in his practical teaching was that he absolutely condemned marriage holding that though permitted under the old dispensation since the coming of Christ no married person could inherit the kingdom of heaven. If it was objected that the apostle had said "marriage is honourable in all," he appealed to what the same apostle had said "a little further on" (1 Corinthians 7 ) when he wished all to be as himself and only tolerated marriage" because of fornication," i.e. as the lesser of two evils. Thus it appears that Hieracas believed in the Pauline origin of Hebrews and his language seems to indicate that in his sacred volume that epistle preceded I. Corinthians. He received also the pastoral epistles of St. Paul for he appeals to 1Ti_2:11 in support of another of his doctrines viz. that children dying before the use of reason cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; and asks if he who strives cannot be crowned unless he strive lawfully how can he be crowned who has never striven at all? Arius in his letter to Alexander in defence of his views concerning our Lord's Person (Epiph. Haer. 69 7 p. 732; Athan. de Syn. i. 583; Hilar. de Trin. vi. 5 12) contrasts his own doctrine with that of Valentinus of Manichaeus of Sabellius of Hieracas; and presumably all these teachers by rejection of whom he hopes to establish his own orthodoxy were reputed as heretics. Hieracas according to Arius illustrated the relation between the first two Persons of the Godhead by the comparison of a light kindled from another or of a torch divided into two or as Hilary understands it of a lamp with two wicks burning in the same oil.

His doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit is more questionable. He was influenced by the book of the Ascension of Isaiah, which he received as authoritative. In it Isaiah is represented as seeing in the seventh Heaven, on the right and left hand of God respectively, two Beings like each other, one being the Son, the other the angel of the Holy Spirit Who spake by the prophets. Hieracas inferred that the latter Being, Who makes priestly intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered, must be the same as Melchisedek, who also was "made like unto the Son of God," and "who remaineth a priest for ever." These tenets are ascribed to Hieracas by Epiphanius, whose account is abridged by Augustine (Haer. 47), by Joannes Damascenus (66), and by "Praedestinatus" (47). The continued existence of the sect is assumed in a story told by Rufinus ( Hist. Mon. 28, p. 196) of Macarius, who, when he had failed to confute the cunning arguments of a Hieracite heretic to the satisfaction of his hearers, vanquished him by successfully challenging him to a contest as to which could raise a dead body. Rufinus does not make the story turn on the fact that Hieracas denied the resurrection of the flesh.


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Hieracas, an Egyptian Teacher'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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