CERIN'THUS (Lat., from Gk. Kptveos. I(e rinthos). A heretic who lived at the close of the Apostolic Age. but of whom we have nothing better than uncertain and confused account-. It is said that he was an Egyptian. perhaps also a Jew by birth. and studied philosophy in Alex andria. Front Egypt he passed into Asia Minor.
and lived ill Ephesus contemporaneously (accord ing to the belief of the Church) with the aged Apostle ,lohn. Tradition tells us that .John held the heretic in such detestation, that, on a certain ()evasion, when he encountered Cerinthus in the Laths of Ephesus, he immediately left the place, saying to those about him: "Let us tlee, lest the bath should fall while Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is there," it was believed in the an cient Church that the Gospel of Saint John was written in opposition to the tenets of Corinthus; and the Roman presbyter Cants (about the close of the Second Century) supposed that Cerinthus had revenged himself by falsely ascribing the authorship of the Apocalypse to Sa hit dohn—it being in reality his own work! The fathers con tradiet one another in their accounts of Cerin thus. Some describe him as a complete Gnostic. in which case he would be the earliest recorded teacher of that sect: others say that he held coarse and sensual millenarian views, making the millennium (q.v.). with the licentious fancy
of an Arab, consist chiefly in 'nuptial delights,' and that he believed the Jewish ceremonial law to be in part binding upon Christians. There can be no doubt that Cerinthus made use of the Jewish law at least as a symbol for his Gnostic doctrines, and also employed millenarian terms in a symbolieal manner; a very natural thing for 111111 to do. on the hypothesis which Neander and others have suggested—that Gnosticism originated, not among the minds which had re ceived a true Hellenic culture. but among the Judaizing sects. whose theosophy was a jumble of the spiritual and the material. Cerinthus being the oldest teacher of Judaico-1 nosth. prin ciples. there would naturally be a greater in congruity and want of harmony in Ids language and ideas than characterized Gnosticism at a later period of its development: and subsequent ecclesiastical writers, destitute of precise histori cal knowledge and sound principles of criticism. could hardly avoid misunderstanding a system which is not consistent throughout, lint bears evident marks of being fornn•d in a transition epoch.