Cerinthus (Gr. K?rinthos), a Gnostic-Ebionite heretic, contemporary with St. John; against whose errors on the divinity of Christ the Apostle is said to have written the Fourth Gospel. We possess no information concerning this early sectary which reaches back to his own times. The first mention of his name and description of his doctrines occur in St. Irenieus (Adv. riser., I, c. xxvi; III, c. iii, c. xi), written about 170. Further information is gathered from Presbyter Caius (c. 210) as quoted by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., III, xxviii, 2). Hippolytus, in “Philosphoumena”, VII, 33 (c. 230), practically transcribes Irrenmus. Cerinthus is referred to by Pseudo-Tertullian in “Adv. Omnes Hseres”, written about 240. A fragment of Dionysius of Alexandria, taken from “De Promissionibus”, written about 250, is given by Eusebius after his quotation from Caius. The most detailed account is given by St. Epiphanius (“Adv. Haeres”, xxviii, written about 390), which, however, on account of its date and character must be used with some caution. A good summary is given by Theodoret (“Hser. Fab.”, II, 3, written about 450). Cerinthus was an Egyptian, and if not by race a Jew, at least he was circumcised. The exact date of his birth and his death are unknown. In Asia he founded a school and gathered disciples. No writings of any kind have come down to us. Cerinthus’s doctrines were a strange mixture of Gnosticism, Judaism, Chiliasm, and Ebionitism. He admitted one Supreme Being; but the world was produced by a distinct and far inferior power. He does not identify this Creator or Demiurgos with the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Not Jehovah but the angels have both made the world and given the law. These creator-angels were ignorant of the existence of the Supreme God. The Jewish law was most sacred, and salvation to be obtained by obedience to its precepts. Cerinthus distinguished between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was mere man, though eminent in holiness. He suffered and died and was raised from the dead, or, as some say Cerinthus taught, He will be raised from the dead at the Last Day and all men will rise with Him. At the moment of baptism, Christ or the Holy Ghost was sent by the Highest God, and dwelt in Jesus teaching Him, what not even the angels knew, the Unknown God. This union between Jesus and Christ continues till the Passion, when Jesus suffers alone and Christ returns to heaven. Cerinthus believed in a happy millennium which would be realized here on earth previous to the resurrection and the spiritual kingdom of God in heaven.
Scarcely anything is known of Cerinthus’s disciples; they seem soon to have fused with the Nazareans and Ebionites and exercised little influence on the bulk of Christendom, except perhaps through the Pseudo-Clementines, the product of Cerinthian and Ebionite circles. They flourished most in Asia and Galatia.
J. P. ARENDZEN