September 14, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
For Irenaeus, we are only truly human in as much as we are being fashioned according the image of the one who is the true humanity–the Godman Jesus Christ. Salvation is not a return to Adamic perfection, but pressing forward toward that of which Adam was a type. Thus Adam at creation is not the finished product, but is “humanity in infancy” — possessing the potential to become all that God intended, but not yet all that God intended. While we are used to thinking of Christ as the only truly divine person, Irenaeus reminds us that Christ is also the only true human being. All other human beings are human inasmuch as they conform to his true humanity. A number of implications related to this:
For Hell. Irenaeus writes, ” Thus also, if any one take away the image and set aside the handiwork, he cannot then understand this as being a man, but as either some part of a man, as I have already said, or as something else than a man” (a.h. 5.6.1). Much like Lewis in his Problem of Pain, one can use Irenaeus’ logic here to argue that what is left in Hell post judgment is human remains– a “part” of human being, but not a true human being. Between the ages, some sort of trajectory argument comes into play (Lewis does this in his Weight of Glory), whereby humans living presently are on a trajectory toward either Heaven or Hell–toward true humanity or toward “human remains.”For Deification. Irenaeus’ argument makes being humanized the equivalent of being deified (which is essentially what he has in mind when he talks about partaking of the Holy Spirit, and being made in the image of Christ), and vice versa. To become truly human, one must be made like God. This underscores his insistence that Christ is the original human being–first in logical order, even if not in temporal order. “For in times long past, it was said that man was created after the image of God, but it was not [actually] shown; for the Word was as yet invisible, after whose image man was created,” (a.h. 5.16.2). Adam was created according to Christ’s image, not the other way around.
For the Redemptive Narrative. Most soteriological narratives run from perfection at creation, to fall, to atonement, to a return to perfection. But Irenaeus’ runs from infancy at creation, to fall, to atonement, to the final realization of the original trajectory. Thus for Irenaeus, the Fall detours a trajectory toward perfection, rather than upsetting an already existing static perfection. An analogy with Pinocchio: Pinochio is made after the image of a real boy. Yet he’s not a real boy. Thus what he is at his creation is not a fulfillment of his real destiny, but only a shadow of what he was made to be. Yet he’s not just a doll, either. He’s stuck between infancy and maturity. Thus the redemption story of Pinocchio (and Adam) is not a story about a return to an original condition, but rather a progression toward the realization of what he was intended to be all along, but was not yet at the beginning.5 Comments
September 1, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
Ian Mackenzie rightly observes that “Irenaeus has a unitary way of thinking, as opposed to to a dualistic tendency in which creator and creature, God and humanity, heaven and earth, spiritual and material, faith and works, are torn apart. His theological hallmark is to bracket all these profoundly together yet with their respective natures unimpaired.” (Demonstration: A Theological Commentary and Translation, 38).
The Gnostics work within an almost monistic/panenthiestic framework, inasmuch as they insist that the world is made from God’s substance. Then they posit layers and layers in the Aeon between God and humanity in order to achieve a sense of transcendence. But Irenaeus right from the start insists on an ontological creature/creator distinction, which on the surface might seem to tend more toward dualism. But just the opposite happens. Since God is readily recognized as substantively other, he need not be pushed back from Creation through levels and levels of intermediary beings. Thus for Irenaeuss, God is very close relationally to creation; he is present to his creation and careful of it. Irenaeus’ God is very pro-creation, while the god of the Gnostics is uninterested in creation. In short, it is Irenaus’ ontological Creator/creature distinction that forestalls unbiblical strains of Greek dualism.0 Comments
July 7, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
Irenaeus links creation with the Eucharist, and then insists that we are “nourished by means of the creation” (the body and blood). This is a wonderfully pro-creation articulation of the supper, and helps counter the platonizing tendencies latent within Christianity. All of this is contra the gnostics, of course, who despised creation.
“But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, ‘In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.’ And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” adversus haereses, 5.2.20 Comments
March 28, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
A helpful quote from Wingren on the soteriology of Irenaeus:
“Not to receive Christ in His incarnation in faith means consequently to be part of destroyed Creation and not of unspoiled Creation, and the lack of those who so fail to receive Christ is not simply that they lack the ‘supernatural,’ but that they do not even live a ‘natural’ life. They are are ‘in Adam,’ who was defeated and who forfeited the life which matched his own nature. In other words, they are in Death, and fail to see that the form of human life which they value so highly has already been broken by the fetters of death…” (Gustaf Wingren, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus, 85).
Three things are noteworthy here. First, failure to receive the salvation offered through Christ ultimately renders us less than natural, which is to say less than human; sin is a dehumanizing reality. Second, the judgment and wrath of God has already fallen. We do not need merely to be saved from the wrath to come (however true this is), but from the wrath that has already come. And third, the wrath of God is death. Any understanding of the wrath of God that does not view death as its centerpiece misunderstands the wrath of God.0 Comments