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Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019: Volume 6: Readings in Irenaeus of Lyon [1 ed.]
 9042947527, 9789042947528, 9789042947535

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Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019 Edited by MARKUS VINZENT Volume 6:

Readings in Irenaeus of Lyon Edited by DON W. SPRINGER and AWET ANDEMICAEL




STUDIA PATRISTICA Editor: Markus VINZENT, King’s College London, UK and Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt, Germany

Board of Directors (2019): Carol HARRISON, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK Mark EDWARDS, Professor of Early Christian Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK Neil MCLYNN, University Lecturer in Later Roman History, Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford, UK Philip BOOTH, A.G. Leventis Associate Professor in Eastern Christianity, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK Sophie LUNN-ROCKLIFFE, Lecturer in Patristics, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, UK Morwenna LUDLOW, Professor, Theology and Religion, University of Exeter, UK Ioannis PAPADOGIANNAKIS, Senior Lecturer in Patristics, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London, UK Markus VINZENT, Professor of the History of Theology, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London, UK Josef LÖSSL, Professor of Historical Theology and Intellectual History, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University, UK Lewis AYRES, Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK John BEHR, Regius Chair in Humanity, The School of Divinity, History, Philosophy & Art History, University of Aberdeen, UK Anthony DUPONT, Research Professor in Christian Antiquity, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, Belgium Patricia CINER (as president of AIEP), Professor, Universidad de San Juan-Universidad Católica de Cuyo, Argentina Clayton JEFFORD (as president of NAPS), Professor of Scripture, Seminary and School of Theology, Saint Meinrad, IN, USA


Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019 Edited by MARKUS VINZENT Volume 6:

Readings in Irenaeus of Lyon Edited by DON W. SPRINGER and AWET ANDEMICAEL



© Peeters Publishers — Louvain — Belgium 2021 All rights reserved, including the right to translate or to reproduce this book or parts thereof in any form. D/2021/0602/143 ISBN: 978-90-429-4752-8 eISBN: 978-90-429-4753-5 A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Printed in Belgium by Peeters, Leuven

Table of Contents Awet ANDEMICAEL – Don W. SPRINGER Introduction .........................................................................................


IRENAEUS READING SCRIPTURE Christopher R. MOONEY The Authority of Personal Witness: Irenaeus on the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition .................................


Stephen O. PRESLEY The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons....................................


CONTESTED READINGS OF IRENAEAN PASSAGES ON GOD AND CHRIST John BEHR ‘Since the Saviour Pre-exists’: A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3 ..............................................................................


Jonatan SIMONS God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8 .


IRENAEUS ON THE GOD-HUMAN ENCOUNTER Ysabel DE ANDIA L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon .....................................................................................................


Awet ANDEMICAEL Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics .................................................................................................


Don W. SPRINGER Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ ‘Two Hands’ and the visio Dei ......



Table of Contents

IRENAEUS AND THE EUCHARIST Scott D. MORINGIELLO Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch ....................... 109 Ryan L. SCRUGGS Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing. Irenaeus on the Ends of Eucharistic Oblations ...................................................................... 119


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see DAL Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. F. Cabrol, H. Leclercq, Paris. Dictionnaire de la Bible, Paris. Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplément, Paris. Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects, and Doctrines, ed. W. Smith and H. Wace, 4 vols, London. Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastique, ed. A. Baudrillart, Paris. Didaskalia, Lisbon. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Cambridge, Mass., subsequently Washington, D.C. Dumbarton Oaks Studies, Cambridge, Mass., subsequently Washington, D.C. Downside Review, Stratton on the Fosse, Bath. H.J. Denzinger and A. Schönmetzer, ed., Enchiridion Symbolorum, Barcelona/Freiburg i.B./Rome. Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, ed. M. Viller, S.J., and others, Paris. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. A. Vacant, E. Mangenot, and E. Amann, Paris. Études augustiniennes, Paris. Enciclopedia Cattolica, Rome. Eastern Churches Quarterly, Ramsgate. Estudios eclesiasticos, Madrid. Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. A. Di Berardino, Cambridge. Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, Neukirchen. Enchiridion Fontium Historiae Ecclesiasticae Antiquae, ed. Ueding-Kirch, 6th ed., Barcelona. Échos d’Orient, Paris. Études Byzantines, Paris. Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, Louvain. Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum NT, ed. H.R. Balz et al., Stuttgart. The Expository Times, Edinburgh. The Fathers of the Church, New York. Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, Berlin. Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, Göttingen. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, Göttingen. Festschrift. Freiburger theologische Studien, Freiburg i.B. Frankfurter theologische Studien, Frankfurt a.M. Freiburger Zeitschrift für Theologie und Philosophie, Freiburg/Switzerland. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller, Leipzig/Berlin. Geschichtsschreiber der deutschen Vorzeit, Stuttgart. Grande Lessico del Nuovo Testamento, Genoa. Gregorii Nysseni Opera, Leiden. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Cambridge, Mass.



Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, Offenburg. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament. Tübingen. Harvard Dissertations in Religion, Missoula. Historisches Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft, successively Munich, Cologne and Munich/Freiburg i.B. Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, Tübingen. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, Tübingen. Handbuch der Orientalistik, Leiden. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Theological Review, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Theological Studies, Cambridge, Mass. Historische Zeitschrift, Munich/Berlin. The International Critical Commentary of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, Edinburgh. Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, ed. E. Diehl, Berlin. Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, ed. H. Dessau, Berlin. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, Münster. Journal of Biblical Literature, Philadelphia, Pa., then various places. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Berlin. Journal of Early Christian Studies, Baltimore. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, London. Journal of Jewish Studies, London. Jahrbuch für Liturgik und Hymnologie, Kassel. Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie, Leipzig/Freiburg i.B. Jewish Quarterly Review, Philadelphia. Journal of Roman Studies, London. Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period, Leiden. Journal of the Society of Oriental Research, Chicago. Journal of Theological Studies, Oxford. Kommentar zu den apostolischen Vätern, Göttingen. Kerk en Theologie, ’s Gravenhage. Kirchliches Jahrbuch für die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, Gütersloh. The Loeb Classical Library, London/Cambridge, Mass. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, Buffalo/New York. Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Oxford. H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, new (9th) edn H.S. Jones, Oxford. Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Freiburg i.B. Septuagint. Moyen-Âge, Brussels. Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua, London. J.D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, Florence, 1759-1798. Reprint and continuation: Paris/Leipzig, 1901-1927. Münsterische Beiträge zur Theologie, Münster.




Miscelanea Comillas, Comillas/Santander. Monumenta germaniae historica. Hanover/Berlin. Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, Louvain. See PG. Mélanges de science religieuse, Lille. Münchener theologische Zeitschrift, Munich. Le Muséon, Louvain. Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th edition, Stuttgart. Nachrichten der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Nag Hammadi (and Manichaean) Studies, Leiden. New International Version. New King James Version. Novum Testamentum, Leiden. See LNPF. New Revised Standard Version. Nouvelle Revue Théologique, Tournai/Louvain/Paris. Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen, Münster. Novum Testamentum Supplements, Leiden. New Testament Studies, Cambridge/Washington. New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, Leiden/Boston. Orbis biblicus et orientalis, Freiburg, Switz., then Louvain. Orientalia Christiana Analecta, Rome. Orientalia Christiana Periodica, Rome. Oxford Early Christian Studies, Oxford. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, Louvain. Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica, Louvain. Orientalia. Commentarii editi a Pontificio Instituto Biblico, Rome. Oriens Christianus, Leipzig, then Wiesbaden. L’Orient Syrien, Paris. Migne, Patrologia, series graeca. A Patristic Greek Lexicon, ed. G.L. Lampe, Oxford. Migne, Patrologia, series latina. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, ed. A.H.M. Jones et al., Cambridge. Migne, Patrologia, series latina. Supplementum ed. A. Hamman. Patrologia Orientalis, Paris. Paulys Realenzyklopädie der classischen Alterthumswissenschaft, Stuttgart. Patrologia Syriaca, Paris. Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen, Bonn. Princeton Theological Review, Princeton. Patristische Texte und Studien, Berlin. Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. G. Wissowa, Stuttgart. Questions liturgiques et paroissiales, Louvain. Questions liturgiques, Louvain. Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, Rome. Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, Stuttgart.

XII RAM RAug RBen RB(ibl) RE


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Introduction Awet ANDEMICAEL, New Haven, CT, USA – Don W. SPRINGER, Hamilton, Canada

This volume is comprised of essays dedicated to the study of St Irenaeus of Lyon, essays originally presented at the 2019 International Patristics Conference at Oxford University. Those proceedings reflected well the recent boom of interest in scholarship dedicated to this second-century bishop of Lugdunum. In addition to dozens of monographs, dissertations, and articles published over the last several years, three recent international colloquia have explored Irenaeus’ work and legacy: ‘Saint Irenaeus and Enlightened Humanity’, held at the Anaphora Institute outside Cairo, Egypt in 2016; the Fifth Moscow International Patristics Conference, on St Irenaeus, held at the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate Studies in Moscow, Russia in 2018; and ‘Irénée de Lyon ou l’unité en question’, held at Lyon Catholic University (UCLY) in Lyon, France in 2020. At the Oxford conference in 2019 there were upwards of forty papers engaging Irenaeus’ work in a substantial capacity, including two backto-back sessions exclusively on Irenaeus, in which most of the essays in this volume were first presented. Entitled ‘Irenaeus in the Second Century’, and organized by Don Springer and chaired by Springer and Paul Saieg, this double session included a diverse, international selection of presenters, headlined by John Behr, Ysabel de Andia, D. Jeffrey Bingham, and Lewis Ayres. The nine essays presented here appear in four parts. Part One, Irenaeus Reading Scripture, includes two papers: Christopher R. Mooney’s (University of Notre Dame) ‘The Authority of Personal Witness: Irenaeus on the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition’, and Stephen O. Presley’s (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) ‘The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons’. Mooney examines Irenaeus’ understanding of the apostolic witness as it pertains to the relationship between written Scripture and oral tradition. He argues that scholarly resistance to the notion of Irenaeus subordinating either Scripture or tradition, while laudable, misses a key point: Irenaeus’ location of authority in the personal witness of the apostles and their disciples as trustworthy witnesses to the Word of God. In this ‘profoundly personalized understanding of Scripture and tradition’, the authority and content of doctrine are ‘inseparable from the persons who received and proclaimed it’. Mooney suggests that Irenaeus sees both Scripture and tradition as ruling over the interpreter. The one who interprets rightly will find the meaning of the Gospel sufficiently in either source, but functionally needs both to protect the act of interpretation. Thus,

Studia Patristica CIX, 1-5. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



Irenaeus points to the Church as the proper site for interpretation, as it reliably passes on the apostolic tradition by bearing the hypothesis and guarding the rule to ensure hermeneutical consistency with truth. Presley’s focus, in ‘The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons’, is on Irenaeus’ assertion in Haer. 2.27-8 that ambiguous passages should be read in light of clearer ones. After reviewing the available scholarship on Irenaeus’ understanding of the clarity of Scripture, he identifies two fundamental questions: ‘What are the clear passages of scripture in Irenaeus?’ and ‘what does Irenaeus mean by “clarity” and how do his references to “clarity” relate to the writing themselves?’ Presley surveys the Irenaean references to the ‘clarity’ (manifesto/e) of Scripture in Adversus haereses, and demonstrates how they polemically depict the Gnostics as espousing fundamentally obscure interpretations of scripture, derived from their own myths. In his positive theology, however, Irenaeus frames the concept of ‘clarity’ through the incarnation and revelation of the Son. Presley determines that the passages Irenaeus considers ‘clear’ are the words of the Lord and the preaching of the apostles, while the obscure ones are the prophetic writings in the Hebrew Scriptures and the parables in the Gospel accounts. Part Two, Contested Readings of Irenaean Passages on God and Christ, includes John Behr (University of Aberdeen) on ‘“Since the Saviour Pre-exists”: A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3’ and Jonatan Simons on ‘God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8’. Behr examines Haer. 3.22.3, a passage in which Irenaeus seems to assert that creation comes about because Christ exists. Behr’s extensive review of existing translations and interpretations demonstrates that previous analyses typically engage the hypothetical question of whether the Incarnation would have happened if there had been no need for liberation or redemption, an approach that fails to address what is at stake in this particular passage. Behr’s own interpretation highlights the importance of pedagogy and ordered sequence in Irenaeus’ thought. Since salvation involves a curriculum of experience, through which the human grows from the childish state of Adam to the maturity of Christ, from the animation by breath of Adam to the life given by the Spirit, salvation itself is a transition rather than a preservation of an original state. God’s project is realized only eschatologically, accomplished through the full stretch of the economy. When Irenaeus explains that “that-which-would-besaved” in this fashion must come into existence, so that the Saviour is not something without purpose’, he affirms the dependence of creation on the prior existence of the Saviour as Saviour. The right order of theology, in which the sequence of intention corresponds to that of execution, indicates that Jesus Christ’s existence prompts our creation, the work of God that is accomplished through the ‘pedagogical economy’ previously outlined. Behr concludes that Irenaeus, indeed, ‘means what he says’: Christ does not come into being as Saviour in response to creaturely need, but, rather, creation arises because Christ exists.



In ‘God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8’, Simons considers Irenaeus’ use of the language of ‘same substance’ to indicate equality of status. Pointing out that the vast majority of references to the ‘same substance’ in second-century extant Christian literature are found in Adversus haereses, Simons challenges a number of scholars who claim that Irenaeus’ use of this term does not amount to a Trinitarian affirmation that the Son is ‘of the same substance’ as the Father. Based on his reading of Haer. 2.17-8 and Haer. 2.13, Simons concludes that Irenaeus’ argument for God as creator in Haer. 2, and his defense of divine simplicity in Haer. 2.11-9, establish that Irenaeus does, in fact, use this term to refer to equality of status, insofar as he describes God’s powers as eiusdem substantiae (Haer. 2.17-8). This does not, of course, amount to a proto-Trinitarian use of the term, anticipating fourth-century theological debates, since Irenaeus never claims that the Son and Spirit were ‘of the same substance’ with the Father. But Simons maintains that Irenaeus is relevant to later debates in that his use of eiusdem substantiae to describe the powers of God can entail equality of status for Irenaeus and, at the very least, excludes a reading of eiusdem substantiae that refers to something being of a different or reduced substance with God. The three contributions making up Part Three deal, in various ways, with Irenaeus on the God-Human Encounter: Ysabel de Andia’s (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) ‘L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon’, Awet Andemicael’s (Yale University) ‘Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics’, and Don W. Springer’s (Sioux Falls Seminary) ‘Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ “Two Hands” and the visio Dei’. De Andia’s essay outlines a theological anthropology of image and likeness and explores key questions concerning what it means for humans to be created in the image and likeness of God: Of whom is man the image? What is it, in man, that is in the image and likeness of God? How does Irenaeus’ concept of the ‘spiritual man’ relate to the image and likeness? Demonstrating the relevance of Irenaeus’ theology of image and likeness to his anti-Gnostic polemic about human nature and progress, rationality and freedom, de Andia devotes special attention to the Trinitarian taxis of Irenaeus’ theologies of creation and spiritual growth, the eschatological pull of the image toward the likeness, and the freedom of the creature and the agency of the Spirit that Irenaeus celebrates. She concludes by highlighting Irenaeus’ identification of the ‘spiritual man’ – who, as soul and fashioned flesh (plasmatus), is rendered spiritual and perfect by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – as the very person who is made in the image and likeness of God (in Haer. 5.6.1). Exploring Irenaeus’ view of the divine-human encounter in the political realm in ‘Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics’, Andemicael focuses on Haer. 5.24, the earliest extant exegesis of Rom. 13:1-7. Irenaeus’ etiology of political authority as established by God prompts many



questions, and Andemicael shows that reading the passage in light of his twopart doctrine of human freedom, as well as his immediate defense of the unity and sovereignty of God, provides a more coherent understanding of his interpretation of Rom. 13’s affirmation of the ‘powers that be’. The freedom of will – that ‘ancient law of liberty’ at work in all people (Haer. 4.37.1) – implies dynamic interactions between rulers and subjects, and personal accountability in rulers’ exercise of their offices, clarifying who is responsible for the unjust persecution of Christians like those of Irenaeus’ own Gallic community. Yet the ‘new covenant of liberty’ (Haer. 4.34.3) established in Christ is not native to the political realm’s regime of fear, which God designed to achieve order and at least ‘some justice’ (ad aliquid assequantur justitiae) in the absence of the fear of God. Thus, Irenaeus acknowledges the limitations of the political sphere’s power to turn people and societies toward justice, pointing to the church as the central locus of Christ’s transformative work in the world. In ‘Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ “Two Hands” and the visio Dei’, Springer critiques the standard readings of one of the most well-known of Irenaean motifs. Through a close reading of Haer. 4.20.1, Springer argues that Irenaeus’ ‘two hands of God’ references are best understood in view of the larger context: namely, the promise of seeing and beholding God. The emphasis on this beatific vision of God in chapters 19 and 20 of Haer. 4 are focused not simply on a vision of God but on an encounter with him. The essay demonstrates that Irenaeus’ ‘hands’ motif reinforces the theme of the chapter, namely, that the Trinitarian God created humankind in order for there to be an ongoing fellowship between the fashioner and the fashioned. The fourth and final section, Irenaeus and the Eucharist, includes Scott D. Moringiello’s (DePaul University) ‘Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch’, and Ryan L. Scruggs’ (McGill University) ‘Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing: Irenaeus on the Ends of Eucharistic Oblations’. Moringiello examines an Ignatian text and idea referenced by Irenaeus in Haer. 5, and determines that for Ignatius, sacrifice (particularly in the context of the Eucharist) and love occupy a central role in the life of Christian discipleship. The Antiochene bishop not only envisaged his own impending martyrdom as the embodiment of these principles, but urged those to whom he wrote to think similarly. Indeed, a half-century or so later, Irenaeus embraced the concept and applied it to his understanding of the final judgement. In ‘Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing: Irenaeus on the Ends of Eucharistic Oblations’, Scruggs looks at Irenaeus’ assertion that the Eucharistic oblation propitiates God, and seeks to explain how a human could ‘propitiate’ the God who, Irenaeus claims elsewhere, needs nothing from humans. Scruggs places this debate within the larger context of Irenaeus’ notion of human gifts to God being demanded for their own sake, not for God’s benefit. This context of a gift economy, the benefits of which are experienced reflexively by the giver, implies that any benefits accruing from the offering of the Eucharist to



God would come to the human making the offering, not to God, to whom the gift is given. Scruggs agrees, following David Power, that Irenaeus essentially redefines the term ‘propitiation’ in this passage as something akin to ‘drawing near,’ rather than the conventional definitions that imply appeasement. Irenaeus’ emphasis on the idea that God needs nothing would seem to rule out the possibility that Irenaeus envisions God being propitiated via the Eucharistic oblation. The essays in this volume demonstrate varied approaches currently brought to bear upon the ancient theologian’s works. The collection provides a useful snapshot of the field, but it is by no means comprehensive. Nevertheless, these contributions may provide a meaningful glimpse into the dynamic, burgeoning field of Irenaeus studies.


The Authority of Personal Witness: Irenaeus on the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition Christopher R. MOONEY, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA

ABSTRACT Recent scholarship on Irenaeus has laudably endeavored to push back against simplistic attempts to claim him for one side or another of modern disputes about the relationship between Scripture and apostolic tradition, which often subordinate the one to the other in an absolute sense. Nonetheless, the limits of those categories often result in either Scripture or tradition remaining somehow subordinate to the other. In this article I argue that more is needed for grasping how unintelligible such subordination is to Irenaeus, namely recognizing that authority for Irenaeus originates neither traditionally (orally) nor scripturally but personally, in the form of the personal witness of the apostles transmitted in their whole teaching. Seen from this vantage point, Scripture and tradition are two modes of expressing the personal apostolic witness to the teaching of the Lord. Hence, both Scripture and tradition contain the central apostolic theme (ὑπόθεσις) and both Scripture and tradition are necessary in the life of the Church for preserving the memory of that apostolic witness. This essay begins with Irenaeus’ understanding of the rule of truth (κανὼν τῆς ἀληθείας) in relation to the meaning or hypothesis (ὑπόθεσις) of the apostolic teaching, which is the core message conveyed equally in Scripture and tradition.

1. Introduction The aim of this article is to consider how the apostolic witness is received in Irenaeus’ thought in order to draw forth his understanding of the relationship between Scripture and oral tradition. I argue that, while many commentators have rightly pushed back against any kind of subordination of either Scripture or tradition in Irenaeus, the key to understanding the relationship of Scripture and tradition in Irenaeus is to recognize his locating of authority in the personal witness of the apostles, that is, in the apostles and their entrusted disciples as persons who are trustworthy witnesses to the Word of God. For Irenaeus, authority is never isolated in either the apostolic texts or in their oral teaching but in the apostles themselves who communicated their witness equally in writing and oral teaching. Authority is never abstracted and reduced to the texts or expanded to a vast tradition but is the memory of distinct persons who were

Studia Patristica CIX, 9-22. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



trustworthy witnesses. The apostolic teaching is then preserved by the witnesses to the apostles (i.e. their successors in the Church), who pass on their writings and continue preaching (or re-narrating) the apostolic message according to the rule (κανών) which was at the center of the apostles’ teaching. When authority is located in the apostles as persons and witnesses, it becomes clear that both their written and oral teaching – as two forms of personal witness – contain and convey the fundamental meaning of the Christian faith. Both are sufficient for knowing the true meaning (ὑπόθεσις) of the apostolic teaching and contain, albeit in an expanded way, all the core points of the Church’s rule of truth (κανὼν τῆς ἀληθείας), its basic standard and criterion for fidelity to the teaching of Christ and the apostles. At the same time, insofar as both written and oral teaching are expressions of the apostles personally, both are necessary, since the rejection of any portion of the apostolic teaching is a rejection of the apostles personally. Hence, Irenaeus argues that the true apostolic teaching is found where the whole of their memory and witness is preserved. This essay will first examine Irenaeus’ understanding of the rule of truth (κανὼν τῆς ἀληθείας), considered in terms of its content and its function. The content of the rule of faith points to the fundamental meaning or plot of Christian narrative conveyed by the apostles, what Irenaeus calls the hypothesis (ὑπόθεσις). Seeing the proper connection between the rule and the hypothesis is crucial for seeing the relationship of the rule to Scripture and tradition. Next, I will explain how the unity of the apostolic writings and oral teaching is best understood in terms of the personal witness of the apostles, that is, the origin of all authority in the apostles as trustworthy persons who were witnesses to Christ. Then I will show how the rule’s function in guiding and correcting teaching and exegesis points to the harmonious life of Scripture and tradition in the Church as witnesses to the personal memory of the apostles. 2. The Rule of Truth and the Apostolic Hypothesis In Irenaeus’ Against Heresies,1 the rule of the faith (regula fidei [Gk. κανὼν τῆς πίστεως]), also called the rule of the truth (κανὼν τῆς ἀληθείας),2 is the summary standard of Christian belief, teaching, and life. The word κανών literally 1 For English translation of Against Heresies (hereafter AH): Books 1-3: Dominic Unger (trans.) and John J. Dillon (rev.), St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies, vols. I-III, Ancient Christian Writers (New York, 1992 [I], 2012 [II-III]); Books IV-V: Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI, 1980). 2 These terms are basically synonymous. Dominic Unger, ‘Notes and Introduction’ to St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies (1992), I 182 n. 23, suggests that perhaps ‘rule of truth’ was used for outsiders and ‘rule of faith’ used for Christians. See also Denis Minns, Irenaeus: An Introduction (London, 1997), 11 and Paul Saieg, ‘Irenaeus Philosophicus and the Stoic Praemeditatio Malorum’, SP 74 (2016), 71-88, 74-80.

The Authority of Personal Witness


means a straight rod or ruler which can thus be used as a measure to test the straightness of other things.3 The term finds its origin in Hellenistic philosophy, where the conflict of the Epicureans and Stoics against Skepticism produced a need for a sure foundation to make truth possible.4 As Aristotle had previously said, ‘The carpenter’s rule (ὁ κανών) is the test of both [the straight and the crooked], but the crooked tests neither’.5 A criterion is necessary as a first foundation to determine what truth is, which is why ‘the rule distinguishes truth and reason from appearance’.6 The foundation of such a rule is the first principles on which one stands, which serve as a rule for all other judgments. Unless a fundamental rule is presupposed, no philosophical inquiry is possible, because the pursuit of knowledge will be stuck in an infinite debate about its starting point.7 Irenaeus, too, recognized this problem with ‘the pagan philosophers’8 and knew that a rule of truth was necessary for Christian doctrine. In terms of its content, the rule is essentially a summary of the most central and most important Christian doctrines. Thus, Irenaeus repeatedly mentions the rule of faith in the context of the confession of faith of the Church.9 The clearest example of this practice occurs in the middle of Book I, between two long expositions of various false teachings. ‘The Rule of the Truth that we hold is this’, Irenaeus says, following which he expounds on the teaching of the one God, the Father of Jesus Christ.10 We can see this same content repeated in a condensed form in Book V: ‘God the Father … the incarnation of the Son of God … the same gift of the Spirit … the same commandments … the same form of ecclesiastical constitution … the same advent of the Lord’.11 Though 3 For this reason D. Minns, Irenaeus (2016), 11, prefers the rendering measuring rod or ruler of truth. 4 Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge, 2001), 143; John Behr, The Way to Nicaea: The Formation of Christian Theology, vol. 1 (Crestwood, NY, 2001), 33. 5 For example, Epicurus’ Canon, J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 33. 6 E. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (2001), 144. 7 J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 34: ‘without a canon or criterion, knowledge is simply not possible, for all inquiry will be drawn helplessly into an endless regression’. 8 Irenaeus, AH 2.27.1. 9 E.g. Irenaeus, AH 1.9.4, 1.10.1. Anthony Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus (Oxford, 2019), 14-23, has recently argued against reading 1.10.1 as an expression of the rule of truth, despite the use of that language immediately before in 1.9.4. Briggman contends that the content, form, and structure of the rule do not align with the material presented in 1.10.1. But in my view Briggman unnecessarily contracts the content of the rule (compare Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching 6) and severs it from the hypothesis. A further problem may be Briggman’s expansion of the hypothesis to include the whole narrative of Scripture. Similar concerns about his way of splitting the hypothesis and the rule can be found in Lewis Ayres, ‘Irenaeus and the “Rule of Truth”: A Reconsideration’ (unpublished), 6-7 and Frances Young, ‘The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching: how Irenaeus provides clues to the relationship between creeds and scripture’ (unpublished), 13-4. See John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (Oxford, 2013), 79. 10 Irenaeus, AH 1.22.1. 11 Irenaeus, AH 5.20.1.



Irenaeus often elaborates with more depth on one or another of these topics (for example, Christ’s incarnation), the basic outline universally includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and some mention of the Church’s life as a consequence. Drawing on its philosophical meaning, the rule is built on the first principles of belief that determine all other beliefs. Irenaeus uses the term hypothesis (ὑπόθεσις) – also rendered meaning, system, or theme – to refer to these first principles which the rule safeguards.12 Hypotheses were what Aristotle called the ‘starting points or first principles of demonstrations’.13 Hypothesis also had the wider use in rhetoric of referring to the argument14 or in literature to the ‘plot or outline of a drama’.15 The hypothesis is not to be confused with the entirety of the narrative (i.e., ἱστορία);16 rather, it refers to the fundamental meaning of the (Christian) story, its metanarrative,17 including especially the identities and roles of its main characters.18 What Irenaeus means by the hypothesis is the overall picture or meaning of the apostolic revelation ‘according to the Scriptures’. In a famous section comparing the data of Scripture to the tiles of a mosaic, Irenaeus writes that, if the verses are interpreted correctly, ‘the beautiful image of a king’ appears; but if Scripture’s tiles are taken out of place in this mosaic, if their ‘order and connection’ is disregarded, then a completely different picture or theme arises, which he calls the ‘system [ὑπόθεσις]’ of his opponents.19 The difference in this example is not different raw material – since the tiles are the same – but a different form that this material takes. This form is the hypothesis, the meaning of the whole biblical narrative. Irenaeus draws the same example from Homer in order to show that knowledge of the theme is the most basic trust recognized in the text: if one knows the proper theme (ὑπόθεσις) of Homer then one will be able to tell when a another story composed of Homeric verses is a counterfeit.20 12 For its ancient meaning, see the recent discussion in A. Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus (2019), 11-4. 13 Metaphysics 5.1.2 (1013a17). Philosophy’s aim was to move beyond hypothesis to first principles; but since first principles could not be demonstrated they always remained hypotheses. Thus, as J. Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons (2013), 33, notes, Clement of Alexandria argued that all first principles lead to ‘indemonstrable faith’. See also Eric Osborn, ‘Arguments for Faith in Clement of Alexandria’, Vigiliae Christianae 48 (1994), 1-24. 14 Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (London, 1997), 48. 15 J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 32: this plot is ‘not derived from reason, but rather provides the raw material upon which the poet can exercise his talents’. 16 As I fear that A. Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus (2019), 11-4 does. Ibid. 12-7, quickly moves to define the hypothesis as a narrative, even though ‘narrative’ is not mentioned as its classical meaning (11-2) and should not be conflated with ‘plot’. 17 Paul M. Blowers, ‘The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith’, Pro Ecclesia 6 (1997), 199-228, 223, 227 18 Paul Wheatley, ‘The Rule of Faith as Hermeneutic: Irenaeus’ Interpretation of Psalms in the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching’, presented at SBL, Denver, 2018. 19 Irenaeus, AH 1.8.1. 20 Irenaeus, AH 1.9.4.

The Authority of Personal Witness


What grants one knowledge of Scripture’s truth, then, is having the right theme to the story of God’s revelation. The rule, as the rule of the truth, is simply an expression of that deepest truth, the Scripture’s meaning. The rule is a concretized expression of the fundamental meaning of Scripture, the hypothesis, which in Irenaeus’ thought is Christ, the king whom Scripture images.21 This is not to reduce Scripture’s narrative to Christ alone; rather, Christ is the recapitulation of Scripture, and so in him is the hypothesis of Scripture found.22 More fully, we might see this meaning as Christ within the ‘economy of salvation’, which Christians have come to know through ‘the Gospel’.23 This shows succinctly what the theme found in the Gospel is: the Son of God in the economy, with the Holy Spirit, revealing the Father. Christ in the economy is the locus of God’s revelation, which when understood is the theme to all of revelation and the foundation of the rule of faith. Ultimately, this makes the hypothesis, not the rule of truth, of greater importance and priority in Irenaeus. The hypothesis – not as a set of detached propositions but as the meaning of the whole Christian narrative and teaching – is the fundamental meaning which the rule safeguards.24 The rule comes from the truth, not truth from the rule. As Irenaeus says in reference to numerical interpretation of Scripture: ‘For a rule does not come from numbers, but numbers from a rule’.25 To place undue emphasis on the rule itself would be to forget that it was only useful insofar as it guarded and pointed to the theme, Jesus within the divine economy. Thus, we should be careful to logically distinguish the hypothesis from the rule of faith to accurately describe Irenaeus’ thought. The hypothesis supplies the rule of truth with its content, and it is the hypothesis that the rule of truth guards and refers to. At the same time, it is crucial not to divorce the rule of truth from the theme too greatly, as if the rule in Irenaeus were an independent standard or creed that ruled over everything else. On the one hand, the rule does express in a short form a standard for exegesis and encapsulates the key points of Christian faith. 21 Irenaeus, AH 1.8.1. See J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 35-6: ‘The canon of truth expresses the correct hypothesis of Scripture itself, that by which one can see in Scripture the picture of a king, Christ’. 22 J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 124. See also ibid. 122: ‘Just as the Gospel alone unlocks the treasures of Scripture, so also it is only in the Son, as preached in the Gospel, that the invisible and immeasurable God becomes visible and comprehensible … It is this retrospect … that facilitates the evangelical rereading of Scripture and the proclamation of Christ which … is the unique locus of the revelation of God’. Behr speaks of this as the Gospel ‘in a resume’ (132), which I think is similar to what Irenaeus means by the hypothesis. 23 Irenaeus, AH 3.1.1. 24 P.M. Blowers, ‘The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith’ (1997), 225-8; John Behr, ‘Faithfulness and Creativity’, in id., Andrew Louth and Dmitri Conomos (eds), Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West: Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos Ware (Crestwood, NY, 2003), 159-77, 165-71. 25 Irenaeus, AH 2.25.1.



In this sense, the rule is a standard that can be appealed to, as Irenaeus frequently does. It is the rule of the faith, that rule which provides the essential points of the faith. On the other hand, insofar as the rule is an expression of the hypothesis, it simply expresses the ruling power which belongs to the truth. The rule of truth is not some other thing that the truth; it is the truth itself, ipsa veritas,26 because it expresses the first principles, the form of all truth. In this aspect, the rule can be called the hypothesis itself,27 not in the sense that they are wholly identical, but insofar as the rule is based on nothing other than the true hypothesis.28 The rule also carries the flexibility of the hypothesis, which explains why Irenaeus is always varying its expression. The rule is not a creed, though it sometimes takes creedal form, because a creed stands as a condensed representation or token (hence, σύμβολον) of the truth.29 Insofar as the rule is a guide for exegesis and a criterion for distinguishing what is true and false to the meaning of the apostolic teaching, we might think of it as the ruling of the hypothesis, the Church’s expression of the hypothesis in condensed form in order to remain true to it. Hence, the truth – not the rule – is the object of Christian faith, though the rule is a means to the knowledge of the truth. The interplay of rule and truth is reflected in Irenaeus’ usage: ‘If, therefore, we hold fast this Rule, we shall easily prove that they have strayed from the Truth’.30 As in the philosophical usage, the rule contains the first principles of truth, insofar as they contain a potential to judge and organize all other conclusions. Irenaeus writes that ‘it is proper to direct the solution of difficulties toward the standard [the Rule]’.31 This is the truth that rules over everything else, the rule of truth. To hold fast or keep to the rule of truth32 is to affirm that hypothesis (‘system of truth’) which gives the rule for organizing all other knowledge.33


D. Unger, in Against Heresies (1992), I 182 n. 23. R.M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (1997), 49: ‘Irenaeus’ rule of faith or truth is the same as the hypothesis of the scriptures’. For further views on this question, and a critique, see A. Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus (2019), 19 n. 47. His critique is undermined, in my view, by his admission that the meaning of κανών and ὑπόθεσις were so similar that they were often translated by the one Latin term regula. See A. Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus (2019), 21, citing Adelin Rousseau, Contre les hérésies Livre I-V, SC 293 (Paris, 1982), 310 (p. 267 n. 1, part 2). 28 I am grateful for my correspondence with Paul Saieg, which helped me to refine my interpretation of the rule and hypothesis, even as it remains somewhat different from his. 29 I think then more precision is necessary to distinguish the rule of truth from a creed, see D. Unger, in Against Heresies (1992), I 182-3 n. 24; J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 35-6. A creed is particular whereas the rule of truth refers to truth as a whole. As the rule is the hypothesis in its ruling function, a creed is the rule in a particular application. 30 Irenaeus, AH 1.22.1. 31 Irenaeus, AH 2.28.1. 32 Irenaeus, AH 1.9.5. 33 Irenaeus, AH 2.25.1. 27

The Authority of Personal Witness


3. Apostolic Authority, Scripture, and Tradition Once we understand the content and function of the rule of faith it is possible to understand the use of the rule of faith in theology and its application to the sources of doctrine. These sources in Irenaeus are threefold: what the ‘prophets preached … the Lord taught … [and] the apostles handed down’.34 All three of these sources ultimately share a single theme, that of Jesus the Lord within the economy of salvation of the Father and Spirit. This is the theme that the Church was given by the Lord himself, through the apostles, in fulfillment of the prophets. All three work in full union, with the prophets predicting the person and work of the Lord and the apostles preaching this and unveiling the prophets. Primarily, Irenaeus thinks of the Scriptures as the Prophets, Psalms, and Law, what today we would call the Old Testament.35 Even when using the other Scriptures, he does not abandon this meaning. It fits especially with his emphasis on understanding the theme as given by the Gospel, since it is the Gospel that makes their hypothesis possible: ‘It is through the Cross, the Passion of Christ, that light is shed on these writings, revealing what they in fact mean’.36 He nonetheless considers the prophets, gospels, and apostolic writings to all be the ‘entire Scriptures’ (‘both the prophets and the gospels’37), which are also all ‘the Lord’s Scriptures’38 since their teaching comes from Christ. The relationship between these ‘scriptures’ is somewhat complicated, since the apostolic preaching explains the Scriptures (Law, Prophets, Psalms) by giving the Gospel, but also then becomes Scripture (Gospels and letters). Sometimes Irenaeus’ meaning falls on one sense of scripture over the other. Regardless, any discussion of scriptural interpretation or use refers to all three forms, even if it regards the prophets in a special way. As for the teaching of the apostles, Irenaeus holds that it comes in two forms: written and unwritten. The Gospel was originally delivered orally, a point Irenaeus makes repeatedly with his reference to the apostolic preaching: ‘The Gospel they first preached orally, but later by God’s will they handed it on [tradiderunt] to us in the Scriptures, so it would be the foundation and pillar of our faith’.39 Elsewhere Irenaeus makes the distinction between the ‘apostolic preaching’, the oral form, and the ‘apostolic dictation [dictatio apostolorum]’, which probably refers to the letters of the apostles,40 as two sources of authority.41 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

Irenaeus, AH 1.8.1. J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 36, 39. Ibid. 119. Irenaeus, AH 2.27.2, see also AH 1.3.6. Irenaeus, AH 5.20.2. Irenaeus, AH 3.1.1. D. Unger, in Against Heresies (2012), II 168 n. 8. Irenaeus, AH 2.35.4.



The apostles only taught a single Gospel, which was the theme of all their teaching, but they did so through writing and preaching. It is customary today in distinguishing oral and written apostolic teaching to refer to the one as tradition and the other as Scripture (though often already with an implied division).42 While Irenaeus does make this distinction between tradition (unwritten) and Scripture,43 he has a more basic sense of tradition as simply being whatever is passed on (the meaning of the Latin tradere and the Greek παραδιδόναι). When he says that the apostles ‘handed down’ (tradiderunt) the Gospel ‘orally’ and then ‘in the Scriptures’,44 both are called tradition. When listing the apostles as the third source of authority, he refers only to what they ‘handed down’.45 He does not distinguish between the written and oral form because both are tradition.46 Furthermore, since in Irenaeus’ time tradition had the wider meaning of everything one received from a teacher,47 Irenaeus would, in a certain sense, see even the prophets and the Gospels as being tradition, since they are handed down, even if only in the act of passing on the texts. The point of this well-established observation is not to subsume everything under the category of tradition. Rather, my point is that Irenaeus – in contrast to our contemporary predilections to speak of revelation or the Bible in the abstract – operates under a profoundly personalized understanding of Scripture and tradition. That is, what is authoritative is the teaching of the Lord remembered through persons, the trustworthy apostles. It is the apostles as persons, and those who carry on their witness, whose testimony to the Lord is trusted in faith. Not only doctrine’s authority but its very content and significance is inseparable from the persons who received and proclaimed it. Hence, for example, when defending Luke’s Gospel in Book III, Irenaeus highlights its author’s personal reliability and sanctity. He says, ‘For no person with intelligence will permit them to accept some of the things Luke narrated, as if they belonged to the truth, and to discard others, as if he had not known the truth’.48 Irenaeus also frequently appeals to the apostles’ successors, who are successors in personally bearing witness, and therefore retain the personalized transmission of the Gospel. Polycarp ‘always taught the things that he had learned from 42 For example, Everett Ferguson, ‘Paradosis and Traditio’, in Ronnie J. Rombs and Alexander Y. Hwang (eds), Tradition & the Rule of Faith in the Early Church: Essays in Honor of Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J. (Washington, DC, 2010), 3, gives evidence to this conflict, which he shows does not reflect patristic usage. 43 E.g. Irenaeus, AH 3.3.4, 3.5.1, 3.4.1. 44 Irenaeus, AH 2.35.4. 45 Irenaeus, AH 1.8.1. 46 J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 41, also uses this meaning of tradition ‘in both its written and oral forms’. 47 D. Minns, Irenaeus (2016), 48, citing M.L. Clarke, Higher Education in the Ancient World (London, 1971), 78-9. 48 Irenaeus, AH 3.14.4.

The Authority of Personal Witness


the apostles’,49 just as those who succeeded him do. Clement of Rome likewise ‘both saw the blessed apostles themselves, and conferred with them, and still had the preaching of the apostles ringing in his ears and their tradition before his eyes. In this he was not alone, for there were many others still left at that time who had been taught by the apostles’.50 He says further, ‘For they [the apostles] willed that the men whom they left behind as their successors and to whom they gave their own teaching office should be perfect and blameless in every respect’.51 What makes these bishops and others like them successors is not primarily an endowment of authority but a responsibility to carry on the witness-bearing of the apostles.52 Irenaeus says that the apostolic succession ‘is the fullest proof that it is one and the same life-giving faith that has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and has been handed down in truth’.53 Succession here refers to the personal link of witness to witness within the Church, going all the way back to the apostles. It means an unbroken chain of witnesses entrusted by their predecessors and entrusting their successors with the apostolic teaching. This lies at the heart of Irenaeus’ appeal to the successors of the Roman see.54 The proof comes in the recognition of a personal link from one bishop to another. These bishops hold the responsibility of continuing the apostolic witness to the risen Christ. ‘Having received the certain gift of the truth’ along with ‘the succession of the episcopate’,55 they are given the responsibility of being trustworthy witnesses. Irenaeus approaches Scripture and tradition as two modes of the single apostolic preaching because his sense of the apostles’ proximity – ‘ringing in his ears’ and ‘before his eyes’ – reminds him that both the oral and written tradition of the Church have persons as their authors. It is these persons whose testimony is remembered and believed when the Church adheres to their writings and oral teaching. The oral and written teaching of an apostle can no more be divided into two authorities than could the person of an apostle himself. Anyone who 49

Irenaeus, AH 3.3.4. Irenaeus, AH 3.3.3. 51 Irenaeus, AH 3.3.1. 52 Though by no means meant as treatments of Irenaeus, my thinking on succession as the responsibility to bear personal witness has been deeply influenced by the reflections of Joseph Ratzinger in ‘Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica’, in God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco, 1996), 13-40; id., ‘The Primacy of Peter and the Unity of the Church’, in Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco, 1996), 47-74; and id., ‘The Primacy of the Pope and the Unity of the People of God’, in Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology, trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco, 2008), 36-50. I think that Ratzinger’s reading of apostolic succession in terms of personal witness is a very illuminating idea for Irenaeus, which I have expanded and adapted here. 53 Irenaeus, AH 3.3.3. 54 Irenaeus, AH 3.3.2-3. 55 Irenaeus, AH 4.26.2. 50



does not accept the authority of the apostles, written or unwritten, ‘despises the Father and is self-condemned’.56 Scripture and tradition both have the same source, and are thus both revelation and equal authorities that ‘stand side by side’.57 For Irenaeus the apostolic tradition is no more distant or unreliable than those who personally deliver it. Hence, his famous claim that ‘all, therefore, who wish to see the truth can view in the whole Church the tradition of the apostles that has been manifested in the whole world’58 is not simply a claim about the Church’s trustworthiness or orthodoxy but an invitation to hear the persons in the Church who carry on its witness. And just as the teaching of the apostles is united in their personal witness to the Lord, so too is the Church’s ongoing witness: The Church … carefully guards this preaching and this faith which she has received … She preaches, teaches, and hands them down harmoniously, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, though the languages throughout the world are dissimilar, nevertheless the meaning of the tradition is one and the same.59

Irenaeus’ personalized approach to apostolic authority means that he neither sees tradition as inescapably unreliable nor the scriptures as inherently uninterpretable. Both Scripture and tradition are as clear, accessible, and trustworthy as the apostles who wrote them. Irenaeus’ exegesis, the vast majority of his work,60 is founded on the assurance that Scripture’s meaning is plain and clear: these teachings, he confidently states, ‘are expressed in the Sacred Scriptures clearly and unambiguously’.61 Scripture is as useful for public teaching as anything else from the apostles: ‘we shall adduce proofs from the Scriptures … that … you may have from us means for exposing and refuting all those who in any way propose wicked teachings’.62 Nothing beyond Scripture is needed, or permitted, to interpret Scripture: ‘Scriptural proofs cannot be illustrated except from Scripture’.63 Scripture must have an inherent meaning and order. Otherwise it would be unintelligible for him to claim that his opponents err ‘by misusing the Scriptures’.64 To imagine that Scripture, as a written text, is inherently unclear or inaccessible would go against the unity of the written and the unwritten arising from an individual author. In what way, Irenaeus would challenge, does John’s 56

Irenaeus, AH 3.1.2. E. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (2001), 172; E. Ferguson, ‘Paradosis and Traditio’ (2010), 13: ‘what is in Scripture and what is in tradition are the same’. 58 Irenaeus, AH 3.3.1. 59 Irenaeus, AH 1.10.2. 60 E. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (2001), 172, mentions the almost 1700 citations of Scripture in Adversus Haereses. 61 Irenaeus, AH 2.27.1. 62 Irenaeus, AH 3. praef. 63 Irenaeus, AH 3.12.9. 64 Irenaeus, AH 1.9.1, emphasis mine. 57

The Authority of Personal Witness


meaning suddenly become unclear just because he put it on paper? Polycarp knew John. He heard his sermons, talked as a friend, read his letters. The beloved memory of the apostle himself rendered inconceivable any absolute separation between his speech and his writing. Paul’s intent is not lost with his death; when the Marcionites argue that Paul thought he was the only apostle, Irenaeus says, ‘let Paul himself convict them!’65 In fact, the claim that Scripture cannot interpret itself reliably and requires an oral tradition to interpret – ‘that they are inadequate for full knowledge, that they are ambiguous and need to be interpreted in light of a tradition which is not handed down in writing but orally’ – is, to Irenaeus, a Gnostic argument.66 It is his opponents who claim the Scriptures are unclear and only become clear through their secret oral tradition. Tradition does not supply the interpretation that the text itself lacks because the meaning of Scripture, its hypothesis, is already internal to the text as part of the unified witness of the apostles and prophets. Nowhere is this more clear than in Irenaeus’ own mode of argument: to systematically demonstrate that his opponents distort and ignore what the Scriptures already plainly say.67 4. Sufficient and Necessary Consequently, Irenaeus holds that written and unwritten tradition are both sufficient in their content to recognize the hypothesis of Scripture, and therefore the fundamental truth of the Father, Son, and Spirit which the rule identifies. Irenaeus asks at one point, ‘What if the apostles had not left us the Scripture; ought we not, then, to follow the disposition of tradition, which they handed down to those to whom they entrusted the Churches?’68 In fact, he thinks this is precisely the case among those he calls ‘barbarians’, who received the full apostolic hypothesis and, ‘because of the ancient tradition of the apostles’, easily know heresy when they hear it.69 The apostles passed down to these Christians the rule of truth through oral tradition alone, but it is sufficient for them. At the same time, in keeping with my above argument, the Scriptures are sufficient for knowing the apostolic theme as well, which Irenaeus thinks can be clearly seen within them.70 The Scriptures already have an inherent order and theme71 and ‘are perfect, inasmuch as they were given by God’s Word and Spirit’.72 Their sufficiency for recognizing the apostolic theme follows inevitably from 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72

Irenaeus, AH 3.13.1. J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 40. Irenaeus, AH 2.27.1-2. Irenaeus, AH 3.4.1. Irenaeus, AH 3.4.2. J. Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), 45. Irenaeus, AH 1.8.1-4. Irenaeus, AH 2.28.2.



their equality with tradition. While it is true that the Scriptures are not clear without their hypothesis or order – for example, when rearranged to show the face of a fox instead of the King – that proper order is not something supplied externally but the right meaning and order already internal to and within Scripture.73 Irenaeus argues repeatedly that his opponents do not err because they lack the tradition that would make the Scriptures comprehensible but because they distort and ignore what the Scriptures are already plainly saying.74 In this light, any sense of subordination or subjection between tradition and Scripture is not simply impermissible but incoherent, a sign of one having forgotten the persons in whom both testimonies originated. Nonetheless, to claim that Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative is not to say that they are without difference, or that their authority is received identically. Apostolic and ecclesial tradition, for example, is by its nature more functional, adaptable, and regulative. It is not surprising that Irenaeus often associates the reception of the rule with the reception of the apostolic tradition. Irenaeus calls it the ‘rule of the truth received through baptism’.75 There is thus a limited way in which the rule of truth – according to its normal origin but not according to its essence – is more associated with tradition than Scripture and in which tradition, as representing the rule, governs exegesis of Scripture. And yet neither Scripture nor apostolic tradition is subject to the rule of truth in Irenaeus because they are the truth that makes up the rule. Rather, it is our interpretations that are subservient to these sources. That’s why Irenaeus says that the heretic rejects ‘the rule of truth and preach[es] himself’.76 Whoever rejects the rule of truth makes his interpretations solely according to his own judgment and makes himself a rule.77 These two points of nuance – that Scripture and tradition rule over interpreters, not each other, and that tradition is the general conduit of the rule of truth – are often completely overlooked in reading Irenaeus because of the historical rhetoric used by various camps in the debate over Scripture and tradition. When Dominic Unger says, for example, ‘Scripture is ultimately subject to the criterion of tradition, of the doctrine of the Church, of the Rule of Truth itself’78 and that the oral Gospel has ‘priority’ over the written Gospel ‘as a conduit of revelation’,79 he is correct insofar as he is speaking by means of metonymy to refer to our interpretations of Scripture being subject to tradition, and the oral Gospel having temporal priority. But only this very generous interpretation 73

Irenaeus, AH 1.8.1. Irenaeus, AH 2.27.1-2. 75 Irenaeus, AH 1.9.5. 76 Irenaeus, AH 3.2.1. 77 It is not the Valentinian vs. the Irenaean canon since they have no canon. See J. Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons (2013), 83. 78 D. Unger, in Against Heresies (1992), I 10. 79 D. Unger, in Against Heresies (2012), III 117-8 n. 1. 74

The Authority of Personal Witness


saves the literal meaning of his words from introducing wholly foreign concepts into Irenaeus. And it is unclear how such statements preserve Irenaeus’ rich perception of the personal witness of the apostles preserved in Scripture and tradition. But it is also only partially true for Irenaeus that, as D.H. Williams says of the Fathers, ‘a principle of Scripture alone would not have secured an orthodox interpretation of Scripture’.80 ‘Scripture alone’ in the sense of Scripture unmoored from the fullness of the apostolic tradition is certainly far from Irenaeus’ thought. But Irenaeus is also perfectly confident in making appeals to either Scripture or tradition individually for evidence of the apostolic hypothesis. On the other hand, it is incomplete to say, as Eric Osborn does, ‘Tradition is a second line of defense which points back to the truth of scripture. The scriptures provide the basis, and tradition is appealed to as confirmation’.81 This leaves the distinctive impression that the Scriptures are privileged, as if tradition could not also provide the basis to which Scripture was a confirmation. Irenaeus has already shown that many received tradition as a basis for truth without scripture,82 and that the rule of faith comes through tradition. Though addressing the Fathers more broadly, D.H. Williams runs into the same problem with Irenaeus when he says, ‘Tradition could not be claimed as an authority in anything ruled out by scripture. But neither should the Bible be used to support just any doctrine, neglecting the church’s Tradition’.83 For Irenaeus, it would be equally true to say that Scripture cannot be used as an authority for anything ruled out for tradition. Neither Scripture nor tradition can be used to hold absolute, final authority over the other. While Scripture and tradition are both fully sufficient to supply the meaning of the Gospel, they are both functionally necessary to guard the interpreter. In this sense we might say that they are both conditionally necessary, which means that while knowledge of apostolic teaching is not necessarily impossible without one of them, refusing either will necessarily preclude knowledge of apostolic teaching. The Church has been given the rule of truth through tradition: ‘Since, then, we possess the Rule of Truth … we ought not to cast out the solid and true knowledge about God by running from one solution to another’.84 Therefore, anyone who holds an interpretation of Scripture that disagrees with the tradition is ipso facto wrong, not because the tradition conflicts with or rules over Scripture, but because the tradition conflicts with the interpreter. But Irenaeus’ unitive view means that, on matters concerning the hypothesis of faith, 80 D.H. Williams, Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church (Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), 17. 81 E. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (2001), 172. 82 Irenaeus, AH 3.4.2. 83 D.H. Williams, ‘The Search for Sola Scriptura in the Early Church’, Interpretations 52 (1998), 354-66, see 359. 84 Irenaeus, AH 2.28.1.



there is no case in which someone disagrees with the tradition, on account of a scriptural interpretation, without simultaneously misinterpreting Scripture; likewise, there is no case in which someone disagrees with Scripture in favor of the tradition without simultaneously misinterpreting the tradition. This is why Irenaeus can use tradition and Scripture to convince the Gnostics, but say that if they reject the one they reject the other: ‘The result is that they no longer agree with either the Scriptures or tradition’.85 The only way, then, to surely hold onto the right interpretation is to hold fast to the Church that carries the apostolic tradition, which is historically consistent and universal in its ongoing witness. Thus Irenaeus says that those who ‘desert the preaching of the Church’ will surely err, and those who ‘flee to the Church’ will there ‘be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures’.86 Such a person, having sought the apostolic teaching in the Church, will find both Scripture and tradition treasured in the commemoration of the apostles and all their faithful successors. It is the Church’s job to carry the hypothesis, passing it down (tradidere) so that it may guard the rule that makes interpretation of the Scriptures consistent and possible. ‘For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where God’s Spirit is, there is the Church, and all grace’.87


Irenaeus, AH 3.2.2. Irenaeus, AH 5.20.2. 87 Irenaeus, AH 3.24.1. I am grateful for comments given on earlier versions of this paper by Paul Saieg, Sam Johnson, Colum Dever, and Christopher Beeley. I am also grateful for unpublished work shared with me by Paul Wheatley and Frances Young. 86

The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons Stephen O. PRESLEY, Southwestern Seminary, Fort Worth, TX, USA

ABSTRACT In Haer. 2.27-8 Irenaeus argues that they way to understand ambiguous passages of scripture is to read them in light of clearer ones. Several studies have attempted to explain this passage, but none have considered what specific clear or unclear passages Irenaeus might have in mind. This study surveys Irenaeus’ use of manifesto/e throughout Adversus haereses and argues that the clarity of scripture is closely associate with the apostolic testimony. On one hand, Irenaeus will use the language of ‘clarity’ in polemical manner against the Gnostics and argue that their interpretation of scripture is fundamentally obscure because their teaching is hidden and they link scripture with the obscure narratives derived from their myths. On the other hand, the uses of ‘clarity’ (manifesto) in Adversus haereses also show that, for Irenaeus, the clarity of scripture is understood fundamentally through the incarnation and the revelation of the Son. During his earthly ministry, the Son imparted teaching to the apostles who receive and transmit the Lord’s words in the apostolic writings. Thus, when Irenaeus points to the clear passages or sayings of scripture he most often has in mind two concrete portions of scripture: the words of the Lord and the preaching of the apostles. Conversely, the obscure portions of scripture are the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament and the parables in the Gospels. While many Old Testament texts give general instruction about the nature and commands of God and God’s relationship to creatures and the natural world, a significant portion of the Old Testament remains obscure until the incarnation. The faithful interpreter will read the manifest testimony of the Lord’s words and the apostolic writings in continuity and unity with the ambiguous passages of the narratives and prophecies of the Old Testament and the Lord’s parables. Together this harmonious reading of the unclear with the clear will unite the revealed testimony of God in the scriptures to see the unfolding unity of scripture.

1. Introduction During the mid-twentieth century, the so-called biblical theology movement surfaced in some parts of Britain and North America. The intention of the movement was, in part, to recapture the great unifying themes and concepts of the two testaments. In this midst of these currents, John Lawson, the longtime professor of church history at Candler school of theology, turned his attention to the figure of Irenaeus as one historical voice who appears to champion the unity and continuity of scripture. However, his reading of Irenaeus is mixed.

Studia Patristica CIX, 23-40. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



On occasions he praises Irenaeus for his attention to good exegetical practices, while at other times he is highly critical. One key example of this is Lawson’s reflection on Irenaeus’ description of reading clear passages with the unclear passages. Lawson writes: In two passages S. Irenaeus lays down the entirely sound rule that texts of obscure meaning are to be interpreted in the light of those of an obvious meaning. If this be done, he claims, ‘the entire Scriptures … can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them.’ He appears to mean that Scripture expounded on historical lines will yield an obvious and determinate meaning. It is, in fact, an independent authority that speaks for itself. The difficulty is to know what passages have an obvious meaning. Irenaeus would have regarded ‘prophecies of Christ’ as of plain intention. Today these are among the more hotly-disputed parts of the Old Testament. Stories relating moral lapses of the Patriarchs are today of unambiguous import. Then they were seen as obscure parables of spiritual truth. In actual practice, then, S. Irenaeus loses the sound rule of this passage in the general tradition of allegorism, and does not succeed in raising Scripture to the level of an independent authority upon this basis.1

On one hand, Lawson praises Irenaeus for isolating a ‘sound rule’ of exegesis; the notion that obscure passages ought to be read in light of clearer passages. He suggests that this rule implies Irenaeus read scripture along ‘historical lines’ to derive an ‘obvious and definite meaning’, so that it became an ‘independent authority’ that speaks for itself. On the other hand, he criticizes Irenaeus for the Bishop’s failure to recognize the hermeneutical standards of twentieth century biblical exegesis. Lawson speculates which passages have an obvious meaning for Irenaeus and then reproves him for it, because the ‘clear’ texts in Irenaeus – such as some prophetic proof-texts – are considered highly ambiguous for the mid-twentieth century biblical exegete, while Irenaeus’ obscure texts – such as the narratives of the Old Testament – are perfectly clear. Lawson recognizes that his comments are preliminary and his observations do not move beyond these general reflections. Several other studies have addressed the clarity of scripture in Irenaeus from different perspectives. First, Tremblay, and more recently Eric Osborn, situate Irenaeus’ use of ‘clarity’ or ‘manifestation’ in its philosophical context as one of two key terms (manifestatio/ostensio and visio) guiding his vision of God. In their reading, the clarity of scripture is an aesthetic claim perceptible by those who witness the beauty of the unifying history of salvation in scripture. ‘To see the truth of Christian proclamation’, Osborn writes, ‘we look at the clear, unambiguous words of scripture (3.11.8, 5.36.3), which offer the unique message of the church as something to be seen (5.20.1)’.2 The heretics, on the other hand, 1

John Lawson, The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus (Eugene, OR, 1948), 101. Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge, 2001), 204. See also Real Tremblay, La manifestation et la vision de Dieu selon saint Irénée de Lyon (Münster, 1978), 19-24, 41-5. 2

The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons


set up competing systems that meander in unending divisions and lack a unified vision of God.3 This philosophical appropriation of clarity is attentive to a perception of the ultimate progressive and eschatological aim of scripture that sees God as reflected in scripture in its totalizing and unified form. Any good interpretation of scripture should direct the reader toward the clear vision of God. However, Osborn does not consider how this perspective handles the particular interactions with individual passages or the degrees of clarity assigned to disparate portions of scripture, his comments simply show the general perception of clarity that leads to beholding God. Second, under the general observation of Irenaeus’ vision of God, there are discussions of the clarity of scripture in Irenaeus’ use of ancient Greco-Roman rhetorical traditions. The recent work of Robert Grant, William Schoedel, Lewis Ayres, Anthony Briggman, David Jorgenson, and others, have unlocked some of the nuances of Irenaeus’ sophisticated reading of scripture that are reflected in the use, whether conscience or unconscious, of rhetorical strategies. Is seems now that Irenaeus was, in fact, a rhetorically skilled exegete who utilized his education to instructor his readers. Beginning with Schoedel, he situates Irenaeus’ discussion of the clear and unclear texts within ancient Empirical traditions. In particular, he compares Irenaeus’ reasoning with Empiric medicine that distinguishes between knowing ‘that’ something exists through empiric observation and knowing ‘how’ it came to be or the casual explanations behind the object. He cites Galen’s treatise On Medical Experience and Diogenes Laterius’ account of Pyrrho noting similar epistemological distinctions between what is perceptible to the senses and the causal explanations behind such phenomena.4 In a similar way, Irenaeus believes that ‘some things have come into our knowledge’, while other things are ‘reserved for God’.5 At the same time, Schoedel turns to Haer. 2.28.3, the same passage cited by Lawson, and comments that Irenaeus’ particular concern is Gnostic exegesis of New Testament parables. At the same time he goes on to say that it seems unlikely that ‘what Irenaeus has in mind in this passage [Haer. 2.28.3] is merely a distinction between relatively difficult problems and relatively easy ones in the investigation of nature and in Scriptural exegesis’.6 The contrast between the clear and unclear passage has more to do with the Gnostic fascination with speculative questions and the unwillingness ‘to accept the words of Scripture at face value’.7 The faithful interpreter will not bother contemplating philosophical questions that are ambiguous and unknowable, but instead 3

E. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (2001), 204. See also ibid. 160, 171. William Schoedel, ‘Theological Method in Irenaeus (‘Adversus Haereses’ 3/25-28)’, JTS 35 (1984), 131-49, 132-4. 5 Ibid. 34. See Haer. 2.28.3. 6 W. Schoedel, ‘Theological Method in Irenaeus’ (1984), 35. 7 Ibid. 4



attend to what is plainly revealed in scripture (or generally in creation). But Schoedel assumes that when Irenaeus uses the language ‘parables’ in Haer. 2.28.3, he means the New Testament parables exclusively, though this is clearly not what Irenaeus’ has in mind. Nor is the problem that Gnostics fail to read texts ‘at face value’. They were, according to Irenaeus, interpreting the clear texts of scripture in correspondence with the ambiguous narratives of the Gnostic myth. Building upon the work of Schoedel, Lewis Ayres shows how Irenaeus drew not only on Empiric traditions, but grammatical techniques as well. In order to understand Irenaeus’ thinking about the clarity of scripture Ayres suggests that we need to look at the rhetorical ‘techniques’ he used.8 He summarizes some of these techniques including recognizing an author’s style and purpose, the way punctuation functions in the writings, and other grammatical idiosyncrasies found in scripture texts. He gives the specific example of Irenaeus’ use of hyperbaton in Paul’s writings to understand a crucial text in the Gnostic debates. The text will be ‘clear to an interpreter’, Ayres writes, who knows how to apply the right ‘ancient literary techniques’.9 Similar to Ayres, Briggman connects Irenaeus’ hermeneutical principle of reading obscure texts with clear texts with Quintillian’s instruction and believes there is enough similarly to constitute dependence.10 This kind of rhetorical analysis shows the technical ways that ambiguous passages are handled, but does not indicate any specific clear or unclear texts. Finally, David Jorgenson argues that, in general, Irenaeus applies an ‘agnostic paradigm of interpretation’ where all texts of scripture are potentially ambiguous.11 For Jorgenson, clarity is not a stable description of any part of scripture. Rather Irenaeus is able to take alternating positions on what constitutes a clear or unclear text depending upon the application of his rhetorical strategies. He contrasts some instances where Irenaeus argues that all texts are clear to anyone who reads (Haer. 2.27.1-2) with other places where he agues the interpreter needs a rule of faith to understand (Haer. 4.26.1). Jorgenson imagines Irenaeus’ interpretation is a frequent slight-of-hand as he alternates between claims of clarity or obscurity depending upon his rhetorical needs. This move allows Irenaeus to set the rules and craft the meaning of the text to accomplish his apologetic arguments. Yet, as I will show, it seems that Irenaeus’ description of clear texts is much more specific and directed at specific portions of scripture.

8 Lewis Ayers, ‘Irenaeus vs. the Valentinians: Toward a Rethinking of Patristic Exegetical Origins’, JECS 23 (2015), 153-87, 172. 9 Ibid. 170. 10 Anthony Briggman, ‘Literary and Rhetorical Theory in Irenaeus, Part 2’, VC 70 (2016), 31-50, 46. 11 David Jorgenson, Treasure Hidden in a Field: Early Christian Reception of the Gospel of Matthew (Berlin, 2016), 56.

The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons


Together, these rhetorical studies have shed light upon Irenaeus’ relationship to Greco-Roman rhetorical traditions, but they do not answer Lawson’s fundamental question about the clarity in his writings, nor do they explain how discrete portions of the scriptural witness possess different degrees of clarity. While he might be utilizing texts for rhetorical purposes, the specificity of they way that Irenaeus describes reading the clear texts with the unclear texts in Haer. 2.28.3 suggests that he has some concrete portions of scripture in mind. The interpreter ought to apply specific rhetorical techniques to scripture, but the application of these techniques does not mean that Irenaeus alters his perspective on the clarity of scripture within the course of his interpretation. Third and finally, Antonio Orbe examined Irenaeus’ use of the Lord’s parables in the Gospels. Orbe begins with the general definition of ‘parable’ that indicates the term can have a much broader meaning, but quickly moves on to the more narrow definition of parables as those recorded in the Gospels.12 The rest of his study is a summary of Irenaeus’ interpretation of the parables. Orbe is only interested in the competing readings of the parables, not the tension between identifying what passages are obscure or parabolic and which ones are clear. Taken together, these studies have not answered the question raised by Lawson, ‘What are the clear passages of scripture in Irenaeus?’ Or even more fundamentally, ‘what does Irenaeus mean by “clarity” and how do his references to “clarity” relate to the writing themselves?’ In response, I argue that when Irenaeus uses of the language ‘clarity’ or ‘manifesto/e’ in relationship to scripture he principally has in mind two concrete portions of scripture: the words of the Lord and the preaching of the apostles.13 These things two elements of proclamation were solidified in their final form in the texts of the Gospels and the writings of the apostles later brought together in the New Testament. The obscure portions of scripture are, generally speaking, the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament and the parables of the Lord in the Gospels. These obscure portions are often narrative or prophetic in character, which requires them to be unified into some larger theological system. At the same time, Irenaeus will recognize that some portions of the Old Testament are clearer than others. Many texts give general instruction about the nature and commands of God and God’s relationship to creatures and the natural world. But a significant portion of the Old Testament remains obscure until the incarnation, when the Son of God proclaimed his message to the apostles who communicated his revelation in their preaching. 12

Antonio Orbe, S.J., Parábolas Evnagélicas en San Ireneo (Madrid, 1972), 4. There are a few other terms Irenaeus uses to describe the ‘clarity’ of scripture, but none are as consistent or common as manifesto. The terms he uses to describe the clarity of the scriptures include: aperte, declaro, clarus, decipio, luceo, and videor. The use of these terms and their related syntactical forms is minor compared with the extensive use of manifeste/o and its related forms. The latter term appears over 300 times, while all the former terms combined appear little more than 50 times and are often used in relationship with manifeste/o. 13



First, I will demonstrate this understanding of clarity by summarizing Irenaeus’ own use of the language of manifesto/e, and its various syntactical forms, in Adversus haereses. I begin with a summary analysis of Haer. 2.27-8 where Irenaeus mentions the hermeneutical rule for reading the clear passages with the obscure. Second, I will turn to Irenaeus’ polemical use of the language of ‘clarity’ against the Gnostics, where he argues that Gnostic interpretation is fundamentally obscure because their teaching is hidden. Third, I trace out the uses of ‘clarity’ (manifesto) in Irenaeus and show the clarity of scripture is framed though his view of the incarnation and the revelation of the Son. The Son imparted teaching to the apostles who first hear and transmit the Lord’s words in the apostolic writings. For Irenaeus, it is not only that the ‘meaning’ of the Lord’s words and apostles is altogether clear and obvious, but that the Son has proclaimed the Father openly in his teaching. This means, generally speaking, that a faithful interpreter will read the manifest testimony of the Lord’s words and the apostolic writings in continuity and unity with the ambiguous passages of the narratives and prophecies of the Old Testament and the Lord’s parables. Together this harmonious reading of the unclear with the clear will unite the revealed testimony of God in the scriptures to see the unfolding history of salvation. 2. Summary of Irenaeus’ appeal to the clarity of Scripture The study of the clarity of scripture in Irenaeus begins with the same key hermeneutical passage in Haer. 2.28.3 mentioned by Lawson and others above. This section is part of the larger discussion spanning Haer. 2.25.1-28.9, which Schoedel famously calls an Irenaean ‘tractate on theological method’.14 Irenaeus’ theological method is grounded in intellectual humility, because God’s creatures must come to appreciate the limits of empirical knowledge and recognize what God has revealed that is within the grasp of human cognition, or, in Irenaeus’ words, what is placed ‘under our eyes’.15 Certainly Irenaeus believes that creation yields a measure of knowable revelation. But the only revelation that is unambiguous are the words ‘clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures’.16 Irenaeus recognizes that not every theological and philosophical question is answerable with the revelation given (in nature or scripture) and, furthermore, not all revelation that has been given is equally clear and comprehensible. So the ‘sound and safe and religious and truth-loving mind’, according to Irenaeus, will apply itself to sensible and perceptible revelation, especially in the scriptures, through a 14 15 16

W. Schodel, ‘Theological Method in Irenaeus’ (1984), 31. Haer. 2.27.1. Ibid.

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proper ‘method of discovery’.17 This method demands that the interpreter of scripture should not adapt the ‘parables’ of scripture with other ‘ambiguous expressions’ for this will disrupt the unity and harmony of revelation given by God.18 In Irenaeus’ words: So, if according to the method stated, we leave some of the questions in God’s hands, we shall keep our faith, and we ourselves shall persevere without danger; and we will find that all the Scripture given us by God harmonizes (consonans), and the parables (parabolae) harmonize (consonabunt) with the things that are expressly stated (manifeste dicta), and the plain statements (manifeste dicta) explain (absoluent) the parables (parabolas). Thus, through the many voices of the passages there will be heard among us one harmonious melody that hymns praises to God who made all things.19

In this description of reading the clear with the unclear three terms stand out: harmony (consonare), parables (parabola), and clear statements (manifeste dicta). These three terms, which work in unity with each other, are essential features of his hermeneutical method that guides his reading of scriptural revelation. The first term, consonare, means ‘to harmonize’ or ‘to sound together’ and reflects his conceptual understanding of scripture as inspired by one Spirit. The inspiration of scripture encourages Irenaeus to actively unite any ambiguous portion of scripture with clear statements. Throughout Adversus haereses, the language of consonare is cited numerous times and woven into Irenaeus’ hermeneutics discourses as a means to unite disparate scripture passages.20 In its classical sense, the term connotes ‘logical coherence and aesthetic fitness’.21 It is closely tied with the Greek concept of harmonia that was used to describe various kinds of concordats elements in Hellenistic culture including: musical, social, political, and martial aspects.22 Several studies noted the importance of this term in Irenaeus’ thought including Farkasfalvy, who remarks that the term consonare functions essentially as a ‘technical term for his exegesis’, and Levesque, who argues that Irenaeus uses the term to summarize the ‘scheme’ of the unity of the church’s faith against the dissonance of the Gnostic system.23 In the section of Haer. 2.28.3 cited above, Irenaeus applies consonare to scripture where the interpreter should be aware of the ways that texts ought to be read 17

Ibid. Ibid. 19 Haer. 2.28.3. The notion of reading the clear with the unclear appears both in earlier rhetorical traditions, such as the work of Cicero and Herodotus, and in the later Christian tradition, such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine. 20 For a more detailed discussion of consonare and related terms, see Stephen O. Presley, The Intertextual Reception of Genesis 1-3 in Irenaeus of Lyons (Leiden, 2015), 12-27. 21 E. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (2001), 159. 22 Sheramy Bundrick, Music and Image in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 2005), 140. 23 Denis M. Farkasfalvy, ‘Theology of Scripture in St. Irenaeus’, RBén 78 (1968), 319-33, 328. G. Levesque, ‘Consonance chrétienne et dissonance gnostique dans Irénée Adversus haereses IV 18, 4 à 19, 3’, SP 16 (1985), 193-6, 193. 18



in harmony. Scripture texts ought to come together in a collective mutually interpreting theological scheme, or ‘one harmonious melody.’ The second term, ‘parable’ (parabola) is also common in Adversus haereses, but used in a couple of different senses. In many instances, Irenaeus uses the term in the traditional sense of the parables of the Lord recorded in the Gospel texts, but on other occasions the term applies to scripture passages outside the Gospels.24 According to Rousseau the term ‘parable’ is related to the discussions of empirical observation of known revelation. While God is revealed in creation and scripture, not every philosophical or theological question is answered (or answerable) through logical analysis. So when it applies to scripture, a parable is nothing more than a passage (typically a narrative or prophetic passage) that points to a more profound reality behind the text. Take, for example, Irenaeus comments in Haer. 2.10.1 where he writes that ‘nothing has been clearly spoken’ regarding a divine reality superior to the Creator God, but instead the Gnostics explain the Pleromic system from ‘ambiguous passages of Scripture (ambiguous, however, not as if referring to another god, but as regards the dispensations of God)’.25 The Gnostic’s take ambiguous passages of scripture, which he will argue are clarified by the apostolic testimony, and apply them to their myth. In the same context, he also calls the ambiguous passages ‘parables’, which take ‘whatever the form in which they have been spoken’.26 Parables in scripture certainly include the stories told by the Lord but also any other revelation that is potentially ambiguous. The problem, once again, is that for any interpretation: no question can be solved by means of another which itself awaits solution; nor, in the opinion of those possessed of sense, can an ambiguity be explained by means of another ambiguity, or enigmas by means of another greater enigma, but things of such character receive their solution from those which are manifest, and consistent and clear (manifestis et consonantibus et claris).27

So the parabolic or ambiguous portions of scripture require clearer revelation to help bring a greater understanding of all the revelation. This focuses the discussion on distinction between types of scripture genres where the narrative or prophetic portions of scripture, especially in the Old Testament, are contrasted 24 The following references are the places Irenaeus uses parabola to refer specifically to the Lord’s parables: Haer. 1.1.3; 1.3.1; 1.8.1-2; 1.25.4; 2.19.9-20.1; 2.28.9; 3.14.3; 4.2.5; 4.29.1-2; 4.36.7-8; 4.40.2; 4.41.4; and In several of these references ‘parable’ might be a synecdoche for other ambiguous passages. However, the following are places are instances where parabola refers to all enigmatic scriptures: Haer. 1.3.6; 1.10.3; 2.10.1-2; 2.10.4; 2.22.1; 2.27.1-2; 2.28.3; 2.28.8; 4.26.1; 4.27.1; and 5.26.2. Other fathers also have a more general definition of ‘parable’, see D. Jorgenson, Treasure Hidden in a Field (2016), 73-4 and A. Briggman, ‘Literary and Rhetorical Theory in Irenaeus, Part 2’ (2016), 45. 25 Haer. 2.10.1. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid.

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with those that contain direct discourse or other types of non-narrative content, such as the New Testament epistles. Orbe’s analysis of parable follows Rousseau and is also attentive to this relationship between parable and narrative. He defines parable generally as a narrative from which a doctrinal teaching emerges.28 This applies equally to all the narratives of both the Old and New Testaments that might be mined and interpreted in a way that communicates their theological system. For the Gnostics, the ambiguous passages of scripture become a symbol or sign that are linked with their theological system.29 For example, Irenaeus’ comments in Haer. 2.20.1 that the Gnostics ‘apply improperly and illogically, in the following manner, both the parables and the deeds of the Lord to their fabrication’.30 Rousseau takes this phrase ‘parables and deeds of the Lord’ as a hendiadys for all the deeds of the Lord that are narrative and, thus parabolic.31 Therefore, in the quote from Haer. 2.28.3 above, the ‘parables’, in Irenaeus’ reading, are any potentially ambiguous portion of scripture and especially the narrative portions recorded in either the Old Testament or the Gospels. For Irenaeus, the interpretation of parabolic literature requires clarifying attendant passages taken from other clearer portions of scripture. A scriptural interpreter should never adapt the potentially ambiguous accounts with other ambiguous narratives such as the narrative accounts of the gnostic myth, the only option to read the parabolic elements with the clear scriptures. This leads us to the third and final key term mentioned in Haer. 2.28.3 above, the ‘clear sayings’ of scripture (manifeste dicta). If proper interpretation should proceed in reading the clear with the unclear, the question is what does Irenaeus mean by ‘clear sayings’ (manifeste dicta) of scripture? What specific passages, portions, or genres constitute ‘clear sayings’ and what precisely makes these texts ‘clear’? This analysis involves a close reading of the way that Irenaeus uses the language manifeste/o in his writings and the way he applies the term to specific texts or portions of scripture. 3. The Gnostic appeal to the clarity of Scripture Before turning to the technicalities of Irenaeus’ view of the clarity of scripture, some consideration must be given to the way that he uses the language of manifesto/e in a polemical fashion to characterize how the Gnostics are drawn 28 Antonio Orbe, S.J., Theologia de San Ireneo: Commentario al Libro V del «Adversus haereses», 3 vol. (Madrid, 1988), III 98. 29 Irénée de Lyon, Contre les Hérésies, Livre II, SC 293, ed. and trans. Adelin Rousseau and Louis Doutreleau (Paris, 1982), 226-7. 30 Haer. 2.20.1. At the same time, Irenaeus mention’s Nathan’s parable and the parables of Solomon and considers them equally ambiguous as the Lord’s parables. Haer. 4.26.1; 4.27.1 31 Irénée de Lyon, Contre les Hérésies, Livre II, SC 293, 279-80.



to the ‘parables’ of scripture.32 It is no secret that Gnostics intentionally hid their views from the public.33 This practice explains why Irenaeus commences his work with a reference to the words of Matt. 10:26: ‘For nothing is covered that will not be revealed (manifestabitur), and nothing is hidden that will not be known’, implying that the work of engaging his opponents is the task of uncovering teaching that is itself obscure.34 For Irenaeus, the Gnostic perspective ‘is never set forth in its naked deformity lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (as ridiculous as the express may seem) more true than truth itself’.35 This secret truth is not handed down by written texts, but only discovered by a ‘living voice’ taught through individual teachers giving private instruction for those who can pay for it.36 The Gnostics argue, according to Irenaeus, that the knowledge of God ‘has not been openly spoken’ (manifeste … non esse dicta), because not all are capable of receiving and understanding the mysteries which are given in ‘parables’.37 The unambiguous proclamation of the Lord is ‘manifest’ because nothing that the Gnostics communicate in secret is found in the apostolic writings.38 No apostolic text, for example, speaks ‘clearly’ (manifeste) about another deity above the Creator; there is no mention of a name, title, or divine being above God the Father.39 But this does not hinder the Gnostics from reading the Lord’s parables or narrative portions in association with their myth.40 For example, in Haer. 1.1.3, Irenaeus notes that the Gnostics teach that the thirty years of the Lord’s inactive ministry (Luke 3:23) and the total number of the hours when the laborers appear in the vineyard to work (first, third, sixth, ninth, eleventh hour = thirty) ‘clearly’ (manifeste) indicate the thirty aeons comprising the fullness of the Pleroma.41 A few chapters later, Irenaeus notes the reference to the Lord’s age (12) when he appeared at the temple (Luke 2:42) and the number of months (12) that the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak bled (Luke 8:44-6) indicates ‘clearly’ (manifestissime) the twelve aeons of the Duodecad within the Pleromic system.42 Outside the Gospels, the Gnostics argue that Paul ‘clearly and frequently’ (manifestissime … saepissime) identifies the Pleromic aeons in his writings.43 32

Haer. 2.10.1. L. Ayers, ‘Irenaeus vs. the Valentinians’ (2015), 158. 34 Haer. Irenaeus often uses manifeste to refer to his own writings and his role of uncovering the Gnostic teaching: Haer.;; 1.11.4; 1.9.2;;; and 3.8.1. 35 Haer. 36 Haer. 1.4.3. 37 Haer. 1.3.1. 38 Haer. 1.9.2. 39 Haer. 2.10.1. 40 Haer. 3.1.1. 41 Haer. 1.1.3. 42 Haer. 1.3.2 and 1.3.3. Other places Irenaeus uses manifesto/e to refer to the Gnostic reading: Haer. 1.3.5; 1.8.2; 1.8.4; 1.14.6; 1.20.3; and 2.13.6. 43 Haer. 1.3.1. 33

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They are particularly drawn to Pauline texts that contain important philosophical terminology for articulating the gnostic myth. For example, the Gnostics argue that Paul ‘clearly’ identified the Ogdoad with references to ‘all things’ contained or made by God in Col. 3:11, Rom. 11:36, Col. 2:9, and Eph. 1:10.44 In another section Irenaeus observes that the Gnostics ‘clearly’ identify three types of humanity in the Pauline terms: the spiritual, animal, and material in 1Cor. 15:48, 1Cor. 2:14-5 and Rom. 11:16.45 These are only a few examples, but they should suffice to show that Irenaeus employs a notion of ‘clarity’ (manifeste) in a polemical way to characterize the concealment of their teaching and the way that they unite texts with their narrative. 4. The Incarnation and the clarity of Scripture In addition to the polemical uses of clarity, Irenaeus regularly employs the language of ‘manifest’ and its cognates to define the revelation of the Word of God and the theological implications of his manifestation.46 The language of manifesto/e becomes almost a technical term for the incarnation and the personal revelation of the Son. For just as the Son was not manifest apart from the will of the Father (Matt. 11:26-7), so now the Son reveals the knowledge of the Father through His own manifestation.47 The incarnation is, in part, didactic as the Son reveals the knowledge of the Father to the apostles in a personal and verbal manner with new clearer revelation that amplifies the clarity of older revelation.48 So while the prophets proclaimed the verbal word of the God in the Old Testament, now the personal Word of God has been ‘manifested’ among humanity so that the one who is ‘spiritual’ will interpret things in light of the knowledge received through the Son’s manifestation. 5. Irenaeus on the clarity of the Old Testament The Old Testament constitutes in Irenaeus’ mind a significant portion of the unclear, parabolic passages of scripture.49 Irenaeus almost never uses the 44

Haer. 1.3.4. Haer. 1.8.3. 46 Haer. 3.6.2; 4.36.7; 3.11.8; 4.6.3; 4.6.5; 4.9.3; 4.11.4; 4.13.1; 4.33.15; 5.15.2; 5.17.3; 5.19.1; 5.19.2. 47 Haer. 3.9.1. 48 Haer. 4.6.2. See also Haer. 4.6.5. 49 Surveying the numbers, Irenaeus uses ‘manifest’ in direct connection to a New Testament text at least 80 times and less than 20 references to an Old Testament text: Manifesto/e (and related syntactical forms) referencing an apostolic writing of the New Testament: Haer. 1.9.2; 1.9.3; 2.10.1; 3.10.5; 3.10.6; 3.11.2; 3.12.3; 3.12.7; 3.12.9; 3.13.1 (2); 3.14.1 (2); 3.15.1; 3.16.2; 3.16.3; 3.16.9; 3.18.3; 3.21.3; 3.22.1; 3.23.8; 4.15.1; 4.21.2; 4.29.1; 4.34.2; 4.36.3; 45



language of ‘manifest’ in relationship to an Old Testament passage apart from a corresponding reference to a New Testament. When he does reference the clarity of the Old Testament, it is a measure of clarity given in two senses: instructions regarding the forms and benefits of serving God and statements that foreshadow the coming messiah.50 Though in both cases, there remain ambiguities in the specificity of the nature of God and the work of God in the messiah. These two purposes indicate the way that the Old Testament is simultaneously clear and unclear prior to the incarnation. In the first instance, Irenaeus remarks that Moses, David, Malachi, Isaiah, or other Old Testament books express a theological point with ‘clarity’ or ‘manifestly’.51 For example, he argues in Haer. 4.32.2 there is a measure of clarity in the Old Testament for instructions about the identity of God and the service of God, but still some enigmas remain because even these things pertain to the coming of Christ. Then in Haer. 3.21.1, he argues that Jews understood that they were promised to inherit the blessing of God, but did not see clearly that the Gentiles would also share in the promises.52 The Jews had enough revelation to recognize the true God and learn how to serve God, but could not see clearly about the work of the Son. At the same time, while the Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming of the Son and every prophecy is enigmatic and ambiguous. After the incarnation the prophecies have a ‘clear and certain exposition’ (liquidam et certam expositionem).53 This is why Irenaeus encourages the faithful to search the Old Testament scriptures to find Christ there like a treasure hidden in the field because all the prophets prefigured his coming.54 In this sense, Irenaeus claims that the Old Testament are the ‘words of Christ.’ Citing the words of the Lord in John 5:46-7, Irenaeus claims ‘in the clearest manner that the writings of Moses are His words’ (manifestissime significans Moysi litteras suos esse sermones).55 Irenaeus comments on the ‘clarity’ of the Old Testament it is often coupled with additional qualifiers that imply a sense of clarity, while obscurities remain. For example, in Haer. 4.20.6 he speaks of beholding God face-to-face, which 5.3.1; 5.10.2; 5.11.1; 5.13.3; 5.13.4; 5.13.5; 5.18.2; 5.18.3; 5.20.1; 5.24.4; 5.25.1; 5.25.2; 5.25.5; 5.26.1; 5.28.3; 5.32.1; 5.32.2. Manifesto/e (and related syntactical forms) referencing a Gospel saying: Haer. 3.5.3; 3.6.1; 3.18.4; 4.2.5; 4.5.2; 4.7.3; 4.8.1; 4.8.2; 4.9.3; 4.11.1; 4.12.1; 4.12.5; 4.13.4; 4.15.2; 4.20.2; 4.20.11; 4.23.1; 4.33.10; 4.36.1; 4.36.5; 4.36.6; 4.36.8; 4.37.1; 4.40.2; 5.15.2; 5.15.3; 5.15.4; 5.16.1; 5.16.3; 5.17.4; 5.21.1; 5.25.5; 5.26.1; 5.26.2; 5.27.1; 5.26.2; 5.27.1; 5.31.2; 5.34.3. Manifesto/e (and related syntactical forms) referencing an Old Testament text: Haer. 3.16.4; 3.21.1; 4.17.1; 4.17.5; 4.19.2; 4.20.6; 4.20.9; 4.20.10; 4.20.12; 4.25.2; 4.26.1; 4.33.11; 4.33.12; 4.33.14; 5.18.3; 5.23.2; 5.34.1. 50 Haer. 4.32.2. 51 Haer. 4.17.1; 4.19.2; 4.20.12; 4.25.2; 4.33.11; 4.33.14; 5.18.3; 5.23.2; and 5.34.1. 52 Haer. 3.21.1. 53 Haer. 4.26.1. 54 Ibid. and Haer. 4.33.10. 55 Haer. 4.1.2.

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he says was ‘manifest figuratively in the prophets’ (per prophetas figuraliter manifestabatur).56 Moses and all the prophets desired to see God ‘clearly’ (manifeste), but could not behold God face-to-face, so he had to stand in the crevice of the rock.57 A few paragraphs later he argues that ‘the prophets did not openly behold the actual face of God (non igitur manifeste ipsam faciem Dei videbant prophetae), but the dispensations and the mysteries through which man should afterwards see God’.58 In one final and particularly interesting passage, Irenaeus argues that before the advent of the Lord, even Satan had no clear understanding of the Old Testament prophecies, because for him the prophets were mere ‘parables and allegories’ (parabolis et allegoriis).59 However, after the incarnation, Irenaeus argues that Satan now ‘clearly’ (manifeste) understands ‘the words of Christ and his apostles’ (sermonibus Christi et Apostolorum) and knows preparations of an eternal fire that awaits him.60 From all these passages, it is evident that in the hands of Irenaeus the Old Testament has a measure of clarity in order to identify the nature and work of God and to anticipate the coming messiah, but not enough to understand what God would accomplish in Christ. The prophets of the Old Testament anticipate the revelation of the Son and the teaching of the Lord will serve to clarify the prophets.

6. The Clarity of the New Testament When it comes to the writings of the apostles that are later collected in the New Testament, there are two portions that are distinctively clear: the words of the Lord and the apostolic testimony. This two-fold reference to ‘the words of Christ and his apostles’ (sermonibus Christi et Apostolorum), was already mentioned in the discussion of Satan’s knowledge of the scripture mentioned above, but Irenaeus regularly combines references to these portions of scripture.61 For example, in the closing chapters of Haer. 4, he writes that Haer. 5 will address ‘the rest of the words of the Lord, which He taught concerning the Father not by parables, but by expressions taken in their obvious meaning (sed simpliciter ipsis dictionibus) and the exposition of the epistles of the blessed apostle’.62 Here Irenaeus appeals to the words of the Lord – not the parables of 56

Haer. 4.20.6. Haer. 4.20.9. 58 Haer. 4.20.10. See also his reference to the Word of God as ‘manifest in a hidden but effective manner’, that the Lord did fight with a hidden hand against Amalek in Exod. 17:16. 59 Haer. 5.26.2. 60 Ibid. 61 Haer. 5.26.2. References combining the words of the Lord, or the revelation of the Lord and the apostles are also found here: Haer. 2.2.5; 2.30.9;; 3.6.1; 3.9.1; 3.11.9; 4.1.1; 4.36.6; and 4.41.4. 62 Haer. 4.41.4. 57



the Lord –, and the teaching of the apostles, which in this case is identified with the writings of Paul. Even the structure of Adversus haereses lends itself to this two-fold emphasis, with the writings of the Apostles detailed in Haer. 3 (and some in Haer. 5), and the ‘words of the Lord’ orienting Haer. 4. In addition to this two-fold emphasis on the words of the Lord and the writings of the apostles, careful analysis of Irenaeus’ use of manifesto/e shows that Irenaeus regularly introduces New Testament texts with the designation, ‘as the apostle said clearly…’ or ‘as the Lord said plainly…’ There is a sense in which many uses of manifeste/o are just the normal way to introduce a specific quote. But these uses are too frequent and too often applied to the apostolic texts to be unintentional, or mere convention uses of language. It is not just that the words of the Lord and the writings of the apostles are interpreted in a clear way, but that the writings and the sayings are themselves clear or manifest revelation available to anyone who picks up and reads and that this clear revelation ought to be used to interpret previous revelation given through the prophets.63 6.1. The Clarity of the Apostolic Writings On several occasions, Irenaeus argues that the teaching of the apostles recorded in the New Testament documents is not private, personal, or individual, but is now ‘manifest’ in the whole world and equally available to all through the church for anyone who desires to read the scriptures. In Irenaeus’ understanding, ‘all, therefore, who wish to see the truth can view in the whole church the tradition of the apostles that has been ‘manifested in the whole world’ (in toto mundo manifestatam).64 To ‘see’ the truth and to behold the truth is to encounter the apostolic testimony that was initially preached and then handed down in the scriptures.65 If the apostles had taught anything in secret, Irenaeus reasons, they would have certainly given it to those who they entrusted to build the church in their writings.66 When Irenaeus cites these apostolic texts, including the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and especially the epistles of the New Testament, he regularly uses the language of ‘manifest’ to introduce his quotations of the text.67 Beginning with 63 Irenaeus is attentive to the verbal parts of the text. One study of his use of the Septuagint observes 343 citations in Adversus haereses with only 19 derived from narrative and the other 324 contain direct discourses attributed to God, the prophets, or the various characters imbedded within the narratives. Alfred B. Starratt, ‘The Use of the Septuagint in the Five Books Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons’ Ph.D. dissertation (Harvard University, 1952), 99. 64 Haer. 3.3.1. 65 Ibid. He includes explicit reference to Matthew, Peter, Paul, Mark, Luke, and John. 66 Haer. 3.1.1. 67 This does not mean that every use of the term is important for this study. Occasionally, for example, Irenaeus presents his own writings as ‘clear’: Haer. 3.6.2; 3.20.3;; 4.1.1; 4.17.1; 4.19.3; 4.33.15; 4.41.1;; and 5.20.1.

The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons


the birth narratives, Luke ‘clearly’ identifies the child born of Mary as the Lord, so that no one else is given this designation. Commenting on Luke 2:22, Irenaeus writes that Luke ‘in his own person clearly calling Him Lord’ (ex sua persona manifestissime Dominum appellans).68 In the same context he points to opening words of Mark’s Gospel as evidence that the apostolic writing ‘clearly’ (manifeste) announces that the words of Isa. 40:3 (see also Mal. 3:1) are applied to the incarnate Son. So Irenaeus writes that Mark says clearly (manifeste) in the beginning of his Gospel that Isaiah acknowledged the Lord as the Father of Christ and the one whom also promised to send His messenger before him.69 Irenaeus makes the same point with John’s Gospel. John ‘plainly’ (manifeste) affirms that in the beginning all things were made by the Word of God in the opening verses of his Gospel.70 Similar references are found in the Book of Acts, especially the sermons that announce the apostolic preaching. For example, Peter and John preach a ‘clear’ (manifestam) message in their sermon delivered in Acts 3:12-26.71 This teaching is not hidden or secret but expressed openly for all to hear and receive. Alongside these references to the birth narratives and the Book of Acts, there are many other references to the ‘clear’ teaching of the apostles including other references to Matthew,72 Luke,73 and John.74 The most abundant references to the clarity of the apostolic teaching are made in reference to Paul. Irenaeus consistently uses the language of ‘manifest’ to refer to the ‘clear’ or ‘plain’ teaching found in Paul’s Epistles.75 For example, in Haer. 3.18.3 he argues that Paul’s confession in 1Cor. 15:3-4 is clear; he did not know another Christ besides the one who was born, called a man, suffered, was buried, and rose again. Then a few chapters later in Haer. 3.22.1, he cites Gal. 4:4 and Rom. 1:3-4 to argue that the Apostle Paul says ‘plainly’ (manifeste) that God sent His son, born from a woman, descended from David according to the flesh, and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit. In a few instances, Irenaeus describes the clarity of Paul with several additional qualifiers. For example, in Haer. 5.11.1 Irenaeus cites the works of the flesh in Gal. 5:19-21 and observes that Paul ‘clarified the works himself’ (ipsas … operas manifestavit) so that his views would not be distorted by others who come after him. Then in Haer. 5.13.4 he argues that in 2Cor. 4:10, Paul’ instruction on the nature of the body, contrary to the Gnostic reading of ‘flesh 68

Haer. 3.10.5. Haer. 3.10.6. 70 Haer. 3.11.2. See also Haer. 1.9.2. 71 Haer. 3.12.3. See also the narrative of Peter and Cornelius in Haer. 3.12.7. 72 Haer. 3.16.2. 73 Haer. 3.15.1 and 4.15.1. 74 Haer. 1.9.2-3 and 5.18.2-3. 75 Haer. 3.13.1; 3.14.1; 3.16.3; 3.16.9; 3.18.3; 3.21.3; 3.22.1; 3.23.8; 4.21.2; 4.29.1; 4.34.2; 4.36.6; 5.3.1; 5.10.2; 5.11.1; 5.13.3-5; 5.21.1; 5.24.4; 5.25.5; and 5.32.1-2. 69



and blood’ in 1Cor. 15:50, is made ‘manifestly, indubitably, and free from all ambiguity’ (manifeste et indubitate et sine ulla ambiguitate). These texts are only a sampling of the many allusions to the clarity of the apostolic teaching, including both the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament. The survey of these uses exposes the continual refrain that the Lord’s words and the apostolic writings are clear revelation that is open and available to all. The constant refrain of affirming the clear and open teaching of the apostles contrasts the secret revelation of the Gnostics. Irenaeus leaves little doubt that the clarity of the Scripture is expressed in the apostolic testimony solidified in the writings themselves and that this testimony is open and available. Whereas the narratives and prophetic literature of the prophets is often ambiguous, the apostles are clear. 6.2. The clarity of the words of the Lord Irenaeus not only stresses the clarity of the apostolic testimony, but also the ‘words of the Lord.’ These dominical sayings recorded in the apostolic writings report the discourse of the Lord that verbally announce the witness of the Father and accompany Christ’ parabolic teaching. The Gnostics, who divide up the person of Christ into separate aeons, did not receive their special revelation from the Father or the Son, because the Son teaches about the Father ‘clearly and without parables’ (manifeste et sine parabolis).76 While the Gnostics are drawn to the parables of the Lord, Irenaeus points to the Lord’s discourses as the focus of his ‘clear’ instruction and the Lord’s parables must be read in harmony with his sayings.77 In many instances Irenaeus refers to the ‘clear’ verbal instruction of the Lord imparted to the people or his disciples. For example, in Haer. 4.8.2 Irenaeus speaks of the Lord’s response to the Jews when they criticized him for healing a woman infirm for 18 years on the Sabbath ‘saying openly’ (manifestum … dicens) they lacked the faith of Abraham.78 Then immediately after citing the words of Luke 13:15, Irenaeus writes: ‘It is clear (manifestum), therefore, that he loosed and vivified those who believe in Him as Abraham did.’79 Then, in Haer. 4.7.3 Irenaeus cites the dominical saying referring to the Son as the light of the world in John 14:6-7 and concludes from this passage ‘it is evident’ (manifestum) that the Father is known by the Son.80 A few chapters later in 76

Haer. 4.2.5. Haer. 3.5.3; 3.6.2; 4.5.2; 4.6.3; 4.6.5; 4.35.2; 4.40.2; 5.15.2; 5.17.3; 5.19.1-2. Irenaeus argues Marcion sets aside ‘all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord’ and ‘a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father’. Haer. 1.27.2. 78 Haer. 4.8.1. 79 Haer. 4.8.2. 80 Haer. 4.7.3. 77

The Clarity of Scripture in Irenaeus of Lyons


Haer. 4.11.1 Irenaeus cites the saying of Matt. 13:17 that many prophets and righteous men desired to see his day and states that this reality the Lord ‘made manifest’ (fecit manifestum) when He spoke the saying to his disciples.81 These examples are merely a sampling of the many instances where Irenaeus uses the language of manifesto/e and its related terms to characterize the sayings of the Lord. Even in cases where Irenaeus interprets the parables of the Lord, he will often connect the parable with a dominical saying that aids the interpretation of the narrative. For example, in Haer. 4.36.1 he discusses the parable of the tenants and cites the Lord’s words in Matt. 21:42-4. He remarks that the Lord ‘clearly points out’ (ostendit manifeste) to His disciples that the householder is the same God and Father who created all things.82 Then in Haer. 4.40.2 he cites the parable of the sheep and the goats with the dominical saying in Matt. 25:34: ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you’. He adds that this saying shows that ‘the same Father is manifestly declared (idem Pater manifestissime ostenditur).83 These instances illustrate how the sayings of the Lord are the clear teaching that interprets the parables and other parabolic texts in scripture. 7. Conclusion In his work on Irenaeus, Lawson raises the question about the clarity of scripture in Irenaeus and others have assessed particular features of Irenaeus’ view of the clarity. Looking to Irenaeus’ own use of the language of manifesto/e and its various syntactical forms in Adversus haereses gives a clearer picture of what Irenaeus means by the ‘clarity’ of scripture and how these ‘clear’ passages of scripture serve as a hermeneutical guide for interpreting the obscure passages (Haer. 2.27-8). On one hand, Irenaeus argues the Gnostics are drawn to the obscure passages, which they associate the narratives of their myth and intentionally keep hidden. On the other hand, when Irenaeus uses the language of ‘clarity’ (manifesto/e), he views it through the lens of the incarnation and the revelation of the Son. It is the coming of the Son and the proclamation of the words of the incarnate Lord that yields clear revelation and illuminates the interpretation of obscure passages. The ‘clarity’ of scripture, therefore, is cast in degrees between the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament has a measure of clarity with instructions about the nature of God and the service of God. The Jews are able to understand the Old Testament and the nature of God with a measured clarity, but the 81 82 83

Haer. 4.11.1. Haer. 4.36.1. Haer. 4.40.2.



narratives and the prophecies of the Lord remain unclear. This gives the Old Testament as two-fold sense of clarity that develops when the Son of God becomes incarnate. Like the Old Testament, some New Testament passages are largely unclear; such as the narratives in the Gospels and especially the parables of the Lord, but the clearest scriptures are those that record the words of the Lord and the apostolic teaching in the New Testament Epistles. The incarnate Son imparted his teaching to the apostles who first hear and record Lord’s words and proclamation in the apostolic writings. When Irenaeus argues that good hermeneutics is governed by reading the ‘clear’ with the ‘obscure’ in Haer. 3.28.3, he means, generally speaking, that a good interpreter will read the clear and obvious testimony of the Lord’s words and the apostolic writings in continuity and unity with the potentially ambiguous passages of the Old Testament and the Lord’s parables. The coherence of the apostle and the prophet enables the clear witness of all scripture to the one and same work of the Father through the Son. Irenaeus’ perspective on the clarity of scripture necessitates that the words of the Lord and the apostolic testimony offer the theological guide to interpret other apostolic texts and the rest of the Old Testament. In this sense, the hermeneutical principle of reading the clear with the unclear binds together the testaments in a theological unity testifying to the work of God in Christ.


‘Since the Saviour Pre-exists’: A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3 John BEHR, St Vladimir’s Seminary, New York, NY, USA

ABSTRACT One of the most striking sentences of Irenaeus occurs in Haer. 3.22.3, where he affirms that ‘since the Savior pre-exists, it was necessary that the one to be saved should also exist, so that the Saviour doesn’t exist without purpose’. The purpose of this essay is to review, and contribute to, the debates over the past half-century regarding textual questions, interpretative matters, and theological implications of this passage. Before proceeding with the analysis, however, it will be helpful to present the text and the various translations offered over recent decades. Propter hoc Lucas genealogiam quae est a generatione Domini nostri usque ad Adam LXII generationes habere ostendit, finem coniugens initio et significans quoniam ipse est qui omnes gentes exinde ab Adam dispersas et uniuersas linguas et generationes hominum cum ipso Adam in semetipso recapitulatus est. Vnde et a Paulo typus futuri dictus est ipse Adam, quoniam futuram circa Filium Dei humani generis dispositionem in semetipsum Fabricator omnium Verbum praeformauerat, praedestinante Deo primum animalem hominem uidelicet uti ab spiritali saluaretur. Cum enim praeexsisteret saluans, oportebat et quod saluaretur fieri, uti non uacuum sit saluans. unde et : und S a om V Q semetipso C (-psum C1) : metipsum Q uerborum CV performauerat V praedestinante AQSε Feu Gra Har : praeformante CV Mass Sti Sagn ut QSε ab : a V Qε ut S Translations Sagnard:1 De là vient encore que Paul appelle Adam lui-même « la figure de Celui qui doit venir »; car le Verbe, « Artisan de toutes chose », avait ébauché à l’avance ce qui s’accomplirait en Lui-même, l’« économie » d’Incarnation concernant le Fils de Dieu, – Dieu formant d’abord « l’homme psychique » [Adam] dans le dessein évident de le sauver par « l’homme spirituel » [le Christ]. Puisqu’en effet le Sauveur préexistait, il Lui fallait devenir cela même qu’Il allait sauver, pour que ce salut ne fût pas sans objet.


F. Sagnard, Contre les Hérésies, Livre III, SC 34 (Paris, 1952).

Studia Patristica CIX, 43-54. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



P. Nautin:2 De là vient encore que Paul appelle Adam lui-même ‘la figure de Celui qui était à venir’, parce que le Verbe, artisan de toutes chose, avait ‘figurativement’ disposé à l’avance, en vue de lui-même, le mystère ‘à venir’ de l’humanité dans son rapport au Fils de Dieu. En Dieu (qu’il était), il avait disposé figurativement à l’avance l’homme animal de manière évidemment qu’il fût sauvé par l’Homme spirituel (qu’il serait): comme le Sauveur préexistait, il fallait bien que le Sauvé aussi fût fait de manière que le Sauveur ne soit pas Sauveur pour rien. J.A. de Aldama:3 Por eso también San Pablo llama al mismo Adán typus futuri. Porque a él, como a figura, hizo el Verbo, Hacedor de todo, se refiriese de antemano aquella fase de la providencia de Dios sobre los hombres, en la que había de intervenir su Hijo. Planeó, pues, como figura primero al hombre animal (Adán); sin duda en el plan de que fuera salvado por el espiritual (Cristo). Porque, en efecto, hombre hubo de hacerse el Salvador, que ya existía de antes; pues de otro modo (siendo su tipo, Adán, hombre), hubiera sino el Salvador algo sin correspondencia con su figura. Rousseau/Doutreleau:4 C’est aussi pour cela que Paul appelle Adam lui-même la « figure de Celui qui devait venir » : car le Verbe, Artisan de l’univers, avait ébauché d’avance en Adam la future « économie » de l’humanité dont se revêtirait le Fils de Dieu, Dieu ayant établi en premier lieu l’homme psychique afin, de toute évidence, qu’il fût sauvé par l’Homme spirituel. En effet, puisqu’existait déjà Celui qui sauverait, il fallait que ce qui serait sauvé vînt aussi à l’existence, afin que ce Sauveur ne fût point sans raison d’être. Rousseau/Doutreleau also offer this Greek retroversion: Ὅθεν καὶ ὑπὸ Παύλου τύπος τοῦ μέλλοντος εἴρηται αὐτὸς ὁ Ἀδάμ, ὅτι τὴν μέλλουσαν τῆς περὶ τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀνθρωπότητος οἰκονομίαν ἐν αὐτῷ ὁ τῶν ἁπάντων Τεχνίτης Λόγος προετύπωσεν, ὁρίσαντος τοῦ Θεοῦ πρῶτον τὸν ψυχικὸν ἄνθρωπον, δηλονότι ἵνα ὑπὸ τοῦ πνευματικοῦ σωθῇ· προϋπάρχοντος γὰρ τοῦ σῴζοντος ἔδει καὶ το σῳζόμενον γενέσθαι, ἵνα μὴ ἀργὸν ᾖ τὸ σῴζον. Unger/Steenberg:5 Hence Paul, too, styled Adam a type of the one who was to come, because the Word as Artisan of all things had designed beforehand, with a view to himself, the future economy relating to the Son of God on behalf of the human race; namely, God destined the first, the ensouled man [Adam], that he might be saved by the spiritual man [Christ]. For inasmuch as the Savior existed beforehand, it was necessary that what was to be saved should also exist, so that the Savior would not be something without a purpose. 2 Pierre Nautin, ‘L’Adversus haereses d’Irénée, livre III. Notes d’exégèse’, RTAM 20 (1953), 185-202, 196. 3 J.A. de Aldama, ‘Adam, typus futuri’, Sacris Erudiri 13 (1962), 266-80, 274-5. 4 A. Rousseau and L. Doutreleau, Irénée de Lyon, Contre les Hérésies, Livre III, SC 210-1 (Paris, 1974). 5 D.J. Unger, rev. Irenaeus M.C. Steenberg, St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies, Book 3, ACW 64 (New York, 2012).

A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3


I. Text De Aldama treats this passage as three distinct clauses explaining Irenaeus account of Paul’s words about Adam being a ‘type of the one to come’. But as Unger/Steenberg point out, this is ‘misleading, for the clauses are not coordinate, and so they do not explain the “type of the future” with the same directedness’.6 Rather, the quoniam clause explains why Adam was called the typus futuri, ‘because the Word designed the economy for the human race beforehand, to be realized through God’s Son’. This is then explained by a participial clause, beginning with praedestinante ‘God destined the ensouled man (Adam) to be saved by the spiritual man (Christ). Implied here is what was said elsewhere, that Christ had to have the same human nature as Adam’. They also describe the last clause (Cum enim…) as ‘a conclusion’: ‘since the Saviour existed beforehand, from the beginning, it was necessary for the one who is to be saved also to exist – otherwise the Saviour would be purposeless’. Whether it is in fact a conclusion or a statement of the presupposition for the argument, we will see later. The text begins, first, by affirming that Adam is called ‘a type of Christ’ because the Word had prefigured in semetipsum (or in semetipso) the future economy. These words would seem to be a translation of either ἐν αὑτῷ (or ἐν ἑαυτῷ), ‘in himself’, that is, Christ. But Rousseau/Doutreleau take this as a misreading of the definite pronoun ἐν αὐτῷ - in eo, ‘in him’, that is, Adam, pointing out that throughout the passage, the focus is on Adam, as a figure of the one to come, Christ (similar to de Aldama’s translation: ‘to him, as a figure’). Unger/Steenberg accept that this is ‘the type of mistake a scribe might easily make’, but retain in semetipsum, translating it as ‘with a view to himself’, thus indicating the purpose: ‘Christ as the goal of this recapitulation, as he is the goal in the next clause uti ab spiritali saluaretur’.7 It thus indicates the purpose of the action: the economy/arrangement regarding Adam is designed in such a way as to foreshadow the economy/arrangement of Christ which was to take place, as is the case if one takes a longer view, from Haer. 3.22.1-2, with its analogy of virgin earth and the virgin birth. This point is perhaps not too significant; as Unger/Steenberg points out, even if in semetipsum is retained, Adam must in any case be implied in the clause. So, the meaning is something like: the Word had designed beforehand [that is, in the case of Adam], with a view to himself, the future economy relating to the Son of God on behalf of… Second, the future economy is said to be humani generis, which is almost certainly a translation of τῆς … ἀνθρωπότητος. Rousseau/Doutreleau points to a parallel expression in 5.26.2, secundum humanum genus dispositionem, where 6

D.J. Unger and M.C. Steenberg, St. Irenaeus (2012), 196, and for the following quotations. Likewise P. Nautin, ‘L’Adversus haereses d’Irénée, livre III. Notes d’exégèse’ (1953), 194, had suggested: εἰς ἑαυτὸν. 7



the Armenian (զրստ մարդկութեանն անաւրէնութիւն) leaves no doubt that the Greek was: τὴν κατ᾽ ἀνθρωπότητα οἰκονομίαν. But they argue that in 3.22.3 the phrase doesn’t indicate the ‘human genus’, but the particular humanity of the Son in the incarnation: ‘la future «économie» de l’humanité dont se revêtirait le Fils de Dieu’. Likewise Sagnard earlier similarly translated the clause: ‘le économie d’Incarnation concernant le Fils de Dieu’. Nautin had objected to Sagnard’s translation, on the grounds the text is not speaking simply about the Incarnation, but concerns, more precisely, what Christ had arranged beforehand, as a figure, for what he would accomplish for the whole of humanity, joining the end to the beginning.8 Unger/Steenberg, on the other hand, rightly, I think, take humani generis to refer to the human race, suggesting that ‘the genitive must almost necessarily be translated as if it were a dative of advantage’.9 That the economy was for the human race is of course a typically Irenaean position and assertion (e.g. Haer. 3.12, 13; 4.20.7; 4.33.7). The expression, according to Unger/Steenberg’s count, occurs in the Latin version of Against the Heresies 45 times; in each case it means the human race, never human nature in general or someone’s (i.e. Christ’s) individually. In six of those cases, the Greek is extant as ἀνθρωπότης, which has the meaning of ‘human race’.10 The third textual point to be noted is the word praedestinante. In his edition, Sagnard preferred the reading praeformante (the reading of CV). Rousseau/ Doutreleau, on the other hand, prefer praedestinante (AQSe), pointing out that praeformante is more likely to be a corruption based on the word immediately preceding: praeformauerat. They also argue that, as in other places in Haer. 3, the underlying verb is ὁρίζω and not προορίζω.11 They point out that the retroversion προορίσαντος is not possible, for it is not a matter of God ‘predestining’ Adam to first be psychic; ‘ce n’est pas l’Adam psychique, mais l’Adam spirituel, qui est premier dans la pensée et vouloir de Dieu, puisque le premier n’est qu’une simple ébauche (τύπος) du second’.12 Thus ὁρίσαντος would indicate that God has established or constituted Adam as ‘psychic’, that is, as an ‘animated being’, as a type, a preliminary sketch of the spiritual One to come.

8 P. Nautin, ‘L’Adversus haereses d’Irénée, livre III. Notes d’exégèse’ (1953), 195. He also finds a similar reference to the mystery of the dispersion of 72 nations [generations in Irenaeus] in a homily on the Psalms by Hippolytus, designated by phrase: οἰκονομία ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ἀνθρωπότητα. Though Rousseau/Doutreleau list Nautin in their bibliography to this note, they do not address his comments. 9 D.J. Unger and M.C. Steenberg, St. Irenaeus (2012), 196. 10 Ibid. 11 A. Rousseau and L. Doutreleau, Irénée de Lyon, Contre les Hérésies (1974), 371-2, n. 5, citing Haer. 3.12.7, 9; 3.16.3, citing Rom. 1:1-4. 12 A. Rousseau and L. Doutreleau, Irénée de Lyon, Contre les Hérésies (1974), 372, n. 6.

A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3


Finally, the most perplexing sentence: Cum enim praeexsisteret saluans, oportebat et quod saluaretur fieri, uti non uacuum sit saluans. The question here is: what is the subject and what the predicate of the infinitive fieri? Sagnard took quod saluaretur as the attribute, and the Saviour as the subject, so that it describes the Incarnation: ‘it was necessary for the Saviour to become the same as that which he was going to save’. Similar expressions are indeed found in Against the Heresies e.g. 3.18.7: Oportebat … id ipsum fieri quod erat ille, id est hominem. Nautin objected, pointing out that it is clear that quod saluaretur is the subject, so that one must translate it as: ‘Since the Savior pre-existed, it was necessary that the saved should also be made, such that the Savior would not be a Savior for nothing’.13 As such, this phrase takes up, in another form, the idea and elements in the preceding participial clause: saluans corresponds to Deo quod saluaretur to animalem hominem (which was already said to be such uti … saluaretur) uti non vacuum sit saluans corresponds to uti ab spiritali saluaretur

And as such, oportebat et quod saluaretur fieri must refer back to praeformante animalem hominem uti… And so the phrase refers not to the Incarnation, but to the fact that Christ, as God, arranged Adam with a view to the salvation that he would effect, recapitulating the 72 generations, tying the end to the beginning. Rousseau/Doutreleau (without noting Nautin) take a similar line against Sagnard. They also point out that if quod saluaretur was an attribute, the subject of the infinitive would necessarily be stated in a pronoun, in both Greek and Latin. They also point out that the train of thought in this passage is quite evident: God has established in the first place the psychic Adam so that he would be saved by the spiritual Adam. And they conclude: En effet, puisqu’existait déjà (en tant que Verbe de Dieu) Celui qui sauverait (en tant que devenue, par son incarnation, l’Adam spirituel), il faillait que vînt à l’existence ce qui serait sauvé (c’est-a-dire l’Adam psychique), faute de quoi ce Sauveur serait sans raison d’être (puisqu’il n’y aurait rien à sauver). Cette vue d’Irénée sur la nécessité d’un être ayant besoin de salut afin que le Sauveur ne fût point sans raison d’être peut être rapprochée de ce qu’il dit en 3.20.2, au sujet du mystère de la permission du mal par Dieu.14 13

P. Nautin, ‘L’Adversus haereses d’Irénée, livre III. Notes d’exégèse’ (1953), 196. A. Rousseau and L. Doutreleau, Irénée de Lyon, Contre les Hérésies (1974), 372, n. 6: ‘Indeed, since there already existed (as the Word of God) the One who would save (as he became, by his Incarnation, the spiritual Adam), that which would be saved (that is the animated Adam) had to come into existence, otherwise the Saviour would be without purpose (since there would be nothing to save). This view of Irenaeus on the necessity for a being having need of salvation so that the Saviour would not be without purpose, may be compared to what he says in 3.20.2 concerning the mystery of God’s permission of evil’. 14



De Aldama took a similar position to Sagnard, treating this passage as speaking of the Incarnation.15 Apart from the points noted so far, there is a further aspect of de Aldama’s position (and also Rousseau/Doutreleau) that requires further comment, and that is that saluans, in the phrase cum enim praeexsisteret saluans, is taken as referring to a pre-incarnate subject. For De Aldama this is part of his argument that the subject of the verb fieri is the Saviour, who becomes human. As he puts it, for the typological correspondences developed in the passage to be preserved, ‘it will be necessary (oportebat) that the Savior, who already preexisted but was not a man, becomes a man like Adam: oportebat et quod saluaretur fieri’.16 But as Unger/Steenberg point out, ‘in Irenaeus the Word is saluans only as incarnate or to-be-incarnate’.17 As such, the sentence would say something like: ‘the Word-to-be-incarnate, since it pre-existed, as God-man [i.e. as saluans], should become man’, which, as they point out, is ‘illogical’. Further, the last clause (uti non vacuum sit salvans) does not make sense in de Aldama’s rendering: ‘otherwise (since His type, Adam, was man), the Saviour would have something not in correspondence with His figure’. Unger/ Steenberg point out that this clause ‘does not make sense in de Aldama’s view: vacuum is neuter, and so cannot modify saluans (masculine)’. Unger/Steenberg also note that the term vacuum is used repeatedly by Irenaeus to describe the emptiness of the Valentinian pleroma and the aeons: ‘they have no substance, are devoid of reality. There is to them an absence, as with darkness over against light … their being is useless, has no purpose, no meaning’.18 And, as Irenaeus points out: With God ‘there is nothing without purpose [vacuum] or significance’ (Haer. 4.21.3). Thus de Aldama’s rendering, that the Word as saluans would be purposeless unless he became what humanity is, without the due correspondence between type and archetype, is inconsistent with Irenaeus’ position. So, they conclude, Irenaeus’ point is that ‘the Verbum incarnandum would be purposeless if humanity (salvandus) did not exist’. Both de Aldama and Rousseau/Doutreleau take the pre-existence to refer to a preincarnate subject (de Aldama, in that the subject of fieri is the Saviour who must become incarnate; Rousseau/Doutreleau, as ‘the Word of God’ who would save, but accepting that the subject of the infinitive is not the Word but quod saluaretur). Against Rousseau/Doutreleau, Unger/Steenberg assert: ‘it is not merely the Verbum as such that was designed beforehand according to Irenaeus, but the Verbum incarnatum, only so is He salvans’.19 And a little later: ‘It is 15 J.A. de Aldama, ‘Adam, typus futuri’ (1962), is included by Rousseau/Doutreleau at the end of their note, although they don’t in fact deal with it. 16 J.A. de Aldama, ‘Adam, typus futuri’ (1962), 273: será preciso (oportebat) que el Salvador, que ya preexistía pero no era hombre, se haga hombre como Adán: oportebat et quod saluaretur fieri’. 17 D.J. Unger and M.C. Steenberg, St. Irenaeus (2012), 197. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid.

A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3


certain that by ‘Savior’ Irenaeus does not mean the Word as such, because he never considers the Word in such a way. The Word saves only inasmuch as He is incarnate already or, as in OT times, is to become incarnate’. There is, of course, no doubt that the text is uniquivocal: it is indeed the Savior who pre-exists. Finally, Unger/Steenberg also, importantly, concede to Rousseau/ Doutreleau: ‘We give our assent to SC’s observation that here, as already in 3.20.2, Irenaeus indicates the true reason why God would have permitted evil, even sin: namely, the Word-to-be-incarnate already was part of God’s economic design, and in light of his ultimate power, even evil could be permitted’. We will take this point up in the following section.

II. Context From Haer. 3.22.1, Irenaeus has been arguing that Christ really did take flesh from the Virgin, paralleling the formation of Adam from the virgin earth, and that he did so is proof that human flesh can be saved, and will be so, as developed more fully in Haer. 5. As such, Christ recapitulates all generations back to Adam, who was called by Paul ‘a type of the one to come’, as God had prefigured in him the future economy of the Son of God regarding the human race, namely, that the first was animated, so as to be saved by the Spiritual one; and, since the Saviour pre-exists, it was necessary that the one to be saved should also exist, so that the Saviour doesn’t exist without purpose. As vexing as all the other textual questions in this passage are, it is this last claim (so rendered) that really is the most vexing of all! Having dealt with the textual/translation issues, and after noting (quoted above) that Irenaeus is not referring to ‘the Word as such’, for the Word only saves as incarnate, Unger/Steenberg then ask the question: ‘Does Irenaeus then mean that Christ was willed as liberator from sin before humankind was willed?’20 Their answer is: That would be the case if ‘Savior’ were synonymous with ‘redeemer from sin’. A Thomistic view on the motivation for the incarnation might hold exactly this. But Irenaeus presents a more basic meaning for Savior and save. These words are used in their meaning of preserving: salvation is essentially granting and preserving the well-being that is imperishable life.21

And so, they continue, the Word incarnate was Savior already apart from sin, as through him the human race would receive grace and eventually glory. Interpreted so, the passage contains at least

20 21

Ibid. 198. Ibid.



in kernel the view that the Word was willed absolutely to be incarnate in the original plan and design of the universe.

This interpretation of this passage has been advocated many times before. As Unger/Steenberg note, it was proposed by d’Ales and Vernet.22 But, as Unger/ Steenberg comment, ‘both suggest that Irenaeus is speaking of a possible, hypothetical world of the order of intention alone, but that the order of execution of God’s economy includes sin and redemption’.23 They further add that it is clear that for Irenaeus, ‘the order of intention must correspond to the order of execution. In the universe that God willed, there was first willed the Word incarnate, who, because of intervening sin, would not be merely salvans but also liberans, as Irenaeus holds elsewhere’. Others (Galtier, Verrièle, Escoula), have suggested ‘that Irenaeus is speaking of the eternal existence of the Savior in God’s mind, but maintain that the motive of redemption is so tied up with that of the incarnation that if there had been no need for redemption, there would have been no Christ-Savior’.24 While yet others (Houssiau; Wingren; Ochagavía; Orbe), looking also at other passages, argue that Irenaeus held that ‘the incarnation was willed by God in the universal design prior to the advent of sin, with the consequent need of redemption; and that foreknowledge of this was not the spur for the incarnation itself’.25 That the Incarnation was willed from eternity, and not the result of sin, is surely now the accepted position for Irenaeus (as well as many others in the Patristic tradition, especially Maximus). But the question is whether this point addresses our passage? The passage is not concerned with whether or not the Incarnation would have happened had there been no need for liberation or redemption. As Wingren caustically remarks, reading Irenaeus in this way, as was prevalent amongst early twentiethcentury Roman Catholic scholars, is like asking ‘if the main question is really whether Irenaeus followed Thomas or Duns Scotus!”26 The question, rather, concerns that which needs saving, and Irenaeus’ assertion that that which needs saving came into being because there was already a Saviour! Nor is it really sufficient to say, as Unger/Steenberg do (explicitly taking a line against 22 Ibid.; Adhémar d’Alès, ‘La doctrine de la récapitulation en Saint Irénée,’ Recherches de Science Religieuse 6 (1916), 185-211, 191; F. Vernet, ‘Irénée (Saint)’, in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. 7 (Paris, 1923), 2470. 23 D.J. Unger and M.C. Steenberg, St. Irenaeus (2012), 198. 24 P. Galtier, De Verbo Incarnato et Redemptore (Paris, 1926), 477; A. Verrièle, ‘La plan du salut d’après saint Irénée’, Revue des Sciences Religieuses 14 (1934), 493-524, 502, 526; L. Escoula, ‘Le Verbe Sauveur et Illuminator chez saint Irénée’, Nouvelle Revue de Théologie 66 (1939), 385400, 551-67, 388 n. 3. 25 A. Houssiau, La christologie de saint Irénée (Louvain, 1955), 195-9; G. Wingren, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus, trans. R. McKenzie (Edinburgh, 1959), xiv, 6, 18, 90-2, 201; J. Ochagavía, Visibile Patris Filius: A Study of Irenaeus’ Teaching on Revelation and Tradition, OCA 171 (Rome, 1964), 18-120; A. Orbe, Antropología de San Ireneo (Madrid, 1969), 468-8, 92-3, 97, 502-15, 26. 26 G. Wingren, Man and Incarnation (1959), 92-3, n. 37.

A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3


the Thomistic position), that the ‘saving’ in question here not a matter of ‘redeeming from sin’ but ‘preservation’, even with the qualification that this ‘preservation/saving’ is the ‘granting and preserving the well-being that is imperishable life’. For this ‘saving/preserving’ is explained by Irenaeus as a transition from one form of life to another, a movement from the type to the reality, from the animated Adam to the Spiritual One. And, as we will see, for Irenaeus this is inextricably bound up with sin and the mystery of evil in the economy of God. 1. Problem of evil Both Rousseau/Doutreleau and Unger/Steenberg accept that the correlation between that which needs saving and the One who saves is bound up with the mystery of God’s permission for evil, and point to Haer. 3.20 for this. This passage is worth quoting in full: God, therefore, was long-suffering when the human being defaulted, foreseeing that victory which should be granted to him through the Word. For when strength was made perfect in weakness [cf. 2Cor. 12:9], [the Word] showed the kindness and transcendent power of God. For just as he did bear Jonah to be swallowed up by the whale, not that he should be swallowed up and perish altogether, but so that, having been cast out again, he might be more subject to God and might glorify him the more who had conferred upon him such an unhoped-for salvation and brought a firm repentance to the Ninevites, that they might convert to the Lord who delivered them from death when they were struck with awe by that sign that had been wrought on Jonah … so also, from the beginning, God did bear the human being to be swallowed up by the great whale, who was the author of the transgression, not that he should perish altogether when so engulfed, but arranging in advance the finding of salvation, which was accomplished by the Word, through the ‘sign of Jonah’ [Matt. 12:39-40], for those who held the same opinion as Jonah regarding the Lord, and who confessed, and said, ‘I am a servant of the Lord, and I worship the Lord God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land’ [Jonah 1:9], so that the human being, receiving an unhoped-for salvation from God, might rise from the dead, and glorify God, and repeat, ‘I cried to the Lord my God in my affliction, and he heard me from the belly of hell’ [Jonah 2:2], and that he might always continue glorifying God, and giving thanks without ceasing for that salvation which he had obtained from him, ‘that no flesh should glory in the Lord’s presence’ [1Cor. 1:29], nor should the human being ever adopt an opposite opinion with regard to God, supposing that the incorruptibility which surrounds him is his own by nature, nor, by not holding the truth, should boast with empty superciliousness, as if he were by nature like to God. Such then was the patience of God, that the human being, passing through all things and acquiring knowledge of death,27 then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience from whence he has been delivered, may thus always gives thanks to the Lord, having received from him the gift of incorruptibility, and may 27 Following the emendation of ‘morum’ to ‘mortum’ proposed by Grabe and adopted by Rousseau (SC 210, 349-50), who notes haer. 3.23.1 (referring back to the previous passage) and haer. 4.39.1 as parallels.



love him the more, for ‘he to whom more is forgiven, loves more’ [cf. Luke 7:42-3], and may himself know how mortal and weak he is, but also understand that God is so immortal and powerful as to bestow immortality on the mortal and eternity on the temporal, and that he may also know the other powers of God made manifest in himself, and, being taught by them, may think of God in accordance with the greatness of God. For the glory of the human being is God, while the vessel of the workings of God, and of all his wisdom and power is the human being. (Haer. 3.20.1-2)

This passage does indeed have helpful parallels. Jonah received ‘an unhoped for salvation’, although it was already known to God (the swallowing by the whale was a pedagogic means to achieve the desired end – the obedience of Jonah for the saving plans of God). So also, ‘the finding of the salvation’ effected by the Word through the sign of Jonah was ‘arranged in advance’, even if not known to the human race beforehand. And, moreover, God has arranged these things this way, from the beginning, so that ‘the human being, passing through all things and acquiring knowledge of death,’ can then attain to the resurrection, knowing by experience whence he has been delivered and so give unending thanks to God in the immortality bestowed upon the mortal. God is indeed ‘patient’ and ‘longsuffering’ in all this. He did not create human beings in a state of apostasy, for there was ‘an author of transgression’, ‘the great whale’ that engulfed the human race; but it is nevertheless from the beginning that the economy has been arranged in this manner. Moreover, if the analogy with Jonah is to be preserved, it is not simply a matter of ‘permission’, for God did, after all, send the whale to swallow up Jonah, so that he could learn obedience. It is, as it always is for Irenaeus, a matter of pedagogy: we need to learn ‘by experience’ from what it is that we are delivered (cf. esp. Haer. 4.37-9), thereby growing from the childish state of Adam to the maturity of Christ, who accomplishes the goal through the ‘sign of Jonah’, so that Jonah is a sign both of the perishing human race and also the Saviour. ‘Saving’ then is not simply a matter of ‘preserving’ the original condition by granting it well-being in imperishable life, but the transition, arranged from the beginning, from being as Jonah in the whale to being saved through the One of whom Jonah was a sign, from mortality, through the experience of death, to immortality. 2. Breath to Spirit Instead of the ‘sign’ of Jonah, in Haer. 3.22.3 Irenaeus turns to the ‘type’ that is Adam, to explain the overarching economy of God, and so unite the end to the very beginning. Irenaeus describes this transition as being from the animated Adam to the spiritual One, clearly referring to 1Cor. 15 and Paul’s answer to the question: ‘How are the dead raised?’ (1Cor. 15:35). Paul starts off his response with an emphatic claim: ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies’ (1Cor. 15:36), and then proceeds to explain how the first Adam, the man of dust, was animated by a breath of life, while the second man is from

A Reconsideration of Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.22.3


heaven, a life-giving spirit (1Cor. 15:45-9, referring back to Gen. 2:7) This is, of course, a fundamentally important theme for Irenaeus, especially in the fifth book of Against the Heresies, and particularly clearly in Haer 5.1.3: … just as, from the beginning [ab initio] of our formation [plasmationis] in Adam, the breath of life from God, having been united [unita] to the handiwork [plasmati], animated [animavit] the human being and showed him to be a rational being, so also, at the end [in fine], the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, having become united [adunitus] with the ancient substance of the formation [plasmationis] of Adam, rendered [effecit] the human being living [viventem] and perfect, bearing the perfect Father, in order that just as in the animated we all die, so also in the spiritual we may all be vivified [vivificemur]. For never at any time did Adam escape the Hands of God, to whom the Father speaking, said, ‘Let us make the human being in our image, after our likeness’ [Gen. 1:26]. And for this reason at the end [fine], ‘not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man’ [John 1:13], but by the good pleasure of the Father, his Hands perfected a living human being [vivum perfecerunt hominem], in order that Adam might become in the image and likeness of God.

As with Haer. 3.22.3, this passage is concerned with tying together the end and the beginning, explaining the one by reference to the other. Most important: it is only at the end that the project initiated by God in Gen. 1:26 is realized; the intent of God is only realized eschatologically, not protologically; it is through the economy, the transition from animation by breath to the life given by the Spirit, that the work of God is accomplished. And as Irenaeus explains at length in Haer 5.12, with reference to the same scriptural texts from 1Cor. 15, the breath and the Spirit cannot coexist: it is not simply that a ‘natural’ life is replaced by a ‘supernatural life’, it is, rather, that the breath must be used in a particular manner, ‘treading down earthly desires’, for the handiwork to receive the Spirit. And for this to come about it is, of course, necessary that the animated human being should come into existence. Or, to put it in other terms, the living human being, in the image and likeness of God, is the one who ‘uses’ the mortal breath that animates them, to give their own ‘fiat’ to God’s project, ‘Let us make…’. The living human being that is the glory of God is the martyr, following Christ in his Passion, taking up the cross, to live not for themselves but through self-sacrificial love for their neighbour (cf. Haer. 4.20.7; 5.9.2) 3. The right order of theology With the pedagogical economy lying behind the transition in Haer. 3.22.3 clarified, Irenaeus concludes, or rather states the presupposition, that ‘thatwhich-would-be-saved’ in this fashion must come into existence, so that the Saviour is not something without purpose. The most important point of this assertion is that it makes creation dependent upon the existence of the Saviour, already as Saviour. As paradoxical as this might seem today, attempts to read this passage otherwise do not, as we have seen, work. In fact, as Noorman points



out, Irenaeus is particularly scathing about the Gnostic systems which imply that the existence of that which needs saving calls forth the existence of the Saviour (as is implied by Sagnard’s and de Aldama’s reading).28 Simply put, Jesus Christ does not exist because we need saving; it is because he exists that we are created: ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [αὐτοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν ποίμα, κτισθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ] for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’ (Eph. 2:10; cf. 1Cor. 8:6) and this is accomplished, for Irenaeus, through the long economy that stretches from Adam to Christ, from breath to Spirit, from death to life. It is not satisfactory to treat this passage as anticipating the later debate of whether or not the Incarnation would have happened without the apostasy (as earlier scholarship). Nor is it satisfactory to attempt parse out different aspects of the Incarnation and Passion, to try to differentiate what belongs to God’s ‘original intent’ and what derives from the apostasy, as do Unger/Steenberg, saying that: ‘In the universe that God willed, there was first willed the Word Incarnate, who, because of intervening sin, would not merely be saluans but also liberans’.29 As they say, in the sentence which precedes this: for Irenaeus ‘the order of intention must correspond to the order of execution’. There nothing without purpose in the design of God (Haer. 4.21.3), and this design includes, from the beginning, being caught fast in the belly of the whale to be saved by the sign of Jonah, learning by our experience of death itself whence it is that life comes, and being animated by a mortal breath in which we learn how, by treading down earthly desires, to receive the Spirit who gives eternal light, so that in the end we become ‘in the image and likeness of God’. Creation and salvation are not, then, two distinct economies (or even the latter an ad hoc modification resulting from the apostasy) for Irenaeus: there is only the one economy of the one God, the execution of which corresponds to the intention. Thus, it is as ‘Saviour’ (and not a pre-incarnate subject) that Irenaeus speaks of Christ as ‘creator’, for God’s initial intention is only realized, at the end, through the unfolding of the economy, which has inscribed into it, from the beginning, the transition, through death, from mortality to eternal life, from breath to Spirit – thus joining the end to the beginning. It is this that 3.22.3 presents in a lapidary fashion; it says what it means to say, even if it has not always been read that way.

28 Rolf Noorman, Irenäus also Paulusinterpret, WUNT 2/66 (Tübingen, 1994), 161, n. 292. For instance, Haer. 4.Pr. 3 (cf. 2.19.9): ‘Since they allege that the Creator originated from a defect or apostasy, so have they also taught that Christ and the Holy Spirit were emitted on account of this defect, and that the Saviour was a product of those aeons who were produced from a defect; so that there is nothing but blasphemy to be found among them’. 29 D.J. Unger and M.C. Steenberg, St. Irenaeus (2012), 198.

God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8 Jonatan SIMONS, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia

ABSTRACT Irenaeus refers to ‘same substance’ eighteen times in Against Heresies, and nine of those times occurs in haer. 2.17-8, specifically in reference to God. I argue that, in the context of his argument for God as creator within Book 2 and his argument for a simple God in haer. 2.11-9, his description of God’s powers as eiusdem substantiae with the Father entail equality of status. To give a balanced view, this article first summarises Irenaeus’ other nine usages that do not entail equality of status, before then walking through the argument in haer. 2.17-8 which claims that there is not reduction between God and his powers. Finally, this article compares the argument with haer. 2.13 and demonstrates that the two sections work together to distinguish God from language of materiality. This argument parallels other second-century Christian discussions about God, particularly Ptolemy and Tatian. While not equivalent to fourth century expressions, Irenaeus prohibits a meaning of eiusdem substantiae which allows for reduction or corruption of substance and distinguishes language about God from language about material substance. In haer. 2.17-8, eiusdem substantiae entails equality of status.

Well before the fourth century, the term ὁμοούσιος (in Latin as una substantia or eiusdem substantiae) was already being used in Christian theology. Its importance in Against Heresies has been noted, since of the twenty times ‘same substance’ appears in the second century, eighteen are in Irenaeus.1 Scholars agree that whenever ‘of the same substance’ appears in Irenaeus, or before 250 CE generally, none of these instances are Trinitarian affirmations that the Son is ‘of the same substance’ as the Father.2 Christopher Stead, who is the 1 One is from Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora, one is from the hermetic Poimandres, and the remaining eighteen references in Greek or Latin forms are from Irenaeus. 2 For a helpful summary of scholarship on the second-century background to homoousios, see Beatrice, and for an exhaustive examination of Irenaeus’ usage of homoousios alongside the other usages leading up to Nicaea, see Stead. Orbe simply states, ‘Que yo sepa, el Santo nunca parece haber hablado por cuenta propia – ciertamente no con el término ὁμοούσιος – para significar las relaciones entre el Padre y el Hijo’. Antonio Orbe, Hacia la Primera Teologia de la Procesion del Verbo, 2 vol. (Rome, 1958), II 662; Christopher Stead, Divine Substance (Oxford, 1977); Pier Franco Beatrice, ‘The Word “Homoousios” from Hellenism to Christianity’, Church History

Studia Patristica CIX, 55-65. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



scholarly reference point for this debate, concludes that when Irenaeus describes the creative powers as ‘of the same substance’ with the Father, these ‘allow but do not entail’ equality of status.3 I make the opposite claim. By focusing on haer. 2.17-8, where eiusdem substantiae occurs nine of those eighteen times, I argue that for Irenaeus it does entail an equality of status between the Father and his creative powers because he prohibits the possibility that the creative power could be of a different substance or reduction from the Father. Irenaeus’ usage can be divided into two kinds of comparison: (1) between creation and the creative power or (2) between the creative power and the Father, so after summarizing the first kind of usage, this paper will primarily focus on the second. Although the term ὁμοούσιος was first used by his opponents, I argue that Irenaeus’ usage is more than just a quotation of their position, but it came to support his own theological argument. First, I will summarise how ‘of the same substance’ is used to compare creation and the creative power, a comparison of unequal status, which demonstrates one way Irenaeus applied this term from his opponents.4 The term ὁμοούσιος first appears in Against Heresies when describing his opponents’ position, and secondary scholarship has recognized that the term was originally 71 (2002), 243-72. Beatrice summarises the academic discussion that claims that homoousios primarily comes from the West (see ibid. 246-7, especially n. 8-19), but sides with Hanson, who concludes that the argument for a Western origin is inconclusive. Beatrice also shows the scholarly consensus that the word is originally gnostic (ibid. 248, especially n. 24-33), but only discusses Irenaeus’ usage in this context (see ibid. 249, especially notes 34-8). For the discussion on Irenaeus’ usage of the text, only Stead (1977 and 1994) is cited. Beatrice summarises the texts of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen and eliminates them as options for the Nicaean adoption of homoousius because they are not used in a Trinitarian context, which allows him to argue for a Hermetic background, rather than Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, or Origen. He follows the consensus of secondary scholarship, and argues that when homoousios is used in Origen, it is probably interpolated by Rufinus to prove Origen’s Nicene orthodoxy (see ibid. 250). Similarly, the extant Latin texts describing the Logos and Father being secundum aequalitatem substantiae in Clement’s Hypotyposeis and Tertullian’s usage of una substantia for the Trinity, but consubstantialis or consubstantivus when translating the Gnostic term, prove they were describing one hypostasis but not homoousious (see ibid. 247-50). However, just within the second century, if the Hermetic text of Poimandres was indeed describing God as ‘of the same substance’, and if Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora was exploring the relationship between Father and demiurge as being of a different substance, then homoousios was becoming an important term in Christian discourse. 3 This conclusion is reaffirmed in his more recent German summary. C. Stead, Divine Substance (1977), 201; id., ‘Homoousious’, in RAC (Stuttgart, 1994), 376-8. 4 This study examines ‘of the same substance’ in the context for his terminological usage of eiusdem, altera or simile to describe substance as ‘same’, ‘similar’, or ‘different’. This parallels other second and third century discussions, particularly commentaries on Aristotle’s Categories. For examples, in relation to his discussion on homonymns, synomyms, and analogy, see Porphyry’s commentary On Aristotle’s categories 64.30-3; 65.30-7; 66.18-20. It should be noted that Stead argues that haer. 4.9, the argument has all the parts but is not a consistent application of Aristotle’s categories. See C. Stead, Divine Substance (1977), 201.

God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8


of ‘gnostic’ origin.5 However, rather than oppose the terminology, Irenaeus uses arguments of same, similar, and different substance between creation and creator to support his claims about human resurrection and Christ’s Incarnation. To defend his view of a bodily resurrection, in haer. 2.14.4 and haer. 2.29.1 Irenaeus argues that persons were created with a soul and body, and will be resurrected ‘of the same substance’.6 Irenaeus opposes the claim that every kind of substance exists only in the presence of similar or same substances, thereby implying that material bodies could not remain together with spiritual souls in the resurrection. However in haer. 5.16 Irenaeus argues that the same hand that formed bodies and souls in the beginning will resurrect them in the end, and there is not another substance of our creation (aliam substantiam plasmationis nostrae), but the same creator and the same substance.7 Similarly, to defend his view of recapitulation, Irenaeus argues that the work and body of Christ were ‘of the same substance’ as the work he fulfilled and the body he assumed. For example, in haer. 4.9.1-2, although Christ is greater than the temple, he is nevertheless ‘of the same substance’. Just as water from water, light from light, and grace from grace may differ in size but remain of the same substance, so too Christ’s work is greater because it fulfills the old covenant. However, the old and new Law are comparable because they are ‘of the same substance’ and from one and the same legislator.8 Similarly, in haer. 5.14 Irenaeus states that 5 See haer. 1.5.1. For a summary of scholarly consensus on the ‘gnostic’ origins of homoousios, see P.F. Beatrice, ‘The Word “Homoousios” from Hellenism to Christianity’ (2002), 248, especially n. 24-33. 6 Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. haer. 2.14.4 (SC 294, 136): ‘[Valentinians] attributed to spiritual things their own region in the Fullness, to animal things the middle region, and to the corporeal things the earth. And they affirm that it is not possible for God to do otherwise, but for every single predetermined thing to withdraw to those things which are of the same substance (eiusdem substantiae)’. haer. 2.29.1 (SC 294, 295-6): ‘If indeed all souls (animae) enter into a cool/resting place (in refrigerium) because of substance (propter substantiam), and all souls are [in] the Middle region because of what they are, since they are of the same substance (eiusdem substantiae), it is useless to have faith and the descent of the Saviour was useless’. References to the Latin of Book 2 are from A. Rousseau and L. Doutreleau (eds), Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies, Livre II, SC 294 (Paris, 1982; reprint, 2006, 2013). 7 Haer. 5.16.1 (SC 153, 214): ‘Since there is one and the same Father whose voice from the beginning to the end was present with his creation, and since the substance of our creation (substantia plasmatis nostri) was clearly manifested in the Gospel, then it is not necessary to search for another Father (alium Patrem) beyond this one, nor another substance of our creation (aliam substantiam plasmationis nostrae) beyond the one being preached and demonstrated by the Lord, nor another Hand of God (alteram manum Dei) beyond this one which, from beginning to the end, forms us and prepares us during life, and is present with his creation, and perfects it according to the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26)’. References to the Latin of Book 5 are from A. Rousseau, L. Doutreleau and C. Mercier (eds), Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies, Livre V, SC 153 (Paris, 1969). 8 Haer. 4.9.1-2 (SC 100, 476-86). ‘Therefore, all things are of one and the same substance (Unius … et eiusdem substantiae), that is, from one and the same God … He said, ‘this is [something] greater than the temple’ (Matt. 12:6). ‘Greater’ or ‘less’ is not said about things that have



the Lord Jesus Christ did not take on a different substance, but he recapitulated the same flesh that had been moulded from the dust. In each case, by joining the end with the beginning, he can argue that, what has been created is not so different from a spiritual substance that the two could not coexist.9 These examples are necessary for a correctly balanced view of the theology of Irenaeus, yet in all these examples, he compares creation with creator, two things which he himself claims are unequal status. Irenaeus uses his opponents’ terminology, sometimes to establish his own position that associates creation with its creator, but in haer. 2.17-8 he uses it to defend his view of God as creator, claiming God’s powers, which are responsible for creation, are eiusdem substantiae with the Father. The second way Irenaeus uses eiusdem substantiae is to argue that God’s powers are ‘of the same substance’ with the First Cause, and I claim, of equal status. This usage is the main focus for the remainder of this paper, and is found primarily in haer. 2.17-8, where he repeatedly argues that the Aeons that are emitted from the Father must be ‘of the same substance’ with the Father because what is internally generated (a power of God) must remain constant with who God is.10 haer. 2.17.2 begins by asking what analogy is best for understanding the emission of Aeons, arguing from the lesser to the greater. It will be asked, therefore, how the remaining Aeons were emitted? Were they united to the one who sent them out, like a single ray of the sun; or [were they sent out] actually11 and individually (efficabiliter et partiliter12), so that every single one of them might be separate and have its own form, like a person [coming] from another person or a bull from another bull, or [was it] according to germination, like a branch of a tree? Or did they emerge of the same substance (eiusdem substantiae) with those who sent them, or having a substance from another kind of substance (ex altera quadam substantia nothing in common with each other nor things that are of a contrary nature and things that are fighting against each other, but about things that are of the same substance (eiusdem … substantiae) and things that share (communicant) with each other, but they differ only in size and greatness, as water with water and light with light and grace with grace (aqua ab aqua et lumen a lumine et gratia a gratia)…’ References to the Latin of Book 4 are from A. Rousseau (ed.), Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies, Livre IV, 2 vol., SC 100 (Paris, 1965). 9 Haer. 5.14.2-3 (SC 153, 186-92). ‘Now if the Lord became incarnate for some other Economy and brought flesh from another substance (ex altera substantia), then he did not recapitulate humanity in himself’. See Matthew Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption, Supplements to VC 91 (Leiden, 2008). 10 Antonio Orbe sumarises Irenaeus’ logic, stating that an interior generation of Aeons could not have a qualitative degeneration when revealed to something exterior (extra se). A. Orbe, Hacia la Primera Teologia de la Procesion del Verbo (1958), II 635-6. 11 Rousseau wants to back-translate this as ἀποτελέω (produce/render/complete/finish), and use it in its adverbial form ἀποτελεστικῶς. Rousseau also links this work with 2.28.3, where the Greek of this adverbial form is transliterated in the Latin text (SC 294, 158; SC 294, 276; SC 293, 266-7). The Latin word appears again in haer. 2.17.3. 12 Harvey notes that while two editions understand efficabiliter et partiliter as ποιητικῶς καὶ μεριστῶς, he prefers ἐνεργῶς καὶ χωριστὼς with ‘ἐνεργῶς being to δυνατῶς as esse is to posse’ (Hv 1.307), n. 1.

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substantiam habentes)? And were they emitted at the same time, so they are the same age, or according to some kind of order, so that some would be older and others younger? And [was it] simple and uniform and entirely equal and similar to itself (simplices … et uniformes et undique sibi aequales et similes), like Spirit and Light were emitted, or [was it] composite and different, dissimilar in its members (compositi et differentes, dissimiles membris suis).13

First he asks whether divine generation is more comparable to a ray of light, animal or human generation, or a branch from a tree, then he asks whether the emission resulted in something of the same or different substance, then whether there was a temporal separation or if it was instantaneous, and lastly, if the generation was simple, equal and similar, or whether it was composite, dissimilar, and different. His argument seems to divide everything into two categories (united or separate). Irenaeus then claims (in haer. 2.17.3) that if the Father is impassible, but passion existed in any of the Aeons, then the emission of Aeons would be of a different substance, composite, and dissimilar, which is more like human generation than spiritual emission.14 However, if Word and Mind were emitted, it would be more comparable to light: If the Aeons were kindled by Word like light from light, [then] Word from Mind, and Mind from Depth – like torches from a torch for example – they may perhaps differ one from another in generation and in greatness, but since they are of the same substance (eiusdem … substantiae) with the originator of their emission, either all remain impassible, or the Father himself will participate in passion.15

After illustrating this generation through light and a torch, he then argues that for light this can imply a difference in size (magnitudine), though they 13 Haer. 2.17.2 (SC 294, 156). Quaeretur igitur, quemadmodum emissi sunt reliqui Aeones ? Vtrum uniti ei qui emiserit, quemadmodum a sole radii, an efficabiliter et partiliter, uti sit unusquisque eorum separatim et suam figurationem habens, quemadmodum ab homine homo et a pecude pecus, aut secundum germinationem, quemadmodum ab arbore rami ? Et utrum eiusdem substantiae exsistebant his qui se emiserunt, an ex altera quadam substantia substantiam habentes? Et utrum in eodem emissi sunt, ut eiusdem temporis essent sibi, an secundum ordinem quendam, ita ut antiquiores quidam ipsorum, alii uero iuueniores essent ? Et utrum simplices quidam et uniformes et undique sibi aequales et similes, quemadmodum spiritus et lumina emissa sunt, an compositi et differentes, dissimiles membris suis? For simplices, Rousseau backtranslated ἁπλοῖ and links the ὁμοιμελής from 2.13.3 with this last line using ἀναμοιομελεῖς, and suggests looking at F. Sagnard, La Gnose valentinienne et le Témoignage de Saint Irénée (Paris, 1947), 97-8 (SC 293, 267). 14 Haer. 2.17.3 (SC 294, 158-60). ‘But if every single one of them was effectively (efficabiliter) emitted according to its birth, like a human, either the generations of the Father (generationes Patris) will be of the same substance (eiusdem substantiae) as he, and similar to the generator, or if they seem to be dissimilar, it is necessary to have acknowledged that they are from another kind of substance (ex altera quadam substantia)’. 15 Haer. 2.17.4 (SC 294, 160). Si autem, uelut a lumine lumina accensa sunt, Aeones a Logo, Logos autem a Nu et Nus a Bytho – uelut, uerbi gratia, a facula faculae –, generatione quidem et magnitudine fortasse distabunt ab inuicem, eiusdem autem substantiae cum sint cum principe emissionis ipsorum, aut omnes impassibiles perseuerant, aut et Pater ipsorum participabit passiones.



are of the same substance (eiusdem … substantiae), for light remains contemporaneous in its material substance16 even if it is lighted afterward.17 Likewise, Irenaeus insists that while stars may differ in brightness (claritate) (citing 1Cor. 15:41), they do not differ according to quality or substance (secundum qualitatem neque secundum substantiam), illustrating his opponents’ two options: either Aeons share in the impassibile and unchangeable substance of the Father, or the Father is passible and changeable.18 Irenaeus even engages the imagery of a branch emerging from a tree or fingers completing a hand (in haer. 2.17.6) alongside the imagery of a ray of light (in haer. 2.17.7), and claims that either way, each (that is the branch, hand or ray) is of the same substance as the source (eiusdem … substantiae) and not of a different nature (naturam), though it be of a different size (magnitudinem).19 However, in haer. 2.18, the argument for equality becomes even more specific than metaphors allow, for while two torches or fingers in a hand may differ in size, in haer. 2.18.5, Irenaeus argues that God’s powers cannot be reduced or demoted. In haer. 2.18.5 Irenaeus specifies that reduction/demotion (demutationem) is prohibited in discourse about God, so God and his powers cannot be of unequal status. What is similar will not be dissolved into nothing in something similar, nor will it be in danger of being destroyed, but rather will remain and increase, in the same manner as fire in fire and spirit in spirit and water in water (ignis in igne, et spiritus in spiritu, et aqua in aqua), but things that are opposed suffer from their opposition and are altered and destroyed… If, therefore, this Aeon had been sent out from the collective Fullness of its same substance (eiusdem substantiae), she would never have undergone demotion/corruption (demutationem), since she would be abiding with what is similar and familiar to her, spiritual in spiritual (spiritalis in spiritalibus)… But they [Valentinians] seem to me to give his Aeon the passion [of a character] who is both very loving and full of hate from the writings of the comic Menander.20 They 16 In the commentators of Plato and Aristotle, while Plato compared light with fire, suggesting it to be corporeal (see Tim. 45B-D, 58C), Aristotle held that light was incorporeal (see De anima 2.7, 418b9-16; 419a11). It seems likely that Irenaeus had this discussion in mind because (1) he compares light and fire almost interchangeably, (2) he describes two torches according to the same substance of matter (secundum substantiam materiae idem) in haer. 2.17.4 and (3) he engages the idea of instantaneous diffusion of light, which is also prominent in this debate. For comparison, see Richard Sorabji, The Philosophy of the Commentators 200-600 AD, 3 vol. (Ithaca, NY, 2005), II 274-89. 17 Haer. 2.17.4 (SC 294, 160). 18 Haer. 2.17.5 (SC 294, 162). In dial. 61.3, Justin describes the logos that is not diminished, but the in dial. 128.2-5 he argues that the ray is a diminished substance from the source, and seems to link this metaphor of emission of light with the emission of a voice in dial. 61.2. 19 Haer. 2.17.6 (SC 294, 162-4). 20 From Menander’s play Misoumenos. See Unger’s helpful note in D.J. Unger, rev. J.J. Dillon (ed.), St. Irenaeus of Lyons against Heresies, Book 2, ACW 65 (New York, 2012), 139, n. 5.

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had more of an understanding and mental conception of someone who had misfortune in love, than of a spiritual and divine substance (spiritalis et diuinae substantiae).21

In this section, he argues that spiritual things of the same substance (eiusdem substantiae) are not destroyed or reduced by proximity to one another, and illustrates this with similar things in one another (simile est in simili) like fire in fire and spirit in spirit and water in water (ignis in igne, et spiritus in spiritu, et aqua in aqua). Just as fire alongside another fire will remain and increase (perseuerabit et augescet), in this same way, Aeons, which are emitted like light from the Father, are never in danger of demotion/reduction (numquam demutationem perciperet). To sum up Irenaeus’ logic, if the Father is perfect and if things of same or similar nature do not decrease or destroy one another, then Irenaeus concludes that God’s creative powers are ‘of the same substance’ with the Father. In both his terminology and his clarified illustrations he prohibits a demotion or reduction of the creative power. Irenaeus concludes haer. 2.18.5 by arguing that the logical fallacy of his opponents’ cosmology is that they have applied the illustration of material generation to the divine, and thereby try to explain spiritual and divine substance (spiritalis et diuinae substantiae) through their understanding of humans. My argument, that the creative power is ‘of the same substance’ as the Father means equality of status, is bolstered if haer. 2.17-8 is read in context of the larger argument, which spans haer. 2.11-9, in particular, alongside his discussion of a God who is simple and without parts introduced in haer. 2.13.22 Reading these arguments side-by-side demonstrates how his usage of eiusdem substantiae in haer. 2.18.5 fits within the larger argument. Two notes briefly substantiate the reading of these two sections of texts as a continuous argument. (1) At a terminological level, Irenaeus first prohibits the demotion/reduction of substance (secundum substantiae demutationem) in haer. 2.13.2 which is then reaffirmed here in haer. (2) The 21 Haer. 2.18.5 (SC 294, 178-80). Quod enim simile est in simili non dissoluetur in nihilum neque perire periclitabitur, sed magis perseuerabit et augescet, quemadmodum ignis in igne, et spiritus in spiritu, et aqua in aqua; quae autem sunt contraria a contrariis patiuntur et uertuntur et exterminantur… Si igitur eiusdem substantiae cuius et uniuersum Pleroma ex eo emissus fuisset hic Aeon, numquam demutationem perciperet, cum esset in similibus et adsuetis conuersans, spiritalis in spiritalibus… Sed mihi uidentur eius passionem qui est apud comicum Menandrum ualde amans et odibilis Aeoni suo circumdedisse : magis enim infeliciter amantis cuiusdam hominis apprehensionem et mentis conceptiotionem habuerunt qui haec finxerunt, quam spiritalis et diuinae substantiae. 22 Behr delineates this section as haer. 2.11-9, while Rousseau amd Donovan do so as haer. 2.12-9, but this difference does not change my argument for haer. 2.13 and 2.17-8 being part of the same argument. A. Rousseau, SC 294, 370; Mary Ann Donovan, One Right Reading? (Collegeville, MN, 1997), 51-2; John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (Oxford, 2013), 87. 23 Haer. 2.13.2 (SC 294, 112). ‘To illustrate, the human body, which is at one time young, then mature, and then old, it receives titles according to development and progress, but not according to reduction of substance (substantiae demutationem) nor according to the loss of body’.



Armenian collection on the ‘Rule of Faith’ from the 7th century made a cento of Irenaean texts that placed the argument of haer. 2.13 alongside 2.18.5, suggesting that early readers of Irenaeus also saw these texts in parallel.24 In this final section, the arguments of haer. 2.13 and 2.17-8 are read alongside one another to show that their mutual usage of the metaphors of light and fire, and their congruent limitations on the language of divinity each supports the claim that God’s powers are not to be understood in terms of reduction. The first parallel is seen in the way Irenaeus argues against an inappropriate application of the metaphors of human thought and speech to divine activity. In haer. 2.13.3-4, while his opponents have applied the metaphor of a human spoken word to God, separating His Wisdom, Intention, and Mind into individual powers, Irenaeus argues that God is actually simple and without parts, and so He is all thought, all mind, etc., through his oftused citation of Xenophanes, who argues against anthropomorphic deities.25 Similarly, here in haer. 2.18.5, because they use a human metaphor of generation, his opponents have a description of a human generation more than of a spiritual and divine substance (spiritalis et diuinae substantiae), and they describe the generated powers of God as of an inferior substance and separated from God. In both instances, Irenaeus’ point is that human metaphors are not adequate parallels for understanding God’s powers or God generating. However, it is not only human metaphors that are less than adequate for understanding God, for even the analogy of light has limitations. In haer. 2.13.4, after introducing the simple God who is all light and all spirit (cf. haer. 2.28.5), he qualifies what can be meant by light. ‘It is most right to call him Light, but in no way similar to what is light according to us’.26 Similarly, in the argument of haer. 2.17-8, Irenaeus shows that while in the metaphor the two torches or the sun and its rays may differ in size (magnitudinem), God’s powers are not reduced by each other. In this case, language about the creator is distinct from language about creation. I have argued that eiusdem substantiae, in haer. 2.17-8, entails an equality of status between the generated creative power and the Father which does not permit demotion/reduction, particularly if read as a continuous argument from 24 See fragment 10 in Hermann Jordan (ed.), Armenische Irenaeusfragmente mit deutscher Übersetzung nach Dr. W. Lüdtke, TU 36.3 (Leipzig, 1913), 8-21. The link between these two sections of arguments in the Armenian, particularly to defend his backtranslation of Greek, is examined by Rousseau in A. Rousseau and L. Doutreleau (eds), Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies, Livre II, SC 293 (1982; reprint, 2006, 2013), 108-9, 272-4. The three sections quoted are haer. 2.12.5, 2.18.5, and 2.25.1. Fragment 10, places haer. 2.12.5 alongside haer. 4.35.2. 25 Frag. 24, οὖλος ὁρᾷ, οὖλος δὲ νοεῖ, οὖλος δέ τ’ἀκούει. Herman Diels (ed.), Xenophanes: Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Berlin, 1952), 135; J.H. Lesher (ed.), Xenophanes: Fragments (Toronto, 1992), 31. For a summary of Eliatic, and specifically Xenophanes’ larger theological argument, see J.E. Raven, G.S. Kirk and M. Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2007), 168-76. Some version of this line is referenced in haer. 1.12.2; 2.13.3; 2.13.8; 2.28.4; 2.28.5; and 4.11.2. 26 Haer. 2.13.4 (SC 294, 116)

God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8


haer. 2.13. However, after showing how this conversation fits within secondcentury Christian discourse, two problems require attention before a conclusion can be reached. The first problem to understanding Irenaeus’ usage of eiusdem substantiae arises from other similar second century arguments. Irenaeus’ argument fits with other second century examples, including characters who are explicitly opposed in Against Heresies. For example, Tatian’s describes the Word springing forth from God’s will of simplicity (ἁπλότητος) like light or fire that is not diminished.27 Similarly, in the Letter to Flora, Ptolemy argues that the simple and unbegotten Father did not generate a Demiurge of a similar or same essence (τὰ ὅμοια ἐαυτῷ καὶ ὁμοούσια), but of a different essence (ἀνομοούσιοι).28 While not arguing that Irenaeus is answering these particular texts, this kind of description of God was prominent in parallel second-century discussions about God generating and creating. However, while Irenaeus prohibits reduction, and therefore unequal status, the meaning of substantia is not completely clear, which is a problem for this paper. In similar discussions on Tertullian, scholars have shown that ‘substance’ refers, not to its species or genus, but to the stuff or material from which it is made. Thus, by defining substantia with materiality, Tertullian’s reading of the term though a Stoic lens opposes a Monarchian reading of the term through the lens of Aristotle’s Categories.29 However, these are not the only two options when reading Irenaeus. While Irenaeus has been accused of Monarchianism, he often describes God’s name and powers as mutually entailing (coabaudiuntur in haer. 2.13.8) and God’s Word always coexisting with the Father (coexistens in haer. 2.30.9), both of which suggest distinction amidst unity.30 On the other hand he does not 27 See dial. 128.2-5 and orat. 5. In dial. 61.3, Justin describes the logos that is not diminished, but the in dial. 128.2-5 he argues that the ray is a diminished substance from the source, and seems to link this metaphor of emission of light with the emission of a voice in dial. 61.2. Tatian uses this same imagery in orat. 5, so that what is taken is not reduced. If, Crawford is right, and Tatian denies a logos with an independent existence, then Irenaeus’ view would include the idea of simple generation and prohibit a diminishing, and would oppose a cutting or separating of the logos that would imply parts, but would still retain a distinction between logos and Father. See Matthew Crawford, ‘The Problemata of Tatian: Recovering the fragments of a SecondCentury Christian Intellectual’, JECS 67 (2016), 542-75, 553-4. Tatian’s orat. 5.1 states, θελήματι δὲ τῆς ἁπλότητος αὐτοῦ προπηδᾷ λόγος. See Molly Whittaker (ed.), Tatian: Oratio Ad Graecos and fragments (Oxford, 1982), 10-1. Many thanks to Dr. Matthew Crawford bringing these texts in Justin and Tatian to my attention. For a discussion, in relation to Irenaeus, see Luis M. Mendizábal, ‘El Homoousios Preniceno Extraeclesiástico’, Estudios Eclesiásticos 30 (1956), 179-84. 28 Ep. 7.7-8 (SC 24, 70-2). See G. Quispel (ed.), Ptolemy: Lettre à Flora, SC 24 (Paris, 1966). 29 See Prax. 2. Though dated, Stead is still the reference point for this discussion with Tertullian. See Christopher Stead, ‘Divine Substance in Tertullian’, Journal of Theological Studies 14 (1963), 46-66. 30 R. Hübner, ‘Heis Theos Jesous Christos. Zum Christlichen Gottesglauben im 2. Jahrhundert Ein Versuch’, Münchner theologische Zeitschrift 47 (1966), 325-74, 343. Hermann Josef Vogt, ‘Monarchianismus im 2. Jahrhundert’, ThQ 179 (1999), 237-59, 254. Wilhelm Bousset is the usual



echo Tertullian’s definition of substantia with matter, for in both haer. 2.13 and 2.17-8 Irenaeus explicitly differentiates language about God and language about human generation, human words, and material light, so whatever he means by substantia, it is not material.31 Irenaeus is addressing the usage of homoousios by opponents,32 so in this case, a polarisation of Stoicism and middle Platonism does not sufficiently answer what ‘substance’ means for Irenaeus. In this case, this article stops at what Irenaeus cannot mean by eiusdem substantiae, namely a reduction or a material substance. The second problem is equally important, though less convoluted. An astute reader of Irenaeus will note that my entire argument depends on Book 2, which exists, almost entirely only in Latin, so the question arises: is this Irenaeus’ view, or just that of a translator? While that challenge cannot be conclusively answered with the existing manuscripts, I believe that the larger argument in Book 2 makes a simple interpolation from a Latin translator highly improbable, and because it fits within second-century debates, this begs the question of those who want to blame a translator for its presence in the text. Thus, this work builds on secondary scholarship, such as the new work by Briggman, which studies Irenaeus’ principles of divine generation alongside Irenaeus’ simple God, thereby distinguishing between Father and Son without jeopardizing unity.33 This study pushes further, arguing that Irenaeus used the language of ‘same substance’ to argue for equality of status. While Irenaeus never says that the Word and Wisdom were of the same substance with the Father, nor precisely what ‘same substance’ means, Irenaeus has certainly closed the door for describing the powers of God as being of a different or starting point for the scholarly lineage that suggests that Irenaeus and his theology agree with Monarchianism. W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos: Geschichte des Christusglaubens von den Anfängen des Christentums bis Irenaeus (Göttingen, 1926). Their discussion starts precisely from haer. 2.17, where Irenaeus says ‘Nous is Father and Father is Nous’ and that Mind and Word were emitted from the Father, where he does not clarify whether Father and Nous are indistinguishable or inseparable. However, if read in the context of haer. 2.13, it seems to be the latter, where he argues against separation of God’s powers, but rather they are mutually entailing (see haer. 2.13.8), suggesting distinction. Furthermore, he answer the question of time by showing that the Father’s powers are always assisting him (semper ei adsistentes), which echoes his later statement that Word is always coexisting with the Father in haer. 2.30. 31 Since 1936, scholars often reference Prestige’s reading, where the term in Irenaeus generally means ‘of the same stuff’. G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London, 1936; repr., 1952, 1964, 1977), 197; C. Stead, Divine Substance (1977), 191. 32 For a summary of gnostic usages of light and fire imagery, followed by later Stoic (Censorinus) and forerunners of Neoplatonism (Numenius and Iamblichus), see L.M. Mendizábal, ‘El Homoousios Preniceno Extraeclesiástico’ (1956), 178, n. 87-9. 33 For Briggman, the three principles are (1) ‘the substance possessed by a source and its produce is one and the same’ (page 133), (2) ‘when it comes to the production of a simple substance the substance of a product cannot be temporally differentiated from the substance of its source’ (page 134), and (3) ‘the product remains united to its source’ (page 135). See Anthony Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus (Oxford, 2019), 121ff.

God and eiusdem substantiae in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.17-8


reduced substance.34 His dependence on the term ‘of same substance’ preserves the connection between Father and Demiurge, and between Demiurge and creation, so that elsewhere he can make his famous arguments for the Hands of God. Irenaeus does not explain substance precisely, and while ‘same substance’ is elsewhere used of created matter, here in haer. 2.17-8 he differentiates language about God from language about created material. His usage of ‘same substance’ elsewhere for created matter does not disprove this immaterial sense of ‘substance’ in haer. 2.17-8. When ‘of the same substance’ compares creator and creation, it entails an inequality of status, but when he argues for a generated creative power having the same substance as the Father without a reduction or division, it entails an equality of status through a language that is particular to divine substance.

34 Later in Book 4, he states that those who see the Word see ‘light within light (lumen intra lumen) … they are seeing God within God (Deum intra Deum)’, haer. 4.20.5 (SC 100, 638-42). Quemadmodum enim videntes lumen intra lumen sunt et claritatem ejus percipiunt, sic et qui vident Deum intra Deum sunt, percipientes ejus claritatem; Ὥσπερ οἱ βλέποντες τὸ φῶς ἐντός εἰσι τοῦ φωτὸς καὶ τῆς λαμπρότητος αὐτοῦ μετέχουσιν, οὕτως οἱ βλέποντες τὸν Θεὸν ἐντός εἰσι τοῦ Θεοῦ.




L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon Ysabel DE ANDIA, Director of Research, CNRS France, retired, Paris, France

ABSTRACT De qui l’homme est-il l’image ? Qu’est-ce qui, en l’homme, est à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu ? Quelle est la différence entre l’image et la ressemblance ? La réponse d’Irénée est inséparable de sa critique des gnostiques en particulier de leur conception de la nature et de la liberté. Cette communication sur un point central de l’anthropologie d’Irénée veut aussi mettre en lumière l’apport des études d’Antonio Orbe sur ce sujet. Of whom is man the image? What is it, in man, that is in the image and likeness of God? What is the difference between image and likeness? Irenaeus’ answer is inseparable from his criticism of the Gnostics, particularly their conception of nature and freedom. This paper on a central point of Irenaeus’ anthropology also wishes to highlight the contribution of Antonio Orbe’s studies on this subject.

Introduction S’interroger sur l’homme fait à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu,1 c’est se demander qu’est-ce qui en l’homme est « image » de Dieu : le spirituel seul ? ou le spirituel et le charnel ? C’est aussi se demander de qui l’homme est-il l’image : de Dieu ? du Verbe incarné ou du Christ dans son corps ressuscité et glorieux ? Ce débat doit être replacé vis-à-vis des gnostiques qui distinguent trois hommes : l’homme charnel, qui par nature est voué à la mort, l’homme psychique, doué d’un libre arbitre tel qu’il peut choisir d’aller vers la chair ou l’Esprit, et l’homme spirituel ou pneumatique, consubstantiel au Plérôme spirituel, qui est sauvé par nature, ce qui exclut le devenir ou le choix. C’est donc la définition de l’homme spirituel qui est en jeu. Nous nous demanderons tout d’abord, quelle définition Irénée donne-il de l’image et de la ressemblance ? Ensuite, comment sont-elles restaurées par l’incarnation du Verbe ? Et enfin, quelle définition de l’homme en résulte. 1

Antonio Orbe, Antropología de San Ireneo, BAC 286 (Madrid, 1969), cap. 4: ‘A imagen de Dios’, cap. 5: ‘A semejanza de Dios’, 89-148; Ysabel de Andia, Homo vivens. Incorruptibilité et divinisation de l’homme selon Irénée de Lyon (Paris, 1986), 68-74.

Studia Patristica CIX, 69-79. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



I. Définition de l’image et de la ressemblance (Gen. 1:26)2 Irénée envisage la définition de l’image et de la ressemblance sous deux points de vue, celui de la nature et du devenir, ensuite de la raison et de la liberté. Tout d’abord la nature et le devenir Dans deux textes du livre V, Irénée place l’image et la ressemblance comme un « privilège originel de l’homme » : « le privilège originel de l’homme qui est d’avoir été fait à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu » (V 2.1) dans la « nature primitive de l’homme » (Adv. haer. V 10.1). Inversement la perte de la ressemblance par le péché est « contre nature » (V 1.1). D’autre part, Irénée considère que l’image et la ressemblance sont en devenir depuis la création de l’homme par les « Mains de Dieu », à savoir le Verbe et l’Esprit, jusqu’à « la fin » dans son accomplissement par ces mêmes « Mains de Dieu » qui l’ont créé, selon « le bon plaisir du Père » (Adv. haer. V 1.3). Cependant la vie de « l’homme vivant » n’est pas la même au « début » et « à la fin »3, car, entre la création et la rédemption, il y a le péché d’Adam, qui entraîne la perte de l’image et de la ressemblance et la mort ou la corruption ; alors qu’à la fin, la vie redonnée à l’homme est l’incorruptibilité. C’est ce que souligne Irénée au livre IV : Ainsi fallait-il que d’abord apparût cette nature, qu’ensuite que ce qui est mortel fût vaincu et englouti par l’immortalité et ce qui est corruptible par l’incorruptibilité, et que l’homme devînt ainsi à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu, après avoir reçu la connaissance du bien et du mal (Adv. haer. IV 38.4).

Le « devenir » de l’homme est donc une progression de l’imparfait au parfait ou du créé à l’incréé. L’objection des gnostiques est celle de l’imperfection de l’homme en devenir : « Dieu n’eût-il pu faire l’homme parfait dès le commencement ? » (IV 38.1). Ce qui est visé, c’est l’incapacité ou l’impuissance du Dieu créateur. La réponse d’Irénée se fonde sur la distinction du créé et de l’Incréé. La perfection est celle de l’Incréé, or l’homme nouvellement créé (nuper factus est)4 ne peut recevoir cette perfection. Il est comme un petit enfant qui 2 Voir Arnold Strucker, Gottebenbildlichkeit des Menschen in der christlichen Literatur der ersten zwei Jahrhunderte. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Exegese von Genesis 1,26 (Münster, 1913); Erik Peterson, ‘L’imagine di Dio in S. Ireneo’, La Scuola Cattolica 69 (1941), 46-54; Hubert Merki, Homoiosis Theô. Von der platonischen Angleichung an Gott zur Gottähnlichkeit bei Gregor von Nyssa (Freiburg in der Schweiz, 1952). 3 Voir aussi Adv. haer. IV 28.4 : « C’est pourquoi, durant tout ce temps, l’homme modelé au commencement par les Mains de Dieu, je veux dire par le Fils et par l’Esprit, devint à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu…». 4 A. Orbe, ‘Homo nuper factus est (en torno a San Ireneo Adv. haer. IV 38.1)’, Gregorianum 46 (1965), 481-544 ; id., ‘Del hombre imperfecto al hombre perfecto en San Ireneo’, dans Crescita dell’uomo nella Catechesi dei Padri, éd. S. Felici, Biblioteca di Scienze Religiose 78 (Roma, 1987), 103-25.

L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon


ne peut recevoir une nourriture au-dessus de son âge, c’est pourquoi le « Verbe de Dieu, alors qu’il était parfait s’est fait petit enfant avec (coinfans) l’homme, non pour lui-même, mais à cause de l’état d’enfance où était l’homme, afin d’être saisi selon que l’homme était capable de le saisir » (Adv. haer. IV 38.2). La « croissance » ou la « progression » de l’homme est considérée dans l’économie du salut selon un « ordre » ou un « rythme » qui va de l’imparfait au parfait ou du créé à l’Incréé (Adv. haer. IV 38.3). Cet « ordre » (taxis) ou ce « rythme » de l’acheminement de l’homme vers Dieu est lui-même trinitaire : « le Père décide et commande, le Fils exécute et modèle, l’Esprit nourrit et fait croître ». La croissance est attribuée à l’Esprit et l’homme doit respecter « le temps de la croissance » (tempus augmenti) (IV 38.4). La progression de l’homme dépend aussi de la liberté de l’homme, « dans sa générosité, Dieu a fait les hommes maîtres d’eux-mêmes à sa ressemblance » (IV 38.4). Non seulement Dieu comble l’homme de tous ses dons, mais il lui donne également le « libre-arbitre » par lequel il peut accepter ou refuser tous ses dons. La raison et la liberté La ressemblance de l’homme avec Dieu implique la liberté, comme nous venons de le dire, mais aussi la raison. 1) À propos du jugement dernier où le Christ « rassemblera le froment dans son grenier, quant à la paille, il la brûlera au feu qui ne s’éteint pas » (Matt. 3:1112 // Luc 3:16-7), Irénée déclare : « L’homme est raisonnable et, par-là, semblable à Dieu ; créé libre et maître de ses actes, il est pour lui-même cause qu’il devient tantôt froment et tantôt paille…» (Adv. haer. IV 4.3). Cependant si l’homme, « créé raisonnable, rejette la droite raison pour mener une vie de brute », il sera alors justement « frappé d’exclusion ». 2) D’autre part la raison suppose la liberté de l’homme5 : « Dieu a fait l’homme libre, possédant dès le commencement sa propre faculté de décision, tout comme sa propre âme pour user du conseil de Dieu volontairement (habentem suam potestatem sicut et suam animam, ad utendum sententia Dei voluntarie) et sans être contraint par celui-ci » (Adv. haer. IV 37.1). Dieu fait connaître le bien par le « bon conseil » qu’il donne à tous. Il semble que ce « bon conseil » tienne la place, chez Irénée de la conscience du bien et du mal. « Consilium bonum », ou « bona sententia » : Dieu présente à l’homme sa volonté, il ne l’impose pas. Il donne ce « conseil » à tous (consilium bonum dat omnibus), et non à certains seulement, aux hommes « spirituels » et non aux hommes « corporels », comme le pensent les gnostiques. 5

Roger Berthouzoz, Liberté et grâce (Fribourg, Suisse, 1980), 210-4.



Tout ce petit traité sur la liberté au livre IV de l’Adversus haereses (IV 37.139,4) est dirigé contre les gnostiques pour qui « c’est par nature que les uns sont mauvais et les autres bons » (IV 37.2), – les « mauvais », pensent-ils, sont de nature corporelle ou matérielle et les « bons », de nature pneumatique ou spirituelle –, alors que, dit Irénée, Dieu a créé tous les hommes « de même nature, capables de garder et de faire le bien, capables aussi de le rejeter et de ne pas le faire » (IV 37.2). L’erreur des gnostiques c’est de penser la nature sans la liberté. L’homme est libre dans ses actes « puisque Dieu ne le contraint pas » (Adv. haer. IV 37.4) et, par conséquent, dans sa foi : « Mais ce n’est pas seulement dans les actes, mais jusque dans la foi, que le Seigneur a sauvegardé la liberté de l’homme et la maîtrise qu’il a de lui-même (liberum et suae potestatis arbitrium hominis) : “Qu’il te soit fait selon ta foi” (Matt. 9:29), dit-il déclarant ainsi que la foi dépend en propre à l’homme par là-même que celui-ci possède sa décision en propre » (Adv. haer. IV 37.5). L’homme est libre et, par-là, il ressemble à Dieu qui est souverainement libre : « Mais l’homme est libre dans sa décision depuis le commencement – car Dieu aussi est libre dans sa décision, lui à la ressemblance de qui l’homme a précisément été fait – : aussi, en tout temps, lui est-il donné le conseil de garder le bien, ce qui s’accomplit par l’obéissance envers Dieu » (Adv. haer. IV 37.4). C’est par son « obéissance envers Dieu » et par sa « libre décision » (liberae sententiae) que l’homme garde la ressemblance à Dieu dans laquelle il a été fait. II. Adam-Le Christ. L’image de l’Image Or c’est parce qu’il a été créé libre que l’homme a pu désobéir à Dieu en mangeant du fruit défendu et sa désobéissance a entraîné sa mort et la perte de l’image et de la ressemblance. Cependant ce qu’Adam a perdu par le péché, il l’a regagné grâce au Christ. C’est dans la relation d’Adam et du Christ que la perte et la restauration de l’image de Dieu dans l’homme est maintenant envisagée. Perte de l’image et de la ressemblance par le péché d’Adam L’image et la ressemblance de Dieu, qu’Adam avait perdue par son péché, il la recouvre dans le Christ. « Lorsque [le Fils de Dieu] s’est incarné et s’est fait homme, il a récapitulé en lui-même la longue histoire des hommes et nous a procuré le salut en raccourci, de sorte que, ce que nous avions perdu en Adam, c’est-à-dire d’être à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu, nous le recouvrions dans le Christ Jésus » (Adv. haer. III 18.1). La « récapitulation » (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις) est la reprise du commencement, Adam, dans la fin, Jésus-Christ, et cette récapitulation se fait sous un seul Chef ou une seule Tête (κεφαλή, caput), le Christ lui-même, qui procure à Adam le « salut en raccourci ». Le Christ est

L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon


homme et Dieu, « homme, afin d’être éprouvé » ou tenté comme Adam, « Verbe, afin d’être glorifié » (III 19.3). Le Christ se faisant homme « s’est fait à la ressemblance de la chair du péché, pour condamner le péché et, ainsi condamné, l’expulser de la chair, et, d’autre part pour appeler l’homme à lui devenir semblable, l’assignant ainsi pour imitateur à Dieu » (III 20.2). C’est par l’imitatio Dei que l’homme redevient à la ressemblance du Verbe qui est Dieu. Donc c’est parce que le Verbe s’est fait semblable à Adam en s’incarnant dans une chair de péché qu’Adam a pu redevenir à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu en devenant semblable au Verbe. La récapitulation d’Adam par le Christ (qui fait l’objet d’une section du livre III 21.10 à III 23.8), exige la « similitude d’une génération identique » : Si le premier Adam a été pris de la terre et modelé par le Verbe de Dieu, il fallait que ce même Verbe, effectuant en lui-même la récapitulation d’Adam, possédât la similitude d’une génération identique. – Mais alors, objectera-ton, pourquoi Dieu n’a-t-il pas pris de nouveau du limon et a fait sortir de Marie l’ouvrage qu’il modelait ? – Pour qu’il n’y eut pas un autre ouvrage modelé et que ce ne fût pas un autre ouvrage qui fût sauvé, mais que celui-là même fût récapitulé, du fait que serait sauvegardé la similitude en question (Adv. haer. III 21.10).

Dieu ne modèle pas à nouveau Adam, mais le Verbe récapitule Adam en prenant chair de Marie. Le nouvel Adam a eu une vraie naissance humaine. Ils sont donc dans l’erreur ceux qui disent que le Christ n’a rien reçu de la Vierge, parlant de la sorte afin de rejeter l’héritage de la chair, mais rejetant du même coup la similitude. Si, en effet, Adam a reçu son modelage et sa substance de la terre par la main et l’art de Dieu (Job 10:8), et si, de son côté, le Christ ne les a pas reçus de Marie par cet art de Dieu, on ne pourra plus dire que le Christ ait gardé la similitude de cet homme qui fut fait à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu, et l’Artisan apparaîtra comme manquant de suite, faute d’avoir un objet en lequel il puisse faire preuve de son savoir-faire (Adv. haer. III 22.1).

C’est par sa naissance de Marie que le Christ est semblable à Adam modelé de la substance de la terre par l’art de Dieu. Le Christ a reçu de Marie la « substance de sa chair » et il s’est fait cela même que nous sommes, car il est vraiment homme et n’a pas seulement l’apparence d’un homme, comme le pensent les Docètes. Le Christ et Marie sont le nouvel Adam et la nouvelle Ève. Enfin le salut d’Adam montre que « l’art de Dieu » n’a pas été tenu en échec par le péché de l’homme : Il était donc indispensable que, venant vers la brebis perdue, récapitulant une si grande économie et recherchant son propre ouvrage par lui modelé, le Seigneur sauvât cet homme-là même qui avait été fait à son image et à sa ressemblance (Gen. 1:26), c’est-à-dire Adam, lorsque celui-ci aurait accompli le temps de sa condamnation due à la désobéissance – ce temps que le Père avait fixé en sa puissance (voir Luc 19:10), puisque toute l’économie du salut de l’homme se déroulait selon le bon plaisir du Père (voir Eph. 1:5) –, afin que Dieu ne fût pas vaincu et que son art ne fût point tenu en échec (Adv. haer. III 23.1).



L’économie du salut de l’homme exige l’incarnation du Christ, nouvel Adam qui va restaurer l’image et la ressemblance de Dieu dans l’homme. III. Restauration de l’image par l’incarnation du Verbe L’homme fait à la ressemblance de Dieu et du Fils de Dieu Déjà dans un passage du livre IV, Irénée dit que l’homme fut fait à la ressemblance du Fils: Or supérieur à l’homme, qui fut fait à la ressemblance de Dieu, et plus excellent que lui, quel autre pouvait l’être hormis le Fils de Dieu, à la ressemblance de qui l’homme fut fait ? Voilà pourquoi, à la fin, le Fils de Dieu lui-même a montré la ressemblance, en se faisant homme et en assumant en lui-même l’antique ouvrage modelé, comme nous l’avons montré dans le livre précédent (Adv. haer. IV 33.4).

Mais c’est par l’incarnation du Verbe que l’image de Dieu en l’homme est apparue. L’homme recevant la ressemblance avec le Verbe par l’incarnation du Verbe C’est au livre V de l’Adversus hereses qu’Irénée reprend la question de la ressemblance du Verbe et de l’homme en dénonçant « l’égarement » des disciples de Valentin « qui prétendent que l’homme n’a pas été modelé au moyen de cette terre ». Il ne s’agit plus maintenant de la similitude d’Adam et du Verbe par la substance charnelle, mais de la manifestation de l’image et de la ressemblance de Dieu dans l’homme par l’incarnation du Verbe. La vérité de tout cela apparut lorsque le Verbe de Dieu se fit homme, se rendant semblable à l’homme et rendant l’homme semblable à lui, pour que, par la ressemblance avec le Fils, l’homme devienne précieux aux yeux du Père. Dans les temps antérieurs, en effet, on disait bien que l’homme avait été fait à l’image de Dieu, mais cela n’apparaissait pas, car le Verbe était encore invisible, lui qui à l’image de qui l’homme avait été fait : c’est d’ailleurs pour ce motif que la ressemblance s’était facilement perdue. Mais lorsque le Verbe de Dieu se fit chair, il confirma l’une et l’autre : il fit apparaître l’image dans toute sa vérité, en devenant lui-même cela même qu’était son image, et il rétablit la ressemblance de façon stable, en rendant l’homme pleinement semblable au Père invisible par le moyen du Verbe dorénavant visible (Adv. haer. V 16.2).

Je voudrais faire trois remarques, sur la manifestation de l’invisible dans le visible, la distinction de l’image et de la ressemblance et la ressemblance de l’homme avec le Verbe et avec le Père. › Tout d’abord sur la manifestation : ce qui est invisible devient visible : la « Main » invisible devient visible dans l’incarnation du « Verbe ». › Irénée fait ici une distinction entre l’image et la ressemblance : « il [le Verbe] fit apparaître l’image dans toute sa vérité » – « et il rétablit la ressemblance de façon stable ».

L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon


› C’est par le moyen de la ressemblance avec le Verbe (« à lui »), que la ressemblance avec le Père est rétablie : « en rendant l’homme pleinement semblable au Père invisible par le moyen du Verbe dorénavant visible ». Irénée avait déjà établi cette relation entre le Verbe ou le Fils de Dieu, Image de Dieu et l’homme fait à l’image de Dieu dans la Démonstration apostolique (22). Le Fils est l’Image de Dieu. L’homme a été fait à l’image de Dieu. L’homme, image du Fils, sera donc image de l’image de Dieu. Cette doctrine irénéenne se trouve déjà dans Philon qui distingue entre l’Image de Dieu et l’être à l’image de Dieu dans Legum allegoriae III, 966. Dieu est l’archétype (ἀρχέτυπος) suprême, le Logos, son image (ἡ εἰκών) directe et l’homme est « à son image » (κατ’εἰκόνα). Le Logos est l’archétype des autres êtres particulièrement du νοῦς de l’homme. Clément d’Alexandrie7, reprendra plusieurs fois le schème philonien et parlera de la « troisième image divine » en relation avec l’expression philonienne de l’intellect τρίτος τύπος de Dieu8. Descente du Verbe et de Dieu par l’Esprit dans l’homme et montée de l’homme vers Dieu Au début du livre V de l’Adversus haereses, Irénée rajoute une autre dimension de la restauration de l’image de Dieu dans l’homme : celle de la descente de Dieu dans l’homme et de la montée de l’homme vers Dieu. Descente de Dieu dans l’homme par l’Esprit (Adv. haer. V 1.1) Dans un très beau passage du début du livre V, Irénée écrit : Si donc c’est par son sang que le Seigneur nous a rachetés, s’il a adonné son âme pour notre âme et sa chair pour notre chair, s’il a répandu l’Esprit du Père afin d’opérer l’union et la communion de Dieu et des hommes, faisant descendre Dieu dans les hommes par l’Esprit et faisant monter l’homme jusqu’à Dieu par son incarnation… s’en est fait de tous les enseignements des hérétiques (Adv. haer. V,1,1). 6 Philon d’Alexandrie, Legum Allegoriae I-III, Introduction, traduction et notes par Claude Mondésert, Les Œuvres de Philon d’Alexandrie 2 (Paris, 1962), 225 et 227. Voir aussi Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat 83 : « La faculté qui émane de la source rationnelle est le souffle. Il ne s’agit pas de l’air en mouvement, mais d’une empreinte ou d’une marque de la puissance divine, que Moïse appelle du nom propre d’image, faisant comprendre que Dieu est l’archétype de la nature rationnelle, cependant que l’homme est seulement une copie ou une réplique de celle-ci [L’homme, c’est-à-dire] non pas le vivant de deux natures [composé d’un corps et d’une âme], sinon l’espèce la plus noble de l’âme, qu’on appelle intellect et raison (νοῦς καὶ λόγος) ». 7 Clément d’Alexandrie, Protreptique X 98.4 ; Stromates VII 3.16.5 ss. 8 Philon, Quis rerum divinarm heres sit 231 : Moïse appelle ce qui est au-dessus de nous “empreinte de l’image” (τῆς εἰκόνος ἐκμαγεῖον). Il dit, en effet, “Dieu fit l’homme à l’image” (Gen. 1:27), et non “image de Dieu”. L’intellect de chacun d’entre nous, l’homme proprement et véritable, est le troisième τύπος à partir du Créateur ; celui du milieu [= le Logos] est le paradigme de celui-ci [= le troisième] et l’empreinte de Celui-là [= le premier, Dieu].



La descente de Dieu dans les hommes se fait par l’Esprit, alors que la montée de l’homme vers Dieu se fait par l’incarnation du Verbe. Descente du Verbe dans l’homme (Adv. haer. V 36.3) La finale de l’Adversus haereses évoque cette ascension de l’homme vers Dieu, grâce au Verbe, ascension dont le terme est aussi l’accomplissement de l’image et de la ressemblance de Dieu en l’homme : Ces mystères, les anges aspirent à les contempler (1Pet. 1:12), mais ils ne peuvent scruter la Sagesse de Dieu, par l’action de laquelle l’ouvrage par lui modelé est rendu conforme et concorporel au Fils de Dieu (plasma eius conformatum et concorporatum Filio perficitur) : car Dieu a voulu que sa Progéniture, le Verbe premier-né, descende vers la créature, c’est-à-dire vers l’ouvrage modelé et soit saisie par elle (ut progenies eius primogenitus Verbum descendat in facturam hoc est in plasma et capiatur ab eo), et que la créature à son tour saisisse le Verbe et monte vers lui, dépassant ainsi les anges et devenant à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu (et factura iterum capiat Verbum et ascendat ad eum, supergrediens angelos9 et fiens secundum imaginem et similitudinem Dei) (Adv. haer. V 36.3).

Toute l’économie du salut est ici récapitulée : la volonté salvifique ou le « bon plaisir du Père », l’incarnation du Verbe dans l’ouvrage modelé et l’ascension du Verbe et de la créature, qu’il a saisie et qui l’a saisi, vers le Dieu incréé, la créature devenant ainsi à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu. Ainsi s’achève l’Adversus haereses. Après avoir montré de qui l’homme est à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu, à savoir de Dieu, par le Fils qui est lui-même image de Dieu, il nous reste à nous demander qu’est-ce qui en l’homme est à l’image de Dieu : l’âme seule ou également le corps ou la chair ? Ce qui pose la question de l’unité de l’homme : de quelles parties est-il composé et où l’image et la ressemblance s’inscrivent-elles en lui. IV. La résurrection de la chair. Unité de l’homme C’est à propos de la résurrection de la chair, au livre V de l’Adversus haereses, que va se poser la question de « l’homme intégral » ou de « l’homme parfait », et de l’inscription de l’image dans ses différentes « parties », l’âme et le corps ou la chair. Âme et chair (Adv. haer. IV Préf. 4) Dans la Préface au livre IV de l’Adversus haereses, où Irénée dénonce « tous les hérétiques (qui) aboutissent en fin de compte à blasphémer le Créateur 9

A. Orbe, ‘Supergrediens angelos (Adv. haer. V,36,1)’, Gregorianum 54 (1973), 5-69.

L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon


et à nier le salut de cet ouvrage modelé par Dieu qu’est la chair », Irénée définit l’homme comme « un mélange d’âme et de chair, et d’une chair formée selon la ressemblance de Dieu et modelée par ses Mains » (Adv. haer. IV Pr. 4). La ressemblance de Dieu est donc inscrite dans la chair même de l’homme. Mais c’est au livre V qu’Irénée va développer, à propos de la résurrection de la chair, une réflexion sur l’unité de l’homme, formé du corps, de l’âme et de l’esprit, selon 1 Thessaloniciens 5,23. L’Esprit, l’âme et le corps (1Thess. 5:23) (Adv. haer. V 6.1) En effet, à sa création, l’homme tout entier reçoit l’image et la ressemblance de Dieu : Car, par les Mains du Père, c’est-à-dire par le Fils et l’Esprit, c’est l’homme et non une partie de l’homme qui devient à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu (Gen. 1:26). Or l’âme et l’Esprit peuvent être une partie de l’homme, mais nullement l’homme : l’homme parfait, c’est le mélange et l’union de l’âme qui a reçu l’Esprit du Père et qui a été mélangée à la chair modelée selon l’image de Dieu (carni quae est plasmata secundum imaginem Dei) (Adv. haer. V 6.1).

L’âme et l’Esprit sont une « partie de l’homme », mais « nullement l’homme ». L’homme est formé d’une âme, qui a reçu l’Esprit, et d’un corps ou d’une chair, qui a été modelée selon l’image de Dieu. Ces hommes parfaits qui ont reçu les charismes de l’Esprit, « l’Apôtre les nomme également spirituels » (1Cor. 2:1; 3:1). Et Irénée ajoute tout de suite : « spirituels, ils le sont par une participation de l’Esprit, mais non par une évacuation ou une suppression de la chair ». Ce qui est en jeu, c’est la définition de l’homme spirituel ou pneumatique, que les gnostiques opposent à l’homme charnel ou hylique, mais également à l’homme psychique. L’homme spirituel ou pneumatique est, disent-ils, sauvé par nature, comme l’homme charnel est destiné, par nature, à être détruit, le psychique ayant la destinée de l’un ou de l’autre selon qu’il se tourne vers l’un ou l’autre. Or si l’on écarte la substance de la chair, dit Irénée, cet « esprit » est « l’esprit de l’homme » ou « l’Esprit de Dieu », mais non « l’homme spirituel ». Irénée fait ici clairement la distinction entre l’image et la ressemblance : l’image est inscrite sur l’ouvrage modelé à la création, alors que la ressemblance est donnée par l’Esprit qui se mélange à l’âme. « C’est le mélange et l’union de ces trois choses (à savoir l’Esprit, l’âme et le corps) qui constitue l’homme parfait ». C’est pourquoi l’Apôtre a défini l’homme parfait et spirituel dans sa première Épître aux Thessaloniciens, en disant : « Que votre être intégral, à savoir votre Esprit, votre âme et votre corps, soit conservé sans reproche pour la venue du Seigneur Jésus ! » (1Thess. 5:23).



La chair et l’Esprit  : Objection des gnostiques et réponse d’Irénée (Adv. haer. V 9.1-12,3). Contre cette définition de « l’homme parfait », les gnostiques objectent également l’Apôtre qui déclare dans l’Épître aux Corinthiens : « La chair et le sang ne peuvent hériter du royaume de Dieu » (1Cor. 15:50). La réflexion d’Irénée sur la résurrection de la chair répond à l’objection des gnostiques qui invoquent le verset de 1Cor. 15:50. Deux exégèses s’affrontent : celle des gnostiques et celle d’Irénée. La démonstration d’Irénée se fait en deux temps : tout d’abord il va définir ce qu’est, dans ce verset, la « chair » et puis ce que signifie « hériter ». La chair et le sang (Adv. haer. V 9.1) “La chair et le sang ne peuvent hériter du royaume de Dieu” (1Cor. 15:50), texte que tous les hérétiques allèguent dans leur folie et à partir duquel ils s’efforcent de prouver qu’il n’y a pas de salut pour l’ouvrage modelé par Dieu (Adv. haer. V 9.1).

Qu’est-ce qui est appelé ici « chair et sang » ? : « Ceux qui n’ont pas l’élément qui sauve et forme en vue de la vie, – répond Irénée –, ceux-là se feront appeler à bon droit “sang et chair”, puisqu’ils n’ont pas l’Esprit de Dieu en eux » (V 9.1). Ce sont les « hommes charnels ». Inversement les « hommes spirituels » sont « ceux qui, par la foi, établissent à demeure dans leurs cœurs l’Esprit de Dieu » – « Et c’est de ces deux choses qu’est fait l’homme vivant : vivant grâce à la participation de l’Esprit, homme par la substance de la chair » (V 9.2). Bien plus, « la chair, possédée en héritage par l’Esprit, oublie ce qu’elle est, pour acquérir la qualité de l’Esprit et devenir conforme au Verbe de Dieu » (caro ab Spiritu possessa, oblita quidem sui, qualitatem Spiritus assumens, conformis facta Verbo Dei) (V 9.3). La « substance » charnelle demeure la même, mais sa « qualité » est changée par la participation à l’Esprit. Irénée s’appuie sur la définition stoïcienne du changement qui distingue la « substance », qui demeure identique, et la « qualité » qui change. La chair possédée en héritage par l’Esprit (Adv. haer. V 9.4) Après avoir défini « la chair et le sang », Irénée se demande que signifie « hériter » dans la phrase : « La chair et le sang ne peuvent hériter du royaume de Dieu » (1Cor. 15:50) et il renverse la proposition de l’actif : « La chair et le sang ne peuvent hériter », au passif : « ainsi sera possédée en héritage dans le royaume, la terre dont provient la substance de notre chair » (V 9.4). La chair « n’hérite point », mais elle « est possédée en héritage » par l’Esprit, car « c’est le Vivant qui hérite et c’est la chair qui est possédée en héritage » (V 9.4). L’homme, en recevant l’Esprit de Dieu, ne perd pas sa « substance » charnelle, mais change de « qualité », devenant « homme spirituel » (V 10.2).

L’homme à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu chez Irénée de Lyon


La transformation de la qualité de la substance charnelle par l’Esprit explique la transformation de l’homme qui n’est plus appelé « chair et sang, mais homme spirituel ». C’est pourquoi, si « la chair et le sang ne peuvent hériter du royaume de Dieu », l’homme spirituel le peut. Telle est l’argumentation d’Irénée contre les gnostiques. Conclusion L’homme a été modelé à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu par les deux Mains de Dieu, le Verbe et l’Esprit, qui ne l’ont pas abandonné, alors qu’il avait perdu la ressemblance par son péché : le Verbe en se faisant homme est devenu semblable à l’homme par sa substance charnelle, reçue de la Vierge Marie, et a « fait apparaître » l’image de Dieu en l’homme qui a été fait à son image, et l’Esprit a changé la « qualité » de cette substance charnelle, après avoir reçu la chair en héritage. Ce qui est en jeu c’est l’unité de l’homme, composé d’un corps, d’une âme qui a reçu l’Esprit, selon 1Thess. 5:23, et la définition de l’homme vivant ou de l’homme spirituel qui n’est pas séparé de la chair, mais qui est vivant par la participation à l’Esprit. L’homme n’est pas seulement créé à l’image de Dieu, selon une « forme divine », mais il doit, à travers toute l’économie du salut, devenir « conforme » (conformatus) au Verbe de Dieu. C’est la nécessité de passer de l’image-« forme », dessinée sur la chair, à l’image-« conforme » au Verbe par la possession de l’Esprit qui donne à l’image son sens eschatologique. Quant à la ressemblance, elle doit être considérée sous son double aspect dynamique et qualitatif, comme assimilation (ὁμοίωσις) et comme similitude (ὁμοιότης). L’homme créé à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu, reçoit cette ressemblance dans son être créé, mais il « devient » à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu à la fois par un acte de la liberté10 et un don de l’Esprit. Si c’est par l’incarnation du Verbe que l’image est « apparue » et la « ressemblance a été rétablie » (V 16.2), c’est par le don l’Esprit, « possédé par la chair » (caro ab Spiritu possessa, V 9.3) et « mélangé à l’âme et uni à l’ouvrage modelé » (Spiritus commixtus animae unitur plasmati, V 6.1), que l’homme devient à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu. Grâce à cette effusion de l’Esprit se trouve réalisé l’homme spirituel et parfait, et c’est celui-là même qui a été fait à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu (Gen. 1:26) (Adv. haer. V 6.1).

Tel est l’homme spirituel selon Irénée et c’est lui qui est « à l’image et à la ressemblance de Dieu ». 10 « Homo vero rationalis et secundum hoc similis Deo, liber in arbitrio factus est et suae potestatis » (Adv. haer. IV 4.4). – « Liberae sententiae ab initio est homo, et liberae sententiae est Deus, cuius ad similitudinem factus est » (Adv. haer. IV 37.4). Voir aussi Démonstration 11: l’homme était semblable à Dieu donc libre et maître de lui.

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics Awet ANDEMICAEL, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

ABSTRACT Irenaeus’ most concentrated and frequently cited discussion of politics appears in Adversus Haereses 5.24.1-3. His defense of the divine origin of political authority, based primarily on his exegesis of Rom. 13:1-7, implies an affirmation of Roman imperial authority in spite of Roman persecution of Irenaeus’ own Christian community in Gaul. In this article, I argue for reading AH 5.24.1-3 not only in the context of his obvious theological project of defending the unity and sovereignty of God, but also in light of his robust assertions of human freedom. Previous scholarship has focused on divine sovereignty, but considering the two theological concerns in tandem reveals a richer and more dynamic Irenaean model of the political sphere. Implicit in Irenaeus’ account is the freedom and responsibility of rulers as personal agents. While Irenaeus is theologically obligated to defend the divinely-ordained legitimacy of all governmental authority, and openly celebrates the socio-economic benefits Christians enjoy from the Roman Empire’s infrastructure and security services, he recognizes the problematic reality of tyrannical leaders, affirming their accountability to God and susceptibility to divine discipline. At the same time, he holds the populace partially accountable for the state of a society, implying the possibility of a dynamic and constructive interaction between rulers and subjects. Yet Irenaeus acknowledges the limits of political power, envisioning positive socio-political change resulting ultimately from Christ’s transformation of individuals influencing the broader ethos of a society. Thus, the deep transformation proper to the church remains beyond the reach of civil authority.

Introduction1 Irenaeus’ political thought has garnered regular, if limited, scholarly attention since the mid-nineteenth century.2 More recently, W.C. van 1

The author thanks Don Springer for organizing the two-part panel on ‘Irenaeus in the Second Century’ at the 2019 Oxford Patristics Confererence, where this article was first presented as a paper, as well as the panel members and audience for their helpful questions and comments. Additional thanks to Kathryn Tanner, John Behr, Agnès Bastit, Willie Jennings, Andrew McGowan, and Olivia Johann for their feedback on the ideas explored in this paper and the larger project of which it is part. 2 James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and Martyr: Intended to Illustrate the Doctrine, Discipline, Practices, and History of the Church and

Studia Patristica CIX, 81-95. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



Unnik,3 Antonio Orbe,4 Oliver and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan,5 and Jeffrey Bingham6 have examined Irenaeus’ most concentrated passage on politics, Adversus Haereses 5.24.1-3, to seek a clearer understanding of how he understands divine sovereignty to function in the political sphere.7 In this passage, Irenaeus provides a generally positive evaluation of human political rulers, and an implicitly positive assessment of the Roman imperial authorities under whom he lives, as ‘ministers of God’. This has prompted scholars to try to explain how Irenaeus, not obviously addressing a pagan Roman audience,8 would find it the Tenets and Practices of the Gnostic Heretics, During the Second Century (London, 1841), 72-3; Karl Johannes Neumann, Der römische Staat und die allgemeine Kirche bis auf Diocletian, 2 vol. (Leipzig, 1890), I 82-3, 90-1, 93; Robert Warrand Carlyle and Alexander James Carlyle, A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West, 4 vol. (Edinburgh, London, 1903), I 128-30, 148, 161-2; Cecil John Cadoux, The Early Church and the World (Edinburgh, 1925), 228-9, 373-9, 422-3; Félix Vernet, ‘Irenée. L’église et l’état’, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 18 vol. (Paris, 1927), VII/2 2440-2; August Strobel, Schriftverständnis und Obrigkeitsdenken in der Ältesten Kirche. Eine auslegungs- und problemgeschichtliche Studie zum Verhältnis von Kirche und Staat vor allem bis zur Zeit Konstantins des Grossen, PhD diss. Friedrich-Alexander University (Erlangen, 1956), 114-27; Arnold A.T. Ehrhardt, Politische Metaphysik von Solon bis Augustin, Zweiter Band: Die Christliche Revolution (Tübingen, 1959), 91-115; and Werner Affeldt, Die weltliche Gewalt in der Paulus-Exegese, Rom. 13, 1-7 in den Römerbriefkommentaren der lateinischen Kirche bis zum Ende des 13. Jahrhunderts (Göttingen, 1969), 36-43. 3 W.C. van Unnik, ‘Irenaeus and the Pax Romana’, in Cilliers Breytenbach and Pieter W. van der Horst (eds), Sparsa Collecta: The Collected Essays of W.C. van Unnik, Part Four (Leiden, 2014), 363-76; orig. in G. Casalis (ed.), Kerk en vrede: opstellen aangeboden aan prof. dr. J. de Graaf (Baarn, 1978), 201-13. 4 Antonio Orbe, Teología de San Ireneo: Commentario al Libro V del ‘Adversus haereses’, 4 vol. (Madrid, 1987), II 503-59. Orbe’s analysis, while highly relevant, came to my attention too late for me to engage it substantially in this article, although it will inform my larger project on Irenaeus’ political thought. 5 Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan (eds), From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625 (Grand Rapids, MI, 1999), 15-22. 6 See D. Jeffrey Bingham, ‘Irenaeus and the Kingdoms of the World’, in Michael Bauman and David Hall (eds), God and Caesar (Camp Hill, PA, 1994), 27-40; later expanded into ‘Irenaeus and the Kingdoms of the World’, in David Vincent Meconi (ed.), Sacred Scripture and Secular Struggles (Leiden, 2015), 104-17; as well as id., ‘Evangelicals and the Rule of Faith: Irenaeus on Rome and Reading Christianly’, in George Kalantzis and Andrew Tooley (eds), Evangelicals and the Early Church: Recovery, Reform, Renewal (Eugene, OR, 2012), 159-86. 7 Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies Livre V, ed. A. Rousseau, L. Doutreleau and C. Mercier, SC 153 (Paris, 1969). Hereafter, AH 5. Passages directly relevant to politics include AH 4.30.3, AH 4.34.4; AH 4.36.6; AH 5.24.1-3, and Epideixis 61. Other pertinent passages include references to the Antichrist as a political figure (e.g., AH 5.25.1), including allusions to possible connections between the Antichrist and the Roman Empire (AH 5.26.1; 5.30.3), and an analogy between God and the Roman emperor (AH 2.6.2). Robert Grant mentions examples of Irenaeus’ use of political or military terminology, but dismisses their importance to Irenaeus’ engagement with GrecoRoman rhetorical strategies. Robert M. Grant, ‘Irenaeus and Hellenistic Culture’, Harvard Theological Review 42 (1949), 41-51. 8 This is in contrast to apologists like Justin, who dedicated his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius, his adopted sons and heirs to the imperial crown, Marcus Aurelius (whom he addresses with the nickname ‘Verissimus the Philosopher’) and Lucius Verus (‘Lucius the

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


necessary to write in such complementary terms about the very empire under which members of his own Christian community in Gaul, including the previous bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons), Pothinus, had been brutally martyred in 177 AD.9 Some view Irenaeus as unambiguously supportive of state power,10 while others suggest an ambivalent attitude toward Rome and a complex view of secular power.11 Moreover, some assert that Irenaeus clearly opposes Christian resistance to tyranny,12 whereas others leave room for forms of Christian resistance consistent with Irenaeus’ views.13 In this article, I argue for reading Irenaeus’ political theology through his theology of human freedom. In contrast to previous scholarship, which has focused on his immediate theological concerns about divine sovereignty without attention to his broader affirmation of freedom, this approach suggests one way Irenaeus can recognize officials of the Roman Empire as ‘ministers of God’ (Rom. 13) while allowing room for the acknowledgement of abuses of power, including the unjust persecution of Christians. It also facilitates a more dynamic model of the political realm, in line with Irenaeus’ concepts of continuous creation and participatory divine-human interaction, as well as illuminating the nature of the limits of political power. Finally, it clarifies any ambiguity about the culpability of Christian martyrs in their own martyrdom, placing responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the instigators of violence, whether rulers or community members.

Philosopher’), and the Senate and People of Rome (1Apol. 1). His second apology was addressed, more narrowly, to the Roman Senate, as the full title of the apology indicates. 9 See, for example: F. Vernet, ‘Irenée. L’église et l’état’ (1927); Justus Hashagen, ‘Über die Anfänge der christlichen Staats- und Gesellschaftsanschauung [On the Origins of the Christian Outlook on State and Society]’, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 49 (1930), 147-8; Wilfrid Parsons, ‘The Influence of Romans XIII on Pre-Augustinian Christian Political Thought’, Theological Studies 1 (1940), 337-64; A. Strobel, Schriftverständnis und Obrigkeitsdenken in der Ältesten Kirche (1956); A.A.T. Ehrhardt, Politische Metaphysik von Solon bis Augustin (1959); W.C. van Unnik, ‘Irenaeus and the Pax Romana’ (2014); Jacques Fantino, ‘Ordre social et politique, temps et eschatology: La lecture de l’Apocalypse par Irénée’, Sciences Religieuses 37 (2008), 481-96; D.J. Bingham, ‘Evangelicals and the Rule of Faith: Irenaeus on Rome and Reading Christianly’ (2012), and id., ‘Irenaeus and the Kingdoms of the World’ (2015). 10 E.g., Vernet, Hashagen, and Parsons. 11 E.g., Ehrhardt, van Unnik, and Bingham. 12 A. Strobel, Schriftverständnis und Obrigkeitsdenken in der Ältesten Kirche (1956), 121. 13 Ehrhardt, explicitly, and Fantino, implicitly, present Irenaeus’ view of the church as an alternative to the secular state. Ehrhardt holds that Irenaeus’ ‘new theology of the earthly church was filled with radical revolutionary fire’, A.A.T. Ehrhardt, Politische Metaphysik von Solon bis Augustin (1959), 133, positing the church as a superior ‘rival’ to the Roman state (ibid. 108-15). Fantino, however, does not support an oppositional relationship, but claims that, ‘for Irenaeus it is no longer a question of choosing between God and empire. It is a matter of collaborating in the ultimate realization of the divine purpose and contributing thus to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth and in all creation’, J. Fantino, ‘Ordre social et politique, temps et eschatology: La lecture de l’Apocalypse par Irénée’ (2008), 494.



1. Irenaeus on Politics: AH 5.24.1-3 Irenaeus’ discussion of politics in AH 5.24.1-3 provides us with the earliest substantial Christian exegesis of Rom. 13:1-7 currently extant.14 He summarizes his thesis at the beginning of AH 5.24.3: ‘Since the powers that be are ordained of God [Rom. 13:1], it is clear that the devil lied when he said These are delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will, I give them’ [Lk. 4:6]. Discrediting the devil’s claim, Irenaeus argues instead that God, not the devil, is the one to whom all earthly authorities belong and from whom all earthly authority derives (AH 5.24.1). Irenaeus also refutes those who lean toward a spiritualized interpretation of ‘the powers’ (ἐξουσίαι, Gr.; potestates, Lat.) to which Paul refers in Rom. 13:1, arguing instead that the powers being referenced are literal, historical human powers, not invisible or angelic forces (AH 5.24.1). He demonstrates the concrete reality of ‘the powers that be’ by linking the reference to paying tribute in Rom. 13:6 to the Gospel story of Christ and Peter discussing tribute payment in Matt. 17:24-7 (AH 5.24.1). In AH 5.24.2, Irenaeus shifts from the broad theological underpinnings of political authority to a more specific discussion of human governments. He tells a story about how, at some unspecified point in history, human beings departed from God (absistens a Deo), and this departure from the fear of God made them so wild, so feral (in tantum efferavit) that they began to perceive a relative (consanguineus) as an enemy (hostis).15 Irenaeus does not specify whether the 14 Irenaeus also engages Rom. 13:1-7 in AH 4.36.6 in a discussion of theo-political significance, but to a lesser extent than in AH 5.24.1-3. On early exegesis of Rom. 13:1-7, see W. Parsons, ‘The Influence of Romans XIII on Pre-Augustinian Christian Political Thought’ (1940), 337-64. Between Paul and Irenaeus, we find only a few references to this passage in the available literature, including a brief allusion in Polycarp’s sarcastically defiant reply to the proconsul (Martyrdom of Polycarp 10). Parsons omits this reference from his survey of pre-Augustinian exegesis of the Romans pericope. He does, however, read Tatian as alluding to Rom. 13 in Oratio adversus Graecos 4, although Tatian could just as easily be referring to Matt. 17:24-7, particularly since he makes a point of clarifying, contra the implications of Rom. 13:3-5, that only God is to be feared, not human beings. More helpfully, Parsons points to Theophilus of Antioch as providing the earliest fully explicit quotations from Rom. 13:1-7, in Ad Autolycum 1.11 and 3.14, though both references are brief and illustrative rather than robustly exegetical. 15 Irenaeus’ source for this etiology of government is not clear. It is certainly in line with Irenaeus’ understanding of human spiritual dependence on God, the classic illustration of this being AH 4.20.7, gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei. Yet it does not have an obvious biblical source. Orbe suggests, convincingly, that Irenaeus is referencing the figure of Cain, particularly when he writes about the human person turning away from God (absistens a Deo), consequently mistaking a family member for an enemy (ut etiam consanguineum hostem sibi putaret) and committing murder (homicidio) and other crimes (Orbe, Teología de San Ireneo [1987], II 519-25). Parsons claims that Irenaeus is influenced by ‘the old Stoic notion of the origin of society’ and is, in fact, the first Christian writer to reference this philosophy (W. Parsons, ‘The Influence of Romans XIII’ [1940], 342). Parsons provides no accompanying citation, so it is not clear what Stoic sources he has in mind. One possibility is Posidonius’ theory of a golden age, as related approvingly by Seneca in Epistle 90 (Seneca, Epistles, Volume II: Epistles 66-92,

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


loss of the fear of God led to the initial departure from God or resulted from it. Nevertheless, with their resultant distorted perception of other people, these bestial humans engage in a collective crime spree of murder, greed, and all sorts of unfettered [public] disturbance (in omni inquietudine et homicidio et avaritia sine timore). In view of this chaos, God introduces humans to the fear of other humans, subjecting them to the authority of other people (potestati hominum subjecti) and restraining them by means of laws (lege eorum adstricti). The goals of this regime of fear are to attain some kind of justice (ad aliquid assequantur justitiae) and to restrain or moderate behavior (moderentur ad invicem). The primary instrument of this regime is the fear of the sword – the threat of coercive force – which rulers display publicly to reinforce their social control (in manifesto propositum gladium timentes). With this punitive authority to serve as ‘avenger in anger against evil doers’ (vindex in iram ei qui male operator), the magistrates themselves have the laws ‘as a garment of justice’ (indumentum justitiae leges habentes). Presumably Irenaeus considers these trans. Richard M. Gummere, Loeb Classical Library 76 [Cambridge, MA, 1920], 394-9). According to this myth, the first people (primi) lived in worship of God and in fellowship with fellow humans, under the guardianship of Philosophy, following nature and remaining unspoiled (Ep. 90.3), until vice corrupted society and just kingdoms became tyrannies (Sed postquam subrepentibus vitiis in tyrannidem regna conversa sunt) (Ep. 90.6). While Seneca’s account of Posidonius’ primative utopia does bear a resemblance to Irenaeus’ narrative, it has at least two important differences. Posidonius claimed that the early humans lived peacefully under one being who was both leader and law (eundem habebant et ducem et legem) (Ep. 90.3). Yet, unlike Irenaeus’ vision, in which God’s authority is the only power under which early humans were subject, Seneca’s Posidonius posited this being as a superior human leader under whom all people were willingly subject, reflecting the natural hierarchy in which the weaker are appropriately subjected to the stronger (Naturae est enim potioribus deteriora summittere) (Ep 90.4). In other words, for Posidonius and Seneca, human government existed before the ‘fall’ of society, although it had to change methods to reestablish wise rulership under new social conditions. For Irenaeus, the ‘fall’ of society away from the fear of God seems to have been what prompted God to establish human government. The crucial shift, for Irenaeus, was from a system in which human relationship with God sustained people in righteousness, and the fear of God prevented evil actions against others, to one in which human governments wielded coercive power over subjects so that fear of other humans could keep society in check. The most straightforward interpretation of Irenaeus’ account is that human government came into being after the social ‘fall’. Strictly speaking, however, Irenaeus does not claim that God imposed government on people, but, rather, that God imposed ‘the fear of humans’ (imposuit illis Deus humanum timorem) by means of the coercive power of government (AH 5.24.2). Thus, it would not undermine Irenaeus’ narrative to posit some form of human government before the social ‘fall’, as long as it was one that operated on the basis of love and persuasion rather than coercion and the threat of violence. Nevertheless, this still leaves a second important difference between Posidonius/Seneca’s view and Irenaeus. The former depict post-lapsarian government as just and wise, due to the power of the wise laws framed by Solon and other great lawmakers. Irenaeus, on the other hand, while mentioning the function of laws to bring order to society, emphasizes repeatedly the threat of the sword looming over the heads of rebellious subjects. Irenaeus seems less idealistic than Posidonius and Seneca about the character of rulers and the effectiveness of laws, admitting that leaders come in both magnanimous and harsh varieties.



magistrates to be identical with, or at least part of the same power structure as, the rulers who ‘bear the sword’, although Irenaeus does not specify whether or not he envisions any kind of separation between legal-juridical and policingpunitive governmental functions. Having established the institution of human government, God matches rulers to peoples, so that each ruler is ‘adapted to those being ruled’ at any given time (apti his qui illo tempore ab ipsis regnantur). As O’Donovan and O’Donovan put it, ‘a people gets the government it deserves’.16 This passage does a significant amount of theological work for Irenaeus. In terms of the immediate premises of the passage, Irenaeus is able to argue effectively that the devil is, in fact, a liar, and does not have sovereignty over the kingdoms of the world, despite his claims to the contrary. Moreover, Irenaeus manages to refute what he sees as a misguided interpretation of Rom. 13:1-7 espoused by unidentified people who ‘dare to propose’ (audent exponere) a hyper-spiritualized meaning for ‘the powers that be’, denying the earthly reality to which Paul, in line with the Scriptures and Gospel accounts, is clearly pointing. Yet Irenaeus also finds a way to connect these specific polemical arguments to his broader theological agenda. In denying the devil, angels, and other spiritual beings claim to sovereignty over creation, Irenaeus affirms God’s role as sole creator, exemplified in God’s establishment of political authority. Moreover, Irenaeus underlines here God’s direct and ongoing involvement in creation, as the one who sustains political authority, to whom magistrates are accountable, and who disciplines unjust leaders. By citing Proverbs and Matthew along with the Epistle to the Romans to support his argument about God, and not the devil, ordaining earthly political powers, Irenaeus is also able to underline his ongoing defence of the unity of the Hebrew Scriptures and Apostolic writings. His assertion that God assigns rulers to particular peoples also fits Irenaeus’ general notion of God’s harmonization of creation. If, as Irenaeus asserts elsewhere, God fits all things together in harmony (AH 2.2.4) then there is a certain aptness to the idea that unruly people would receive harsh governments while peaceful people receive gentle governments. At the same time, Irenaeus’ account prompts a number of questions and, in his model, seems to leave the divinely-established political sphere vulnerable to systemic human abuses. To be fair, many of the questions are prompted by the epistle pericope itself, rather than any issues resulting from Irenaeus’ interpretation. There are, however, at least two considerations that suggest the validity of pressing Irenaeus on at least some of these questions. Firstly, Irenaeus himself clearly recognizes some of the problems that could arise from a bare reading of the Romans passage, and modifies, or at qualifies, some of the more troubling implications, while leaving other matters unaddressed. For example, unlike Paul, Irenaeus does take account of the possibility of abuses of power, explaining 16

O. O’Donovan and J.L. O’Donovan (eds), From Irenaeus to Grotius (1999), 16.

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


that God will judge unjust leaders – an idea that Paul does not even suggest in the Romans passage. But that measure of accountability only functions after the ruler has assumed political office. What about political coups, civil wars, and other imperial struggles for power? Does Irenaeus imply that might makes right, that any ruler who succeeds in achieving the throne thereby confirms divine election to the position of sovereign? The brewing unrest in the Roman Empire in the waning years of the second century, following Marcus Aurelius’ reign, e.g., may not have been obvious at the time Irenaeus was writing this portion of his treatise.17 Nevertheless, Irenaeus must have been aware of more questionable and seemingly illegitimate methods of achieving political power. Could Irenaeus support the idea that even these power grabs are, on some level, sanctioned by God, possibly as divine acts of punishment for unjust governments? Even if we grant that the primary purpose of political power in Irenaeus’ scenario is to hold social chaos at bay, his argument about the aptness of governments fitted to their peoples provides an unsatisfying theodicy for oppressive regimes, since it is unclear where the line is drawn between harsh but just governments and outright unjust governments, leaving room for abuses of power. Secondly, the portrait of the political sphere that results from this kind of a narrow reading of AH 5.24 seems at odds with the character of Irenaeus’ theology. The most jarring dissonance comes from the implications for Christian martyrs. We know that Irenaeus strongly affirmed Christian martyrdom and held it up as an exemplary fate for a Christian. In AH 3.16.4, for example, he writes about the Slaughter of the Innocents as a ‘happy’ occasion, a privilege the Lord arranged for them by which they could be ‘slain for the sake of Christ’ and sent on before him to his kingdom.18 Yet, if people always get the government they deserve, then persecuted and martyred Christians could be understood as deserving their treatment, and the glorious vocation of martyrdom and Christian witness would, in an absurd twist, be transformed into a sordid punishment for rebelling against the ‘ministers of God’. More generally, it is difficult to square the notion that God established political authority ‘for the benefit of the nations’ and the purpose of bringing about ‘some measure of justice’ with the actual picture that emerges of governments paired appropriately with peoples, akin to an ominous final judgement scenario. 17 The Pax Romana which Irenaeus may be indirectly referencing in AH 4.34.4 may have persisted as the general ethos for daily life in the empire. Nevertheless, given his contact with Christians across the empire, Irenaeus was likely aware already of the seeds of instability sown by Marcus Aurelius’ successor, Commodius, even before the tendentious Year of the Five Emperors (193), and the dramatic local manifestation of the imperial game of thrones known as the Battle of Lugdunum (197), made manifest the end of an era. 18 Irenaeus also defends the martyrs against slander (AH 3.18.5), and refers to specific martyrs like Bishop Polycarp (AH 3.3.4), Bishop Telephorus (AH 3.3.3), and St Stephen (AH 3.12.10, 13) in literally ‘glorious’ terms.



If our entire understanding of Irenaeus’ political thought were based on this passage alone, we would risk ending up with a static, strongly deterministic model of politics, deeply un-Irenaean in its denial of Irenaeus’ aesthetic of ‘symphonic’ unity in diversity (AH 4.14.2). Irenaean is a theologian who delights in the dynamic interaction of diverse elements in the coherence of a paradoxical unity. We see this in his affirmation of truth shining through the harmonious complementarity of the diverse sacred writings,19 his concepts of the unified complexity of the global church (AH 1.10.1-2, AH 3.4.2, AH 4.9.2),20 his appreciation for beauty in the multiplicity of creation (AH 2.25.2) and his assertion of the goodness of Christ’s recapitulatory summation of all nations, languages, and cultures (AH 3.22.3) and the wide-ranging charisms of the church for the benefit of humankind (AH 2.32.4-5).21

2. Irenaeus on Freedom This apparent internal contradiction may prompt us to consider if there might be another factor involved that is not immediately obvious from AH 5.24. If the deterministic political system implied by this passage seems out of touch with Irenaeus’ typical theological approach, we may wish to consider how he counteracts the tendency toward determinism in other contexts. We know from elsewhere in AH that Irenaeus refutes Valentinian deterministic claims (e.g., AH 1.6.2) with a strong affirmation of a doctrine of the freedom of the will.22 Most clearly described in AH 4.37,23 Irenaeus’ account posits an ‘ancient law of liberty’ (vetus lex libertatis, AH 4.37.1), according to which ‘God made the human free’, with the capacity for self-control or self-direction ‘to obey the will 19

Even in AH 5.24.1, we see this dynamic at work: Irenaeus defends the unity of the Hebrew Scriptures and Apostolic writings by quoting both Proverbs (Prov. 21:1, Prov. 8:15-6) and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 13:1, 4, 6) as mutually reinforcing proofs of the same point, i.e., the divine origin and sanction enjoyed by earthly powers. This is in line with his approach throughout AH, of making the case that the Hebrew Scriptures (the law and the prophets) and the Christian writings (the words of Christ and the apostles) all point to the same God, Creator and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (see, e.g., AH 2.30.9). 20 See, also, Irenaeus’ letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, on the Quartodeciman controversy, preserved in Eusebius, Historia ecclessiastica (H.e.) 5.24.13. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Kirsopp Lake (Cambridge, MA, 1926). 21 On the importance of unity in diversity to Irenaeus’ thought, see John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (Oxford, 2013), 1-11. 22 See, e.g., AH 4.37, with specific refutations of determinism in AH 4.37.2, 4, 6-7. 23 Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies Livre IV, ed. A. Rousseau, B. Hemmerdinger and C. Mercier, SC 100 (Paris, 1965). Hereafter, AH 4. Bacq considered AH 4.37-9 as, effectively, an Irenaean ‘treatise on freedom’ (‘Le “traité” sur la liberté’). See Phillipe Bacq, De l’ancienne à la nouvelle Alliance selon S. Irénée : Unité du Livre IV de l’Adversus Haereses (Paris, 1978), 363-88. Irenaeus echoes his notion of human freedom elsewhere in AH, including AH 5.28.2 and AH 5.29.1.

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


of God voluntarily, and not by divine compulsion’ (quia liberum eum Deus fecit, ab initio habentem suam potestatem sicut et suam animam, ad utendum sententia Dei voluntarie, et non coactum ab eo, AH 4.37.1).24 Irenaeus describes this ‘ancient law of liberty’, alongside a different, yet related, mode of freedom which he calls the ‘law of liberty’ (AH 4.34.4) or ‘new covenant of liberty’ (libertatis novum testamentum, AH 3.10.5, AH 3.12.14, AH 4.16.5, AH 4.34.3). This second, more expansive form of freedom is distinct from, yet related to, simple free will. It is, in fact, the primary telos of free will: The Lord ‘set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the commands (sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God’. The proper exercise of free will is to obey God, so that the human can be experience freedom in Christ – not only freedom from bondage to sin, but freedom to be formed by God to be able to bear the glory of God. As John Behr explains, freedom is one of the ‘preconditions’ for ‘human beings [to] come to share in the power and the glory of the Uncreated. Yet this is but a possibility, which requires the free response of human beings, to allow themselves to be fashioned in this manner’.25 For Irenaeus, spiritual liberty has socio-political implications. In what reads like an attribution of the Pax Romana to the gospel of Christ, Irenaeus claims that the ‘law of liberty, that is the word of God, preached by the Apostles all over the world […], brought about such a transformation (tantum transmutationem), that they themselves did form swords and war-lances into ploughs, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping corn, into instruments used for peace (organa pacifica), and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek […] the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them. This person is our Lord’ (AH 4.34.4). Irenaeus does not specify who it is who experiences this transformation, though he seems to imply a shift in the broader political ethos of society leavened by the presence of Christ-transformed Christians. Yet even if socio-political effects are experienced beyond the Christian community, the new law of freedom, achieved by the work of Christ, can, properly speaking, only be received by those who, exercising their free will properly, have turned to Christ and are following him: ‘our Lord Jesus Christ […] brought down liberty to those who, in a lawful manner, and with a willing mind, and with all the heart, do him service’ (AH 4.11.4). The ancient law of freedom, enacted in the human capacity for free choice, is, however, endowed by God as Creator to all human beings, and is sustained by God in all people in all circumstances: ‘God has always preserved freedom, and the power of selfgovernment in man’ (AH 4.15.2). It is, therefore, relevant even to those who 24 25

See, also, AH 4.37.3-7. J. Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons (2013), 189.



do not fear God, i.e., to those, mentioned in AH 5.24.2, for whom the political sphere was established. Irenaeus does not explicitly link this first mode of freedom (free will) with politics. If we, nevertheless, consider Irenaeus’ insistence on divine involvement in the human political realm in light of his assertion of human free will, we can discern the outlines of a political theology that is more richly textured, and addresses more effectively the potential inconsistencies and concerns outlined in the previous section. Since Irenaeus asserts unequivocally that human beings are born with free will and are sustained in that free will by God (AH 4.15.2, Epid. 11), we can apply this to both rulers and subjects who are, therefore, created free, with freedom of choice (potestas electionis, AH 4.37.1) over their actions and their beliefs (AH 4.37.1, 5).26 Nowhere does Irenaeus suggest that the political arena is in any way exceptional when it comes to the exercise of human freedom. In fact, the Latin translator uses the same word, potestas, to describe both the political authorities whom God appoints over the kingdoms of the world (AH 5.24.1) and the individual control or authority God grants humans over their own actions and beliefs (AH 4.37.1, 5). Let us consider three features of a reading of Irenaean politics that holds human freedom together with divine sovereignty: (1) a dynamic model of political interaction between rulers and subjects; (2) a recognition of the limits of political power, in terms of both scope and character; and (3) a role for Christians in the political sphere as prophetic witnesses against injustice.

3. Dynamic Model of Political Interaction Between Rulers and Subjects Irenaeus implies the exercise of human free will specifically in connection to the magistrates’ implicit choice between acting justly and lawfully or tyrannically and impiously (AH 5.24.2). Moreover, Irenaeus notes that, by wearing the laws as a ‘garment of justice’ (indumentum justitiae), rulers obtain a kind of immunity from personal accountability for appropriate actions done ‘in the line of duty’. This creates a distinction between an office and the person holding the office. Thus, for example, judges ordering the execution of a criminal would not be held personally liable for murder. On the other hand, Irenaeus makes clear that their immunity is only valid when they act ‘justly and lawfully’ (juste et legitime, AH 5.24.2). The moment they attempt to ‘subvert justice, acting unjustly, impiously, against the law and in a tyrannical manner’,27 they 26 ‘And not only when it comes to actions but also with regards to faith did the Lord preserve the will of man free and under his own control’ (Et non tantum in operibus sed etiam in fide liberum et suae potestatis arbitrium hominis servavit Dominus, AH 4.37.5). 27 Quaecumque autem ad eversionem justi inique et impie et contra legem et more tyrannico exercuerint.

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


will receive, effectively, a death penalty from God (in his et peribunt), since the justice of God is impartial and favors no one over anyone else (AH 5.24.2).28 While any tyrannical, unjust, or otherwise poor exercise of power does not invalidate the office itself – since ‘the powers that be come from God’ – it can delegitimize the office-holder. Thus, Irenaeus provides an exegetical check to moderate the exploitative potential of Rom. 13, minimizing the possibility of using the Apostle’s assertions to justify the maintenance of an unjust status quo, since ‘the powers that be’ are still subject to the same divine law of justice as everyone else, and no one can evade God’s judgment. What Irenaeus does not do, however, is explicitly validate a democratic or contractual approach to governance, in which the government is accountable to the governed, and the latter have a direct voice in determining how rulers govern, let alone the right to ‘alter or to abolish’ the government and ‘institute new Government’, to use the words of the preface to the American Declaration of Independence. Rulers and subjects are both accountable to God directly, and while the government acts on behalf of God when enforcing laws, it is God who is responsible for meting out punishment on corrupt rulers themselves. Irenaeus does not rule out the possibility of subjects acting as instruments of God’s judgment on rulers, but he does not advance it, either. At the same time, Irenaeus does imply that subjects influence the state of the nation, even if only indirectly. As we see in AH 5.24.2, some kings are provided ‘for the correction and benefit of their subjects and for the preservation of justice’ (ad correptionem et utilitatem subjectorum dantur et conservationem justitiae); others serve to inspire fear and provide punishment (quidam autem ad timorem et poenam et increpationem); and still others are put in power specifically to treat the peoples with deception, insult, and arrogance, when that is appropriate (quidam autem ad illusionem et contumeliam et superbiam, quemadmodum et digni sunt). God’s arrangement of rulers might seem like a reward-and-punishment scheme, matching good with good and bad with bad. Yet, I submit that Irenaeus is actually pointing to a kind of political pedagogy, in which the complex interactions of rulers and subjects, in their various capacities, can bring about ‘some measure of justice’. In writing about those being governed, his emphasis is on addressing the particular developmental needs of each people. God uses rulers ‘for the benefit of the nations’ in the same way God uses all experience: as a school for spiritual progress.29 Subjects, thus, have the God-given freedom to respond to the particular character of their rulers’ administration in ways that 28

Justo judicio Dei ad omnes aequaliter perveniente et in nullo deficiente. See John Behr, ‘Learning Through Experience: The Pedagogy of Suffering and Death in Irenaeus’, in Nonna Verna Harrison and David G. Hunter (eds), Suffering and Evil in Early Christian Thought (Grand Rapids, 2016), 33-48. 29



draw them closer to justice and lawfulness, or drive them further away. Rulers, too, are not necessarily static figures, pre-cast in the role of benevolent or tyrannical sovereign. Rulers and magistrates have the opportunity, by virtue of their divinely-endowed free will, to rule justly for the good of the people and the glory of God. The exercise of governmental authority, Irenaeus explains in another context, is a virtuous task and a skill that one can and should develop.30 Thus, a kind of free play of multivalent human agency and divine call seems to be at work shaping rulers’ development and progress in righteous governance, as they interact with the concrete realities of the free choices of the people they govern.

4. The Limits of Political Power Irenaeus’ discussion of the origin and nature of political power reveals ‘the powers that be’ as fundamentally limited, despite their divine imprimatur. Situated completely outside the realm of the fear of God, they can aim no higher than to achieve some (aliquid) (implicitly limited) degree of justice (AH 5.24.2). They cannot address the root cause of the breakdown of societal relations, which is the initial turning away from God and the loss of the fear of God (AH 5.24.2). Political frameworks can serve some pedagogical purpose, within which progressive improvement of a social situation is possible, but Irenaeus provides no indication that they can bring about a paradigmatic shift toward the fear of God. In addition, political power is also limited by the fact that it deals in the currency of coercion, undergirded by the threat of the sword held up in public view (Non enim sine causa gladium portat: Dei enim minister est, vindex in iram ei qui male operatur) ([Rom. 13:4], AH 5.24.2). Under the fear of human rule people are constrained from ‘eating each other up’ like cannibalistic fish, as Irenaeus puts it, and even the positive establishment of laws only aspires to ‘push 30

Bastit has highlighted Irenaeus’ appreciation for the spiritual pedagogical value of human action and practical intelligence engaged in theoretical and practical disciplines. In the context of dismissing the claim by ‘so-called Gnostics’ that spiritual elites should experience the full range of human deeds by indulging in vice, Irenaeus suggests (somewhat sarcastically) that, at least they ought to engage in virtuous arts and activities. He follows this proposal with a list of laudable activities of daily life, both theoretical and practical, ‘which pertain to virtue, [require] effort, [bring] glory, and [require] skill’ (quae sunt ad virtutem pertinentia et laboriosa et gloriosa et artificialia) (AH II.32.2). The finale of this list of virtuous arts is ‘military arts and the art of government’ (militares et regales) (AH II.32.2). See Agnès Bastit, ‘Irénée philosophe? L’arrièreplan philosophique grec de l’œuvre d’un polémiste et théologien chrétien’, in Sophie AubertBaillot, Charles Guérin and Sébastien Morlet (eds), La philosophie des non-philosophes dans l’Empire romain du Ier au IIIe siècle, Orient & Méditerranée 32 (Paris, 2019). Many thanks to Prof. Bastit for making a manuscript of this essay available to me before its publication.

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


back’ against the manifold injustices of the peoples (ut timentes regnum hominum non se alterutrum homines vice piscium consumant, sed per legum positionem repercutiant multiplicem gentilium injustitiam) (AH 5.24.2).31 Despite their divine mandate, political authorities engage in power dynamics essentially different from God’s primary paradigm of power. ‘For’, as Irenaeus explains in AH 4.37.1, ‘God does not act with force’ (vis enim a Deo non fit), but is always characterized by non-coercive persuasion, conveying God’s will to humans without the use of violence (non tamen de violentia cogens) (AH 4.37.3). Only when the fear of God is restored, and people can perceive one another as related by the deep bonds of their common divine parentage, can they repair broken networks of interdependence and reconcile with one another in sustainable new patterns of gracious interactions and non-coercive power relations. Such a shift can only take place by participation in Christ’s inauguration of the new humanity, properly located in the church, not the political sphere. As we have seen in AH 4.34.4, Irenaeus attributes only to the ‘law of liberty’, established by Christ, the possibility of the kind of substantial positive social, economic, and political transformation that changes the entire ethos of a society from war-like to peaceable. Irenaeus’ recognition of the limitations of political authority as a means of achieving a just society implies a critique of all political structures in this world, including the Roman Empire in which he lives. It contains a warning not to attribute to temporal powers eschatological force, even if those temporal powers are, for a time, ordained by God (AH 5.32.1).32 Irenaeus freely acknowledges the valuable services the Roman Empire provides and Christians enjoy, such as safe roads that facilitate travel and commerce (AH 4.30.3). Nevertheless, he recognizes that the Empire is still destined to come to an end without achieving the kind of ultimate justice and restoration that will be available in the earthly kingdom of Christ, under the guardianship of the saints (AH 5.32.1).33

31 On the history of the notion of human beings ‘eating each other like fish’, see W. Parsons, ‘Lest men, like fishes…’, Traditio 3 (1945), 380-8. Parsons traces the reference originally to Hesiod, and among his other references are ones preceding or roughly contemporary to Irenaeus, including Habbakuk 1:13-4 and Sextus Empiricus (Adv. Math. II 32). Other relevant references include Plutarch (Moralia 964b) and Clement of Alexandria (Strom. I 29, 181, 6). I am grateful to Prof. Agnès Bastit for bringing these texts to my attention. 32 According to AH 5.32.1, God’s ultimate intention is to bring about an eschatological reversal. It is not the prevailing ‘powers that be’ but the righteous whom God intends to reign over the world. The saints, who in this world were made to suffer and were pressed into servitude will, fittingly, have dominion in the same creation in which they were oppressed – a creation which, restored to its original state, will serve the righteous (Oportet ergo et ipsam conditionem redintegratam ad pristinum sine prohibitione servire justis). 33 See W.C. van Unnik, ‘Irenaeus and the Pax Romana’ (2014) on the penultimate character of the Roman Empire in Irenaeus’ thought.



5. Freedom, Sovereignty, and Christian Martyrdom Finally, this approach provides resources for an account of Christian martyrdom that avoids incoherent victim blaming. If we jettison a punitive framework for understanding how Irenaeus sees God matching rulers and subjects, in favor of a pedagogical model, then we no longer have to attribute to Irenaeus the logical conclusion that Christians persecuted and killed by government officials deserve what they get. Rather, we can understand persecution as unjust, resulting from the problematic exercise of free will on the part of rulers, and functioning as a distortion of God’s purposes for the political sphere for which rulers will be held accountable by God. A relevant illustration of this can be found in the Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, where Eusebius preserves an account of persecution and martyrdom in Irenaeus’ own Gallic Christian community.34 The narrator points precisely to this issue of injustice, contrasting the just requests made in defense of the Christians (H.e. 5.1.10) with the unjust and irrational character of the accusations and the treatment the Christians endured (H.e. 5.1.9, 5.1.58). Moreover, the Letter indicates that, in Gaul, the violence against Christians was instigated by a mob of townspeople, and only later did the tribune, chief authorities, and governor become involved (H.e., 5.1.7-8). In such a case, the ‘free play’ of agencies among rulers and subjects produces a symphony of injustice, rather than progress toward peace.

Conclusion When we take into account Irenaeus’ doctrine of human freedom alongside his notion of divine sovereignty, we see in Irenaeus’ politics a complex interaction between the agencies of rulers and subjects and a qualified affirmation of the legitimacy of political authority’s coercive deployment of fear. Irenaeus reconciles divine sovereignty over the kingdoms of the world with human creaturely freedom by distinguishing between divine authority establishing political offices and human responsibility for executing political offices. Moreover, while 34 Eusebius does not indicate the author of the Letter. Modern scholars who argue for the possibility or likelihood of Irenaean authorship, citing claims of Irenaean attribution dating as far back as Oecumenius in the 10th century, include: P. Nautin, Lettres et écrivain chrétiens du IIe et IIIe siècles (Paris, 1961), 54-9; A. Rousseau (ed.), Irénée de Lyon Contre les Hérésies Livre IV (Paris, 1965), I 258-61; Robert M. Grant, ‘Eusebius and the Martyrs of Gaul’, in Les Martyrs de Lyon (177) (Paris, 1978), 129-36; Matthew C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption (Leiden, 2008), 10 n. 24; and J. Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons (2013), 14. For the case against Irenaean authorship, see Roy J. Deferrari (ed.), Eusebius Pamphili: Ecclesiasical History, Books 1-5 (Washington, DC, 2010), 273 n. 3; and Candida Moss, Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies and Traditions (New Haven, 2012), 102, 104.

Freedom, Transformation, and the Powers That Be: Irenaeus on Politics


he recognizes the reality of tyrannical leaders, Irenaeus holds the populace partially responsible for the state of a society. While the political realm may be conditioned by the exercise of free will by all parties involved, it is not, in itself, a pathway to the full flowering of freedom made possible in Christ, nor is it sufficient to produce a just society. Irenaeus envisions positive socio-political change primarily as a result of Christ transforming individuals and, through them, influencing the broader ethos of a society (AH 4.34.4). This, then, is another dimension to human freedom shaping the political sphere. For the ancient law of freedom – the freedom of choice between good and evil actions, which, Irenaeus claims, God preserves for all people, regardless of their state – finds its intended fulfillment in the new law of liberty. When free will is exercised in such a way that it aligns with God’s just purposes, it renders coercive force unnecessary. As society and societal relations are transformed by this new law of liberty, humans are reconnected to God and, thereby, re-humanized, no longer devolving into beastly behavior, and no longer in need of the regime of the sword and of the fear of humans to hold them in check. Coercive force is, thus, rendered obsolete. Yet, Irenaeus implies, violence cannot eradicate violence: the system of coercive force cannot be eradicated by the coercive means available to political authorities. The link between freedom to choose the good and the paradoxical freedom of the yoke of Christ cannot be forged within the political realm itself. Such profound transformation is beyond the reach of civil authority, since the state functions essentially as a policing force, curbing bad behavior, and a facilitator, promoting civic prosperity through infrastructure and security services. Ultimately, it is only in the church’s proclamation and action, proleptically, and in the reign of the saints in Christ’s kingdom, eschatologically, that God’s noncoercive power can find its creaturely fulfillment in the fullness of human love for God and neighbor.

Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ ‘Two Hands’ and the visio Dei Don W. SPRINGER, Hamilton, Canada

ABSTRACT Adversus haereses IV 20.1 is among the most cited of Irenaeus’ texts. As one of the ‘two hands of God’ passages, the pericope is typically employed for one of two purposes. First, and most frequently, Adv. haer. IV 20.1 is utilized as a means to reflect on the Irenaean conception of the Trinity. Second, the picture of the Father’s hands fashioning the dirt into the first human is leveraged to express the kinship and intimacy between the Creator and the created. Both of these insights are important but too often the larger context is neglected. Through a close reading of Adv. haer. IV 20.1, as well as a summary analysis of Chapters nineteen and twenty, this article demonstrates that Irenaeus’ ‘two hands’ motif is best understood in view of the larger context. That context is dominated by the idea that humanity was designed for – and remains with the potential – to see and behold God. The nearly one hundred video (to see) references in Chapter twenty are focussed not simply on a vision of God but on an encounter with him. I argue that Irenaeus’ ‘hands’ motif reinforces the theme of the chapter, namely, that the Trinitarian God created humankind in order for there to be an ongoing fellowship between the fashioner and the fashioned. Emphasis on the Trinitarian nature of the creator and on his intimate connection to humanity is important, but a failure to root these elements in the context of beholding the Divine robs the pericope of its primary meaning.

Introduction The Father and his two hands, the Son and the Spirit, is a much-discussed Irenaean motif.1 Though these references appear fewer than a dozen times in 1 For the most helpful discussions on the topic, see D. Jeffrey Bingham, ‘Himself within Himself: The Father and His Hands in Early Christianity’, Southwestern Journal of Theology 47 (2005), 137-51; John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement (Oxford, 2000); Michel René Barnes, ‘Irenaeus’s Trinitarian Theology’, Nova Et Vetera 7 (2009), 67-106; M.C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption (Leiden, 2008); Anthony Briggman, Irenaeus of Lyons and the Theology of the Holy Spirit, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford, 2012); Richard A. Norris, ‘Who Is the Demiurge?: Irenaeus’ Picture of God in Adversus Haereses 2’, in Andrew Brian McGowan, Brian Daley and Timothy J. Gaden (eds), God in Early Christian Thought: Essays in Memory of Lloyd G. Patterson, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 94 (Leiden, 2009), 9-36; Basil Studer, Trinity and Incarnation: The Faith

Studia Patristica CIX, 97-105. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



the extant literature,2 scholarly interaction with the motif has been considerable.3 Such discussions typically revolve around the state of Trinitarian reflection in the second century, with specific reference to Irenaeus’ understanding of the kinship, proximity, and intimacy between the Creator and his creation. These questions are important, but too often the larger context of the ‘two hands’ passages is neglected. The purpose of this essay is therefore to closely examine the context surrounding one of the key ‘hands’ texts, that found in Adv. haer. IV 20.1. Through a close reading of the surrounding paragraphs, I will demonstrate that in this instance, Irenaeus’ use of the ‘two hands’ is understood rightly only when the larger theological context is considered. Moreover, that context is not firstly concerned with God’s triunity, nor any potential ontological relationship to humanity. Rather, the texts under examination demonstrate a dominating concern for the idea that humanity has been designed for – and remains with the potential – to see and behold God. In the nearly one hundred vision/beholding references (video) in chapter 20, the focus is not simply on the sight of God, but on an encounter with him. I argue that Irenaeus’ ‘hands’ motif is meant to contribute to this theme, namely, that the Trinitarian God personally created humankind in order for there to be an ongoing fellowship between the fashioner and the fashioned. To begin, I consider the motif text in isolation, noting briefly how scholars have typically understood it. For the remainder of the article I will examine portions of the surrounding text, noting the prevailing theme on the vision of God. 1. The Hands of God (Adv. haer. IV 20.1) Mid-way through the first paragraph of Adv. haer. IV 20 Irenaeus provides one of the most commonly cited of the ‘hands’ texts. In the context of humanity’s creation, the bishop of Lyon comments that ‘it was not angels who made nor fashioned us … for God needed no assistance … as if he did not possess his own hands. For with him always was the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, he made all things …’ of the Early Church (Edinburgh, 1993); Jackson Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 127 (Leiden, 2014); John Lawson, The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus (London, 1948); Jules Lebreton, ‘La théologie de la trinité chez saint Irénée’, in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia, vol. 2 (Barcelona, 1926), 89-148; Jules Lebreton, Histoire du dogme de la Trinité: des origines au concile de Nicée, vol. 2 (Paris, 1928). 2 Concerning the precise number of references found in Irenaeus’ extant texts, see Robinson’s introductory comments in J. Armitage Robinson (ed.), St. Irenaeus: The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (London, 1920). 3 Barnes suggests that scholarly fascination with the topic was particularly evident in the twentieth century. M.R. Barnes, ‘Irenaeus’s Trinitarian Theology’ (2009), 101.

Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ ‘Two Hands’ and the visio Dei


(Adv. haer. IV 20.1).4 In his treatise Irenaeus on Creation, Matthew Steenberg provides a brief commentary on this text and his analysis reveals a principal concern for the Trinitarian elements of the passage. To briefly summarize, he argues that the text provides important insights into the nature of God, particularly as it concerns the unity of the Divine will.5 Steenberg sees here a ‘striking articulation of the mutual interrelatedness of the Trinitarian persons’.6 Irenaeus on Creation, is a volume primarily concerned with questions concerning human origins and the nature and role of the Divine in the process of creation. It is an important thesis of the work that ‘it is a cardinal point for Irenaeus that the whole triune God was involved in the formation of the whole human person’.7 As such, Steenberg’s perspective on the ‘hands’ text is predictably Trinitarian, despite the fact that the only statement of Adv. haer. IV 20 to explicitly suggest an internal, triune nature is the brief statement that the Word and Wisdom are God’s ‘own’ hands. It is this statement – these two words, in fact – that preclude the pericope from an interpretation whereby the Son and Spirit are beings independent of God. As noted above, Steenberg’s interest in the text is not a unique one. Scholars have often closely – if not often exclusively – identified the two-hands motif with the doctrine of the Trinity. Recently, Jackson Lashier noted that ‘every scholar who has described the status of the Trinity in Irenaeus has addressed [his] use of the “hands of God” motif and more often than not has deemed it the central Trinitarian image’.8 Two striking examples of this included John Lawson, who argued that ‘the most profound and sustained treatment of the nature of God given by Irenaeus is [in discussion] of “The Two Hands”’.9 So too H.B. Swete, whose position Michel Barnes summarized by stating that for Swete, the motif ‘constituted Irenaeus’ Trinitarian theology’.10 A second point of interest drawn from the motif is its testimony to the nearness between God and humanity in the act of creation. As Eric Osborn put it, ‘Irenaeus uses this vivid metaphor … to underline the immediacy and continuity 4 Non ergo angeli fecerunt nos neque plasma verunt nos, neque enim angeli poterant imaginem facere Dei, neque alius quis praeter verum Deum, neque virtus longe absistens a Patre universorum. Neque enim indigebat horum Deus ad faciendum quae ipse apud se praefinierat fieri, quasi ipse suas non haberet manus. Adest enim ei semper Verbum et Sapientia, Filius et Spiritus, per quos et in quibus omnia libere et sponte fecit… Translations are my own, in consultation with available English and, in particular, Rousseau’s French translation. The Latin text and French translation are found in Adelin Rousseau, Bertrand Hemmerdinger, Charles Mercier and Louis Doutreleau, Irénée de Lyon: Contre les Hérésies Livre IV, SC 100 (Paris, 1965), II 624-7. 5 M.C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation (Leiden, 2008), 114. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 107. 8 J. Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity (Leiden, 2014). A similar comment is made by Barnes. See M.R. Barnes, ‘Irenaeus’s Trinitarian Theology’ (2009), 101, n. 107. 9 J. Lawson, Biblical Theology (London, 1948), 128. 10 M.R. Barnes, ‘Irenaeus’s Trinitarian Theology’ (2009), 104.



of God’s activity’.11 Indeed, the hand is ‘a symbol of the descending love by which God is known. For we do not merely meet God face to face, but are formed by God’s hands in effable proximity’.12 John Behr adds that the imagery of the hand provides a sense of immediacy to Adam’s creation, making it ‘quite literally, a “hands-on” affair’.13 Despite this concern for divine immanency, scholars have not always drawn a connection between this intimacy of the ‘hands’ motif with the related emphases on vision and fellowship evident in the surrounding context. It is to that context, that I will devote the rest of the article. 2. The Context of Adv. haer. IV 20 Leading up to Adv. haer. IV 20 Irenaeus outlines the Divine concern for humanity to know God. At the outset of the chapter, however, a point of tension is introduced and this tension is crucial for understanding Irenaeus’ larger concern in these paragraphs. On the one hand, the One God, the Lord of glory and majesty who fashioned the cosmos must surely be a being beyond reckoning. On the other hand, this God who cannot be grasped is one who wants to be known. The bishop of Lyon introduced this issue in the previous chapter, where he argued that ‘God cannot be measured in the heart, and is incomprehensible in the mind … yet he is also present with every one of us … He illumines the heavens … yet also openly nourishes and preserves us’.14 Later, and in the paragraph immediately preceding the ‘two-hands’ text of Adv. haer. IV 20.1, Irenaeus admits that none can fully appreciate the fullness of His goodness, and yet, ‘His greatness is not defective, but contains all things, and extends even to us, and is with us’.15 The tension, to know the unknowable, is not here resolved. On the contrary, the tension is deliberate, establishing the context crucial for understanding the overall thrust of Chapter 20. 11

Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge, 2001), 91. Ibid. 92. 13 Concerning the relationship between Divine immanency and the two hands, see J. Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology (Oxford, 2000), 38. See also A. Briggman, Theology of Holy Spirit (Oxford, 2012), 124-5; M.C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation (Leiden, 2008), 81-3; D.J. Bingham, ‘Himself within Himself’ (2005); Gustaf Wingren, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Theology of Irenaeus (Edinburgh, 1959), 5-22, 154-6; F.R.M. Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum: A Study of His Teaching (Cambridge, 1914), 107-8; J. Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity (Leiden, 2014), ch. 5; J. Lawson, Biblical Theology (Boston, 1948), 119-39. 14 [I]mmensurabilis est in corde Deus et incomprehensibilis in animo … Deus enim, inquit, appropinquans ego sum, el non Deus de longingquo. Si absconditur homo in absconsis, et eum non videbo? Manus enim ejus apprehendit omnia; et ipsa est quae caelos quidem illuminat, illuminat etiam quae sub caelo sunt, et scrutatur renes et corda, et in absconsis inest et in secretis nostris, et in manifesto alit et conservat nos, SC 100, II 620-1. 15 [E]t quoniam magnitudo ejus non deficit, sed omnia continent et pervenit usque ad nos et nobiscum est, omnis quicumque digne Deo sapit confitebitur. SC 100, II 622-3. 12

Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ ‘Two Hands’ and the visio Dei


3. Leading up to the ‘Hands’ (Adv. haer. IV 20.1) Irenaeus begins Adv. haer. IV 20 repeating the theme prominent in the previous chapter, that, ‘in regards to His greatness, it is not possible to know God, for it is impossible that the Father can be measured; but in regards to His love (for this is what leads us to God by His Word), when we obey him, we will everlearn that there is so great a God, and that it is He who personally established, fashioned, adorned, and contains all things…’ (Adv. haer. IV 20.1).16 This introduction repeats the previous chapter’s emphasis on knowing God: the Creator wants to be known by those whom he fashioned. The conclusion of this sentence, with its emphasis on the human race that he has personally formed, is also a natural transition and important point of connection to the Trinitarian-themed creation and the two-hands pericope discussed above. Observe, however, the emphasis that leads into the motif text: it is a reference to knowing God, to being led to Him, through His Son, while in His love. Moreover, the promise is that the obedient can learn of the greatness of God. The rest of the paragraph (as insightfully Trinitarian as it is) stresses the fact it was God Himself who personally fashioned humankind, breathing the breath of life directly into His face and taking from Himself (ipse a semetipso) that which was needed in order to fashion his creation.17 Curiously, however, this opening line of Adv. haer. IV 20.1 is not always examined as part of the context that makes up the two-hands passage. Steenberg, for example, in his otherwise insightful commentary on the paragraph, quotes the text in its entirety, with the sole exception of this first sentence. In so doing, the text is robbed of the important transition marker and contextual anchor that links the hands passage with the preceding, vitally interconnected paragraph. The temptation is to thus view the ‘hands’ section in isolation and as instructive primarily on the triune nature of God and on its implications for human origins.18 4. The Beholding of God (Adv. haer. IV 20.2) The theme of the fellowship between creator and created is perhaps evident only subtly in Paragraph 1. For the remainder of Chapter 20 and its 12 paragraphs, 16 Igitur secundum magnitudinem non est cognoscere Deum : impossibile est enim mensurari Patrem; secundum autem dilectionem ejus – haec est enim quae nos per Verbum ejus perducit ad Deum – obaudientes ei semper discunt quoniam est tantus Deus, et ipse est qui per semetipsum constituit et fecit et adornavit et continet omnia…, SC 100, II 624-5. 17 [I]pse a semetipso substantiam creaturarum et exemplum factorum et figuram in mundo ornamentorum accipiens. Rousseau’s translation reads, ‘C’est donc bien de lui-même qu’il a pris la substance des choses qui ont été créées’, SC 100, II 626-7. 18 See also Brendan Leahy, ‘The Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian Rhythm of Human Fulfilment in the Theology of Irenaeus’, in D. Vincent Twomey and Janet E. Rutherford (eds.), The Holy Spirit in the Fathers of the Church, The Proceedings of the Seventh International Patristic Conference, Maynooth, 2008 (Dublin, Portland, 2010), 11-31.



however, the theme is abundantly clear. One of the primary means by which Irenaeus communicates the intended bond between God and humanity is through the notion of the visio Dei: that is, the capability of a person to see or behold God. Indeed, paragraphs 4 through 11 of the Latin text of Adv. haer. IV 20 contain more than sixty occurrences of video and its cognates. There are two pericopes that demonstrate particularly well Irenaeus’ concern for this topic. The first occurs in paragraph 2 and follows the all-important ‘two hands’ text from the first paragraph. With initial references to The Shepherd of Hermas and Malachi,19 Irenaeus quotes Ephesians, asserting: ‘There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all’ (Eph. 4:6). From Matthew 11 he repeats Jesus’ words that ‘all things are delivered to me by the Father’ (Matt. 11:27), then quotes Rev. 3 to declare that, ‘He shall open, and no man shall shut: He shall shut, and no man shall open’ (Rev. 3:7). To this statement Irenaeus attaches a clear allusion to Rev. 5:3, stating ‘no one was able, either in heaven or in earth, or under the earth, to open the scroll of the Father, or to behold Him’. From there, Irenaeus conflates several more key statements from Rev. 5, paraphrasing the pericope with the statement that none could behold him ‘with the exception of the Lamb who was slain’.20 Here the bishop reverts to his own commentary, affirming that this power ‘over all things [is] from the same God who made all things by the Word, and adorned them by His Wisdom, when the Word was made flesh’. The final sentence of the paragraph declares that the Word was made the ‘“first-begotten of the dead”; that all things, as I have already said, might behold their King; and that the paternal light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from His resplendent flesh, that man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the paternal light’ (Adv. haer. IV 20.2).21 The paragraph is a complex interweaving and conflation of various texts. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the promise and ability for humanity to ‘behold’ God was clearly Irenaeus’ primary concern. This is evident in two key ways. First, the climax of the paragraph is clear in its concern for the theme of seeing God and participating in His glorious light. Irenaeus lists two outcomes of the salvation secured by the Lamb’s sacrifice: to behold the King and to 19 Irenaeus’ inclusion of The Shepherd alongside the New Testament texts has generated considerable discussion. See, for example Irenaeus Archimandrite (M.C.) Steenberg, ‘Irenaeus on Scripture, Graphe, and the Status of Hermas’, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 53 (2009), 29-66; Charles E. Hill, ‘“The Writing Which Says…” The Shepherd of Hermas in the Writings of Irenaeus’, SP 65 (2013), 127-38. 20 Nemo enim alter poterat neque in caelo, neque in terra, neque sub terra aperire paternum librum, neque videre eum nisi agnus qui occisus est, SC 200, II 628-31. 21 [I]pse primogenitus mortuorum factus; et ut viderent omnia, quemadmodum praediximus, suum Regem; et ut in carnem Domini nostri occurrat paterna lux, et a carne ejus rutila veniat in nos, et sic homo deveniat in incorruptelam, circumdatus paterno lumine, SC 100, II 630-1.

Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ ‘Two Hands’ and the visio Dei


attain to the immortality that occurs as a result of having been invested with the paternal light. The entire paragraph weaves to this conclusion through careful, if not creative, use of scripture. Second, the allusion to Rev. 5 is one example of his creativity and illustrates his motivation. This first of the many references to seeing God is in fact a Biblical text that was itself not directly about seeing God, but concerned the inability of any to see into the scroll.22 The Latin text of Irenaeus, however, modifies the statement in two important ways. First, by attaching paternum to librum, thus referencing the scroll of the Father; and, second, and most importantly, by indicating that what could not be seen was ‘Him’ (Latin: eum), rather than ‘it’ (the scroll).23 There is no uncertainty whatsoever in the Greek of the New Testament that the issue of what is unable to be ‘seen’ is the scroll (ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον οὔτε βλέπειν αὐτό).24 It is the unmistakable context of Adv. haer. IV 20.2, however, that demands the translator identify the Father as that which was beheld. Such ambiguity does not exist in the New Testament Greek text of Rev. 5. The point is this: In Adv. haer. IV 20.2, Irenaeus’ creative use of scripture demonstrates a clear prioritization of the beholding of God. He reveals no significant interest in the primary themes or context of Rev. 5, namely, the scroll or the visions of the apocalypse. On the contrary, his focus fixates on the importance and potential for humanity to encounter the Creator.25 As Irenaeus is here clear with his theological interests, it behooves scholars to take those interests seriously when considering a singular statement about God and his hands. The context must shape the interpretation. A second pericope that effectively outlines his theological concerns is found later in Chapter 20. 22 ‘And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it’ (καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ οὐδὲ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐδὲ ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον οὔτε βλέπειν αὐτό), Rev. 5:3 SBLGNT. 23 It was Rousseau’s practice to italicize those texts which he considered quotations from the Bible. Notice the manner in which he cites the text under discussion: ‘Nemo enim alter poterat neque in caelo, neque in terra, neque sub terra aperire paternum librum, neque videre eum nisi agnus qui occisus est’. It is noted that in the middle of the Rev. 5:3 quotation he does not italicize paterunum, SC 200, II 628-31. 24 Rousseau, in his Greek retroversion, follows the Greek of Revelation, with the exception of the ‘bracketed’ insertion of πατρικὸν between the ‘scroll’ and its definite article. Thus, τὸ βιβλίον becomes τὸ πατρικὸν βιβλίον. In so doing, the Greek text becomes ambiguous: the pronoun (αὐτό) could refer either to the Father or the scroll. The surviving Latin, however, makes Irenaeus’ intentions clear, SC 100, II 631. 25 This reading is strengthened further if compared to a text in Adv. Haer. IV 20.11. There, Irenaeus writes again of John (Revelation’s author) standing before the throne of God. He references Rev. 1:17, which describes John falling to the ground as dead. The Bishop comments that such a collapse occurred because John could not endure the ‘sight’ that was before him. Moreover, this act brought ‘to pass that which was written, “No man sees God and shall live”’. The incorporation of this latter text (from Exod. 33:20), further reinforces Irenaeus’ interest in the notion of man-beholding-God. Adv. haer. IV 20.11. See Juan Ochagavia, Visibile Patris Filius: A Study of Irenaeus’ Teaching on Revelation and Tradition, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 171 (Rome, 1964).



5. Vision of God and Trinity (Adv. haer. IV 20.5) Three paragraphs after the text just examined, Irenaeus states that: ‘The prophets revealed that God should be seen by men; as the Lord says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”’.26 This promise, however, is not predicated upon the piety of the individual. On the contrary, ‘when it pleases God, and as He wills, He is seen’.27 Here is a continuation of the themes explored in the last pericope. Irenaeus reiterates the concern for his readers to be mindful of the hope that God has for them. What is particularly relevant about this paragraph is the fact that the Bishop interweaves his understanding of the vision of God within a Trinitarian framework. First, he identifies the big picture – the larger vision and the Divine roles in the economy of God. Irenaeus affirms this revealing God: ‘Having been seen [in the past] prophetically through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and to be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven’.28 The picture then moves from the wide view of the economy to the narrower question of how humanity is prepared for the encounter with – the beholding of – the Divine. The foundational statement that humanity’s salvation is by ‘adoption through the son’ is unpacked with greater detail. It is ‘the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, who then confers incorruption for eternal life, which comes to everyone on account of his seeing God’.29 Irenaeus identifies salvation/incorruption as a Trinitarian act. Once adopted, the Spirit prepares, the Son leads, and the Father confers. This, the Bishop asserts, is the entry unto eternal life, which comes as a result of seeing God. If there was any doubt, Irenaeus makes explicit the connection between this vision of God with fellowship with (salvation in) Him. ‘For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendour. [His] splendour vivifies. Those, therefore, who see God, receive life’.30 Moreover, ‘it is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found 26 Praesignificabant igitur prophetae quoniam videbitur Deus ab hominibus, quemadmodum et Dominus ait: Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt, SC 100, II 636-9. 27 Homo etenim a se non videbit Deum; ille autem volens videbitur hominibus, quibus vult et quando vult, et quemadmodum vult, SC 100, II 638-9. 28 [P]otens est enim in omnibus Deus, visus quidem tunc per Spiritum prophetice, visus autem et per Filium adoptive, videbitur autem et, in regno caelorum paternaliter…, SC 100, II 638-9. This quote, combined with the next two, represent an uninterrupted section of text from Adv. haer. IV 20.5 29 Spiritu quidem praeparante hominem in Filium Dei, Filio autem adducente ad Patrem, Patre autem incorruptelam donante in aeternam vitam, quae unicuique evenit. ex eo quad videat Deum, SC 100, II 638-41. 30 Quemadmodum enim videntus lumen intra lumen sunt et claritatem ejus percipiunt, sic et qui vident Deum intra Damn sunt, percipientes ejus claritatem. Vivificat autem Dei claritas percipiunt ergo vitam qui vident Deum, SC 100, II 640-1.

Hands for Beholding: Irenaeus’ ‘Two Hands’ and the visio Dei


in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know him, and to enjoy His goodness’.31 Conclusion This article has sought to demonstrate that, for all the Trinitarian interest with Irenaeus’ ‘hands’ motif, the idea that really ‘held’ the bishop’s attention was the concept of seeing God. For Irenaeus, both the purpose of creation, and the telos of salvation history centered upon the desired union between creature and Creator; this, he expresses throughout Adv. haer. IV 20 vis-à-vis the concept of humanity’s vision of the divine. It is true that the two points identified at the beginning of this article, namely, the Triunity of God and his proximity to his people are important elements of the text. However, to focus only on those points is to miss the significance of the larger context. It is true that Irenaeus does, with some frequency, insert into his discussions seemingly unrelated or ancillary remarks; remarks that hint at deeper theological implications, but again, which are somewhat disconnected from the surrounding context. Here, however, I suggest this is not the case. For in the paragraph immediately following the statement about the Father and his two hands, is the paragraph centred on the roles of the Triune God drawing humankind into fellowship. To situate the hands motif within the larger context of the entire chapter not only develops further the insights into the Divine nature, but it adds a level of cohesion to the text – one that has too often been neglected.

31 Per quam visus vitam praestat his qui vident eum: quoniam vivere sine vita impossibile est, subsistentia autem vitae de Dei participatione evenit, participatio autem Dei est videre Deum et frui benignaitate ejus, SC 100, II 640-3. Reinhard Hübner sees in this chapter modalistic resonance with Noetus of Smyrna. Most notably, the relationship between the visio Dei and the one God and Father. See R.M. Hübner, ‘Der antivalentianische Charakter der Theologie des Noetus von Smyrna’, in id., Der Paradox Eine. Antignostischer Monarchianismus im zweiten Jahrhundert, SVigChr 50 (Leiden, Boston, Köln, 1999), 95-129, 114-5, n. 55. A special thank you to M. Vinzent for bringing this article to my attention. For another perspective, see Anthony Briggman, God and Christ in Irenaeus, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford, 2018), 104-38. Briggman argues for the eternal, ontological union of the Father and Son within a classical Trinitarian framework.




Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch Scott D. MORINGIELLO, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA

ABSTRACT In Book Five of the Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus of Lyon quotes Ignatius of Antioch without naming him. Irenaeus refers to the coming millennium when the wheat will be separated from the chaff. The coming tribulation, Irenaeus explains, is for the benefit of the wheat because they will be prepared for the banquet of God. ‘As a certain man of ours said when he was condemned to the wild beasts because of his testimony with respect to God: “I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God”’ (Iren., Adv haer. 5.28.4, quoting Ign., Rom. 4.1). In an apocalyptic and eschatological moment in his own writing, Irenaeus quotes an apocalyptic and eschatological moment in one of Ignatius’ letters. And within what we might call an apocalyptic and eschatological horizon, Irenaeus and Ignatius understand themselves in light of sacrifice. For Ignatius, as for Irenaeus, the heart of Christian discipleship is to sacrifice oneself as Christ did. The Eucharist offers this sacrifice to the Christian, and the Christian, though a life of faith and love lives out that sacrifice. In the following article, I want to use Irenaeus’ quotation of Ignatius as an entryway to examine Ignatius on faith, love, and sacrifice. This, in turn, will help us understand Irenaeus’ quotation of Ignatius in Book Five. We will see that Irenaeus draws on Ignatius for his understanding of the Eucharist.

In Book Five of the Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus of Lyon quotes Ignatius of Antioch without naming him. The context for the quotation is the end of Irenaeus’ text where he turns his attention to the role of Christ in the final judgment of human beings, when the wheat will be separated from the chaff. The wheat will be purified and made ready for the royal banquet. To reinforce the image, Irenaeus turns to Ignatius. ‘As a certain man of ours said, when he was condemned to the wild beasts because of his testimony with respect to God: ‘I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of God’.1 Just before this passage, Irenaeus 1 ὡς εἶπέ τις τῶν ἡμετέρων διὰ τὴν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν μαρτυρίαν κατακριθεὶς πρὸς θηρία, ὅτι σῖτός εἰμι τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ διὰ ὀδόντων θηρίων λήθομαι, ἵνα καθαρὸς Θεοῦ ἄρτος εὑρεθῶ. Adv Haer. 5.28.4, quoting Ign., Rom. 4.1. Back calls Ignatius’ words here ‘one the most tantalizing of Ignatius’ eucharistic texts’. Sven-Olav Back, ‘The Eucharist in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch’, in Institutions of the Emerging Church (London, 2016), 125. For text of Irenaeus, see Irenaeus of Lyon. Contre les hérésies: Livre V, 2 vol., SC 152-3 (Paris, 1969). For a discussion of this

Studia Patristica CIX, 109-117. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



reminds his reader that the human being has been molded from the beginning of time by God’s hands, that is the Son and the Spirit, after the image and likeness of God. Yet this creation of man only comes to completion, according to Irenaeus, through man’s sacrifice. Irenaeus calls on Ignatius as a witness while Irenaeus is discussing the future judgment that awaits all people. Ignatius, of course, knew that his own judgment was at hand. It’s interesting to ask, though, why Irenaeus quotes these words of Ignatius in this context. The answer to that question helps us understand Ignatius more fully and it also helps us to understand how Irenaeus borrowed from Ignatius. In this essay I want to highlight what I believe Irenaeus wants to highlight. And that is that Ignatius believes that the heart of Christian discipleship is to sacrifice oneself as Christ did. I want to explore the connections that Ignatius makes among the themes of sacrifice (or more specifically martyrdom), the eucharist, and love. As we will see, Irenaeus makes even more explicit themes found implicitly or explicitly in Ignatius. Before I move on to my argument, I would like to make a methodological note. I agree with the scholarly consensus that Ignatius wrote the seven letters attributed to him.2 Because of this, in this essay, I draw on all seven letters believing that although Ignatius wrote to difference audiences his fundamental views were the same in the short time he wrote the letters. I also want to note that my exploration focuses on Ignatius primarily as a theological writer. And I’m interested in trying to understand him in terms that would be familiar to him. I believe that it is more helpful to understand Ignatius through the lens of Irenaeus than through contemporary discussions of systematic theology or contemporary reconstructions of his historical and literary milieu.3 I want to begin my argument about Ignatius by starting again with Irenaeus. One of Irenaeus’ most important contributions to the history of Christian theology is his understanding of the Scriptures (both the old and new covenants) representing the oikonomia of God’s creation and salvation. Ignatius did not have access to the same range of texts that Irenaeus had, and what texts Ignatius passage and how it fits into Book Five, see Scott D. Moringiello, The Rhetoric of Faith: Irenaeus and the Structure of the Adversus Haereses (Washington, DC, 2019) 169-80, esp. 173. 2 On this, see Harry O. Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry as Reflected in the Writings of Hermas, Clement, and Ignatius (Waterloo, Ont., 1991), 147. 3 The bibliography here is long, but one superb book that approaches Ignatius in terms of contemporary systematic theology is Gregory Vall, Learning Christ: Ignatius of Antioch and the Mystery of Redemption (Washington, DC, 2013), An article that discusses Ignatius in terms of contemporary discussions of the Eucharist is Frederick C. Klawiter, ‘The Eucharist and Sacramental Realism in the Thought of St. Ignatius of Antioch’, Studia Liturgica 37 (2007), 129-63. And of course one must mention Allen Brent and his work on placing Ignatius in his literary context. See Allen Brent, Ignatius of Antioch and the Second Sophisti: A Study of an Early Christian Transformation of Pagan Culture (Tübingen, 2006) and id., Ignatius of Antioch: A Martyr Bishop and the Origin of Episcopacy (London, 2007).

Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch


did know is not germane to my argument. What is germane, though, is one of Ignatius’ most famous lines, where he presents a theme Ireaneus will take up. In his Letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius writes, ‘for me, the “archives” are Jesus Christ, the inviolable archives are his cross and death and resurrection and the faith which comes through them’ (8.2).4 We cannot overstate the significance here. Ignatius’ point is that Christ is present in the old covenant, and that the key to understanding the covenant is Christ’s sacrificial death. As we will see, sacrifice is at the heart of Ignatius’ writing. To be part of God’s covenant one needs to sacrifice oneself on behalf of the community of believers. Such a sacrifice comes through participating in the Eucharist. The second point to be made here is related. Ignatius does not develop the theme of economy as robustly as Irenaeus does, but the word does appear in his letters. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius writes: ‘For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to the economy of God (οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ) both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit’ (18.12). For Ignatius (as for Irenaeus), Christ’s cross is the lens through which we ought to understand God’s economy of salvation. This economy charts God’s covenant with his people. Ignatius does not explicitly use covenant-language in his letters, but if we view his letters in light of such language, many things become clear. Christ, of course, augurs the covenant between God and human beings, and he does this through his passion, death, and resurrection. I want to place Ignatius’ comments on love in the context of his discussion of Eucharist, and I want to put his discussion of the Eucharist in the context of his discussion of a sacrificial covenant. Ultimately, Christ’s sacrifice can only be understood in light of the Eucharist. We see this in the quotation from Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans that I quoted above. The Eucharist, moreover, can only be understood in light of God’s love. Ignatius on Sacrifice To begin our discussion of sacrifice, I want to explore Ignatius’ use of two words that relate to the concept: περίψημα and ἀντίψυχον.5 In the First Letter 4 Ἐμοὶ δὲ ἀρχεῖά ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, τὰ ἄθικτα ἀρχεῖα ὁ σταυρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ πίστις ἡ δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐν οἷς. For more on this passage see William R. Schoedel, ‘Ignatius and the Archives’, The Harvard Theological Review 71 (1978), 97-106. For texts of Ignatius, I have used and at times modified the translations of Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids, MI, 1999). 5 For Ignatius’ understanding of these two words, see Mikael Isacson, To Each Their Own Letter: Structure, Themes, and Rhetorical Strategies in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (Stockholm, 2004), 68-71. As one can imagine, the literature on Ignatius on martyrdom and sacrifice is vast. This article is not the place to review it all. But for important discussions, see S. Fuhrmann, ‘Traditions of Martyrdom in the Ignatian Letters’, In Die Skriflig 45 (2011), 689-706 and John



to the Corinthians, Paul writes: ‘We who are vilified, speak gently. We have become the dregs of the world, the sacrificial offering (περίψημα) until now’ (4:13). περίψημα is an interesting word with a wide range of lexical meanings. It originally meant off-scouring or scraping that was removed in the process of cleaning. In the transferred sense, it came to mean ‘scapegoat’ or ‘expiatory sacrifice’. Paul’s letter, especially in this chapter, discusses being a fool for Christ, being one whom the world rejects because the world rejects God. And Paul wants his fellow followers of Christ to imitate him (Paul) in enduring the hatred of the world. Now, of course, Paul’s admonitions here are not unique to him. We find this message in the Gospels and in Acts as well. Here, though, I am interested in the idea that the hatred Christians endure is, on Paul’s account, somehow sacrificial. I am not particularly interested in the question of whether or not Ignatius had access to Paul’s letters. But Paul’s use of περίψημα gives us some view of the lexical range of the word. Irenaeus quoted Ignatius because he wanted to show that Ignatius saw himself as a sacrifice. Of course, that meant that Irenaeus wanted to see himself that way as well, and he wanted his audience to see themselves as sacrifices to God within the economy of salvation. Ignatius uses περίψημα twice in his letters, and both times it appears in his Letter to the Ephesians. He tells his audience that they should be unified. Then he tells them, ‘I am a sacrifice (περίψημα) to you and I dedicate myself to you, Ephesians, a church that is famous to the ages’.6 Notice that Ignatius sees himself as an offering or a sacrifice to the whole church. This theme will become even more important later in our argument, but for now it is enough to flag that Ignatius sees his individual sacrifice in communal terms. He does not sacrifice for himself or even for God, but for the church. Later on in the letter, Ignatius uses the word again in a similar context. He writes: ‘My spirit (πνεῦμα) is a sacrifice (περίψημα) for the cross (τοῦ σταυροῦ), which is a stumbling block to unbelievers, but salvation and eternal life to us’.7 The phrase τοῦ σταυροῦ is interesting here. Perhaps Ignatius’ sacrifice is for the cross, but perhaps it is the sacrifice of the cross, that is, Ignatius explicitly connects his impending martyrdom with Christ’s. Just as Jesus was a sacrifice, and just as, Paul notes, all followers of Christ are sacrifices, so too is Ignatius a sacrifice. And here of course, Ignatius is even more explicit about connecting his sacrifice to the cross. The cross, as we have already seen, is the archives for Ignatius. The quotation about the economy we quoted above follows this line. Thus, Ignatius E. (John Elder) Lawyer, ‘Eucharist and Martyrdom in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch’, Anglican Theological Review 73 (1991), 280-96. 6 Περίψημα ὑμῶν καὶ ἁγνίζομαι ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν Ἐφεσίων, ἐκκλησίας τῆς διαβοήτου τοῖς αἰῶσιν. Ign., Eph. 8.1. 7 Περίψημα τὸ ἐμὸν πνεῦμα τοῦ σταυροῦ, ὅ ἐστιν σκάνδαλον τοῖς ἀπιστοῦσιν ὴμῖν δὲ σωτηρία καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος, Ign., Eph. 18.2. For a discussion of Ignatius’ use of cross, death, and resurrection, see Charles Thomas Brown, The Gospel and Ignatius of Antioch (New York, 2000), 23.

Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch


connects the cross and the economy in the passage. Ignatius sees his own sacrifice in light of Jesus’ and in light of the economy of creation and salvation. There are important implications for Ignatius’ understand himself as a sacrifice, but before I get to them, I want to build the case a bit more by exploring Ignatius’ use of the word ἀντίψυχον, which is usually translated as purification. This word appears four times in Ignatius’ corpus: once in the Letter to the Smyrnaeans, once in the Letter to the Ephesians, and twice in the Letter to Polycarp. The quotation from the Letter to the Smyrnaeans actually helps us connect the περίψημα with ἀντίψυχον. To the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius writes: ‘My spirit (πνεῦμα) is an offering (ἀντίψυχον) for you, and my bonds, which you did not despise nor were you ashamed of them. Nor will the perfect hope, Jesus Christ, be ashamed of you’.8 We can see that this line chimes with the quotation from Ephesians above. Here Ignatius says his spirit is ἀντίψυχον and there he says it is περίψημα. In both cases, we see that Ignatius sees his life as it is being led to death as directed toward others, on their behalf. And as it is offered for others, it is part of the economy of salvation. Ignatius is not alone in being an offering. The economy of salvation includes the Smyrnaeans who did not despise nor fear Ignatius’ bonds. Indeed, Ignatius seems to suggest that his sacrifice is a purification for the Church in Ephesus. At the end of the Letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius writes: ‘I am a purification (ἀντίψυχοv) to you and to those whom for the honor of God you sent to Smyrna, from where I am writing to you, with thanksgiving to the Lord and love (ἀγαπῶν) for Polycarp as well as for you’. Ignatius links his sacrifice, his purification to his agape for the people. He then links himself to Christ. He continues: ‘Remember me as Jesus Christ does you. Pray for the church in Syria from where I am being led to Rome in chains, as for the very least of the faithful there – having been judged worthy of serving the glory of God’.9 Notice that Ignatius believes that his death serves the glory of God. He sees himself, like Jesus, as purificatory offering through death. And his invocation of love and thanksgiving in the context of sacrifice can’t be an accident. To be another Christ is to be one who offers himself for another. ἀντίψυχοv has that meaning as well. We see this valence when Ignatius tells Polycarp: ‘In every way, I am an offering for you, and my bonds as well, which you loved’.10 Polycarp loved both Ignatius and his bonds. Ignatius’ chains will free

Ἀντίψυχον ὑμῶν τὸ πνεῦμά μου καὶ τὰ δεσμά μου, ἃ οὐχ ὑπερηφανήσατε οὐδὲ ἐπῃσχύνθητε. Οὐδὲ ὑμᾶς ἐπαισχυνθήσεται ἡ τελεία πίστις, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Ign., Smyrn. 10.12. 9 ᾽Αντίψυχον ὑμῶν ἐγὼ καὶ ὧν ἐπέψατε εἰς θεοῦ τιμὴν εἰς Σμύρναν, ὅθεν καὶ γράφω ὑμῖν, εὐχαριστῶν τῷ κυρίῳ, ἀγαπῶν Πολύκαρπον ὡς καὶ ὑμᾶς. Μνημονεύετέ μου, ὡς καὶ ὑμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. Προσεῦχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Συρίᾳ, ὅθεν δεδεμένος εἰς Ῥώμην ἀπάγομαι, ἔσχατος ὢν τῶν ἐκεῖ πιστῶν, ὥσπερ ἠξιώθην εἰς τιμὴν θεοῦ εὑρεθῆναι, Ign., Eph. 21.1-2. 10 Κατὰ πάντα σου ἀντίψυχον ἐγὼ καὶ δεσμά μου, ἃ ἠγάπησας, Ign., Poly. 2.3. 8



him to attain God.11 But Ignatius attains God in a community of believers. He makes clear to Polycarp that he too should obey his bishop. Later in the letter, Ignatius urges Polycarp: ‘Pay attention to the bishop in order that God may pay attention to you. I am an offering on behalf of those who are obedient to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons. May it be granted to me to have a place among them in the presence of God’.12 This passage leads us nicely into our next section. Not only is Ignatius an offering within the economy of salvation, he is an offering within the economy of salvation which finds its proper site in the liturgical assembly. Eucharist Now it should be obvious enough that a discussion of sacrifice leads, in the Christian context, to a discussion of the Eucharist.13 But it should also be obvious that it’s not always obvious that an early Christian author is talking about the Eucharist. With that caveat in mind, I want to argue that there are two places in his letters where Ignatius discusses the Eucharist. In each of these, Ignatius alludes to the Eucharist as an offering. Let us first turn to his discussion in the Letter to the Ephesians. As we saw earlier in Ephesians, Ignatius again refers to the economy, and puts that economy in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He writes, if Christ allows it, he will be able to speak about ‘the economy with respect to the new man Jesus Christ, involving faith in him and love for him, his suffering and resurrection, especially if the Lord reveals anything to me’. Ignatius urges them to gather together ‘in one faith and one Jesus Christ’, so that they may ‘obey the bishop and the presbyter with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ’.14 Needless to say, there is a lot going on in this passage but I would like to highlight a few things. Human beings have access to Christ through faith and love. One has access to this faith and love through breaking one bread with the On this theme, see Richard A. Bower, ‘The Meaning of Ἐπιτυγχάνω in the Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch’, Vigiliae Christianae 28 (1974), 1-14. 12 Τῶι ἐπισκόπωι προσέχετε, ἷνα καὶ ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν. Ἀντιψυχον ἐγὼ τῶν ὑποτασσομένων τῷ ἐπισκόπωι, πρεσβυτέροις, διακόνοις. καὶ μετ’ αὐτῶν μοι τὸ μέρος γένοιτο σχεῖν ἐν θεῶι, Ign., Poly. 6. 13 For a good overview of Ignatius’ views on the Eucharist, see Eugene LaVerdiere, The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, A Pueblo Book (Collegeville, MN, 1996), 148-66 and Owen F. Cummings, Eucharistic Doctors: A Theological History (New York, 2005), 12-7. 14 Ἐάν με κατάξιώςῃ Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐν τῆι προσευχῆι ὑμῶν καὶ θέλημα ᾖ ἐν τῷ δευτέρῳ βιβλιδίῳ ὃ μέλλω γράφειν ὑμῖν, προσδηλώσω ὑμῖν, ἧς ἠρξάμην οἰκονομίας εἰς τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ πίστει καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦἀγάπῃ, ἐν πάθει αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναστάσει, Ign., Eph. 20.1-2. 11

Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch


bishop and the presbytery that has an undivided mind. This bread is the medicine of immortality.15 Ignatius’ words here about death and living forever in Jesus Christ are important given that he awaits his own death. They are also important in the context of one life given for another. The Christian must die in order that he may live. He is fortified for his death by the medicine of immortality. The sacrifice of Christ effects the unity of Christians. Thus those who are outside that unity ought to fear participation in the Eucharist. In his Letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius says: ‘If anyone holds to alien views (ἐν ἀλλοτρίᾳ γνώμῃ) he disassociates himself from the passion’16 (3.3). Immediately following this, Ignatius writes: ‘Take care, therefore, to participate in one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup which leads to unity through his blood. There is one altar, just as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants. So that whatever you do, you do in accordance with God’.17 Although Ignatius does not use the word offering or purification here, it is not too much of a stretch to think that his discussion of Christ’s blood in the Eucharist presupposes an understanding of sacrifice. And this sacrifice, this life offered for life, leads to unity. Indeed, Ignatius points to Christ’s blood as that which brings unity to Christians. Ignatius hopes that his own blood will share in the blood of Christ and then bring unity to the community he addresses. We see the link Ignatius draws between Christ’s blood and love in the Letter to the Smyrnaeans. The blood that is the marker of the convenant in the Hebrew Scriptures is also a mark of God’s judgment. He reminds them: ‘Even the heavenly beings and the glory of angels and the rulers, both visible and invisible, are also subject to judgement if they do not believe in the blood of Christ’. To say that they do not believe in the blood of Christ is to say that they do not believe in God’s love. Indeed, as Ignatius reminds the Smyrnaeans, the heretics ‘have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the released, none for the hungry’. These people ‘abstain from the Eucharist and prayer because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, who suffered for 15 Schoedel argues that ‘immortality’ could have been the name of an ancient drug, so he is less convinced that this passage refers to the Eucharist. Yet I don’t find his argument convincing. Even if athanasia was the name of the drug, why would that limit the Christian valence for the word? See W. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch (1985), 97-9. 16 «Μὴ πλανᾶσθε, ἀδελφοί μου.» εἴ τις σχίζοντι ἀκολουθεῖ, «βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονομεῖ» εἴ τις ἐν ἀλλοτρίᾳ γνώμῃ περιπατεῖ, οὗτος τῷ πάθει οὐ συγκατατίθεται, Ign., Philad. 3.3. 17 Σπουδάσατε οὖν μιᾷ εὐχαριστίᾳ χρῆσθαι. Μία γὰρ σὰρξ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἓν ποτήριον εἰς ἕνωσιν τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ, ἓν θυσιαστήριον, ὡς εἷς ἐπίσκοπος ἅμα τῷ πρεσβυτερίῳ καὶ διακόνοις, τοῖς συνδούλοις μου ἵνα ὃ ἐὰν πράσσητε κατὰ θεὸν πράσσητε, Ign., Philad. 4.1



us and which the Father by his goodness raised up’ (6.1-2).18 Thus, the Eucharist is not simply an issue that concerns unity. That unity is at the service of the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Today we might divide discussion of eucharist and unity and ethics. Ignatius did not. Love Thus far we have seen the word love (agape or its verbal form) in a few of the passages we have quoted. But Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans, has perhaps the most arresting line in the context of our discussion. He writes: ‘For though I write to you while I am still alive, I am passionately in love (ἐρῶν) with death. My eros has been crucified and there is no fire of material longing within me’. He continues: ‘I want the bread of God, that is the flesh of Jesus Christ … and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love (ἀγάπη)’.19 (7.2-3) The contrast between Ignatius’ passionate love (eros) for death and the incorruptible love (agape), which is Christ’s blood is significant.20 This transformation is the heart of the connection among sacrifice, love, and the Eucharist. Irenaeus surely knew what he was doing when he quoted Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans in the place where he quoted it. For Ignatius, to be alive is to have died in Christ. Scholars have discussed the importance of faith and love in Ignatius.21 Through his martyrdom, through his sacrifice, Ignatius becomes Eucharist.22 In order to make that connection, I want to examine a passage found in the Letter to the Romans.23 Ignatius writes: ‘Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God while there is still an altar ready, so that in love (agape) you may form a chorus and sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, 18 Μηδεὶς πλανάσθω. καὶ τὰ ἐποθράνια καὶ ἠ δόξα τῶν ἀγγέλων καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες ὁρατοί τε καὶ ἀόρατοι, έὰν μὴ πιστεύσωσιν εἰς τὸ αἷμα Χριστοῦ, κἀκείνοις κρίσις έστιν. Ὁ χωρῶν «χωρείτω». Τόπος μηδένα φθσιούτω. τὸ γὰρ ὅλον ἐστὶν πίστις καὶ ἀγάπη, ὧν οὐδὲν προκέκριται. Καταμάθετε δὲ τοῦς ἑτεροδοξοῦντας εἰς τὴν χάριν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τὴν εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐλθοῦσαν, πῶς ἐναντίοι εἰσὶν τῇ γνώμῃ τοῦ θεοῦ. Περὶ ἀγάπης οὐ μέλει αὐτοῖς, οὐ περὶ χήρας, οὐ περὶ ὀρφανοῦ, οὐ περὶ θλιβομένου, οὐ περὶ δεδεμένον ἢ λελυμένου, οὐ περὶ πεινῶντος ἢ διψῶντος, Ign., Smyrn. 6.1-2. 19 Ζῶν γὰρ γράφω ὑμῖν, ἐρῶν τοῦ ἀποθανεῖν. Ὁ ἐμὸς ἔρως ἐσταύρωται, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἐμοὶ πῦρ φιλούλον … τροφῇ θέλω, ὅ ἐστιν σὰρξ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυείδ, καὶ πόμα θέλω τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ, ὅ ἐστιν ἀγάπη ἄφθαρτος, Ign., Rom. 7.2-3 Vall points out that Ignatius never uses agape to refer to non-spiritual love. G. Vall, Learning Christ (2013), 172. 20 As Vall points out, when Ignatius uses ἔρως, he refers to loving the flesh or the world. G. Vall, Learning Christ (2013), 174. 21 See W. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch (1985), x, 25-6; G. Vall, Learning Christ (2013), 159-99. As important as their studies are, neither author spends much time making a connection between love and the Eucharist. 22 J.E. Lawyer, ‘Eucharist and Martyrdom in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch’ (1991), 7. 23 In the Letter to the Trallians, Ignatius refers to food, but this reference does not seem to be part of a discussion of the Eucharist. See 6.1.

Sacrifice, Eucharist, and Love in Ignatius of Antioch


because God has judged the bishop from Syria worthy to be found in the West, having summoned him from the East’.24 Here we see explicit connection between Ignatius’ discipleship and his vision of himself as an offering. This vision is complemented by the community forming in love as a chorus. Agape leads to community.25 That is, for Ignatius, the agape of God, the agape that is God, unifies the community, and that love comes through the Eucharist.26 Ignatius can only discuss his discipleship in the language of the Eucharistic offering on the altar. Ignatius’ words here also recall the quotation we saw above where, when writing to Polycarp, he saw himself as an offering (ἀντίψυχον) on behalf of the bishops, presbyters and deacons.27 Thus we see how sacrifice, Eucharist, and love come together for Ignatius. Any analysis of one of these themes without the other two misses something essential in Ignatius’ thought. Through his sacrifice, Ignatius takes part in the economy of God’s creation and salvation, an economy that is anchored by Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Ignatius’ sacrifice can join with Christ’s sacrifice because both show forth the agape that God is. This agape unifies the members of the churches to each other and to God. In this context, Irenaeus’ quotation of Ignatius takes on a new significance. He does not name Ignatius, but he refers to him as ‘one of ours’. Through his sacrifice he becomes a Eucharistic offering that all Christians can share. Irenaeus and Ignatius knew what awaited the bishop from Antioch. Irenaeus hopes that he and his community can share in sacrifice, in the Eucharist, and in the love that Ignatius offered in his death.

24 Πλέον μοι μὴ παράσχησθε τοῦ σπονδισθῆναι θεῷ, ὡς ἔτι θυσιαστήριον ἕτοιμόν ἐστιν, ἵνα ἐν ἀγάπῃ χορὸς γενόμενοι ᾄσητε τῷ πατρὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὅτι τὸν ἐπίσκοπον Συρίας ὁ θεὸς κατηξίωσεν εὑρεθῆναι εἰς δύσιν ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς μεταπεμψάμενος, Ign., Rom. 2.2. 25 On unity and love in the Church, see W.R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch (1985), x. 26 Indeed, as Vall points out, for Ignatius, agape is the life of the Church, G. Vall, Learning Christ (2013), 174 27 Ign., Pol. 6.1.

Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing. Irenaeus on the Ends of Eucharistic Oblations Ryan L. SCRUGGS, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

ABSTRACT This article seeks to explicate the ends of eucharistic oblations according to Irenaeus of Lyons by examining the logic of his theological economy of the gift. God’s absolute transcendence and perfect self-sufficiency ground this economy by establishing his role as a Giver who needs nothing in return. God’s whole purpose in creating is that he might shower humanity with his good gifts. Yet God desires and requires that humans offer him gifts-in-return that they, who stand in need of communion with God, may participate in his economy and so receive the gift of salvation. For Irenaeus, eucharistic oblations – when they are offered in faith, hope, and love – are one of the means (the other being love of neighbour in mercy and justice) by which humans are drawn into communion with the God-Who-Gives. By thus giving thanks to God they are in turn accounted grateful; by thus glorifying God they are themselves glorified; and by thus propitiating God, so to speak, they are restored to his friendship. In other words, God requires gifts-in-return from humans that this exterior sign of their interior love may redound to their own eternal benefit.

Introduction For Irenaeus the divine economy is a gift economy. Creation is gift; Christ is gift; the Spirit is gift; and the Father is munificent Giver. In this economy Irenaeus maintains that despite generously bestowing gifts upon humans God needs nothing in return. Yet, he also argues, God desires and even requires giftsin-return from humans in the form of oblations and sacrifices. This is a strange state of affairs: Why does God desire and require gifts-in-return if he needs nothing? In this paper I will explore the ends or the purposes for which Irenaeus thought Christians ought to offer gifts to God.1 I will moreover explicate the logic by which Irenaeus arrives at his conclusions and the coherency that pervades his argument. For Irenaeus, eucharistic oblations are one of the means by which 1 This is a common theme in eucharistic theology. For example, in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII proposes four ends of eucharistic oblations: ‘to give glory to the Heavenly Father…, to give thanks to God…, to make satisfaction to Almighty God for all the sins of men [also referred to as ‘expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation’]…, [and] [t]he fourth end, finally, is that of impetration’ (§§ 71-4).

Studia Patristica CIX, 119-129. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



humans are drawn into communion with the God-Who-Gives. By thus giving thanks to God they are in turn accounted grateful; by thus glorifying God they are themselves glorified; and by thus propitiating God, so to speak, they are restored to his friendship. In other words, humans ought to give gifts to God not for his sake – for he needs nothing – but for their own good, that they might learn to be good givers and so participate in the divine economy of the gift. I. The God Who Needs Nothing We must begin with a central claim in the theology of Irenaeus: God ‘is rich, perfect, and in need of nothing [sine indigentia]’ (AH 4.14.1).2 Robert Barron calls this the ‘master idea’ in Irenaeus’ thought because from it ‘his entire doctrine of God springs and from which, by extension, his entire theology comes forth’.3 Irenaeus most often makes this claim in the context of delineating his doctrine of creation. For example, in considering John’s claim that ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made’ (Jn. 1:3), Irenaeus draws the following conclusion: But [this means] the things established are distinct from Him who has established them, and what have been made from Him who made them. For He is Himself uncreated, both without beginning and end, and lacking nothing [nullius indigens]. He is Himself sufficient for Himself [ipse sibi sufficiens]; and still further, He grants to all others this very thing, existence; but the things which have been made by Him have received a beginning. (AH 3.8.3)

In this way God (and his Word) is conceived by Irenaeus as ontologically distinct from, and not contingent upon, his creation. God, who is eternally selfsufficient, needs nothing – either to be himself or to create the world.4 2 All references to Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (AH) are placed parenthetically in the text. I will use the ANF translation throughout for the sake of consistency. Where the meaning of particular words or phrases are important I will include, in square brackets, the Latin edited by W. Wigan Harvey, S.T.B., Saint Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons’ Five Books Against Heresies (Rochester, 2013). 3 Robert Barron, ‘The Trinity on Display in the Economy of Salvation: An Irenaean Meditation’, in Exploring Catholic Theology: Essays on God, Liturgy, and Evangelization (Grand Rapids, 2015), 45-6. Barron argues that from God’s ‘lack of need’ flows the sovereignty of God, the unity of God, the self-sufficiency of God, the simplicity of God, the immutability of God, and the perfection of God (45-8). Barron is drawing, more generally, on the work of Robert Sokolowski who argues that a metaphysical revolution took place with the advent of Christian revelation, wherein God, unlike the pagan gods, is ‘conceived as capable of being without the world’ (The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology [Washington, 1995], 18). Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (New York, 2005), 64, notes that ‘the attribute “in need of nothing” (ἀδέητος) is widely affirmed of God in the ancient world’, but surely this can only be understood relatively, for the reasons laid out by Sokolowski, rather than absolutely as it is in Irenaeus’ thought. 4 The corollary to God’s self-sufficiency is Irenaeus’ doctrine of creation ex nihilo (see AH 1.22.1, 2.10.2, 2.10.4, 2.30.9, 2.34.3, 3.8.3, 5.3.2-3 and 5.18.1). For discussion see Jacques Fantino,

Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing


II. The Need to Give Oblations From the premise of God’s self-sufficiency one might logically conclude that there is no reason for humans to offer oblations to God.5 If God needs nothing, what sense does it make to return to him that which he created? Irenaeus, however, draws a different conclusion. He does so using a theological argument, which emphasizes continuity between the covenants based on the unity of God, and a soteriological argument, which emphasizes the active participation of humans in receiving the gift of salvation. He makes these arguments first with respect to the law – specifically the Decalogue (AH 4.12-4.16).6 Whether one refers to Jesus, who summarizes the law in the dual command to love God and neighbour, or to Paul, who declares that ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10; AH 4.12.2), Irenaeus is adamant that there is continuity between the covenants because ‘the author of the law and the Gospel is shown to be one and the same’ (AH 4.12.3; see also AH 4.13.4). As against Marcion, who imagined two gods in opposition, Irenaeus proposes that the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount ‘do not contain or imply an opposition to and an overturning of the [precepts] of the past…, but [they exhibit] a fulfilling and an extension of them…’ (AH 4.13.1; see also AH 4.13.2). Jesus calls his disciples not to another standard, but to a higher standard of obedience that includes abstaining not only from evil deeds but also from evil desires (AH 4.13.1). Thus, he concludes, the ‘words of the Decalogue … remain permanently with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation’ (AH 4.16.4; see also AH 4.16.3). But even if we establish continuity between law and Gospel – between obedience and love – based on the unity of God, the question remains: why does this one God require a human response at all? Irenaeus believes that the whole purpose of creation is that God might bestow gifts on humans. God made Adam, ‘not as if He stood in need of man [non quasi indigens Deus hominis], but that He might have [some one] upon whom to confer His benefits [beneficia]’ (AH Yet humans are not purely receptive in their relationship to God. For although God did not ‘stand in need of our service when He ordered us to follow Him … He thus bestowed salvation upon ourselves. For to follow ‘La création ex nihilo chez saint Irénée’, Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques 76 (1992), 421-42; E. Osborn, Irenaeus (2005), 69-73; and M.C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption (Danvers, 2008), 38-49. For Irenaeus’ place in the development of the doctrine see Gerhard May, Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of ‘Creation out of Nothing’ in Early Christian Thought, trans. A.S. Worrall (New York, 2004), 164-78. 5 Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids, 2005), 39-44, following Martin Luther, is a contemporary example of a theologian who draws such a conclusion. 6 For a summary see Mary Ann Donovan, One Right Reading? A Guide to Irenaeus (Collegeville, 1997), 107-9.



the Saviour is to be a partaker of salvation [participare est salutem], and to follow light is to receive light [percipere est lumen]’ (AH 4.14.1). Participation and reception here appear almost synonymous: by following and obeying Jesus humans participate in, and thus receive, his gift of salvation.7 He continues: But those who are in light do not themselves illumine the light, but are illumined and revealed by it: they do certainly contribute nothing to it, but, receiving the benefit, they are illumined by the light. Thus, also, service [rendered] to God does indeed profit God nothing, nor has God need of human obedience; but He grants to those who follow and serve Him life and in-corruption and eternal glory, bestowing benefit upon those who serve [Him], because they do serve Him, and on His followers, because they do follow Him; but does not receive any benefit from them: for He is rich, perfect, and in need of nothing [sine indigentia]. But for this reason does God demand service from men, in order that, since He is good and merciful, He may benefit those who continue in His service. For, as much as God is in want of nothing [nullius indigent], so much does man stand in need of fellowship with God [homo indigent Dei communione]. (AH 4.14.1)8

The key principle is that although God needs nothing, humans, as Irenaeus says elsewhere, who have ‘received a beginning’ and are therefore ‘liable to dissolution’, ‘stand in need of Him’ (AH 3.8.3).9 Irenaeus is arguing that everything – creation and salvation – is a gift from God; yet to receive the gift of salvation, which every created human lacks, one must actively participate in the divine economy of the gift by serving and obeying the Giver. As Irenaeus argues for the ongoing relevance of the law and obedience, so also, in a section Robert Daly describes as ‘the most extensive treatment of sacrifice from any second century Christian source’,10 he argues for the ongoing relevance of oblations and sacrifices (AH 4.17-8).11 And his reasons are parallel to those outlined above with respect to the law. On the one hand, God desires oblations not for himself but for the good of those who offer. He begins his argument thus: ‘Moreover, the prophets indicate in the fullest manner that God stood in no need of their slavish obedience, but that it was upon their own account that He enjoined certain observances in the law. And again, that God needed not their oblation, but [merely demanded it], on account of man himself who offers it…’ (AH 4.17.1; my emphasis). On the other hand Irenaeus argues that the unity of God demands continuity between the covenants. And so ‘the class of oblations 7 John Behr summarizes well this dynamic: ‘It is, thus, as we have continually seen throughout our investigation of Irenaeus’ theology of the economy, a matter of the receptiveness of man to the gifts of God and his thankfulness for them: his thankful use of the material things provided by God, in and through which he learns whence his life has its source, and an attitude of thankfulness, through which he comes to share ever more fully in that life’ (Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement [Oxford, 2017], 74). 8 For a discussion of AH 4.14.1 and Irenaeus’ understanding of grace as ‘gift’, see Adam J. Powell, ‘Irenaeus and God’s Gifts: Reciprocity in Against Heresies, IV.14.1’, SP 65 (2013), 119-26. 9 For the idea of humans ‘standing in need’ of God, see also AH 4.14.1 and AH 5.2.1. 10 Robert Daly, The Origins of the Christian Doctrine of Sacrifice (London, 1978), 95-6. 11 For a summary see M.A. Donovan, One Right Reading? (1997), 109-11.

Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing


in general has not been set aside; for there were both oblations there [among the Jews], and there are oblations here [among the Christians]. Sacrifices there were among the people; sacrifices there are, too, in the Church: but the species alone has been changed inasmuch as the offering is now made, not by slaves, but by freemen. For the Lord is [ever] one and the same …’. (AH 4.18.2; my emphasis). Just as the law, according to Irenaeus, has not been abolished in Christ, but rather ‘extended and fulfilled’ (AH 4.13.2), so the sacrificial system is fulfilled in the Church such that ‘in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the Gentiles, saith the LORD Omnipotent…’ (Mal. 1:10; AH 4.17.5). With Douglas Farrow we may concur that Irenaeus ‘does not make the mistake of pitting the spirit against the flesh, or the New Testament against the Old, as if Christ had brought sacrifice and offering to an end in bringing the Levitical system to an end. That would introduce a gnostic discontinuity into salvation history and into the very nature of our humanity, dividing us from God rather than uniting us to him’.12 III. The Ends of Eucharistic Oblations Having now briefly argued that God needs nothing from humans, and yet that humans ought to give gifts to God in the form of oblations and sacrifices, we come to the central purpose of this paper: to understand the ends or purposes of eucharistic oblations according to Irenaeus. I should briefly note that my concern is not to describe the ends of the Eucharist in general; it is important that we distinguish between the ascending and the descending movements of the Eucharist in Irenaeus.13 The ascending movement is that which is offered to God; the descending movement is that which is received from God.14 My purpose here is to investigate the ends of the Eucharist in so far as it is a gift offered to God rather than received from him. In what follows I will discuss three ends of the eucharist, all of which, although given to God, redound upon and therefore terminate in the one who gives.15 12

Douglas Farrow, Ascension Theology (New York, 2011), 67. The common theological distinction is between the sacrifice (offered) and the sacrament (received). For example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (Lander, 2012), III 79.5: ‘This sacrament is both a sacrifice and a sacrament; it has the nature of a sacrifice inasmuch as it is offered up; and it has the nature of a sacrament inasmuch as it is received. And therefore it has the effect of a sacrament in the recipient, and the effect of a sacrifice in the offerer, or in them for whom it is offered’. 14 The primary end of the descending movement, according to Irenaeus, is that ‘our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity’ (AH 4.18.5). 15 There is one significant end of Eucharistic oblations in Irenaeus that I am not considering, and which would require a separate paper to investigate. This is the idea that the Eucharist is a means of sanctifying creation: ‘Now we make offering to Him, not as though He stood in need of it, but rendering thanks for His gift, and thus sanctifying what has been created’ (AH 4.18.3). 13



I should also say, by way of introduction, that we are not following the order of Irenaeus’ text: he actually begins with the end of propitiation and then moves on to those of gratitude and glory; I have ordered my essay in this way to help us move from what is more to what is less perspicuous in his writing. III.1. To be Found Grateful The first end or purpose of eucharistic oblations I want to consider is this: that in giving thanks humans may be accounted grateful in the sight of God. Referring to the Last Supper, for example, Irenaeus writes: Again, giving directions to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits of His own, created things – not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful [ingrati] – He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks [gratias egit], and said, ‘This is My body’. And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout the world, to Him who gives us as the means of subsistence the firstfruits of His own gifts in the New Testament…’ (AH 4.17.5)

It is worth noting that the term Irenaeus most often employs for this oblation of the new covenant is the Greek εὐχαριστία,16 which means ‘thanksgiving’; the Eucharist is the means by which the church ‘gives thanks’ to God. But what is especially interesting for our consideration is that Irenaeus focuses less on to whom thanks is given and more on who it is that gives thanks. ‘For it behoves us to make an oblation to God’, Irenaeus writes, ‘and in all things to be found grateful [gratos inveniri] to God our Maker, in a pure mind, and in faith without hypocrisy, in well-grounded hope, in fervent love, offering the first-fruits of His own created things’ (AH 4.18.4). In other words, the good of giving thanks is to be found in those who give thanks. God desires a sacrifice of thanksgiving not that he might be thanked for his many gifts but that in giving thanks his people might be full of gratitude. Irenaeus stakes his position as against Jews, Marcionites, and Gnostics, arguing that ‘the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks [cum gratiarum], [the things taken] from His creation’ (AH 4.18.4). Only an economy of the gift which maintains the unity of God in both creation and redemption makes any sense of this eucharistic oblation. The offering of the Jews is deficient, he argues, because ‘they have not received the Word, through whom it is offered to God’; the offering of the Marcionites is confused because they maintain that ‘the Father is different from the Creator’ and therefore ‘when they offer to Him what belongs to this creation of ours, set Him forth as being covetous of another’s property, 16 ‘But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion’, he famously declares (AH 4.18.5).

Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing


and desirous of what is not His own’; and the offering of the Gnostics is an affront to God because they ‘maintain that the things [of creation] originated from apostasy, ignorance, and passion’ and therefore ‘while offering unto [God] the fruits of ignorance, passion, and apostasy, [they] sin against their Father, rather subjecting Him to insult than giving Him thanks [gratias agentes]’ (AH 4.18.4). If his people are ‘to be found grateful’ then they must offer to the Father the first-fruits of his own creation in and through the Word who redeems the world. III.2. To be Glorified The second end of eucharistic oblations, according to Irenaeus, is that in glorifying God humans may themselves be glorified. Irenaeus’ point of reference for his discussion of glorification is the passage from Malachi 1:10-1, which is so commonly quoted among the church fathers: ‘I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD Omnipotent, and I will not accept sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun, unto the going down [of the same], My name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the Gentiles, saith the LORD Omnipotent…’ (AH 4.17.5). Irenaeus understands this passage to mean that ‘[the Jews] shall indeed cease to make offerings to God, but that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and that a pure one; and His name is glorified among the Gentiles’ (AH 4.17.5). To his own interpretation Irenaeus rhetorically responds: ‘But what other name is there which is glorified among the Gentiles than that of our Lord, by whom the Father is glorified, and man also?’ (AH 4.17.6). The name which is glorified among the nations Irenaeus identifies as ‘Jesus Christ, which is throughout all the world glorified in the Church’; and he argues that the Father is glorified through the glorification of the Son because ‘the name of the Son belongs to the Father’ and because ‘the Church makes offerings through Jesus Christ’ (AH 4.17.6). Note, however, Irenaeus says not only that the Father is glorified in and through the Son, but that ‘man also’ is thus glorified. He then continues: ‘The oblation of the Church, therefore, which the Lord gave instructions to be offered throughout all the world, is accounted with God a pure sacrifice, and is acceptable to Him; not that He stands in need of a sacrifice from us, but that he who offers is himself glorified [glorificatur ipse] in what he does offer, if his gift be accepted’ (AH 4.18.1). Irenaeus’ logic is consistent: just as in giving thanks to the Father humans are ‘found grateful’, so in giving glory to the Father through the Son humans are themselves glorified. ‘For by the gift [munus] both honour and affection are shown forth towards the King…’ and in return, ‘man, being accounted as grateful, by those things in which he has shown his gratitude, may receive that honour which flows from [God]’ (AH 4.18.1). Therefore, that which humans



offer to God, who needs nothing, redounds to their own benefit. Based upon the premise of divine self-sufficiency one can begin to understand Irenaeus’ famous line: ‘For the glory of God is a living man’ (AH 4.20.7). God is glorified in and through the glorification of human persons. III.3. To be Restored to Friendship with God The third end that I want to consider is that of propitiation.17 Do eucharistic oblations propitiate God, according to Irenaeus? This is a very difficult question and one that scholars have long debated.18 It is complicated by the fact that although we read the Latin word propitiare in the context of Irenaeus’ discussion of oblations, we do not know which Greek word Irenaeus utilized.19 The modest contribution I would like to make on this topic is to consider the question within the overarching theological framework established above. There is clarity to be found if we consider this question in light of the two ends of eucharistic oblations already discussed. By this I mean that it would seem unlikely for Irenaeus to hold that God needs to be propitiated any more than he needs to be thanked or glorified, and this is precisely what we find in Irenaeus’ argument.20 In discussing the old covenant Irenaeus explicitly denies that propitiation is a proper end or purpose of oblations and sacrifices. The Israelites, he argues, 17 For the language of ‘propitiation’ in Against Heresies see AH 2.11.2 (placantes: ‘propitiate’), AH 2.24.3 (propitiatorium: ‘mercy seat’), AH 2.30.2 (propitius: ‘merciful’) AH 4.8.2 (propitians: ‘propitiating’), AH 4.17.1 (propitiari: ‘propitiated’; propitiari: ‘propitiate’), AH 4.17.2 (propitiabuntur: ‘appease’), AH 4.18.3 (placatur: ‘appeased’), AH 4.26.4 (propitiationem: ‘bribe’), and AH 5.17.1 (propitians: ‘propitiating’). I will focusing on those references pertaining to oblations both old and new. 18 See notes below. 19 ‘The real question is’, as Robert Daly points out, ‘what does Irenaeus mean by “propitiari”?’ He tentatively concludes that God is not propitiated by material sacrifices but that he is by spiritual sacrifices such as ‘prayer, praise, thanksgiving, good deeds, justice, etc.’ (Christian Sacrifice [1978], 358). In the context of discussing the cross as a sacrifice of propitiation (AH 5.17.1), John Lawson states: ‘We have no external evidence which would serve to interpret what is intended by propitians save, on the one hand, that it has Patrem as the object, which reads like Divine Appeasement, and, on the other hand, that on at least one occasion Irenaeus very pointedly fails to speak of Divine Appeasement, and that this and allied conceptions have no part in the doctrine of Recapitulation’ (The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus [Eugene, 2006], 193). David N. Power, for his part, argues that ‘In understanding sacrifice in general and the eucharist in particular, much hangs on the use of the word “propitiate”. In ordinary usage it could mean to render satisfaction for wrong done, or to assuage one who has been angered. It may well be used in that sense here, indicating the mistaken notion of the people that they could avert God’s eyes from their wrong-doing by offering sacrifices. When Irenaeus uses propitiation of Christ’s death or of the eucharist, he makes it clear that this has nothing to do with divine anger but that such sacrifice is rendered rather out of divine compassion’ (Irenaeus of Lyons on Baptism and Eucharist: Selected Texts with Introduction, Translation and Annotation [Bramcote, 1991], 14). 20 Irenaeus’ safeguarding of divine transcendence is a point emphasized by Hans Boersma, ‘Redemptive Hospitality in Irenaeus: A Model for Ecumenicity in a Violent World’, Pro Ecclesia 11.2 (2002), 207-26, 220.

Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing


while ‘neglecting righteousness, and abstaining from the love of God’, yet imagined ‘that God was to be propitiated [propitiari Deum] by sacrifices and the other typical observances…’ But through the prophets God taught the Israelites that ‘God desires obedience, which renders them secure, rather than sacrifices and holocausts, which avail them nothing towards righteousness…’ (AH 4.17.1). Likewise, in the same section, Irenaeus quotes from the prophets to argue that God is not hungry that he should need to eat the flesh of animals, for the whole world already belongs to him. Therefore, he reasons, God rejected ‘those things by which sinners imagined they could propitiate God [propitiari Deum]’ and thereby demonstrated ‘that He does Himself stand in need of nothing [ipse nullius rei indiget]…’ (AH 4.17.1). Instead of seeking to placate God, Irenaeus suggests, God ‘exhorts and advises them to those things by which man is justified and draws nigh to God [appropinquate Deo]’ (AH 4.17.1). Again he reiterates his point: God ‘repudiated holocausts, and sacrifices, and oblations, as likewise the new moons, and the sabbaths, and the festivals’, and instead exhorted the Israelites ‘to what pertained to salvation: ‘Wash you, make you clean, take away wickedness from your hearts from before mine eyes: cease from your evil ways, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow; and come, let us reason together, saith the Lord’ (AH 4.17.1). Irenaeus’ conclusion would seem to be absolute: It is not merely that the carnal sacrifices of the Levitical system are inadequate to the task of propitiating God; no, God is perfectly self-sufficient, in need of nothing, and therefore not in need of propitiation. Salvation, rather than depending on a change in God – a transformation from wrath to mercy, one might say – depends on a change in humans – a turning from sin to righteousness. This is what Irenaeus goes on to argue in the next section, though he also seems to complicate the issue by reintroducing the language of propitiation. He writes: ‘For it was not because [God] was angry, like a man … that He rejected their sacrifices; but out of compassion to their blindness, and with a view of suggesting to them the true sacrifice, by offering which they shall appease God [quod offerentes propitiabuntur Deum], that they may receive life from Him’ (AH 4.17.2). The word ‘appease’ here is the Latin propitiabuntur. So, on the one hand, Irenaeus explicitly rejects the notion that God is angry in any anthropomorphic sense and in need of ‘cooling off’, so to speak. Yet, on the other, he also suggests that there is a ‘true sacrifice’ that does ‘propitiate God’. What is this true sacrifice that propitiates God, according to Irenaeus? Quoting a passage that has close (though not exact) parallels in Psalm 50 [51], Irenaeus suggests it is the sacrifice of ‘an afflicted heart … a heart glorifying Him who formed it’ (AH 4.17.2). In other words, although God does not need to be propitiated, the interior act of contrition for sin and the rightly ordered worship of God does indeed propitiate him.21 21 Does Irenaeus thus contradict his own case for the ongoing relevance of material oblations in the new covenant? Has he, as Daly argues, replaced the material with the spiritual – the exterior oblation with the interior act of worship (Christian Sacrifice [1978], 358)? To reconcile this



To reconcile this apparent difficulty we must gather what we can from Irenaeus’ argument itself, which contains some important clues. Irenaeus continues to challenge the notion of an angry God: ‘God is merciful’, Irenaeus proclaims, and he repudiates carnal sacrifices not because he lacks compassion but precisely because he is compassionate and longs to give humans good counsel. Therefore, in repudiating oblations and sacrifices, God counsels another way, the way of ‘faith, and obedience, and righteousness’ which leads to ‘their salvation’ (AH 4.17.4). Irenaeus thus denies that God must be appeased in his anger – for he is ever merciful toward humans; rather, it is humans that must turn to God and walk in his ways that they may be found acceptable to him. As such I agree with David Power who argues that ‘[a]nger is clearly absent from propitiation in this case. The word might well be translated ‘draw near’, signifying some action on humanity’s part by which out of divine generosity it can make some movement towards righting relationships with God’.22 God does not need to be propitiated – at least not in the sense in which the term is commonly used23 – for God needs nothing; the only thing God ‘needs’ (I place this word in scare quotes because it is not something he needs for himself but only for the salvation of the world) is for humans to draw near to him, to be reconciled to him, and so be restored to his friendship.24 Irenaeus thus upholds the value of both the interior and the exterior acts of worship – though clearly emphasizing the former – while tension Irenaeus turns to the story of Cain and Able (AH 4.18.3). In contrasting their two gifts Irenaeus argues that God respected the offering of the latter only because ‘he offered with single-mindedness and righteousness…’ whereas Cain’s ‘heart was divided with envy and malice’ (AH 4.18.3). In other words, God accepted Abel’s gift because the disposition of his soul was rightly ordered in relation to the liturgical actions of his body. He writes: God is not appeased [placatur] by sacrifice. For if any one shall endeavor to offer a sacrifice merely to outward appearance, unexceptionably, in due order, and according to appointment, while in his soul he does not assign to his neighbour that fellowship with him which is right and proper, nor is under the fear of God;—he who thus cherishes secret sin does not deceive God by that sacrifice which is offered correctly as to outward appearance; nor will such an oblation profit him anything, but [only] the giving up of that evil which has been conceived within him, so that sin may not the more, by means of the hypocritical action, render him the destroyer of himself’. (AH 4.18.3) God has not done away with material oblations, although they are no longer ‘carnal’; however, the exterior without the interior – ritual worship without the love of God – is completely inimical to Irenaeus’ thought. It was for this reason, Irenaeus suggests, that Jesus called the Pharisees ‘whited sepulchres’ – for they were beautiful on the outside but within full of wickedness and hypocrisy (AH 4.18.3). 22 D.N. Power, Irenaeus on Baptism and Eucharist (1991), 15. For the appropriateness of this phrase, recall Irenaeus suggesting that God ‘exhorts and advises them to those things by which man is justified and draws nigh to God [appropinquate Deo]’ (AH 4.17.1). 23 For a defence of a more traditional understanding of propitiation in Irenaeus see Andrew J. Bandstra, ‘Paul and an Ancient Interpreter: A Comparison of the Teaching of Redemption in Paul and Irenaeus’, Calvin Theological Journal (1970), 43-63. 24 Friendship with God is a common theme for Irenaeus, and especially in the chapter leading up to his discussion of oblations (see AH 4.16). Friendship with God – along with the glory of

Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing


investing the language of propitiation with new meaning: ‘Sacrifices, therefore, do not sanctify a man, for God stands in no need of sacrifice; but it is the conscience of the offerer that sanctifies the sacrifice when it is pure, and thus moves God to accept [the offering] as from a friend’ (AH 4.18.3). Conclusion Ireneaus’ doctrine of divine self-sufficiency, which is absolute, has significant implications for his economy of divine-human gift-giving. God gives graciously in creation and in Christ; and while he needs nothing in return, God desires and even requires gifts-in-return from humans in the form of oblations and sacrifices that their generosity may redound to their own eternal benefit. God needs nothing, and so that which is gifted to him does not terminate in him; rather, it returns to bless human givers – who does stand in need of fellowship with God – by drawing them into the economy of the gift. Thus salvation may be understood, according to Irenaeus, as an active participation in divine generosity: while every good gift comes from God, humans enter into the rhythm of love by learning to give his gifts in return. The various ends of eucharistic oblations are, therefore, anthropocentric in that they terminate in those who lack the divine nature of munificence. When Christians, through eucharistic oblations, give thanks to God, they are accounted grateful; when they glorify God, they are glorified; and when they repent of their evil deeds and turn toward God in love, they propitiate God, which, for Irenaeus, is just another way of saying they are called friends of God.

God – is precisely what humans lack and what may be received through participation in the divine economy of the gift (AH 4.16.4).







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