Part 1 Irenaeus’ interpretation of reconciliation and the atonement

I have completed the book of Ruth, so I wanted to do an ‘Easter Special’ 

This is half of an essay I wrote on the Incarnations for the points of view of Irenaeus and Anselm. Irenaeus was a very important voice in the early Church.  He personally knew St Polycarp from Izmir in Turkey.  He was also a Bishop of Lyon (France).  The next quote is from Wikipedia

“Irenaeus (/ɪrɪˈneɪəs/;[1] Greek: Εἰρηναῖος Eirēnaios; c. 130 – c. 202 AD)[2] was a Greek bishop noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in what is now the south of France and, more widely, for the development of Christian theology by combating heresy and defining orthodoxy. Originating from Smyrna, he had seen and heard the preaching of Polycarp,[3] the last known living connection with the Apostles, who in turn was said to have heard John the Evangelist.[4] ” from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

Compare and contrast Irenaeus and Anselm’s interpretations of reconciliation and atonement.

To begin with we shall look at Irenaeus and Anselm separately, we want to do justice to what they actually said within their historical contexts. Only then shall we give a brief discussion, in order to illuminate both comparisons and contrasts relating to our question. If we were to talk of the rules that governed their respective theologies, then the syntax they both employs are different to each other. Von Balthasaar says there are three collecting points for the theology of Irenaeus; 1) One point is that we need to think in terms of God hidden and revealed, in terms of unity and Trinity. 2) The relation of being and becoming, especially in particular God and man. 3) In the ordering of salvation, the relationship of time and eternity in terms of old covenant, gospel and church etc (12/58). Anselm on the hand is more philosophical in that he identifies three ‘ forces of change’ in the Cur Deus Homo; that of 1) will, 2) power, 3) and necessity (13/187). As can be seen there is no similarity of approach to how God reconciles and makes atonement for mankind. If anything, their particular approaches and hence their methods tend to be poles apart. For example, Irenaeus is not afraid of using the Bible to the fullest extent in his scheme of salvation. On the other hand, for Anselm, he uses as little Biblical information as possible to allow him to give a convincing argument for the need of the Incarnation and passion. Anselm then is more concerned with philosophical criterion which is a part of his training. (In this essay the Cur Deus Homo will be abbreviated to CDH and Against Heresies will be abbreviated to AH).

IRENAEUS

Irenaeus was concerned about the gnostic heresies due to certain apparent reasons, especially because it tended to use a Catholic language but with a different meaning for the initiates of Gnosticism ( 12/41 ) . In summary the Valentinian system began from Buthos and from him emanations’ went out from him until matter was created (it has to be stressed that Buthos always remains untouched by evil 1 matter). So according to the Valentinians, matter was made out of ‘ignorance, grief, fear and bewilderment’ (5/26. This is contrary to the Genesis account where the phrase ‘and God saw that it was good’ is repeated (Gen,chapter 1 verses 10,12,18 etc.). The distinction between God and creation becomes blurred (12/380). The concepts of person and idea also become blurred etc. Balthasaar writes,” Every concept becomes an aeon, every conceptual tension becomes a male-female relationship” etc (12/39). A great deal more could be said (but cannot be said due to length of essay) but one can see that this outline shows a new (false) foundation for the Christian faith.

Irenaeus believed that- mankind fell in solidarity due to the sin of Adam, this process through the work of Christ can be reversed. His main concept is ‘recapitulation’. He borrows Paul’s idea from Ephesians 1/10 ‘to sum up all things in Christ’. He sees this text in terms of as Kelly puts it,” He understands the Pauline text as implying that the Redeemer gathers together, includes or comprises the whole of reality in himself, (Christ) the human race being included”(3/172). Kelly goes on to say that Irenaeus takes advantage of Paul’s use of first and second Adam language. Christ being understood as the ‘second Adam’. Christ then as the second Adam recapitulated or reproduced the first Adam in the same way, in terms of birth from the virgin earth horn from the virgin Mary.

We also need to compare what Unger has to say, “It (recapitulation) must convey the idea of being brought to ahead as a unifying principle and of somehow resuming all things. This process of recapitulation of all things begins with the Incarnation and will be completed with the glorification of the body, yet because the Word pre-existed creation and was in the planning, and was operative from creation on, the Incarnate Word recapitulates all things. He summarizes in Himself all creation and unites all people and angels too to Himself as under one head, and in so doing He duplicates, or resumes, the acts of Adam either by similarity or by opposition” (7/185-186). As can be seen God’s plan of reconciliation precedes creation and works its way through to the end times. Through this term then, Man is not seen as an afterthought, but he is at the heart of what God will for his

creation.

Irenaeus’ important point is that Christ as the second Adam went through all the same sequences of human life such as birth, even including death. Each stage of human life then was being made holy. In doing this Christ reversed Adam’s sin at each stage of human development and thus brought about a new redeemed humanity. An important point to remember is that when Adam sinned so did the whole of the human race. The whole of the human race that was yet to be born was, as it were, locked up in Adam. Christ as the second Adam, in his ‘mystical body’ again brought about deathlessness and undid what the first Adam had done. For example, as the first Adam was disobedient the second Adam was obedient and so on (3/173).

The question that we have to ask ourselves at this juncture is,” If the Christian God is such a good God, why did he allow evil to exist in it? Concerning this major question, it has to be linked to the understanding of free will (8/66-76). Whatever the case, Minns makes his argument around AH 4/37-38. In AH 4/37.6 Irenaeus implies that if God should have created his creatures only for the good then freedom would in some way be hindered. Though Irenaeus’ argument is not full proof, it is a groundwork for an optimistic view of the Fall. Whatever the case may be, Irenaeus does have a concept of being and becoming. That is to say that God ‘is’ and that his creation is constantly growing and increasing (8/70). For Augustine and Athanasius however the free will of Adam and Eve was central for the outcome of the whole of creation. This situation could only be reversed, if God himself became incarnate (8/69).

In opposition to the Valentinian system, God was directly responsible for the creation of this world. Irenaeus directly contributed in the explanation of the Trinity through the notion of the ‘two hands of God’. The two hands were Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they were co-working with the Father in creation (Word and Wisdom 10/345). This allows Irenaeus to say that the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. The point is that creation is to be seen as the product of love. This also takes away any platonic philosophical basis that creation is evil. There are some writers that try to intimate implicitly that the Son before creation had a creature 1 likeness about him. Ochagavia writes, ” Since the Son was not created out of nothing, as creatures were, we can infer that, before he was established, He existed in God in an unstable state, namely, without a determinate form and circumscription” (11/110). This mind is reading too far into the writings of Irenaeus. There is language in Irenaeus that explicitly rejects such a notion; ” For the Creator of the world is truly the Word of God” (6/105).

Concerning the doctrine of Man, he was created as a child with the view to grow into the image and likeness of God. Instead he did the opposite by disobeying God. If the Fall had not happened man would still have grown into communion with God and would have reached the status of manhood. Wingren goes on to say that it is this very communion that man had with God that has been broken due to disobedience (4/51-52 ) . Though man disobeyed God all in the end would work out for the good of man, ” …The Lord restored us to friendship through his incarnation, becoming the ‘mediator between God and man’. He propitiated on our behalf the Father, against whom we had sinned and cancelled our disobedience by his obedience, restoring us to fellowship with our Maker and submission to him (9/80//AH5/17/1). Man was made in the image (tselem) and likeness (demot) of God (Genesis 1/26). Irenaeus sometimes when he uses the term ‘image’, he sometimes refers to the creation of man and at other times he refers to Christ, depending on context. The original image of God is the Son and it is in his image that man was created. Man is different to the rest of creation because of this. It must be noted however that man has not yet reached his destiny, because he needs to grow up from childhood to adult hood, and this is what he is predestined for. Though man has been created in the image of God he still remains a created creature while the Son still remains the Creator. Man though, he was created with the view to reach maturity, but he yielded and was taken captive by the Devil (4/21).

Because Christ was a real man, he was able to defeat the Devil who had gained power over mankind due to the Fall. The previous sentence implies that the Incarnation itself effected the redemption; this is not entirely correct. This is the line that a commentator in the CDH takes concerning Irenaeus. Irenaeus when talking in terms of redemption is explicit that it is affected through or by the blood of Christ. The concept of the Devil owning the rights of humanity is present in the thoughts of Irenaeus. This thought though is not exhaustive to the theology of Irenaeus. Kelly writes,”…the essence of Adam’s sin was disobedience, the obedience of Christ was indispensable; it is obedience that God requires, and in which man’ s glory consists” (3/174). Concerning reconciliation Wingren summarising says that we need to recognize that there is a general move in the NT of God’s 1 love (because God is love) towards man. Thus, Irenaeus strives to bring this out in his writings.

The burning question then because of this is,” How shall anyone be able to overcome this adversary of mankind unless he is different from the man who has suffered defeat”? (4/21). The answer to this question is that only the Son is stronger than the Devil. The Incarnation then becomes central for Irenaeus due to saving man from this bondage. A proviso needs to be mentioned at this juncture due to ‘bondage language’. It is true that Irenaeus writes in terms of a ‘rational transaction’, at the same time though he uses propitiation language. We cite for example AH5/1/1-2, ” The lord redeemed us by his blood and gave his life for our life, his flesh for our flesh, and poured out the Spirit of the Father to unite us and reconcile God and man, bringing God down to man through the Spirit, and raising man to God through his Incarnation, and by his coming truly and surely conferring on us immortality by means of our fellowship with God” (9/80).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1) THE ACTUALITY OF THE ATONEMENT/ BY COLIN GUNTON. 2) CUR DEUS HOMO?/ ANSELM.

3) EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES/ JND KELLY/ 5TH EDITION. 4) MAN AND THE INCARNATION/VINGREN

5) AGAINST HERESIES VOLUME 1/ANCIENT CHRISTIAN WRITERS/TRANSLATED HY DOMINIC J UNGER.

6) THE WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS HOOKS 1-4/ T AND T CLARK 1867. 7) IRENAEUS 2 HOOKS 4-5/ T AND T CLARK 1869.

8) IRENAEUS/ DENIS MINNS OP/OUTSTANDING CHRISTIAN THINKERS SERIES.

9) THE EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS/ TRANSLATED BY HENRY HETTENSON. 10) NEW DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY/ IVP.

11) VISIBILE PATRIS FILIUS/JUAN OCHAGAVIA/ ORIENTALIA CHRISTIANA ANLECTA/171/1964.

12) THE GLORY OF THE LORD/ VOLUME II/HANS URS VON BALTHASAAR. 13) ANSELM AND A NEW GENERARION/ EVANS/ OXFORD PRESS. 14) NEW AMERICAN STANDARD HIHLE.

15) SAINT ANSELM/ SOUTHERN.

16) CHURCH DOGMATICS VOL IV,I BY KARL BARTH (THE DOCTRINE OF RECONCILIATION).

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