Irenaeus


Today is Irenaeus of Lyon’s feast day in the western calendar–June 28–so I thought it would be nice to highlight a few of my (Ben’s) essays and articles on Irenaeus’ theology, particularly through the lens of the reception of Paul’s letters, that I have written over the last decade or so.

“Paul and Irenaeus” in Paul and the Second Century: The Legacy of Paul’s Life, Letters, and Teaching, ed. Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson (London: T&T Clark, 2011), 190-206. This is an overview article about the general reception of Paul in Irenaeus’ works where I explore key historical issues and key themes.

“Deification in Irenaeus” in Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016). This is a chapter-length treatment of Irenaeus’ soteriology in general and theology of deification in particular. In detailing his theology, I also show his strong dependence upon Paul for generating these deification themes (immortality, adoption, etc.).

“Two Early Perspectives on Participation in Paul: Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria” in ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theological Vision of Union and Participation, eds. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Constantine R. Campbell and Michael J. Thate (WUNT II/384; Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 331-55. By using a comparison of Irenaeus and Clement, I further clarified my taxonomy of participation in patristic theology. I then explored key passages and themes related to Irenaeus (and Clement) on the topic of participation and Paul.

“Partakers of Adoption: Irenaeus and His Use of Paul,” Letter and Spirit 11 (2016): 35–64. Sonship and adoption are key themes in Irenaeus’ theology, and I provide a critical analysis that traces out the nature of Adamic and Abrahamic sonship that shapes the direction of Ireneaus’ argument.

“The Covenant of Promise: Abraham in Irenaeus” in Irenaeus and Paul (Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate); eds., Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2020). In the context of Irenaeus’ wider covenant theology, I specifically explore the nature of Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant in Irenaeus’ theology. Much attention has been given to Irenaeus’ use of Adam to ground his theology of creation to new creation, but he also uses Abraham to ground his theology of promise and fulfillment.

Advertisements

Continuing my series on Theophilus of Antioch and his work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum), I am addressing theosis or deification in his work. (Previous posts address Christianity in antiquitythe parting of the waysTrinity without Christology, and Theosis in Theophilus.) If you are lost by my terminology of theosis, see my primer on theosis and theosis for dummies.

As part of his apologetic for Christianity, Theophilus establishes Christianity as deriving from the most ancient part of antiquity–creation itself. In this discussion of creation, he described the telos of humanity arising from their original creation, that they should become immortal like God. Indeed, they would be called “gods” because they share in this immortal attribute, though they clearly remain distinct in nature and identity from God. This shares the basic framework that almost all later writers about theosis or deification share.

Placing this discussion of becoming gods in terms of creation fits his rhetorical purpose, but it also frames the nature of continuity in almost all discussions of theosis, that is, the creator of the world is also its savior. Thus, others often place their discussion of deification in terms of creation. Theophilus is unique among other patristic writers because he does not use Psalm 82:6 to ground his reading. However, the outcome is exactly the same since when Irenaeus and others discuss Psalm 82:6, they always narrate it according to mortality at the fall and the hope of immortality. However, Irenaeus also places this within his larger salvation-historical narrative in which Christ is the one through the Spirit who restores immortality to humanity. I explore the importance of theosis for helping capture the “story of the Bible” in an essay that came out earlier this year.

Thus, what is unique about Theophilus is not that he speaks of human identity and salvation in terms of becoming gods, nor that he places this deification discussion in terms of creation and new creation. No, what is unique is that he describes resurrection and immortality in terms of God alone and not through Christ’s death and resurrection. In my work on Paul and theosis, I titled the book Christosis because I argued that Paul’s discussion of soteriology could be described as theosis, but it was explicitly framed in terms of embodying the death and life of Christ.

Note: By Christosis, I expressly do not mean: 1) this is a Christological-only soteriology because being transformed into the image of Christ is almost always in the context of the Spirit’s work (and being a “christ” entails being anointed by the Spirit). 2) Christosis should be distinct from theosis, especially not in parallel to the Christotokos-Theotokos distinction. Christosis is intended to point to a Pauline emphasis within the wider framework of theosis.

In distinction to Paul, Irenaeus, and the many other patristic writers who wrestle so distinctly with the Christ-event and its relation to theology, Theophilus has a “Christianity without Christ” as I have explored in an earlier post. He has a Logos-theology and indeed an distinctly Trinitarian discussion of God, but at least here when he describes the telos of humanity in terms of divine immortality, he does it in a generically God way, thus my phrase theosis without christosis.

 

I’m doing a short my series on Theophilus of Antioch and his work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum). The previous post addresses Christianity in antiquity. I’m now addressing his Christology and Trinitarianism. I will address here his voice related to the parting of the ways.

Given his emphasis on the antiquity of Christianity (via Judaism), he stands in distinct contrast to many other second century Christians who show clear evidence of the parting of the ways. Take for example, Ignatius of Antioch (c. AD 107), Letter to the Magnesians 10.3:

It is utterly absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to practice ‘Judaism’ (ἰουδαΐζειν). For ‘Christianity’ (Χριστιανισμός) did not believe in ‘Judaism’ (Ἰουδαϊσμός), but ‘Judaism’ in ‘Christianity’, in which every tongue believed and was brought together with God.

This construction of a distinct identity in this passage (see ch 8-10) and others is built upon the full revelation of God in Christ, the old versus the new, and grace in opposition to Torah practice. These types of arguments are found throughout Christian texts of the second century. Clear examples include Melito of Sardis in his On Pascha (e.g., 72–82), the Epistle of Barnabas, and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho.

In contrast to the effort to establish and defend a distinct identity, Theophilus appears much more concerned with the charge that Christianity is a new religion and therefore suspect. This reflects the wider value in the pre-modern world that what is older is better and more trustworthy. In light of his second century context, Theophilus is unique for almost never playing up distinctions with Judaism. His main argument, rather, is that Christianity is grounded in the most ancient of Jewish texts, and thus he spends the majority of Book 2 expositing the creation account in Genesis.

He also plays up God’s continued offer for restoration in the NT as the OT. In this you hardly get a feel that the NT is distinct from the prophets (3.10-15). Earlier he wrote that “Christians,” in distinction to the Greek writers, “have held the truth–we who are instructed by the Holy Spirit who spoke in the holy prophets and foretold everything” (2.33). The following chapters explore the challenge of the prophets (2.34-35), and NT and OT are mixed directly together without distinction. There are a number of other places where he does not play up differences when others do.

Where does Christology fit in this? A unique aspect of Theophilus’ work is that he does not mention the crucifixion, which can often be used as a way to flag up inadequate Jewish behavior and therefore the inadequacies of Judaism. For example, Paul speaks of dying to the Law with Christ (Gal 2; Rom 7). His Christology is therefore unique, but I wonder if he ignores that piece because of his very strong interest in continuity over discontinuity with Judaism in order to defend Christianity’s antiquity?

Theophilus shows that the parting of the ways is not a linear progression or division, and his reading of the Bible to ground a wider biblical theology is interesting. A comparison contemporary with Theophilus would be Irenaeus. In his Against Heresies Book 4, he especially addresses the continuity and discontinuity with Judaism, and he grounds it in the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, not unlike Paul. I’ve got an essay in an upcoming volume that explores this: “The Covenant of Promise: Abraham in Irenaeus” in Irenaeus and Paul. Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate. Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite, eds. (London: T&T Clark, forthcoming 2019). I came across this initially when working on this essay: “Partakers of Adoption: Irenaeus and His Use of Paul,” Letter and Spirit 11 (2016): 35–64.

I have been kicking around doing a piece on Irenaeus’ Christology in light of his view of deification, and the opportunity to do something on pneumatology popped up, so I put in to do a paper on that side. Essentially, I’m arguing that if deification is a metaphor for Irenaeus, which it is since believers don’t become part of the Godhead, it is based upon his conception of true (non-metaphorical) deity. For the Spirit (and Christ) to deify believers means that these two are already truly God. This later became an argument for the Spirit’s deity in the fourth century: the Spirit deifies, he is not deified. I’m happy to see my friend Jonathan Morgan in the line-up since he does excellent work on Cyril’s Pneumatology.

Development of Early Christian Theology (S22-212)
11/22/2014
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room 30 B (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center (CC)

Theme: The Spirit in the Early Church: Accounts of the Spirit in the Early Church

Christopher Beeley, Yale University, Presiding
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Irenaeus on the Deification of Believers and the Divinity of the Spirit (25 min)
Kellen Plaxco, Marquette University
The Place of the Spirit in Origen’s Taxological Grammar of Participation (25 min)
Jonathan Morgan, Toccoa Falls College
Circumcision of the Spirit: Type and Pneumatology in Cyril of Alexandria(25 min)
David Kneip, Abilene Christian University
The Spirit and the Bible in Alexandria: Cyril and Didymus (25 min)
Paul M. Pasquesi, Marquette University
Reclaiming the Divine Feminine: Re-Reception of the Holy Spirit in the Divine Economy (25 min)

A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and it’s sad that we are still struggling with the same problems. Of course, few in churches would explicitly affirm two Gods in the Bible, but the way they describe God’s action in the OT and in the NT only focuses on discontinuity. That is, they are functional Marcionites: the God of the OT is mean and angry, but the God of the NT is loving and forgiving. Of course, there is some discontinuity in the vision of God in the OT and the NT. How can there not be when the greatest revelation of God had not become manifest until the NT era? However, Irenaeus rightly responds to an overemphasis on the discontinuity by pointing out the greater continuity: the Creator of the World is also its Savior. He’s worth quoting again:

If He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, “by the word of His power;” and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him.

But there is one only God, the Creator–He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom–heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them: He is just; He is good; He it is who formed man, who planted paradise, who made the world, who gave rise to the flood, who saved Noah; He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of the living: He it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. Against Heresies 2.30.9 (ANF)

Thus, Christ’s work of salvation is a fulfillment of the original intention of creation and in God’s covenanting work with the Jews. The same God is working it all out–not merely judgment and then love, or a mistake and then its solution. We see both love and judgment in both the OT and NT.

A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and the last part of the paragraph was especially striking:

He [God] it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed. (Against Heresies 2.30.9 [ANF])

Irenaeus is very clear on the deity of Christ. He is not a creation; he is “eternally co-existing with the Father”. Thus, the Council of Nicea did not invent the idea of the Trinity as some like to affirm. Irenaeus is very clear about the topic some 150 years before Nicea. As God himself he is able to reveal God to others, not just to humans but other cosmic beings. Of course, scripture is revelation from God, but Irenaeus gives us a good word that we should look first to Christ as the true revelation of God. Barth would be proud.

Here’s a great passage I came across in Irenaeus today that summarizes one of his main themes:

Justly, therefore, do we convict them of having departed far and wide from the truth. For if the Saviour formed the things which have been made, by means of him (the Demiurge), he is proved in that case not to be inferior but superior to them, since he is found to have been the former even of themselves; for they, too, have a place among created things. How, then, can it be argued that these men indeed are spiritual, but that he by whom they were created is of an animal nature? Or, again, if (which is indeed the only true supposition, as I have shown by numerous arguments of the very clearest nature) He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, “by the word of His power;” and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him, neither has He any mother, as they falsely ascribe to Him; nor is there a second God, as Marcion has imagined; nor is there a Pleroma of thirty Aeons, which has been shown a vain supposition; nor is there any such being as Bythus or Proarche; nor are there a series of heavens; nor is there a virginal light, nor an unnameable Aeon, nor, in fact, any one of those things which are madly dreamt of by these, and by all the heretics.

But there is one only God, the Creator–He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom–heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them: He is just; He is good; He it is who formed man, who planted paradise, who made the world, who gave rise to the flood, who saved Noah; He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of the living: He it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed.

Against Heresies 2.30.9 (ANF)

Next Page »