« Prev 1. The theological position of Irenæus and the… Next »

1. The theological position of Irenæus and the later contemporary Church teachers.

Gnosticism and the Marcionite Church had compelled orthodox Christianity to make a selection from tradition and to make this binding on Christians as an apostolical law. Everything that laid claim to validity had henceforth to be legitimised by the faith, i.e., the baptismal confession and the New Testament canon of Scripture (see above, chap. 2, under A and B). However, mere “prescriptions” could no longer suffice here. But the baptismal confession was no “doctrine”; if it was to be transformed into such it required an interpretation. We have shown above that the interpreted baptismal confession was instituted as the guide for the faith. This interpretation took its matter from the sacred books of both Testaments. It owed its guiding lines, however, 231on the one hand to philosophical theology, as set forth by the Apologists, and on the other to the earnest endeavour to maintain and defend against all attacks the traditional convictions and hopes of believers, as professed in the past generation by the enthusiastic forefathers of the Church. In addition to this, certain interests, which had found expression in the speculations of the so-called Gnostics, were adopted in an increasing degree among all thinking Christians, and also could not but influence the ecclesiastical teachers.462462The following exposition will show how much Irenæus and the later old Catholic teachers learned from the Gnostics. As a matter of fact the theology of Irenæus remains a riddle so long as we try to explain it merely from the Apologists and only consider its antithetical relations to Gnosis. Little as we can understand modern orthodox theology from a historical point of view — if the comparison be here allowed — without keeping in mind what it has adopted from Schleiermacher and Hegel, we can just as little understand the theology of Irenæus without taking into account the schools of Valentinus and Marcion. The theological labours, thus initiated, accordingly bear the impress of great uniqueness and complexity. In the first place, the old Catholic Fathers, Melito,463463That Melito is to be named here follows both from Eusebius, H. E. V. 28. 5, and still more plainly from what we know of the writings of this bishop; see Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur, I. 1, 2, p. 240 ff.). The polemic writings of Justin and the Antignostic treatise of that “ancient” quoted by Irenæus (see Patr. App. Opp. ed. Gebhardt etc. I. 2, p. 105 sq.) may in a certain sense be viewed as the precursors of Catholic literature. We have no material for judging of them with certainty. The New Testament was not yet at the disposal of their authors, and consequently there is a gap between them and Irenæus. Rhodon,464464See Eusebius, H. E. V. 13. Irenæus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian were in every case convinced that all their expositions contained the universal Church faith itself and nothing else. Though the faith is identical with the baptismal confession, yet every interpretation of it derived from the New Testament is no less certain than the shortest formula.465465Tertullian does indeed say in de præscr. 14: “Ceterum manente forma regulæ fidei in suo ordine quantumlibet quæras, et tractes, et omnem libidinem curiositatis effundas, si quid tibi videtur vel ambiguitate pendere vel obscuritate obumbrari”; but the preceding exposition of the regula shows that scarcely any scope remained for the “curiositas”, and the one that follows proves that Tertullian did not mean that freedom seriously. The creation of the New Testament furnished all at once a quite 232unlimited multitude of conceptions, the whole of which appeared as “doctrines” and offered themselves for incorporation with the “faith”.466466The most important point was that the Pauline theology, towards which Gnostics, Marcionites) and Encratites had already taken up a definite attitude, could now no longer be ignored. See Overbeck Basler Univ. — Programm, 1877. Irenæus immediately shows the influence of Paulinism very clearly. The limits of the latter therefore seem to be indefinitely extended, whilst on the other hand tradition, and polemics too in many cases, demanded an adherence to the shortest formula. The oscillation between this brief formula, the contents of which, as a rule, did not suffice, and that fulness, which admitted of no bounds at all, is characteristic of the old Catholic Fathers we have mentioned. In the second place, these Fathers felt quite as much need of a rational proof in their arguments with their Christian opponents, as they did while contending with the heathen;467467See what Rhodon says about the issue of his conversation with Appelles in Euseb., H. E. V. 13. 7: ἐγὼ δὲ γελάσας κατέγνων αὐτοῦ, διότι διδάσκαλος εἶναι λέγων ὀυκ ᾔδει τὸ διδασκόμενον ὕπ᾽ ἀυτοῦ κρατύνειν. and, being themselves children of their time, they required this proof for their own assurance and that of their fellow-believers. The epoch in which men appealed to charisms, and “knowledge” counted as much as prophecy and vision, because it was still of the same nature, was in the main a thing of the past.468468On the old “prophets and teachers” see my remarks on the Διδαχη, c. 11 ff., and the sections pp. 93-137, of the prolegomena to my edition of this work. The διδάσκαλοι ἀποστολικοὶ καὶ προϕητικοί (Ep. Smyrn. ap. Euseb., H. E. IV. 15. 39) became lay-teachers who were skilful in the interpretation of the sacred traditions. Tradition and reason had taken the place of charisms as courts of appeal. But this change had neither come to be clearly recognised,469469In the case of Irenæus, as is well known, there was absolutely no consciousness of this, as is well remarked by Eusebius in H. E. V. 7. In support of his own writings, however, Irenæus appealed to no charisms. nor was the right and scope of rational theology alongside of tradition felt to be a problem. We can indeed trace the consciousness of the danger in attempting to introduce new termini and regulations not prescribed by the Holy Scriptures.470470See the passage already quoted on p. 63, note 1. The bishops themselves in fact encouraged this apprehension in order to 233warn people against the Gnostics,471471Irenæus and Tertullian scoffed at the Gnostic terminology in the most bitter way. and after the deluge of heresy, representatives of Church orthodoxy looked with distrust on every philosophic-theological formula.472472Tertullian, adv. Prax. 3: “Simplices enim quique, ne dixerim imprudentes et idiotæ, quæ major semper credentium pars est, quoniam et ipsa regula fidei a pluribus diis sæculi ad unicum et verum deum transfert, non intellegentes unicum quidem, sed cum sua οἰκονομίᾳ esse credendum, expavescunt ad οἰκονομίαν.” Similar remarks often occur in Origen. See also Hippol., c. Nöet. 11. Such propositions of rationalistic theology as were absolutely required, were, however, placed by Irenæus and Tertullian on the same level as the hallowed doctrines of tradition, and were not viewed by them as something of a different nature. Irenæus uttered most urgent warnings against subtle speculations;473473The danger of speculation and of the desire to know everything was impressively emphasised by Irenæus, II. 25-28. As a pronounced ecclesiastical positivist and traditionalist, he seems in these chapters disposed to admit nothing but obedient and acquiescent faith in the words of Holy Scripture, and even to reject speculations like those of Tatian, Orat. 5. Cf. the disquisitions II. 25.3: “Si autem et aliquis non invenerit causam omnium quæ requiruntur, cogitet, quia homo est in infinitum minor deo et qui ex parte (cf. II. 28.) acceperit gratiam et qui nondum æqualis vel similis sit factori; II. 26. 1: “ Ἄμείνον καὶ συμφορώτερον, ἰδιώτας καὶ ὀλιγομαθεῖς ὑπάρχειν, καὶ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης πλησίον γενέσθαι τοῦ Θεοῦ ἤ πολυμαθεῖς καὶ ἐμπείρους δοκοῦντας εἶναι, βλασφήμους εἰς τὸν ἑαυτῶν εὑρίσκεσθαι δεσπότην, and in addition to this the close of the paragraph, II. 27. 1: Concerning the sphere within which we are to search (the Holy Scriptures and “quæ ante oculos nostros occurrunt”, much remains dark to us even in the Holy Scriptures II. 28. 3); II. 28. 1 f. on the canon which is to be observed in all investigations, namely, the confident faith in God the creator, as the supreme and only Deity; II. 28. 2-7: specification of the great problems whose solution is hid from us, viz., the elementary natural phenomena, the relation of the Son to the Father, that is, the manner in which the Son was begotten, the way in which matter was created, the cause of evil. In opposition to the claim to absolute knowledge, i.e., to the complete discovery of all the processes of causation, which Irenæus too alone regards as knowledge, he indeed pointed out the limits of our perception, supporting his statement by Bible passages. But the ground of these limits, “ex parte accepimus gratiam”, is not an early-Christian one, and it shows at the same time that the bishop also viewed knowledge as the goal, though indeed he thought it could not be attained on earth. but yet, in the naïvest way, associated with the faithfully preserved traditional doctrines and fancies of the faith theories which he likewise regarded as tradition and which, in point of form, did not differ from those of the Apologists or Gnostics.474474The same observation applies to Tertullian. Cf. his point blank repudiation of philosophy in de præsc. 7, and the use he himself nevertheless made of it everywhere. The 234Holy Scriptures of the New Testament were the basis on which Irenæus set forth the most important doctrines of Christianity. Some of these he stated as they had been conceived by the oldest tradition (see the eschatology), others he adapted to the new necessities. The qualitative distinction between the fides credenda and theology was noticed neither by Irenæus nor by Hippolytus and Tertullian. According to Irenæus I. 10. 3 this distinction is merely quantitative. Here faith and theological knowledge are still completely intermixed. Whilst stating and establishing the doctrines of tradition with the help of the New Testament, and revising and fixing them by means of intelligent deduction, the Fathers think they are setting forth the faith itself and nothing else. Anything more than this is only curiosity not unattended with danger to Christians. Theology is interpreted faith.475475In point of form this standpoint is distinguished from the ordinary Gnostic position by its renunciation of absolute knowledge, and by its corresponding lack of systematic completeness. That, however, is an important distinction in favour of the Catholic Fathers. According to what has been set forth in the text I cannot agree with Zahn’s judgment (Marcellus of Ancyra, p. 235 f.): “Irenæus is the first ecclesiastical teacher who has grasped the idea of an independent science of Christianity, of a theology which, in spite of its width and magnitude, is a branch of knowledge distinguished from others; and was also the first to mark out the paths of this science.”

Corresponding to the baptismal confession there thus arose at the first a loose system of dogmas which were necessarily devoid of strict style, definite principle, or fixed and harmonious aim. In this form we find them with special plainness in Tertullian.476476Tertullian seems even to have had no great appreciation for the degree of systematic exactness displayed in the disquisitions of Irenæus. He did not reproduce these arguments at least, but preferred after considering them to fall back on the proof from prescription. This writer was still completely incapable of inwardly connecting his rational (Stoic) theology, as developed by him for apologetic purposes, with the Christological doctrines of the regula fidei, which, after the example of Irenæus, he constructed and defended from Scripture and tradition in opposition to heresy. Whenever he attempts in any place to prove 235the intrinsic necessity of these dogmas, he seldom gets beyond rhetorical statements, holy paradoxes, or juristic forms. As a systematic thinker, a cosmologist, moralist, and jurist rather than a theosophist, as a churchman, a masterly defender of tradition, as a Christian exclusively guided in practical life by the strict precepts and hopes of the Gospel, his theology, if by that we understand his collective theological disquisitions, is completely devoid of unity, and can only be termed a mixture of dissimilar and, not unfrequently, contradictory propositions, which admit of no comparison with the older theology of Valentinus or the later system of Origen.477477The more closely we study the writings of Tertullian, the more frequently we meet with inconsistencies, and that in his treatment both of dogmatic and moral questions. Such inconsistencies could not but make their appearance, because Tertullian’s dogmatising was only incidental. As far as he himself was concerned, he did not feel the slightest necessity for a systematic presentation of Christianity. To Tertullian everything lies side by side; problems which chance to turn up are just as quickly solved. The specific faith of Christians is indeed no longer, as it sometimes seems to be in Justin’s case, a great apparatus of proof for the doctrines of the only true philosophy; it rather stands, in its own independent value, side by side with these, partly in a crude, partly in a developed form; but inner principles and aims are nearly everywhere sought for in vain.478478With reference to certain articles of doctrine, however, Tertullian adopted from Irenæus some guiding principles and some points of view arising from the nature of faith; but he almost everywhere changed them for the worse. The fact that he was capable of writing a treatise like the de præscr. hæret., in which all proof of the intrinsic necessity and of the connection of his dogmas is wanting, shows the limits of his interests and of his understanding. In spite of this he possesses inestimable importance in the history of dogma; for he developed and created, in a disconnected form and partly in the shape of legal propositions, a series of the most important dogmatic formulæ, which Cyprian, Novatian, Hosius, and the Roman bishops of the fourth century, Ambrosius and Leo I., introduced into the general dogmatic system of the Catholic Church. He founded the terminology both of the trinitarian and of the Christological dogma; and in addition to this was the first to give currency to a series of dogmatic concepts (satisfacere, meritum, sacramentum, vitium originis etc., etc.). 236Finally it was he who at the very outset imparted to the type of dogmatic that arose in the West its momentous bias in the direction of auctoritas et ratio, and its corresponding tendency to assume a legal character (lex, formal and material), peculiarities which were to become more and more clearly marked as time went on.479479Further references to Tertullian in a future volume. Tertullian is at the same time the first Christian individual after Paul, of whose inward life and peculiarities we can form a picture to ourselves. His writings bring us near himself, but that cannot be said of Irenæus. But, great as is his importance in this respect, it has no connection at all with the fundamental conception of Christianity peculiar to himself, for, as a matter of fact, this was already out of date at the time when he lived. What influenced the history of dogma was not his Christianity, but his masterly power of framing formulæ.

It is different with Irenæus. The Christianity of this man proved a decisive factor in the history of dogma in respect of its content. If Tertullian supplied the future Catholic dogmatic with the most important part of its formulæ, Irenæus clearly sketched for it its fundamental idea, by combining the ancient notion of salvation with New Testament (Pauline) thoughts.480480Consequently the spirit of Irenæus, though indeed strongly modified by that of Origen, prevails in the later Church dogmatic, whilst that of Tertullian is not to be traced there. Accordingly, as far as the essence of the matter is concerned, the great work of Irenæus is far superior to the theological writings of Tertullian. This appears already in the task, voluntarily undertaken by Irenæus, of giving a relatively complete exposition of the doctrines of ecclesiastical Christianity on the basis of the New Testament, in opposition to heresy. Tertullian nowhere betrayed a similar systematic necessity, which indeed, in the case of the Gallic bishop too, only made its appearance as the result of polemical motives. But Irenæus to a certain degree succeeded in amalgamating philosophic theology and the statements of ecclesiastical tradition viewed as doctrines. This result followed (1) because he never lost sight of a fundamental idea to which he tried to refer everything, and (2) because he was directed by a confident view of Christianity as a religion, 237that is, a theory of its purpose. The first fundamental idea, in its all-dominating importance, was suggested to Irenæus by his opposition to Gnosticism. It is the conviction that the Creator of the world and the supreme God are one and the same.481481The supreme God is the Holy and Redeeming One. Hence the identity of the creator of the world and the supreme God also denotes the unity of nature, morality, and revelation. The other theory as to the aim of Christianity, however, is shared by Irenæus with Paul, Valentinus, and Marcion. It is the conviction that Christianity is real redemption, and that this redemption was only effected by the appearance of Christ. The working out of these two ideas is the most important feature in Irenæus’ book. As yet, indeed, he by no means really succeeded in completely adapting to these two fundamental thoughts all the materials to be taken from Holy Scripture and found in the rule of faith; he only thought with systematic clearness within the scheme of the Apologists. His archaic eschatological disquisitions are of a heterogeneous nature, and a great deal of his material, as, for instance, Pauline formulæ and thoughts, he completely emptied of its content, inasmuch as he merely contrived to turn it into a testimony of the oneness and absolute causality of God the Creator; but the repetition of the same main thoughts to an extent that is wearisome to us, and the attempt to refer everything to these, unmistakably constitute the success of his work.482482What success the early-Christian writings of the second century had is almost completely unknown to us; but we are justified in saying that the five books “adv. hæreses” of Irenæus were successful, for we can prove the favourable reception of this work and the effects it had in the 3rd and 4th centuries (for instance, on Hippolytus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Victorinus, Marcellus of Ancyra, Epiphanius, and perhaps Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius). As is well known, we no longer possess a Greek manuscript, although it can be proved that the work was preserved down to middle Byzantine times, and was quoted with respect. The insufficient Christological and especially the eschatological disquisitions spoiled the enjoyment of the work in later times (on the Latin Irenæus cf. the exhaustive examination of Loof: “The Manuscripts of the Latin translation of Irenæus”, in the “Studies of Church History” dedicated to Reuter, 1887). The old Catholic works written against heretics by Rhodon, Melito, Miltiades, Proculus, Modestus, Musanus, Theophilus, Philip of Gortyna, Hippolytus, and others have all been just as little preserved to us as the oldest book of this kind, the Syntagma of Justin against heresies, and the Memorabilia of Hegesippus. If we consider the criticism to which Tatian’s Christology was subjected by Arethas in the l0th century (Oratio 5 see my Texte und Untersuchungen I. 1, 2 p. 95 ff.), and the depreciatory judgment passed on Chiliasm from the 3rd century downwards, and if we moreover reflect that the older polemical works directed against heretics were supplanted by later detailed ones, we have a summary of the reasons for the loss of that oldest Catholic literature. This loss indeed makes it impossible for us to form an exact estimate of the extent and intensity of the effect produced by any individual writing, even including the great work of Irenæus. God the Creator and the one Jesus Christ 238are really the middle points of his theological system, and in this way he tried to assign an intrinsic significance to the several historical statements of the baptismal confession. Looked at from this point of view, his speculations were almost of an identical nature with the Gnostic.483483People are fond of speaking of the “Asia Minor” theology of Irenæus, ascribe it already to his teachers, Polycarp and the presbyters, then ascend from these to the Apostle John, and complete, though not without hesitation, the equation: John — Irenæus. By this speculation they win simply everything, in so far as the Catholic doctrine now appears as the property of an “apostolic” circle, and Gnosticism and Antignosticism are thus eliminated. But the following arguments may be urged against this theory: (1) What we know of Polycarp by no means gives countenance to the supposition that Irenæus learned more from him and his fellows than a pious regard for the Church tradition and a collection of historical traditions and principles. (2) The doctrine of Irena us cannot be separated from the received canon of New Testament writings; but in the generation before him there was as yet no such compilation. (3) The presbyter from whom Irenæus adopted important lines of thought in the 4th book did not write till after the middle of the second century. (4) Tertullian owes his Christocentric theology, so far as he has such a thing, to Irenæus (and Melito?). But, while he conceives Christianity as an explanation of the world and as redemption, his Christocentric teaching was opposed to that of the Gnostics. Since the latter started with the conception of an original dualism they saw in the empiric world a faulty combination of opposing elements,484484Marcion, as is well known, went still further in his depreciatory judgment of the world, and therefore recognised in the redemption through Christ a pure act of grace. and therefore recognised in the redemption by Christ the separation of what was unnaturally united. Irenæus, on the contrary, who began with the idea of the absolute causality of God the Creator, saw in the empiric world faulty estrangements and separations, and therefore viewed the redemption by Christ as the reunion of things unnaturally separated — the “recapitulatio” (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις).485485See Molwitz, De Ἀνακεφαλαιώσεως in Irenæi theologic potestate, Dresden, 1874. This speculative 239thought, which involved the highest imaginable optimism in contrast to Gnostic pessimism, brought Irenæus into touch with certain Pauline trains of thought,486486 See, e.g., the Epistle to the Ephesians and also the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. and enabled him to adhere to the theology of the Apologists. At the same time it opened up a view of the person of Christ, which supplemented the great defect of that theology,487487But see the remark made above, p. 220, note 1. We might without loss give up the half of the Apologies in return for the preservation of Justin’s chief Antignostic work. surpassed the Christology of the Gnostics,488488According to the Gnostic Christology Christ merely restores the status quo ante, according to that of Irenæus he first and alone realises the. hitherto unaccomplished destination of humanity. and made it possible to utilise the Christological statements contained in certain books of the New Testament.489489According to the Gnostic conception the incarnation of the divine, i.e., the fall of Sophia, contains, paradoxically expressed, the element of sin; according to Irenæus’ idea the element of redemption. Hence we must compare not only the Gnostic Christ, but the Gnostic Sophia, with the Christ of the Church. Irenæus himself did so in II. 20. 3.

So far as we know at least, Irenæus is the first ecclesiastical theologian after the time of the Apologists (see Ignatius before that) who assigned a quite specific significance to the person of Christ and in fact regarded it as the vital factor.490490After tracing in II. 14 the origin of the Gnostic theologoumena to the Greek philosophers Irenæus continues § 7: “Dicemus autem adversus eos: utramne hi omnes qui prædicti sunt, cum quibus eadem dicentes arguimini (Scil. “ye Gnostics with the philosophers”), cognoverunt veritatem aut non cognoverunt? Et si quidem cognoverunt, superflua est salvatoris in hunc mundum descensio. Ut (lege “ad”) quid enim descendebat?” It is characteristic of Irenæus not to ask what is new in the revelations of God (through the prophets and the Logos), but quite definitely: Cur descendit salvator in hunc mundum?” See also lib. III. præf.: “veritas, hoc est dei filii doctrina”, III. 10. 3: “Hæc est salutis agnitio quæ deerat eis, quæ est filii dei agnitio . . . agnitio salutis erat agnitio filii dei, qui et salus et salvator et salutare vere et dicitur et est.” III. I1. 3: III. 12. 7: IV. 24. That was possible for him because of his realistic view of redemption. Here, however, he did not fall into the abyss of Gnosticism, because, as a disciple of the “elders”, he adhered to the early-Christian eschatology, and because, as a follower of the Apologists, he held, along with the realistic conception of salvation, the other dissimilar theory that Christ, as the teacher, imparts 240to men, who are free and naturally constituted for fellowship with God, the knowledge which enables them to imitate God, and thus by their own act to attain communion with him. Nevertheless to Irenæus the pith of the matter is already found in the idea that Christianity is real redemption, i.e., that the highest blessing bestowed in Christianity is the deification of human nature through the gift of immortality, and that this deification includes the full knowledge and enjoying of God (visio dei). This conception suggested to him the question as to the cause of the incarnation as well as the answer to the same. The question “cur deus — homo”, which was by no means clearly formulated in the apologetic writings, in so far as in these “homo” only meant appearance among men, and the “why” was answered by referring to prophecy and the necessity of divine teaching, was by Irenæus made the central point. The reasons why the answer he gave was so highly satisfactory may be stated as follows: (1) It proved that the Christian blessing of salvation was of a specific kind. (2) It was similar in point of form to the so-called Gnostic conception of Christianity, and even surpassed it as regards the promised extent of the sphere included in the deification. (3) It harmonised with the eschatological tendency of Christendom, and at the same time was fitted to replace the material eschatological expectations that were fading away. (4) It was in keeping with the mystic and Neoplatonic current of the time, and afforded it the highest imaginable satisfaction. (5) For the vanishing trust in the possibility of attaining the highest knowledge by the aid of reason it substituted the sure hope of a supernatural transformation of human nature which would even enable it to appropriate that which is above reason. (6) Lastly, it provided the traditional historical utterances respecting Christ, as well as the whole preceding course of history, with a firm foundation and a definite aim, and made it possible to conceive a history of salvation unfolding itself by degrees (ὀικονομία Θεοῦ). According to this conception the central point of history was no longer the Logos as such, but Christ as the incarnate God, while at the same time the moralistic interest was balanced by a really religious one. An approach was thus made to the Pauline 241theology, though indeed in a very peculiar way and to some extent only in appearance. A more exact representation of salvation through Christ has, however, been given by Irenæus as follows: Incorruptibility is a habitus which is the opposite of our present one and indeed of man’s natural condition. For immortality is at once God’s manner of existence and his attribute; as a created being man is only “capable of incorruption and immortality” (“capax incorruptionis et immortalitatis”);491491See II. 24. 3, 4: “Non enim ex nobis neque ex nostra natura vita est; sed secundum gratiam dei datur.” Cf. what follows. Irenæus has in various places argued that human nature inclusive of the flesh is capax incorruptibilitatis, and likewise that immortality is at once a free gift and the realisation of man’s destiny. thanks to the divine goodness, however, he is intended for the same, and yet is empirically “subjected to the power of death” (“sub condicione mortis”). Now the sole way in which immortality as a physical condition can be obtained is by its possessor uniting himself realiter with human nature, in order to deify it “by adoption” (“per adoptionem”), such is the technical term of Irenæus. The deity must become what we are in order that we may become what he is. Accordingly, if Christ is to be the Redeemer, he must himself be God, and all the stress must fall upon his birth as man. “By his birth as man the eternal Word of God guarantees the inheritance of life to those who in their natural birth have inherited death.”492492Book V. pref.: “Iesus Christus propter immensam suam dilectionem factus est, quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret esse quod et ipse”: III. 6. 1: “Deus stetit in synagoga deorum . . . de patre et filio et de his, qui adoptionem perceperunt, dicit: hi autem sunt ecclesia. Hæc enim est synagoga dei,” etc.; see also what follows, III. 16. 3: “Filius dei hominis filius factus, ut per eum adoptionem percipiamus, portante homine et capiente et complectente filium dei.” III. 16. 6: “Dei verbum unigenitus, qui semper humano generi adest, unitus et consparsus suo plasmati secundum placitum patris et caro factus, ipse est Iesus Christus dominus noster . . . unus Iesus Christus, veniens per universam dispositionem et omnia in semetipsum recapitulans. In omnibus autem est et homo plasmatio dei, et hominem ergo in semetipsum recapitulans est, invisibilis visibilis factus, et incomprehensibilis factus comprehensibilis, et impassibilis passibilis, et verbum homo, universa in semetipsum recapitulans . . . in semetipsum primatum assumens . . . universa attrahat ad semetipsum apto in tempore.” III. 18. 1: “Quando incarnatus est filius homo et homo factus longam hominum expositionem in se ipso recapitulavit, in compendio nobis salutem præstans, ut quod perdideramus in Adam id est secundum imaginem et similitudinem esse dei, hoc in Christo Iesu reciperemus.” Cf. the whole 18th chapter where the deepest thoughts of the Pauline Gnosis of the death on the cross are amalgamated with the Gnosis of the incarnation; see especially 18. 6, 7: “Ἥνωσεν οὖν τὸν ἄνθρωπον τῷ Θεῷ. Εἰ γὰρ μὴ ἄνθρωπος ἐνίκησεν τὴν ἀντίπαλον τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, οὐκ ἂν δικαίως ἐνικήθη ὁ ἐχθρός. Πάλιν τε, εἰ μὴ ὁ Θεὸς ἐδωρήσατο τὴν σωτηρίαν, οὑκ ἄν βεβαίως ἔσχομεν αὐτήν. Καὶ εἰ μὴ συνηνώθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῷ Θεῷ οὐκ ἂν ἡδυνήθη μετασχεῖν τῆς ἀφθαρσίας. Ἔδει γὰρ τὸν μεσίτην Θεοῦ τε καὶ ἀνθρώπων διὰ τῆς ἰδίας πρὸς ἑκατέρους οἰκειὸτητος εἰς φιλίαν καὶ ὁμόνοιαν τοὺς ἀμφοτέρους συναγαγεῖν· καὶ Θεῷ μὲν παραστῆσαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀνθρώποις δὲ γνωρίσαι τὸν Θεόν. Qua enim ratione filiorum adoptionis eius participes esse possemus, nisi per filium eam quæ est ad ipsum recepissemus ab eo communionem, nisi verbum eius communicasset nobis caro factum? Quapropter et per omnem venit ætatem, omnibus restituens eam quæ est ad deum communionem.” The Pauline ideas about sin, law, and bondage are incorporated by Irenæus in what follows. The disquisitions in capp. 19-23 are dominated by the same fundamental idea. In cap. 19 Irenæus turns to those who hold Jesus to be a mere man, “perseverantes in servitute pristinæ inobedientiæ moriuntur, nondum commixti verbo dei patris neque per filium percipientes libertatem . . . privantur munere eius, quod est vita æterna: non recipientes autem verbum incorruptionis perseverant in carne mortali, et sunt debitores mortis, antidotum vitæ non accipientes. Ad quos verbum ait, suum munus gratiæ narrans: Ἐγὼ εἶπα, υἱοὶ ὑψίστου ἐστὲ πάντες καὶ θεοί· ὑμεῖς δὲ ὡς ἄνθρωποι ἀποθνήσκετε. Ταῦτα λέγει πρὸς τοὺς μὴ δεξαμένους τὴν δωρεὰν τῆς υἱοθεσίας, ἀλλ᾽ ἀτιμάζοντας τὴν σάρκωσιν τῆς καθαρᾶς γεννήσεως τοῦ λόγου τοῦ Θεοῦ . . . Εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ὁ λόγος ἄνθρωπος et qui filius dei est filius hominis factus est, ἵνα ὁ ἄνθρωπος τὸν λόγον χωρήσας καὶ τὴν υἱοθεσίαν λαβὼν υἱὸς γένηται Θεοῦ. Non enim poteramus aliter incorruptelam et immortalitatem percipere, nisi adunati fuissemus incorruptelæ et immortalitati. Quemadmodum autem adunari possumus incorruptelæ et immortalitati, nisi prius incorruptela et immortalitas facta fuisset id quod et nos, ut absorberetur quod erat corruptibile ab incorruptela et quod erat mortale ab immortalitate, ut filiorum adoptionem perciperemus?” III. 21. 10: Εἰ τοίνυν ὁ πρῶτος Ἀδὰμ ἔσχε πατέρα ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἐκ ππέρματος ἐγεννήθη, εἰκὸς ἦν καὶ τὸν δεύτερον Ἀδὰμ λέγειν ἐξ Ἰωσὴφ γεγεννῆσθαι. Εἰ δὲ ἐκεῖνος ἐκ γῆς ἐλήφθη, πλάστης δὲ αὐτοῦ ὁ Θεός, ἔδει καὶ τὸν ἀνακεφαλαιούμενον εἰς αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ πεπλασμένον ἄνθρωπον τὴν αὐτὴν ἐκείνῳ τῆς γεννήσεως ἔχειν ὁμοιότητα. Εἰς τὶ οὖν πάλιν οὐκ ἔλαβε χοῦν ὁ Θεός, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ Μαρίας ἐνήργησε τὴν πλάσιν γενέσθαι; Ἵνα μὴ ἀλλη πλάσις γένηται μηδὲ ἀλλὸ τὸ σωζόμενον ἦ, ἀλλ᾽ αὐτὸς ἐκεῖνος ἀνακεφαλαιωθῇ τηπουμένης τῆς ὁμοιότητος; III. 23. 1: IV. 38: V. 36: IV. 20: V. 16, 19-21, 22. In working out this thought Irenæus verges here and there on soteriological naturalism (see especially the disquisitions regarding the salvation of Adam, opposed to Tatian’s views, in III. 23). But he does not fall into this for two reasons. In the first place, as regards the history of Jesus, he has been taught by Paul not to stop at the incarnation, but to view the work of salvation as only completed by the sufferings and death of Christ (See II. 20. 3: “dominus per passionem mortem destruxit et solvit errorem corruptionemque exterminavit, et ignorantiam destruxit, vitam autem manifestavit et ostendit veritatem et incorruptionem donavit”; III. 16. 9: III. 18. 1-7 and many other passages), that is, to regard Christ as having performed a work. Secondly, alongside of the deification of Adam’s children, viewed as a mechanical result of the incarnation, he placed the other (apologetic) thought, viz., that Christ, as the teacher, imparts complete knowledge, that he has restored, i.e., strengthened the freedom of man, and that redemption (by which he means fellowship with God) therefore takes place only in the case of those children of Adam that acknowledge the truth proclaimed by Christ and imitate the Redeemer in a holy life (V. 1. 1.: “Non enim aliter nos discere poteramus quæ sunt dei, nisi magister noster, verbum exsistens, homo factus fuisset. Neque enim alius poterat enarrare nobis, quæ sunt patris, nisi proprium ipsius verbum . . . Neque rursus nos aliter discere poteramus, nisi magistrum nostrum videntes et per auditum nostrum vocem eius percipientes, ut imitatores quidem operum, factores autem sermonum eius facti, communionem habeamus cum ipso”, and many other passages. We find a combined formula in III. 5.3: “Christus libertatem hominibus restauravit et attribuit incorruptelæ hæreditatem.” 242But this work of Christ can be conceived as recapitulatio because God the Redeemer is identical with God the Creator; and Christ consequently brings about a final condition which existed from the beginning in God’s plan, but could not be immediately realised in consequence of the entrance of sin. It 243is perhaps Irenæus’ highest merit, from a historical and ecclesiastical point of view, to have worked out this thought in pregnant fashion and with the simplest means, i.e., without the apparatus of the Gnostics, but rather by the aid of simple and essentially Biblical ideas. Moreover, a few decades later, he and Melito, an author unfortunately so little known to us, were already credited with this merit. For the author of the so-called “Little Labyrinth” (Euseb., H. E. V. 28. 5) can indeed boast with regard to the works of Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, Clement, etc., that they declared Christ to be God, but then continues: Τὰ Εἰρηνάιου τε κὰι Μελίτωνος κὰι τῶν λοιπῶν τίς ἀγνοεῖ βιβλία, θεὸν καὶ ἄνθρωπον καταγγέλλοντα τὸν Χριστόν (“Who is ignorant of the books of Irenæus, Melito, and the rest, which proclaim Christ to be God and man”). The progress in theological views is very precisely and appropriately expressed in these words. The Apologists also professed their belief in the full revelation of God upon earth, that is, in revelation as the teaching which necessarily leads to immortality;493493Theophilus also did not see further, see Wendt, l.c., 17 ff. but Irenæus is the first to whom Jesus Christ, God and man, is the centre of history and faith.494494Melito’s teaching must have been similar. In a fragment attributed to him (see my Texte und Untersuchungen I. 1, 2 p. 255 ff.) we even find the expression “αἱ δύο οὐσίαι Χριστοῦ”. The genuineness of the fragment is indeed disputed, but, as I think, without grounds. It is certainly remarkable that the formula is not found in Irenæus (see details below). The first Syriac fragment (Otto IX. p. 419) shows that Melito also views redemption as reunion through Christ. 244Following the method of Valentinus, he succeeded in sketching a history of salvation, the gradual realising of the οἰκονομία Θεοῦ culminating in the deification of believing humanity, but here he always managed to keep his language essentially within the limits of the Biblical. The various acting æons of the Gnostics became to him different stages in the saving work of the one Creator and his Logos. His system seemed to have absorbed the rationalism of the Apologists and the intelligible simplicity of their moral theology, just as much as it did the Gnostic dualism with its particoloured mythology. Revelation had become history, the history of salvation; and dogmatics had in a certain fashion become a way of looking at history, the knowledge of God’s ways of salvation that lead historically to an appointed goal.495495The conception of the stage by stage development of the economy of God and the corresponding idea of “several covenants” (I. 10. 3: III. 11-15 and elsewhere) denote a very considerable advance, which the Church teachers owe to the controversy with Gnosticism, or to the example of the Gnostics. In this case the origin of the idea is quite plain. For details see below.

But, as this realistic, quasi-historical view of the subject was by no means completely worked out by Irenæus himself, since the theory of human freedom did not admit of its logical development, and since the New Testament also pointed in other directions, it did not yet become the predominating one even in the third century, nor was it consistently carried out by any one teacher. The two conceptions opposed to it, that of the early Christian eschatology and the rationalistic one, were still in vogue. The two latter were closely connected in the third century, especially in the West, whilst the mystic and realistic view was almost completely lacking there. In this respect Tertullian adopted but little from Irenæus. Hippolytus also lagged behind him. Teachers like Commodian, Arnobius, and Lactantius, however, wrote as if there had been no Gnostic movement at all, and as if no Antignostic Church theology existed. The immediate result of the work carried on by Irenus and the Antignostic teachers in the Church consisted in the fixing of tradition and in the intelligent treatment of individual doctrines, which gradually became established. The most 245important will be set forth in what follows. On the most vital point, the introduction of the philosophical Christology into the Church’s rule of faith, see Chapter 7.

The manner in which Irenæus undertook his great task of expounding and defending orthodox Christianity in opposition to the Gnostic form was already a prediction of the future. The oldest Christian motives and hopes; the letter of both Testaments, including even Pauline thoughts; moralistic and philosophical elements, the result of the Apologists’ labours; and realistic and mystical features balance each other in his treatment. He glides over from the one to the other; limits the one by the other; plays off Scripture against reason, tradition against the obscurity of the Scriptures; and combats fantastic speculation by an appeal sometimes to reason, sometimes to the limits of human knowledge. Behind all this and dominating everything, we find his firm belief in the bestowal of divine incorruptibility on believers through the work of the God-man. This eclectic method did not arise from shrewd calculation. It was equally the result of a rare capacity for appropriating the feelings and ideas of others, combined with the conservative instincts that guided the great teacher, and the consequence of a happy blindness to the gulf which lay between the Christian tradition and the world of ideas prevailing at that time. Still unconscious of the greatest problem, Irenæus with inward sincerity sketched out that future dogmatic method according to which the theology compiled by an eclectic process is to be nothing else than the simple faith itself, this being merely illustrated and explained, developed and by that very process established, as far as “stands in the Holy Scripture”, and — let us add — as far as reason requires. But Irenæus was already obliged to decline answering the question as to how far unexplained faith can be sufficient for most Christians, though nothing but this explanation can solve the great problems, “why more covenants than one were given to mankind, what was the character of each covenant, why God shut up every man unto unbelief, why the Word became flesh and suffered, why the advent of the Son of God only took place in the last times etc.” (I. 10. 3). The relation of faith and theological Gnosis was 246fixed by Irenæus to the effect that the latter is simply a continuation of the former.496496It would seem from some passages as if faith and theological knowledge were according to Irenæus simply related as the “is” and the “why”. As a matter of fact, he did express himself so without being really able to maintain the relationship thus fixed; for faith itself must also to some extent include a knowledge of the reason and aim of God’s ways of salvation. Faith and theological knowledge are therefore, after all, closely interwoven with each other. Irenæus merely sought for a clear distinction, but it was impossible for him to find it in his way. The truth rather is that the same man, who, in opposition to heresy, condemned an exaggerated estimate of theoretical knowledge, contributed a great deal to the transformation of that faith into a monistic speculation. At the same time, however, he did not clearly show how the collection of historical statements found in the confession can of itself guarantee a sufficient and tenable knowledge of Christianity. Here the speculative theories are as a matter of fact quite imbedded in the historical propositions of tradition. Will these obscurities remain when once the Church is forced to compete in its theological system with the whole philosophical science of the Greeks, or may it be expected that, instead of this system of eclecticism and compromise, a method will find acceptance which, distinguishing between faith and theology, will interpret in a new and speculative sense the whole complex of tradition? Irenæus’ process has at least this one advantage over the other method: according to it everything can be reckoned part of the faith, providing it bears the stamp of truth, without the faith seeming to alter its nature. It is incorporated in the theology of facts which the faith here appears to be.497497See I. 10, 2: Καὶ οὔτε ὁ πάνυ δυνατὸς ἐν λόγῳ τῶν ἐν ταῖ ἐκκλησίαις προεστώτων ἕτερα τούτων (scil. than the regula fidei) ἐρεῖ· οὐδείς γὰρ ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον· οὔτε ὁ ἀσθενὴς ἐν τῷ λόγῳ ἐλαττώσει τὴν παράδοσιν. Μιᾶς γὰρ καὶ τῆς αὐτῆς πίστεως οὔσης οὔτε ὁ πολὺ περὶ αὐτῆς δυνάμενος εἰπεῖν ἐπλεόνασεν, οὔτε ὁ τὸ ὀλίγον ἡλαττόνησε. The latter, however, imperceptibly becomes a revealed system of doctrine and history; and though Irenæus himself always seeks to refer everything again to the “simple faith” (ψιλὴ πίστις), and to believing simplicity, that is, to the belief in the Creator and the Son of God who became man, yet it was not in his power to stop the development destined to transform the faith into knowledge of a theological system. The pronounced hellenising of the Gospel, 247brought about by the Gnostic systems, was averted by Irenæus and the later ecclesiastical teachers by preserving a great portion of the early Christian tradition, partly as regards its letter, partly as regards its spirit, and thus rescuing it for the future. But the price of this preservation was the adoption of a series of “Gnostic” formulæ. Churchmen, though with hesitation, adopted the adversary’s way of looking at things, and necessarily did so, because as they became ever further and further removed from the early-Christian feelings and thoughts, they had always more and more lost every other point of view. The old Catholic Fathers permanently settled a great part of early tradition for Christendom, but at the same time promoted the gradual hellenising of Christianity.


« Prev 1. The theological position of Irenæus and the… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |