Irenaeus and the God of Abraham

Since I’ve been getting all happy about the importance of Jesus’ humanness, folks have been telling me that when I speak Irenaeus echoes in their ears.

I’m glad to hear it, really. For all of my posturing to the contrary, every now and then I like to know that what I’m doing is within the stream of the church’s tradition. I mean, I figure it is since I’m talking about the Bible, but, well, you know, the theologians aren’t always impressed with that.

To have a friend among the theological giants of the early church makes me happy. So I’ve started reading through books 3-5 of Against Heresies.

One reason that I find myself resonating so deeply with Irenaeus is that the particular historical moment within which he found himself forced him to answer the question, “Who is God?” whereas the tendency shortly after seems to have been to take “who” for granted and ask, instead, “What is God?”

Irenaeus was doing theological battle with gnostics. And so the answer to the question “Who is God?” had to be tied to both creation itself and the Old Testament narrative more generally. He had to fight for a unity between the Old and the New where his theological opponents were trying to pit these against each other as representative of two separate gods.

Today I want to focus on one thing I appreciated in this reading. It is important not to lose sight (and I have been guilty of giving too little weight to it on this blog) of the importance of saying in the Creed, “I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.” That statement is the church’s declaration that the God whom we know from the OT to be the maker of all things, the God of Israel, is the same God who was at work in Jesus.

Here is what Irenaeus says one can learn from Clement about God. God is…

… the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets… He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches (Against Heresies III.3.iii)

And then there is this prayer:

I call upon you, the LORD God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob and Israel, who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who through the abundance of your mercy have had a favor towards us…

We will never know who God is until we learn the importance of confessing God not only as the Father, and not only as creator, but also as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who brought the people up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

This is the story to which the Christian God is bound, and within which all makes sense — or falls apart.

Tomorrow I’ll reflect a bit on the necessity of Jesus’ humanity, given his mission to draw to its climax the story of this particular God.

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