Irenaeus and the God Man

Yesterday I got rolling with some reflections on Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, drawing attention to how much I appreciated his approach to God. Because of his situation, he had to argue for who the God of our salvation is. It is none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the creator and sustainer of the world; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus.

Irenaeus’ efforts to establish the necessity of Jesus’ humanity are also marvelous, especially inasmuch as they direct us to the importance of Adam theology for making sense of Jesus. For the biblically attentive theologians of the early church, Adam Christology was a key to making sense of Jesus’ humanness–and we have a lot to learn from Irenaeus on this score. Too often in our contemporary context, the importance of Jesus’ humanity is merely that he needed to be able to die. That’s crucial, but it’s not everything.

Here are a few outtakes of Irenaeus on the necessity of Jesus’ humanness–places where I think he hits the nail on the head:

For all things entered upon a new phase, the Word arranging after a new manner the advent in the flesh, that He might win back to God that human nature (hominem) which had departed from God; and therefore men were taught to worship God afer a new fashion, but not another God, because in truth there is but “one God, who justifieth the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith” (Against Heresies III.10.2)

… when He became incarnate, and was made man, He recapitulated in himself the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam–namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God–that we might recover in Christ Jesus. (Against Heresies III.18.1)

For unless man had overcome the enemy of man, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. (Against Heresies III.18.7) [BTW: I think he got that from me.]

But if [the first Adam] was taken from the dust, and God was his Maker, it was incumbent that the latter also, making a recapitulation in Himself, should be formed as man by God, to have an analogy with the former as respects His origin. Why, then, did not God again take dust, but wrought so that the formation should be made of Mary? It was that there might not be another formation called into being, nor any other which should require to be saved, but that the very same formation should be summed up [in Christ as had existed in Adam] (Against Heresies III.21.10)

One thing I find fascinating in all this is how extensively we start to see the need for not only Adam but also new creation as a category for making sense of who Jesus is and why salvation had to be wrought by a human.

Here’s a favorite of mine. One of the most important reasons that we develop a robust place for “new creation” in our theology is that this level of continuity is required if evil is not to have the last word, being victorious over the creation of God.

For if man, who had been created by God that he might live, after losing life, through being injured by the serpent that had corrupted him, should not any more return to life, but should be utterly abandoned to death, God would have been conquered, and the wickedness of the serpent would have prevailed over the will of God. (Against Heresies III.23.1)

Because God created this world, and because God created humanity to occupy a special place upon it, the only way for the story to be rightly resolved is for a human to be the agent of the resolution. If creation is abandoned, if humanity is abandoned, and, I would add what Irenaeus does not say, if human rule, as kings over the earth, is abandoned as the means to bring the restoration about, then God’s story is undone. Then evil wins.

Irenaeus’ doctrine of “recapitulation,” drawing on the New Testament’s Adam Christology, is a fantastic corrective to the under-humanized theologies of Jesus that too many of us work with.

But what about Irenaeus’ arguments about Jesus’ own divinity? I found those a bit less persuasive. More on this tomorrow.

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