The Teachers of the Church: Irenaeus of Lyons (Part 2)


The History of Christianity #46

Our Scripture verse today is John 14:6 which reads: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Our quote today is from Irenaeus of Lyons. He said: “Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses elegantly, so that the unwary may be led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself.”

Today, we are looking at “The Teachers of the Church” (Part 3) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Irenaeus of Lyons (Part 2)

Although the actual course of history is the result of sin, the fact that there is history is not. God always had the purpose that there be history. The situation in paradise, as described in Genesis, was not the goal of creation, but its beginning.

From this perspective, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is not merely a response to sin. On the contrary, God’s initial purpose included being united with humankind. In fact, the future incarnate Word was the model that God followed in making humans after the divine image. Adam and Eve were so created that, after a process of growth and instruction, they could become like the incarnate Word. What has happened because of sin is that the incarnation has taken on the added purpose of offering a remedy for sin, and a means for defeating Satan.

Even before the incarnation, and from the very moment of the first sin, God has been leading humanity toward closer communion with the divine. For this reason, God curses the serpent and the earth, but only punishes the man and the woman. At the very moment of the fall, God is working for human redemption.

Israel has an important role in the drama of redemption, for it is in the history of the chosen people that the two “hands of God” have continued their work, preparing humankind for communion with God. Therefore, the Old Testament is not the revelation of a God alien to the Christian faith, but is rather the history of the unfolding redemptive purposes of the same God whom Christians know in Jesus Christ.

At the proper time, when humankind had received the necessary preparation, the Word was incarnate in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “second Adam” because in his life, death, and resurrection a new humanity has been created, and in all his actions Jesus has corrected what was twisted because of sin. Furthermore, Jesus has defeated Satan, and this in turn has enabled us to live in renewed freedom. Those who are joined to him in baptism, and nourished in his body through communion, are also participants in his victory. Jesus Christ is literally the head of the church, which is his body. This body is nourished through worship – particularly communion – and is so joined to its head that it is already receiving the first benefits of Christ’s victory. In his resurrection, the final resurrection has dawned, and all who are part of his body will partake of it.

Even at the end, when the Kingdom of God is established, God’s task as shepherd will not be finished. On the contrary, redeemed humanity will continue growing into greater communion with the divine, and the process of divinization will go on eternally, taking us ever closer to God.

In conclusion, what we find in Irenaeus is a grand vision of history, so that the divine purposes unfold through it. The focal point of that history is the incarnation, not only because through it God’s word has straightened the twisted history of humankind, but also because from the very begining the union of the human with the divine was the goal of history. God’s purpose is to be joined to the human creature, and this has taken place in a unique way in Jesus Christ

Next time, we will look at The Teachers of the Church: Clement of Alexandria.


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