Earliest Theology 2

Irenaeus’ theology sets up shop in what is now considered customary; it was probably not an innovation on his part but it is the earliest consolidation of the Christian faith that we now possess. It begins with “God and Man” and this covers these topics: apostolic faith, God as creator, three articles of baptismal faith, God as both Creator and Father, angels, fashioning man, paradise, fashioning women, children in Paradise, law of life, and transgression.

Now to the apostolic faith [3]. The faith Irenaeus teaches is the faith handed down to him by the elders and apostles. “It exhorts us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins” in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Baptism is not only for forgiveness; it is also a “seal of eternal life” and it is a “rebirth unto God.” Baptism, in other words, is understood in decidedly non-low-church shape: like Acts 2:38, it is connected to forgiveness; it is a “seal of eternal life” and it is about “new birth.”
Paragraphs [4-5] assert that God the Father is “uncreated, invisible, Creator of all.” And — I like this — God is “logikos” — “verbal” and God is “Spirit.” Notice then these words from par. [5]: “Since then the Word establishes, that is to say, gives body and grants the reality of being, and the Spirit gives order and form to the diversity of the powers; rightly and fittingly is the Word called the Son, and the Spirit the Wisdom of God.”
Thus, the Word gives body and the Spirit gives order/form.
Here is a fine, early, on-the-way-toward the perichoresis understanding of Trinity: “Now the Spirit shows forth the Word, and therefore the prophets announced the Son of God; and the Word utters the Spirit, and therefore is Himself the announcer of the prophets, and leads and draws man to the Father.”
Father, Son, Spirit — with the Son and Spirit articulating the Other and all for the Father.

"Hi Michael,I have only read some of his books and all these issues you are ..."

Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”
"Certainly the cultural context question has to be asked. Personally, I think that in this ..."

Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”
"I lived in Toronto (Canada) between 1980-1993 and long before people began to blather about ..."

Is Unity with Diversity Even Possible ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Peggy

    As a fan of the very early church…I’m going to make time to read Irenaeus and follow this series–even if I can’t keep up with you regularly! 😉

  • Scott Watson

    The thing that stands out here is role of narrative as the primary way the Faith is articulated,and that this is what is recounted germinally in the rule of faith and in the liturgy in the anaphora (eucharistic prayer). This linkage is what’s often missing for most of us.

  • I agree with Scott (#2). It is fascinating to read this early “theology” of Irenaeus and find it in such clear and narrative form.I think Irenaeus could have titled his book “The Story We Find Ourselves In” 🙂

  • Scott, I love your thoughts on the Trinity here. Where I work, we talk about the Trinity in terms of Excellence/Leadership (the Father), Service (the Son), and Unity (the Spirit).
    Here’s what prompted me to comment though: Can you explain more about what you mean by “non-low-church” baptism?

  • Jim P.

    I, too, appreciate the writings of Ireneaus. “Check out” his grand narrative: “Now the Church, although scattered over the whole civilized world to the end of the earth, recieved from the apostles and their disciples its faith in one God, and the Father Almighty, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the seas and all that is in them, and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets proclaimed the dispensation of God- the comings, the birth of a virgin, the suffering, the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily recpetion into the heavens of the beloved, Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from the heavens in the glory of the Father to restore all things, and to raise up all flesh, that is, the whole human race, so that every knee may bow, of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, to Christ Jesus our Lord and God and Saviour and King, according to the pleasure of the invisible Father, and every tongue may confess him, and that he may execute righteous judgment on all.” – Irenaeus’ Against Heresies as printed in “Early Christian Fathers”, Cyril Richardson, p. 360.
    Interestingly enough, Irenaeus wouldn’t be interested in some sort of mushy doctrine where it is taught we should share a “conversation” (aka “non-critical interfaith dialogue”) with those of other religious faiths and embrace them as also ones on a path to the Father. Irenaeus taught what we know is authentic, historical, Christianity. Indeed, he wrote, “Certain men, rejecting the truth, are introducing among us false stories and vain genealogies…” (ibid. p.358). Sounds much like what is happening today with those amongst Christians who claim there is no such thing as “the truth” (metanarratives, or grand narratives). I certainly don’t think Irenaeus would have counted himself amongst those claiming to be “postmodernist christ followers” who deny objective truth.

  • Andie

    How did we get to where baptism means so much less in the modern non-litergical, or as you put it, low churches? It seems in many churches baptism and the Lords Supper are even optional, and neither would be considered part of the process of our salvation. At least the way I understand it.

  • Scott Watson

    It’s important to note that Irenaeus baisc orientation is to articulate the “big story” of what YHWH has done and will do in Christ by the Spirit.It’s not simply in reactionary mode against the gnostics in which his theological focus gets narrowed and pulled out of shape,as much of Western theological wranglings have done over the centuries.His critique is narrative based, not “issue based,” it appears to me.