Notes on St Irenaeus

(During the next two weeks I’ll be spending all my spare time preparing for a week-long class being taught by Fr John Behr. I have pages upon pages to read of St Irenaeus, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Maximus the Confessor. I mean pages!  I thought that I might share with the brethren some passages as I work myself through the material, along with observations and questions–mainly questions. I welcome any insights you might have.)

The bolded sentence in this passage still startles:

Wherefore Luke points out that the pedigree which traces the generation of our Lord back to Adam contains seventy-two generations, connecting the end with the beginning, and implying that it is He who has summed up in Himself all nations dispersed from Adam downwards, and all languages and generations of men, together with Adam himself. Hence also was Adam himself termed by Paul the figure of Him that was to come, because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God; God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain. (AH 3.22.3)

I discussed this text a couple of months ago: “God Creates the World From the Cross.” I don’t have anything more to add at this point, but I sure hope it comes up for discussion in our class. Question: how much does this eschatological view (specifically, the creation exists for the Incarnation) inform St Irenaeus’ theology? I’ll be looking for other passages along these lines.

I note the employment of predestination language here. Because Christ is the Savior, Adam was predestined to be of an animal nature that he might be saved by the One who is fully realized in the Spirit. At least that’s what I’m guessing that “spiritual One” means. We’ll have to see.

(Go to next note)


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9 Responses to Notes on St Irenaeus

  1. Tom says:

    “We’ll have to see.”

    Yes, we will. I’m quite uncomfortable with the bold portion of your quote. It suggests there is something about God that is fulfilled only through creation.

    I’ll be here with pen in hand taking notes when you finish the class and begin dispensing the results.


  2. my friend who’s been driving me to church ever since our previous place was turned into an office building when the mortuary burned down made it all the way to st. irenaeus when he was reading the fathers. he had trouble with all the technical terms and the lists of heresies st. irenaeus was addressing.
    heresiology though was largely how the church created its own theology. by starting with what god was not.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Fortunately, Fr Behr has only assigned books 3-5 of Against Heresies. Hence I do not need to wade through the dense material in books 1-2 on the various gnostic teachers and sects.


  3. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Are we looking at issues of love requiring free will here? It seems unlikely what is meant that God is like an arsonist who sets fire to a house in order to be the heroic rescuer who saves the occupants.
    If it is in God’s nature to be both creative and loving, God would be going against his own nature if he did not create: that would not be to say God is compelled to create or is incomplete without doing so, but simply that his very nature is to create so that he inevitably did so.
    Perhaps by “animal nature” what is meant is not sinful nature specifically, but a nature that is limited and subject to change, and which is free and independent to love or not love depending on its inclination, rather than a spiritual nature which is eternal and unchanging. Only such a creature could give and accept love freely.
    God’s “saving nature” would therefore be a nature which desires to create, reach out and love such creatures who can freely love him. It is a “saving” nature because God’s foreknowledge would mean he knew the consequences of creating such a creature – that it would fall and require saving – and the price God would pay for that, but did it anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      What’s the Latin here for “the Maker of all things” and “animal nature” – and what Greek may/is likely to lie behind it? ‘zoopoesis’-language is Aristotelian and Pauline (according to the first Greek dictionary I checked) – what’s its history by the time of St. Irenaeus? And might the Johannine ‘en auto zoe […] kai zoe en tos phos tov anthropon’ (1:4) be distinctly in the background of “God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One”?


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I do not know have the Latin text to which to refer, nor do I know Latin, so I’m afraid I cannot answer your question. Perhaps someone here has access to the Latin text.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:


          Thinking further, recalling that (at least in the Vulgate) the four ‘living creatures’ of the visions of Sts. Ezekiel and John are rendered ‘animalia’, there might be a use of ‘animal’ here as very much accenting ‘creatureliness’ (if apparent angels can also be called ‘animalia’ because they are ‘living beings’). Might there also be an implicit critique of Gnostic ideas of ‘sparks of the Divine’ improperly ‘trapped’ in material bodies, by an assertion of properly created living ‘animal nature(s)’ and of the proper union of God the Son with one such ‘animal nature’?


  4. Perhaps what is most intriguing about St Irenaeus treads some interesting theological waters here: “For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.” The last phrase is incredibly odd when understood within the larger tradition of some classical theistic understanding which posits that God’s existence qua existence is sufficient in and of itself and does not need any outside contingencies in order to be justified to exist. Irenaeus, judging just from the language here, seems to intertwine the destiny (if one may use such a word in a theological context) and even the purpose of God’s existence with humanity, as Irenaeus identifies God not simply as “the Being,” but as “the Being who saves.” The identity of God as a saving Being thus necessitates the existence of a being that needs saving… which leads us into anthropological aspect: we are, before the foundation of the world, created in order to be saved. (Of course, someone will point out that Irenaeus is directly speaking about the Son of God in this context, though parsing out the Trinitarian aspect of existence and saving here is a bit beyond the scope of the discussion).

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were created to be saved if you look at it in this maaner: in creation Adam was merely a higher part of the animalistic creation. But God’s intent was, in a sense, that Adam be “saved” from this mere existence on par with the animal kingdom and become a “god. Wouldn’t that be salvific certain sense?


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