Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Subordinationism in St. Irenaeus


In the ESSAY that I linked to in the previous thread, I provided numerous examples of clear, unequivocal, Subordinationism from writings of various early Church Fathers. One Church Father who was absent from the list was St. Irenaeus, the second century bishop of Lugdunum (i.e. Lyon). I shall now remedy that vacancy via the following quotations from the corpus of the esteemed Church Father:


But, beyond reason inflated [with your own wisdom], ye presumptuously maintain that ye are acquainted with the unspeakable mysteries of God; while even the Lord, the very Son of God, allowed that the Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgment, when He plainly declares, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father only.” If, then, the Son was not ashamed to ascribe the knowledge of that day to the Father only, but declared what was true regarding the matter, neither let us be ashamed to reserve for God those greater questions which may occur to us. For no man is superior to his master. If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. (Against Heresies, 2.28.6 – ANF 1.401)

For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day [of judgment], he will find at present no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master), that we may learn through Him that the Father is above all things. For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.” The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions [as have been mentioned], to God, and should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God. (Against Heresies, 2.28.8 – ANF 1.402)

God, therefore, is one and the same, who rolls up the heaven as a book, and renews the face of the earth; who made the things of time for man, so that coming to maturity in them, he may produce the fruit of immortality; and who, through His kindness, also bestows [upon him] eternal things, “that in the ages to come He may show the exceeding riches of His grace;” who was announced by the law and the prophets, whom Christ confessed as His Father. Now He is the Creator, and He it is who is God over all, as Esaias says, “I am witness, saith the LORD God, and my servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I AM. Before me there was no other God, neither shall be after me. I am God, and besides me there is no Savior. I have proclaimed, and I have saved.” And again: “I myself am the first God, and I am above things to come.” For neither in an ambiguous, nor arrogant, nor boastful manner, does He say these things; but since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” (Against Heresies, 4.5.1 – ANF 1.466)

Therefore have the Jews departed from God, in not receiving His Word, but imagining that they could know the Father [apart] by Himself, without the Word, that is, without the Son; they being ignorant of that God who spake in human shape to Abraham, and again to Moses, saying, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have come down to deliver them.” For the Son, who is the Word of God, arranged these things beforehand from the beginning, the Father being in no want of angels, in order that He might call the creation into being, and form man, for whom also the creation was made; nor, again, standing in need of any instrumentality for the framing of created things, or for the ordering of those things which had reference to man; while, [at the same time,] He has a vast and unspeakable number of servants. For His offspring and His similitude do minister to Him in every respect; that is, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Word and Wisdom; whom all the angels serve, and to whom they are subject. Vain, therefore, are those who, because of that declaration, “No man knoweth the Father, but the Son,” do introduce another unknown Father. (Against Heresies, 4.7.4 – ANF 1.470)

Truly, then, the Scripture declared, which says, “First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence:” He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one. Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets: “Is it not one God who hath established us? Have we not all one Father?” In accordance with this, too, does the apostle say, “There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all.” Likewise does the Lord also say: “All things are delivered to Me by My Father;” manifestly by Him who made all things; for He did not deliver to Him the things of another, but His own. But in all things [it is implied that] nothing has been kept back [from Him], and for this reason the same person is the Judge of the living and the dead; “having the key of David: He shall open, and no man shall shut: He shall shut, and no man shall open.” (Against Heresies, 4.20.2 – ANF 1.488)

I have also largely demonstrated, that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him, anterior to all creation, He declares by Solomon: “God by Wisdom founded the earth, and by understanding hath He established the heaven. By His knowledge the depths burst forth, and the clouds dropped down the dew.” And again: “The Lord created me the beginning of His ways in His work: He set me up from everlasting, in the beginning, before He made the earth, before He established the depths, and before the fountains of waters gushed forth; before the mountains were made strong, and before all the hills, He brought me forth.” And again: “When He prepared the heaven, I was with Him, and when He established the fountains of the deep; when He made the foundations of the earth strong, I was with Him preparing [them]. I was He in whom He rejoiced, and throughout all time I was daily glad before His face, when He rejoiced at the completion of the world, and was delighted in the sons of men. There is therefore one God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things…” (Against Heresies, 4.20.3, 4a – ANF 1.488)

But let us revert to the same line of argument [hitherto pursued]. For when it has been manifestly declared, that they who were the preachers of the truth and the apostles of liberty termed no one else God, or named him Lord, except the only true God the Father, and His Word, who has the pre-eminence in all things; it shall then be clearly proved, that they (the apostles) confessed as the Lord God Him who was the Creator of heaven and earth, who also spoke with Moses, gave to him the dispensation of the law, and who called the fathers; and that they knew no other. The opinion of the apostles, therefore, and of those (Mark and Luke) who learned from their words, concerning God, has been made manifest
. (Against Heresies, 3.15.3 – ANF 1.440)

...there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption. Since, therefore, this is sure and steadfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption. (Against Heresies, 4.1.1 – ANF 1.463).

Wherefore they also imagine many gods, and they always have the excuse of searching [after truth] (for they are blind), but never succeed in finding it. For they blaspheme the Creator, Him who is truly God, who also furnishes power to find [the truth]; imagining that they have discovered another God beyond God, or another Pleroma, or another dispensation. Wherefore also the light which is from God does not illumine them, because they have dishonored and despised God, holding Him of small account, because, through His love and infinite benignity, He has come within reach of human knowledge (knowledge, however, not with regard to His greatness, or with regard to His essence — for that has no man measured or handled — but after this sort: that we should know that He who made, and formed, and breathed in them the breath of life, and nourishes us by means of the creation, establishing all things by His Word, and binding them together by His Wisdom — this is He who is the only true God); but they dream of a non-existent being above Him, that they may be regarded as having found out the great God, whom nobody, [they hold,] can recognize holding communication with the human race, or as directing mundane matters: that is to say, they find out the God of Epicurus, who does nothing either for himself or others; that is, he exercises no providence at all. (Against Heresies, 3.24.2 – ANF 1.458, 459)

We do indeed pray that these men may not remain in the pit which they themselves have dug, but separate themselves from a Mother of this nature, and depart from Bythus, and stand away from the void, and relinquish the shadow; and that they, being converted to the Church of God, may be lawfully begotten, and that Christ may be formed in them, and that they may know the Framer and Maker of this universe, the only true God and Lord of all. We pray for these things on their behalf, loving them better than they seem to love themselves. For our love, inasmuch as it is true, is salutary to them, if they will but receive it. It may be compared to a severe remedy, extirpating the proud and sloughing flesh of a wound; for it puts an end to their pride and haughtiness. Wherefore it shall not weary us, to endeavor with all our might to stretch out the hand unto them. Over and above what has been already stated, I have deferred to the following book, to adduce the words of the Lord; if, by convincing some among them, through means of the very instruction of Christ, I may succeed in persuading them to abandon such error, and to cease from blaspheming their Creator, who is both God alone, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Against Heresies, 3.25.7 – ANF 1.460)

But as we follow for our teacher the one and only true God, and possess His words as the rule of truth, we do all speak alike with regard to the same things, knowing but one God, the Creator of this universe, who sent the prophets, who led forth the people from the land of Egypt, who in these last times manifested His own Son, that He might put the unbelievers to confusion, and search out the fruit of righteousness. (Against Heresies, 4.35.4 – ANF 1.514)

Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and molded by His hands, that is, by the Son and Holy Spirit, to whom also He said, “Let Us make man.” (Against Heresies, 4.pref.4 – ANF 1.463)

For never at any time did Adam escape the hands of God, to whom the Father speaking, said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” And for this reason in the last times (fine), not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man, but by the good pleasure of the Father, His hands formed a living man, in order that Adam might be created [again] after the image and likeness of God. (Against Heresies, 5.1.3 – ANF 1.527)


For by means of the very same hands through which they were molded at the beginning, did they receive this translation and assumption. For in Adam the hands of God had become accustomed to set in order, to rule, and to sustain His own workmanship, and to bring it and place it where they pleased. (Against Heresies, 5.5.1 – ANF 1.531)

Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. (Against Heresies, 5.6.1 – ANF 1.531)

Now this God is glorified by His Word, who is His eternal Son, and by the Holy Spirit, who is the wisdom the Father of all. And those, powers of the word and wisdom, which are called Cherubim and Seraphim, praise God with unceasing voice, and all who have existence in heaven praise, God the Father of all. He formed all the world by the Word. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, chapter 10, trans. by Bishop Karapet and Dr. S.G. Wilson, in Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 12, p. 667.)


Grace and peace,

David

Addendum (12-23-08) – “But we must necessarily believe God in all things, for God is in all things truthful. And that there was born a Son of God, that is, not only before His appearance in the world, but also before the world was made. Moses, who was the first to prophesy, says in Hebrew: BARESITh BARA ELOVIM BASAN BENUAM SAMENThARES, of which translation [ ] is: A Son in the beginning God established then heaven and earth…for the Son was as a beginning for God before the world was made…(Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 43 – ACW, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, trans. Joseph P. Smith, 16.75.)

4 comments:

TOm said...

David,
Your list reminded me of a question I have long had and I thought your Blog would be a good place to ask. You offered the following quote from Irenaeus:
For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day [of judgment], he will find at present no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master), that we may learn through Him that the Father is above all things. For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.” The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions [as have been mentioned], to God, and should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God. (Against Heresies, 2.28.8 – ANF 1.402)
I would suggest that in context and adopting the now commonly used word “God” to refer to Christ, the above statement says that it is imprudent to question if God the Father is above God the Son. Presumably the evidence demonstrates there are senses in which this is true, but to attempt to delve into the question could result in some form of blasphemy.
That being said, does Irenaeus use the unqualified word “God” to speak of the Son? It has generally been my impression that Irenaeus would not say something like “God prayed in Gethsemane.” If “God” alone always means the Father, then the above statement becomes extraordinarily unusual and unique (I suppose that would be an argument against asserting that Irenaeus could have possibly meant it this way).

I personally believe it is imprudent to talk about a God above God the Father. I also generally reject that there is a God above God the Father. I do not think it without merit to suggest that Irenaeus agrees that it is imprudent to talk about a God above God the Father, but I think the other side (a God above God the Son) is a strong interpretation.

Am I wrong about the way Irenaeus typically uses the unqualified term “God?” Is there anything in the Greek that helps to rule out one or the other interpretation?
Charity, TOm

David Waltz said...

Hi Tom,

So good to see you back at AF; I always appreciate your participation.

You posted:

>>I would suggest that in context and adopting the now commonly used word “God” to refer to Christ, the above statement says that it is imprudent to question if God the Father is above God the Son. Presumably the evidence demonstrates there are senses in which this is true, but to attempt to delve into the question could result in some form of blasphemy.>>

Me: We must always keep in mind the intent/purpose of Irenaeus when he penned his Against Heresies, namely, a refutation of Gnostic speculations. Earlier in book 2 he wrote:

But these [heretics], while striving to explain passages of Scripture and parables, bring forward another more important, and indeed impious question, to this effect, “Whether there be really another God above that God who was the Creator of the world?” They are not in the way of solving the questions [which they propose]; for how could they find means of doing so? But they append an important question to one of less consequence, and thus insert [in their speculations] a difficulty incapable of solution. For in order that they may know “knowledge” itself (yet not learning this fact, that the Lord, when thirty years old, came to the baptism of truth), they do impiously despise that God who was the Creator, and who sent Him for the salvation of men. And that they may be deemed capable of informing us whence is the substance of matter, while they believe not that God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist, they have collected [a multitude of] vain discourses. They thus truly reveal their infidelity; they do not believe in that which really exists, and they have fallen away into [the belief of] that which has, in fact, no existence. (AH, 2.10.2 – ANF 1.370.)

So, both in the above passage, and in the one from 2.28.8, we are dealing with the Gnostic doctrine that there is a God above God the Father; a doctrine which Irenaeus clearly and unequivocally denies.

>>That being said, does Irenaeus use the unqualified word “God” to speak of the Son? It has generally been my impression that Irenaeus would not say something like “God prayed in Gethsemane.” If “God” alone always means the Father, then the above statement becomes extraordinarily unusual and unique (I suppose that would be an argument against asserting that Irenaeus could have possibly meant it this way).>>

Me: I think you may have missed the following quote from my initial post –

...there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption. Since, therefore, this is sure and steadfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption. (Against Heresies, 4.1.1 – ANF 1.463).

So, Irenaeus does call the Son “God”, but also gives the title to the deified Saints—God’s adopted Sons. However, the phrase, “the one God”, is used of the Father alone; as such, when Irenaeus calls the Son “God”, it is in a ‘qualified’ sense (IMHO).

>>I personally believe it is imprudent to talk about a God above God the Father. I also generally reject that there is a God above God the Father. I do not think it without merit to suggest that Irenaeus agrees that it is imprudent to talk about a God above God the Father, but I think the other side (a God above God the Son) is a strong interpretation.

Am I wrong about the way Irenaeus typically uses the unqualified term “God?” Is there anything in the Greek that helps to rule out one or the other interpretation?>>

The two passages we are discussing (2.10.2 and 2.28.8) are extant only in the Latin. I am certainly no Latin scholar, but as I stated earlier, the context of book 2 strongly suggests to me that we are not dealing with “a God above God the Son”, but rather, with the Gnostic speculation that there is a God above God the Father.

Sincerely hope that my musings have been helpful. Please feel free to ‘take me task’ on what I have written.


Grace and peace,

David

TOm said...

David,
Very helpful as always, and I have little tasking.
I was aware of Irenaeus using the term “God” in that collective way, I just think he usually does not refer to any individual member of the Trinity OTHER than the Father as God. Would you agree with that?
I think your elaboration of Irenaeus’s point does support the rejection of God above God the Father angle. In that specific passage however, it is interesting that Irenaeus does not say there is no God above God the Father, but rather says that there is a “danger of starting the question.” It still seem peculiar to me that he would not say, “there is no God above God the Father,” or “there is not God above the Creator God;” rather than we should not question this area.
Thank you again.
Charity, TOm

David Waltz said...

Good morning Tom,

Yesterday was quite busy, so forgive the tardiness of my reply. You wrote:

>>In that specific passage however, it is interesting that Irenaeus does not say there is no God above God the Father, but rather says that there is a “danger of starting the question.” It still seem peculiar to me that he would not say, “there is no God above God the Father,” or “there is not God above the Creator God;” rather than we should not question this area.>>

Me: Taken by itself, I would agree with your assessment of 2.28.8; however, once again, when one reads the preceding content of book 2, I personally believe it becomes quite a stretch to postulate that Irenaeus may have entertained any thought of a God above God the Father.


Grace and peace,

David