Friday, June 5, 2009

Irenaeus' Vision of the Incarnation

Reading the early Church Fathers always jerks me out of our Western deistic legalism back into the relational world of sharing in Jesus’ relationship with his Father and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit. Mark it well sisters and brothers, Jesus became human to share with us nothing less than himself and all that he is and has with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Only the blessed Trinity could dream of such a gift. And only the Father’s Son incarnate, anointed with the Holy Spirit himself without measure could make such a dream a living reality. Here are a few classic quotes from the great Irenaeus, disciple of Polycarp, disciple of St. John.

“…the Son of God being made the Son of man, that through Him we may receive the adoption—humanity sustaining, and receiving, and embracing the Son of God” (Against the Heresies, III.16.3).

“For [God] promised, that in the last times He would pour Him [the Spirit] upon [His] servants and handmaids, that they might prophesy; wherefore He did also descend upon the Son of God, made the Son of man, becoming accustomed in fellowship with Him to dwell in the human race, to rest with human beings, and to dwell in the workmanship of God, working the will of the Father in them, and renewing them from their old habits into the newness of Christ” (Against the Heresies, III.17.1).

“Therefore, as I have already said, He caused man (human nature) to cleave to and to become one with God. For unless man had overcome the enemy of man, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. And again: unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless man had been joined to God, he could never have become a partaker of incorruptibility. For it was incumbent upon the Mediator between God and men, by His relationship to both, to bring both into friendship and concord, and present man to God, while He revealed God to man. For, in what way, could we be partakers of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship, which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God” (Against the Heresies, III.18.7).

“For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God” (Against the Heresies, III.19.1).

“…the Word of God, who dwelt in man, and became the Son of man, that He might accustom man to receive God, and God to dwell in man, according to the good pleasure of the Father” (Against the Heresies, III.20.2).

“And for this reason it was that He graciously poured Himself out, that He might gather us into the bosom of the Father” (Against the Heresies, IV.2.1).

“Now this is His Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last times was made a man among men, that He might join the end to the beginning, that is, man to God. Wherefore, the prophets, receiving the prophetic gift from the same Word, announced His advent according to the flesh, by which the blending and communion of God and man took place according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Word of God foretelling from the beginning that God should be seen by men, and hold converse with them upon the earth, should confer with them, and should be present with His own creation, saving it, and becoming capable of being perceived by it, and freeing us from the hands of all that hate us, that is, from every spirit of wickedness; and causing us to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days, in order that man, having embraced the Spirit of God, might pass into the glory of the Father” (Against the Heresies, IV.20.4)

“He might easily have come to us in His immortal glory, but in that case we could never have endured the greatness of the glory; and therefore it was that He, who was the perfect bread of the Father, offered Himself to us as milk, [because we were infants]. He did this when He appeared as a man, that we, being nourished, as it were, from the breast of His flesh, and having, by such a course of milk-nourishment, become accustomed to eat and drink the Word of God, may be able also to contain in ourselves the Bread of immortality, which is the Spirit of the Father” (Against the Heresies, IV.38.1).

“It was for this reason that the Son of God, although He was perfect, passed through the stage of infancy in common with the rest of mankind, partaking of it thus not for His own benefit, but for that of the infantile stage of man’s existence, in order that man might be able to receive Him” (Against the Heresies, IV.38.1).

“…our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (Against the Heresies, V. Preface).

“But we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God…” (Against the Heresies, V.7.1).

In these quotes several themes emerge with passionate clarity. First, the goal of the incarnation is not to appease an angry god, but to reach us with the very life that the Father’s Son experiences with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Adoption—being included, fellowship, the sharing of life, union, not legalities and accounting—is the point. Second, in the incarnation there is a two-way movement of ‘accustoming.’ In Jesus, due to his unbroken relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Holy Spirit are accustoming themselves to dwell with and in us, and in his life and death, Jesus is accustoming human nature to receive and share in nothing less than the life of the blessed Trinity. There is in Jesus a stunning stooping on the part of the Triune God, and an equally stunning transformation or conversion of our humanity to bear the life and glory of the Trinity. Jesus is and will forever be the mediator, the One in whom the life of the Trinity and the life of humanity are together in real fellowship and union. At the heart of the incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus lies this two-way movement of togetherness, which forever calls us to give ourselves to participate in Jesus. Third, and this is not a new point, but one that surely needs to be emphasized; it is the Father himself and the Holy Spirit himself who come to dwell in us in Jesus.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the Holy Spirit’s relationship with us and with all humanity. St. Irenaeus, with his vision of the Holy Spirit accustoming himself to dwell with and in us through Jesus’ incarnate experience is surely the proper foundation for any discussion of the Spirit’s work in our lives. Meantime, let go of the distant, unapproachable, disapproving Judge and ponder the early Church’s vision that the purpose of the incarnation was bring us to share in, to taste and feel and experience the very life of the Father, Son and Spirit. While it may not appear to us in our dark times that these things could possibly be so, the fact that they are warrants us to pine, and to expect, and to pray for more. For we have been given a place in the relationship that Jesus has with his Father and the Holy Spirit.


Roffee said...

this is truely refreshing reading. That Jesus came to "accustom man to receive God" is the clearest soteriology I have eveer heard.
Let us feast on the bread of immortality!

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Go ahead Roffee. It is great to hear from you mate. Reading Irenaeus makes us realize that we have lost our minds.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Those are wonderful quotes! Thank you Dr. Kruger for another God exalting post. It is a pleasure to benefit from Christ's work within you. Thank you brother.

Anonymous said...

"Meantime, let go of the distant, unapproachable, disapproving Judge and ponder the early Church’s vision that the purpose of the incarnation was bring us to share in, to taste and feel and experience the very life of the Father, Son and Spirit."

I don't think we can emphasize this enough! I was talking to a small non denominational group that includes both Catholic and Protestant attendees (weekend camp and gathering) and it was decided that they should not take a communion while they gather due to Catholics not participating in the communion with Protestants. That flies in the face of the above comment that it is Christ who makes it possible to participate (commune) with the Father and Spirit through Christ. It is not our table, it is Christs table we are all invited to. We are called to "share in, to taste and feel and experience the very life of the Father, Son and Spirit". Maybe they need to read this!

Anonymous said...

Inasmuch as Catholicism is strictly exclusionary, I suggest letting them have their way and not allow yourselves to be treated as 2nd class citizens by hanging out with them. Hair splitting? Go ahead and ask them -- you'll soon find out their sentiments re Protestants.

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Irenaeus was not a 'Roman' Catholic. He wrote long before the emergence of 'Roman' Catholicism in the West.

Anonymous said...

"Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the Holy Spirit’s relationship with us and with all humanity."

I am looking forward to this. A lot of people are still trying to get the "Holy Spirit to come down", let alone believing that humanity at large has any involvement with the H.S. There is a lot of hangups on this doctrine of the "Holy Spirit’s relationship...with all humanity" outside Christianity.

I can understand it, just explaining it to someone else while avoiding their porcupine quills.


Anonymous said...

As much as the Catholic faith is seemingly a "manipulation of scripture" to justify their structure and control the Masses (no pun intended), I know that there are truly good folk here.

It is OUR job to "Seek the truth" and measure their beliefs with that of scripture and gently show them where some things are seemingly pretty much off base.

I am finding myself in this situation, trying to explain the beauty of the Trinity and that relationship that DOES NOT put the Physical, hierarchical, political entity first. Although, I am sure MOST of Catholics believe that with out the graces granted by Bishops, Fathers, Nuns, and the structure established therein, that they would be LOST!

Of course, this is what the "church" wants them to believe. To me, control. God is NOT about control. He is about freedom in to be what we were designed to be and express that through our relationship to him and supercharged back through us to our worldy relationships.

Oh, I could go on but I digress.

Needless to say, I SO WISH Baxter would speak to the "Catholic Church" as it relates to Perichoresis or Trinitarian Theology.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Kruger,

I find your penchant for Irenaeus and Athanasius quite interesting in light of the fact that, by your action of remaining "independent," you appear to take much issue with the Church with which they anchored themselves and for which they fiercely fought-- the Church, which, as you so well explained earlier in these comments, pre-dated Roman Catholicism. I am curious as to why you remain apparently "independent," instead of seeking out the Church that Christ established and firmly ensconcing yourself within it. Maybe you are, and we just can't see that, so forgive me if I've made a poor assumption. (Note, I am not equating the Church with salvation, as another's salvation is none of my business, so please don't take this as a judgment of your eternal status or anything of the sort). Thanks.

Sister Monica said...

Thanks so much! I am writing a paper on Franciscan Christology and it looks like St. Irenaus preached about this view of the Incarnation long before Duns Scotus!

jcd4us said...

This was awesome! Thanks for this. Say, I've been searching for the quotation of a saint that I saw recently which spoke of not talking too soon to another of (romantic) love. I suppose that it was within the context of courtship. Do you know who this saint was and exactly what was the quote?