And this is the order of our faith, the foundation of the edifice and the support of our conduct: God, the Father, uncreated, uncontainable, invisible, one God, the Creator of all: this is the first article of our faith. And the second article: the Word of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was revealed by the prophets according to the character of their prophecy and according to the nature of the economies of the Father, by whom all things were made, and who, in the last times, to recapitulate all things, became a man amongst men, visible and palpable, in order to abolish death, to demonstrate life, and to effect communion between God and man. And the third article: the Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied and the patriarchs learnt the things of God and the righteous were led in the path of righteousness, and who, in the last times, was poured out in a new fashion upon the human race renewing man, throughout the world, to God.
For this reason the baptism of our regeneration takes place through these three articles, granting us regeneration unto God the Father through His Son by the Holy Spirit: for those who bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son, while the Son presents them to the Father, and the Father furnishes incorruptibility. Thus, without the Spirit it is not possible to see the Word of God, and without the Son one is not able to approach the Father; for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit, while the Spirit, according to the good-pleasure of the Father, the Son administers, to whom the Father wills and as He wills.
Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, On the Apostolic Preaching, 6-7.
Yes, I know, I probably shouldn’t just be quoting this – apart from anything else, if I do it too much St Vlad’s may end up suing me! But who am I to improve on St Irenaeus? And this seemed worth posting in its entirety.
A couple of thoughts come to mind. Firstly, I think that it was Karl Rahner who said – I think approvingly – that if the Trinity were dropped from the language of the last few centuries of western theology, it wouldn’t make much difference to Christian life. The more I have been immersed in Orthodox liturgy, the more I have realised that this is the last thing that could be said about Orthodoxy, and reading Irenaeus here just confirms that! Secondly, the theme of recapitulation (cf. Ephesians 1:10) is absolutely central to Irenaeus’ thought, and indeed to the faith of the Church, something that we are made particularly aware of in the Lenten and Paschal texts. Yet until a few years ago, I was barely aware of this! And, thirdly, leading on from there, salvation is not a juridical act, but the destruction of death in our flesh in order to re-establish life and incorruptibility and renew us to God.