On the Apostolic Preaching


…in this way, He gloriously accomplished our salvation and fulfilled the promise made to the patriarchs and dissolved the old disobedience – the Son of God become the Son of David and the Son of Abraham: for, in accomplishing and recapitulating these things in Himself, in order to obtain life for us, “the Word of God became flesh” by the economy of the Virgin, in order to undo death and to vivify man, for we were in the prison of sin, we who have become sinners and fallen under [the power of] death. Rich in mercy was God the Father: He sent the creative Word, who, coming to save us, was in the same place and situation as we were when we lost life, breaking the bonds of the prison; and His light appeared and dispelled the darkness of the the prison, and sanctified our birth and abolished death, loosening the same bonds by which we were trapped. And He demonstrated the resurrection, becoming Himself “the firstborn from the dead,” and raising in Himself fallen man, raising [him] above to the highest heaven, to the right hand of the glory of the Father, as God had promised, by the prophets, saying, “I will raise up the fallen tabernacle of David,” that is, the flesh [descended] from David: and our Lord Jesus Christ truly accomplished this, gloriously achieving our salvation, that He might truly raise us up, saving us for the Father.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, On the Apostolic Preaching, 37.

It’s rather late to wish people a blessed Pascha, but Pascha is not yet over, and I’m afraid that I have been occupied with things other than blogging, so “Christ is Risen!” Although I have been neglecting Saint Irenaeus, I love this quote which resonates with so much in the texts that we sang last weekend. Last Easter I said that the longer I am Orthodox the more I realise the truth of Archimandrite Cyprian Kern’s statement that “The church choir is a chair of theology.” And I suspect that I will probably go on saying that for the rest of my life!

Finally, if anyone is interested, here is the Paschal troparion in Afrikaans (and Greek):

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Saint Irenaeus insists that God the Father is Creator of all, and Lord of all that exists, and of all people – the Jews, the Gentiles, and the faithful. To the Jews He is Lord and Lawgiver and to the Gentiles He is Creator and Almighty. However, “to the faithful He is as Father” since in these last times He has adopted us as sons. For all of us, though, He is Nourisher and King and Judge. [8]

Our world is encompassed by seven heavens which derive from the seven forms of service noted by the prophet Isaiah (11:2-3).

Hence, the first heaven, from the top, which includes the others, is [that] of wisdom; and the second, after it, [that] of understanding; and the third, [that] of counsel; and the fourth, counting from the top, [that] of might; the fifth [that] of knowledge; the sixth [that] of piety; and the seventh, this firmament of ours, [is] full of the fear of this Spirit who illuminates the heavens. From this pattern Moses received the seven-branched candlestick which continually shines in the sanctuary; since he received the service as a pattern of heaven, as the Word says to him, “You shall make everything after the pattern , which you have seen on the mountain”. [9]

This God is glorified by His Word and His Spirit, and by their powers who are called Cherubim and Seraphim, so that “everything, whatsoever that is in the heavenly realm, gives glory to God the Father of all.” [10]

Quotes from Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, On the Apostolic Preaching.

There is of course much that could profitably be unpacked and discussed here, but time precludes that. Suffice it to note the relationship between heaven – and heavenly powers, and all the symbolism that that entails – and worship. The Liturgy is an ascent to the Kingdom of heaven, and it is also something that includes the whole cosmos.

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.

So, faith procures this for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us: firstly it exhorts us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins, in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, [who was] incarnate, and died, and was raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and rebirth unto God, that we may no longer be sons of mortal men, but of the eternal and everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting God is above everything that has come into being and everything is subjected to Him, and that which is subject to Him is all made by Him, so that God does not rule nor is Lord over what is another’s, but over His own, and all things are God’s: and therefore God is the almighty and everything is from God. [3]

Saint Irenaeus’ On the Apostolic Preaching

We see here Saint Irenaeus insisting both on the link to the apostles and that God is the Creator of all, which establishes a relationship between God and His creatures. He proceeds by insisting that God was not made by anyone else, but that everything was made by him, and that there can be no other God or creator. Moreover, God creates by His Word and His Spirit:

…since the Word ‘establishes’, that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God. Hence, His apostle Paul also well says, “One God, the Father, who is above all, and through all and in us all” – because ‘above all’ is the Father, and ‘through all’ is the Word – since through Him everything was made by the Father – while ‘in us all’ is the Spirit, who cries “Abba, Father,” and forms man to the likeness of God. Thus the Spirit demonstrates the Word, and, because of this the prophets announced the Son of God, while the Word articulates the Spirit, and therefore it is He Himself who interprets the prophets and brings man to the Father. [4]

Very quick notes: The link to the apostles is clearly crucial for Irenaeus. His insistence on God as Creator and Father is in contrast to Gnosticism. Somewhere in his book on the Trinity, Fr Boris Bobrinskoy discusses Irenaeus’ thought more fully – if I had the book here and the time, I would look it up, maybe again! Finally, it is illuminating to see how the both the doctrines of the Church and of the Trinity were clearly by the end of the second century.

For the way of all those who see is single and upward, illumined by the heavenly light, but the ways of those who do not see are many, dark and divergent; the one leads to the kingdom, uniting man to God, while the others lead down to death, separating from God. [1]

Saint Irenaeus’ On the Apostolic Preaching

Saint Irenaeus begins by addressing this work to Marcianus and stating that its aim is that he may “understand all the members of the body of truth” and “bear your salvation like fruit,” able to confound those who hold false opinions.

In the second paragraph he notes – against the Gnostics – the necessary unity of body and soul: “For these rejoice together and join forces to lead man to the presence of God.” In words that will be echoed by later Fathers, he insists on a link between holiness and knowledge.

And, in order to know the truth, it is necessary that we keep the rule (canon) of faith,

for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.

I have recently thought of writing a post about the whole phenomenon of blogging, and of social media more generally. This isn’t that post, which may or may not get written. It is no secret that I have been neglecting this blog – largely because I simply am too busy, but also because I’m a little unclear what direction it should take and am aware that it could fulfill different functions if I had the time. I generally have all sorts of ideas about things to write on, but turning that into reality isn’t so simple. However, one fairly important purpose of the blog has been that it has at times helped me to process or simply to record what I read, and I have found this a valuable aid in promoting a certain discipline and seriousness in reading, even if I do have a tendency to go into too much detail and then become overwhelmed at the thought of trying to summarise something.

There is no way that I am going to be able to produce long summaries of serious works in the near future. However, I have been concerned recently that my reading has become scattered and have realised that I need to focus on something short and manageable and that regular blogging can be a valuable aid to this – and I hope that those do not become my famous last words!

Saint Irenaeus’ On the Apostolic Preaching recently arrived in the post (Father John Behr’s translation published in the Popular Patristics Series). Some years ago I had read through this with a group I was teaching in the monastery and was surprised at how well we all resonated with it. I have since thought that it would be good to return to it, and also that it could form a helpful basis for introducing people both to the faith of the Church and to an Orthodox understanding of Scripture. Whether anything comes of that remains to be seen, but I have decided to read through it slowly during what remains of Lent (although it will probably take longer than that) and to try and write regular short posts on it.

This does not purport to be a scholarly reading (and I am writing this in Cape Town while all my patristics books, such as they are, are in Robertson, so I can’t even look things up). But for anyone interested who doesn’t know anything about Saint Irenaeus, he was bishop of Lyon in the last quarter of second century. He was originally from Smyrna and had known Saint Polycarp, who had known Saint John the Apostle. This link to the apostles was very important to him and, in his major contribution in countering the heresy of Gnosticism, he was to appeal to the Rule of Faith that is passed on in the visible Church, and made a major contribution in clarifying the basis of the Church’s faith. (I have touched on this here, here and here).

In this book, which was lost until the beginning of the twentieth century, Irenaeus sets out the content of the Rule of Faith that he had received from the apostles.