St. Irenaeus: The First and Greatest Biblical Theologian

In Gerald O’Collins’s book, The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity, I learned about the centrality of the Trinity to Christian faith.  In Chapter 5, The Trinity Before Nicaea, I found Irenaeus’s account and explanation of the Trinity most clear.  Though I do not relate with Irenaeus’s beliefs about the Trinity, I found his explanations and writings to be very fluid.  What I found fascinating was Irenaeus’ metaphor as the Son and Spirit as the two hands of God.  “The Word of God, present with his handiwork from the beginning, reveals the Father to all to whom he wills, when the Father will and how he wills.”

“The vital relevance of Trinitarian faith came strongly through Irenaeus’s writings.”  Irenaeus believed in the Trinitarian “rule of faith” shared by traditional Christians.  He emphasized faith in one God, the Father, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all things in them.  Irenaeues also views material and flesh as important.  He sees that salvation is mediated through flesh.  Irenaeus’ theology focuses mainly on God’s unity in contrast to the numerous emanated gods of Gnosticism.  Multiple “gods” cannot exist, for there is but One “Almighty”.  Irenaeus goes on to prove that God must be one.

On one hand Irenaeus repeatedly insists the Father, alone, is the one and only true God.  In Trinitarian theology, this simply does not work since the Father alone is not the only true God. Rather, the Father is true God along with the Son and the Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, Irenaeus does not mind telling us that his Son Jesus can be referred to as deity.  However, he says that the Scriptures also call Christians “God.”  Irenaeus does not believe that the Son is “God” by identity but is deity/divine by virtue of his divine origins in the Father as the Logos.  While the Trinitarian envisions “God” to be a three person being, Irenaeus envisions his God to be a one person being, out of whom came his Son, and therefore, Jesus is deity of the Supreme Deity.  In other words, there is only one true God and this God is the Father alone and the divinity of the Son is simply a derivative of the Father who is the Deity and for this reason only the Father is the one true God.  For Irenaeus, Jesus can be called “god/God” but only in the sense that he derives his power and immortal deity from the One and Only True God, the Father, and as such he is the Word of God, a manifestation of God, but is not himself ‘the One and Only True God.”  In this, Irenaeus speaks a common voice with all his early Christians brethren, Jesus is deity of The Deity, and the only true Deity was the Supreme God, the Father.  Irenaeus, along with all the early Christian witnesses, reveal that the early church of the first 250 years was most definitely not a church that worshiped a Trinitarian, “three in one,” God.


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