1 Manlio Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, trans. John Hughes (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994), 23. This assessment is appropriated by Kyle Keefer, The Branches of the Gospel of John: The Reception of the Fourth Gospel in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2006), 50–3.
2 Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 18–20, cf., 193–210. Osborn provides an overview of the struggle in modernity to find unity in the ‘jungle’ of Irenaeus' work. One of the problems, as he describes it, has been to analyze Irenaeus' writing with reference only to ‘logic’ (Koch) at the expense of ‘aesthetic,’ and vice versa (Houssiau). Osborn convincingly shows how both logic and aesthetic criteria work together for Irenaeus. Ibid., 9–24.
3 As my concern in this paper is to exposit an element of Irenaeus' approach to the interpretation of Scripture, I will confine myself to his own description of those he is trying to refute and acknowledge that his description may not be adequate to account for the actual teaching of these groups. For a helpful survey and introduction to Irenaeus' Gnostic opponents, particularly the Valentinians, see Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (New York: London, 1997), 11–28.
4 Irenaeus calls the heretics against whom he writes ‘evil interpreters of the good word of revelation.’ Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 1.Preface.1. Hereafter, AH.
5 AH 1.III.1. In addition to private mystical knowledge transmitted orally, some of the Gnostics formed their own texts. Irenaeus mentions two: the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Truth. See AH 1.XXXI.1 and AH 3.XI.9.
6 AH 1.III.6; 1.VIII.1; 1.IX.1, 3.
7 AH 1.VII.3
8 AH 1.VIII.1. In order to manifest the ‘perversity’ of the heretics' interpretation of John's prologue, Irenaeus appeals to the way in which they must violate the ‘order’ and ‘uniformity’ of the structure of John's prologue, the respect of which reveals something of John's true meaning. AH 1.IX.1–2.
9 AH 1.VIII.1 (Emphasis mine). Irenaeus charges that by their practice of biblical interpretation the heretics ‘frigidly and perversely pull to pieces’ the power and dispensations of God and are ‘cutting Him up piecemeal.’AH 1.XVI.3 and AH 1.XV.3.
10 A pastiche is a form of parody defined as ‘an imitation or forgery which consists of a number of motives taken from genuine works by any one artist recombined in such a way as to give the impression of being an independent original creation by that artist.’ M. Rose, Parody: Ancient, Modern and Post-modern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 72. Cited in Osborn, Irenaeus, 158.
11 AH 1.IX.4.
12 The notion of a literary work's ‘hypothesis’ (a summary of the plot or structure) was taken from ancient rhetoric. See Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, 47–49; John H. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005), 33–36.
13 AH 1.IX.4.
14 AH 1.X.1.For Irenaeus' summary statement of the transmission of the Scriptural faith, see AH 3.1.2–3.IV.2. Hans von Campenhausen explains that the succession of bishops who have handed on the deposit of faith are worthy to be followed, not because their position is specially anointed itself, but because they have so carefully preserved the living faith. See Hans von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries, trans. J.A. Baker (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Publishers, 1997), 172–3.
15 AH 1.X.3.
16 AH 1.Preface.1–2. Cf., 1.XXXI.3–4; 5.XX.1. As von Balthasar has aptly described, ‘In Irenaeus apologetics and dogmatics are totally one, because the indissolubility of the inner necessity and harmony between the triune God, the decree of salvation in Christ, Scripture and the Church together with its tradition is both the real content of the intellectus fidei and the only convincing proof of Christian truth ad extra.’ Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Volume II: Clerical Styles, ed. John Riches (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1984), 43. Osborn agrees: ‘It was not enough for Irenaeus … to set the rule of faith beside the Gnostic myth and make an unreasoned choice; an effort was needed to show that the renewing of the mind to which Paul had pointed (Rom. 12:2) was able to produce, from scripture and the rule of faith, a synthesis of greater coherence than the alternatives.’ Osborn, Irenaeus, 154.
17 To be precise, Book Two is devoted to refuting the specific heresies of the false teachers by showing the inconsistency of his opponents' teaching and outlining the proper method of interpreting Scripture; books three to five function as the exposition of biblical and orthodox faith proper. AH 2.XXXV.4 and 3.Preface. For an overview of the difficulties in interpreting Book Two within the whole of the treatise, as well as a solution that accords along the lines above, see Richard A. Norris, Jr. ‘The Insufficiency of Scripture: Adversus haereses 2 and the Role of Scripture,’ in Reading in Christian Communities: Essays on Interpretation in the Early Church, edited by Charles A. Bobertz and David Brakke (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002), 63–79.
18 In a programmatic passage at the conclusion of Book Two, Irenaeus writes the following: ‘Now that the preaching of the apostles, the authoritative teaching of the Lord, the announcements of the prophets, the dictated utterances of the apostles, and the ministration of the law – all of which praise one and the same Being, the God and Father of all, and not many diverse beings, nor one deriving his substance from different gods or powers, but [declare] that all things [were formed] by one and the same Father … are all in harmony with our statements …' AH 2.XXXV.4.
19 AH 5.VI.1. Cf., Osborn, Irenaeus, 159–61.
20 AH 2.XXV.1. Cf., ‘[H]is wisdom [is shown] in having made created things parts of one harmonious and consistent whole; … By this arrangement, therefore, and these harmonies, and a sequence of this nature, man, a created and organized being, is rendered after the image and likeness of the uncreated God, – the Father planning everything well and giving His commands, the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and the Spirit nourishing and increasing [what is made], but man making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One.' AH 4.XXXVIII.3.
21 AH 2.XXVIII.3. Cf., AH 4.XXXII.1.
22 AH 2.XXVII.1.
23 ‘These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures. And therefore the parables ought not to be adapted to ambiguous expressions. For, if this be not done, both he who explains them will do so without danger, and the parables will receive a like interpretation from all, and the body of truth remains entire, with a harmonious adaptation of its members, and without any collision [of its several parts].' AH 2.XXVII.1. Commenting on this passage, von Balthasar writes, ‘Irenaeus is not here describing a literary work made up of different writings and chapters, but the symphony of being and history which is expressed in Scripture and has as its supreme law the recapitulation of mankind through the God-man.’ von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord II, 73.
24 AH 2.XXVII.2–3. In another place, Irenaeus contrasts the teaching of the Church with that of the heretics; the Church's teaching is built on a rock, a ‘well-grounded system which tends to man's salvation,’ while the teaching of the heretics has been founded ‘upon the sand, which has in itself a multitude of stones.' AH 3.XXIV.1–2.
25 AH 2.XXVIII.1–3.
26 AH 2.XXVIII.3.
27 AH 4.XXVI.1.
28 For a helpful description of the relationship between the ‘rule of truth,’ the ‘principles of the gospel,’ and ‘the four-Gospels,’ see EYAΓΓEΛION: Orality, Textuality, and the Christian Truth in Irenaeus' Against Heresies’, Vigilae Christianae 56 (2002), 11–46. , ‘
29 According to Irenaeus, the Ebionites favor the Gospel of Matthew, the Marcionites use a truncated Gospel of Luke, certain Gnostics who separate the suffering Jesus from Christ implement Mark, and the Valentinians make copious use of the Gospel of John. AH 3.XI.7.
31 von Campenhausen reveals something of an historicist concern when he attempts to extricate Irenaeus from the charge of favoring theology over history by arguing that the argument for the four Gospels is merely a means to remove the ‘appearance of contingency’ from the historical process. While historical and apostolic origin is certainly of prime concern with Irenaeus, it does not address adequately why there can be only four Gospels. Indeed, for Irenaeus, theologically there has to be four Gospels and the means to establish which four is left to historical investigation. This is quite the opposite of the way in which Campenhausen has construed Irenaeus' reasoning. See Hans von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible, trans. J.A. Baker (Mifflintown, PA: Sigler Press, 1997), 198–201.
32 AH 3.XI.8. Irenaeus also includes the four principle covenants in his analysis of the quadriform Gospels, the fourth covenant, that of Christ, summing up the others.
33 Osborne, Irenaeus, 177.
34 AH 3.XI.8.
35 AH 3.XI.9. Cullman accuses Irenaeus of slighting the human circumstances in the formation of the fourfold Gospel with the effect that Irenaeus ends up implementing the same numerological method as the Gnostics he is trying to refute. Oscar Cullmann, The Early Church, ed., A.J.B Higgins (London: SCM Press, 1956), 50–52. For Irenaeus, the number four is derived theologically and aesthetically from the very economy of God in the history Cullman claims he neglects. The Gnostics, on the other hand, reverse the process and bend salvation-history to suit their numerology. Irenaeus writes, ‘For this is an uncertain mode of proceeding, on account of their varied and diverse systems, and because every sort of hypothesis may at the present day be, in like manner, devised by any one; so that they can derive arguments against the truth from these very theories, inasmuch as they may be turned in many different directions. But, on the contrary, they ought to adapt the numbers themselves, and those things which have been formed, to the true theory lying before them. For system does not spring out of numbers, but numbers from a system.' AH 2.XXV.1.
36 For a helpful survey of Irenaeus's biblical exegesis in the articulation of his doctrine of the virgin birth, see Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., An Introduction to the History of Exegesis: I The Greek Fathers, trans. Leonard Maluf (Petersham, MS: Saint Bede Publications, 1993), 64–70.
37 AH 3.XXI.1–2
38 AH 3.XXI.5
39 Some of these prophecies include Isaiah 53:8 (‘Who shall declare His generation?’), Jeremiah 17:19 (‘He is a man, and who shall recognize Him?’). AH 3.XIX.2. Special mention should be made of what Irenaeus takes to be a prophecy from Daniel 2:34 in which mention is made of a ‘stone, cut out without hands [that] came into this world. For this is what ‘without hands’ means, that His coming into this world was not by the operation of human hands, that is, of those men who are accustomed to stone-cutting; that is, Joseph taking no part with regard to it, but Mary alone co-operating with the pre-arranged plan.' AH 3.XXI.7.
40 Irenaeus reads together Isaiah's prediction of salvation from Zion (Isaiah 33:20 and an unknown reference) with Micah's (Micah 7:2) and Joel's (Joel 3:16) prediction of the same salvation. Habakkuk, he believes, makes the prophecy even more specific by narrowing the place of salvation to the ‘region toward the south’ of Jerusalem (Habakkuk 3:3, 5). Interestingly, while Irenaeus goes to great lengths to locate the salvation of God in Bethlehem he does not make use of the prophetic text (Micah 5:2) explicitly used in the Gospel of Matthew to find the birthplace of Jesus in the Old Testament (Matthew 2:6).
41 Danielou has provided a helpful overview of the Adam-Christ typology that underscores the way in which Irenaeus sought to draw together the unity of the divine plan attested to in Scripture against his Gnostic opponents. Jean Danielou, S.J., From Shadow to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers (London: Burns & Oats, 1960), 30–47.
42 Irenaeus writes, ‘For if the one [who sprang] from the earth had indeed formation and substance from both the hand and workmanship of God, but the other not from the hand and workmanship of God, then He who was made after the image and likeness of the former did not, in that case, preserve the analogy of man, and He must seem an inconsistent piece of work, not having wherewith He may show His wisdom.' AH 3.XXII.1.
43 AH 3.XVIII.7.
44 AH 3.XXI.10. For a helpful survey of Irenaues's use of the figures of Mary and Eve in balancing the Adam-Christ typology, see The Role of Mary as Co-Recapitulator’, Vigilae Christianae 58: (2004), 117–137. , ‘
45 ‘And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.' AH 3.XXII.4.
46 Attention to the sign-character of the virgin birth in Irenaeus is particularly helpful in light of modern theological assessments of the doctrine in Patristic theology, such as that of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Rather than the virgin birth providing a conclusive foundation upon which to erect the doctrine of the person of Christ, as Pannenberg mistakenly characterizes the entire post-Ignatian tradition, the virgin birth is used aesthetically/symbolically by Irenaeus to attest to Christ's two natures and his work, which are actually theologically established through other means. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus–God and Man, 2nd ed. Trans. by Lewis L Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 149–50. More appropriate are the comments made by von Balthasar: the virgin birth is ‘a sign by which Christ the recapitulator can be recognized.’ von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord II, 54.
47 AH 3.XXI.6; 3.XIX.3.
48 AH 3.XX.3; 3.XXI.5,7. Cf., ‘And how shall he (man) escape from the generation subject to death, if not by means of a new generation, given in a wonderful and unexpected manner (but as a sign of salvation) by God – I mean that regeneration which flows from the virgin through faith?' AH 4.XXXIII.4.
49 AH 3.IIX.1. Irenaeus explains that Isaiah 7 itself indicates that the subject of the virgin birth prophecy will be both divine and human: ‘And He shows that He is a man, when He says ‘Butter and honey shall He eat;’ and in that He terms Him a child also, [in saying] ‘before He knows good and evil;’ for these are all the tokens of a human infant. But that He ‘will not consent to evil, that He may choose that which is good,’– this is proper to God; that by the fact, that He shall eat butter and honey we should not understand that He is a mere man only, nor, on the other hand, from the name Emmanuel, should suspect Him to be God without flesh.' AH 3.XXI.4.
50 Irenaeus describes certain Gnostics as having taught that Christ ‘passed through Mary just as water flows through a tube; and there descended upon him in the form of a dove at the time of his baptism, that Saviour who belonged to the Pleroma, and was formed by the combined efforts of all its inhabitants.’ The Spirit of Christ was subsequently taken away when he was before Pilate so as to avoid suffering. See AH 1.VII.2. By contrast, Irenaeus views it as of primary importance that Christ truly took part in creation: ‘But in every respect, too, he is man, the formation of God; and thus He took up man into Himself, the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering, and the Word being made man, thus summing up all things in Himself; so that as in super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible things, the Word of God is supreme, so also in things visible and corporeal He might possess the supremacy, and, taking to Himself the pre-eminence, as well as constituting Himself Head of the Church, He might draw all things to Himself.' AH 3.XVI.6. Cf., AH 3.XVIII.7.
51 AH 3.XXII.1.
52 Irenaeus saw the virgin birth as the fitting generation of the human nature of he who is uniquely generated from the Father: ‘[H]e is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself … Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin, the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him.' AH 3.XIX.2. Cf., 4.XXXIII.11.
53 Irenaeus points out that the Gospel of Matthew includes Joseph in the lineage of Jechoniah, whose line the prophet Jeremiah is reputed to have disinherited from kingship (Jeremiah 22:24–28). AH 3.XXI.9.
54 ‘But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons?' AH 3.XIX.1.
55 AH 3.XII.12.
56 Norris has shown the great debt that Irenaeus owed to the Apostle Paul for his description of the Mosaic Law as a ‘pedagogue,’ the designation of the Law to a particular dispensation of God's overall, united plan, and the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. By showing the proper and rightful place of the Law in God's economy through Pauline-style argument, Irenaeus has refuted the Marcionites and the Valentinians out of one of their favorite authorities. See Richard A. Norris, Jr., ‘Irenaeus' Use of Paul in His Polemic Against the Gnostics,’ in Norms of Faith and Life, edited by Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland Publishing, 1999), 84–9.
57 Moses and the prophets each wrote about Christ; the law actually exhorted the Old Testament saints to believe in Christ. ‘But by the law and the prophets did the Word preach both Himself and the Father alike [to all]’ (AH 4.VI.6).
58 AH 3.XII.11. In regard to Valentinus, who, along with Marcion, posited a difference between the creator God and the Father of Jesus Christ, Irenaeus writes, ‘Ignorance of the Scripture and of the dispensations of God has brought all these things upon them.' AH XII.12.
59 James L. Kugel and Rowan A. Greer, Early Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 167–8.
60 AH 4.XIII.2.
61 AH 4.XIII.2
62 AH 4.XVI.1–2.
63 AH 4.XVI.1; 4.XIV.2. ‘For God does all things by measure and in order; nothing is unmeasured with Him, because nothing is out of order.' AH 4.IV.2.
64 AH 4.X-XI.
65 AH 4.XIV.3–4
66 AH 4.XVII.1–4.
67 AH 4.XII.1–2; 4.XIII.1.
68 AH 4.XIII.4. Irenaeus sums up his view of the Law in this way: ‘Preparing man for this life, the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation … . These things, therefore, which were given for bondage, and for a sign to them, He cancelled by the new covenant of liberty. But He has increased and widened those laws which are natural, and noble, and common to all, granting to men largely and without grudging, by means of adoption, to know God the Father, and to love Him with the whole heart, and to follow His word unswervingly, while they abstain not only from evil deeds, but even from the desire after them.' AH 4.XVI.4–5.
69 ‘And all those other points which I have shown the prophets to have uttered by means of so long a series of Scriptures, he who is truly spiritual will interpret by pointing out, in regard to every one of the things which have been spoken, to what special point in the dispensation of the Lord is referred, and [by thus exhibiting] the entire system of the work of the Son of God, knowing always the same God, and always acknowledging the same Word of God, although He has [but] now been manifested to us; acknowledging also at all times the same Spirit of God, although He has been poured out upon us after a new fashion in these last times …' AH 4.XIII.15.
70 Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, Volume I: Seeing the Form (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 659. Cf., 17–19. For a contemporary attempt to integrate von Balthasar's theological aesthetics into hermeneutical theory, see W. T. Dickens, Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theological Aesthetics: A Model for Post-Critical Biblical Interpretation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).