Thursday, March 11, 2010

St. Irenaeus on the Salvation of Adam

Adversus Heareses Book III, chapter 23 is an extended argument against Tatian's opinion that Adam has not been saved.

Several interesting things emerge in St. Irenaeus's argument. Irenaeus points out that while God utters curses on the ground and on the serpent, He does not curse Adam and Eve. Secondly, he interprets their hiding after their transgression as a fear of the Lord manifesting itself as feelings of unworthiness and their fig-leaf garments as a sign of penitence (i.e. a sort of leafy hairshirt underwear. I read that fig sap is an irritant to the skin, but I don't know if this shows up in the leaves ... anyway, God mercifully put a quick stop to that first, unfortunate, fashion trend).

As Irenaeus sees it, central to Christ's work of redemption is what he calls "recapitulation", following Eph 1:10: ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι, which the Jerusalem Bible translates as "bring everything together under Christ as Head" (acc. to Balthasar, The Scandal of the Incarnation, p. 53). In other words, Christ, the Second Adam, is made a new "head" of the human family. Consequently, Irenaeus argues that there would be something incomplete in God's work of salvation if the First Adam was not redeemed by the Second:
Therefore, when man has been liberated, “what is written shall come to pass, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death  where is they sting?” (1 Co 15:54, 55) This could not be said with justice, if that man, over whom death did first obtain dominion, were not set free. For his salvation is death’s destruction. When therefore the Lord vivifies man, that is, Adam, death is at the same time destroyed. (Adv. Haer. 3.23.7, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 457)
Particularly interesting is Irenaeus's argument that God drove man out of Eden not as a punishment, but as an act of mercy, that death would put an end to sin:
Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, (Rom 6:7) putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God. (Adv. Haer. 3.23.6, ANF, vol. 1, pg. 457)
This reminded me somewhat of death as the"gift of men" in the mythology of Middle Earth, but I can't claim to understand Tolkien well enough to know how valid that comparison is.

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