Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ireneaus and the Divine Economy

Reading through Irenaeus' Book 3 of Against the Heresies, I find his concept of divine economy absolutely fascinating. At the same time, I find this view diametrically opposed to what I, as well as many others, have been taught in traditional. Orthodox seminaries. The popular interpretation of the fall is that there was an original state of spiritual purity in which Adam and Eve dwelt before the fall. It is a belief that Adam and Eve were in perfect communion with God and that it was their disobedience that caused this relationship to be severed. Therefore, it is God who is forced in some way to change the divine plan in order to compensate for man's transgression. There are many flaws in such an argument and it is Irenaeus who offers a few solutions.

Firstly, to state that the fall was not part of the divine plan is to imply that if Adam and Eve never transgressed then there would be no need for Christ to have come. However, this poses a problem since John 1:1 clearly states that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." If there was no need for Christ before the fall, than there would be no need for Him to have existed, unless God predicted the fall. It is such a prediction that Irenaeus deals with in Book 3 of Against Heresies. For Irenaeus, the fall was not contrary to the divine economy but indeed part of it. This is evident in AH 3:22:3 when he says, "For, since He who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who exists should not exist in vain." It is important to clarify here that Irenaeus is not saying that mankind was created to fall for the sake of the Savior. Instead, for Irenaeus, the fall was a natural progression of man towards his deification, not away from it. In essence, the fall was pedagogical, not disciplinary. This form of pedagogy is emphasized in AH 3:20:2, "Such then was the patience of God, that man, passing through all things and acquiring knowledge of death, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience from whence he has been delivered, may thus always give thanks to the Lord, and may love Him the more, for he to whom more is forgiven, loveth more" (Lk. 7:42-3).

So it is clear that the knowledge of good and evil that came from the tree was both a tragic and yet pedagogical step for mankind. While at the same time man acquired death and sin by his disobedience, he also acquired the capacity to know the difference between good and evil and to love God more completely since he could finally understand his dependence on Him. Furthermore, Irenaeus also states in AH 3:19:1, "For by no other means could we participate in incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been joined to incorruptibility and immortality." Hence, even before the fall, man did not yet possess the ability to be united with God because this could only be achieved by God uniting Himself with mankind after mankind had undergone a pedagogical process. Irenaeus also emphasizes the inability of man and creation to receive the uncreated without first growing. This is stated in AH 4:38:1, "Because, as these things are of later date, so are they infantile; so are they unaccustomed to, and unexercised in, perfect discipline. For as it certainly is in the power of a mother to give strong food to her infant, [but she does not do so], as the child is not yet able to receive more substantial nourishment; so also it was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this [perfection], being as yet an infant."

Therefore I believe that Irenaeus is clear that the fall is not an event that is against the economy, but something that is part of it. God is patient with our faults and our apostasy because He knows that it is a necessary evil on our path of spiritual growth. Therefore, there is never a time when the Son never existed because mankind must go through these trials in order to progress from spiritual infancy to unity with God.

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