St. Irenaeus on Justification

Jul 31st, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In most cases when St. Irenaeus comes up in Protestant-Catholic discussion, the focus is on the papacy, apostolic succession, or the relation of Scripture and Tradition. Here, however, I examine what St. Irenaeus has to say about justification. His teaching on this subject is ecumenically relevant not only because the doctrine of justification was at the center of what divided Protestants from Catholics in the sixteenth century, but also because St. Irenaeus was only one generation removed from the Apostles. Therefore his understanding of justification provides insight into the way the Apostles understood and taught the doctrine of justification.


St. Irenaeus

Outline
I. Who Was St. Irenaeus?
II. St. Irenaeus on Justification By Faith
III. Protestant and Catholic Conceptions of Justification By Faith
IV. St. Irenaeus on Love as the Fulfillment of the Law
V. St. Irenaeus on the Nature of Justification
VI. Conclusion

I. Who Was St. Irenaeus?

St. Irenaeus was born around AD 130 in the city of Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey, about thirty years after the Apostle John died. He became a priest in Lyon, in Gaul (present day France) and later became the second bishop of the Church in Lyon when that Church’s first bishop, St. Pothinus, was martyred under the persecution of Marcus Aurelius. As a young man St. Irenaeus would listen to St. Polycarp describe his conversations with the Apostle John. St. Polycarp was martyred sometime around the year AD 155, at the age of eighty six.1 In a letter to Florinus, St. Irenaeus writes the following about his memories of St. Polycarp:

For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events … so that I can even describe the place where the Blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse — his going out, too, and his coming in— his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through, God’s mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God’s grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind. (Letter to Florinus)

In his most well-known work Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus writes something similar concerning his experience with St. Polycarp as a young man:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,— a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles — that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. (Against Heresies III.3.4)

And in another place St. Irenaeus makes reference to a different presbyter who had learned from those who had been the immediate disciples of the Apostles why God allowed the sins of the patriarchs to be recorded in Scripture. St. Irenaeus writes:

“As I have heard from a certain presbyter, who had heard it from those who had seen the apostles, and from those who had been their disciples, …The Scripture has thus sufficiently reproved him, as the presbyter remarked, in order that no flesh may glory in the sight of the Lord.” (Against Heresies, IV.27.1)

Here we see how St. Irenaeus’s proximity to the Apostles informed his theology, because he understood himself to be the recipient of teaching handed down from the mouth of the Apostles, through men whom he know personally, who either knew the Apostles themselves, or knew men who knew the Apostles immediately. Not only that, but he was in communion with others in the Church who had similarly received such Apostolic testimony, and their shared understanding of the faith confirmed his confidence that what he had received truly had its origin in the Apostles. His proximity to the Apostles thus gives testimonial weight to his exposition of the gospel and his doctrine of justification. He wrote his most important work, Against Heresies, around the year AD 180, and in it he articulates a doctrine of justification that I examine below.

II. St. Irenaeus on Justification By Faith

In this work St. Irenaeus sets out to refute the various gnostic heresies, among which is the belief that the God who created the world is not the Father of Jesus. As part of his argument against that error, St. Irenaeus seeks to show that those who were justified prior to the incarnation of Christ were justified by faith, just as those justified after the incarnation are also justified by faith. To that effect he is keen to cite Romans 3:30, as he does in Against Heresies III.10, where he writes,

For all things had entered upon a new phase, the Word arranging after a new manner the advent in the flesh, that He might win back to God that human nature (hominem) which had departed from God; and therefore men were taught to worship God after a new fashion, but not another god, because in truth there is but “one God, who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.” (Against Heresies III.10)

He quotes the passage again in IV.22, where he writes:

For it is truly “one God who” directed the patriarchs towards His dispensations, and “has justified the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.” (Rom. 3:30) For as in the first we were prefigured, so, on the other hand, are they represented in us, that is, in the Church, and receive the recompense for those things which they accomplished. (Against Heresies IV.22)

And again in V.22, where he writes:

Thus then does the Lord plainly show that it was the true Lord and the one God who had been set forth by the law; for Him whom the law proclaimed as God, the same did Christ point out as the Father, whom also it behooves the disciples of Christ alone to serve. By means of the statements of the law, He put our adversary to utter confusion; and the law directs us to praise God the Creator, and to serve Him alone. Since this is the case, we must not seek for another Father besides Him, or above Him, since there is one God who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. (Against Heresies V.22.1)

In each case he uses this passage from Romans to show that there are not two gods, but one and the same God who justified men by faith under the Old Covenant, and justifies men by faith under the New Covenant. In Against Heresies IV.25 St. Irenaeus writes:

For thus it had behooved the sons of Abraham [to be], whom God has raised up to him from the stones, (Matt. 3:9) and caused to take a place beside him who was made the chief and the forerunner of our faith (who did also receive the covenant of circumcision, after that justification by faith which had pertained to him, when he was yet in uncircumcision, so that in him both covenants might be prefigured, that he might be the father of all who follow the Word of God, and who sustain a life of pilgrimage in this world, that is, of those who from among the circumcision and of those from among the uncircumcision are faithful, even as also “Christ is the chief corner-stone” (Eph. 2:20) sustaining all things); and He gathered into the one faith of Abraham those who, from either covenant, are eligible for God’s building. But this faith which is in uncircumcision, as connecting the end with the beginning, has been made [both] the first and the last. For, as I have shown, it existed in Abraham antecedently to circumcision, as it also did in the rest of the righteous who pleased God: and in these last times, it again sprang up among mankind through the coming of the Lord. But circumcision and the law of works occupied the intervening period. (Against Heresies IV.25)

In Abraham, both the Old and New Covenants were prefigured, because he was justified by faith even before he received the sign of membership in the Old Covenant, namely, circumcision of the flesh. The circumcision of the flesh under the Old Covenant foreshadowed the circumcision of the spirit (the heart) under the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, Christ gathers into the one faith of Abraham those who possessed this faith under the Old Covenant, and those who now possess this faith without the circumcision of the flesh, namely, the Gentile believers. Both groups, those circumcised according to the flesh, and those uncircumcised according to the flesh, are made one through Christ, through the justifying faith Abraham had before he was circumcised according to the flesh. Hence St. Irenaeus says:

Thus, then, they who are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, and these are the children of Abraham. Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, do now receive any inheritance in it; but they shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. (Against Heresies, V.32 )

Though those having circumcision in the flesh are children of Abraham according to the flesh, those having circumcision of the heart are children of Abraham according to the spirit. The promise God made to Abraham and his seed is fulfilled in the resurrection, when those having the faith of Abraham shall inherit the earth. When St. Irenaeus says “those justified by faith,” he does not mean that those under the Old Covenant were not justified by faith. He is picking out those, whether circumcised in the flesh or uncircumcised in the flesh, who are children of Abraham by possessing the faith of Abraham, by which he was justified.

In another place St. Irenaeus also mentions justification by faith, when explains that God gave a law to His people under the Old Covenant, and He has given a new and better law to His people under the New Covenant:

For the Lord is the good man of the house, who rules the entire house of His Father; and who delivers a law suited both for slaves and those who are as yet undisciplined; and gives fitting precepts to those that are free, and have been justified by faith, as well as throws His own inheritance open to those that are sons. … But one and the same householder produced both covenants, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who spoke with both Abraham and Moses, and who has restored us anew to liberty, and has multiplied that grace which is from Himself. (Against Heresies, IV.9.1)

The plan of God included the Old Covenant as a preparation for the New Covenant. In this way St. Irenaeus appeals to the ordered unity (without fusion) of the two covenants as indicating that they were made by one and the same God.

III. Protestant and Catholic Conceptions of Justification By Faith

This leaves unanswered the question at the heart of the Protestant-Catholic disagreement concerning justification: What is justification by faith, according to St. Irenaeus? In order to answer that question, it is worth reviewing briefly the essential differences between the Protestant and Catholics conceptions of justification.

In the traditional Protestant account, God justifies us not by infusing righteousness into our hearts but by immediately swapping our account with Christ’s, such that our sins are imputed to Him as if He had committed them, and all His acts of obedience during His earthly life are imputed to us, as if we had lived His perfectly sinless life. This account swapping is called extra nos [i.e. outside of us] imputation. Because of this account swapping, God counts us as righteous even though we are in this life still unrighteous in our hearts, sinning in every thought, word, and deed, and each sin deserving eternal punishment. Faith is the instrument through which God justifies the sinner by transferring Christ’s obedience to the sinner’s account, and transferring the sinner’s sin to Christ’s account. The faith that justifies is not informed by the virtue of agape but is necessarily followed by agape and a life of progressive sanctification.

By contrast, according to the Catholic Church, God justifies us by infusing righteousness into our hearts. Righteousness, according to Catholic doctrine, is agape. Infused agape by its very presence as a supernatural virtue of the will, is the fulfillment of the law, because the purpose of the law is to show us how to love; the law mimics externally what love is internally. So the person who has love has that to which the law points and attempts to show. In that respect he has the spirit of the law. The person who has the law, but not love, does not fulfill the spirit or purpose of the law, even if it were possible for him to fulfill the letter of the law. This is what St. Paul means when he teaches that love fulfills the law (Rom. 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14). Faith is made living by the presence of agape in the heart. Without agape in the heart, faith is dead, and does not justify. The faith that justifies is faith informed by the virtue of agape, which at baptism is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), and by which we are immediately justified. When the Holy Spirit pours agape into our hearts, He is thereby infusing righteousness into our hearts. By growing in grace and agape, we grow in righteousness, and thus grow in justification.

Summarizing the difference as simply as possible, we can say that the Protestant conception of justification is that of an extra nos imputation of Christ’s righteousness, through faith uninformed by agape but necessarily followed by agape, while the Catholic conception of justification is by the infusion of faith informed by agape, the presence of which is the righteousness that is the fulfillment of the law.2

IV. St. Irenaeus on Love as the Fulfillment of the Law

Before treating justification, St. Ireanaeus first shows that love is the fulfillment of the law, and is the righteousness by which we are made perfect:

But that this [i.e. to love God] is the first and greatest commandment, and that the next [has respect to love] towards our neighbour, the Lord has taught, when He says that the entire law and the prophets hang upon these two commandments. Moreover, He did not Himself bring down [from heaven] any other commandment greater than this one, but renewed this very same one to His disciples, when He enjoined them to love God with all their heart, and others as themselves. But if He had descended from another Father, He never would have made use of the first and greatest commandment of the law; but He would undoubtedly have endeavoured by all means to bring down a greater one than this from the perfect Father, so as not to make use of that which had been given by the God of the law. And Paul in like manner declares, “Love is the fulfilling of the law:” (Rom. 13:10) and [he declares] that when all other things have been destroyed, there shall remain “faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of all is love;” (1 Cor. 13:13) and that apart from the love of God, neither knowledge avails anything, (1 Cor. 13:2) nor the understanding of mysteries, nor faith, nor prophecy, but that without love all are hollow and vain; moreover, that love makes man perfect; and that he who loves God is perfect, both in this world and in that which is to come. For we do never cease from loving God; but in proportion as we continue to contemplate Him, so much the more do we love Him.

As in the law, therefore, and in the Gospel [likewise], the first and greatest commandment is, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, and then there follows a commandment like to it, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self; the author of the law and the Gospel is shown to be one and the same. For the precepts of an absolutely perfect life, since they are the same in each Testament, have pointed out [to us] the same God, who certainly has promulgated particular laws adapted for each; but the more prominent and the greatest [commandments], without which salvation cannot [be attained], He has exhorted [us to observe] the same in both. (Against Heresies, IV.12.2-3)

Love, says St. Irenaeus, makes man perfect; by love the law is fulfilled. He who loves God is perfect, both in this world and in that which is to come. In the Protestant system of doctrine no one is perfect in this life, because no one loves perfectly. But for St. Irenaeus, love itself (i.e. agape) is the perfection we can have in this life, and without which salvation “cannot be attained.”3 This law of love is included in both the Old and New Covenants, and shows that they come from the same God. St. Irenaeus continues:

The Lord, too, does not do away with this [God], when He shows that the law was not derived from another God, expressing Himself as follows to those who were being instructed by Him, to the multitude and to His disciples: “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens, and lay them upon men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not so much as move them with a finger.” (Matt. 23:2-4) He therefore did not throw blame upon that law which was given by Moses, when He exhorted it to be observed, Jerusalem being as yet in safety; but He did throw blame upon those persons, because they repeated indeed the words of the law, yet were without love. And for this reason were they held as being unrighteous as respects God, and as respects their neighbours. As also Isaiah says: “This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me: howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching the doctrines and the commandments of men.” (Is. 29:13) He does not call the law given by Moses commandments of men, but the traditions of the elders themselves which they had invented, and in upholding which they made the law of God of none effect, and were on this account also not subject to His Word. For this is what Paul says concerning these men: “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” (Rom. 10:3-4) And how is Christ the end of the law, if He be not also the final cause of it? For He who has brought in the end has Himself also wrought the beginning; and it is He who does Himself say to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have come down to deliver them;” (Ex. 3:7-8) it being customary from the beginning with the Word of God to ascend and descend for the purpose of saving those who were in affliction.

Now, that the law did beforehand teach mankind the necessity of following Christ, He does Himself make manifest, when He replied as follows to him who asked Him what he should do that he might inherit eternal life: “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt.19:17-18, etc.) But upon the other asking “Which?” again the Lord replies: “Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honour father and mother, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself,”— setting as an ascending series (velut gradus) before those who wished to follow Him, the precepts of the law, as the entrance into life; and what He then said to one He said to all. But when the former said, “All these have I done” (and most likely he had not kept them, for in that case the Lord would not have said to him, “Keep the commandments”), the Lord, exposing his covetousness, said to him, “If you will be perfect, go, sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor; and come, follow me;” promising to those who would act thus, the portion belonging to the apostles (apostolorum partem). And He did not preach to His followers another God the Father, besides Him who was proclaimed by the law from the beginning; nor another Son; nor the Mother, the enthymesis of the Æon, who existed in suffering and apostasy; nor the Pleroma of the thirty Æons, which has been proved vain, and incapable of being believed in; nor that fable invented by the other heretics. But He taught that they should obey the commandments which God enjoined from the beginning, and do away with their former covetousness by good works, and follow after Christ. But that possessions distributed to the poor do annul former covetousness, Zaccheus made evident, when he said, “Behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one, I restore fourfold.” Luke 19:8 (Against Heresies IV.12.4-5)

Why were the scribes and Pharisees unrighteous, according to St. Irenaeus? Because they did not have love for God. They honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They were ignorant of God’s righteousness, and were going about to establish their own righteousness, not knowing that agape in the heart is the righteousness of God. Christ is the “end” (telos) of the law for righteousness, that is, that to which the law is ordered. According to St. Irenaeus, the purpose of the law is to teach us how to follow and love Christ. When He answered the man who asked Him what he must do to inherit eternal life, by telling him to obey the commandments, Christ showed that the law [i.e. the Decalogue] indicates the way to love God and be perfect. The law itself teaches both that we are to love God and how to love God. But the law as external only, is not able to transform our hearts.

V. St. Irenaeus on the Nature of Justification

The question that I set out to answer, when examining St. Irenaeaus’s account of justification, was whether his understanding of justification is closer to the Protestant or Catholic conception of justification.4 St. Irenaeus lays out his understanding of justification primarily in chapters 13-17 of Book IV of Against Heresies, so below I examine each of these in some detail.

First in chapter 13 of Book IV, he writes:

And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them, is shown from His words. “For,” He remarks, “it has been said to them of old time, Do not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That every one who has looked upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28) And again: “It has been said, You shall not kill. But I say unto you, Every one who is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:21-22) And, “It has been said, You shall not forswear yourself. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; but let your conversation be, Yea, yea, and Nay, nay.” (Matt. 5:33), etc. And other statements of a like nature. For all these do not contain or imply an opposition to and an overturning of the [precepts] of the past, as Marcion’s followers do strenuously maintain; but [they exhibit] a fulfilling and an extension of them, as He does Himself declare: “Unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20) For what meant the excess referred to? In the first place, [we must] believe not only in the Father, but also in His Son now revealed; for He it is who leads man into fellowship and unity with God. In the next place, [we must] not only say, but we must do; for they said, but did not. And [we must] not only abstain from evil deeds, but even from the desires after them. Now He did not teach us these things as being opposed to the law, but as fulfilling the law, and implanting in us the varied righteousness of the law. That would have been contrary to the law, if He had commanded His disciples to do anything which the law had prohibited. But this which He did command— namely, not only to abstain from things forbidden by the law, but even from longing after them— is not contrary to [the law], as I have remarked, neither is it the utterance of one destroying the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and affording greater scope to it. (Against Heresies IV.13)

Notice the very first line, “And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them.” This is something that makes no sense from a Protestant point of view. From the Protestant point of view, no one is justified by keeping the natural precepts of the law, nor does anyone one please God by keeping the precepts of the law. In the Protestant system, our keeping of the natural precepts would amount to “filthy rags.”

According to the Catholic understanding, however, St. Irenaeus’ statement makes sense. Man is justified by keeping the natural precepts of the law only when he is doing so out of living faith. To keep the precepts of the law because of living faith in God is to do so out of love [i.e. agape]. This love is the fulfillment of the law, and is that by which the law is fulfilled in our lives. According to St. Irenaeus, under the New Covenant we must not only say the words of the law, as the Pharisees did, we must do them. We must not even desire evil, in our heart. Only by infused agape do we fulfill the law, because only by love for God is the heart made righteous — “implanting in us the varied righteousness of the law,” as St. Irenaeus puts it. Christ did not abrogate the law by making it such that we no longer need to keep it, having kept it already in our place. Rather, Christ fulfills the law by implanting in us the love which fulfills the law, and is therefore a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

In that same chapter St. Irenaeus says:

Now all these [precepts], as I have already observed, were not [the injunctions] of one doing away with the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and widening it among us; just as if one should say, that the more extensive operation of liberty implies that a more complete subjection and affection towards our Liberator had been implanted within us. For He did not set us free for this purpose, that we should depart from Him (no one, indeed, while placed out of reach of the Lord’s benefits, has power to procure for himself the means of salvation), but that the more we receive His grace, the more we should love Him. Now the more we have loved Him, the more glory shall we receive from Him, when we are continually in the presence of the Father. (Against Heresies IV.13.3)

Christ sets us free from the law not by removing its obligations, but by “implanting within us” love, through which we delight in His law, no longer under its yoke, but having it in our hearts, as agape. Christ in the New Covenant did not lower the moral bar, in relation to the Old Testament law; He raised it, as can be seen in what He says about divorce. More is required of us under the New Covenant, but a greater portion of agape has been implanted in us by the Spirit.

Here too St. Irenaeus presents a very Catholic principle: He says that the more we have loved Him in this life, the more glory we shall receive from Him in heaven. This is not the Protestant notion that God loses glory if man receives glory, as if glory is a limited commodity. This is the Catholic principle that God is most glorified in His saints when His saints are made glorious through Him. As St. Irenaeus says in the following chapter, “we do participate in the glory of the Lord, who has both formed us, and prepared us for this, that, when we are with Him, we may partake of His glory.” (Against Heresies IV.14.1)

The infused love by which the law is fulfilled in us is that by which we become the friends of God:

For in that which He says, “I will not now call you servants,” (Jn 15:15) He indicates in the most marked manner that it was Himself who did originally appoint for men that bondage with respect to God through the law, and then afterwards conferred upon them freedom. And in that He says, “For the servant knows not what his lord does,” He points out, by means of His own advent, the ignorance of a people in a servile condition. But when He terms His disciples “the friends of God,” He plainly declares Himself to be the Word of God, whom Abraham also followed voluntarily and under no compulsion (sine vinculis), because of the noble nature of his faith, and so became “the friend of God.” (James 2:23) But the Word of God did not accept of the friendship of Abraham, as though He stood in need of it, for He was perfect from the beginning (“Before Abraham was,” He says, “I am” (John 8:58), but that He in His goodness might bestow eternal life upon Abraham himself, inasmuch as the friendship of God imparts immortality to those who embrace it. (Against Heresies IV.13.4)

What made Abraham’s faith of a “noble nature”? Why did Abraham’s faith lead him to “follow [God] voluntarily and under no compulsion”? Why did Abraham’s faith make him to be “a friend of God”? Because it was informed by agape. There is no true friendship without love, and therefore there is no true friendship with God without agape. The evidence here indicates that for St. Irenaeus, the faith by Abraham was justified was a faith informed by agape.

He continues:

For God at the first, indeed, warning them by means of natural precepts, which from the beginning He had implanted in mankind, that is, by means of the Decalogue (which, if any one does not observe, he has no salvation), did then demand nothing more of them. … But further, in another place he says: “That Satan tempt you not for your incontinence.” (1 Cor. 7:5) If, therefore, even in the New Testament, the apostles are found granting certain precepts in consideration of human infirmity, because of the incontinence of some, lest such persons, having grown obdurate, and despairing altogether of their salvation, should become apostates from God—it ought not to be wondered at, if also in the Old Testament the same God permitted similar indulgences for the benefit of His people, drawing them on by means of the ordinances already mentioned, so that they might obtain the gift of salvation through them, while they obeyed the Decalogue, and being restrained by Him, should not revert to idolatry, nor apostatize from God, but learn to love Him with the whole heart.

Notice first that according to St. Irenaeus, if anyone does not keep the Decalogue, he has no salvation. A Protestant could not say such a thing, because in Protestant theology, no one keeps the Decalogue or can keep it; hence the need for the extra nos imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, without which no one would be saved. Second, notice also that for St. Irenaeus, the purpose of the law, both in the Old Covenant and in the New Covenant, is not to show us that we cannot keep it, but to teach us how to love God “with the whole heart,” so that through these precepts of the law we might obtain salvation. For Protestantism, such a notion would be anathema, a mixture of faith and works rather than by faith alone. In Protestantism, the notion of obtaining the gift of salvation through keeping precepts of the law is “works-righteousness,” precisely what the Pharisees were doing. But according to St. Irenaeus, keeping the law is what the Pharisees were not doing. For St. Irenaeus the law is a means to receiving the gift of salvation for those who by love learn through the law to love Him with the whole heart, and thereby avoid mortal sin, and the loss of heaven.

In chapter 16 of Book IV, St. Irenaeus argues that the Hebrews were not justified by circumcision of the flesh, but that this circumcision typified the circumcision made without hands:

Moreover, we learn from the Scripture itself, that God gave circumcision, not as the completer of righteousness, but as a sign, that the race of Abraham might continue recognisable. … These things, then, were given for a sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither unmeaning nor to no purpose, inasmuch as they were given by a wise Artist; but the circumcision after the flesh typified that after the Spirit. For “we,” says the apostle, “have been circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” (Col. 2:11) And the prophet declares, “Circumcise the hardness of your heart.” But the Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God’s service.

And that man was not justified by these things, but that they were given as a sign to the people, this fact shows — that Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, “believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23) Then, again, Lot, without circumcision, was brought out from Sodom, receiving salvation from God. So also did Noah, pleasing God, although he was uncircumcised, receive the dimensions [of the ark], of the world of the second race [of men]. Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation. Moreover, all the rest of the multitude of those righteous men who lived before Abraham, and of those patriarchs who preceded Moses, were justified independently of the things above mentioned, and without the law of Moses. (Against Heresies IV.16.1-2)

Rather, all those righteous men who preceded Abraham were justified by the living faith by which the law was written on their hearts:

Why, then, did the Lord not form the covenant for the fathers [who lived before Abraham]? Because “the law was not established for righteous men.” (1 Tim. 1:9) But the righteous fathers had the meaning of the Decalogue written in their hearts and souls, that is, they loved the God who made them, and did no injury to their neighbour. There was therefore no occasion that they should be cautioned by prohibitory mandates (correptoriis literis), because they had the righteousness of the law in themselves. But when this righteousness and love to God had passed into oblivion, and became extinct in Egypt, God did necessarily, because of His great goodwill to men, reveal Himself by a voice, and led the people with power out of Egypt, in order that man might again become the disciple and follower of God; and He afflicted those who were disobedient, that they should not contemn their Creator; and He fed them with manna, that they might receive food for their souls (uti rationalem acciperent escam); as also Moses says in Deuteronomy: “And fed you with manna, which your fathers did not know, that you might know that man does not live by bread alone; but by every word of God proceeding out of His mouth does man live.” (Deut. 8:3) And it enjoined love to God, and taught just dealing towards our neighbour, that we should neither be unjust nor unworthy of God, who prepares man for His friendship through the medium of the Decalogue, and likewise for agreement with his neighbour—matters which did certainly profit man himself; God, however, standing in no need of anything from man. (Against Heresies IV.16.3)

Although the righteous men prior to Abraham needed no divine revelation of the law, having the law written on their hearts through living faith, as man became more wicked, God saw need to give the Decalogue by way of divine revelation. Again, however, for St. Irenaeus the purpose of the law was not to condemn men, or drive them to trust in an extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness by which it ultimately did not matter to what degree they kept the law or fell short of the law. Such a notion is entirely foreign to St. Irenaeus’s soteriology. Rather, for St. Irenaeus the purpose of the Decalogue is to teach the people to love God and neighbor, preparing them for friendship with God through faith informed by agape, by which the law is fulfilled. Hence St. Irenaeus said earlier:

To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink … Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom (Against Heresies III.4.2)

Here he is speaking of the persons who in many nations of the world already, by AD 180, had believed in Christ, but “without paper or ink,” believing only by the word or presence of persons who had been sent to preach to them. Yet, says St. Irenaeus, salvation was written on their heart by the Spirit. What is this salvation written on their heart? It is not justification by extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness. Rather it is by the infusion of a righteousness through which they, in their doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, pleased God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, having chastity and wisdom. This is not simul iustus et peccator; this is the infusion of sanctifying grace, agape and the other gifts of the Spirit.

In Book IV, St. Irenaeus continues:

And again Moses says: “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul?” (Deut. 10:12) Now these things did indeed make man glorious, by supplying what was wanting to him, namely, the friendship of God; but they profited God nothing, for God did not at all stand in need of man’s love. For the glory of God was wanting to man, which he could obtain in no other way than by serving God. And therefore Moses says to them again: “Choose life, that you may live, and your seed, to love the Lord your God, to hear His voice, to cleave unto Him; for this is your life, and the length of your days.” (Deut. 30:19-20) 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. (Against Heresies IV.16.4)

What is lacking in man, according to St. Irenaeus, is friendship with God. The requirement for friendship with God is to fear the Lord, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, and serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul. For St. Irenaeus this requirement is not abrogated under the New Covenant; it is not removed through Christ having done it for us in our place. That would play right into Marcion’s hand, who claimed that the Old Testament law was abrogated because it did not come from the Father of Jesus. Rather, for St. Irenaeus this requirement for friendship with God is extended and increased under the New Covenant, because greater grace has been given under the New Covenant. The agape poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit implants this law into our hearts, and grants us friendship with God, so that we may truly fear Him and love Him with our whole hearts.

The laws of bondage, however, were one by one promulgated to the people by Moses, suited for their instruction or for their punishment, as Moses himself declared: “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments.” (Deut. 4:14) 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. But He has also increased the feeling of reverence; for sons should have more veneration than slaves, and greater love for their father. And therefore the Lord says, “As to every idle word that men have spoken, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.” (Matt. 12:36) And, “he who has looked upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart;” (Matt. 5:28) and, “he that is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:22) [All this is declared,] that we may know that we shall give account to God not of deeds only, as slaves, but even of words and thoughts, as those who have truly received the power of liberty, in which [condition] a man is more severely tested, whether he will reverence, and fear, and love the Lord. And for this reason Peter says “that we have not liberty as a cloak of maliciousness,” 1 Peter 2:16 but as the means of testing and evidencing faith. (Against Heresies IV.16.5)

According to St. Irenaeus, in the New Covenant God cancelled the ceremonial “laws of bondage,” such as circumcision and animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant. But God, through Christ, has in the New Covenant granted to us “to know God the Father, and to love Him with the whole heart, and to follow His word unswervingly, while [we] abstain not only from evil deeds, but even from the desire after them.” No Protestant could say this. This is, according to Protestantism, precisely what Christ has not granted to us in this life, but only in the life to come. But for St. Irenaeus, God has granted to us the power of the Spirit and the fullness of infused righteous which is agape by which we love God above ourselves, and walk in a way that is pleasing to Him. This is not imputation of an alien righteousness; this is the infusion of the power of righteousness into the heart. For St. Irenaeus the salvific work of Christ does not provide a back-stage pass by which we avoid having to give an account for our deeds, words, and thoughts on Judgment Day, or, having disclosed our unrighteousness, being allowed into heaven by way of an alien righteousness imputed to our account. Rather, the work of Christ prepares us for the Judgment by granting to us the agape by which the God who sees the secrets of men’s hearts may truly say to us on that Day, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

According to the Catholic doctrine, Christ saves us not by covering us with an alien righteousness at the Judgment, but by infusing agape into our hearts at our baptism and subsequently increases that agape within us through the other sacraments, through works of charity, and through prayer, so that with confidence and without fear we may approach the throne of grace, because agape is the fulfillment of the law. The Protestant solution to the problem of sin and Judgment is to set up a bypass, such that on Judgment Day we are ultimately judged by the alien righteousness imputed to our account rather than by what we did, said, and thought in this present life. In the Reformed system, no one can keep the commandments; man sins in every good work, and every sin is worthy of eternal damnation. But it is obvious that this is not St. Irenaeus’s position. He holds that Christ has given us the grace to fulfill the law, through the infusion of agape by which the law is written on our hearts. In this way, St. Irenaeus’s position corresponds to Chapter XI of Session Six of the Council of Trent, which teaches that by the grace of God it is possible to keep the commandments.

Finally, in IV.17, St. Irenaeus writes:

For when He perceived them neglecting righteousness, and abstaining from the love of God, and imagining that God was to be propitiated by sacrifices and the other typical observances, Samuel did even thus speak to them: “God does not desire whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices, but He will have His voice to be hearkened to. Behold, a ready obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22) David also says: “Sacrifice and oblation You did not desire, but my ears have You perfected; burnt-offerings also for sin You have not required.” He thus teaches them that God desires obedience, which renders them secure, rather than sacrifices and holocausts, which avail them nothing towards righteousness; and [by this declaration] he prophesies the new covenant at the same time. … Then, lest it might be supposed that He refused these things in His anger, He continues, giving him (man) counsel: “Offer unto God the sacrifice of praise, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of your trouble, and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me;” rejecting, indeed, those things by which sinners imagined they could propitiate God, and showing that He does Himself stand in need of nothing; but He exhorts and advises them to those things by which man is justified and draws near to God. This same declaration does Esaias make: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? Says the Lord. I am full.” (Is. 1:11) And when He had repudiated holocausts, and sacrifices, and oblations, as likewise the new moons, and the sabbaths, and the festivals, and all the rest of the services accompanying these, He continues, exhorting them to what pertained to salvation: “Wash you, make you clean, take away wickedness from your hearts from before my eyes: cease from your evil ways, learn to do well, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow; and come, let us reason together, says the Lord.”

For it was not because He was angry, like a man, as many venture to say, that He rejected their sacrifices; but out of compassion to their blindness, and with the view of suggesting to them the true sacrifice, by offering which they shall appease God, that they may receive life from Him. … From all these it is evident that God did not seek sacrifices and holocausts from them, but faith, and obedience, and righteousness, because of their salvation. (Against Heresies, IV.17.1-4)

Here St. Irenaeus speaks of doing “those things by which man is justified and draws near to God.” Man is not justified by burnt offerings and the sacrifices of animals, because these are worthless before God, if man does not have love for God. This is why “obedience is better than sacrifice,” because the obedience in view is that which flows from love in the heart. The prophet Samuel’s statement that God prefers obedience over sacrifice is, according to St. Irenaeus, a prophecy concerning the New Covenant, under which God would bring about this obedience through the infusion of agape. What then are the things the people are enjoined to do, by which they are to be justified? They are to cease from their evil ways, take away wickedness from their hearts, learn to do well, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow, offer the sacrifice of praise,5 pay their vows, and call upon the Lord in the day of trouble. Here St. Irenaeus is speaking not about initial justification (i.e. the translation from a state of mortal sin into a state of grace) but rather about what the Council of Trent refers to as the increase of the justification received (see Chapter X of Session Six). But a Protestant could never say what St. Irenaeus here, because in Protestantism there is no such thing as an increase in justification. Of course a Protestant could propose that here St. Irenaeus means something quite different by the term — namely, that here he is saying that by such works man is justified in the eyes of other men. But there is nothing in the text to indicate such an equivocation; everything in the text indicates that St. Irenaeus is speaking of justification before God, i.e. being truly righteous.

VI. Conclusion

The doctrine of justification St. Irenaeus articulates is not the Protestant doctrine of justification by extra nos imputation of an alien righteous. Nor is it a doctrine of justification by a faith uninformed by agape. The faith by which man is justified, according to St. Irenaeus, is the living faith through which the law is written on the heart, and fulfilled in those who believe. Justification is by the infusion of righteousness, that is, the pouring out of agape into our hearts, because agape is the fulfillment of the law. This agape-informed-faith is counted [i.e. imputed] by God as righteousness, because it is righteousness. It is not a covering over persisting damnable wickedness, but a true cleansing of the heart, and freedom from sin, not merely freedom from the punishment for sin. Moreover, St. Irenaeus’s doctrine distinguishes between initial justification, and an increase in justification through acts of obedience done in agape and through participation in the Eucharist. In these respects St. Irenaeus’s doctrine of justification is in agreement with that taught by the Council of Trent, even though not as developed as that articulated by Trent.

The question I set out to answer regarding St. Irenaeaus’s account of justification, was whether his understanding of justification was closer to the Protestant or Catholic conception of justification. The evidence is quite clear that St. Irenaeus’s doctrine is fully compatible with, and we might even say in full agreement with, a Catholic conception of justification. But in multiple respects his doctrine of justification is incompatible with a Protestant conception of justification. So what does this imply?

Notice what St. Irenaeus says about the state of the faith of the Church at the time he is writing (c. AD 180):

Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. And undoubtedly the preaching of the Church is true and steadfast, in which one and the same way of salvation is shown throughout the whole world. For to her is entrusted the light of God; and therefore the “wisdom” of God, by means of which she saves all men, “is declared in [its] going forth; it utters [its voice] faithfully in the streets, is preached on the tops of the walls, and speaks continually in the gates of the city.” (Prov. 1:20-21) For the Church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven-branched candlestick which bears the light of Christ. (Against Heresies V.20.1)

St. Irenaeus had been raised in Smyrna, in modern day Turkey. He was sent to Rome around AD 177 and lived there at least two years during St. Eleutherius’s papacy. While at Rome St. Irenaeus undoubtedly encountered Christian travelers and pilgrims from all over the world. He subsequently wrote Against Heresies from Lyon, in modern day France, as the second bishop of the Church at Lyon. At the time he was writing, according to St. Irenaeus, the Church throughout the whole world possessed the sure tradition of the Apostles, and this was demonstrated by the unity of the faith throughout the entire Catholic Church, something St. Irenaeus was in a good epistemic position to know, given his travels and his stay in Rome. Surely the doctrine of salvation and justification is central to the faith. How are we to be saved? How are we to be justified before God? These are absolutely essential questions in relation to the mission of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and therefore these were absolutely central doctrines to the Christian faith.

If, as St. Irenaeus claims, “one and the same way of salvation” was being “shown throughout the whole world,” and St. Irenaeus’s own explication of salvation and justification is representative of this “way of salvation” that was being preached throughout the whole Church all over the world at that time, then either the doctrine of justification St. Irenaeus lays out is the doctrine handed down by the Apostles, or the apostolic doctrine concerning justification was lost very shortly after the Apostles, and corrupted everywhere in the very same way throughout the Catholic Church around the whole world. Of course embracing the latter option presupposes (at least implicitly) ecclesial deism. But it also faces historical difficulties as well. St. Clement was a bishop of Rome toward the end of the first century. His soteriology, which I’ve discussed elsewhere, corresponds to that of St. Irenaeus. So does that of the Didache, which is also probably a first century work.6 That would require that the great corruption of the apostolic doctrine of justification took place even while the Apostle John, who died around AD 100, was still alive. It would require that this great and universal corruption of the central doctrine of the Christian faith occurred without any protest from those bishops, presbyters, deacons, and laymen who though willing to lay down their lives for Christ, refused to speak up while the apostolic doctrine of justification was being corrupted and distorted throughout the whole Church. The silence of the Church throughout the world during the first two centuries regarding some spreading corruption of the doctrine of justification within the Church, the piety and zeal of the early Christian martyrs who by their death showed themselves to be faithful to Christ and courageously willing to die for the truth He handed down to them through the Apostles, along with the uniformity of belief throughout the whole Catholic Church in AD 180 concerning the central doctrine of the way of salvation, are three pieces of evidence that in conjunction weigh against the thesis that the way of salvation St. Irenaeus taught was a corrupted version of what the Apostles had handed down. The only plausible alternative is that the doctrine of justification taught by St. Irenaeus is the Apostles’ doctrine.

Christ our Peace, please reconcile all Christians in one faith and full visible unity in your holy Church, so that the world may believe that the Father sent You. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  1. The account of his martyrdom can be read here. []
  2. I have discussed this difference in a previous post titled “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” []
  3. This truth that agape is perfection grounds the possibility of the distinction between mortal and venial sin. []
  4. Previously I briefly examined a single passage from St. Irenaeus, in my post titled “Ligon Duncan’s “Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?”.” []
  5. St. Irenaeus goes on in sections 5-6 of Book IV, Chapter 17 and Chapter 18.1-5 to explain what is the sacrifice of praise under the New Covenant. This sacrifice, he explains, is the Eucharist, which is the fulfillment of Malichi 1:10-11. Other early Church Fathers also wrote about the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Cf. Didache 14; 1 Clement 44; St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 41; St. Cyprian, On the Lapsed, 26; and St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures V.18. []
  6. See also “Ligon Duncan’s “Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?”.” []
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  1. Very thorough Bryan (as always), thank you.

    Protestants believe in the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit”, meaning the Holy Spirit resides within us in some sense. At first glance, it seems that that idea (and the way Protestants describe what the indwelling means) is very close to the concept of infused agape. How does the Catholic church think about the idea of the indwelling of the Spirit and in particular, is there a distinction made between that idea (if actually held to) and the concept of infused agape? Throughout the essay I notice you always mention infusion *through* the Spirit without saying the infusion actually *is* the Spirit so I assume that there is a careful distinction being made.

    thanks

  2. Thanks Jeff.

    In comment #12 of the “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance” thread I explained how St. Thomas shows that agape must be a virtue in the soul, and cannot be merely the indwelling Spirit. If the answer I give there is not sufficiently clear, please let me know. (See also comment #174 in the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” thread.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Thank you, Bryan (#2). I will peruse and also try to read the larger context of the Aquinas references you cite in the first thread.

  4. The argument regarding ecclesial deism is one I find compelling in my sensibilities, though if pressed on it, I have the following reservations:

    1. The Protestant hermeneutic would just say that even in Scripture, lots of folks were falling away, heresies were prevalent among the churches, etc. (you know the verses by now of course) so what an Apostolic Father said isn’t REALLY authoritative unless it’s a logical extension of what the Apostles said/taught, and in the end all we have is the Bible. A Catholic might find the logic quite probable given the short distance between the Apostles and Irenaeus, but while you might find it convincing to say “Given what their followers all said about justification, it’s quite probable that Paul/James meant that too, which means the Protestant interpretation of the writings of Paul/James is incorrect,” the Protestant (especially a historian) would not find it appropriate to impute (or infuse!) the follower’s beliefs onto the master’s writings. One typically doesn’t do that with other sources, like Marx or Locke, do they?

    2. The lack of controversy about justification before the Reformation doesn’t actually mean that what was said during that time was correct. In fact, controversies are exactly where orthodoxy comes from. We wouldn’t even have a doctrine of the Trinity without a history of arguments and loads of heresies. If no alternative understanding is around, my statements about “belief x” are quite slippery. If I’m arguing with a Zwinglian, my statements about the Eucharist sound cannibalistic–“I do eat Jesus every Sunday”–though if a Catholic is in the room, I might back up and say something like “I eat Jesus through the Holy Spirit, but a dog wouldn’t be eating Jesus.”

    3. As I’m sure you know (but I want to point out to anyone who is reading) Reformed folks have no problem with everything Catholics mean when they say “justification,” it’s just that we call that “sanctification” and it comes after the monergistic irreversible declaration and imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness and our regeneration in the Spirit. Obviously, there are differences among Reformed folks too (FV and NPP and all that) but we’d unanimously say that justification/regeneration is something initial, monergistic, and permanent.

    4. I’m not entirely convinced that it matters in our Christian lives, since we all agree that we’re currently synergistically being made holy through the infusion of agape, and any initial declaration is only known for sure afterwards. Reformed people make a big deal about our assurance vs. the Catholics, but we only know that “those who have truly been justified/regenerated will be sanctified and will die Christians,” not that we are one of those people. In my opinion, we have the same level of assurance. I’ve heard converts to both sides say they are more certain in their new camp.

    I also have a few nitpicks that don’t affect your main argument.

    First off, Martyrdom does not mean correct. There’s lots of heretical martyrs throughout the centuries. I think it’s fair to say that they were following Christ, though all sides would disagree with where that led them. Jeremy Tate says this well in the post before yours.

    Secondly, there’s a typo in the Conclusion here: “Justification is by the infusion of righteous, that is, the pouring out of agape into our hearts, because agape is the fulfillment of the law.” That should say “infusion of righteousness” (Actually it should say “Sanctification is…” but that’s another matter altogether.)

    Thanks,
    Jeremy-PCA (on DGH’s blog he kept getting us mixed up)

  5. Jeremy (#4),

    1. We’re not talking about a heretic, though (unless you subscribe to the idea that the earliest Church Fathers didn’t know what they were talking about or were actually heretics). This is Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John. If he has no authority to speak, then no Protestant minister does, either. We’re not imputing Irenaeus’ beliefs onto Paul (or John); what we’re saying is that he is in a much better position to know what Paul meant than we can just reading Paul ourselves, even with aid (lexica, grammars, etc.). The thing is, I don’t know of any Marxists who claim “solo Marx”. ;)

    2. If controversy is how we determine orthodoxy, and if there was no controversy over this teaching (infused righteousness as part of justification), then it is heavily implied that it is orthodox. Regardless, if this teaching is as evil as the Reformers made it out to be, the Church was in apostasy until the Reformation.

    A heretical martyr is an oxymoron. Who would you consider to be one? This does not mean that every martyr was always correct, however, as that is not what a heretic is. A heretic knows the truth and willfully rejects it.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  6. Jeremy M, (re: #4)

    Thanks for your comment, and for catching the typo. I agree with you that in Scripture we see certain individuals falling away from the faith. We even see particular Churches falling into error in the book of Revelation. In my “Ecclesial Deism” article I provided some reasons for believing that Christ would not allow this to be true of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church He founded, that is, the universal Church. I showed that embracing ecclesial deism has deeply problematic implications, and I won’t repeat those reasons here.

    Regarding the doctrine of justification, the relevant passages of Scripture can be interpreted according to these two interpretive frameworks: Protestant and Catholic. Obviously you agree that Scripture can be interpreted according to a Reformed framework as spelled out by the Westminster Confession of Faith. All those very same passages of Scripture can alternatively be interpreted according to a Catholic interpretive framework. In “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” I went through the various New Testament passages that treat the subject of justification by faith and showed that they could all be interpreted according to the Catholic paradigm, where ‘faith’ refers to faith-informed-by-agape, and justification is by infusion, not by extra nos imputation.

    Of course, I understand that you might object to that article, by claiming that the meaning of these biblical terms (e.g. faith, justification) is properly governed by their lexical sense, as determined by their usage by their contemporaries. My response to that can be found in “The Tradition and the Lexicon,” in which I show that such a claim presupposes the Protestant paradigm. So in the Catholic paradigm, our understanding of terms like ‘justification’ is informed and guided by the way those terms have been used in the community that received these books and recites them in its liturgy and prayers. That is, the meaning of a communal text is best known from within the community within which that text was written and received. The text itself does not settle the question which of these two interpretive paradigms/methodologies is correct.

    So the inquirer, trying to determine which of these two paradigms (i.e. Catholic or Protestant) is correct regarding justification, has to evaluate each paradigm as a whole paradigm, without presupposing the other paradigm in the criteria by which he evaluates the paradigm in question. The notion that “what an Apostolic Father said isn’t really authoritative unless it’s a logical extension of what the Apostles said/taught” already presupposes that we know what the Apostles said/taught. If we are trying to determine which interpretive paradigm is correct, we are precisely not yet in a position of knowing what they said/taught, at least not knowing which of the two interpretive paradigms is the authentic meaning of what they said. That’s why using one’s own interpretation of Scripture to determine that, say, St. Irenaeus is right or wrong about justification already presupposes one of these interpretive paradigms, namely, the Protestant interpretive paradigm.

    Given the information I’ve provided above regarding St. Irenaeus’s doctrine of justification, the Protestant paradigm requires a highly unlikely hypothesis, as I described in the last paragraph of the article. It requires that all throughout the entire reaches of the Church throughout the world, the same massive error concerning a doctrine at the very center of the gospel was, without even the slightest protest or conflict, accepted by men and women who in every other respect exemplified their fidelity to Christ by shedding their blood even unto death. The Catholic paradigm, by contrast, is much more plausible with regard to the historical data. According to this paradigm, there having been no internal conflict about the doctrine of justification since the middle of the first century, the doctrine of justification taught in the Church all over the world in AD 180, is the doctrine handed down by the Apostles to the apostolic Churches, and therefore provides the interpretive framework within which we determine the meaning of the relevant passages within the New Testament concerning the doctrine of justification.

    You wrote:

    The lack of controversy about justification before the Reformation doesn’t actually mean that what was said during that time was correct. In fact, controversies are exactly where orthodoxy comes from. We wouldn’t even have a doctrine of the Trinity without a history of arguments and loads of heresies.

    Controversies concerning doctrine are typically the occasion for the Church to clarify definitively what is orthodoxy, and what is heresy. But, orthodoxy does not come from controversy per se. Orthodoxy comes from Christ, through the Apostles, as the deposit of faith entrusted to the saints once and for all. So orthodoxy doesn’t come out of nothing, supervening upon controversies. Rather, orthodoxy is always there in the deposit, but the controversy compels the Church to clarify more precisely the content of this deposit, distinguishing the orthodoxy of the deposit from the heretical novelty. So when a doctrine goes undisputed within the Church for many centuries, that does not mean that there is no orthodoxy regarding that doctrine during this time period. It means rather that what is orthodox (and what is not) with respect to this doctrine is so clear within the Church that there is no dispute about it. A subsequent controversy concerning that doctrine does not mean that there was no prior orthodoxy regarding that doctrine, only that the prior orthodoxy was not sufficiently specific to prevent the present controversy. For this reason, if what St. Irenaeus teaches concerning justification was the doctrine taught throughout the Church spread around the world, and there had been no controversy concerning this doctrine, then we should believe his doctrine to be the Apostles’s doctrine.

    I understand that Reformed theology distinguishes between justification (defined as a forensic, extra nos imputation) and sanctification. One difficulty for Reformed theology is that this distinction (so defined) cannot be found in the Church Fathers. They, like St. Irenaeus, distinguish between initial justification, and growth in justification. The primary difference between the Reformed conception of justification and the patristic conception of justification is that none of the Church Fathers believed that justification was by an extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness. They believed that in baptism, our soul is washed clean by the infusion of grace and agape. Because they understood the infusion of grace and agape to be justification, and because they believed it is possible to grow in one’s portion or share of grace and agape they believed that sanctification is growth in justification.

    I agree with what you say about assurance. I would add that the way in which this disagreement (concerning justification) matters ecumenically, is that the doctrine of justification was the primary point of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. Reaching agreement on this doctrine would be a major step toward reconciling Protestants with the Catholic Church after a schism that has now lasted almost 500 years.

    I also agree with you that just because a person is a martyr, that does not mean his doctrine was correct. My point was that in the first two centuries of Church history, we find no shortage of Christian martyrs under the fiercest persecutions. St. Polycarp’s is just one example, someone St. Irenaeus knew personally. St. Polycarp’s willingness to be martyred for the sake of Christ does not in itself guarantee his orthodoxy, but it does tell us something about his fidelity to what he had received. (And he had received his understanding of the gospel from the Apostle John.) If St. Polycarp was willing to give up his life, to be loyal to Christ, then a fortiori he would not knowingly corrupt or abandon the gospel he had received from the Apostle John. Nor would he remain silent, as the bishop of Smyrna, if he saw others within the Church corrupting the apostolic doctrine of justification. The presence of Christians of such character and courage throughout the Church of the first centuries gives a greater evidential weight to the fact of silence concerning any controversy regarding the doctrine of justification. Such persons would not have been silent had there been some corruption of the Apostolic doctrine within the Church; they would have fought it vigorously, just as St. Irenaeus fought against gnosticism in his work Against Heresies. So their silence, in view of their character, and the ubiquity in AD 180 of the conception of justification we find in St. Irenaeus’s writings, indicates that the doctrine St. Irenaeus taught concerning justification was nothing less than that handed down by the Apostles.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Thanks for the article Bryan. I affirm sola fides and I also agree with St. Irenaeus.

    I don’t find him to contradict reformation statements–such as the Anglican Homily of Good Works (from the Anglican Book of Homilies which flesh out the doctrine of the 39 Articles–see Article 25):
    Saint Chrysostome in this wise, (Pseudo-Chrysostom, De Fide et Lege Naturae 1 [PG 48. 1081-82], In sermone de fide, lege, & spiritu sancto). You shall find many which haue not the true faith, and bee not of the flocke of Christ , and yet (as it appeareth) they flourish in good works of mercy: you shall finde them full of pitie, compassion, and giuen to iustice, and yet for all that they haue no fruit of their workes, because the chiefe worke lacketh. For when the Iewes asked of Christ what they should doe to worke good workes: hee answered, This is the worke of GOD, to beleeue in him whom hee sent (John 6.29): so that hee called faith the worke of GOD. And as soone as a man hath faith, anone hee shall florish in good workes: for faith of it selfe is full of good workes, and nothing is good without faith. And for a similitude, he saith that they which glister and shine in good workes without fayth in GOD, bee like dead men, which haue godly and precious tombes, and yet it auayleth them nothing. Faith may not bee naked without good workes, for then it is no true faith: and when it is adioyned to workes, yet it is aboue the workes. For as men that are very men indeed first have life and after are nourished, so must our faith in Christ go before, and after be nourished with good works. And life may be without nourishment, but nourishment cannot be without life. A man must of necessity be nourished by good works, but first he must have faith. He that does good deeds, yet without faith he has no life. I can show a man that by faith without works lived and came to heaven, but without faith, never man had life. The thief that was hanged when Christ suffered did believe only, and the most merciful God justified him. And because no man shall say again that he lacked time to do good works, for else he would have done them, truth it is, and I will not contend therein, but this I will surely affirm, that only faith saved him. If he had lived and not regarded faith and the works thereof, he should have lost his salvation again. Here you have heard the mind of Saint Chrysostom, whereby you may perceive that neither faith is without works (having opportunity thereto), nor works can avail to everlasting life without faith.

    …What maner of workes they be which spring out of true faith, and leade faithfull men vnto euerlasting life. This cannot bee knowen so well, as by our Sauiour Christ himselfe who was asked of a certain great man the same question;, What works shall I do (said a prince) to come to euerlasting life? To whom Iesus answered, if thou wilt come to euerlasting life, keepe the Commandements (Matthew 19.16-17). But the prince not satisfied herewith, asked farther, Which commandements? The Scribes and Pharisees had made so many of their owne lawes and traditions, to bring men to heauen, besides GOD’S commandements, that this man was in doubt whether he should come to heauen by those lawes and traditions or by the law of GOD, and therefore he asked Christ which commandements hee meant. Whereunto Christ made him a plaine answere, rehearsing the commandements of GOD, saying, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adulterie, Thou shalt not steale, Thou shalt not beare false witnesse, Honour thy father and thy mother, and loue thy neighbour as thy selfe (Matthew 19.18-19). By which wordes Christ declared that the lawes of GOD bee the very way that doeth leade to euerlasting life, and not the traditions and lawes of men.
    http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/bk1hom05.htm

    Further, although Calvin and those who followed him denied the possibility of deadly sin/falling from Salvation–leading English and Lutheran reformers (most notably Luther himself) affirmed this Scriptural truth–as noted in post 7 of the following thread:
    Why John Calvin did not Recognize the Distinction Between Mortal and Venial Sin.” Although the Reformers affirmed with great catholic fathers like

    Additionally, the reformers noted that the term dikaioun could be used more broadly than in the strictly forensic sense (e.g. Calvin applied a non-forensic sense to dikaioun in his commentary on Romans 6:7 ). However, as the ARCIC joint Roman Catholic/Anglican statement notes, the predominant usage of the term in New Testament is in relation to the forensic aspect of our Salvation:

    Roman Catholic interpreters of Trent and Anglican theologians alike have insisted that justification and sanctification are neither wholly distinct from nor unrelated to one another. The discussion, however, has been confused by differing understandings of the word justification and its associated words. The theologians of the Reformation tended to follow the predominant usage of the New Testament, in which the verb dikaioun usually means “to pronounce righteous”. The Catholic theologians, and notably the Council of Trent, tended to follow the usage of patristic and medieval Latin writers, for whom justificare (the traditional translation of dikaioun) signified “to make righteous” Thus the Catholic understanding of the process of justification, following Latin usage, tended to include elements of salvation which the Reformers would describe as belonging to sanctification rather than justification.

    http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/arcic/doc/e_arcicII_salvation.html

    Of course, St. Ireneaus and all the other Church fathers clearly affirm the central forensic aspect of our Salvation (in the acquital of our guilt/remission of our sins (committed and omitted) through the covering of the righteous blood of Christ received through faith and the Baptismal washing of regeneration).

    Much of this is an argument over semantics. When the reformers use the term justification they are referring to this forensic aspect of our Salvation which is received through the instrument of a true or living faith alone (which is always accompanied by love). Clearly, if we were to include our sanctification in the definition of justification then love would be “instrumental” as well as faith.

    As for the imputation of the active righteousness of Christ–this is required by the fact that Christ received the declaration of justification from the Father (for Himself and all in Him) in the Father raising Christ from the dead–not on account of any righteousness we performed but solely on account of the perfect righteousness of Christ’s Life.

    God Bless,
    WA Scott

  8. p.s. Some modern reformed have sought to say that forgiveness basically makes you accounted as neutral (versus perfectly righteous) and you need a separate imputation of Christ’s d active righteousness to be accounted as perfectly righteous. The reformers, however, held that forgiveness was the whole of imputation (i.e. sin is anything that fails to perfectly fulfill God’s Law–and thus to be forgiven is to be accounted as having not sinned and therefore to be accounted as having perfectly fulfilled the Law).

    The imputation of Christ’s active righteousness and the forgiveness of sins are different sides of the same coin. i.e. to be forgiven is to have the perfectly righteous Blood of Christ cover all failings before God so that one stands as sinless/perfectly righteous before the Lord apart from imperfect good works. (St. Bernard calls all the good works of a Christian “filthy rags” in comparison to the awesome holiness of God).

    As the Anglican Homily of Justification notes with St. Bernard (cited in Article 11 of the 39 Articles):
    …we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and all other virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient, and imperfect, to deserve remission of our sins, and our justification, and therefore we must trust only in GODS mercy, and that sacrifice which our high Priest and Savior Christ Jesus the son of GOD once offered for us upon the Crosse, to obtain thereby GODS grace, and remission, as well of our original sin in Baptism, as of all actual sin committed by us after our Baptism, if we truly repent, and turn unfeignedly to him again.
    http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/bk1hom03.htm

  9. William Scott, you write:

    The reformers, however, held … to be forgiven is to be accounted as having not sinned and therefore to be accounted as having perfectly fulfilled the Law …

    In other words, the Reformers taught that “justification” is a legal fiction whereby God “accounts” a guilty man to be righteous even though the man is not really righteous. In Matthew’s Gospel, we have an example kind this kind of legalistic “justification”:

    And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. … Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.
    Matthew 27:15-20

    When Pilate released Barrabas, Pilate violated God’s justice by imputing to Barabas a legal verdict that made Barrabas “not guilty” in the eyes of the law. Pilate, as the governor of Judea, had the legal power to declare a guilty man to be accounted as “not guilty”, but by doing that, Pilate proved himself to be a corrupt man that abused his legal power (a legal power that he would not have unless God allowed him to have it!). And that, it seems to me, is why the Protestant view of legal justification cannot possibly be correct, since it makes God no different than Pontius Pilate.

    Justifying grace must make a man actually righteous, otherwise, God would be acting against divine justice in legally declaring us to be righteous even though we aren’t.

  10. […] really thought about what it is that is actually occurring in us as this happens. Last night I read a piece by Bryan Cross of Called to Communion that has profoundly affected me; provided me with this […]

  11. All the reformers affirmed that those who are justified have a real and growing “infused” righteousness within them. Also, the leading English and Lutheran reformers made clear that if at any point this infused righteousness is overcome by sin in a believer–then the believer ceases to be saved.

    However this infused righteousness (or sanctification) is far from perfect in this life. Therefore, the believer does not and cannot perfectly fulfill the Holy Law of God (as the Church Fathers note). Rather, every believer disobeys the Law of God (summed up in the 2 Great Commandments) and thus according to works every believer daily stands guilty and condemned before God’s Holy Law for his disobedience (again, as the Church Fathers note).

    (Just to hammer in this point) Can any Christian honestly claim for even one hour, let alone a day, to have perfectly loved God with all his being and perfectly loved (in thought, word, and deed) his neighbor as himself? This is what God’s Law requires of every soul continuously. Therefore, you and I stand condemned under God’s Perfect Law every hour of every day for our disobedience. Thus, we are compelled to seek a righteousness apart from our works–namely the righteousness we obtain before the Throne through the righteous Blood of Christ covering our many sins.

    This is the blessing of being reputed just without works:
    Rom 4:6 As David also termeth the blessedness of a man, to whom God reputeth justice without works:
    7 Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
    8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin. (Douay Rheims)

    This is one of the most amazing truths of the Catholic and Scriptural faith–that one who is guilty according to works (as noted above–anyone who has failed at any moment to love God perfectly or has ever loved himself more than his neighbor) is accounted sinless/perfectly righteous through the Righteous Blood of Christ covering his sins.

    As St. Augustine notes in his Retractions (Book 1, 19:3): “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”

    Because sin is the failure to perfectly fulfill the Law of God (to love God perfectly at every moment and to never love yourself more than your neighbor)–to be forgiven is to be reckoned as though you had not sinned (i.e. as though you had completely fulfilled the Law–as St. Augustine notes above).

    In other words, the remission of sins (i.e. our forensic justification before God apart from the true deserving of our works) not only covers our commissions but also our omissions.

    God Bless,
    WA Scott

    p.s. It will be at least a week or two before I’ll have time to respond further on this site. God Bless.

  12. Hi Bryan,

    Excellent post! This thread on Irenaeus is of particular interest to me, for last month, I started ‘work-in-progress’ series of posts on Irenaeus (LINK).

    As for Irenaeus’ soteriology, have you read the following Doctoral thesis:

    Blackwell, Benjamin, Durham , 2010, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria

    Grace and peace,

    David

  13. Hello David,

    Thank you. I found Blackwell’s work helpful and well-researched. His focus is more on theosis than on justification proper, but obviously the doctrines overlap. In the matter of theosis, the Protestant position is faced with the same problem I described in the last paragraph of the article above. It is a doctrine found throughout the Fathers, and very early, and yet incompatible with Protestantism. See chapter 18 of Horton’s The Christian Faith, in which he defines union with Christ as only covenantal, and rejects an ontological union, which, seemingly, he can only conceive as ‘fusion,’ and the loss of individual identity. He holds this position, I believe, because the concept of ‘participation’ in Christ, and in the work of Christ, is almost entirely absent from Protestant theology. This is why Catholic (and Orthodox) notions and practices are construed by such Protestants as ‘denying the finished work of Christ,’ or as implying that Christ’s work was somehow inadequate or insufficient. That’s why I think it important to conceive of these positions paradigmatically, because in paradigms in which the possibility of participation is recognized, such objections fall flat.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. William Scott you write:

    All the reformers affirmed that those who are justified have a real and growing “infused” righteousness within them. Also, the leading English and Lutheran reformers made clear that if at any point this infused righteousness is overcome by sin in a believer–then the believer ceases to be saved.

    The Lutherans and Episcopalians that I know make the distinction between mortal sin and venial sin. And because that distinction is made, I believe that it is wrong to say that Lutherans and Episcopalians learned from the founders of their religion the doctrine that willfully committing a venial sins entails the consequence of ceasing to be saved.

    However this infused righteousness (or sanctification) is far from perfect in this life. Therefore, the believer does not and cannot perfectly fulfill the Holy Law of God …

    If, as you say, “infused righteousness (or sanctification) is far from perfect in this life”, then whose fault is it if I do not fulfill these commandments from Christ:

    You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    Matthew 5:48

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
    John 13:34

    If Christ gives me the command to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, and God does not give to me the sufficient sanctifying grace so that I can obey this commandment of Christ, then it is God’s fault, and not my fault, for failing to love as Christ loves. But I have a very big problem with the idea that my numerous failings to love as Christ loves are somehow God’s fault. If I fail to manifest a love that is not mercenary, then I need to confess that sin and be forgiven. What I must never do is blame God as the cause of my failings to manifest selfless love.

    Can any Christian honestly claim for even one hour, let alone a day, to have perfectly loved God with all his being and perfectly loved (in thought, word, and deed) his neighbor as himself?

    Perhaps you have never done this, and perhaps I have never done this, but that doesn’t mean that there have never been Christians that have loved selflessly in thought word and deed.

    This is what God’s Law requires of every soul continuously. Therefore, you and I stand condemned under God’s Perfect Law every hour of every day for our disobedience.

    I disagree. The fact that I fail to love perfectly at times only proves to me how how utterly dependent I am upon the grace of God to live as he desires me to live (and what God desires for me, is what he desires of everyone – to become a great saint). I have a long way to go become what God wants me to become, but I don’t feel that there is a angry God that is condemning me as I stumble and fall along the hard way that leads to life. If I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul that God was on my side in the struggle to be holy, then I would have given up the hard way a long time ago!

    “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
    John 14:15

    “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
    John 7:13-14

    “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
    Luke 18:27

    He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
    John 15:5

    Apart from Christ, I can do nothing that is perfectly pleasing to God, but with God, all things are possible. Amazing grace that saves a wretch like me!

  15. Hi Bryan,
    Great article.I noticed all your quotes from Irenaues work on the subject were only from “Against Heresies”. I feel he also commented on the subject in his other extant work “Proof of the Apostolic Preaching”. Like the quote below:

    “Now, that we may not suffer ought of this kind, we must needs hold the rule of the faith without deviation, and do the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him as Lord and loving Him as Father. Now this doing is produced by faith: for Isaiah says: If ye believe not, neither shall ye understand.And faith is produced by the truth; for faith rests on things that truly are. For in things that are, as they are, we believe; and believing in things that are, as they ever are, we keep firm our confidence in them. Since then faith is the perpetuation of our salvation, we must needs bestow much pains on the maintenance thereof, in order that we may have a true comprehension of the things that are. Now faith occasions this for us; even as the Elders, the disciples of the Apostles, have handed down to us. First of all it bids us bear in mind 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 rose again, and in the Holy Spirit of God. And that this baptism is the seal of eternal life, and is the new birth unto God, that we should no longer be the sons of mortal men, but of the eternal and perpetual God; and that what is everlasting and continuing is made God;and is over all things that are made, and all things are put under Him; and all the things that are put under Him are made His own; for God is not ruler and Lord over the things of another, but over His own;and all things are God’s; and therefore God is Almighty, and all things are of God.” [Proof of the Apostolic Preaching III]

    Peace. With love from Africa

  16. Bryan,

    I’ll let Irenaeus be Irenaeus thus I don’t have an agenda to make him a protestant. But, even with the quotes above, I have no problem with what Irenaeus is saying. The twin doctrine of justification is sanctification. In covenant theology, we are commanded to fulfill the law through love (Rom 13). Protestant theology has not backed down on the necessity of the Law in the christian life. That is why our catechism includes a full section about it. We also have no problem saying that those who are redeemed by Christ are continuously changed inwardly by Him such that we are growing in righteousness (some of us call it progressive sanctification).

    Our Confession echoes the same (WCF 19):

    5. The moral law, however, does pertain to everyone, saved and unsaved, forever, not just with
    respect to its content but also in relationship to the authority of God, the Creator, who gave it.
    In the gospel Christ does not in any way remove this obligation, but rather strengthens it

    6. Although true believers are not justified or condemned by the law as a covenant of works,10 the
    law is nevertheless very useful to them and to others. As a rule of life, it informs them of God’s
    will and of their obligation to obey it. It also reveals to them the sinful pollution of their
    nature, hearts, and lives, so that, examining themselves from its point of view, they may
    become more convinced of the presence of sin in them, more humiliated on account of that sin,
    and hate sin the more. Thus they gain a better awareness of their need for Christ and for the
    perfection of his obedience. The prohibitions against sin in the law are also useful in
    restraining believers from pursuing the desires of their old nature, and the punishments for
    disobedience in the law show them what their sins deserve and what afflictions they may expect
    for them in this life, even though they have been freed from the curse threatened in the law.
    The promises of the law similarly show them that God approves obedience and that blessings
    may be expected for obedience, although not as their due from the law as a covenant of
    works. The fact that the law encourages doing good and discourages doing evil does not mean
    that a person who does good and refrains from evil is under the law and not under grace.

    7. None of these uses of the law is contrary to the grace of the gospel. They rather beautifully
    comply with it, because the Spirit of Christ subdues and enables the will of man to do
    voluntarily and cheerfully what the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done.

    Add to these our confession regarding sanctification and good works. It does not in all angles fit with how Irenaeus states his position as he is answering in his works a very different set of context regarding the Law and that God is one and the same with Old and New Covenant contra some heretics. But it does share his view regarding obedience to the Law and the duty of the Christians to fulfill it through love. Our doctrine of sanctification accounts for inner transformation.

    Our doctrine of Justification accounts also for the view that it was Christ’s Righteousness that reverses the verdict of God for the condemned. It is not a legal fiction as some suggested but real substitutionary activity in which God redeems us through the Obedience of Christ that is ours by faith not by works of righteousness (if one wants to dialogue with me on this point, I welcome it). Iraneaus also does not deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ in that what he accomplished is ours by faith (esp. His Obedience). He writes: “As a man caused the fall, so a man must cause the restoration. He must be a man able to sum up (recapitulare) all the human species in Himself, so as to bear the punishment of all, and to render an obedience that will compensate for their innumerable acts of disobedience.”

    Protestants does not choose an either or for the imputation of Christ’s rigteousness and the infusion of righteousness. These are twin doctrines that we have held for a long time. The Roman Catholic however has to deny the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and therefore for you, it is an either/or. The reformation can fully account for both perspective.

    Regards,
    Joey

  17. Joey,

    I agree that Reformed soteriology affirms a role for the law in sanctification, and recognizes an interior transformation. Quite so. The problem presented by St. Irenaeus, however, is that he does not draw the Protestant distinction between justification and sanctification. It isn’t just an absence; he describes justification as something that increases, through works done in agape. Nor does he conceive of justification as the extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness. Nor does he hold that justification can never be lost. He teaches justification by infusion of grace and agape: both an initial justification by infusion, and then growth in justification through works done in agape. He doesn’t teach that Christ’s obedience is imputed to us, as though God (who is Truth) could treat one person’s acts as having been carried out by another person. In short, he teaches a Catholic conception of justification.

    I also he agree that he teaches substitutionary atonement, but for St. Irenaeus, “bear the punishment of all” means bear the punishment of death, which we all now suffer, because of sin. He is not claiming that Christ bore the full punishment for each particular sin we have committed. So he doesn’t hold penal substitution in that sense. When he says ‘compensate,’ he means that Christ offered a more perfect sacrifice of love for us, that outweighs in its goodness all the evil of our sins, and so makes satisfaction. I have explained that in more detail in “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.” So on this point too St. Irenaeus holds a Catholic conception of the atonement.

    You wrote:

    Protestants does not choose an either or for the imputation of Christ’s rigteousness and the infusion of righteousness.

    But the Protestant conception of infusion makes it incapable of saving a person. That’s precisely when extra nos imputation must be added on, because the infusion always leave the person still damnable in the eyes of God, until after glorification at the moment of death. My point here, in this article, is that that notion is altogether foreign to St. Irenaeus. For St. Irenaeus, Christ makes us truly righteous now, in baptism, through the gift of infused agape. We’re not merely called righteous while still internally unclean. So what he presents is very much in agreement with the Catholic doctrine of justification. And from a Protestant point of view this raises the difficulty I describe in the last paragraph of my article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. Bryan,

    I don’t expect a full blown doctrine of justification and sanctification in St. Irenaeus writings. If I were to deman the same towards Roman Catholicism “justification” doctrine I think we would both find him unsatisfactorily stating all its concepts. I don’t demand from him that he would, in his discourse, discuss the distinction about sanctification and justification. To do so is anachronistic and will murder the whole context of Iranaeus’ discourse. I think, you should also note that you are merely equivocating terms here. You would like to say that Iraneaus is describing “justification” in the Roman Catholic understanding of it. I would say, Iraneaus statements fits “sanctification” in the Protestant understanding of it. I don’t even blink when I say, we believe that “righteousness” have degrees… Our confession says that in sanctification:

    “The power of sin ruling over the whole body is destroyed, and the desires of the old self are more and more weakened and killed. At the same time the ability to practice true holiness, without which no one will see the Lord, is brought to life and strengthened by all the saving graces.”

    Further,

    “Although the old nature temporarily wins battles in this warfare, the continual strengthening of
    the sanctifying Spirit of Christ enables the regenerate nature in each believer to overcome.9 And
    so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

    Thus, I can easily harmonize Irenaeus’ statements about righteousness (justificare – make righteous) under our concept of sanctification. It is sad to note that a convert of your caliber, does not understand soteriology of the reformers when you said: “We’re not merely called righteous while still internally unclean.” Perhaps this is just a poor choice of wordings. But just to remind you, when we are justified, we are also sanctified. Such sanctification is a process but nevertheless the sanctified exhibit a life of holiness or righteousness from the moment he receives that “new life”. In Calvin’s words,

    “Since faith embraces Christ, as offered to us by the Father – that is, since he is offered not only for righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and peace, but also for sanctification and the fountain of the water of life – without a doubt, no one can duly know him without at the same time apprehending the sanctification of the Spirit. Or, if anyone desires some plainer statement, faith rests upon the knowledge of Christ. And Christ cannot be known apart from the sanctification of his Spirit. It follows that faith can in no wise be separated from a devout disposition.”

    At another point, Calvin wrote:

    “For Christ washes us when he removes the guilt of our sins by his atoning sacrifice, that they may not come into judgment before God; and on the other hand he washes us when he takes away by his Spirit the wicked and sinful desires of the flesh.”

    And this also, Calvin wrote:

    “How this is done is easily explained, if we turn to Christ only, to whom our faith is directed and from whom it derives all its power. Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we apprehend the righteousness of Christ, which alone reconciles us to God. This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies. But as the question relates only to justification and sanctification, to them let us confine ourselves. Though we distinguish between them, they are both inseparably comprehended in Christ. Would ye then obtain justification in Christ? You must previously possess Christ. But you cannot possess him without being made a partaker of his sanctification: for Christ cannot be divided. Since the Lord, therefore, does not grant us the enjoyment of these blessings without bestowing himself, he bestows both at once but never the one without the other. Thus it appears how true it is that we are justified not without, and yet not by works, since in the participation of Christ, by which we are justified, is contained not less sanctification than justification.”

    In the perspective of justification, indeed our whole existense has been held guilty by the presence of sin (the transgression of God’s Law) and only Christ’s Righteousness for us can reverse that verdict. But in the perspective of sanctification, it is never true that we “remain unclean”. And since we receive both acts of God, it is myopic to say that, “We’re not merely called righteous while still internally unclean.” Indeed we are declared righteous in justification and made righteous in sanctification. We have no either/or concept unlike Romanism’s offer.

    I do not in any way intend to make Irenaeus a proto protestant. But on the subject of “fulfilling the Law through Love”, protestants can account for Ireneaus’ statement. Moreso, justification through the Righteousness of Christ is also present in it’s early form in Ireneaus’ statements such as:

    “And because in the first created Adam we were all chained and bound to death by his disobedience, it was necessary and fitting that by the obedience of the one who became man for us, death should be abolished.”

    Ireneaus also said:

    “And then again, this Word was manifested when the Word of God was made man, assimilating Himself to man, and man to Himself, so that by means of his resemblance to the Son, man might become precious to the Father. For in times long past, it was said that man was created after the image of God, but it was not shown, for the Word was as yet invisible, after whose image man was created. Wherefore also he did easily lose the similitude. When, however, the Word of God became flesh, He confirmed both these: for He both showed forth the image truly, since He became Himself what was His image; and He re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word. And not by the aforesaid things alone has the Lord manifested Himself, but also by means of His passion. For doing away with that disobedience of man which had taken place at the beginning by the occasion of a tree, “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8); rectifying that disobedience which had occurred by reason of a tree, through that obedience which was [accomplished] upon the tree [of the cross]. Now He would not have come to do away, by means of that same [image], the disobedience which had been incurred towards our Maker if He proclaimed another Father. But inasmuch as it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word, so was it also by these same that He brought in obedience and consent as respects His Word; by which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.”

    “And therefore in the last times the Lord has restored us into friendship through His incarnation, having become “the Mediator between God and men;”(I Tim. 2:5) propitiating indeed for us the Father against whom we had sinned, and cancelling (consolatus) our disobedience by His own obedience; conferring also upon us the gift of communion with, and subjection to, our Maker. For this reason also He has taught us to say in prayer, “And forgive us our debts;” (Matt. 5:12) since indeed He is our Father, whose debtors we were, having transgressed His commandments.”

    Finally,

    “For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, (Rom. 5:19) and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.”

    It is not necessary to read the exact words like “imputation”, “extra nos”, “alien righteousness” or “active obedience” to make sense that in some manner, Irenaeus believed that the Obedience of Christ (not ours, therefore alien) procured for us the acceptance of God and verdict of our disobedience. His connecting of the First Adam and the Second Adam –> their disobedience and obedience –> FOR the guilty man which effects the rejection and acceptance of God is clear. These explanations from Ireneaus we can fully account under our perspective of justification.

    Your claim that – “He [Ireneaus] is not claiming that Christ bore the full punishment for each particular sin we have committed. So he doesn’t hold penal substitution in that sense.” – remains a fallible interpretation of Ireneaus statement. You may have a problem of penal substition but some modern Roman Catholic converts have no problem penal substitution.

    “It seems impossible for God to solve the dilemma of justice versus mercy, but we know from the Gospel account how he does it. The problem is that he cannot, it seems, do both; he must either exact the just penalty for sin – death – or not. Mercy seems a relaxation of justice, and justice a refusal of mercy. Either you punish or you don’t. The laws of logic seem to prevent God from being both just and merciful at the same time… God solves this dilemma on Calvary. Full justice is done: sin is punished with the very punishment of hell itself – being forsaken of God (Mt 27:46). But mercy and forgiveness are also enacted. The trick is to give us the mercy and him the justice” (Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, p. 127).

    In conclusion, Irenaeus is not protetant. To label him such is to engage in anachronism. Is he a modern roman catholic where he believes in the full doctrine of indulgences, purgatory and the sacramentalism of Romanism to gain salvation? I think we know the answer to that question. There may be some points where I disagree with Irenaeus especially with his handling of exegesis of some biblical text, but the concepts he presents above is not disagreeable to me given our twin doctrines of justification and sanctification.

    By the way, Is there an official statement from you Magisterium condemning the theory of penal substition?

    Regards,
    Joey

  19. Joey, (re: #18)

    You wrote:

    I don’t expect a full blown doctrine of justification and sanctification in St. Irenaeus writings.

    The problem I’m pointing out, as I explained in my previous comment and in the article, has nothing to do with development, because St. Irenaeaus’s doctrine of justification is already contrary to the Protestant conception of justification.

    I don’t demand from him that he would, in his discourse, discuss the distinction about sanctification and justification.

    Again, the problem is not in what he does not say, but in what he does say.

    I think, you should also note that you are merely equivocating terms here. You would like to say that Iraneaus is describing “justification” in the Roman Catholic understanding of it.

    It is not what “[I] would like to say.” It is what St. Irenaeus himself says about justification, as I explained in the article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. Bryan,

    Thanks for the conversation. But our doctrine of justification and sanctification can agree with Irenaeus as explained above. We don’t need to choose between infused righteousness and imputed righteousness as your Romanist doctrine demand. We don’t see direct statements from Ireneaus stating that the ground or basis of our acceptance with God as righteous having transgressed the law is our own inherent righteousness gained through the 7 sacraments. That is merely inferred and imposed on the text. While protestant soteriology affirms that we are made righteous by our following and obeying the law in love in the process we call sanctification but also recognize that only the obedience of Christ in our behalf can reverse the verdict of the fall in justification by faith by it’s substitutionary nature. Both concepts are present in Ireneaus thus the protetant soteriology has greater explanatory power than what your article claims to portray.

    Regards,
    Joey

  21. Joey, (re: #20)

    You wrote:

    But our doctrine of justification and sanctification can agree with Irenaeus as explained above.

    St. Irenaeus says, “And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified.” But such a notion is incompatible with Protestant doctrine. And elsewhere he says, “He [God] exhorts and advises them to those things by which man is justified and draws near to God.” Again, the notion that man can do something to be justified before God is incompatible with Protestant soteriology.

    We don’t need to choose between infused righteousness and imputed righteousness as your Romanist doctrine demand.

    You do need to choose which of them is the basis of justification. Protestantism makes justification based on extra nos imputation, not infused agape. But St. Irenaeus makes justification depend on infused agape.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  22. Hello Mateo (post 14),

    You said:
    “I believe that it is wrong to say that Lutherans and Episcopalians learned from the founders of their religion the doctrine that willfully committing a venial sins entails the consequence of ceasing to be saved.”

    I apologize for being unclear. The leading English and Lutheran Reformers would definitely say that only mortal sin causes the loss of Salvation (otherwise, it wouldn’t be mortal).

    [Of course, as I noted in post 7 of the Calvin and Mortal/Venial Sin thread–although Luther affirmed that certain sins/states of sin caused the loss of Salvation (and thus are mortal) while others didn’t (and thus are venial)–he did not like to use the terms “mortal” and “venial” sin because of the Scriptural truth that all sins (venial and mortal) are against an infinite God and thus incur an infinite debt that can only be paid by the Blood of Christ.]

    As for the fact that all those who follow Christ still sin:

    Catholic Catechism (quoting St. Augustine):

    While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a8.htm

    The above quote was taken from St. Augustine’s Homily 1 on the Epistle of John:

    6. For see what He says; If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Consequently, if you have confessed yourself a sinner, the truth is in you: for the Truth itself is light. Your life has not yet shone in perfect brightness, because there are sins in you; but yet you have already begun to be enlightened, because there is in you the confession of sins. For see what follows: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purge us from all iniquity. 1 John 1:9 Not only the past, but haply if we have contracted any from this life; because a man, so long as he bears the flesh, cannot but have some at any rate light sins. But these which we call light, do not make light of. If you make light of them when you weigh them, be afraid when you count them. Many light make one huge sin: many drops fill the river; many grains make the lump. And what hope is there? Before all, confession: lest any think himself righteous, and, before the eyes of God who sees that which is, man, that was not and is, lift up the neck.

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/170201.htm

    The whole discourse of St. Augustine in his work On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness addresses this issue. Here are a couple of excerpts:

    Chp 17
    “…For in Your sight shall no man living be justified (Psalm 143:3). The meaning of these words is plain enough, receiving as it does additional light from the preceding clause: Enter not, says the Psalmist, into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight shall no man living be justified. It is judgment which he fears, therefore he desires that mercy which triumphs over judgment. James 2:13 For the meaning of the prayer, Enter not into judgment with Your servant, is this: Judge me not according to Yourself, who art without sin; for in Your sight shall no man living be justified. This without doubt is understood as spoken of the present life, while the predicate shall not be justified has reference to that perfect state of righteousness which belongs not to this life.”

    Chp 21
    “He, moreover, who says that any man, after he has received remission of sins, has ever lived in this body, or still is living, so righteously as to have no sin at all, he contradicts the Apostle John, who declares that If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 Observe, the expression is not we had, but we have.”

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1504.htm

    There are many other passages where St. Augustine and the other Church Fathers likewise address this issue. [St. Augustine (unlike St. Chrysostom and other Church Fathers) makes exception to the rule that all Christians sin in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary]

    All of that said, I agree completely with you on the ability (and necessity) of the Christian to be truly victorious over sin in this life through God’s grace.

    God Bless,
    WA Scott

  23. Hello Bryan.

    You said
    “You do need to choose which of them is the basis of justification. Protestantism makes justification based on extra nos imputation, not infused agape. But St. Irenaeus makes justification depend on infused agape.”

    Exactly, St. Irenaeus uses the term “dikaioun” or “justified” according to its common patristic usage—namely, in reference to being “made righteous” or “sanctified” (in normal Protestant terminology), rather than simply applying it to the forensic aspect of Salvation (blotting out of guilt by the Blood). As noted above, the reformers themselves acknowledge such a usage of the term dikaioun (e.g. Calvin with Romans 6:7). [See quote from the ARCIC joint Roman Catholic/Anglican statement in post 7]

    Further, although different terms are used all parties agree:
    1. With the absolute necessity of forensic justification [clearing of guilt before the Throne through the covering of Christ’s Righteous Blood—so that we are reckoned as perfectly innocent/righteous apart from the true deserving of our works—again, as St. Augustine notes in his Retractions (Book 1, 19:3): “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”]
    2. With the absolute necessity of the “justification” of infused agape/sanctification.

    I likewise affirm that we are “dikaioun” or “justified” on the basis of infused agape when the term is being used in the broader sense that St. Irenaeus and the Church Fathers typically use it.

    God Bless,
    WA Scott

  24. Bryan 17

    The problem presented by St. Irenaeus, however, is that he does not draw the Protestant distinction between justification and sanctification. It isn’t just an absence; he describes justification as something that increases, through works done in agape. Nor does he conceive of justification as the extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness. Nor does he hold that justification can never be lost. He teaches justification by infusion of grace and agape: both an initial justification by infusion, and then growth in justification through works done in agape.

    As Joey has said there is no need for any Protestant to disagree with Irenaeus here. The fact that his understanding of justification is so thoroughly juridical in character agrees with Protestant tradition. You say, “he describes justification as something that increases.” But I don’t see this anywhere in any of the quotations from Irenaeus that you supplied. Could you point me to a place where Irenaeus says that justification is something that increases?

  25. From the article:

    But God, through Christ, has in the New Covenant granted to us “to know God the Father, and to love Him with the whole heart, and to follow His word unswervingly, while [we] abstain not only from evil deeds, but even from the desire after them.” No Protestant could say this. This is, according to Protestantism, precisely what Christ has not granted to us in this life, but only in the life to come.

    Again this is an unhelpful generalization. Many many Protestants can (and do!) say this.

  26. David (re: #25),

    If you are thinking of folks in the Wesleyan holiness tradition, then I grant you that; I should have made clear that here I’m speaking of Protestants in the tradition of the magisterial reformers. No Reformed Protestant claims that in the present life God has granted us the ability to love Him with the whole heart, to follow His word unswervingly, to abstain from evil deeds, and from the desire for evil deeds.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. Bryan 26,

    Well, yes, the Wesleyan holiness tradition certainly applies, but I think many of the magisterial reformers would also affirm that. If you read the quotations Joey supplied from Calvin (in comment 18) you will see that he speaks about the renovation of our desires. And I’m sure if you look up some Reformation-era commentaries on the love-command in the gospels, you will be surprised at what Protestants can say.

    There are real differences between Protestants and Catholics on justification. But 1) these differences are not already present at the time of Irenaeus (unless you can show me that he does indeed speak of an increase in justification); 2) these differences are often semantic (the catholic term for “justification” covers “justification” and “sanctification” in the Protestant sense, and a good deal of agreement is underneath the difference in semantic usage); 3) this is also historically evident by the near compromise at Regensburg in 1541.

  28. […] Thanks to Bryan Cross and Called to Communion for these quotations, and for a splendid exposition of justification in the thought of St. Irenaeus. […]

  29. Bryan,

    This is an excellent article.

    How do you respond to the common Protestant response that Irenaeus cannot be trusted regarding specific Apostolic teaching because he thought Christ was 50 years old when he died?

    Peace,
    John D.

  30. JohnD (re: #29)

    I’ve addressed that (very briefly) in comment #271 of the “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  31. Bryan (re:#30),

    In that comment, you said:

    We don’t just go by one claim. We follow the moral consensus of the Fathers.

    I agree that such consensus reveals the falsity of the claim that Jesus was 50 years old when He died. But, unfortunately, that seems to undermine Irenaeus’ credibility when it comes to handing on Tradition.

    The Protestant objection still goes through. If Irenaeus couldn’t get this basic point correct, then can we really believe that he knew the correct teaching on justification, learned John the Apostle, and got the list of Popes right?

    Peace,
    John D.

  32. JohnD (re: #31)

    A person’s credibility does not depend on his being infallible.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. John D & Bryan,

    Mark Bonocore wrote an interesting article about Irenaeus and his supposed belief that Jesus lived to be fifty years old.

    – Craig

  34. Craig (re:#33),

    Unfortunately, Bonocore’s article looks strained and unconvincing in light of James White’s response here: http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2005/01/13/more-in-response-to-mark-bonocore/

    The passage most convincing that Irenaus actually believed Jesus was much older than 33 is the following:

    But, besides this, those very Jews who then disputed with the Lord Jesus Christ have most clearly indicated the same thing. For when the Lord said to them, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad,’ they answered Him, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?’ Now, such language is fittingly applied to one who has already passed the age of forty, without having as yet reached his fiftieth year, yet is not far from this latter period. But to one who is only thirty years old it would unquestionably be said, ‘Thou art not yet forty years old.’…For it is altogether unreasonable to suppose that they were mistaken by twenty years, when they wished to prove Him younger than the times of Abraham.

    So, it seems the Protestant objection still stands that Irenaeus’ preservation of authentic apostolic teaching is flawed at the level of basic facts. So, the inference is warranted that he cannot be trusted to present an accurate list of popes, an apostolic understanding of justification, and other things.

    Peace,
    John D.

  35. JohnD (re: #34)

    So, it seems the Protestant objection still stands …

    Unless what I said in #32 is true.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  36. Bryan (re: #32)

    A person’s credibility does not depend on his being infallible.

    Agreed, but that doesn’t answer the objection.

    You say:

    Here we see how St. Irenaeus’s proximity to the Apostles informed his theology, because he understood himself to be the recipient of teaching handed down from the mouth of the Apostles, through men whom he know personally, who either knew the Apostles themselves, or knew men who knew the Apostles immediately. . .His proximity to the Apostles thus gives testimonial weight to his exposition of the gospel and his doctrine of justification.

    The objection is:

    (1) If a person really knew men who knew Apostles and remembered their teaching accurately, then he would not make an elementary blunder regarding the life of Jesus.
    (2) Irenaeus makes an elementary blunder regarding the life of Jesus.
    (3) It is not the case that Irenaeus really knew men who knew Apostles and remembered their teaching accurately. [From 1 and 2]
    So, it seems Irenaeus’ proximity to the Apostles does not yield that much testimonial weight after all.

    I’m just not sure how a Catholic ought to answer this charge.

    Peace,
    John D.

  37. JohnD (re: #36)

    Your calling it an “elementary blunder” begs the question. A person’s credibility regarding the Apostolic Tradition does not depend on being infallible about all the details of Christ’s life, including His age at death. But perhaps you’re not being adequately charitable in your interpretation of St. Irenaeus. He never says that Jesus was fifty when He died. If you look at what at what he actually says, you won’t find a statement that is false, unless you read into it what he does not say. He is making a theological argument, based on the fact that Jesus exceeded the age of thirty, against those who were claiming that Jesus was crucified at the age of thirty. But this does not entail that St. Irenaeus believed Jesus was not thirty-three when He died. Even if it is true that such language (i.e. “Thou art not yet fifty years old”) is fittingly applied to one who is already past the age of forty, it does not entail that St. Irenaeus believed that Jesus was actually older than forty if St. Irenaeus believed that (a) the Jews were not attempting to claim that Jesus was already in His forties, but were attempting to claim by way of an a fortiori argument that He was not even yet to *that* period, and (b) that the one who has exceeded the age of thirty already begins thereby to taste of older age, which is only manifested more fully as one advances from forty to fifty. So given that this more charitable reading is available, it would be uncharitable to presume unnecessarily that he was ignorant on this point. But again, even if he did believe that Jesus was older than forty, this does not discredit him as a patristic witness, nor does it make impossible a moral consensus of the Fathers regarding the Apostolic Tradition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  38. Bryan (re:#37),

    Thanks for the reply. I will revisit the full context of the statement and the more charitable reading you articulated. I would agree that if a more charitable reading is available, then we ought not to assume ignorance of basic facts.

    I never say such a blunder makes impossible a moral consensus of the Fathers regarding the Apostolic Tradition. But, I suppose we disagree about the extent to which the mistake would discredit Irenaeus’ testimony to Apostolic teaching. I guess it’s hard to really pinpoint the degree to which it would discredit him, but I think such a mistake makes it reasonable to question him on things that are not confirmed by other writers around his time.

    Peace,
    John D.

  39. There is another possible reading of Irenaeus’ text, in that he is not taking into account that fifty years was, for the jews at that time, a kind of milestone age. Therefore he is basically misreading the statement ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?’ as if the jews uttering it were thinking that Jesus’ age was actually close to fifty.

    Fidelity in the preservation of Apostolic Tradition does not entail infallibility in understanding idiomatic expressions of other cultures.

  40. Here is something else to consider regarding Irenaeus’ beliefs about the age Jesus attained. In Against Heresies 3.21.3 he wrote that “our Lord was born about the forty-first year of the reign of Augustus.” This would place the birth of Christ, according to Irenaeus, in 14 A.D.. While this year does not fall within the range commonly accepted, it is, nevertheless, interesting because of how Irenaeus dates the crucifixion. In The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 74 he writes that “Pontius Pilate, the governor of Claudius Caesar… condemned Him to be crucified.” Since Claudius ruled from 41 to 54 A.D. that would place the age of Jesus anywhere from 27 to 40 years old. Obviously the age of 33 years falls well within that range. So while all of Irenaeus’ historical details don’t exactly add up, there is, nevertheless, a simple way to reconcile Irenaeus’ beliefs regarding the age of Jesus with the scriptural data.

    Best regards,
    Craig

  41. Craig (re:#40),

    Thanks for your insight.

    So while all of Irenaeus’ historical details don’t exactly add up, there is, nevertheless, a simple way to reconcile Irenaeus’ beliefs regarding the age of Jesus with the scriptural data.

    I did have some trouble getting your links to work…

    Peace,
    John D.

  42. John Wesley teaches that we can “go on to perfection” in love in this life. Look at his sermons “On Christian Perfection” and “The Character of a Methodist.”

  43. Hi! Thank you for the well written article! I think you are mis-representing the Protestant view when you say:
    “Here too St. Irenaeus presents a very Catholic principle: He says that the more we have loved Him in this life, the more glory we shall receive from Him in heaven. This is not the Protestant notion that God loses glory if man receives glory, as if glory is a limited commodity. This is the Catholic principle that God is most glorified in His saints when His saints are made glorious through Him. As St. Irenaeus says in the following chapter, “we do participate in the glory of the Lord, who has both formed us, and prepared us for this, that, when we are with Him, we may partake of His glory.” (Against Heresies IV.14.1)”
    See Baptist Pastor John Piper’s works (desiringgod.org) where one of his primary themes is that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied (joyful, glorified) in Him” (along with Jonathan Edwards and he also gives credit to CS Lewis). I believe he would completely agree when you claim: “God is most glorified in His saints when His saints are made glorious through Him”. But I don’t think it is fair to say that idea is Catholic and not Protestant. Thank you again for your work! Kyle

  44. Hello Kyle, (re: #43)

    I’ve read Piper’s works, and his is still a zero-sum conception of glory in relation to soteriological causation. (A commonly used expression by early Protestants was Soli Deo gloria, i.e. to God alone be the glory, one of the five ‘solas’ of the Reformation.) I’ve discussed that conception of the relation of glory and causation in “The Gospel and the Paradox of Glory,” and again in “Trent and the Gospel: A Reply to Tim Challies.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. Hi Bryan,
    Thank you so much for the quick response. I will read your articles and look further into what your reply involves. I appreciate it much! Have a blessed weekend. Kyle

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