The Lord Jesus said: “‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’
Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?'” (John 14:21-22)
St Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384AD) offers an answer to the Apostle Judas‘ question as to how it is that God’s manifestation may be seen only by some when “objectively” the event should be visible to everyone.
“…True doctrine conforms to the dispositions of those receiving the word, for although the word presents to all equally what is good and bad, the one who is favorably disposed to what is presented has his understanding enlightened, but the darkness of ignorance remains with the one who is obstinately disposed and does not permit his soul to behold the ray of truth….
In keeping with this insight of mine, consider the air which is darkened to the Egyptians’ eyes by the rod [Exodus 10:21-29], while to the Hebrews’ it is illuminated by the sun. By this incident the meaning which we have given is confirmed. It was not some constraining power from above that caused the one to be found in darkness and the other in light, but we men have in ourselves, in our own nature and by our own choice, the causes of light or of darkness, since we place ourselves in whichever sphere we wish to be.
According to the history, the eyes of the Egyptians were not in darkness because some wall or mountain darkened their view and shadowed the rays, but the sun cast its rays upon all equally. Whereas the Hebrews delighted in its light, the Egyptians were insensitive to its gift. In a similar manner the enlightened life is proposed to all equally according to their ability. Some continue on in darkness, driven by their evil pursuits to the darkness of wickedness. while others are made radiant by the light of virtue.” (The Life of Moses, p. 69, 72-73)
St Gregory’s answer is based in a clear idea of synergy – God’s revelation, God’s manifestation requires also observers who prepared/open to receive what God reveals. God does not even impose His revelation on humanity. Our inner disposition toward God will determine what we experience of God in our life. Almost 200 years before Gregory of Nyssa’s writing, St Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) offered a very similar idea:
“In respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, no man shall see God and live (Exodus 33:20), for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict. For those things that are impossible with men, are possible with God (Luke 18:27). For man does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is seen by men, by whom He wills, and when He wills, and as He wills. For God is powerful in all things, having been seen at that time indeed, prophetically through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and He shall also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the Father, too, confers [upon him] incorruption for eternal life, which comes to everyone from the fact of his seeing God.
For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor. But [His] splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life. And for this reason, He, [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith. For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see Him. It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy His goodness.” (ADV. HAERESES 4.20.5)
And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
“St. Irenaeus (second century) interprets “that the works of God may be manifest in him” (John 9:3) as a direct reference to the continuing work of God as Creator of the human person:
‘Now the work of God is the fashioning of man. For, as the Scripture says, He made [man] by a kind of process: “And the Lord took clay from the earth, and formed man.” (Genesis 2:7) Wherefore also the Lord spat on the ground and made clay, and smeared it upon the eyes, pointing out the original fashioning [of man], how it was effected, and manifesting the hand of God to those who can understand by what [hand] man was formed out of the dust. For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb [viz., the blind man’s eyes], He then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not be seeking out another hand by which man was fashioned, nor another Father; knowing that this hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life…
As, therefore, we are by the Word formed in the womb, this very same Word formed the visual power in him who had been blind from his birth; showing openly who it is that fashions us in secret, since the Word Himself had been made manifest to men: and declaring the original formation of Adam, and the manner in which he was created, and by what hand he was fashioned, indicating the whole from a part. For the Lord who formed the visual powers is He who made the whole man, carrying out the will of the Father.'”
And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer commenting on the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons notes that the spirituality of the early church was one of participating in God. To know God is to experience God and be united to the divine.
“We should note, in the above text from the Demonstratio, the use of the expression ‘to see the Logos of God’. For St. Irenaeus not only made his own the special expressions of Johannine mysticism, but assimilated them in a very personal way, as this other beautiful text indicates:
‘In His wonderful greatness and glory, “no man can see God and live”, for the Father is incomprehensible; but in His love and His humanity, and because He can do all things, He has granted even this to those who love Him: to see God, as the prophets foretold it. For “what is impossible to men is possible to God”. Of himself, indeed, man cannot see God. But He, when He wills it, is seen by men, by those He wills, when He wills it and how He wills it. For God has power to do anything: seen in a prophetic way through the Spirit, He is seen through the Son, adoptively, and He will be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven–the Spirit preparing man for the Son of God, the Son leading him to the Father, and the Father giving him incorruptibility for eternal life, which comes to each one from the fact that he sees God.’
In the same spirit of Johannine mysticism, Irenaeus has us go on from the vision of God to the divine life that is communicated:
‘Just as those who see the light are in the light and share in its splendour, so those who see God are in God, participating in His splendour. But the splendour gives them life: thus they participate in life, those who see God. And it is because of this that He who is incomprehensible and intangible and invisible gives Himself to be seen, to be understood, to be grasped, so as to give life to those who grasp and see Him by faith. For, just as His greatness is unfathomable, so His goodness is ineffable, the goodness by which, being seen, He gives life to those who see Him. Since to live without life is impossible, the possibility (huparxis) of life comes from participation in God, and participation in God is to know Him and to enjoy His goodness. Thus men see God in such a way that they live, made immortal by the sight and truly attaining God.'”
“It is important to note that, in accordance with Irenaeus’s general understanding of the human person, the focus of Christ’s work is located in the flesh: it is in the flesh that Christ suffered, and through it that he reconciled the flesh which was in bondage, bringing it into union with God. Nevertheless, the work of redemption is solely the work of God, the incarnate Son, throughout:
‘The Lord has redeemed us through his own blood, giving his soul for our soul, his flesh for our flesh, and has poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and men, bringing God down to men through the Spirit, and lifting man up to God through his incarnation, and by his granting to us incorruptibility, firmly and truly, through communion with him.’ (AH 5.1.1)
Again, it is God, who in man, by himself becoming man, accomplishes the economy.
‘…That the manner of Christ’s incarnation preserved the manner of Adam’s formation is due both to the fact that Adam was a type of Christ and to the need for Christ’s flesh to be that of Adam, if he is to recapitulate all in himself, so becoming the head of all those whose ‘head’ had been Adam.'”
Fr. John Behr notes that St Irenaeus of Lyons sees in the healing of the man born blind (John 9), Christ by whom all things were made, bringing to completion that which was lacking in this creature – his eyes were unformed. Jesus shows Himself to be the Creator in giving sight to the blind man by recreating His eyes.
“That this is indeed the work of God is shown, for Irenaeus, by the manner in which Christ healed the man blind from birth (John 9). It was not merely by a word that he was healed, but ‘by an outward action, doing this not without purpose or by chance, but that he might show forth the Hand of God that had at the beginning moulded the human being’ (haer. 5.15.2). So, just as ‘the Lord took mud from the earth and formed the human being’ (Gen. 2:7), Christ spat on the ground and made mud, smeared it upon his eyes, ‘pointing out the original fashioning, how it was effected, and manifesting the Hand of God to those who can understand by what [Hand] the human being was formed out of the dust’ (haer. 5.15.2). As, in Christ’s words, the man was born blind not because of his own sin or that of his parents, ‘but that the works of God should be manifest in him’ (John 9:3), so Irenaeus sets this particular work within the intentionality of the economy as a whole:
‘For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, he then supplied in public that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not seek out another hand by which the human being is fashioned, nor another Father, knowing that this Hand of God which formed us in the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning us back to his own, and taking up the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and with joy, restoring it to the fold of life. (haer. 5.15.2; cf. Luke 19:10, 15:4-6).’
Some may wonder whether the entire event of ancestral sin and the Fall of Adam and Eve was even necessary. Was the incarnation of the Word really needed for out salvation? Couldn’t God have made humans perfect from the beginning and thus eliminated the need for His Son being crucified? Such questions have existed from the earliest days of Christianity. St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d. 202AD) wrote:
“ ‘Could not God make people perfect right at the beginning?’ someone may ask. Take the example of a very small child. The mother can give her baby grown up food, but the baby is still unable to take adult nourishment. Similarly, God could have given humanity perfection right at the beginning, but humanity could not have received it because it was only a child.
For that reason Our Lord, who sums up all things in himself, when he came on earth in these last days, came not in the full glory which he could have done, but in a form we could see. Certainly, he could have come in his imperishable glory, but we should not have been able to bear the greatness of his majesty. Therefore, like giving milk to infants, the perfect Bread of the Father revealed himself to us on earth in human form, so that we might be nourished by His Word like babes at the breast and so by degrees become strong enough to digest the Word of God.” (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, p 28)
Central to the teachings of Christ is that Moses and the Prophets wrote about Him. We have already encountered this in several of the blog posts in this series.
Jesus said: “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5: 39-47)
In this post, we will look at several quotes from St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) and how he applied Christ’s own words to the Scriptures.
“For if ye had believed Moses, ye would also have believed Me; for he wrote of Me;“(John 5:46) [saying this,] no doubt, because the Son of God is implanted everywhere throughout his writings: at one time, indeed, speaking with Abraham, when about to eat with him; at another time with Noah, giving to him the dimensions [of the ark]; at another; inquiring after Adam; at another, bringing down judgment upon the Sodomites; and again, when He becomes visible, and directs Jacob on his journey, and speaks with Moses from the bush. And it would be endless to recount [the occasions] upon which the Son of God is shown forth by Moses. Of the day of His passion, too, he was not ignorant; but foretold Him, after a figurative manner, by the name given to the passover; and at that very festival, which had been proclaimed such a long time previously by Moses, did our Lord suffer, thus fulfilling the passover.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 5535-41)
In the above quote, St. Irenaeus shows that in the 2nd Century Christians believed that the anthropomorphic appearances of God in the Old Testament were actually appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ. It is the Son of God who speaks to Moses from the burning bush and in every occurrence in which Moses spoke with God face to face as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11). Christ is thus hidden from us in each manifestation of God in the Old Testament if we read the Jewish Scriptures with no knowledge of the Holy Trinity. But in Christ we see in these Old Testament theophanies that Christ is appearing to the saints of the people of God. In Christ we come to realize what these holy men and women are seeing when they encounter God. The authors of the Old Testament books themselves did not fully understand what they were witnessing, but still they reported these anthropomorphic experiences. In Christ we understand more fully what they were encountering yet couldn’t fully describe. That is why the Old Testament theophanies are not able to fully explain that it was the Word of God who they encountered. Once the incarnation occurs in Christ, we are able to see Christ the Word in the Old Testament texts.
“But since the writings (litera) of Moses are the words of Christ, He does Himself declare to the Jews, as John has recorded in the Gospel: “If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, neither will ye believe My words.” He thus indicates in the clearest manner that the writings of Moses are His words. If, then, [this be the case with regard] to Moses, so also, beyond a doubt, the words of the other prophets are His [words], as I have pointed out. And again, the Lord Himself exhibits Abraham as having said to the rich man, with reference to all those who were still alive: “If they do not obey Moses and the prophets, neither, if any one were to rise from the dead and go to them, will they believe him.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. Loc. 5203-8)
Not only did Moses and the prophets encounter Christ the Word of God, it is Christ the Word who speaks to them and gives them the words which they record in the Scriptures. Moses and all the prophets were telling us what they heard from Christ, so that when we encounter these same words, phrases, ideas, and metaphors in the New Testament we recognize Christ in the Old Testament. Scholars speak about the New Testament being filled with echoes of Old Testament ideas and phrases – this is because in fact the Old Testament authors were hearing Christ and recording what He said. It is the Old Testament authors who are actually echoing the New Testament!
And teaching this very thing, He said to the Jews: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he should see my day; and he saw it, and was glad” What is intended? “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.” In the first place, [he believed] that He was the maker of heaven and earth, the only God; and in the next place, that He would make his seed as the stars of heaven. This is what is meant by Paul, [when he says,] “as lights in the world.” Righteously, therefore, having left his earthly kindred, he followed the Word of God, walking as a pilgrim with the Word, that he might [afterwards] have his abode with the Word. Righteously also the apostles, being of the race of Abraham, left the ship and their father, and followed the Word. Righteously also do we, possessing the same faith as Abraham, and taking up the cross as Isaac did the wood? follow Him. For in Abraham man had learned beforehand, and had been accustomed to follow the Word of God. For Abraham, according to his faith, followed the command of the Word of God, and with a ready mind delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only- begotten and beloved son, in order that God also might be pleased to offer up for all his seed His own beloved and only-begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our redemption. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 5320-29)
Every encounter with the Word of God by the holy men and women of the Old Testament is thus an encounter with Christ. And each encounter with Christ is also a revelation of God the Father, even as Jesus said: “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (John 14:9-10). Each theophany in the Old Testament was thus really an encounter with the pre-incarnate Word of God, but each encounter also revealed the Father to all. For Christ is the image of the Father. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).
Fr. St. Irenaeus, Christ is now obvious in the Old Testament texts. He reads the Torah (Pentateuch) as a typology and preparation for the coming of Jesus the Christ. Joshua, the protégé of Moses, shares the same name as Jesus in the Old Testament. Thus everything Joshua does prefigures Christ and is thus prophecy.
“Take unto you Joshua (᾿Ιησοῦν) the son of Nun.” (Numbers 27:18) For it was proper that Moses should lead the people out of Egypt, but that Jesus (Joshua) should lead them into the inheritance. Also that Moses, as was the case with the law, should cease to be, but that Joshua (᾿Ιησοῦν), as the word, and no untrue type of the Word made flesh (ἐνυποστάτου), should be a preacher to the people. Then again, [it was fit] that Moses should give manna as food to the fathers, but Joshua wheat; as the first-fruits of life, a type of the body of Christ, as also the Scripture declares that the manna of the Lord ceased when the people had eaten wheat from the land.(Joshua 5:12)” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 9079-89)
The books of the Old Testament clearly witness to Christ, but do so by hiding Christ in the very text which records the events of the Old Testament as well as in the events and people of the Tanahk. Jesus Christ has fully revealed the meaning of the Old Testament. His image, found on every page of the Scriptures, is now obvious to all of those who are in Christ.
“For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is to men [full of] enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. And for this reason, indeed, when at this present time the law is read to the Jews, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature; but when it is read by the Christians, it is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God and declaring His dispensations with regard to man, and forming the kingdom of Christ beforehand… ” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 6354-59)
For the 6th Sunday after Pascha, we proclaim the Gospel lesson from John 9:1-38, Christ’s healing the blind man using clay He made with spittle.
The Gospel lesson opens with these words:
As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
From the early days of Christianity this miraculous sign of the blind man was understood to represent the defectiveness of the world of the Fall. He is blind from birth as his eyes have not formed. What Christ does in making the clay and anointing the blind man’s eyes is to complete the creative act, thus making the man whole. Christ was believed in the early Church to have been the creator of the first human in Genesis 2. It was the pre-incarnate Christ who formed Adam from the dirt of the earth. Christ again in John 9 takes dirt from the earth to heal, to make whole, the blind human whose creation was incomplete. As Christ notes, the issue here is not sin, but rather that the glory of God might be made known in him. This is not just about the Fall, it is about the restoration of creation. Really, this Gospel lesson seems to reject the notion that “original sin” can explain the reason for all illness and deformity in humans. It is only the leaders of the synagogue who cast the healed man out of the synagogue who hold to an idea of “original sin” and see this healed man as being totally depraved!
Christ has the man wash in the pool of Siloam to show how the waters of baptism make us whole again, giving us the eyes to see the truth about God.
“Christ healed the man blind from birth (John 9). It was not merely by a word that he was healed, but ‘by an outward action, doing this not without purpose or by chance, but that he might show forth the Hand of God that had at the beginning moulded the human being’ (haer. 5.15.2). So, just as ‘the Lord took mud from the earth and formed the human being’ (Gen. 2:7), Christ spat on the ground and made mud, smeared it upon his eyes, ‘pointing out the original fashioning, how it was effected, and manifesting the Hand of God to those who can understand by what [Hand] the human being was formed out of the dust’ (haer. 5.15.2). As, in Christ’s words, the man was born blind not because of his own sin or that of his parents, ‘but that the works of God should be manifest in him’ (John 9:3), so Irenaeus sets this particular work within the intentionality of the economy as a whole: For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, he then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not seek out another hand by which the human being is fashioned, nor another Father, knowing that this Hand of God which formed us in the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back his own, and taking up the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life. (haer. 5.15.2; cf. Luke 19:10, 15:4-6).” (Irenaues of Lyons: Identifying Christianity, pp 162-163)
The tradition of Jews and Christians (and also later of Muslims) is that God is the creator of both the material and spiritual world. Angels as well as humans are both part of the same created order. The traditions of these three major religions give an account for how Satan came into existence – he was an angel who rebelled against God, and then led a rebellion of other angels. Satan is not a creator and can not bring demons into existence. Satan is not Sauron of the Rings Trilogy who can summon into existence orks and goblins nor is Satan a wizard Saruman . Satan is not an evil god or God’s opposite and equal. Satan is a creature belonging to the created order and subject to God’s grace and power.
The theology of Scripture, at least for Christians, says God had a wish for His human creatures, who also failed Him and rebelled against God. God wanted the material world and spiritual world to be united and so God became human so that humans might share in the divine life. The centrality of God’s plan for humanity is in the Quran and other related traditions the very cause of the rebellion of Satan and the other demons. They cannot accept that God ranks the humans above the angels. Fr. John Behr describes St. Irenaeus of Lyons‘ understanding of God’s plan and love for humans.
“A further point of interest is that man, although made to be the lord of the earth, was, according to Irenaeus, but newly created, and so appeared as a child in a world specially prepared for his nourishment and growth. The angels were also appointed to be the servants of man.”
The angels are not the focus of creation, but humans are. Angels are created to serve God and to serve humans. This fact, according to some traditions explaining the existence of Satan, is precisely what these rebellious angels could not abide. These rebellious angels refuse to serve or kowtow to mere humans. Additionally, as Irenaeus points out, the first humans were created as children, while the angels were created as fully developed. This is a reason why Satan so resented being asked to serve an immature being.
“But as they [the angels] are eternal, and thus not subject to change or growth within the temporal unfolding of sensible creation, they were already fully developed. The infant man was thus ‘secretly’ established as their lord. Neither in protology nor in eschatology does Irenaeus ever characterize or assimilate man or human life to the angelic: it is man, and the becoming fully human in communion with God in Christ, that is the center of the divine economy and of Irenaeus’s theology.” (John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement, p 43)
The goal of the human life is not to become angels – the angels were created to serve us. The goal of the spiritual life for Orthodox Christians is to become fully human – to become fully realized material beings. There is no dualism in Christian thinking opposing the material to the physical or portraying the spiritual as good and the material world as evil. In fact, Satan and demons belong totally to the spiritual world, not to the physical world. Being totally a spiritual being does not automatically make one good! Our goal is not to become “angelic”, rather it is to be fully in communion with Christ our God.
As our Scriptures teach:
For to what angel did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Of the angels he says, “Who makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your comrades.” And, “You, Lord, did found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle you wilt roll them up, and they will be changed. But you art the same, and your years will never end.” But to what angel has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies a stool for your feet”? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation? (Hebrews 1:5-14)