Its been a long time since I’ve done anything on my blog here, I’ve been fairly preoccupied since the Christmas season – which was when I made my last post. I’ve been on my own spiritual journey since then which has led me to look into the early Church Fathers, in search of understanding what the early Church looked like, how they worshiped, and how they articulated the faith. So far I’ve read the documents known as 1 & 2 Clement, the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas. These are known as the “Apostolic Fathers” and they come from the late first and early-mid second century. But they are not my focus today – as one could figure out by reading the title of this post.
After these writings I decided to make my way onto St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Under the advisement of my friend I’m currently reading the philosophy of Plato before tackling St. Justin: due to his background in Greek Philosophy readers of him will find it easier to grasp what he’s saying if they too are at least familiar with some Greek Philosophy. But along with my reading of Plato I decided I would read the short treatise called, “On the Apostolic Preaching” by St. Irenaeus of Lyons. It’s a fantastic little book, throughout which he makes a brief overview of the Old and New Testament and points out key OT passages that foreshadowed the life and events of Christ. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed his writing all the way through, but there was one little section near the beginning that struck my interest the most.
Part 1 is entitled, “Of God and Man”, and the first few articles are, “The faith received from the apostles”, “That God Himself created all by His Word and Wisdom”, “The three articles of the rule of faith and baptism”, “God as Creator and Father”, and “The world of angels”. Directly following are two articles entitled, “The fashioning of man”, and “Paradise, the world of man”. It’s these two passages that struck me the most in my reading of St. Irenaeus’ work, and I will republish now the contents of these two articles.
“The fashioning of man: But He fashioned man with His own hands, taking the purist, the finest and most delicate elements of the earth, mixing with the earth, in due measure, His own power; and because He sketched upon the handiwork His own form – in order that what would be seen should be godlike, for man was placed upon the earth fashioned in the image (Eikone) of God – and that he might be alive, “He breathed into His face a breath of life”: so that both according to the inspiration and according to the formation, man was like God. Accordingly, he was free and master of himself, having been made by God in this way, in order that he should rule over everything upon earth. And this great created world, prepared by God before the fashioning of man, was given to man as his domain, having everything in it. Also in this domain, in their tasks, were the servants of that God who fashioned everything, and the steward, who was placed over his fellow servants, kept this domain: the servants were angels, and the steward was an archangel.”
“Paradise, the world of man: Now having made the man lord of earth, and everything that is in it, He secretly appointed him as lord over those who were servants in it. But they, however, were in their full-development, while the lord, that is, the man, was very little, since he was an infant, and it was necessary for him to reach full-development in this way: and that his nourishment and growth might take place in luxury, a place prepared for him, better than this earth – excelling in air, beauty, light, food, plants, fruit, waters, and every other thing needful for life – and it’s name was Paradise. And so beautiful and good was the Paradise, that the Word of God was always walking in it: He would walk and talk with the man prefiguring the future, which would come to pass, that He would dwell with him and speak with him, and would be with mankind, teaching them righteousness. But the man was a young child, not yet having a perfect deliberation, and because of this he was easily deceived by the seducer.” (Bold emphasis mine)
What I find most compelling about St. Irenaeus’ thought is his presentation that the Paradisal man was in an infant state of understanding. This is contrasted with the modern (Protestant) presentation that Adam and Eve had perfect union with God – which I’m not disputing – hence they must have had perfect understanding as well, therefore the disobedience in the Garden was a tragic case of, “They should have known better!” I never had any problem with this presentation, until I actually thought about it. I began to wonder, “If Adam and Eve really had perfect understanding, full revelation of God, right away, how were they so easily deceived? How was the serpent able to convince them that in disobeying God’s command that they would ‘become like God’? Wouldn’t they immediately have known that only through obeying God – submitting our wills to Him – that we remain in union with Him?” “Wouldn’t they responded in a similar manner to how Jesus’ replies to Satan in the desert when Satan tells Jesus to worship him?” Questions like these began to stir in my mind, and even when I looked at our own biological development – how our minds grow and develop with maturity and experience – as well as the fact that in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Paul says, “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.” (NRSV). Paul is saying that these new Christians are infants in their faith. Though no doubt they had received baptism and have now been restored to communion with God through Christ, they are still infants. Is this infancy state a result of the fall? If Adam and Eve had perfect knowledge and had no need to grow and develop spiritually into deeper union with God, why must Christians? Why, at the moment of new birth, are they not imparted the full revelation of God? Now they have the Holy Spirit, and can actually enjoy deeper fellowship with God than Adam and Eve could, but yet they must still grow into it? You may have realized that at this point these questions are merely rhetorical, because I have come to believe that indeed Adam and Eve were indeed in a state of infancy where if they had not suffered the fall they would have continued to grow and deepen their fellowship with God. One last thing I wish to say in the defense of St. Irenaeus is that he himself was a disciple of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John. When one reads the early Church Fathers one immediately notices how hard the Fathers have to work to maintain and hold onto the Apostolic teaching – for heresies were springing forth left, right, and center. If there was anything that any of the Fathers said that would be deemed heretical, it would have been dealt with and brought to inspection. One example is in the third century writer Origen of Alexandria. For the most part his writings were accepted to be right teaching (orthodox) but his doctrine of the preexistence of souls and the ultimate universal salvation of all was dealt with in a later council and deemed heretical. In the case of Irenaeus, I am content with accepting his presentation, because the Fathers were very careful that they were not drifting away from the faith and tradition that had been handed down to them, and seeing how close he is to an Apostle I don’t find it likely that – in less in ignorance or in deliberate drifting – that he would propose such a thing if he did not have faith in it’s orthodoxy.
This concept is wonderfully drawn out in fictional terms by C. S. Lewis is the second installment of his Space Trilogy, “Perelandra.”
The story begins with Dr. Ransom travelling to the planet Venus and upon arrival he finds that the planet is mostly ocean, and that the land is not solidly fixed and held together; rather the land is like floating islands and the ground itself conforms to the movement of the water. Eventually his island begins to float near to another island, and he see’s what looks to be a human like form standing on the oncoming island. As he gets closer he realizes that it’s a woman. There’s a brief moment where he tries to communicate with her, but he notices that upon seeing him she has a look of almost disappointment on her face, but upon further inspection she begins to laugh hysterically. The islands float away and he goes to sleep. The next day he awakes and sees that the islands are near each other again and he is able to enter into a dialogue with the woman,
‘I was young yesterday.’ She said. ‘When I laughed at you. Now I know that the people in your world do not like to be laughed at.’
‘You say you were young?’
‘Are you not young today also?’
She appeared to be thinking for a few moments, so intently that the flowers dropped, unregarded, from her hand.’
‘I see it now,’ she said presently. ‘It is very strange to say one is young at the moment one is speaking. But tomorrow I shall be older. And then I shall say I was young today.You are quite right. This is great wisdom you are bringing, O Piebald Man.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘This looking backward and forward along the line and seeing how a day has one appearance as it comes to you, and another when you are in it, and a third when it has gone past. Like the waves.’
‘But you are very little older than yesterday.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I mean,’ said Ransom, ‘a night is not a very long time.’
She thought again, and then spoke suddenly, her face lightening.
‘I see it now,’ she said. ‘You think time has lengths. A night is always a night whatever you do in it, as from this tree to that is always so many paces whether you take them quickly or slowly. I suppose that this is true in a way. But the waves do not always come at equal distances. I see that you come from a wise world … if this is wise. I have never done it before – stepping out of life into the Alongside and looking at oneself living as if one were not alive. Do they all do this in your world, Piebald?’
The dialogue continues for some time until throughout the exchange Ransom comes to learn that there are only two other people on Perelandra – other than himself – this woman, and the king – who himself is on a different island and the woman does not know where he is. These are the Adam and Eve of Venus, and it is to ‘Eve’ that he is speaking to. They continue to address one another until the come to the topic of death.
‘You could never understand, Lady,’ he replied. ‘But in our world not all events are pleasing or welcome. There may be such a thing that you could cut off both your arms and your legs to prevent it happening – and yet it happens: with us.’
‘But how can one wish any of those waves not to reach us which Maleldil is rolling towards us?’
Against his better judgement Ransom found himself goaded into argument.
‘But even you,’ he said, ‘when you first saw me, I know now you were expecting and hoping that I was the King. When you found I was not, your face changed. Was that event not unwelcome? Did you not wish it to be otherwise?’
‘Oh,’ said the Lady. She turned aside with her head bowed and her hands clasped in an intensity of thought. She looked up and said, ‘You make me grow older more quickly than I can bear,’ and walked a little farther off. Ransom wondered what he had done. It was suddenly borne in upon him that her purity and peace were not, as they had seemed, things settled and inevitable like the purity and peace of an animal – that they were alive and therefore breakable, a balance maintained by a mind and therefore, at least in theory, able to be lost. (Bold emphasis mine.)
Lewis wonderfully paints out an encounter that in it’s essence is strikingly similar to the presentation given by St. Irenaeus in regards to the infancy of the Edenic Man. One does not know whether Lewis ever read Irenaeus – we are aware that he read ‘On the Incarnation’ by St. Athanasius, as well as some writings from Pseudo-Dionysus – but none the less, I found the similarities interesting, and to anyone – if anyone – who reads, I hope you do as well.