I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thoughts from Irenaeus on the Incarnation

It never fails. Tis the season to hear from every facet of the media, both local and national, attacks on the miraculous birth of our Savior and King. Inevitably, toward the end of most of the letters, columns, articles, or interviews, the author will make a vain attempt at consolation, concluding their drivel with Gnostic-like remarks about how one needn’t believe the reality and/or historicity of the event of the Incarnation to see the ‘real spiritual message and meaning.’
Hear this word from Irenaeus against the Gnostics of his day (...and ours as well):

“And, if one does not accept His birth from a virgin, how can he accept His resurrection from the dead? For it is no astonishing, nor marvelous or extraordinary thing if, without being born, He neither rose from the dead; moreover we cannot even speak of the resurrection of one who is unbegotten, since one who is unbegotten is also immortal, and one who has not undergone birth will neither undergo death—for one who has not had the beginning of a man, how is he able to assume his end? So, if He was not born, neither did he die; neither was He raised from the dead; and if he was not raised from the dead, death is not conquered nor its kingdom destroyed; and if death is not conquered, how are we to ascend to life, having fallen under death from the beginning?” (Demonstration on the Apostolic Preaching, 38—9)

Irenaeus got it right. For those who deny the time-space reality of the Incarnation, there is still a ‘real spiritual message and meaning’ left for us to hear, namely that we all remain “fallen under death from the beginning.”

So, as Christmas season rushes upon us, let us be all the more convinced of the hard, earthy realism of our most holy Faith, of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Who “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7—8); the eternal One, who “became flesh and dwelt among us,” and so became the Self-same historical One (Jn 1:14). And let us, “being armed with the invulnerable doctrines of the faith, do battle against him (the devil) on behalf of the weak” (Justin, On the Resurrection, 1, read in full here), following in the steps of the Master whose appearing was to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8)!

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