The Scandal of the Incarnation

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):


The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).


Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).


(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).


I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, Fathers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Scandal of the Incarnation

  1. cal says:

    2 thoughts:

    1) I’m not sure of your intention for the bottom list, but I look at them (particularly romanticism and idealism, even Hegel), and I appreciate what was accomplished. As you pointed out (and something I tentatively agree with) Hegel was heavily Hermetic. So I wonder if this is the field/grammar that Christians need to engage with and live among. Combating Hermeticism and evangelizing these fields. I’d rather live with modern German philosophy than the Platonic/Aristotelian Medieval metaphysics that justified the entire sacramental-church complex and the sick displays of Medieval royal and ecclesial tyranny.

    2) I’ve been reading some Sergei Bulgakov. An idea I had was whether or not it might better balance a “healthier” simplicity (not simplicity as a metaphysical equals sign (i.e. God’s Mind = God’s Justice = God’s Being) if ‘analogia entis’ was discarded for an ‘analogia sapientiae’ (in Bulgakov’s discussion of Sophia). The heavenly, uncreated ‘logoi’, are analogically connected to their Earthly instantiations (e.g. created light-uncreated light, earthly beauty-God’s beauty), but this does not link God’s Whatness to Human Whatness (in this regard, we don’t/can’t know and should be silent). God as ‘hyperousia’ is an apophatic attempt to defend the ‘beyondedness’, while at the same time we can say we know Who God is in His Revelation, a Revelation that is 100% linked between economic and immanent (no God behind God). Through the Son we know the Life of God amongst the Trinity, it being opened up to Mankind. This is full communion without collapsing the Infinity of God. So it’s analogy refined and reformed.

    I’d appreciate some thoughts and interactions if any of this makes any sense. This is all rough in my head. Any feedback would be helpful!

    2 cents,


    • JB Aitken says:

      1) I think there is some field in evangelizing Hermeticism/Occult. YOu have to be careful, though. It’s something I have to wat ch out for.

      2) Possibly. That’s an interesting field to explore.


  2. Pingback: Review: Nouvelle Theologie (Boersma) | Tractatus Logico-Geopoliticus

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