Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Marcionite Likeness of God

Over the last few days I have attempted to put the beginnings to a new book out at my blog.  I am very thankful that I decided to do this because it led to some valuable feedback from readers.  Over the next few weeks I am actually going to start working on the individual chapters with the raw data I have accumulated and posted here this month.  The place this is all leading of course is Clement's jarring interpretation of Genesis 1:26 LXX - namely that man was created in the beginning 'after the image' and only later, with the coming of Jesus, 'after the likeness.'

As I have noted in previous posts this idea is still at the core of the Greek Orthodox tradition (albeit in a refashioned form).  The transition was in no small part assisted by a late reference in Irenaeus which seems to take Clement's understanding and - as is typical in Irenaeus's theology - 'straightens' what Irenaeus sees as its original heretical implications.  It was Andrew Criddle who pointed out this passage to me at an internet discussion group and I am truly thankful for his input.  The passage in full reads:

Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modelled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God. For this reason does the apostle declare, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect," terming those persons "perfect" who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms "spiritual," they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual. For if any one take away the substance of flesh, that is, of the handiwork [of God], and understand that which is purely spiritual, such then would not be a spiritual man but would be the spirit of a man, or the Spirit of God. But when the spirit here blended with the soul is united to [God's] handiwork, the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God. But if the Spirit be wanting to the soul, he who is such is indeed of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image [of God] in his formation (in plasmate), but not receiving the similitude through the Spirit; and thus is this being imperfect. Thus also, if any one take away the image and set aside the handiwork, he cannot then understand this as being a man, but as either some part of a man, as I have already said, or as something else than a man. For that flesh which has been moulded is not a perfect man in itself, but the body of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man. And for this cause does the apostle, explaining himself, make it clear that the saved man is a complete man as well as a spiritual man; saying thus in the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, "Now the God of peace sanctify you perfect (perfectos); and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved whole without complaint to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." Now what was his object in praying that these three-that is, soul, body, and spirit-might be preserved to the coming of the Lord, unless he was aware of the [future] reintegration and union of the three, and [that they should be heirs of] one and the same salvation? For this cause also he declares that those are "the perfect" who present unto the Lord the three [component parts] without offence. Those, then, are the perfect who have had the Spirit of God remaining in them, and have preserved their souls and bodies blameless, holding fast the faith of God, that is, that faith which is [directed] towards God, and maintaining righteous dealings with respect to their neighbours. [Against Heresies 5.6]

This is a very important discussion.  It appears in Book Five of Against Heresies which means (if the standard understanding of Irenaeus's progressive composition of this book) that it was likely written as late as the early third century.  It certainly derives from a supernatural understanding of Jesus's ministry.  In other words, it is impossible to square the notion of Jesus's 'likeness' having magical qualities with a human being.

I think this passage is of extraordinary significance because it shows not only Irenaeus's tendency to adopt and 'correct' Alexandrian notions but moreover how important the supernatural Jesus is in early Christianity. There is this incredibly stupid notion that gets promoted by modern (Protestant) scholarship that there was this 'ideal form' of Christianity which simply took Jesus to be a 'great man' and then - at least implicitly (but these men are never honest enough to actually formulate the rest) - this became 'corrupted' by those promoting the 'Jesus as God' idea.  The reality is actually the other way around.

The historical Jesus is unimportant for the development of Christianity.  The religion is actually grounded in the divine nature of Jesus, that his being or substance can transform our being and substance through the Eucharist.  This is why Irenaeus is so careful here to 'correct' what must have been the original heretical (= Marcionite) understanding that the perfect man is no longer of flesh or soul.  Irenaeus can see that this implicitly makes these substances 'of the Creator' and the spirit (or perhaps more originally neshama = נשמה)  from the true heavenly being at the heart of Christianity (= Yeshu).

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