Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flattery and Lies in the Early Church [Part Seven]


It is also interesting to note that Brent completely missed the Irenaeus reference to God and Adam assuming the title ‘the lord of the world’ – perhaps because the work only survives in Armenian. Whatever the case may be it is a critical citation because it demonstrates it shows the manner in which the concept of cosmocrator entered the Christian liturgy. According to Irenaeus Adam the cosmocrator was created by god so “that he might rule all those things that were upon the earth.” The heavenly Lord of all (pantocrator) “walked and talked with the man, figuring beforehand the things that should be in the future, (namely) that He should dwell with him and talk with him, and should be with men, teaching them righteousness.” In other words, Adam the cosmocrator was prepared for the day his descendants would encounter the image from his being was hewn.

Of course Irenaeus has to wrestle with the difficulty of humanity’s fall from grace through sin. To this end, Irenaeus develops the now familiar notion of God giving us freedom in order for us to choose obedience to his rule. So we hear it said that Adam was but “a child, not yet having his understanding perfected; wherefore also he was easily led astray by the deceiver.” The law was eventually introduced to his descendants according to Irenaeus “lest man should conceive thoughts too high, and be exalted and uplifted, as though he had no lord … a law was given to him by God, in order that he might perceive that he had as lord the Lord of all (pantocrator). “

According to Irenaeus this law was a stop gap measure to fill the time until the consummation of the age when the heavenly Man who accompanied Adam returned to earth to visit with his descendants. When Jesus reappears in the world as cosmocrator it is striking to see how strongly Irenaeus draws from Imperial military terminology. He says for instance “and therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers, and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down.” Of course the standard way of interpreting this passage is to assume that Jesus conquered the world through his Cross. Yet it should be noted that Irenaeus acknowledges a second advent of Jesus where he will appear on earth in the period after his ascension ‘in glory’ as the form of a king.

So we read in our Armenian text that “and this our Lord Jesus Christ truly fulfilled, when He gloriously achieved our redemption, that He might truly raise us up, setting us free unto the Father.” It is important to note that throughout his discussions of the second advent of Christ there is an ambiguity which leaves open the possibility that a believing Imperial cosmocrator is the fulfillment of God’s original plan with Adam. Indeed it isn’t just that Irenaeus argues against the heretical belief that Jesus was unknown to the worldly powers, he argues against their identification of the ‘rulers of the world’ – i.e. Caesar – as governed by the Devil-cosmocrator.

In Book Five of his Against Heresies Irenaeus explicitly states that “it is not [the Devil] who has appointed the kingdoms of this world, but God; for "the heart of the king is in the hand of God." And the Word also says by Solomon, "By me kings do reign, and princes administer justice. By me chiefs are raised up, and by me kings rule the earth." Indeed it wasn’t just an understanding of the Old Testament, Irenaeus notes “Paul the apostle also says upon this same subject.” So, we are told that when Paul wrote “be ye subject to all the higher powers; for there is no power but of God: now those which are have been ordained of God” he spoke these words, not in regard to angelical powers, nor of invisible rulers--as some venture to expound the passage--but of those of actual human authorities.”

After arguing that Jesus also acknowledged the authority of the human cosmocrator of the universe, Irenaeus adds:

For since man, by departing from God, reached such a pitch of fury as even to look upon his brother as his enemy, and engaged without fear in every kind of restless conduct, and murder, and avarice; God imposed upon mankind the fear of man, as they did not acknowledge the fear of God, in order that, being subjected to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their laws, they might attain to some degree of justice, and exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword suspended full in their view, as the apostle says: "For he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, the avenger for wrath upon him who does evil."

And for this reason too, magistrates themselves, having laws as a clothing of righteousness whenever they act in a just and legitimate manner, shall not be called in question for their conduct, nor be liable to punishment … Earthly rule, therefore, has been appointed by God for the benefit of nations, and not by the devil, who is never at rest at all, nay, who does not love to see even nations conducting themselves after a quiet manner, so that under the fear of human rule, men may not eat each other up like fishes; but that, by means of the establishment of laws, they may keep down an excess of wickedness among the nations. And considered from this point of view, those who exact tribute from us are "God's ministers, serving for this very purpose."

As, then, "the powers that be are ordained of God," it is clear that the devil lied when he said, "These are delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will, I give them." For by the law of the same Being as calls men into existence are kings also appointed, adapted for those men who are at the time placed under their government. Some of these [rulers] are given for the correction and the benefit of their subjects, and for the preservation of justice; but others, for the purposes of fear and punishment and rebuke

This by no means exhausts Irenaeus’s reference to his acceptance of the rule of Commodus. In Book Four for instance he acknowledges the great number of Catholics in the Imperial household and refuses to apologize for his closeness to the earthly cosmocrator. Indeed he goes so far as to say that because of the favor of Caesar, the Church is experiencing the heralded ‘year of favor’ of Isaiah which will last until the final judgment.

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