Friday, July 19, 2013

The Nature of Jesus [Part Three]


Once we establish that the Church was transformed at the end of the second century, we can ask ourselves the one question which rarely gets asked in all the studies of the phenomenon - 'what on earth is Christianity?'  Yes, it's true - the only substantive thing that Jesus accomplishes during is his ministry is that he secures his crucifixion.  His death in turn becomes the foundation of the sacrament of communion which for Irenaeus is a second creation. 

It is very important to special attention to the manner that Irenaeus describes the origins of Adam for it reflects quite remarkably his depiction of communion.  As Irenaeus notes :

And then, again, this Word was manifested when the Word of God was made man, assimilating Himself to man, and man to Himself, so that by means of his resemblance to the Son, man might become precious to the Father. For in times long past, it was said that man was created after the image of God, but it was not [actually] shown; for the Word was as yet invisible, after whose image man was created, Wherefore also he did easily lose the similitude. When, however, the Word of God became flesh, He confirmed both these: for He both showed forth the image truly, since He became Himself what was His image; and He re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word.  [Adv Haer 5.16.2]

According to Irenaeus then the situation at the time of the creation of Adam and when 'the Word became flesh' are related.  The difference is only the Word that was formerly invisible is now made visible for all to see. 

In light of this distinction it will be necessary for us to come to terms with is then why Irenaeus - in light of this understanding - vehemently rejects the existence of a being called the 'spiritual man.'   For indeed he has just said that Jesus - i.e. the 'Word of God' - was present at the creation of Adam albeit invisibly.  Nevertheless, according to the same Church Father, it is prohibited to speak of an indivisible 'spiritual man' in the sacraments of communion:

even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,--that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. [ibid 5.2.3]

But let's stop and think about this one.  Surely, if Jesus was present at Creation 'invisible to the eye' he could not have been so 'materially' - i.e. 'of the flesh.'  He must have assumed a spiritual form and thus as an 'invisible spirit Man.' 

The vehemence with which Irenaeus insists that he was always 'in the flesh' makes certain that this was an important argument for the heretics.  His opponents simply and straightforwardly argued that Jesus never changed form.  In other words, he was always Man - only what was formerly invisible was now made visible during the ministry of Jesus.  Irenaeus on the other hand seems to argue at first glance for not only 'the flicking of the switch' in turns of God changing substance in order to allow us to be able to see what was formerly inaccessible to former generations of men - i.e. that the 'Word being made flesh' implied a change in the God's substance. 

The idea that God changed substance must have frustrated educated people to no end. According to Plato God is the Supreme Intelligence, incorporeal, without beginning, end, or change, and capable of only being apprehended by the mind. The pagan critic of Christianity Celsus argues (c. 170 CE) that the incarnation implies that God experienced change, which is impious to attribute to divinity. Divinity is perfect, so any change - especially especially change into flesh - must be from perfection to less than perfection, from good to bad, from beautiful to shameful, from happiness to misfortune, from what is best to what is wicked.

It is for this reason that Celsus attacks the position of contemporary Christianity noting that:

It is the nature of a mortal being to undergo change and remoulding, whereas it is the nature of an immortal being to remain the same without alteration. Accordingly, God could not be capable of undergoing this change. . . . Either God does change, as the Christians say, into a mortal body; and it has already been said that this is impossible. Or, he does not change himself, but makes those who see think (that he does), and he misleads them and lies. [Origen Contra Celsum 4:14 - 18] 

It is important to note that the Jews and the Christian heretics would have gone along with Celsus with respect to the idea that God Almighty could have allowed himself to be passed through the vagina of a woman and assume mortal flesh.  We have learned to expect the orthodox to declare here 'anything is possible with God.'

Yet before we assume that Irenaeus was in fact arguing for a 'change' in the nature of God, we should take a closer look at what he is putting forward.  When such an examination is concluded we will see in fact that Irenaeus does not argue for any sort of change in the nature of Jesus introducing instead the person of 'the Holy Spirit' to preserve his unity.  Irenaeus argues against those who claim some heavenly 'spiritual Man' devoid of flesh noting that:

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. [Adv Haer 5.6.1]

In other words, according to Irenaeus there is a Holy Spirit and then there is Jesus who exists in a state of flesh and spirit, but there is no such a thing as a 'spiritual man' who is devoid of material being.  This is a core distinction which does not get pointed out often enough in discussions of early Christology.  Irenaeus's entire worldview - his conception of the Trinity - is developed as a rejection of the insistence of a previous generation of Christians that Jesus was a 'spirit man.'

In reality then Celsus's arguments are not as effective as we might think against Irenaeus.  For Irenaeus is not supposing a 'transfer' of the heavenly being 'Jesus' into the womb of Mary but rather that of the Holy Spirit which transforms the flesh after his image.  While such a distinction has inherent logical difficulties (i.e. how can a 'heavenly Jesus' made up of 'flesh and spirit' be replicated exactly in the earthly Jesus' owing to the genetic differences in the two 'flesh').  It is not the same thing as saying that God undergoes 'change.' 

Nevertheless it would still appear that this entire scheme represents something artificially conceived.  In other words, it is a reaction to the far simpler and more logically consistent suggestion that a heavenly Jesus simply came down to earth maintaining his original 'integrity' during his trip.  Irenaeus must have been aware of the arguments developed by both the heretics and those who opposed them and devised a system which escaped the 'trap' set by Celsus.  Nevertheless in spite of this cleverness, it betrays its relative lateness of its conception (i.e. the end of the second century). 

The original conception was very closely related to Irenaeus's own albeit without the artificial distinction of a 'Holy Spirit' which is somehow distinct from Jesus himself and which assumed that Jesus was a being other than the 'Word of God.'  As we saw earlier, they conceived of an 'invisible spiritual Man' present at creation but unknown to the Creator - "He formed the heavens, yet was ignorant of the heavens; he fashioned man, yet knew not man; he brought to light the earth, yet had no acquaintance with the earth." [ibid 1.5.3]

The followers of the heretic Valentinus significantly shared his assumption of the agency of a 'Holy Spirit' only specifically identifying 'her' as female (undoubtedly owing to their having developed in Aramaic language) -  "thus it came to pass, then, according to them, that, without any knowledge on the part of the Demiurge, the man formed by his inspiration was at the same time, through an unspeakable providence, rendered a spiritual man by the simultaneous inspiration received from Sophia." [ibid 1.5.6]  Even in this system the 'invisible spirit man' is wholly present - "and therefore that man was chosen according to His will, having been formed after the image of the [corresponding] power above." [ibid 1.15.2]

 Another sect associated with a teacher named Mark assume that 'Jesus' and 'Christ' were two separate people and that 'the Word was made flesh' was the spirit Jesus's 'becoming one' with Christ's material being:
And he says that the Saviour formed by special dispensation did indeed destroy death, but that Christ made known the Father.  He maintains, therefore, that Jesus is the name of that man formed by a special dispensation, and that He was formed after the likeness and form of that [heavenly] Man, who was about to descend upon Him [1.15.3]

And again:

Some of them also hold that one man was formed after the image and likeness of God, masculo-feminine, and that this was the spiritual man; and that another man was formed out of the earth.  [1.18.2]

There were many different systems but they all agree on the idea that Jesus was a spiritual being distinct from the Word who is the intended exemplar of perfection made only visible with his coming down from heaven in the year of Jesus's ministry - "they maintain that it is more suitable to [the theory of] production--as being, in fact, truth-like--that the Word was produced by man, and not man by the Word; and that man existed prior to the Word, and that this is really He who is God over all.  [2.13.10] 

It is important to note that even Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria had fast to this distinction between the Word and Jesus.  As such Irenaeus's strange 'monarchianism' - i.e. his insistence that there was an underlying shared 'oneness' between the different beings that make up the godhead was again not only entirely artificial and logically inconsistent - it represents something that was developed to unite the various factions under such a contrivance for the sake of the earthly union of the Church at a very late historical period.  As we noted previously, even his incorporation of the 'material being' of Jesus betrays this reactionary characteristic. 

Irenaeus's materialism then goes beyond a love of money; it goes to the very core of his Christology.  He had a grand transformative vision for an artificially monolithic Church developed after the reactionary materialism of his monolithic godhead. 

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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