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12 beautiful quotes from St. Irenaeus, our newest Doctor of the Church

Kristina Glicksman

Friday, January 21, 2022

Stained glass window representing St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the Church of St. Martin in Seurre, France. Photo by GFreihalter on Wikimedia Commons, cropped and used under the terms of licence CC BY-SA 3.0.
Today, Pope Francis has honoured St. Irenaeus of Lyons, one of our Church Fathers, by formally declaring him a Doctor of the Church. This makes him the 37th Doctor and the earliest one (the next closest Doctor being Athansius, who was born almost 100 years after Irenaeus died). St. Irenaeus has long been revered for his wisdom and knowledge, as well as his holiness. By declaring him a Doctor, the Church (through Pope Francis) is recognizing in an official way what we’ve always known: that Irenaeus has made an important contribution to theology and the understanding of our faith through his writings (although we shouldn’t take that to mean that they, or the writings of any saint, are completely error-free).
Probably the most famous quote from Irenaeus, and one maybe you’ve seen floating around social media, is often given as “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Now, if you’re thinking, “Well, that sounds nice, but I’m not sure what that means,” don’t worry, the problem most definitely isn’t with you! For one thing, that’s not exactly what Irenaeus wrote, and secondly, it’s missing the vital second half of the sentence. If you want to know what he really said, check out quote #8 below.
But Irenaeus said a whole lot more than that. So I thought, in honour of this auspicious day, I would treat you to 12 beautiful, faith-affirming quotes from his most famous work, Against Heresies. Although much of it is devoted to detailing and refuting some rather bizarre heretical beliefs, it is also filled with theological and spiritual gems. Enjoy!
1. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. (I.10.2)
2. For even creation reveals Him who formed it, and the very work made suggests Him who made it, and the world manifests Him who ordered it. (II.9.1)
3. But God being all Mind, and all Logos, both speaks exactly what He thinks, and thinks exactly what He speaks. For His thought is Logos, and Logos is Mind, and Mind comprehending all things is the Father Himself. (II.28.5)
4. For as it was not possible that the man who had once for all been conquered, and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself, and obtain the prize of victory; and as it was also impossible that he could attain to salvation who had fallen under the power of sin — the Son effected both these things, being the Word of God, descending from the Father, becoming incarnate, stooping low, even to death, and consummating the arranged plan of our salvation…” (III.18.2)
5. For He did not set us free for this purpose, that we should depart from Him (no one, indeed, while placed out of reach of the Lord's benefits, has power to procure for himself the means of salvation), but that the more we receive His grace, the more we should love Him. Now the more we have loved Him, the more glory shall we receive from Him, when we are continually in the presence of the Father. (IV.13.3)
6. In the beginning, therefore, did God form Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but that He might have [some one] upon whom to confer His benefits. ... Nor did He stand in need of our service when He ordered us to follow Him; but He thus bestowed salvation upon ourselves. For to follow the Saviour is to be a partaker of salvation, and to follow light is to receive light. But those who are in light do not themselves illumine the light, but are illumined and revealed by it: they do certainly contribute nothing to it, but, receiving the benefit, they are illumined by the light. Thus, also, service [rendered] to God does indeed profit God nothing, nor has God need of human obedience; but He grants to those who follow and serve Him life and incorruption and eternal glory, bestowing benefit upon those who serve [Him], because they do serve Him, and on His followers, because they do follow Him; but does not receive any benefit from them: for He is rich, perfect, and in need of nothing. But for this reason does God demand service from men, in order that, since He is good and merciful, He may benefit those who continue in His service. For, as much as God is in want of nothing, so much does man stand in need of fellowship with God. For this is the glory of man, to continue and remain permanently in God's service. (IV.14.1)
7. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. (IV.18.5)
8. For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God. (IV.20.7)
9. If, then, you are God's workmanship, await the hand of your Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as you are concerned, whose creation is being carried out. Offer to Him your heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned you, having moisture in yourself, lest, by becoming hardened, you lose the impressions of His fingers. But by preserving the framework you shall ascend to that which is perfect, for the moist clay which is in you is hidden [there] by the workmanship of God. His hand fashioned your substance; He will cover you over [too] within and without with pure gold and silver, and He will adorn you to such a degree, that even "the King Himself shall have pleasure in your beauty." (IV.39.2)
10. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten, and the cunning of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death. (V.19.1)
11. For indeed the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of a woman who conquered him. For it was by means of a woman that he got the advantage over man at first, setting himself up as man's opponent. And therefore does the Lord profess Himself to be the Son of man, comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned, in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death. (V.21.1)
12. And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. (V.27.2)

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