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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book III, Chapter 20

Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 20)

God showed himself, by the fall of man, as patient, benign, merciful, mighty to save. Man is therefore most ungrateful, if, unmindful of his own lot, and of the benefits held out to him, he do not acknowledge divine grace.

1. Long-suffering therefore was God, when man became a defaulter, as foreseeing that victory which should be granted to him through the Word. For, when strength was made perfect in weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:9 it showed the kindness and transcendent power of God. For as He patiently suffered Jonah to be swallowed by the whale, not that he should be swallowed up and perish altogether, but that, having been cast out again, he might be the more subject to God, and might glorify Him the more who had conferred upon him such an unhoped-for deliverance, and might bring the Ninevites to a lasting repentance, so that they should be converted to the Lord, who would deliver them from death, having been struck with awe by that portent which had been wrought in Jonah's case, as the Scripture says of them, And they returned each from his evil way, and the unrighteousness which was in their hands, saying, Who knows if God will repent, and turn away His anger from us, and we shall not perish? Jonah 3:8-9 — so also, from the beginning, did God permit man to be swallowed up by the great whale, who was the author of transgression, not that he should perish altogether when so engulphed; but, arranging and preparing the plan of salvation, which was accomplished by the Word, through the sign of Jonah, for those who held the same opinion as Jonah regarding the Lord, and who confessed, and said, I am a servant of the Lord, and I worship the Lord God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land. Jonah 1:9 [This was done] that man, receiving an unhoped-for salvation from God, might rise from the dead, and glorify God, and repeat that word which was uttered in prophecy by Jonah: I cried by reason of my affliction to the Lord my God, and He heard me out of the belly of hell; Jonah 2:2 and that he might always continue glorifying God, and giving thanks without ceasing, for that salvation which he has derived from Him, that no flesh should glory in the Lord's presence; 1 Corinthians 1:29 and that man should never adopt an opposite opinion with regard to God, supposing that the incorruptibility which belongs to him is his own naturally, and by thus not holding the truth, should boast with empty superciliousness, as if he were naturally like to God. For he (Satan) thus rendered him (man) more ungrateful towards his Creator, obscured the love which God had towards man, and blinded his mind not to perceive what is worthy of God, comparing himself with, and judging himself equal to, God.

2. This, therefore, was the [object of the] long-suffering of God, that man, passing through all things, and acquiring the knowledge of moral discipline, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience what is the source of his deliverance, may always live in a state of gratitude to the Lord, having obtained from Him the gift of incorruptibility, that he might love Him the more; for he to whom more is forgiven, loves more: Luke 7:43 and that he may know himself, how mortal and weak he is; while he also understands respecting God, that He is immortal and powerful to such a degree as to confer immortality upon what is mortal, and eternity upon what is temporal; and may understand also the other attributes of God displayed towards himself, by means of which being instructed he may think of God in accordance with the divine greatness. For the glory of man [is] God, but [His] works [are the glory] of God; and the receptacle of all His wisdom and power [is] man. Just as the physician is proved by his patients, so is God also revealed through men. And therefore Paul declares, For God has concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all; Romans 11:32 not saying this in reference to spiritual Æons, but to man, who had been disobedient to God, and being cast off from immortality, then obtained mercy, receiving through the Son of God that adoption which is [accomplished] by Himself. For he who holds, without pride and boasting, the true glory (opinion) regarding created things and the Creator, who is the Almighty God of all, and who has granted existence to all; [such an one,] continuing in His love John 15:9 and subjection, and giving of thanks, shall also receive from Him the greater glory of promotion, looking forward to the time when he shall become like Him who died for him, for He, too, was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3 to condemn sin, and to cast it, as now a condemned thing, away beyond the flesh, but that He might call man forth into His own likeness, assigning him as [His own] imitator to God, and imposing on him His Father's law, in order that he may see God, and granting him power to receive the Father; [being] the Word of God who dwelt in man, and became the Son of man, that He might accustom man to receive God, and God to dwell in man, according to the good pleasure of the Father.

3. On this account, therefore, the Lord Himself, who is Emmanuel from the Virgin, Isaiah 7:4 is the sign of our salvation, since it was the Lord Himself who saved them, because they could not be saved by their own instrumentality; and, therefore, when Paul sets forth human infirmity, he says: For I know that there dwells in my flesh no good thing, Romans 7:18 showing that the good thing of our salvation is not from us, but from God. And again: Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 Then he introduces the Deliverer, [saying,] The grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. And Isaiah declares this also, [when he says:] Be strengthened, you hands that hang down, and you feeble knees; be encouraged, you feeble-minded; be comforted, fear not: behold, our God has given judgment with retribution, and shall recompense: He will come Himself, and will save us. Isaiah 25:3 Here we see, that not by ourselves, but by the help of God, we must be saved.

4. Again, that it should not be a mere man who should save us, nor [one] without flesh— for the angels are without flesh— [the same prophet] announced, saying: Neither an elder, nor angel, but the Lord Himself will save them because He loves them, and will spare them: He will Himself set them free. Isaiah 63:9 And that He should Himself become very man, visible, when He should be the Word giving salvation, Isaiah again says: Behold, city of Zion: your eyes shall see our salvation. Isaiah 33:20 And that it was not a mere man who died for us, Isaiah says: And the holy Lord remembered His dead Israel, who had slept in the land of sepulture; and He came down to preach His salvation to them, that He might save them. And Amos (Micah) the prophet declares the same: He will turn again, and will have compassion upon us: He will destroy our iniquities, and will cast our sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:9 And again, specifying the place of His advent, he says: The Lord has spoken from Zion, and He has uttered His voice from Jerusalem. Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2 And that it is from that region which is towards the south of the inheritance of Judah that the Son of God shall come, who is God, and who was from Bethlehem, where the Lord was born [and] will send out His praise through all the earth, thus says the prophet Habakkuk: God shall come from the south, and the Holy One from Mount Effrem. His power covered the heavens over, and the earth is full of His praise. Before His face shall go forth the Word, and His feet shall advance in the plains. Thus he indicates in clear terms that He is God, and that His advent was [to take place] in Bethlehem, and from Mount Effrem which is towards the south of the inheritance, and that [He is] man. For he says, His feet shall advance in the plains: and this is an indication proper to man.

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Source. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103320.htm>.

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