St. Irenaeus may have been born in Smyrna between 115 and 125 A.D. He lived through the persecution of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, had a hand in fighting against the Montanist heresy that so bewitched Tertullian, and succeeded St. Pothinus, the second bishop of Lugdunum (modernly, Lyons) when the latter was martyred. Originally probably written in Greek, his best-known work, On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis (ἔλεγχος και άνατροπή της ψευδωνύμου γνώσεως) is commonly known by a shorter title, Against Heresies or Adversus haereses (Greek=κατὰ αἱρέσεων). Only fragments of the original Greek text exist, although an early Latin translation of that work exists. Unfortunately, the Latin text suffers from clarity in some areas. It is to that great text of St. Irenaeus that we turn to for his understanding of the natural moral law from the perspective of the early Christian Church. In regard to St. Irenaeus, we might consider the short summary of Michael Crowe before we turn to the work of Irenaeus himself:
Irenaeus treats of the natural law at length in his Adversus Haereses. His perspective is theological; for him human nature is created nature and the law of human nature is the law of God the lawgiver and is given to man to help out the Mosaic Law, itself completed in the Gospel. But despite the theological preoccupations Irenaeus, who after all was writing a polemic against heretics, insists upon the naturalness of the moral law. Phrases like naturalia praecepta and naturalia legis flow easily from his pen. On one occasion he says, apropos of the unity of the old and the new law as coming from the same legislator, God, that the first and greatest precept, namely love the [L]ord with your whole heart and the second like it, love your neighbour as yourself, is found in lege et Evangelio. The phrase, in the context, is innocuous. But is intriguing to think that the same phrase was to be the keynote of one of the most influential--and misleading--definitions of the natural law in the Middle Ages, Gratian's assertion that natural law is what is contained in the law and the gospel.
Another concept that is important in St. Irenaeus is the distinction between image and likeness. Paradisaical man had both the image and likeness of God. Fallen man lost God's likeness, but retained the image of God. Christ was the perfect, the plenary image of humanity, being also the perfect image and likeness of God, indeed bound to the very person of God the Son himself: His humanity was both the image and likeness of God, the paradigmatic human. Through Faith in Christ, the benefits of Christ's redemptive death served to allow man, with the grace of God, to repair God's image in as so to re-establish God's likeness. Man receives back the likeness he lost. It is within this context of re-establishment, of receiving back what was one lost, that Guevin argues one must understand St. Irenaeus's discussion on the natural law. (Guevin, 222-23)
And now, to Irenaeus . . .
Irenaeus's treatment of the natural law is found in Book IV of his Adversus Haereses. Man, for St. Irenaeus, must be understood within the various stages of salvation history. "Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and molded by His hands, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit to whom also He said, 'Let Us make man.'" adv. haer., iv.pref.. St. Irenaeus rejects outright any notion that would posit a strict dualism between flesh and spirit, and assign the creation of the flesh to someone other than God, some Demiurge that is less than, or separate from, God. Likewise, he rejects any notion that would begrudge to Jesus, at any moment of his post-incarnate existence, real fleshly existence. Importantly, St. Irenaeus resists any notion of duality in the Old Testament and the Gospels. We are dealing with the same, unchanging and unchanged God in both the Old and New Testaments, and with the same foundational law. "But as man as feared God, and were anxious about His law, these ran to Christ, and were all saved." iv.2. Since, then the law originated with Moses, it terminated with John as a necessary consequence. Christ had come to fulfill it: wherefore 'the law and the prophets were' with them 'until John.'" iv.4. The law, like the temple in Jerusalem, "fulfilling it own times, must have an end of legislation when the new covenant was revealed." iv.4. The coming of the new covenant, and the end or fulfillment of the Mosaic law in Christ, does not bespeak a change in God. Rather, like the seasonal changes in the harvesting of wheat, it bespeaks of a change, a maturation or fruition, in man.
For He who makes the chaff and He who makes the wheat are not different persons, but one and the same, who judges them, that is separates them. But the wheat and the chaff, being inanimate and irrational, have been made such by nature. But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself, that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff. Wherefore also he shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts . . . .iv.4. God has revealed himself to man "by means of the creation itself, . . . by means of the world, . . . by means of the formation of man . . . and by the Son . . . . and these things do indeed address all men in the same manner, but all do not in the same way believe them." iv.6 It is "fitting that the truth should receive testimony from all" these revelations, "and should become [a means of] judgment for the salvation indeed of those who believe, but for the condemnation of those who believe not." iv.6. Indeed, there is but one author and end to both covenants. "All things therefore are of one and the same substance, that is from the one and same God . . . who delivers a law suited both for slaves and those who are as yet undisciplined; and gives fitting precepts to those that are free, and have been justified by faith . . ." iv.9 "[O]ne and the same householder produced both covenants, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who spake with both Abraham and Moses, and who has restored us anew to liberty, and has multiplied that grace which is from Himself." iv.9 "Greater," however, "is that legislation which has been given in order to liberty than that given in order to bondage; and therefore it has also been diffused, not throughout one nation [only], but over the whole world." iv.9 Within this notion of two covenants, revealed by the same God, a distinction must be made between the "tradition of the elders," and the "law given by Moses." iv.12. The former is "a spurious law," "Pharisaical law," "and one contrary to the [true] law." iv.12. The true "law of God . . . prepares them [the Jews] for the coming of Christ." iv.12. The "commandment of the law," the true law, "is the love of God . . . and . . . neighbor." iv.12-. What Jesus taught is taught by Paul: "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Rom. 13:10; adv. haer., iv.12.
As in the law, therefore, and in the Gospel [likewise], the first and greatest commandment is, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, and then there follows a commandment like to it, to love one's neighbor as one's self; the author of the law and the Gospel is shown to be one and the same. For the precepts of an absolutely perfect life, since they are the same in each Testament, have pointed out [to us] the same God, who certainly has promulgated particular laws adapted for each; but the more prominent and the greatest [commandments], without which salvation cannot [be attained], He has exhorted [us to observe] the same in both.iv.12. St. Irenaeus sees Christ, like the apostle Paul did, as the "end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Rom.10:3, 4; adv. haer. iv.12.4. "And how is Christ the end of the law," as St. Paul teaches, "if he is not also the final cause of it?" iv.12 And if the end and final cause, also the beginning, "[f]or He who has brought in the end has Himself also wrought the beginning." iv.12. The "law did beforehand teach mankind the necessity of following Christ," so does Christ teach. And Christ enjoined his followers to love "God the Father . . . who was proclaimed by the law from the beginning." iv.12 Jesus "taught that they should obey the commandments which God enjoined from the beginning . . . and follow after Christ." Thus, for St. Irenaeus, Christ's teaching, while not contrary to the law of Moses, is an appeal to the law, to the commandments "from the beginning." The "Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the [Mosaic] law, but that He extended and fulfilled them . . . ." iv.13 This is clear from Christ's insistence that one go beyond the letter of the commandments, beyond the mere prohibition of adultery, of murder, of false oaths, to banish the more basic underlying lust, anger, and deceit and guile in words. Jesus' teachings in this regard "do not contain or imply an opposition to and an overturning of the [precepts] of the past . . . ." iv.13. In his teaching with respect to the Decalogue, Christ has done two things. "In the first place, [we must] believe not only in the Father, but also in the Son now revealed . . . . In the next place, [we must] not only say, but we must do . . . and [we must] not only abstain from evil deeds, but even from the desires after them." iv.13.
Now He did not teach us these things as being opposed to the law, but as fulfilling the law, and implanting in us the varied righteousness of the law. That would have been contrary to the law, if He had commanded His disciples to do anything which the law had prohibited. But this which He did command--namely, not only to abstain from things forbidden by the law, but even from longing after them--is not contrary to [the law], as I have remarked, neither is it the utterance of one destroying the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and affording greater scope to it.iv.13. With respect to the Mosaic law, then, Christ sought to free the Jew whose relationship to the Father was in the form of slavery or bondage, to a relationship of freedom or adoption into sonship:
For the law, since it was laid down for those in bondage, used to instruct the soul by means of those corporeal objects which were of an external nature, drawing it, as by a bond, to obey its commandments, that man might learn to served God. But the Word set free the soul, and taught that through the body should be willingly purified. Which having been accomplished, it followed as of course, that the bonds of slavery should be removed, to which man had now become accustomed, and that he should follow God without fetters: moreover, that the laws of liberty should be extended, and subjection to the king increased, so that no one who is converted should appear unworthy to Him who set him free, but that the piety and obedience due to the Master of the household should be equally rendered both by servants and children; while the children possess greater confidence [than the servants], inasmuch as the working of liberty is greater and more glorious than that obedience which render in [a state of] slavery.iv.13. Therefore, both the natural law and the Mosaic law "have received growth and completion" in the followers of Christ.
Inasmuch, then, as all natural precepts are common to us and to them (the Jews), they had in them indeed the beginning and origin; but in us they have received growth and completion. For to yield assent to God, and to follow His Word, and to love Him above all, and one's neighbor as one's self (now man is neighbor to man), and to abstain from every evil deed, and all other things of a like nature which are common to both [covenants? (per trans.) or rather to both Jew and Gentile?], do reveal one and the same God.iv.13 Jesus revealed himself, then, to be the God who "certainly drew slaves to God," that is the Jews whom he appointed "that bondage with respect to God through the law," as well as the God who certainly drew friends, such as Abraham, who followed the Lord "voluntarily and under no compulsion, because of the noble nature of his faith." iv.13 This distinction between the patriarch Abraham and the lawgiver Moses leads St. Ireneaus to pay more attention to the historical relationship of God with mankind, beginning with Adam. And from Adam, he turns his attention to the new Adam, Christ. But these matters will be reserved for the next blog posting.
*Reference to Guevin is to Benedict Guevin, O.S.B., "The Natural Law in Irenaeus of Lyon's Adversus Haereses: A Metaphysical or Soteriological Reality?, XXXVI Studia Patristica (Leuven: Peters 2001), 222-25, and Fuchs is to Joseph Fuchs, S.J., Natural Law: A Theological Approach.