Irenaeus on the Passion of Christ

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus describes the systems of various false teachers active in the second century and contrasts these teachings with the central affirmations of the Bible's grand storyline and the Scripture's central claims about who God is and what he has done in creation and redemption. Part of Irenaeus's strategy is to demonstrate both the comparative falsehood of these claims and also to expose their internal incoherence. 

One of the claims of gnostic thinkers was that the suffering of Christ on the cross was really a confirmation and image of how one of these semi-divine beings functioned (Aeon). 

Irenaeus refutes this by noting the contrasts (Against Heresies, 2.20.3):

But, in truth, the passion of Christ was neither similar to the passion of the Aeon, nor did it take place in similar circumstances. For the Aeon underwent a passion of dissolution and destruction, so that she who suffered was in danger also of being destroyed. But the Lord, our Christ, underwent a valid, and not a merely accidental passion; not only was He Himself not in danger of being destroyed, but He also established fallen man by His own strength, and recalled him to incorruption.

The Aeon, again, underwent passion while she was seeking after the Father, and was not able to find Him; but the Lord suffered that He might bring those who have wandered from the Father, back to knowledge and to His fellowship.

The search into the greatness of the Father became to her a passion leading to destruction; but the Lord, having suffered, and bestowing the knowledge of the Father, conferred on us salvation.

Her passion, as they declare, gave origin to a female offspring, weak, infirm, unformed, and ineffective; but His passion gave rise to strength and power. For the Lord, through means of suffering, ascending into the lofty place, led captivity captive, gave gifts to men, and conferred on those that believe in Him the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and on all the power of the enemy, that is, of the leader of apostasy.

Our Lord also by His passion destroyed death, and dispersed error, and put an end to corruption, and destroyed ignorance, while He manifested life and revealed truth, and bestowed the gift of incorruption. But their Aeon, when she had suffered, established ignorance, and brought forth a substance without shape, out of which all material works have been produced — death, corruption, error, and such like.
August 9, 2021


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