St. Irenaeus and the Peace of the Church
In praying the Office this morning I couldn't help noticing that, in the feast of St. Irenaeus which the Church celebrates today, the theme of the 'peace of the Church' looms large. St. Irenaeus "made peace the aim and object of his life, and he labored strenuously for the peace of the Church.' Here is the prayer of the day:
you called Saint Irenaeus to uphold your truth
and bring peace to your Church.
By his prayers renew us in faith and love
that we may always be intent
on fostering unity and peace.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Now, I couldn't help but chuckle in reading (praying) that because, as anyone who has read St. Irenaeus' writings knows, they are anything but peaceful. His 'Against Heresies' is one of the most severe, tempestuous, and trenchant works of the patristic period. His purpose in this work is as follows: "Since this man [i.e., Valentinus] is the only one who has dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures, and unblushingly above all others to inveigh against God, I purpose specially to refute him, convicting him out of his own writings; and, with the help of God, I shall overthrow him" (27, 4).
The most memorable part of this work comes in chapter eleven, when our hero temporarily puts aside vindictive in order to focus on cynical parody of such devastating proportions that it probably had his readers rolling in the aisles, and his opponents red-faced with embarrassment. Valentinus, it may be remembered, delighted in speculating about the numberless 'aeons' ('Sophia,' 'Logos,' 'Monad,' 'Ogdoad,' 'Demiurge') which populated the cosmos, which formed the core of Gnostic belief and devotion.
Here is St. Irenaeus:
"But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus. For if it is fitting that that language which is used respecting the universe be transformed to the primary Tetrad, and if any one may assign names at his pleasure, who shall prevent us from adopting these names, as being much more credible [than the others], as well as in general use, and understood by all? (11,4).
For me, this was a reminder that the 'peace of the Church' is not always served by laxism or excessive toleration. More often than not, it is served by exposing error and foolishness for what they are. Would that every teacher of the faith today had the unique combination of gall and wit that marked this martyr. St. Irenaeus, ora pro nobis.
# posted by Jamie : 9:05 AM