Wednesday, September 23, 2009

John Eldredge and Irenaeus

Some friends of mine have been listening to an audio book titled Waking the Dead by John Eldredge. So far I've only listened to a few chapters. I have a general idea of the main argument that the book is trying to make but I will wait to evaluate the message until I've listened to the entire book. But I did come across one section that I found particularly odd. Eldredge writes:

The glory of God is man fully alive. (Saint Irenaeus)

When I first stumbled across this quite, my initial reaction was...You're kidding me. Really? I mean, is that what you've been told? That the purpose of God-the very thing he's staked his reputation on-is your coming fully alive?

The first thought that came into my head is, "That does not sound like Irenaeus." I did some research and tracked down the original quote. It's from Against Heresies. Against Heresies was originally written in Greek but much of the work in Greek is no longer extant and is preserved in a Latin translation including this particular quote. This site has a Latin-English parallel edition of the relevant passage. My Latin is not as good as my Greek but I was having difficulty figuring out why the translator would go with "The glory of God is a man fully alive" when the Latin seemed to be saying "The glory of God is a living man." Eldredge did not invent the translation found in his book. I've seen it all over the Internet. I just don't know exactly who you get there from "Gloria enim Dei vivens homo."

But a bigger problem than how this particular phrase is translated is that the second half of the sentence is not quoted. The whole sentence is:

For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.

This puts an entirely different spin on things. Irenaeus is not just speaking of some generic idea of being "fully alive" (whatever that means). Irenaeus says specifically that to be a living man means to behold God. J. Robert Wright paraphrased the sentence as "God is the glory of humanity" and that comes a bit closer to the original meaning. The main idea of the entirechapter written by Irenaeus is that God has revealed Himself both in creation and even more so in Jesus, the incarnate Word. Here's the section that this quote comes from:

Therefore the Son of the Father declares [Him] from the beginning, inasmuch as He was with the Father from the beginning, who did also show to the human race prophetic visions, and diversities of gifts, and His own ministrations, and the glory of the Father, in regular order and connection, at the fitting time for the benefit [of mankind]. For where there is a regular succession, there is also fixedness; and where fixedness, there suitability to the period; and where suitability, there also utility. And for this reason did the Word become the dispenser of the paternal grace for the benefit of men, for whom He made such great dispensations, revealing God indeed to men, but presenting man to God, and preserving at the same time the invisibility of the Father, lest man should at any time become a despiser of God, and that he should always possess something towards which he might advance; but, on the other hand, revealing God to men through many dispensations, lest man, falling away from God altogether, should cease to exist. 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.

The purpose of the passage is not to tell us about ourselves, but to tell us about God.

1 comment:

Jud H. said...

Amen amen. Thank you.