Irenaeus and Athanasius

I almost typed Athanasios. I’ve been Hellenising everything all week. Tonight, I spoke about the ecclesiastical history of Cyprus from Barnabas to Epiphanius to 478 when Cyprus became autocephalous. Tomorrow, it’s Trinity and Mission, with a brief history of Christology from Irenaios to Khalkedon.

I’ve fallen behind in Read the Fathers whilst in Cyprus, and tonight, doing my catch-up, I found something interesting in Irenaios. He is trying to prove that all the generations and processions of the Gnostic Basilidians are false, and does so by demonstrating that light begotten of light is necessarily one in substance, not multiple:

If, again, the Æons were derived from Logos, Logos from Nous, and Nous from Bythus, just as lights are kindled from a light—as, for example, torches are from a torch—then they may no doubt differ in generation and size from one another; but since they are of the same substance with the Author of their production, they must either all remain for ever impassible, or their Father Himself must participate in passion. For the torch which has been kindled subsequently cannot be possessed of a different kind of light from that which preceded it. Wherefore also their lights, when blended in one, return to the original identity, since that one light is then formed which has existed even from the beginning. But we cannot speak, with respect to light itself, of some part being more recent in its origin, and another being more ancient (for the whole is but one light); nor can we so speak even in regard to those torches which have received the light (for these are all contemporary as respects their material substance, for the substance of torches is one and the same), but simply as to [the time of] its being kindled, since one was lighted a little while ago, and another has just now been kindled. (Irenaios, Against the Heresies, 2.17.4)

This is not dissimilar to arguments used by Athanasios which I shall discuss tomorrow night — but Athanasios is using them to prove positively that Jesus is homoousios with the Father:

We see that the radiance from the sun is integral to it, and that the substance of the sun is not divided or diminished; but its substance is entire, and its radiance perfect and entire, and the radiance does not diminish the substance of the light, but is as it were a genuine offspring from it. thus we see that the Son is begotten not from without, but ‘from the Father,’ and that Father remains entire, while the ‘stamp of his substance’ [Heb 1:3] exists always and preserves the likeness and image without alteration. (Athanasios, Orations Against the Arians 2.33)

Here we see the intellectual heritage of Athanasios, standing in the trajectory that leads from Irenaios straight to Kyrillos. I mean, Cyril. (With whom I saw Athanasios in a big ikon at Faneromeni church the other day.)

καληνύχτα

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