For the first two posts on this series see:
In the first part of this mini-series, I wrote about Clement of Alexandria and his belief that Adam and Eve were children when they led to the beginning of humanity’s fall. Clement of Alexandria was addressing a literate, pluralistic society, 2nd century Alexandria, Egypt where the Greco-Roman pantheon held the most power at that time. Clement’s arguments about Eve & Adam are found in his major address to non-Christians, Exhortation to the Greeks.
For the story of Irenaeus, it is significantly different. As I will show, Irenaeus of Lyons was contending for the Christian faith with persons INSIDE the Christian community of his day. Valentinian churchianity was a new phenomenon in Irenaeus’ day. It was the latest craze, and very little is known about these persons except for what Christian apologists say about them (obviously, negative). In Valentinus’ system, human beings were classified into three groups of people: spiritual people, the ensouled normal people, and the earthly/material people who were destined for damnation forever. For more see, Valentinus, NT Canon.org. Now, these Valentinian Gnostics were preaching a religion that was offensive to Irenaeus for two major reasons (I am limiting it here to only TWO for my purposes in Kidding with Adam and Eve): first, the idea that there are THREE classes of people who are HAVE THREE PREDETERMINED destinies does not sit well with Irenaeus, especially since it did not speak of such things in the Old Testament (story of Israel). Secondly, this deterministic deity, is a real douchebag. What’s the point in worshiping a god who created you and me and everything that has matter as naturally evil?
Now, in order to use Scripturally-influenced logic to refute the Valentinians’ erroneous claims, Irenaeus had to argue what the beginning origin of humanity was all about. Irenaeus was a disciple of a Christian presbyter (church leader) who was martyred, his name was Polycarp of Smyrna. Before he was burned alive, Polycarp prayed to “the God of angels and powers, and of every creature,” a God who would bring about “the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost.” The Martyrdom of Polycarp, NewAdvent.org Irenaeus somehow migrated to a place what we now call Southern France where he served as a pastor whose goal was it to care for souls, give instruction to laity, and fight heresy. Being a disciple of Polycarp,one of the themes in Irenaeus’ theology is the in-corruptibility of human body & soul at the Resurrection. This comes as part of God’s goodness, God sharing God’s eternality with human beings who freely choose to fellowship with God. “For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 37).
Irenaeus continues, “But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such they were created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since men are all of the same nature, able both to hold to what is good; and on the other hand, also the power to cast it from them and not to do it.”(Ibid) Notice what Irenaeus is arguing against: the THREE CLASSES OF PEOPLE argument from the Valentinian Gnostics of his day. Irenaeus goes on to argue against the Valentinian arguments that God COULD HAVE made humanity perfect from the beginning. This is a rather silly argument, Irenaeus notes, because God as divine, is UNCREATED, human beings (like Adam and Eve) are created beings. God made Adam and Eve as infants so that could grow up in maturity to be like the Logos who became FLESH (AH Book 4, Chapter 38). It is only when Adam and Eve are eating real spiritual food (the Bread of Immortality/The perfect Bread of the Father) do they become perfect (share in God’s eternal existence).
As for human destinies, Irenaeus is a big-time advocate for free-will. He contends, “The light does NEVER ENSLAVE ANYONE by necessity, nor again, does God exercise compulsion upon anyone unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill.” (AH Book 4, Chapter 39) If human beings become heretics, apostates, or immoral it is only because we do so by our own fault, since we are, in Irenaeus’ eyes, free agents born with rationality, mental powers that allow us to reject or submit to God. Angels, fyi, also have free will in IoL’s theology, and their superiority over humanity is really just temporary.
As for Eve, Irenaeus does not really mention her by name (and the same with Adam). He sees Eve as having fallen into Heresy by listening to the serpent.
In part 3, the conclusion of this mini-series, I will sum up what Clement and Irenaeus’ “Adam and Eve as Kids” understanding of Genesis 2-3 means for us today, and why.