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Irenaeus on the Renovation of Creation

This post serves as an addendum to a few others on the theme of the new heaven and the new earth in John Calvin, Augustine, and John Chrysostom.

As in those three writers, so in Irenaeus we find the idea of the restoration of this creation and its liberation from corruption, which thus allows for a certain (not exhaustive) degree of continuity between this world and the next. In Against Heresies 5.32.1, he writes:

1. Inasmuch, therefore, as the opinions of certain [orthodox persons] are derived from heretical discourses, they are both ignorant of God’s dispensations, and of the mystery of the resurrection of the just, and of the [earthly] kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption, by means of which kingdom those who shall be worthy are accustomed gradually to partake of the divine nature (capere Deum ); and it is necessary to tell them respecting those things, that it behooves the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated, and that the judgment should take place afterwards. For it is just that in that very creation in which they toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering; and that in the creation in which they were slain because of their love to God, in that they should be revived again; and that in the creation in which they endured servitude, in that they should reign. For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting, therefore, that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous; and the apostle has made this plain in the Epistle to the Romans, when he thus speaks: For the expectation of the creature1 waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature has been subjected to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope; since the creature itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Romans 8:19, etc.

  1. There has long been debate about the meaning of ktisis (“creation” or “creature”) in this passage. Does it refer to the irrational creation? Only to the rational creation? To Adam and Eve? Irenaeus takes it as referring to the irrational creation, which is set off in this passage and in Romans against the “sons of God.”

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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