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Medieval Philosophy - Saint Irenaeus

By Edited Jul 5, 2015 0 0

Background

  • Born c. 120/140, Asia Minor — died c. 200/203
  • Bishop and theologian. He was a missionary in Gaul before being named Bishop of Lugdunum (modern Lyon, France).

Major works, including Against Heresies, he promoted the development of an authoritative canon of the New Testament. His belief that the Christian God and the God of the Old Testament were identical led to the development of the Apostles' Creed.

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Irenaeus' Theodicy

Irenaeus’ theodicy is centered on the belief that humanity was created imperfectly. This is because he believes humans require growth in order to reach spiritual perfection. However, God does not necessarily intend evil to provide a means for this growth. For example, he may use a difficult challenge in order to promote spiritual growth. Irenaeus believed that for a person to reach spiritual perfection they must simply obey God's laws found within the Bible and religious scriptures. He stated that God does not intervene in human affairs to prevent evil as this would interfere with free will and therefore contradict spiritual growth of the individual.

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Influence of Irenaeus' Theodicy

The philosopher John Hick (b.1922) has developed Irenaeus’ view further. He agrees with Irenaeus that God created us with the potential for spiritual growth, however, Hick then sees the process of 'soul making' (as he calls it) to be a response to the evil in the world. Also, Hick argues, there exists what he terms an 'epistemic distance' between human beings and God, so that we are not born knowing of his existence, and it is not something which it is easy to gain certain knowledge of.

Two further consequences of Hick's theodicy:

1) Some individuals do not have opportunity to develop spiritually (e.g. child death)- afterlife must be considered (so they have an opportunity to reach heaven)

 2) Not all suffering is fair and understandable and therefore must be part of God’s bigger plan

Criticism's of Irenaeus

  • The idea that everyone goes to heaven is not just and inconsistent with Orthodox Christianity and ‘The Fall’ presented in Genesis 3. It also demotes Jesus’ role from ‘saviour’ to ‘moral role model’
  • Is the magnitude of suffering really necessary for soul making? e.g. the Holocaust. Most people would argue  that the inhumane treatment of people during this period was far too harsh.
  • If life suddenly ceased to exist, God would not have achieved his purpose.
  • Some ‘evil people’ cannot be held responsible for their evil actions; for example mentally retarded people.

 

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