An indispensable lesson for aspiring (and sadly, many professional) theologians is to be found here. Brunner, as a Protestant, was trying to attack certain aspects of Roman Catholic theology that he traced back to Irenaeus. But in his zeal to do battle, he distorts Irenaeus' position. While it may be true that Irenaeus incorporated some ideas from Greek philosophy, this in itself does not make him guilty of corrupting the gospel - after all, there are elements of Greek philosophical thought to be found in Paul, John, Hebrews (especially), and elsewhere in the New Testament. (The popular notion that 'Greek' thought is unchristian while 'Hebrew' thought is more 'biblical' is pure nonsense. God chose to use these languages and cultures to express his message to the world, and can continue to use many languages and cultures to do so.) Gunton's error is that he follows Brunner blindly, without carefully reading Irenaeus for himself. But I hope you understand that I continue to have great respect for Gunton. The lesson: Understand before you criticise. When you misrepresent your opponents, the only thing you prove is your own ignorance.
Comments are welcome!
The imago Dei as a theological locus has stimulated much discussion, particularly in relation to ethics, gender, spirituality and Christology. However, little attention has been given to its intersection with ecclesiology. This paper aims to begin to address this weakness by exploring the idea of embodied mediation in relation to the imago Dei in order to retrieve insight into the identity and mission of the church. It begins with an examination of Irenaeus in dialogue with Colin Gunton, to be supplemented with biblical material and applied to the church.
2. Irenaeus and Colin Gunton in Dialogue
Irenaeus’ response to Gnosticism generated a multifaceted understanding of the image as ontological, moral, spiritual, revelatory and participatory, but with Christ as the iconic paradigm and the perfecting of humanity as its eschatological fulfilment. Particularly important to our purpose is Irenaeus’ emphasis on embodiment and participation in the Spirit as essential elements of the image and likeness.
According to Colin Gunton, Irenaeus’ distinction between image and likeness begins a trajectory, through Augustine, John of Damascus and Aquinas, that leads to the definition of image in terms of rationality as a static possession of the human individual to the detriment of relationality and embodiment. Brunner, whom Gunton follows, quotes no more than one incomplete sentence from Irenaeus on the image as reason, and suggests provocatively that “His anthropology is Gnosticism purified by Scripture … (Human) reason is conceived wholly in the sense of Greek rationalism … not as something which is actually related to God.” I would argue that Irenaeus’ distinction between image and likeness is more nuanced, and his conception of reason more dynamic, than these assessments suggest. In the passage in question Irenaeus writes,
- But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself [Brunner ends his quote here!], that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff. Wherefore also he shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts.
On reading Irenaeus it becomes evident that he, like Paul, understands ‘reason’ in close connection with spiritual perception, volition and morality, actualised as righteous living in relation to God (cf. Eph 4:17-18; Rom 12:1). Rationality is certainly prominent in Irenaeus’ ontology. But when Irenaeus speaks of ‘true rationality’, he is more concerned with its function and relation – rational living – than its ontology – rational being. It is also clear that the ‘image’, for Irenaeus, is not untouched by sin. Fallen humanity lives ‘irrationally’ in opposition to God, because rational living (‘likeness’) is dependent on the Spirit.
Second, although Irenaeus sometimes distinguishes image from likeness, the distinction is inconsistent and is not his primary concern. An examination of the text shows that Irenaeus’ point is the incompleteness of humanity without the Spirit: “But if the Spirit be wanting to the soul, he … shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image … but not receiving the similitude through the Spirit; and thus is this being imperfect.”
Third, Irenaeus was, in his polemic against the Gnostics, also at pains to stress that embodiment is essential to the human person as the image-bearer. His insistence on the embodied image stands in contrast to the Alexandrian Fathers. He also explicitly rejects Philo’s doctrine of mediated creation in favour of God’s immediate creation of the material world, thereby affirming its value.
Fourth, the incarnate Christ is the living image in its fullness. It is by becoming man that the Son reveals the image, which is true humanity. For Irenaeus, Christ’s recapitulation of humanity, his assimilating humanity to himself, is the means of restoring the image and likeness of God. Even in his affirmation of Christ as the archetypal image, Irenaeus stresses embodiment. It is in his incarnate state, being “visible and palpable,” that the Son reveals the Father.
Finally, Irenaeus’ concern with dependence and communion intimates the contemporary notion of personhood Gunton is advocating. Of this Steenberg writes, “To be a human person, for all that this mystery means, one must be first of all in communion with the Son through the indwelling of the Spirit, whereby the material creation is made the living child of the Father. Irenaean anthropology is one of godly relationship, of the experience of he who is, in his living person, all that his creation is meant to become.” This notion of derived personhood is akin to that of Jenson. But Irenaeus falls short of the more developed notion of personhood described by Zizioulas as the particularity of a person in relation, which cannot be reduced to a generic set of attributes. Gunton also extends personhood to relations not only with other human beings, but also with the inanimate creation: “The human person is one who is created to find his or her being in relation, first with other like persons but second, as a function of the first, with the rest of the creation.”
We learn from Irenaeus and Gunton that humans are created as embodied persons to live reasonable (Spirit-shaped) lives in communion with God, other persons, and with the created world. It is also important to retrieve from Irenaeus the distinction between the capacity for rational-relational living (i.e. ‘image’) and the actualisation of the same (i.e. ‘likeness’). The gift of reason entails a vocation to live rightly in relation to God. This helps us to conceive of the link between the image retained after the fall and the image restored in Christ.
Irenaeus’ emphasis on reason is appropriate to his context: dialogue with second century Gnostics. He need not be blamed for the way later thinkers built upon his ideas using categories we deem inappropriate. Nor do we need to be restricted to Irenaeus’ interpretation, as we are free to build on his insights using categories appropriate to our own context. This is true also of the biblical material to which we now turn.
[To be continued.]
 The notion of imago Trinitatis has been applied to the church’s structure (e.g. Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997]). But the broader implications of the imago Dei are a rich resource largely untapped.
 ‘Spiritual’ in this context designates relation to God rather than immateriality.
 Matthew C. Steenberg, Of God and Man (London: T & T Clark, 2009), 29-54. See for example: ontology (Irenaeus, Against Heresies [hereafter, AH], 5.1.3; 5.6.1; The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching [hereafter Dem.], 2); relation to God (AH 5.6.1; 4.4.3); revelation and participation (AH 3.20.2; 4.6.6; 4.20.5, 7; 5.8.1); christology and eschatology (AH 5.16.2.; 5.36.3; Dem. 22).
 Colin E. Gunton, “Trinity, Ontology and Anthropology: Towards a Renewal of the Doctrine of the Imago Dei,” Persons, Divine and Human, ed. Christoph Schwöbel and Colin E. Gunton (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), 48-49.
 Gunton cites Brunner’s Man in Revolt with no reference to Irenaeus’s text.
 Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt, trans. Olive Wyon (London: Lutterworth Press, 1939), 504-5.
 Irenaeus, AH 4.4.3; in Philip Schaff (ed.), Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (ebook; Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library; available from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.pdf; accessed 18 August 2013).
 Also see Irenaeus, AH 2.6.1, 2.31.1, 5.1.3, 5.8.2, 5.8.3; also Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 131.
 Cf. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation, 138.
 AH 5.8.2; also see Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge: CUP, 2001), 221.
 In AH 3.18.1 both image and likeness lost; in 5.6.1 image is retained but the likeness is lost; cf. Osborn, 213.
 AH 5.6.1. Also see Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation, 138.
 AH 5.6.1. Also Dem. 11; AH 5.9.1, 5.11.2.
 Osborn, 215.
 AH 4.20.1. Steenberg, God and Man, 25; Irenaeus on Creation, 72-3; Osborn, 221; Thomas G. Weinandy, “St. Irenaeus and the Imago Dei: The Importance of Being Human.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 6/4 (2003):17.
 AH 5.16.2, Dem. 22.
 AH 3.18.1, 3.22.1, 5.1.3, 5.36.3.
 AH 4.6.6; also AH 5.16.2; 4.6.6; Dem. 22.
 Steenberg, Of God and Man, 53.
 Robert Jenson, “Anima Ecclesiastica,” God and Human Dignity, ed. R. Kendall Soulen & Linda Woodhead (Eerdmans, 2006), 64. Also see Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: Mowbrays, 1975), 137; Alistair I. McFadyen, The Call to Personhood (Cambridge: CUP, 1990), 21.
 John Zizioulas, “On Being a Person: Towards an Ontology of Personhood,” in Schwöbel and Gunton (eds.), 41-43; Lossky, 118.
 Gunton, 59. But see AH 5.6.1 for Irenaeus’ concern with relations with one’s “neighbours.”
 Cf. Brunner’s distinction between the ‘formal’ image and the ‘material’ image (Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption: Dogmatics Vol. II, trans. Olive Wyon [London: Lutterworth Press, 1952], 57-58).