The Scandal of the Incarnation

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):


The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).


Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).


(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).


I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)


Analogia Entis

As Hans Boersma notes, the analogia entis is first and foremost a “sacramental link” between God and creation (Boersma 71).  It is “hinged” or “suspended” by God.  Yet, and here is where an analogia entis cannot be equated with chain of being, it “also insists on the infinite difference between Creator and creature.  In fact, dissimilarity is the main point of the doctrine of analogy.”
last judgment

The following is from David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.  “The analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogizing of being in the difference between God and creatures” (241-242).  It rejects both the univocity of Apollos and the equivocity of Dionysius, “neither of which provide a vantage point on transcendence.”

Further safeguarding the Creator/creature distinction, Hart notes, “if the primary analogy is one of being, then an infinite analogical interval has been introduced between God and creatures.”

Hart suggests that without the analogia entis, revelation is impossible.  If there is no analogy or connection between God and man, then either man cannot understand God’s words (equivocity; difference) or man is God’s words (univocity; identity; the problem of Cratylus).


  1. If analogia entis implies a sacramental link between God and creation, and if Barth rejected this as the invention of Antichrist, is it no surprise that Barth (and his followers) have such an anemic view of the sacraments?
  2. There is a connection between God and the world. It is a sacramental one.  The “sign” is filled with deep meaning.  It is “thick.”
  3. Yet, the connection is not an essentialist one, which is the case with chain of being.
  4. This means human “faith,” human “reason,” and human “discourse,” all participate in God
  5. Contrary to chain of being, creation isn’t a diminution; rather, the “most high principle…is present in the very act of each moment of the particular” (247).  In other words, the “lowest” particular reflects the highest transcendence


Boersma, Hans. Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. Baker Academic.

Hart, David Bentley.