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St Irenaeus and God become the ‘living man’

06 July 2011


From the Dean of Bradford

Sir, — I was sorry to see St Irenaeus being misquoted yet again, this time by Canon Giles Fraser (Comment, 24 June), although he is in the good company of Jürgen Moltmann and the Archbishop of York, among many others.

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive”? That is not quite what Irenaeus wrote. In a long passage in his Against Heresies (4.20.7), where he explains how the unknowable God is found in creation and through his Son, he says: “For the glory of God is a living man (vivens homo); but the life of man comes from the vision of God. . . the revelation of the Father which comes through the Word gives life to those who see God.” It is Christ in whom God has become the “living man”, the fully alive human being, in whom we see God’s glory.

Why does this matter? Well, it is not only a reminder of the danger of repeating soundbites without check­ing their context, but it is also an instance of a modern tendency to convert Christology into humanism. How do we know what it is to be “a fully alive human being” in relation to sex or anything else? Not by adopting culturally determined definitions of humanity (whether those of conservative Evangelicalism, Christian humanism, or secular liberalism), but by looking at God in the face and life of Jesus Christ.

That is the Jesus who did not do “sex”, whether hetero- or homo-sexual, and who said that there is no marriage in heaven, in a Jewish society where marriage and children were de rigueur; that is the Jesus who shockingly allowed women to caress him with oil in public (e.g. Luke 7).

If, for Jesus, “sex” is not essential in order to be fully human, but physically embodied love is, then it might help all sides in the gay-bishops debate to measure their own sexual beliefs and practices against the glorious humanity of our Lord, perhaps with a little more humility than sometimes seems to be the case.

The Deanery
Bradford BD1 4EG

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