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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book V, Chapter 13

Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 13)

In the dead who were raised by Christ we possess the highest proof of the resurrection; and our hearts are shown to be capable of life eternal, because they can now receive the Spirit of God.

1. Let our opponents— that is, they who speak against their own salvation— inform us [as to this point]: The deceased daughter of the high priest; the widow's dead son, who was being carried out [to burial] near the gate [of the city]; Luke 7:12 and Lazarus, who had lain four days in the tomb, John 9:30 — in what bodies did they rise again? In those same, no doubt, in which they had also died. For if it were not in the very same, then certainly those same individuals who had died did not rise again. For [the Scripture] says, The Lord took the hand of the dead man, and said to him, Young man, I say unto you, Arise. And the dead man sat up, and He commanded that something should be given him to eat; and He delivered him to his mother. Again, He called Lazarus with a loud voice, saying, Lazarus, come forth; and he that was dead came forth bound with bandages, feet and hands. This was symbolic of that man who had been bound in sins. And therefore the Lord said, Loose him, and let him depart. As, therefore, those who were healed were made whole in those members which had in times past been afflicted; and the dead rose in the identical bodies, their limbs and bodies receiving health, and that life which was granted by the Lord, who prefigures eternal things by temporal, and shows that it is He who is Himself able to extend both healing and life to His handiwork, that His words concerning its [future] resurrection may also be believed; so also at the end, when the Lord utters His voice by the last trumpet, 1 Corinthians 15:52 the dead shall be raised, as He Himself declares: The hour shall come, in which all the dead which are in the tombs shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth; those that have done good to the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:28

2. Vain, therefore, and truly miserable, are those who do not choose to see what is so manifest and clear, but shun the light of truth, blinding themselves like the tragic Œdipus. And as those who are not practised in wrestling, when they contend with others, laying hold with a determined grasp of some part of [their opponent's] body, really fall by means of that which they grasp, yet when they fall, imagine that they are gaining the victory, because they have obstinately kept their hold upon that part which they seized at the outset, and besides falling, become subjects of ridicule; so is it with respect to that [favourite] expression of the heretics: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; while taking two expressions of Paul's, without having perceived the apostle's meaning, or examined critically the force of the terms, but keeping fast hold of the mere expressions by themselves, they die in consequence of their influence (περὶ αὐτάς), overturning as far as in them lies the entire dispensation of God.

3. For thus they will allege that this passage refers to the flesh strictly so called, and not to fleshly works, as I have pointed out, so representing the apostle as contradicting himself. For immediately following, in the same Epistle, he says conclusively, speaking thus in reference to the flesh: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying which is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O death, where is your victory? 1 Corinthians 15:53 Now these words shall be appropriately said at the time when this mortal and corruptible flesh, which is subject to death, which also is pressed down by a certain dominion of death, rising up into life, shall put on incorruption and immortality. For then, indeed, shall death be truly vanquished, when that flesh which is held down by it shall go forth from under its dominion. And again, to the Philippians he says: But our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, who shall transfigure the body of our humiliation conformable to the body of His glory, even as He is able (ita ut possit) according to the working of His own power. Philippians 3:29, etc. What, then, is this body of humiliation which the Lord shall transfigure, [so as to be] conformed to the body of His glory? Plainly it is this body composed of flesh, which is indeed humbled when it falls into the earth. Now its transformation [takes place thus], that while it is mortal and corruptible, it becomes immortal and incorruptible, not after its own proper substance, but after the mighty working of the Lord, who is able to invest the mortal with immortality, and the corruptible with incorruption. And therefore he says, that mortality may be swallowed up of life. He who has perfected us for this very thing is God, who also has given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:4 He uses these words most manifestly in reference to the flesh; for the soul is not mortal, neither is the spirit. Now, what is mortal shall be swallowed up of life, when the flesh is dead no longer, but remains living and incorruptible, hymning the praises of God, who has perfected us for this very thing. In order, therefore, that we may be perfected for this, aptly does he say to the Corinthians, Glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20 Now God is He who gives rise to immortality.

4. That he uses these words with respect to the body of flesh, and to none other, he declares to the Corinthians manifestly, indubitably, and free from all ambiguity: Always bearing about in our body the dying of Jesus, that also the life of Jesus Christ might be manifested in our body. For if we who live are delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, it is that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:10, etc. And that the Spirit lays hold on the flesh, he says in the same Epistle, That you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, inscribed not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart. 2 Corinthians 3:3 If, therefore, in the present time, fleshly hearts are made partakers of the Spirit, what is there astonishing if, in the resurrection, they receive that life which is granted by the Spirit? Of which resurrection the apostle speaks in the Epistle to the Philippians: Having been made conformable to His death, if by any means I might attain to the resurrection which is from the dead. Philippians 3:11 In what other mortal flesh, therefore, can life be understood as being manifested, unless in that substance which is also put to death on account of that confession which is made of God? — as he has himself declared, If, as a man, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantages it me if the dead rise not? For if the dead rise not, neither has Christ risen. Now, if Christ has not risen, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain. In that case, too, we are found false witnesses for God, since we have testified that He raised up Christ, whom [upon that supposition] He did not raise up. For if the dead rise not, neither has Christ risen. But if Christ be not risen, your faith is vain, since you are yet in your sins. Therefore those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are more miserable than all men. But now Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those that sleep; for as by man [came] death, by man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:13, etc.

5. In all these passages, therefore, as I have already said, these men must either allege that the apostle expresses opinions contradicting himself, with respect to that statement, Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; or, on the other hand, they will be forced to make perverse and crooked interpretations of all the passages, so as to overturn and alter the sense of the words. For what sensible thing can they say, if they endeavour to interpret otherwise this which he writes: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality; 1 Corinthians 15:53 and, That the life of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh; 2 Corinthians 4:11 and all the other passages in which the apostle does manifestly and clearly declare the resurrection and incorruption of the flesh? And thus shall they be compelled to put a false interpretation upon passages such as these, they who do not choose to understand one correctly.

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Source. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103513.htm>.

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