The Mistaken Theological Anthropology of Irenaeus of Lyon

This essay examines the context of St Irenaeus’ references to the imago Dei in Adversus haereses V, chapters 15 and 16. The imago Dei motif, drawing upon Gen 1:26–27, refers to the idea that humanity has, in some way, been created in the image and likeness of God. There has been a great deal written on the topic, particularly as it relates to anthropological themes; Jacques Fantino and Antonio Orbe’s volumes are particularly important in this regard. However, whereas those two monographs analyzed Irenaeus’ understanding of the imago Dei through a systematic and thematic approach, this essay will employ an alternative methodology. With a view to better understanding the two key imago texts in AH V.16, this paper will briefly examine the larger theological context to which they belong. In so doing, I argue that Irenaeus’ concerns are not primarily anthropological. Moreover, his principle aim is not to explain the technical definitions of the terms ‘image’ or ‘likeness’, nor is his purpose to leverage these ideas in an effort to explain the nature of the human constitution. Rather, I argue that Irenaeus makes use of the imago Dei primarily to serve as a motif through which to articulate the intended relationship between God and humanity.

5 thoughts on “The Mistaken Theological Anthropology of Irenaeus of Lyon”

  1. Too much image and likeness
    The proposal squeezes a nuance out of “image” and “likeness” in Irenaeus, no longer technical or constitutional, but relational. Scholarship is evidenced, theology is clear, but the density and precision are obstacles to this potential listener.

  2. Suggested grouping
    Anthropology and Apologetics in Irenaeus and Tertullian

    Irenaeus: anthropology (Springer)
    Irenaeus: apologetics (Mutie)
    Irenaeus: anthropology (Walsh)
    Tertullian: apologetics (Cook)


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