The Irenaen Theodicy

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  • Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 05-06-16 13:46

The Irenaen Theodicy

Irenaeus (AD 130-202) in his work Against Heresies saw the world as a testing ground for human moral development. The quality or quantity of evil in the world would be such that this growth can take place. He saw the creation of the human race as taking place over two stages which are identified by the two words ‘Image’ and ‘Likeness’ in Genesis 1:26.

Stage 1 - Image

The first stage, in which humanity is made in God’s image saw the creation of humanity endowed with a huge capacity for moral and spiritual development.  The Hebrew word ‘Selem’ (image) means that humanity was made as a perfect copy of God.  Irenaeus believed that Adam was made in God’s image – but innocent and immature awaiting further development. We have intelligence, morality and personality through this Selem but we are not yet perfect.

Stage 2 - Likeness

The second stage saw humanity becoming the children of God, through their own responses, which form their perfecting.  At present humanity is similar to God and it has to grow towards him. This means that if perfect ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are to be achieved, evil and suffering are necessary.  They have a teleological function according to Irenaeus‘ Theodicy – helping people to develop; and unite themselves to the presence of God as perfectly as they can. 

Irenaeus concluded by suggesting that eventually evil and suffering will be overcome and the human race will develop into God’s perfect likeness and will live in heaven, where all suffering will end forever and God’s plan will be complete.

Free Will

As such, Irenaeus suggested that evil could be traced back to human free will.  However, he differed from Augustine by saying that God did not make a perfect world in the first place and that evil has a valuable part to play in God’s plans for humanity. Irenaeus explained that God could not have created humans in complete perfection because attaining the likeness of God needed the willing cooperation of human individuals.  In other words, absolute goodness and perfection had to be developed by humans themselves, through willing cooperation with God.  This meant that God had to give them free will, the only means by which they can willingly cooperate with God, or act without coercion.  Moreover, freedom required the possibility of choosing good instead of evil, and therefore God had to allow evil and suffering…


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