The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation of the Word. We have seen how Justin declared that it was not permissible to regard |the Spirit| and |the Power| that came upon the Virgin as any other than the Word of God Himself. And we also noted in passing that Theophilus of Antioch spoke of the Word as being |Spirit of God| and |Power of the Highest,| the second of which designations comes from Luke i.35.
We have now to ask
whether the language of Irenæus corresponds with this interpretation and makes the Word Himself to be the agent of His own Incarnation.
We begin with a strange passage of the Demonstration (c.71) in which he expounds Lam. iv.20: The Spirit of our face, the Lord Christ, was taken in their snares; of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the Gentiles. He has used part of this text in III, xi.2, a passage which must be cited here. Christ, he says, is Salus, Salvator, and Salutare in various Scriptures. |He is Salvator (Saviour), because He is Son and Word of God: Salutare (perhaps as saving-principle), because He is Spirit; for the Spirit of our face, it says, Christ the Lord: and He is Salus (Salvation), because He is flesh.| He has in his mind some |Gnostic| error which he is refuting; but we are only concerned with his use of the text to prove that Christ is Spirit. In the passage in the Demonstration he makes the same use of it. This Scripture, he says, declares |that Christ being (the) Spirit of God was to become a suffering man.| Then he adds: |And by shadow he means His body. For just as a shadow is made by a body, so also Christ's body was made by His Spirit.| Here again we are not concerned with the general argument, but only with these two statements: Christ was Spirit of God, and Christ's body was made. by His Spirit. This is as much as to say that the Word of God was the agent of His own Incarnation.
In c.59 we read: |By flower [of the root of Jesse] he means His flesh (or |body|): for from spirit it budded forth, as we have said before.| The reference would appear to be to c.51: |that the same God forms Him from the womb, that is, that of the Spirit of God He should be born.|
In V, i.2, controverting Docetic views, he says |If He were not man and yet appeared to be man, then neither did He remain what He was in truth, (viz.) Spirit of God, since the Spirit is invisible; nor was any truth in Him, since He was not what He appeared to be.|
In c.97, after quoting from Baruch iii.38, Afterward did he appear upon earth, and was conversant with men, he says: |mingling and mixing the Spirit of God the Father with the plasma (formation') of God, that man might be after the image and likeness of God.| There is a close parallel in IV, xxxiv 4, a continuation of the great passage cited at length above: |His advent according to flesh, whereby a mingling and communion of God and man was made, according to the good-pleasure of the Father: the Word of God having foretold from the beginning that God should be seen of men and should be conversant with them on the earth . . . that man being intermingled with the Spirit of God should be brought to the glory of the Father.|
The general thought here is that the restoration of man takes place after the pattern of the Incarnation -- the intermingling of human flesh with the Spirit of God. If the Spirit of God in the Incarnation is thought of primarily as Christ Himself, yet there is no sharp distinction drawn between Christ as Spirit and the Spirit that works in believers. The indistinctness is not greater than in St Paul: |if the Spirit of God be in you . . . but if any man have not the Spirit of Christ . . . but if Christ be in you . . . if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you| -- all in consecutive verses in Rom. viii.9 ff.
We have left to the last a phrase, which taken alone might have suggested a later view. If we are not to misinterpret Irenæus, we must bear in mind that the clause |Conceived of the Holy Ghost| does not appear in any credal confession before the Council of Ariminum in 359, and it was not until some years later that it found final acceptance. It belongs to a period of definition long subsequent to the age of Irenæus.
The words in question are these (c.40): |He from whom all things are, He who spake with Moses, came into Judea; generated from God by (the) Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.| I have been compelled to use the word |generated,| at the risk of misunderstanding: but the Armenian word means simply |sown.| And we shall do well at once to compare III, xvii.6: |The Word, ... united and sown together with that which He Himself had formed (or, as the Latin has it, unitus et consparsus suo plasmati) according to the good pleasure of the Father, and made flesh.| It is the Word that the Father |sows| by His Spirit. And to show the wide scope of the metaphor, we may compare IV, xx.1: |The Son of God is sown everywhere in the Scriptures; at one time speaking with Abraham and eating with him,| and so forth. And, again, in IV, xlviii.2 we have: |the seed of the Father of all, that is, the Spirit of God, through whom all things were made, mingled and united with flesh, that is, His plasma (formation').| This is said of the Holy Spirit in His work amongst men.
The whole topic is further illustrated by V, i.3:
|The Ebionites . . . not willing to understand that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her; wherefore also that which was born was holy, and Son of the Most High God, the Father of all, who wrought His incarnation, and manifested a new birth; that, as by the former birth we inherited death, so by this birth we should inherit life.| Presently he adds: |and not considering that, just as at the beginning of our formation (plasmatio) in Adam that breath of life which was from God, being united toy the thing formed (plasmata), animated man and manifested a rational animal, so at the end the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, being united (adunitus, singular) to the original substance of the formation (plasmatio) of Adam, made man living and perfect, capable of receiving the perfect Father; that, as in the animal we all died, so in the spiritual we should all be made alive.|
It results from this examination that the teaching of Irenæus as to the relation of the Holy Spirit to the Incarnation is vague, perhaps even transitional. He does not, like Justin, plainly assert that the Spirit of God who came down upon the Virgin was the Word of God Himself; nor, on the other hand, does he definitely preclude that view. He seems to prefer to think of a cooperation of the Word of God and the Wisdom of God -- the Two Hands of God to whom the creation of the first formed man was due.
We may conclude by quoting a striking passage from the Demonstration, the earlier part of which will recall the noble lines of Newman's hymn:
O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God's presence and his very Self,
And Essence all-divine.
|So the Word was made flesh, that, through that very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated, it should lose its force and be no longer in us. And therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers, and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down. Whence then is the substance of the first-formed (man)? From the Will and the Wisdom of God, and from the virgin earth. For God had not sent rain, the Scripture says, upon the earth, before man was made; and there was no man to till the earth. From this, then, whilst it was still virgin, God took dust of the earth and formed the man, the beginning of mankind. So then the Lord, summing up afresh this man, took the same dispensation of entry into flesh, being born from the Virgin by the Will and the Wisdom of God; that He also should show forth the likeness of Adam's entry into flesh, and there should be that which was written in the beginning, man after the image and likeness of God.|