Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

Section 5—Irenaeus. A.D. 180.

Irenaeus is expressly for the corruption of human nature through the sin of Adam, which he calls[1] antiqua serpentis plaga, “the old plague, blow, or wound of the serpent,” from which men cannot be saved otherwise than by believing in Christ. He says,[2] that “we offended God in the first Adam, not doing his commandment, and which we had transgressed from the beginning;” and that Eve[3] was the cause of death to herself and to all mankind;” and that man “will be justly condemned,[4] because being made rational, amittitm veram rationem, ‘he has lost true reason,' and lives irrationally, is contrary to the justice of God, giving himself up to every earthly spirit, and serves all pleasure.” Also he affirms,[5] that “we lost in Adam will to the image and likeness of God.” Now a very considerable part of this lay in man's free will to that which is good, and therefore this must be lost by sin; and what free will to that which is spiritually good can there be thought to be in man naturally, who, is said by, Irenaeus[6] to be lignum aridum, a dry tree, which cannot bring forth fruit unless the voluntary rain of the Spirit descends from above upon it? The weakness of human nature is proved by this writer from Romans 7:18; his words are these;[7] “who (Christ) saved them, qia per seipsos non habebanti salvari, ‘because they could not be saved by themselves;'” wherefore Paul declaring the infirmity of man, says, “I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing;” signifying that non a nobis sed a Deo est bonum salutis nostrae “not of ourselves, but of God, is the blessing of our salvation.” The inability, yea. the impossibility of attaining to the true knowledge of God, without divine teaching, is plainly asserted by him,[8] when after citing some passages in Isaiah, as, “I am God, and before me there is no Savior,” etc. he says, “Neither diversely, nor haughtily, nor in a boasting manner, does he say these things, but because impossible erat since Deo discere Deum,it was impossible to learn the knowledge of God without him,' he teaches men by his Logos, or Word, to know God.” And elsewhere he observes,[9] the bondage state of man by nature, and that immortality and eternal glory are not of himself, but are the pure free gift of God; “Man, says he, “who was before led captive, is taken out of the power of the possessor, according to the mercy of God the Father,” who has pity on his own work, “and restoring it, gives salvation to it by the Word; that is, by Christ; that man may experimentally learn that non a semeteipso, sed donatione Dei accepit incorruptelam, not of himself, but by the gift of God, he receives immortality.” It is true indeed that Irenaeus frequently makes mention of man's free will, and says,[10] that God made him free from the beginning that all have a power to do good, or not I and, that God still preserves the will of real free, not only in works, but even in believing which passages are produced by Dr. Whitby,[11] and others, and may be reconciled to what Irenaeus elsewhere asserts, by observing, that in some of them he speaks of free will as man was possessed of it when first created and in others of the natural liberty of the will, which, in all actions good and bad, is preserved free; and in none does it appear more so than in spiritual actions, and even in believing, in which men are influenced and assisted by the grace of God. Besides, it is one thing to say, that man has a free will to do spiritual actions, to believe, and the like, from the strength of grace given by God; and another thing to say that man has a free will and power to do that which is good, and to believe from the mere strength of nature; the former we allow of, the latter we deny, and which can never be proved to be Irenaeus' meaning, for that would be to contradict himself.


[1] Adv. Haeres. 1. 4, c. 5, p. 322.

[2] Ibid. c. 16, p. 460.

[3] Ibid. 1. 3, c. 33, p. 301.

[4] Ibid. 1. 4, c. 9, p. 326.

[5] Ibid. 1.3, c. 20, p. 282; et. 1.5, e 15, in Fragm. Graec. ad Calcem Irenaei.

[6] Ibid. c. 19, p. 100.

[7] Adv. Haeres. c. 22, p. 289.

[8] Adv. Haeres. 1.4, c. 18. p. 327.

[9] Ibid. 1.5, c. 21, p. 469.

[10] Ibid. 1. 4, c. 9, p. 326; c. 29, p. 349; c. 71, p. 416; c. 72, p. 417, 418.

[11] Discourse, etc. p. 96, 347. 348, 384; ed. 2. 95, 338, 339, 374.