lest she not be able to make the good confession; yet she 'was filled with such power that even those who were taking turns to torture her in every way from dawn until dusk were weary and beaten. They themselves admitted that they were beaten . . . astonished at her endurance, as her entire body was mangled and broken' (HE 5.1.18). Not only is she, in her weakness, filled with divine power by her confession, but she becomes fully identified with the one whose body was broken on Golgotha: when hung on a stake in the arena, 'she seemed to hang there in the form of a cross, and by her fervent prayer she aroused intense enthusiasm in those who were undergoing their ordeal, for in their torment with their physical eyes they saw in the person of their sister him who was crucified for them, that he might convince all who believe in him that all who suffer for Christ's sake will have eternal fellowship in the living God' (HE 5.1.41). For Irenaeus it was the martyr, no longer living by the flesh, but by the spirit, who is the truly living human being, 'the glory of God'.17 Similarly characteristic is the description of the martyrs' deaths as their 'new birth' (HE 5.1.63), and the use of the term 'virgin' to refer to the church: when the ten 'stillborn' who had recanted then returned to their confession, 'the virgin mother had much joy in recovering alive those whom she had cast forth as stillborn' (HE 5.1.11, 45).18 It is also noteworthy, and struck Eusebius as such, since he records this passage separately from the main narrative, that those who had survived their encounter with the wild beasts refused to be known as 'martyrs', reserving this for those alone who have endured until the end, in imitation of 'the true and faithful martyr' and 'firstborn from the dead', Christ himself.19 Although Irenaeus had probably learnt from Justin in Rome, the theology he develops, and which is presented in this letter, comes from further east.20 It is represented by Ignatius of Antioch, whose words on his way to his own martyrdom, 'I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of God', are cited by Irenaeus as coming from 'one of ours'.21 This allusion to the eucharist is developed by Irenaeus, who sees a parallel between
18 For Irenaeus' comments on the church as the virgin mother in whom Christians receive a new birth through martyrdom, see Haer. 4.33.4, 9.
20 Other teachings which Irenaeus inherited from the east include the infancy of the newly created Adam, previously found only in Theophilus of Antioch (Autol. 2.25) and the abundant fruitfulness of the earth in the millennial kingdom of the Lord, a tradition which he received from 'the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, and related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times', things which are also testified by Papias (Haer. 5.33.3-4).
21 Haer. 5.28.4; the quotation comes from Ign. Rom. 4.
Was this article helpful?