Mystic Mondays – The Centrality of Faith (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)


“Mystic Mondays” is a series done here at the Christian Watershed in the hopes of keeping us grounded. While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person. 

From On Apostolic Preaching:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

“Therefore, lest we suffer any such thing, we must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father. Action, then, comes by faith, as ‘if you do not believe,’ Isaias says, ‘you will not understand’; and truth brings about faith, for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.”

It seems that one of the central debates for Christians today is whether we should believe like Christians or live like Christians. One side is adamant that our beliefs are what save us while the other side argues that our works save us, while beliefs don’t really matter (or at least don’t hold that much importance).

For early Christians the distinction between believing and actions simply didn’t exist. To have “faith” meant that we believed what had been handed down to us and then lived according to those beliefs. As Irenaeus elucidates, action comes from faith and faith is established on things that are real. Our faith is in God, who is real, so then we should act on this belief.

We shouldn’t have a dichotomy between how we live and what we believe. Turning to the highly respected 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, we read,

“And when we exalt orthopraxy, right action, which is demanded clearly enough by Jesus himself…do we have to lose all sense of what the New Testament equally emphatically calls right belief, orthodoxy?” (Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, 13)

It certainly seems like von Balthasar is simply echoing the sentiments of Irenaeus, both of whom seem to point back to St. James (the Less or the Great, depending on who you believe), who wrote,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It would appear that even James faced this dichotomy where people were more concerned about works or about belief. To James, there is no difference. If you believe then it will show in your works, and your works will aid in your belief. Thus, faith is both a belief based upon reality, or Ultimate Reality, but because this is the case, faith requires us to act.

One can think of God’s Word, who is Truth (John 14:6) coming down and dying for His creation. Certainly He believed that He loved us, certainly Christ has beliefs about Himself. But He acted on those beliefs. The same God who baffles the greatest theologians and makes them less than children in knowledge came down to lift up the broken of this world so they might not only hear about His love, but experience His love. God cannot be divided, so while He is Truth, He is also action; we cannot merely believe in Him as a purely intellectual object to be studied, because when we gain true knowledge of Him we are moved to action.

This is part of the mysticism of Christianity, that it is a belief, it has propositional truths, it is rational, but it extends beyond these things. It has good actions, it is concerned with the poor, it serves the widows and orphans, but all of these actions are based upon its beliefs. Faith, true faith, is a faith based on reality and one that changes the whole of man.

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5 thoughts on “Mystic Mondays – The Centrality of Faith (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

  1. Joel,

    You write: “While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person.”

    This is why we have such a hard time taking Christian claims seriously. You will never get past this argument with non-believers. Reason and evidence are required of everything. Anything that you claim beyond this is just mental gymnastics that anyone can invent. Your foundation is just “made up.” And that’s why all the religions of the world are are inconsistent. They are just made up and make claims that by definition can’t be challenged.

    Jonathan

    1. And the reason I have a hard time taking atheism seriously is that it would appear that some adherents do not understand the difference between “beyond reason” and “irrational.” If something is “made up,” then by definition it isn’t beyond reason. It may be irrational, but it can’t be beyond reason because it was created using the faculty of reason.

      Likewise, saying it “contains reason” indicates that we can reasonably deduce many of the claims of Christianity, but Christianity is not summed up or ruled by these deductions.

      Finally, that you require evidence for everything is a flaw in atheism and is an epistemic flaw.

  2. Joel,

    That is why we will never come to an agreement and rational discussion is not possible. Your words are mumbo-jumbo. They are contained within a self consistent, made-up universe that does not allow examination from the outside. It requires faith, which is, by definition, beyond reason. Don’t start playing semantic games “beyond reason versus irrational.” Go look at the Courtiers Reply – lately discussed by Myers. You can twist the logic all you want, but when it rests upon stuff that you’ve invented with nothing to show for it, you are wasting your time.

    Yes – evidence for everything. That is the basis of science. How else would I know that you are not just peddling fairy tales? … or that your fairy tales are any better than any other religion? I’ll buy that Christianity could be real, but show me the evidence. Knowledge comes from theories that are tested, not just asserted. Without that you have nothing but unsubstantiated thoughts … and that isn’t knowledge.

    Jonathan

    1. This isn’t really the appropriate topic for all of this, so feel free to go to the previous topic you commented on (What (Some) Atheists Just Don’t Seem to Get) and post there. Essentially, you’re trolling and it’s not appreciated.

      However, against my better judgment, let me feed the troll a bit more: If we need evidence for everything that exists, using evidence prove you exist and that it’s not an illusion. If you say you’ve succeeded, then you don’t get it. If you admit defeat, then you’ve acknowledged that your epistemic system is a failure and there goes your critique. Remember, the scientific method helps on scientific knowledge, but not all knowledge is scientific. Some things can be known without needing verification or having verification. Scientism is a failure; accept that and move on.

  3. As requested I went to your other thread “What (Some) Atheists Just Don’t Seem to Get”

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