Irenaeus, too, wrote on the subject of the resurrection. Polycarp had sent Pothinus into Celtic Gaul at an early date as its evangelist. Pothinus was joined there by Irenaeus as a presbyter, having been his fellow-pupil under Polycarp. When Pothinus had closed his life by a martyr’s death, Irenaeus naturally became his successor. The work of Irenaeus Against Heresies is one of the most precious remains of early Christian antiquity. It is devoted, on the one hand, to an account and refutation of those multiform Gnostic heresies which prevailed in the latter half of the second century; and, on the other hand, to an exposition and defense of the Christian faith.
Declaring his faith in the resurrection, Irenaeus writes, and we quote:
For our Lord and Master, in the answer which He gave to the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, and who do therefore dishonor God, and lower the credit of the law, did both indicate a resurrection, and reveal God, saying to them, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” “For, touching the resurrection of the dead,” He says, “have ye not read that which was spoken by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” And He added, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.” By these arguments He unquestionably made it clear, that He who spake to Moses out of the bush, and declared Himself to be the God of the fathers, He is the God of the living. For who is the God of the living unless He who is God, and above whom there is no other God? Whom also Daniel the prophet, when Cyrus king of the Persians said to him, “Why dost thou not worship Bel?” did proclaim, saying, “Because I do not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, Who established the heaven and the earth, and has dominion over all flesh.” For if He be not the God of the dead, but of the living, yet was called the God of the fathers who were sleeping, they do indubitably live to God, and have not passed out of existence, since they are children of the resurrection. But our Lord is Himself the resurrection, as He does Himself declare, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Irenaeus, in the following quotation, is of the opinion that man’s original creation by God is much more difficult and incredible than that work of God whereby the Lord raised him from the dead. This may surely be disputed. But let us hear what Irenaeus has to say about this:
Those men, therefore, set aside the power of God, and do not consider what the word declares, when they dwell upon the infirmity of the flesh, but do not take into consideration the power of Him Who raises it up from the dead. For if He does not vivify what is mortal, and does not bring back the corruptible to incorruption, He is not a God of power. But that He is powerful in all these respects, we ought to perceive from our origin, inasmuch as God, taking dust from the earth, formed man. And surely it is much more difficult and incredible, from non-existent. bones, and nerves, and veins, and the rest of man’s organization, to bring it about that all this should be, and to make man an animated and rational creature, than to reintegrate again that which had been created and then afterwards decomposed into earth (for the reasons already mentioned), having thus passed into those (elements) from which man, who had no previous existence, was formed. For He Who in the beginning caused him to have being who as yet was not, just when He pleased, shall much more reinstate again those who had a former existence, when it is His will that they should inherit the life granted by Him.
Irenaeus wrote several chapters in which he affirms his belief in the resurrection of the dead. We read these writings of the church father in Vol. I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, in his writings against heresies. In chapter XV he calls attention to proofs of the resurrection from the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel:
Now, that He Who at the beginning created man, did promise him a second birth after his dissolution into earth, Esaias thus declares: “The dead shall rise again, and they who are in the tombs shall arise, and they who are in the earth shall rejoice. For the dew which is from Thee is health to them.
And again: “I will comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem: and ye shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish as the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to those who worship Him.
And Ezekiel speaks as follows: “And the hand of the Lord came upon me, and the Lord led me forth in the Spirit, and set me down in the midst of the plain, and this place was full of bones. And He caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were many upon the surface of the plain very dry. And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I said, Lord, Thou who hast made them dost know. And He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and thou shalt say to them, Ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord to these bones, Behold, I will cause the spirit of life to come upon you, and I will lay sinews upon you, and bring up flesh again upon you, and I will stretch skin upon you, and will put my Spirit into you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. And I prophesied as the Lord had commanded me. And it came to pass, when I was prophesying, that, behold, an earthquake, and the bones were drawn together, each one to its own articulation: and I beheld, and, lo, the sinews and flesh were produced upon them, and the skins rose upon them round about, but there was no breath in them. And He said unto me, Prophesy to the breath, son of man, and say to the breath, These things saith the Lord, Come from the four winds, and breathe upon these dead, that they may live. So I prophesied as the Lord had commanded me, and the breath entered into them; and they did live, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great gathering.” And again he says, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will set your graves open, and cause you to come out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall open your sepulchers, that I may bring my people again out of the sepulchers: and I will put My Spirit into you, and ye shall live; and I will place you in your land, and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” As we at once perceive that the Creator is in this passage represented as vivifying our dead bodies, and promising resurrection to them, and resuscitation from their sepulchers and tombs, conferring upon them immortality also (He says, “For as the tree of life, so shall their days be”), He is shown to be the only God Who accomplishes these things, and as Himself the good Father, benevolently conferring life upon those who have not life from themselves.
Terttillian, too, wrote extensively about the resurrection of the body. We conclude our discussion of this doctrine of the resurrection of the body in the period, 80-250 A.D., by quoting from this church father. We now present to our readers some excerpts from his writings. In Vol. III of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, we read that he wrote against the heretics who maintained that the God Who created the world and gave the Mosaic dispensation, was opposed to the supreme God. Hence, these heretics attached an idea of inherent corruption and worthlessness to all His works—amongst the rest, to the flesh or body of man, affirming that it could not rise again, and that the soul alone was capable of inheriting immortality. And so this church father writes at great length about the dignity of the flesh or body.
In chapter 1 of his treatise, he writes the following:
The resurrection of the dead is the Christian’s trust. By it we are believers. To the belief of this article of the faith truth compels us—that truth which God reveals, but the crowd derides, which supposes that nothing will survive after death. And yet they do honour to their dead, and that too in the most expensive way according to their bequest, and with the daintiest banquets which the seasons can produce, on the presumption that those whom they declare to be incapable of all perception will retain an appetite.
Tertullian, as did Irenaeus, alludes also to the chapter in Ezekiel on the resurrection of the body. We cannot, and need not, quote extensively from the writings of this church father. May the following quotation suffice (chapter XXXIV):
Who will any longer doubt of the safety of both natures, when one of them is to obtain salvation, and the other is not to lose it? [Tertullian is speaking of the body and the soul—H.V.] And, still further, the Lord explains to us the meaning of the things when He says: “I came not to do My own will, but the Father’s, Who hath sent. Me.” What, I ask, is that will? “That of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” Now, what had Christ. received of the Father but that which He had Himself put on? Man, of course, in his texture of flesh and soul [this, of course, we dispute; what Christ has received of the Father was His own—H.V.]. Neither, therefore, of those parts which He has received will He allow to perish; nay, no considerable portion—nay, not the least fraction, of either. If the flesh be, as our opponents slightingly think, but a poor fraction, then the flesh is safe, because not a fraction of man is to perish; and no larger portion of man is in danger, because every portion of man is in equally safe keeping with Him. If, however, He will not raise the flesh also up at the last day, then He will permit not only a fraction of man to perish, but (as I will venture to say, in consideration of so important a part) almost the whole of him. But when He repeats His words with increased emphasis, “And this is the Father’s will, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day,”—He asserts the full extent of the resurrection. For He assigns to each several nature that reward which is suited to its services: both to the flesh, for by the Son was “seen”; and to the soul, for by it He was “believed on.” Then, you will say, to them was this promise given by whom Christ was “seen.” Well, be it so; only let the same hope flow on from them to us! For if to them who saw, and therefore believed, such fruit then accrued to the operation of the flesh and the soul, how much more to us! For more “blessed,” says Christ, “are they who have not seen, and yet have believed”; since, even if the resurrection of the flesh must be denied to them, it must at any rate be a fitting boon to us, who are the more blessed. For how could we be blessed, if we were to perish in any part of us?