Saturday, January 9, 2010

St Irenaeus of Lyons' "Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching": On the Creation of Eve

This is a summary of a podcast given by Fr Dcn Mattew Steenberg of

St Irenaeus writes in this piece that among all other living things in the beginning, no helper was found equal and like Adam. In all of creation Adam was unique and precious, the handiwork of the Lord. So as much as all the animals that were brought to him as their lord were helpers in certain ways, Adam remained in a profound manner alone. Who was like Adam who could help him unto salvation? The only way this could be accomplished was for someone truly like him, of his own flesh, to be his companion.

And so Eve comes about from the rib of Adam. Eve’s creation out of Adam, woman created out of man, has been misread as a kind of misogyny: Man is created directly by God, but woman is a kind of derivative of the ‘better’ male creation. St Irenaeus finds a much more spiritual, beautiful vision of the text. It is not that Adam was created first therefore better; rather that true companionship means that one must truly be intimately connected, of the same spirit, flesh, and in the case of Adam and Eve, the first family, the first human community. God does not simply create 2 people side by side and insists on them forming a community, to be a family, to help one another. Rather he draws one from the other, so that they are by their very nature united. They are companions, down to their very flesh; their very existence is designed to be of benefit to the other. And this is not simply true of Eve’s relationship to Adam, but also of Adam’s relationship to Eve. The role of humanity, the role of all Christians to be a helpmate of all others is built into our nature. To be of a community, to be of assistance and support to those around us is not an option. It is something which is built into our very fabric as humans. My creation, your creation means that we are intrinsically connected. So what is natural is to be a helpmate, to be support, to be a companion to those we encounter.

What is deeply unnatural is to absent ourselves from such relationships; to view compassion, love, as optional extras. Sometimes we characterise people who are extremely compassionate and forgiving, who offer their lives to others, as superhuman; superhuman in the way they offer themselves to strangers. But in fact such people are those who have discovered what it means to be truly human, whereas us who live in broken relationships, who see a brother or a sister and rather than seeing a companion, we see a stranger, foreigner, an ‘other’. We are the sub natural, subhuman examples of life in this world. Those who offer themselves to the other demonstrate simple, natural, precious, true humanity. This is what St Irenaeus finds in this passage that has been traditionally misinterpreted.

In this act of Eve receiving her substance, we find the very foundation of Christian community. We find the true source and substance of our responsibility. And we find the true blessing of human creation. In all of creation we are, one to another, unlike anything else; we are truly helpmates. When we see our brother or sister, let us look upon them with eyes informed by this knowledge: That in all creation, there is none like them but us, their brothers and sisters. The weight is on our shoulders to love, to forgive, to help, to support all whom we encounter, whatever their circumstances and whatever ours. That we as one family created by the Lord Jesus Christ may grow into His redemption and His love.

May God be with you all!


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