The Non-Christian Cross, Parsons.
Chapter IV: CURIOUS STATEMENTS OF IRENAEUS.
"THE special importance of the evidence of
Irenaeus, is due to the fact that of all the Fathers whose
undisputed works have come down to us he is the only one who can
be considered to have been anything like in touch with the
Apostles. As an acquaintance of the aged Polycarp, who is said to
have been in his youth a pupil of the aged Evangelist and Apostle
St. John and to have met yet other Apostles, Irenaeus had
opportunities for ascertaining facts concerning the life and
death of Jesus which the other Fathers upon whose works we rely
did not possess.
What, then, does this important witness have to say, which bears
upon the points at issue? As a matter of fact, very little. There
are, however, two passages in the works of Irenaeus which it
would not be right to altogether ignore.
In the first of these passages Irenaeus mentions that some
Christians believed that Simon of Cyrene was executed instead of
Jesus, owing to the power of Jesus to metamorphose himself and
others having been exercised with that object in view. This power
is referred to more than once in our Gospels, for instance in the
account of the so-called " Transfiguration "upon the
Mount ; the Greek word rendered in our Bibles as "
transfigured " being the word which in translations of the
older Greek classics is rendered " metamorphosed."
Even if we pass by this belief of certain of the early Christians
that Jesus was never executed, a question here arises which
should at least be stated, and that is the question how, if Jesus
was metamorphosed upon the Mount, as the Gospels tell us, he can
be said to have died as a man at Calvary? For if upon the mount
of Transfiguration, or at any other time previous to the scene at
Calvary, Jesus was metamorphosed, the form which was the result
of the process of re-metamorphosis necessary to make him
regognisable again cannot be said to have been born of the Virgin
Mary, and can have been human only in appearance.
The other in the writings of Irenaeus which deserves our notice,
is neither more nor less than an emphatic declaration, by
Irenaeus himself, that Jesus was not executed when a little over
thirty years of age, but lived to be an old man. Explain it away
how we will, the fact remains ; and it certainly ought not to be
At first sight this statement of Irenaeus would , that, as the
Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate admittedly did not , though he
reluctantly consented to do so in order to pacify the Jews and
allowed Jesus to be fixed to a stauros and suspended in public
view, the took care to manage things so that Jesus he could
easily have had him down while in a drugged condition, had the
farce of burial carried out at the earliest possible moment, and
then have had him resuscitated and removed to some region where
he could dwell in safety.
What Irenaeus says concerning Jesus is that
"He passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants.
. . . So likewise he was an old man for old men, that he might be
a perfect Master for all, not merely as regards the setting forth
of the truth but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same
time the aged also and becoming an example to them likewise. Then,
at last, he came on to death itself..... From the fortieth and
fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our
Lord possessed while he still fulfilled the office of a Teacher;
even as the Gospel and all the elders testify, those who were
conversant in Asia with John the disciple of the Lord affirming
that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained
among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them moreover saw
not only John but the other apostles also, and heard the very
same account from them, and bear testimony as to the statement.
Whom, then, should we rather believe ? Whether such men as these,
or Ptolemaus, who never saw the apostles and who never even in
his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle ?"
The reader must decide for himself or herself whether Irenaeus
believed that Jesus was never executed ; or that he was executed
but survived; or that he was born when we suppose, but executed
thirty years or so later than we suppose ; or that, though
executed when we suppose, he was then an old man, and was born,
not at the commencement or middle or end of the year A.C. 1 or B.C.
4, or whenever the orthodox date is, but thirty years or more
before what we call our era began. Anyhow he mentions neither
cross nor execution, and here seems to assume that Jesus died a
natural death. And in any case the fact remains that, however
mistaken he may have been, Irenaeus stated that Jesus lived to be
an old man ; and stated so emphatically.
Even granting that Irenaeus must have been mistaken, his evidence
none the less affects one of the most important points debated in
this work. For it is clear that if even he knew so little about
the execution of Jesus, the details of that execution cannot have
been particularly well known ; and the affirmation that the
stauros to which Jesus was affixed had a transverse bar attached
may have had no foundation in fact, and may have arisen from a
wish to connect Jesus with that well-known and widely-venerated
Symbol of Life, the pre-Christian cross."
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