Sunday, September 6, 2015

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: 2nd Century Church Father refutes the heresy of Islam

Irenaeus' classic refutation of the heretics, "Image of the King, versus the image of a Fox," anticipates Muhammad's heresy by nearly 500 years.

St Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.8; CCEL, ANF01, Ch VIII

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge.  
They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth.  
By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.  
Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king.  
In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma*. 
* Pleroma: The divine fullness of the Godhead, see Colossians 1:15-20, esp. v19, "For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell".

St. Irenaeus' metaphor is devastating to Islam because it describes — five centuries before Muhammad — how heretics have always distorted the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, teachings and traditions. 

To begin with, the Koran retells Old Testament stories out of sequence, with no historical context, imparting completely different lessons, and confusing names, places and epochs. For instance, the Koran calls Miriam, the mother of Isa, the "sister of Aaron", even though that Miriam lived centuries earlier. Would the God of all make such a mistake? 

Secondly, with even greater brazenness, the Koran presents a bizarre, wholly false picture of Jesus. It provides no historical context for its prophet "Isa" (the Koranic name for Jesus), and regurgitates infancy myths clearly lifted from the gnostic false Gospel of Thomas and other spurious sources, while explicitly denying historically verifiable facts, including especially the crucifixion of Jesus. 

In contrast, from a purely secular standpoint alone, Jesus the Christ is written of by numerous Roman and Jewish historians from the mid first-century onwards, including Thallus (who wrote circa 52 AD about Jesus’ crucifixion and the darkness over the land), Mara Bar-Serapion (writing ca. 70 AD), the renowned Jewish historian Josephus (ca. 93 AD), the Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 110-120 AD), and others. The Evangelist Luke frames his gospel narrative with historical references to people, rulers, places and events to such a thorough extent that he is clearly writing a verifiable historical narrative; Luke, even more than Matthew or Mark, holds up quite well to historical fact-checking. Whereas in the Koran, there are simply no facts to check.

Importantly, Jesus’ name was never "Isa", and indeed, “Isa” cannot be seen to be a transliteration into Arabic from any known language (though it may be a confused garbling of the Greek "Iesous"). “Jesus” is an Anglicization of the Greek, itself a translation of the Hebrew Yehoshua and the Aramaic Yeshua, which mean “Yahweh is Salvation,” and both of which are translated directly into English as “Joshua.” Most significantly, Arab Christians call Jesus "Yasa" (from the Syriac for Yeshua) not Isa, and there is no known meaning for the name of the Koranic character Isa. "Isa" is thus a name with no context or relevance. (cf. Mark Durie, Revelation: Do We Worship The Same God?, CityHarvest, Australia, 2006, pp 41-42.) 

Islam's classic ploy of alleging that Christians distorted the scriptures (the doctrine of tahriff) is another of its pathetic attempts to create an image of a fox and sell it as the image of the king. I treat this at length in my book, Facing Islam, but here is a pertinent excerpt concerning one of the key passages Muslims try to use to sow doubt in the New Testament:

Fragment p75 of the Bodmer Papyrus, ca. 200A.D.,
showing John 14:9-26, with the Greek word
'Parakletos' in verses 16 and 26.
Muslim attempts to prove that Muhammad was prophesied by Jesus as the “messenger to come” are based on these passages in the Gospel According to St John:

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Greek: Parakletos], that He may abide with you forever” (Jn 14:16).

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [Greek: Parakletos] will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (Jn 16:7).

Muslim apologists would have us believe that the New Testament was corrupted so as to eradicate the prophecies about Muhammad. They claim that the true Greek word in these verses should be Periklytos, not Parakletos. Periklytos may be translated as “glorious,” so Muslims argue that it refers to Muhammad (spoken of in Sura 61:6 as Ahmad), whose name means “the praised [or glorious] one.” 
This is of course absurd, but it is educational for us to turn to the actual manuscript evidence, which is undeniable. 
There are, in fact, over seventy existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, all of which date from well before the time of Muhammad, and all of which prove that the original Greek word used in John 14:16, 14:26 and 16:7 is Parakletos
Two of the oldest manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus (mid 4th c.) and Codex Alexandrinus (late 4th or early 5th c.) are actually housed in the British Museum in London and may be examined. The oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament, Codex Vaticanus (early 4th c.) likewise confirms the use of Parakletos in these verses. The even more ancient Bodmer Papyrus fragment of St. John’s Gospel (ca. 200 A.D.) also verifies the use of Parakletos in Chapter 14: 16, 26. 
(Facing Islam, pp 100-102.)
Concerning the accuracy and trustworthiness of the New Testament scriptures, one scholar has written:
Anyone who has studied the manuscripts of the Jewish and Christian scriptures knows there is no evidence whatever for the corruption posited by the doctrine of tahriff. In fact the manuscript evidence, if it establishes anything, establishes how carefully the texts of the Old and New Testaments were passed down. (T. Pulcini, Face To Face, 2008)

I find it inspiring and powerful that Bishop Irenaeus, writing in the second century, clearly anticipated exactly how Muhammad, five centuries later, would try to distort the scriptures to put across his heresy:

"Such, then, is [Muhammad's] system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which he boasts that beyond all others only he has a perfect knowledge.  
"He gathers his views from other sources than the Scriptures... while he endeavours to adapt with an air of probability to his own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord and the sayings of the prophets... in order that his scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, he disregards the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in him lies, dismembers and destroys the truth. 
[Muhammad took] "this likeness of the man all to pieces... rearranged the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and then maintained and declared that this was the beautiful image of the king!"

So it is with all attacks of the enemy against Jesus Christ and the Church: another epic fail. Neither the gates of hell, and certainly not Islam, shall prevail against the Church.

Muhammad may have 1.6 billion followers, but if we educate ourselves and strive to abide in Christ through the Holy Spirit, the Lord may yet use some of us to help some good-hearted Muslims — whose consciences have not been seared or deadened by doctrines of jihad and supremacism — to turn aside from Islam's path to perdition, that they too may come to know Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in and through the Orthodox Church.

Amen! May it be so!


St Irenaeus of Lyons: from the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

Information as to his life is scarce, and in some measure inexact. He was born in Proconsular Asia, or at least in some province bordering thereon, in the first half of the second century; the exact date is controverted, between the years 115 and 125, according to some, or, according to others, between 130 and 142. It is certain that, while still very young, Irenaeus had seen and heard the holy Bishop Polycarp (d. 155) at Smyrna. During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyons... [eventually succeeding] the martyr Saint Pothinus as Bishop of Lyons. During the religious peace which followed the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the new bishop divided his activities between the duties of a pastor and of a missionary (as to which we have but brief data, late and not very certain) and his writings, almost all of which were directed against Gnosticism, the heresy then spreading in Gaul and elsewhere.

Irenaeus wrote in Greek many works which have secured for him an exceptional place in Christian literature, because in controverted religious questions of capital importance they exhibit the testimony of a contemporary of the heroic age of the Church, of one who had heard St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, and who, in a manner, belonged to the Apostolic Age. None of these writings has come down to us in the original text, though a great many fragments of them are extant as citations in later writers (Hippolytus, Eusebius, etc.). Two of these works, however, have reached us in their entirety in a Latin version:

  • A treatise in five books, commonly entitled Adversus haereses, and devoted, according to its true title, to the "Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge"... Of this work we possess a very ancient Latin translation, the scrupulous fidelity of which is beyond doubt. It is the chief work of Irenaeus and truly of the highest importance; it contains a profound exposition not only of Gnosticism under its different forms, but also of the principal heresies which had sprung up in the various Christian communities, and thus constitutes an invaluable source of information on the most ancient ecclesiastical literature from its beginnings to the end of the second century...
  • Of a second work, written after the "Adversus Haereses", an ancient literal translation in the Armenian language. This is the "Proof of the Apostolic Preaching."...