Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Barnes, Michel R.

Second Advisor

Golitzin, Alexander

Third Advisor

Hughson, Thomas


This dissertation is a study of the Trinitarian theology of Irenaeus of Lyons. With the exception of two recent studies, Irenaeus' Trinitarian theology, particularly in its immanent manifestation, has been devalued by scholarship due to his early dates and his stated purpose of avoiding speculative theology. In contrast to this majority opinion, I argue that Irenaeus' works show a mature understanding of the Trinity, in both its immanent and economic manifestations, which is occasioned by Valentinianism. Moreover, his Trinitarian theology represents a significant advancement upon that of his sources, the so- called apologists, whose understanding of the divine nature converges in many respects with Valentinian theology. I display this advancement by comparing the thought of Irenaeus with that of Justin, Athenagoras, and Theophilus, on Trinitarian themes.

Irenaeus develops Trinitarian theology in the following ways. First, he defines God's nature as spirit, thus maintaining the divine transcendence through God's higher order of being as opposed to the use of spatial imagery (God is separated/far away from creation). This definition allows him to speak of God's work in the world apart from the use of semi-divine agents. Second, Irenaeus removes spatial language and a time element from the concept of divine generation. Thus, although both Logos/Son and Sophia/Spirit are generated from God/Father, they eternally exist with God and in God. Because they come from God, they are divine to the same degree as God, existing in an eternal, mutually interpenetrating relationship, which results in one, simple divine nature. Finally, Irenaeus distinguishes the three entities in their eternal unity through attributing to them different functions in the economy. God/Father is the source of the creative and redemptive work, while Logos/Son and Sophia/Spirit enact the work. However, the logic of Irenaeus' argument demands that the same quality of divinity be shared among all three figures. Their equal divinity provides the Son and the Spirit the power to enact the will of the Father in the economy. The result is a developed Trinitarian theology that posits three distinct entities named Father, Son, and Spirit, eternally united through one divine and spiritual nature.

Included in

Religion Commons