Today is the feast of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, who was both a peacemaker and a defender of the faith.
One of the major challenges of his time was Gnosticism, a belief in the absolute separation of matter, which is bad, and spirit, which is good. Thus, with a secret knowledge (gnosis) one should struggle to free oneself from the body. Thus Gnosticism had little use for the Incarnation, God becoming flesh.
In his treatise Against Heresies, he wrote:
For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of a human consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.
The Incarnation thus is the revelation of God’s life and God’s desire for us to behold Him and live.
In his address at the University of Louvain in 1980, weeks before his martyrdom, Archbishop Oscar Romero closed his address on The Political Dimension of Faith with a rephrasing of the words of St. Irenaeus.
The Christians of old used to say: “Gloria Dei, vivens homo.” (The Glory of God is the human person who is alive.) We could make this concrete saying: “Gloria Dei, vivens pauper.” (The Glory of God is the poor person who is alive.) We believe that from the transcended of the Gospel we can judge in what consists in truth the life of the poor; and we also believe that by putting ourselves on the side of the poor and trying to give them life we will in what consists the eternal truth of the Gospel.
The incarnation of Christ as a poor man in a poor and oppressed land is what gives us the inspiration and the challenge to be with the poor, to be on their side, so that the glory of God may be revealed in us. It is what will give life, in a world torn apart by poverty and radical inequity.