Theologie

John Behr

Irenaeus' Gratitude and Derrida's Gift: Time, Death, Life

Jahrgang 9 () / Heft 1, S. 5-18 (14)
Publiziert 05.10.2022

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This article explores the theme of gratitude, specifically human gratitude, and the role it plays in the various dimensions of the work of God in forming human beings. The article brings together the work of Irenaeus of Lyons, and the gratitude he sees as an essential characteristic of the human being even in – or particularly in – death, with Jacques Derrida's reflections on the connection between death and the gift. Following the striking definition given in The Letter to Barnabas, »the human being is earth that suffers« (Barn. 6:9), Irenaeus sees the human being as earth molded by the hands of God in a continuous process that only reaches completion, forming humans as the image and likeness of God, at the end. Central to this process is the need for time, for the human being – both in the evolution of the human race and in the span of each life – to grow to full stature. This growth is, moreover, a process of learning a gratitude that goes beyond the reciprocal exchange of gifts, for, as Derrida points out, the gift is in the last analysis that of death, which, as early Christians saw, has been 'converted' into the very means of life. The article will also consider the implications of this for understanding both the passing away of the »fashion of this world« (1 Cor. 7:31) and the world's renewal.
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