Irenaeus of Lyon: Retain the Memory of Things in this World

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“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31

“The Lord has taught with very great fulness, that souls not only continue to exist, not by passing from body to body, but that they preserve the same form [in their separate state] as the body had to which they were adapted, and that they remember the deeds which they did in this state of existence, and from which they have now ceased,-in that narrative which is recorded respecting the rich man and that Lazarus who found repose in the bosom of Abraham.

In this account He states that [the rich man] knew Lazarus after death, and Abraham in like manner, and that each one of these persons continued in his own proper position, and that [the rich man] requested Lazarus to be sent to relieve him-[Lazarus], on whom he did not [formerly] bestow even the crumbs [which fell] from his table. [He tells us] also of the answer given by Abraham, who was acquainted not only with what respected himself, but [the rich man] also, and who enjoined those who did not wish to come into that place of torment to believe Moses and the prophets, and to receive the preaching of Him who was to rise again from the dead.

By these things, then, it is plainly declared that souls continue to exist that they do not pass from body to body, that they possess the form of a man, so that they may be recognised, and retain the memory of things in this world; moreover, that the gift of prophecy was possessed by Abraham, and that each class of souls] receives a habitation such as it has deserved, even before the judgment.”

Irenaus of Lyon (c. 130-202) in Against Heresies, 2.34.1 (translated by Roberts and Donaldson) and written c. A.D. 175-185.

As persecution was rising against the early church in the second century, and many were experiencing martyrdom, it prompted real questions for ordinary Christians. What happens when we pass from the body? 

Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, directed them to today’s Scripture from Luke’s Gospel. This gives us a glimpse across the chasm as Jesus put it. We discover that we will “retain the memory of things in this world.”

If we listen closely to Jesus, we hear Him allude to His own resurrection and that people will not listen to Him. We also notice that Lazarus means “God has helped.” Consider the implications of this

God will help the needy whether we participate in sharing or not. If we don’t participate, we miss out on the chance to be a conduit of blessing. He does not force us, but He does show us the rich man’s regret.

How we live our lives matters for eternity. Too often, we miss the mark. For all of us this should bring us to a place of repentance. That’s the posture of the church today, Ash Wednesday.

Today Lent begins, It’s a season to focus on giving, prayer, and fasting: 47 days to Easter, 40 days of fasting that mirrors the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness and 7 feast day Sundays to teach us to rest and celebrate.

Join me in observing Lent. To give you a guide for the journey, click to download my latest book in digital form, Lent Companion. It’s free, so forward the link to your friends. Go through it together.