Thursday, 7 February 2019

Ryan Scruggs: Giving Gifts to the One Who Needs Nothing: Irenaeus on the End of Eucharistic Oblations

The contemporary academic discourse on the Gift (e.g. Mauss, Derrida, Marion, Milbank) is a broad interdisciplinary discussion that considers, among other questions, whether reciprocity cancels gratuity in the exchange of gifts. As the first Christian theologian to argue explicitly for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, Irenaeus is adamant that God gives generously in creating and redeeming the world and that God needs nothing in return from his creation. Yet Irenaeus also argues that humans ought to offer God gifts-in-return in the form of eucharistic oblations.This paper will consider the radical implications of Irenaeus’s doctrine of divine self-sufficiency for an economy of divine-human reciprocity. I will answer the question: What is the purpose of eucharistic oblations offered to a God who ultimately needs nothing? The answer to this question lies in Irenaeus’s paradoxical notion that in giving to God humans in fact supply precisely what they themselves lack: friendship with God (AH4.16.4). Thus, Irenaeus conceives of divine generosity not as an imposition – i.e. as an initiation into a perpetual cycle of debt and repayment – but as an invitation to enter into a relationship of mutual gift-giving and so to grow in communion with the One Who Gives.

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