Irenaeus

Irenaeus

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Irenaeus'
Start a new discussion about 'Irenaeus'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Saint Irenaeus (2nd century AD – c. 202) was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

, then a part of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 (now Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

). He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

. He was a hearer of Polycarp
Polycarp
Saint Polycarp was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him...

, who in turn was a disciple of John the Evangelist
John the Evangelist
Saint John the Evangelist is the conventional name for the author of the Gospel of John...

.

Irenaeus' best-known book, Adversus Haereses
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, today also called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called , commonly called Against Heresies , is a five-volume work written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century...

or Against Heresies (c. 180) is a detailed attack on Gnosticism
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of the Gnostic Valentinus
Valentinus (Gnostic)
Valentinus was the best known and for a time most successful early Christian gnostic theologian. He founded his school in Rome...

. As one of the first great Christian theologians, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

 authority—episcopal councils in union with the bishop of Rome. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none of them was a Gnostic — and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture. His writings, with those of Clement and Ignatius
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology...

, are taken to hint at papal primacy. Irenaeus is the earliest witness to recognition of the canonical character of all four gospels.

Irenaeus is recognized as a saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 by the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, the Lutheran Church, and the Episcopal Church (United States)
Episcopal Church (United States)
The Episcopal Church is a mainline Anglican Christian church found mainly in the United States , but also in Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe...

. His feast day is on June 28 in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints
Roman Catholic calendar of saints
The General Roman Calendar indicates the days of the year to which are assigned the liturgical celebrations of saints and of the mysteries of the Lord that are to be observed wherever the Roman Rite is used...

, where it was inserted for the first time in 1920; in 1960 it was transferred to July 3, leaving June 28 for the Vigil of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, but in 1969 it was returned to June 28, the day of his death.

Biography


St. Irenaeus was born during the first half of the 2nd century (the exact date is disputed: between the years 115 and 125 according to some, or 130 and 142 according to others), Irenaeus is thought to have been a Greek from Polycarp's
Polycarp
Saint Polycarp was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him...

 hometown of Smyrna
Smyrna
Smyrna was an ancient city located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Thanks to its advantageous port conditions, its ease of defence and its good inland connections, Smyrna rose to prominence. The ancient city is located at two sites within modern İzmir, Turkey...

 in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

, now İzmir
Izmir
Izmir is a large metropolis in the western extremity of Anatolia. The metropolitan area in the entire Izmir Province had a population of 3.35 million as of 2010, making the city third most populous in Turkey...

, Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was brought up in a Christian family rather than converting as an adult.

During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161-180, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyon. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the faith, sent him in 177 to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleuterus
Pope Eleuterus
Pope Saint Eleuterus, or Eleutherius, was Bishop of Rome from about 174 to 189 . He was born in Nicopolis in Epirus. His name is Greek for free....

 concerning the heresy Montanism
Montanism
Montanism was an early Christian movement of the late 2nd century, later referred to by the name of its founder, Montanus, but originally known by its adherents as the New Prophecy...

, and that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits. While Irenaeus was in Rome, a massacre took place in Lyons. Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr Saint Pothinus
Saint Pothinus
Saint Pothinus is a figure of uncertain historicity, who is first mentioned in a letter attributed to Irenaeus of Lyon. The letter was sent from the Christian communities of Lyon and Vienne to the Roman province of Asia....

 and became the second Bishop of Lyon.

During the religious peace which followed the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the new bishop divided his activities between the duties of a pastor and of a missionary (as to which we have but brief data, late and not very certain). Almost all his writings were directed against Gnosticism. The most famous of these writings is Adversus haereses
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, today also called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called , commonly called Against Heresies , is a five-volume work written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century...

(Against Heresies). In 190 or 191, he was influential in bringing Pope St. Victor I
Pope Victor I
Pope Saint Victor I was Pope from 189 to 199 .Pope Victor I was the first bishop of Rome born in the Roman Province of Africa: probably he was born in Leptis Magna . He was later canonized...

 to reality over his attempted excommunication of the Christian communities of Asia Minor which persevered in the practice of the Quartodeciman celebration of Easter
Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

. The Quartodeciman means the 14th and it refers to the date for Passover. Nothing is known of the date of his death, which must have occurred at the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 3rd century. In spite of some isolated and later testimony to that effect, it is not very probable that he ended his career with martyrdom. He was buried under the Church of Saint John in Lyons, which was later renamed St Irenaeus in his honour. The tomb and his remains were utterly destroyed in 1562 by the Huguenots. His feast is celebrated on June 28 in the Roman Catholic Church, and on August 23 in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Writings


Irenaeus wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volume On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, today also called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called , commonly called Against Heresies , is a five-volume work written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century...

, normally referred to by its Latin title Adversus Haereses ("Against Heresies") which is an important source regarding the Gospel according to the Hebrews. In Book I, Irenaeus talks about the Valentinian Gnostics and their predecessors, who go as far back as the magician Simon Magus
Simon Magus
Simon the Sorcerer or Simon the Magician, in Latin Simon Magus, was a Samaritan magus or religious figure and a convert to Christianity, baptised by Philip the Apostle, whose later confrontation with Peter is recorded in . The sin of simony, or paying for position and influence in the church, is...

. In Book II he attempts to provide proof that Valentinianism contains no merit in terms of its doctrines. In Book III Irenaeus purports to show that these doctrines are false, by providing counter-evidence gleaned from the Gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

s. Book IV consists of Jesus' sayings, and here Irenaeus also stresses the unity of the Old Testament and the Gospel. In the final volume, Book V, Irenaeus focuses on more sayings of Jesus plus the letters of Paul the Apostle.

The purpose of "Against Heresies" was to refute the teachings of various Gnostic groups; apparently, several Greek merchants had begun an oratorial campaign in Irenaeus' bishopric, teaching that the material world was the accidental creation of an evil god, from which we are to escape by the pursuit of gnosis. Irenaeus argued that the true gnosis is in fact knowledge of Christ, which redeems rather than escapes from bodily existence. Until the discovery of the Library of Nag Hammadi
Nag Hammadi library
The Nag Hammadi library is a collection of early Christian Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. That year, twelve leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar were found by a local peasant named Mohammed Ali Samman...

 in 1945, Against Heresies was the best-surviving description of Gnosticism. According to some biblical scholars, the findings at Nag Hammadi have shown Irenaeus' description of Gnosticism to be largely inaccurate and polemic in nature. Though correct in some details about the belief systems of various groups, Irenaeus' main purpose was to warn Christians against Gnosticism, rather than accurately describe those beliefs. He described Gnostic groups as sexual libertines, for example, when some of their own writings advocated chastity more strongly than did orthodox texts. However, at least one scholar, Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark is an American sociologist of religion. He grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota in a Lutheran family. He spent time in the U.S. Army and worked as a journalist before pursuing graduate studies at The University of California, Berkeley...

, claims that it is the same Nag Hammadi library that proves Ireneaus right.

It seemed that Irenaeus's critique against the gnostics were exaggerated, which led to his scholarly dismissal for a long time. For example, he wrote: "They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no other did, accomplished the mystery of betrayal; by him all things were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas." These claims turned out to be truly mentioned in the Gospel of Judas
Gospel of Judas
The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel that purportedly documents conversations between the Disciple Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ.It is believed to have been written by Gnostic followers of Jesus, rather than by Judas himself, and probably dates from no earlier than the 2nd century, since it...

 where Jesus asked Judas to betray him. Regarding Ireneaus' inaccuracies about the sexual liberties amongst the gnostics, the gnostics were not a single group, but a wide array of sects. Some groups were indeed libertine because they considered bodily existence meaningless; others—for the same reason—praised chastity more strongly than standard Christianity, to the point of banning marriage and all sexual activity.

Irenaeus also wrote The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, an Armenian
Armenian language
The Armenian language is an Indo-European language spoken by the Armenian people. It is the official language of the Republic of Armenia as well as in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The language is also widely spoken by Armenian communities in the Armenian diaspora...

 copy of which was discovered in 1904. This work seems to have been an instruction for recent Christian converts. Various fragments of other works by Irenaeus have been found, and many lost works by him are attested by other ancient writers. These include "On the Subject of Knowledge," "On the Monarchy," or "How God is not the Cause of Evil", "On the Ogdoad," an untitled letter to Blastus regarding schism, and others. All these works are attested by Eusebius.

Ireneus exercised wide influence on the immediately following generation. Both Hippolytus and Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 freely drew on his writings. But his literal hope of an earthly millennium made him uncongenial reading in the Greek East
Greek East
"Greek East" and "Latin West" are terms used to distinguish between the two parts of the Greco-Roman world, specifically the eastern regions where Greek was the lingua franca, and the western parts where Latin filled this role...

 and it is only in the Latin translation that his work as a whole has been preserved.

Irenaeus' works were first translated into English by John Keble
John Keble
John Keble was an English churchman and poet, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, and gave his name to Keble College, Oxford.-Early life:...

 and published in 1872 as part of the Library of the Fathers
Library of the Fathers
The Library of the Fathers, more properly A library of fathers of the holy Catholic church: anterior to the division of the East and West, was a series of around 50 volumes of the Church Fathers, annotated in English translation, published 1838 to 1881 by John Henry Parker...

 series.

Scripture



Irenaeus pointed to Scripture as a proof of orthodox Christianity against heresies, classifying as Scripture not only the Old Testament but most of the books now known as the New Testament, while excluding many works, a large number by Gnostics, that flourished in the 2nd century and claimed scriptural authority.

Before Irenaeus, Christians differed as to which gospel they preferred. The Christians of Asia Minor preferred the Gospel of John. The Gospel of Matthew was the most popular overall. Irenaeus asserted that four Gospels, Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

, Mark
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

, Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

, and John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

, were canonical scripture. Thus Irenaeus provides the earliest witness to the assertion of the four canonical Gospels, possibly in reaction to Marcion's edited version of the Gospel of Luke, which Marcion asserted was the one and only true gospel.

Based on the arguments Irenaeus made in support of only four authentic gospels, some interpreters deduce that the fourfold Gospel must have still been a novelty in Irenaeus' time. Against Heresies 3.11.7 acknowledges that many heterodox Christians use only one gospel while 3.11.9 acknowledges that some use more than four. The success of Tatian's
Tatian
Tatian the Assyrian was an Assyrian early Christian writer and theologian of the 2nd century.Tatian's most influential work is the Diatessaron, a Biblical paraphrase, or "harmony", of the four gospels that became the standard text of the four gospels in the Syriac-speaking churches until the...

 Diatessaron
Diatessaron
The Diatessaron is the most prominent Gospel harmony created by Tatian, an early Christian apologist and ascetic. The term "diatessaron" is from Middle English by way of Latin, diatessarōn , and ultimately Greek, διὰ τεσσάρων The Diatessaron (c 160 - 175) is the most prominent Gospel harmony...

 in about the same time period is "...a powerful indication that the fourfold Gospel contemporaneously sponsored by Irenaeus was not broadly, let alone universally, recognized."

Irenaeus is also our earliest attestation that the Gospel of John was written by John the apostle
John the Apostle
John the Apostle, John the Apostle, John the Apostle, (Aramaic Yoħanna, (c. 6 - c. 100) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of James, another of the Twelve Apostles...

, and that the Gospel of Luke was written by Luke, the companion of Paul
Luke the Evangelist
Luke the Evangelist was an Early Christian writer whom Church Fathers such as Jerome and Eusebius said was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles...

.

The apologist and ascetic Tatian had previously harmonized the four gospels into a single narrative, the Diatesseron (c 150-160).

Scholars contend that Irenaeus quotes from 21 of the 27 New Testament Texts:

Matthew (Book 3, Chapter 16)

Mark (Book 3, Chapter 10)

Luke (Book 3, Chapter 14)

John (Book 3, Chapter 11)

Acts of the Apostles (Book 3, Chapter 14)

Romans (Book 3, Chapter 16)

1 Corinthians (Book 1, Chapter 3)

2 Corinthians (Book 3, Chapter 7)

Galatians (Book 3, Chapter 22)

Ephesians (Book 5, Chapter 2)

Philippians (Book 4, Chapter 18)

Colossians (Book 1, Chapter 3)

1 Thessalonians (Book 5, Chapter 6)

2 Thessalonians (Book 5, Chapter 25)

1 Timothy (Book 1, Preface)

2 Timothy (Book 3, Chapter 14)

Titus (Book 3, Chapter 3)

1 Peter (Book 4, Chapter 9)

1 John(Book 3, Chapter 16)

2 John (Book 1, Chapter 16)

Revelation to John (Book 4, Chapter 20)

He may refer to Hebrews (Book 2, Chapter 30) and James (Book 4, Chapter 16) and maybe even 2 Peter (Book 5, Chapter 28) but does not cite Philemon, 3 John or Jude.

Apostolic authority


In his writing against the Gnostics, who claimed to possess a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none were Gnostic — and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture. He emphasized the unique position of the bishop of Rome.

With the lists of bishops to which Irenaeus referred, the later doctrine of the apostolic succession
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

 of the bishops could be linked. This succession was important to establish a chain of custody for orthodoxy. He felt it important, however, to also speak of a succession of elders (presbyters).

Irenaeus' point when refuting the Gnostics was that all of the Apostolic churches had preserved the same traditions and teachings in many independent streams. It was the unanimous agreement between these many independent streams of transmission that proved the orthodox Faith, current in those churches, to be true. Had any error crept in, the agreement would be immediately destroyed. The Gnostics had no such succession, and no agreement amongst themselves.

Irenaeus' theology and contrast with Gnosticism


The central point of Irenaeus' theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 is the unity and the goodness of God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, in opposition to the Gnostics' division of God into a number of divine "Aeon
Aeon
The word aeon, also spelled eon or æon , originally means "life", and/or "being", though it then tended to mean "age", "forever" or "for eternity". It is a Latin transliteration from the koine Greek word , from the archaic . In Homer it typically refers to life or lifespan...

s", and their distinction between the utterly transcendent "High God" and the inferior "Demiurge
Demiurge
The demiurge is a concept from the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy for an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics...

" who created the world. Irenaeus uses the Logos
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

 theology he inherited from Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp
Polycarp
Saint Polycarp was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him...

, who was said to have been tutored by John the Apostle
John the Apostle
John the Apostle, John the Apostle, John the Apostle, (Aramaic Yoħanna, (c. 6 - c. 100) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of James, another of the Twelve Apostles...

. (John had used Logos terminology in the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 and the letter of 1 John). Irenaeus prefers to speak of the Son and the Spirit as the "hands of God".

His emphasis on the unity of God is reflected in his corresponding emphasis on the unity of salvation
Salvation
Within religion salvation is the phenomenon of being saved from the undesirable condition of bondage or suffering experienced by the psyche or soul that has arisen as a result of unskillful or immoral actions generically referred to as sins. Salvation may also be called "deliverance" or...

 history. Irenaeus repeatedly insists that God began the world and has been overseeing it ever since this creative act; everything that has happened is part of his plan for humanity. The essence of this plan is a process of maturation
Maturation
Maturation could refer to any of the following:* Fetal development* Developmental biology* Emotional development* Or physical maturation of any biological life form - see individual articles for maturation of different life forms....

: Irenaeus believes that humanity was created immature, and God intended his creatures to take a long time to grow into or assume the divine likeness. Thus, Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

 were created as children. Their Fall was thus not a full-blown rebellion but rather a childish spat, a desire to grow up before their time and have everything with immediacy.

Everything that has happened since has therefore been planned by God to help humanity overcome this initial mishap and achieve spiritual maturity. The world has been intentionally designed by God as a difficult place, where human beings are forced to make moral decisions, as only in this way can they mature as moral agents. Irenaeus likens death to the big fish that swallowed Jonah
Jonah
Jonah is the name given in the Hebrew Bible to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BC, the eponymous central character in the Book of Jonah, famous for being swallowed by a fish or a whale, depending on translation...

: it was only in the depths of the whale's belly that Jonah could turn to God and act according to the divine will. Similarly, death and suffering appear as evil
Evil
Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing,...

s, but without them we could never come to know God.

According to Irenaeus, the high point in salvation history is the advent of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. Irenaeus believed that Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 would always have been sent, even if humanity had never sinned; but the fact that they did sin
Sin
In religion, sin is the violation or deviation of an eternal divine law or standard. The term sin may also refer to the state of having committed such a violation. Christians believe the moral code of conduct is decreed by God In religion, sin (also called peccancy) is the violation or deviation...

 determines his role as a savior. He sees Christ as the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did: thus, where Adam was disobedient concerning God's edict concerning the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
In the Book of Genesis, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of knowledge was a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. . God directly forbade Adam to eat the fruit of this tree...

, Christ was obedient even to death on the wood of a tree. Irenaeus is the first to draw comparisons between Eve
Eve (Bible)
Eve was, according to the creation of Abrahamic religions, the first woman created by God...

 and Mary, contrasting the faithlessness of the former with the faithfulness of the latter. In addition to reversing the wrongs done by Adam, Irenaeus thinks of Christ as "recapitulating" or "summing up" human life. This means that Christ goes through every stage of human life, from infancy to old age, and simply by living it, sanctifies it with his divinity. Although it is sometimes claimed that Irenaeus believed Christ did not die until he was older than is conventionally portrayed, the bishop of Lyons simply pointed out that because Jesus turned the permissible age for becoming a rabbi (30 years old and above), he recapitulated and sanctified the period between 30 and 50 years old, as per the Jewish custom of periodization of human life, and so touches the beginning of old age when one becomes 50 years old. (see Adversus Haereses, book II, chapter 22).

In the passage of Adversus Haereses under consideration, Irenaeus is clear that after receiving baptism at the age of thirty, citing Luke 3:23, Gnostics then falsely assert that "He [Jesus] preached only one year reckoning from His baptism," and also, "On completing His thirtieth year He [Jesus] suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age." Irenaeus argues against the Gnostics by using scripture to show that Jesus lives at least several years after his baptism by referencing 3 distinctly separate visits to Jerusalem. The first is when Jesus makes wine out of water, He went up to the Paschal feast-day, after which He withdraws and is found in Samaria. The second is when Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for Passover and cures the paralytic, after which He withdraws over the sea of Tiberias. The third mention is when He travels to Jerusalem, eats the Passover, and suffers on the following day.

Irenaeus quotes scripture, which we reference as John 8:57, to suggest that Jesus ministers while in his 40's. In this passage, Jesus' opponents want to argue that Jesus has not seen Abraham, because Jesus is too young. Jesus' opponents argue that Jesus is not yet 50 years old. Irenaeus argues that if Jesus was in his thirties, his opponents would've argued that He's not yet 40 years, since that would make Him even younger. Irenaeus' argument is that they would not weaken their own argument by adding years to Jesus' age. Irenaeus also writes that "The Elders witness to this, who in Asia conferred with John the Lord's disciple, to the effect that John had delivered these things unto them : for he abode with them until the times of Trajan. And some of them saw not only John, but others also of the Apostles, and had this same account from them, and witness to the aforesaid relation."

Irenaeus conceives of our salvation as essentially coming about through the incarnation
Incarnation
Incarnation literally means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh. It refers to the conception and birth of a sentient creature who is the material manifestation of an entity, god or force whose original nature is immaterial....

 of God as a man. He characterizes the penalty for sin as death and corruption
Corruption (philosophical concept)
In philosophical, theological, or moral discussions, corruption is spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal. In economy, corruption is payment for services or material which the recipient is not due, under law...

. God, however, is immortal
Immortality
Immortality is the ability to live forever. It is unknown whether human physical immortality is an achievable condition. Biological forms have inherent limitations which may or may not be able to be overcome through medical interventions or engineering...

 and incorruptible, and simply by becoming united to human nature in Christ he conveys those qualities to us: they spread, as it were, like a benign infection. Irenaeus therefore understands the atonement of Christ as happening through his incarnation rather than his crucifixion
Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

, although the latter event is an integral part of the former.

By comparison, according to the Gnostic view of Salvation, creation was perfect to begin with; it did not need time to grow and mature. For the Valentinians, the material world is the result of the loss of perfection which resulted from Sophia's desire to understand the Forefather. Therefore, one is ultimately redeemed, through secret knowledge, to enter the pleroma
Pleroma
Pleroma generally refers to the totality of divine powers. The word means fullness from comparable to πλήρης which means "full", and is used in Christian theological contexts: both in Gnosticism generally, and by Paul of Tarsus in Colossians Colossians 2:9 KJV .Gnosticism holds that the...

 of which the Achamoth originally fell.

According to the Valentinian Gnostics, there are three classes of human beings. They are the material, who cannot attain salvation; the psychic, who are strengthened by works and faith (they are part of the church); and the spiritual, who cannot decay or be harmed by material actions.
Essentially, ordinary humans—those who have faith but do not possess the special knowledge—will not attain salvation. Spirituals, on the other hand—those who obtain this great gift—are the only class that will eventually attain salvation.

In his article entitled "The Demiurge," J.P. Arendzen sums up the Valentinian view of the salvation of man. He writes, "The first, or carnal men, will return to the grossness of matter and finally be consumed by fire; the second, or psychic men, together with the Demiurge as their master, will enter a middle state, neither heaven (pleroma) nor hell (whyle); the purely spiritual men will be completely freed from the influence of the Demiurge and together with the Saviour and Achamoth, his spouse, will enter the pleroma divested of body (húle) and soul (psuché)."

Irenaeus is also known as one of the first theologians to use the principle of apostolic succession
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

 to refute his opponents.

In his criticism of Gnosticism, Irenaeus made reference to a Gnostic gospel which portrayed Judas
Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot was, according to the New Testament, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He is best known for his betrayal of Jesus to the hands of the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver.-Etymology:...

 in a positive light, as having acted in accordance with Jesus' instructions. The recently discovered Gospel of Judas
Gospel of Judas
The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel that purportedly documents conversations between the Disciple Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ.It is believed to have been written by Gnostic followers of Jesus, rather than by Judas himself, and probably dates from no earlier than the 2nd century, since it...

 dates close to the period when Irenaeus lived (late 2nd century), and scholars typically regard this work as one of many Gnostic texts, showing one of many varieties of Gnostic beliefs of the period.

Irenaeus mariology


Irenaeus of Lyons is perhaps the earliest of the Church Fathers to develop a thorough mariology
Mariology
Roman Catholic Mariology is theology concerned with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ as developed by the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic teachings on the subject have been based on the belief that "The Blessed Virgin, because she is the Mother of God, is believed to hold a certain...

. It is certain that, while still very young, Irenaeus had seen and heard Bishop Polycarp
Polycarp
Saint Polycarp was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him...

 (d. 155) at Smyrna. Irenaeus sets out a forthright account of Mary's role in the economy of salvation.
  • Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin... By disobeying, Eve became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way Mary, though she had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.


According to Irenaeus, Christ, being born out of the Virgin Mary, created a totally new historical situation. This view influences later Ambrose of Milan and Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

, who wrote about the virgin birth
Miraculous births
Miraculous births are a common motif in historical literature and religious texts. Stories of miracle births often include miraculous conceptions and features such as intervention by a deity, supernatural elements, astronomical signs, hardship or in the case of some mythologies complex plots...

 of the Mother of God. The donor of a new birth had to be born in a totally new way. The new birth being that what was lost through a woman, is now saved by a woman.

Prophetic Exegesis


The first four books of Against Heresies constitute a minute analysis and refutation of the Gnostic doctrines. The fifth is a statement of positive belief contrasting the constantly shifting and contradictory Gnostic opinions with the steadfast faith of the church. He appeals to the prophecies to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity.

Rome and Ten Horns


Irenaeus shows the close relationship between the predicted events of Daniel 2
Nebuchadnezzar's statue vision in Daniel 2
Daniel 2 is the second chapter of the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible. The chapter's source text is predominantly written in Aramaic. According to the text, Nebuchadnezzar is the king of Babylon who is troubled by his dreams. He demands an interpretation for his dreams or will have his mystic...

 and 7
Daniel's Vision of Chapter 7
Daniel 7 is the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible. It is the last chapter written in Aramaic before it continues again in the Hebraic Masoretic text of the next chapter...

. Rome, the fourth prophetic kingdom, would end in a tenfold partition. The ten divisions of the empire are the "ten horns" of Daniel 7 and the "ten horns" in Revelation 17. A "little horn," which is to supplant three of Rome's ten divisions, is also the still future "eighth" in Revelation. Irenaeus climaxes with the destruction of all kingdoms at the Second Advent
Second Coming
In Christian doctrine, the Second Coming of Christ, the Second Advent, or the Parousia, is the anticipated return of Jesus Christ from Heaven, where he sits at the Right Hand of God, to Earth. This prophecy is found in the canonical gospels and in most Christian and Islamic eschatologies...

, when Christ, the prophesied "stone," cut out of the mountain without hands, smites the image after Rome’s division.

Antichrist


Irenaeus identified the Antichrist
Antichrist
The term or title antichrist, in Christian theology, refers to a leader who fulfills Biblical prophecies concerning an adversary of Christ, while resembling him in a deceptive manner...

, another name of the apostate Man of Sin
Man of Sin
The Man of Sin or Man of Lawlessness is a figure referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, who is usually equated with the Antichrist.-Second Thessalonians, Chapter Two:...

, with Daniel's Little Horn and John's Beast of Revelation 13. He sought to apply other expressions to the Antichrist, such as "the abomination of desolation," mentioned by Christ (Matt. 24:15) and the "king of a most fierce countenance," in Gabriel's explanation of the Little Horn of Daniel 8. But he is not very clear how "the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away" during the "half-week," or three and one-half years of the Antichrist's reign.

Under the notion that the Antichrist, as a single individual, might be of Jewish origin, he fancies that the mention of "Dan," in Jeremiah 8:16, and the omission of that name from those tribes listed in Revelation 7, might indicate the Antichrist's tribe. This surmise became the foundation of a series of subsequent interpretations by others.

Time, Times and Half a Time


Like the other early church fathers, Irenaeus interpreted the three and one-half "times" of the Little Horn of Daniel 7 as three and one-half literal years. Antichrist's three and a half years of sitting in the temple are placed immediately before the Second Coming of Christ.

They are identified as the second half of the "one week" of Daniel 9. Irenaeus says nothing of the seventy weeks; we do not know whether he placed the “one week” at the end of the seventy or whether he had a gap

666


Irenaeus is the first of the church fathers to consider the mystic number 666
Number of the Beast
The Number of the Beast is a term in the Book of Revelation, of the New Testament, that is associated with the first Beast of Revelation chapter 13, the Beast of the sea. In most manuscripts of the New Testament and in English translations of the Bible, the number of the Beast is...

. While Irenaeus did propose some solutions of this numerical riddle, his interpretation was quite reserved. Thus, he cautiously states: "But knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is six hundred sixty and six, let them await, in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the kingdom for himself, and shall terrify those men of whom we have been speaking, have a name containing the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation." Although Irenaeus did speculate upon three names to symbolize this mystical number, namely Euanthas, Teitan and Lateinos, nevertheless he was content to believe that the Antichrist would arise some time in the future after the fall of Rome and then the meaning of the number would be revealed

Millennium



Irenaeus declares that the Antichrist's future three-and-a-half-year reign, when he sits in the temple at Jerusalem, will be terminated by the second advent, with the resurrection of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the millennial reign of the righteous. The general resurrection and the judgment follow the descent of the New Jerusalem at the end of the millennial kingdom.

Irenaeus calls those "heretics" who maintain that the saved are immediately glorified
Glorification
-Catholicism:For the process by which the Roman Catholic Church or Anglican Communion grants official recognition to someone as a saint, see canonization.-Eastern Orthodox Church:...

 in the kingdom to come after death, before their resurrection. He avers that the millennial kingdom and the resurrection are actualities, not allegories, the first resurrection introducing this promised kingdom in which the risen saints are described as ruling over the renewed earth during the millennium, between the two resurrections.

Irenaeus held to the old Jewish tradition that the first six days of creation week were typical of the first six thousand years of human history, with Antichrist manifesting himself in the sixth period. And he expected the millennial kingdom to begin with the second coming of Christ to destroy the wicked and inaugurate, for the righteous, the reign of the kingdom of God during the seventh thousand years, the millennial Sabbath, as signified by the Sabbath of creation week.

In common with many of the fathers, Irenaeus did not distinguish between the new earth re-created in its eternal state—the thousand years of Revelation 20—when the saints are with Christ after His second advent, and the Jewish traditions of the Messianic kingdom. Hence, he applies Biblical and traditional ideas to his descriptions of this earth during the millennium, throughout the closing chapters of Book 5. This conception of the reign of resurrected and translated saints with Christ on this earth during the millennium-popularly known as chiliasm—was the increasingly prevailing belief of this time. Incipient distortions due to the admixture of current traditions, which figure in the extreme forms of chiliasm, caused a reaction against the earlier interpretations of Bible prophecies.

Irenaeus was not looking for a Jewish kingdom. He interpreted Israel as the Christian church, the spiritual seed of Abraham.

At times his expressions are highly fanciful. He tells, for instance, of a prodigious fertility of this earth during the millennium, after the resurrection of the righteous, "when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food." In this connection, he attributes to Christ the saying about the vine with ten thousand branches, and the ear of wheat with ten thousand grains, and so forth, which he quotes from Papias of Hierapolis.

Exegesis


Irenaeus’ exegesis does not give complete coverage. On the seals, for example, he merely alludes to Christ as the rider on the white horse. He stresses five factors with greater clarity and emphasis than Justin
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

:
  1. the literal resurrection of the righteous at the second advent
  2. the millennium bounded by the two resurrections
  3. the Antichrist to come upon the heels of Rome's breakup
  4. the symbolic prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse in their relation to the last times
  5. the kingdom of God to be established by the second advent.

External links