Irenaeus

FL. c.175-c.195. Bishop of Lyons. Probably a native of Smyrna, where as a boy he listened to Polycarp,* he perhaps studied and taught at Rome before moving to Lyons. As presbyter in 177/8 he mediated in his church's behalf with Bishop Eleutherus of Rome over the Montanists.* On his return he succeeded Bishop Pothinus (who had died in the persecution of 177/8), probably without episcopal consecration. He represented an important link between East and West, corresponded widely, and protested against Pope Victor's excommunication of the Asian Quartodecimans.*

His diocese included also Vienne and possibly congregations further afield (he was Gaul's sole monarchical bishop) and involved him in speaking Gallic (Celtic). He encountered Gnostic activity and devoted five books to the Detection and Overthrow of Falsely-named Knowledge (Gnosis), usually called Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses), which are invaluable in recording Gnostic teachings, especially of the Valentinians. He drew on Gnostic works and earlier refutations, mostly lost, and was himself heavily used by later antiheretical writers. Irenaeus's Greek survives only in extensive extracts, but can be reasonably reconstituted from a close Latin translation produced before 421 (perhaps as early as about 200), an Armenian version of Books 4- 5, and several Syriac fragments. His Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, rediscovered in an Armenian translation in 1904, is both catechesis and apologia, expounding Christian theology and christological proofs from OT prophecy.

Irenaeus almost belongs to the Apostolic Fathers. Through Polycarp he claimed contact with the apostolic generation and the traditions of the Elders, and in his time the Spirit still dispensed charismata and the bishop was still a presbyter. Yet his apostolic tradition, embodied in the Rule of Faith and transmitted by successions of teachers in churches of apostolic foundation, was a developed ecclesiastical tradition. The NT writings are paralleled with the OT as Scripture, and the four- gospel canon stoutly defended. Against Gnostic scriptures, traditions, and successions he erects the apostolic pillars of catholic orthodoxy. The unity of Father, Son, and Spirit in both creation and redemption (including the millennial resurrection of the flesh) is strongly emphasized, and in his key concept of “recapitulation” he develops Paul's Adam-Christ parallel (extending it to Eve-Mary) and views the Incarnation as the climactic summation of God's dealings with mankind in creation, education, and salvation, and the unification of the whole human race.

J. Quasten, Patrology 1 (1950), pp. 287- 313. Against Heresies: best complete edition to date, W.W. Harvey (2 vols., 1857). Extensive new ed. in progress in Sources Chrétiennes series (1952ff.). Demonstration: ETs by J.A. Robinson (1920) and J.P. Smith (1952).

Selected studies: F.M.R. Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, A Study of His Teaching (1914); J. Lawson, The Biblical Theology of St. Irenaeus (1948); G. Wingren, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus (1959); A. Benoit, S. Irénée: Introduction à l'étude de sa Théologie (1960); H. von Campenhausen, Fathers of the Greek Church (1963), Chap. 2; R.A. Norris, God and World in Early Christian Thought (1965), Chap. 3; J. Daniélou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture (1973), pp. 144-53, 166-83, 221-34, 357-64, 398- 408.