Sketchy Beginnings

Iranaeus was born around 135 A.D. somewhere near Smyrna, in the Roman province of Asia, because there is note of him being a disciple of Polycarp who was that city's Bishop until his mentor's death in 155. Interestingly, Smyrna is one of the seven churches to which its corresponding angel gave warning. And, the Book of Revelation in which that message is written is by Jesus' disciple and apostle, John, who was the teacher of Polycarp.

Irenaeus was ordained an elder in Gaul, where, he became the Bishop (or Overseer) of Lyons after his predecessor, Bishop Pothinus was martyred with around 4 dozen other believers, some from Vienne (another Greek-speaking community nearby) by Marcus Aurelius in 177. Irenaeus met with the same fate in 202, but fortunately not before leaving writings exhibiting his zeal for expanding the Gospel and defending the Church -- protecting it not from death -- but from a continuing nagging heresy: Gnosticism.

His Work


He left five major books against the exposition of Gnosticism, a little less than half were devoted to the use of reason to refute the error, and the remainder used:


  • The Old Testament Prophets
  • The words of Jesus
  • The writings of the apostles

The major work is titled Against Heresies, described by its author as "The Unmasking and Overthrow of the Knowledge (Gnosis) Falsely So-called." These originally Greek manuscripts only survive today intact from an early literal Latin translation. His particular use of Biblical reference, in much cross comparisons, showed a great knowledge and use of what is -- the Law, the prophets, and the Hagiographia -- is extremely important especially where he noted all four Gospels. This second century allusion gives credence to the earlier existence of this New Covenant Bible as collected and known today . He had another smaller work, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching whose target is the "newbie" Christian. It counsels with:

  • An overview of Biblical History
  • Teachings on the primary Scriptural lesson
  • Proof of the nature of Christ from Old Testament prophecy


There are two letters, cited from a later Church Father, Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History:

  • A letter to Florinus concerning Gnosticism -- refuting the Montanists
  • A letter to Victor, Bishop of Rome--attempting to mediate the controversy between Rome and Ephesus on the correct date for Easter

Eusebius commented the appropriate meaning of the name, irenic.

Formulation of "Orthodox" Theology

Oneness of God

The Creator
  • Made everything out of nothing
  • Is the Father of Jesus Christ
  • Is the God of the Law
  • Is God of the Gospel
  • Presides over the history of salvation
  • Made himself known in sequential agreements with Adam, Noah, Moses,
    and the Davidic Messiah

Oneness of Christ

Son of God
Son of Man
  • Pre-existent
  • Prophesised in Old Testament
  • Incarnated for human salvation - stressed over the Gnostic devaluation of the material organic
    • Fact of His real human flesh
    • Born of the virgin Mary
    • Report of a corporeal resurrection

The Plan of Salvation

Unites Old and New Testaments

Continuity of the preparation of the human race for the coming of Jesus Christ who fulfills the Law of Moses, not contradicts it.

Unites Creation and Redemption

Sin had come from the abuse of free will by Adam, but the Father's will demonstrated in Christ's sacrifice and the historical intervention via increasingly guidance revealed mankind. The free will being used to accept God's grace figures strongly in Irenaeus' refutation of Gnostic set destiny philosophy.

Salvation of the Flesh

It is essential in Irenaeus' fighting Gnostics' lack of need to save the physical or fleshly attributes of man -- to define the Godly composition of humans as flesh and soul.

Genesis declares that man was made in the image of God -- Irenaeus' claims this stayed in Adam even after he fell, but the only thing misplaced is the exact resemblance. The question was whether the soul corrupts the flesh or vice-verse, the latter syndrome is what Irenaeus concluded was the problem, solved by the Holy Spirit's sanctifying the body through familiarization and readiness with the Creator.

The fleshly reality of Jesus crucified, resurrected and glorified is to save from sin the created flesh and soul of man -- giving us all the same hope. Irenaeus believed in that Millennial Kingdom where all flesh will have new corporeal vessels from that literal resurrection -- going against that Gnostic idea of the soul's lone value.

Foundation of Church Dogma

Universality of the Church

Irenaeus promoted the unity and global concept of a same faith confessing ecclesiate. The tradition of common faith is the believer's receiving the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit at baptism. Another tradition is apostolic foundation lending witness to one faith.

Apostolic Succession

Irenaeus developed an argument with the Gnostics concerning what was apostolic. He used the Scriptures especially that from the Apostles to demonstrate that the true teaching was what was handed down, preserved in writing, from the Jesus, the twelve, and Paul. The correct doctrine is not compatible with the Gnostic claim of their occult traditions selectively given to only certain apostles. The succession part of this scenario becomes important when one considers who the authorized leadership was receiving the truthful exhortation and edification. The openness and interchangeability is what allowed the Church to check and counter check itself. One place's consistency could be compared with another.

Importantly, it should be noted that the apostolic succession at this time was not the same as was adopted later, whereby one ordain-er passed succession to another ordained, but from one teacher, or even presbyter, to the next.

Other Unwitting Contributions

Apostolic teaching and tradition -- he used the term "canon of truth" where others termed it "rule of faith," and he meant to appeal to tradition in the churches only to look at norms for interpreting Scripture and determining the apostolic faith...especially against Gnosticism. When Irenaeus looked at the Bishop of Rome as representative of an example, he probably did not mean the only one authorized.

Roman Catholics much later continued arguments that Irenaeus had started regarding the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper) and its really having the presence of Christ in the Host (the bread) -- because of his zeal to counter material element's depreciation. He also started, for the same reason, a stronger reverence for Mary, mother of Jesus, in his doctrine of recapitulation.


However much his teaching might have promoted some questionable church dogma, he gave us much more with his doctrine full of strong defense of conservative, Biblical principals for all the Church today.

Source: Great Leaders of the Christian Church, Moody Press

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