Irenaeus' Polemic against Heresy.

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  • Created on: 11-06-17 18:12

Irenaeus: Introduction.

Born around 130AD in Smyrna, Asia Minor. He was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of apostle John so there was links to apostolic tradition. He studied in Rome where he came under the influence of Justin Martyr. He became a presbyter in Southern Gaul in Lyons in 177AD as an envoy of the church at Lyons recounting the details of the persecution in Lyons under Marcus Aurelius. Pothinus, Bishop of Lyons, was killed and Irenaeus returned to Lyons where he was made bishop.

He devoted his energies to overthrowing gnosticism as he lost members of his church to it as Hall notes.

He is regarded as the 1st great theologian of the Catholic Church and was a formidable opponent of Gnosticism. He died at the end of the 2nd century.

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Irenaeus: Development.

His major work was 'Against Heresies' in opposition to Gnosticism. He studied the ideology of these groups and provides us with a clear picture of their beliefs and provides us with a clear picture of their beliefs. He aimed to destroy Gnosticism by restarting the simple truths handed down by the Apostles. It is comprised of 5 books, it was accepted as authorative because of his connection with the apostle John and contributed to the eventual demise of Gnosticism. However, Gnostic texts in 1945/6 in Nag Hammadi in Eygpt has throw doubt on his reliability. His work is poorly structured possibily due to additional insertations by Irenaeus. Book 1 describes the beliefs of Valentinians, summary of universal Church beliefs which contrasts teachings of Valentinians and diverse teachings of Simon Magus. Book 2 is 35 chapters refuting gnosticism. Book 3 uses the scriptures to refute gnosticism. Book 4 is against Marcion and book 5 uses arguments from the OT and NT as a defence.

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Irenaeus: Development.

Irenaeus sought to refute Gnosticism in many ways. He described different gnostic systems in detail in order to expose the ludicrous nature of their beliefs. He stated 'merely to describe such doctrines is to refute them'.

He also challenged the gnostic claims to secret apostolic traditions. Valentinus claimed that the apostles had incorrectly transmitted the teaching of christ and they could supplement the writings of the aapostles with secret knowledge and additional writings e.g. Gospel of Thomas. Irenaeus argues back using the apostolic links to Peter and Paul and lists the leaders of churches and tracing them back to the apostles, and outlining that all churches in the empire teach the same doctrine. His argument is powerful and he outlines that they are not two variations of the same religion but two separate religions with a different set of scripture.

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Irenaeus: Development.

The gnostics claimed they possessed additional and superior written literature which lead Irenaeus to create a canon almost similar to our todays. This challenged the gnostic claim of elite knowledge. Hall comments 'he is the most important theologian of the 2nd Century who had remained in the orthodox tradition'.

Irenaeus defended the OT against Marcion. He appealed to the OT to show Christ was Messiah of Isreal, foretold by prophecies and fulfilling them. He emphasised the unity of all revelations in the OT and NT. He commented that Marcion 'mutilates the gospels which is according to Luke'.

Irenaeus drew up his own rule of faith outlining in clear terms the fundamental doctrines of theology of Cy, it outlines orthodox Christian teaching identifies false teaching. His work earned him the reputation of being the Church's first systematic theologian as he helped the church to resist new ideas and dangerous speculation.

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Irenaeus: Development.

Irenaeus emphasised that there is one God, who is also the creator as gnostics made a distinction between God, the creator and the supreme God. Irenaeus combatted this by writing about 'two hands' of God, meaning the son and the Holy Spirit and he was one of the first church leaders to use the term 'trinity'. He emphasised the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ which combats docetism, 'The birth from a virgin'. Irenaeus agrued that if God hadnt truly become man in Jesus, then humanity couldn't be saved. The gnostics didn't believe in incarnation and Irenaeus refuted this, saying 'who became incarnate for our salvation' and to refute gnostic claims that Jesus swapped places he said 'the ressurection from the dead'. (Eusebius)

He was instrumental in creating his theory of recapitulation, essentially it is aboout how God created Adam in his own image yet man sinned and fell, God sent Jesus to walk the ground Adam did but perfectly. The fall was part of God's plan to teach man that he was sinful and needed to repent. What was lost through union with Adam is restored through union with Christ.

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Irenaeus: Conclusion.

Irenaeus is an important source for information about gnostic system. He restated the Old traditional truths in such a way as to relate them to particular dangers of the day. Different to the likes of Justin Martyr who used philosophy.

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