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  • Topic: Gnosticism, Irenaeus, On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
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  • Published : May 8, 2008
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Irenaeus made an impact on christianity by being both a mediator within the church, and a defender of orthodoxy from outside heretics. His theology placed an emphasis on unity, and authority. Influencial in a time of dispute between eastern and western churches, and a gnostic uprising, Irenaeus of Lyons served as a link that held christianity together, and controlled the growth of gnosticism. According to Irenaeus, gnostics particularily Valentinus gnostics, were considered 'Heretics'. Their belief in dualism was in his view, a perverted twist on true faith. His most known work is a five part refutation of gnosticism entitled Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). Untill the discovery of gnostic documents at Nag Hammadi near Egypt in 1945, Adversus Haerses was the main source of information about gnosticism. Most of the writings discovered gave accounts very similar to those by Irenaeus, and reinforced the religious and historical validity of his writings. Irenaeus is known as the first great catholic theologian, and played a vital role in the succession of the christian faith.

Irenaeus was born around 140 in Symnra (Asia Minor), to Greek parents. Not much is known about his younger life, except that he was taught by Christian bishop of Symnra, Polycarp. Polycarp was a great influence on Irenaeus, although he was not a theologian himself, he was dedicated to authentic orthodoxy until he was martyred in 155. Polycarp was known for his stance against heretic Marcion, and his defense of the Asia Minor tradition of celebrating Easter. (Chadwick, 100)

Around 177, Irenaeus moved to the Rhone Vally. His writings of this time are perserved in Eusebius' Church History, in which he gives a moving account of violent persecutions against Lyon and Vienne christians ordered by Marcus Aurelius. Towards the end of the persecutions he served as a church priest, and met with other members of the church to discuss the New Prophecy. (Frend,244) In 178, after the bishop Pothinus of Lyons (Southern Gaul) was martyrd, he was choosen by the people to succeed him.

Irenaeus was immediately faced with two major conflicts. The first, was the continuing debate between Rome and Asia Minor about the date of Easter. Rome celebrated Easter Friday through Sunday after 14 Nisan, while Asia Minor considered the 14 Nisan the single holy day. (Frend, 245) The second problem facing Irenaeus, was the rise of Valentinian Gnosticism. To address the first, Irenaeus wrote a letter to Pope Victor asking for toleration of diversity. He believed that internal unity of the church was more important than petty arguments. To address the second problem, Irenaeus dedicated a large portion of his life and works refuting the gnostics. He believed that gnostic teachings were false readings of the true faith, and set out to refute its teachings, and promote his own theology.

Irenaeus' theology
As demonstrated by his letter to Pope Victor, Irenaeus' main concepts in church behavior were peace and unity. His Rule of Faith also showed his empasize on authority. Throughout his writings he maintained that the bible alone had authority, and because of that there could be no hidden messages or secert truths, as the gnostics claimed. (Chadwick, 103) Although he was not a strong advocate of philosophy he admitted that it was somewhat necessary. He did not believe that humans were ment to find the answers typically being sought in philosophy. He believed that life was god’s plan, and the bible was the source of the lifes answers that human were ment to have.

Irenaeus also wrote somewhat extensively on the subject of creation and orginal sin. He proposed that God created the world immature, to allow us time to make mistakes and grow by overcoming moral challenges. Original sin was located in the first of these mistakes, the abuse of free will by the angels in the fall of Adam and Eve. He maintained that god was one single entity, acting...
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