Irenaeus of Lyons was one of the early church fathers. He was Bishop over the church in Lugdunum, Gaul (modern day France). He was a proponent of the episcopal counsels, believing that acceptance of doctrinal authority is the only method for retaining unity of the church. Irenaeus authored many works, his most famous being Adversus Hereses, a calculated attack on Gnosticism which refuted the various beliefs of different Gnostic churches. Irenaeus was also the first of the early church fathers to recognize the canonical value of all four gospels.
Irenaeus came from a Greek philosophy background, so he was easily able to identify with the Gnostic practices, however, he did not see things as they did. Rather, he found the doctrines to be faulty; “merely to describe such doctrines is to refute them.” Irenaeus also had issue with the Gnostic belief that their practices were handed down to them orally from the apostles, themselves. Had this been true, any valuable wisdom would have been handed down through the churches which they had planted; just as they had the scriptures.
Irenaeus also was one of the first to ‘canonize’ scripture as we know it today. Prior to his time, the scriptures referred to the Old Testament, which many gnostic churches did not even follow. Irenaeus saw Christianity, rightly; not as a new religion, but the continuation of God’s plan and the beginning of a new era; a new covenant. The Old Testament scriptures were as much a part of scripture as the New Testament. At this time, the scriptures which Irenaeus and other church leaders of the time supported were virtually the same as the ones we follow today, with minor variation in some churches.
Where Irenaeus made considerable contributions to the early church and composed some of Christianity’s most important documents, his focus was primarily on Gnosticism; not because of morbid obsession, but because he believed in unifying sound doctrine. His work on Gnosticism provides us not only with the most information on the subject, but also gives us valuable insight in refuting modern day Gnostics as well as other cults.
Irenaeus. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://www.wikipedia.com
Lane, T. (2006). A concise history of christian thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic
Cairnes, E. (1996). Chistianity through the centuries (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan