Course:Carey HIST501/Project 2/Irenaeus of Lyons

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Research on the life of an early Church Father from the list provided below and put together a 500-word mini biography of the historical figure assigned by the instructor (the list will be posted on the course website). For each mini biography, please include the following:

Year of birth and death

Saint Irenaeus

Timeline of Irenaeus of Lyons[1]

138 - Antoninus Pius becomes Emperor

140s - Valentinus the Gnostic comes to Rome from Egypt

Mid-140s - The Birth of Irenaeus (possibly at Smyrna?)

157 - (Feb. 23) Martyrdom of Polycarp in Smyrna

161 - Marcus Aurelius becomes Emperor

Early 160s - Irenaeus moves to Lyon

175-189 - Eleutherus becomes bishop of Rome

177/180 - Persecution in Lyon and Vienne; Irenaeus becomes bishop of Lyon

180-185 - Sometime during this period, Irenaeus wrote Against the Heresies

181 - Commodus becomes Emperor

185-190 - Sometime during this period, Irenaeus wrote Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching

189-199 - Victor becomes bishop of Rome

193 - Rome experiences civil war and Septimius Severus becomes Emperor

200-202??? - Sometime around 200-202 Irenaeus is said to have been martyred.[2]

Short biographical sketch of the church father

Gaul, 1st century
Irenaeus' exact birth date is unknown. He was born of Greek parents in Asia Minor[3], though many speculate Smyrna to be his birth city. This connection to Smyrna has to do with Eusebius mentioning that Irenaeus as a youth had been a "hearer" of Polycarp, the first bishop of Smyrna who was martyred in 157.[1] It is speculated that Irenaeus studied under Polycarp in his youth.[4] It's important to note that Irenaeus served the late second church as a credible bridge to the "post-sub-apostolic period of early Christianity."[1] By the time Irenaeus became the bishop of Lyons in Gaul in the late 170s or early 180s, the generation that had known Jesus as well as the generation that had known the apostles had all died. Irenaeus was essentially one of the last Christian writers "who could plausibly claim to have learned directly from someone who had known the apostles, that someone being Polycarp."[1] For Irenaeus, it was his relationship with Polycarp that became his connective link to the apostolic age.[1] Starting with Irenaeus the concept of apostolic succession became an important practice to safeguard the teaching of the church. Irenaeus referred to Peter and Paul as the founders of the church of Rome, and each bishop was to be considered a successor to the original apostles. Gnostic teachers claimed to have secret knowledge and tradition that came from Christ. To combat this, many "catholic Christians felt that a list of bishops traced back to Peter and Paul was a sure means of safeguarding the apostolic message."[5]
The reasons for why Irenaeus moved to Lyon are unknown. In Lyons Irenaeus become a presbyter who was sent to Rome to deliver a message to the bishop of Rome. It's during his time in Rome that persecution broke out against Christians in Gaul.[2] In 177, Christians in Lyon experienced persecution from the people of Lyon (the capital of Gaul). This persecution was likely due to a deadly plague and frequent enemy raids that the people of Southern Gaul were I and finally to a number of them being cruelly executed in the amphitheater by the Roman governor of the province."[1] It was in this wave of persecution that the aged bishop Pothinos died in prison as the result of maltreatment and torture.[1] Upon his return from Rome, Irenaeus became Polthinos' successor as bishop of Lyon and was quickly "faced with all the questions of a tragic aftermath: how to care for widows and orphans, console the suffering, encourage the defectors, relieve fears, and promote unity."[6]
It is speculated that Irenaeus died at around 200 AD. Later tradition states that he was martyred under the reign of Septimus Severus, and he is referenced by Jerome as being a martyr though none of his contemporaries refer to him as being martyred.[4]

Major contributions of the church father such as:

a. Contributions to doctrinal development
  • "Irenaeus, the scriptures of the Old Testament point to Christ while the scriptures of the New contain his teaching and the authoritative teaching of the apostles, and the two cohere. That is of vital importance for him, since one of his central concerns is to affirm, against "gnostic" views and against Marcion, the unity of the old and the new - the Father of Jesus Christ is the one who made heaven and earth and the God of the New Covenant is identical with the God of the Old."[1]
  • Irenaeus also offered a theological reflection consider Mary the mother of Jesus as the "'second Eve' who, through her radical submission and obedience to God, reversed the deadly consequences of Eve's rebellion."[5]
    Saint Irenaeus
    The incarnation is the central focus of Irenaeus' grand vision of God's redemptive history. It's the focus "not only because through it God's word has straightened the twisted history of humankind, but also because from the very beginning the union of the human with the divine was the goal of history. God's purpose is to be joined to the human creature, and this has taken place in a unique way in Jesus Christ."[2]
  • For Irenaeus, Christians are to be instructed by what he called the "two hands" of God: the Word and the Holy Spirit.[2] The goal of every Christian is communion with God, which Irenaeus called "divinization" the process in which God makes humans even more like the divine.[2] The theological concept of theosis is likely drawn from the theology of Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa.[7]
  • Irenaeus did not have have the scriptures as a "closed canon" in the manner that we do, he did however, refer to the writings he did have as "scripture." The collection of writings that Irenaeus had were, the four Gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation.[1]
  • Irenaeus cites and references the gospels as fourfold but held together by one spirit. Irenaeus was instrumental in the process of canonizing the four gospels. He denounced those who rejected or introduced either more or fewer faces to the gospel. It's from both Irenaeus and Justin Martyr that we see an emphasis on the fourfold gospel being the norm for the church.[8]
b. Contributions to pastoral work
  • Irenaeus was first and foremost a pastor. "He was not particularly interested in philosophical speculation nor in delving into mysteries hitherto unsolved, but rather in leading is flock in Christian life and faith."[2] His writings reflect his convictions as a practitioner, his writings focus on simple refutes and instructions for believers.[2]
  • For Irenaeus the God of the universe is to be seen above all as a shepherd. "God is a loving being who creates the world and humankind, not out of necessity nor by mistake - as Gnostics claimed - but out of a desire to have a creation to love and to lead, like the shepherd loves and leads the flock."[2]
  • Eusebius referred to Irenaeus as a peacemaker. When Victor became bishop of Rome in the late 180s a dispute arose concerning the proper date to celebrate Easter. As a result of this disagreement, Victor excommunicated the churches in Asia Minor. Irenaeus traveled to Rome and confronted Victor that he if persisted in his course of action that he would fracture and divide the church. Irenaeus sought to maintain the unity of the church by keeping the practice and date of Passover as an independent church issue, that is until the Council of Nicea.[1]
c. Contributions to Christian ethics
  • Irenaeus was the first to stress the importance of apostolic succession. The ability to trace bishops back to Peter and Paul the founders of the church in Rome was used by the proto-orthodoxy as a way of bringing credibility but also safeguarding the apostolic message against the secret knowledge of the Gnostics.[5]
  • Irenaeus saw the scriptures as sufficient for teaching and instruction. The issue was that those he considered heretics would often distort the meaning of scripture. He likened this distortion of scripture with the analogy of a mosaic of the emperor which someone turned into the image of a dog or a wolf by prying loose the pieces and rearranging them. The individual pieces are the same, but the an image of a dog or a wolf is not the image of the emperor.[1] To combat distortions of the scripture Irenaeus appealed for the notion of the "Rule of Truth" or "Rule of Faith" where this rule became some sort of "proto-creedal summary of the faith" that served to help ensure people did not fall into heresy.[1]
d. Major works written
  • Eusebius credits Irenaeus to writing 8 works. Eusebius quotes from 4 of them in his own writing.[1]
  • According to Gasque, Irenaeus wrote five monumental books against the gnostic heresies of his area.[5]
  • Only two of his works survived:
    • Against the Heresies (Which Irenaeus called: Overthrow of Falsely-Named Knowledge)
    • Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching

Both short and long-term impact of the selected church father

It's important to note that Irenaeus among other second century church leaders help us gain greater clarity to the age of the apostles as well as credibility to the authenticity of scripture.

  • The authorship of 2 Peter has been debated since ancient times, but Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Clement of Alexandria all accepted it as genuine.[8]
  • Irenaeus is the one who said that John's apocalypse was written during Domitian's reign (AD 81-96).[8]
  • Irenaeus stated that the apostle John lived in Ephesus and that the writing of the gospel took place in Ephesus.[8]
  • Irenaeus considered the Shepherd of Hermas a genuine work of the apostle Paul[8]

A Helpful Biography of Irenaeus of Lyon


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Parvis and Foster, Sara and Paul eds. (2012). Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, and Legacy. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. pp. Kindle Loc. 131, 384, 448, 499, 550, 559, 571. ISBN 978-1-4514-2444-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Gonzalez, Justo L. (2010). The Story of Christianity. New York: Harper One. p. 84.
  3. Wingren, Gustaf (5 Jan. 2020). "Saint Irenaeus". Britannica. Retrieved 26 October 2021. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Irenaeus". Theopedia. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Shelley, Bruce L. (2020). Christian History in Plain Language. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. pp. 170, 11, 43.
  6. Carr, Simonetta (June 17, 2019). "Irenaeus of Lyon". Christianity Today. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  7. Casey, Damien (November 16, 2015). "Theosis as the Unity of Life and Death". BRILL. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Burge, Choick, Green, Gary M., Lynn H., Gene L. (2009). The New Testament in Antiquity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. pp. 449, 405, 438, 214, 226, 289.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)