Irenaeus Of Lyons -- By: C. J. H. Ropes
BSac 19:134 (April 1877) p. 284
Irenaeus Of Lyons
The history of the second Christian century has always been the arena of theological controversy, never more than to-day. Critics and apologists of all opinions still find their views represented in this formative period. The present problem of church history is the rise of the old Catholic church. And in the last few years a party has arisen, calling itself by this time-honored name, and claiming to re-establish the old Catholic faith.
This, therefore, is a peculiarly appropriate time to invite attention to the most influential churchman of the second century, to the best representative of its doctrine and polity, to the champion of the old Catholic church in the hour of its greatest peril, to the first uninspired theologian who “on all the most important points conforms to the standard which has satisfied the Christian church ever since”1 — to Irenaeus of Lyons. And yet, when we seek the foundation for these statements in the character of Irenaeus, in his life, in his book which describes the home of the church as a fortress against the gnostics, we may meet with disappointment; for in him we find no trace of the rugged individuality of Ignatius, of the brilliant rhetoric of Tertullian, of the wide range of Origen’s speculation, of the creative intellect of Augustine. The individuality of Irenaeus seems almost lost in his catholicity; his rhetorical armory is the Bible, his speculation moves in the plane of the Scriptures, and his creations in theology are almost unnoticed, because so familiar. In fact, the great difficulty in characterizing
BSac 19:134 (April 1877) p. 285
Irenaeus springs from the naturalness of his expressions, which relaxes the critical attention.
The worth of Irenaeus lies in his peculiar position, and in the fact that he was the right man to fill it. Many lines meet in him. Two long lives, overlapping by nearly thirty years, link Irenaeus with the Founder of Christianity. Poly-carp was a faithful disciple of John, but a zealous student of Paul; and in Irenaeus we find united the anthropological, practical tenets of Paul and the sublime theology of John.2
Again, the youth of Irenaeus was spent in Asia Minor, the cradle of theology; but his life-work was done in Gaul, under the practical influences of the Western church. So we find in him head, heart, and hand joined together in many-sided work. Lipsius has ably described the change which turned the attention of Christians in the second century from the heavenly to the earthly kingdom.3 They were no longer t...
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