Saints Bio: St. Irenaeus
St. Irenaeus was probably born around 125. As a young man in Smyrna (near Ephesus, in what is now western Turkey) he heard the preaching of Polycarp, who as a young man had heard the preaching of the Apostle John. Afterward, probably while still a young man, Polycarp moved west to Lyons in southern France. In 177, Pothinus, the bishop of Lyons, sent him on a mission to Rome and during his absence a severe persecution broke out in Lyons, claiming the lives of the bishop and others (see 2 June). When Irenaeus returned to Lyons, he was made bishop. He died around 202. He is thus an important link between the apostolic church and later times, and also an important link between Eastern and Western Christianity. His principal work is the Refutation of Heresies, a defense of orthodox Christianity against its Gnostic rivals. A shorter work is his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, a brief summary of Christian teaching, largely concerned with Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. An interesting bit of trivia about this later book is that it is, as far as I know, the first Christian writing to refer to the earth as a sphere. One of the earliest heresies to arise in the Christian church was Gnosticism, and Irenaeus was one of its chief early opponents. Not all Gnostics believed exactly the same thing, but the general outlines of the belief are fairly clear. Gnostics were dualists, teaching that there are two great opposing forces: good versus evil, light versus darkness, knowledge versus ignorance, spirit versus matter. Since the world is material, and leaves much room for improvement, they denied that God had made it. “How can the perfect produce the imperfect, the infinite produce the finite, the spiritual produce the material?” they asked. One solution was to say that there were thirty beings called AEons, and that God had made the first AEon, which made the second AEon, which made the third, and so on to the thirtieth AEon, which made the world. (This, Gnostics pointed out to the initiate, was the true inward spiritual meaning of the statement that Jesus was thirty years old when he began to preach.) As Irenaeus pointed out, this did not help at all. Assuming the Gnostic view of the matter, each of the thirty must be either finite or infinite, material or non-material, and somewhere along the line you would have an infinite being producing a finite one, a spiritual being producing a material one. The Gnostics were Docetists, which English word comes from the Greek word meaning “to seem.” They taught that Christ did not really have a material body, but only seemed to have one. It was an appearance, so that he could communicate with men, but was not really there. (If holograms had been known then, they would certainly have said that the supposed body of Jesus was a hologram.) They went on to say that Jesus was not really born, and did not really suffer or die, but merely appeared to do so. It was in opposition to early Gnostic teachers that the Apostle John wrote (1 John 4:1-3) that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of antiChrist.