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Saint Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus.jpg

Bishop and Martyr
Born Born::130 AD, Smyrna, Asia Minor
Died Died::202 AD, Lugdunum, Gaul
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Eastern Orthodoxy
Feast June 28 (Roman Catholicism)
August 23 (Eastern Orthodoxy)

Saint Irenaeus (Greek: Εἰρηναῖος, Eirenaios), (Born::130 ADDied::202 AD) was a bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyon, France and a Christian apologist whose writings were influential in the early development of Christian theology. He was also a disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of John the Apostle. He is recognized as a saint by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, both of whom also consider him a Father of the Church.


Irenaeus was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor, where he studied under bishop Polycarp, who in turn had been a disciple of Apostle John.[1] Leaving Asia Minor for Rome he joined the school of Justin Martyr before being made bishop of Lyons in Southern Gaul in about AD 178.[2] In contrast to Justin - whose writings he used and respected[3] - Irenaeus rejected the philosophical approach to Christianity, which for him as a child of the Church “rested on revelation, tradition, and on the power of the Holy Spirit.”[4] Despite this he did not abandon philosophy completely and many of his works are indebted to it.[5] Other sources of his teaching include Theophilus and Ignatius of Antioch.[6]

His saw his main ministry in the refutation of Gnosticism and to this end he wrote his major work Against Heresies, in which also sought to expound and defend the catholic faith.[7] Faced with difficult passages from the Old Testament he applied a Christological hermeneutic[8] and answered the objections of the heretics from the Scriptures themselves.

Creation and the Fall

Central to his refutation of the Gnostics was the Genesis account of the Creation and the fall. He held that Adam and Eve were created as children,[9] with the intention that they grow in grace through willing submission until they reach the point when they would be ready to receive the Spirit of adoption.[10] An archangel was assigned to look after Adam and Eve in the Garden,[11] but Adam

...disobeyed God, being misled by the angel, who becoming jealous of God’s many favours which he had bestowed on man, both ruined himself and made man a sinner, persuading him to disobey God’s command.[12]

Being mere children they were not truly responsible for the fall, the blame for which is laid at the Devil’s door.[13] By claiming that it was Adam who was deceived by the serpent Irenaeus has subtly altered the biblical account.[14] He adds to the account by informing us that the angel fell when he tempted man. Adam’s “disobedience is the source of the general sinfulness and mortality of mankind, as also of their enslavement to the Devil”.[15] Irenaeus, taking up Paul’s Adam-Christ parallel centred his theology around the Recapitulation of all things[16] in Christ. What Adam lost for mankind, Christ becoming a man, won back.[17] The material world was therefore not inherently evil, but was created by the Father.[18] Following Hermas[19] and Theophilus of Antioch[20] he argued that the creation was ex nihilo.[21]

The Sons of God

Irenaeus believed that the “sons of God” (Gen. 6:1-3) were angels, who gave rise to a race of giants. In addition, the angels

...brought to their wives as gifts teachings of evil, for they taught them the virtues of roots and herbs, and dyeing and cosmetics and discoveries of precious materials, love-philtres, hatreds, amours, passions, constraints of love, the bonds of witchcraft, every sorcery and idolatry...[22]


See Also


  1. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.4 (Ante-Nicene Fathers [ANF], Vol. 1, p.416).
  2. Mary T. Clark, “Irenaeus,” Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland, 1990. pp.471-472; Richard A. Norris, God And World In Early Christian Theology: A Study in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966. p.57.
  3. ibid., p.57.
  4. W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p.244.
  5. Ibid., 244: “He was interested in philosophy only insofar as it could help one to penetrate more deeply into what one believed.”
  6. Clark, op.cit., 473.
  7. ANF, Vol. 1, p.311.
  8. David S. Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now. Contemporary Hermeneutics In The Light Of The Early Church. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992. p.69; John Lawson, The Biblical Theology of St. Irenaeus. London: Epworth Press, 1948. p.85
  9. 9“The man was a babe. He had not yet the perfect use of his faculties. Hence he was easily deceived by the seducer.” Irenaeus, Demonstration, 12; cf. Against Heresies 3.22.4, 4.38.1-4; 4.39.1 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.455, 521-522, 522); Theophilus of Antioch, Autolycus 2.2 (ANF, Vol. 2, p.94).; Clement of Alexandria, Protrepsis. 11.111.1.
  10. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.37.1; 4.38.3 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.518-519, 521-522).
  11. Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Gospel, 12.
  12. Irenaeus, Demonstration, 16.
  13. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.16.2; 4.40.3 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.544, 524).
  14. The apostle Paul writes that it was Eve who was deceived, not Adam in 1 Tim. 2:14.
  15. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev., 1960. San Francisco: Harper, 1978. p.171.
  16. Cf. Eph. 1:10; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.18.1; 5.29.2 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.501, 558).
  17. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.21.1; 5.21.3 (ANF, Vol. 1, pp.548-549, 550).
  18. Irenaeus, Againist Heresies 2.9.2 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.369).
  19. Hermas, Shepherd, Mandate 1.1 (ANF, Vol. 2, p.20).
  20. Theophilus of Antioch, Autolycus, 2.10; cf. 2.4 (ANF, Vol. 2, pp.97-98, 95); Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edn. Oxford: OUP, 1997. p.713.
  21. “While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God in this point is eminently superior to men, that He himself called into being the substance of His creation when previously it had no structure.” Irenaeus, Againist Heresies 2.10.4 (ANF, Vol. 1, p.370); Norris, op.cit., p.73.
  22. Irenaeus, Demonstration, 18 (trans. Joseph P. Smith, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1952. p.155, n.100): “The whole of this chapter is based on Jewish apocrypha; cf. especially 1 Enoch 6-9, where ‘teachings of evil’ are set forth in detail.”

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