Lent: Day 8 of 40 - Iranaeus

How big is this club, and how complicated is the test to get in?

It’s easier to tell who Irenaeus is against than who and what he is for, from our records. He wrote Against Heresies as a lengthy refutation of Gnostics – and until the translation of the Nag Hamadi library late in the 20th century, was our best source of what they believed. It is an ironic outcome that he actually preserves his opponents’ ideas, not his own. Does that remind you of heretics or partisans or sectarians today?

Irenaeus’ teacher was Polycarp. Ignatius (see Monday) wrote Polycarp on the way to die. Iranaeus from Smyrna and Antioch became bishop of Lyons in Gaul, modern France. He defended imprisoned clergy to Rome. Part of his argument as an advocate of those under pressure from factions outside Rome was to affirm the primacy of the see of Rome as first among equals.

Irenaeus clarified a canon or collection of scriptures against Marcion’s, including 4 gospels and more letters. His canon also included Hebrew scriptures as essential to the faith. His writings included exegesis or interpretation of scripture for preaching and teaching, distinguishing the authority of the primary documents of scripture from the derivative weight of secondary commentary.

Irenaeus’ opponents, intellectual snobs with secret ideas to save an elite, ascetic dualists who said that flesh and appetites were either bad or didn’t matter much, enthusiasts affirming all ecstasy as good, and cosmopolitans who were above and past parochial or national cults like Judaism, lived within a new global Greco/Roman synthesis under the Antonine emperors. Hindsight tells us that Rome was already in decline, but barbarians like the peoples of Gaul were hardly ‘at the gates’.

Does that progressive condescension remind anybody else of the decadent elitism among our sinecured snobs in academies and bureaucracies in metropolitan centres, safe from those voting with wallets and feet beneath them, or ascendant economies and peoples around them? ‘Cultured despisers of religion’, as Schleiermacher called them, are more loyal to the globalized elite than to any parochial or ethnic communities – and forget who they are and whose they are.

Irenaeus promoted an open, transparent but not simplified account of the faith, against the temptations of secret elitism or public reductionism. 

How big is the club? Huge! 

How complicated is the test? 

You could pass it, not just some geniuses! 

Really, even the Turks and the French, 

Irenaeus’ people and heretics like us, 

not just the imperials and high class can join!