Irenaeus is considered by many the first systematic theologian of the Church. Being the first at something makes it is easy to ascribe to him the qualities of unerring thought and perfect insight. As much as my learning allows I am undergoing a thorough reading of his books. I already finished Book I and will soon, by God’s grace, finish Book III. In order to make these books more easily understandable, I am annotating them like a study Bible.
Ed: This article was made when I was a Protestant and upon greater learning and reflection my thoughts may have evolved.
Click here in order to read Book I of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, with my annotations.
Click here in order to read Book II of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, with my annotations.
While this post will not contain a thorough summary of everything about Book II of Against Heresies, I will give the following synopsis:
- Book I covers the specifics of different Gnostic heresies. Irenaeus does this in order to show that he is an expert of what Gnostics teach. This lends credibility to his works as a whole, in his eyes, as he is better able to disprove Gnostic heresies than his predecessors such as Justin Martyr.
- Book II covers how Gnostic teachings are internally inconsistent. The central premise is that the law on non-contradiction holds universally true. Gnostic teachings, based upon their own sources (allegedly), are self-contradictory. Therefore, Gnosticism is not true Christianity.
The following are some interesting tid bits that I picked up reading Book II:
Quoting Scripture From Memory. When commenting on Book I, I wrote: “There are many parts, which upon reflection, it appears that Irenaeus was writing extemporaneously.” It appears the same is true of Book II. Irenaeus quite a few times quotes Scripture from memory, as he sometimes gets a few details off. I won’t cover them all, but here are a few examples from Book II:
Misquoting 1 Cor 1:26-27–
Paul declares, For you see your calling, brethren, that there are not many wisemen among you, not many noble, not many mighty; but those things of the world which were despised has God chosen (Book II Chap 19 Par 7).
Misquoting 1 Cor 8:6–
Misquoting Matt 12:36–
the Lord expressed Himself thus: For every idle word that men speak, they shall give account on the day of judgment (Book II Chap 19 Par 2).
Irenaeus sometimes proves to be a pretty poor logician. Some of his arguments against Gnosticism are embarrassingly bad (see especially Chapter Seven and my previous article on the subject). For example, he argues that deficiencies in creation impugn the excellence of the creator (as an excellent creator should, by definition, not make a deficient creation.) He does not appear aware of the fact that the same exact argument can be used against the true Creator!
Ireaneus sometimes speaks of things which we know in retrospect he knew nothing about… In Chapter 24 Par. 2 and 34 Par. 3 Irenaeus’ displays a poor understanding of Hebrew. This is ironic because his bad understanding of Hebrew is made evident in a passage where Irenaeus goes out of his way to act as an authority on the subject.
The perspicuity of Scripture. When one reads Irenaeus, we can see that though he does read the Scripture, at times, allegorically he overal views the Scripture as easy to understand. In Chapter 28 and Chapter 34 Par 4 again and again makes Irenaeus favors a literal, simple reading of the Scripture (as they say, “the main things are the plain things.”) Throughout the book, Irenaeus appears unaware that there is another source of revelation to us outside of the Scripture. Though he mentions tradition in a passage about Jesus being 50 years old, he uses it as historical verification for something he thinks the Scripture clearly teaches in John 8.
Irenaues’ Christological doctrines. While Book III makes clear that Irenaeus believed that Christ was both fully God and fully man, in chapter 28 we see that he assigns omnscience only to the Father: “The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge.” He uses this as evidence that the Gnostic speculations are fruitless, for if Christ cannot know everything surely they cannot.
Lastly, a few other random tid-bits.
- Chapter 29 Par 1 shows an understanding of the faith-works dichotomy. This lends credibility to the view that when Irenaeus speaks of faith saving, he views it as sufficient in of itself to save without works.
- Chapter 34 Par 2 shows that Irenaeus correctly (and astonishingly) anticipated the Law of Conservation of Energy by extrapolating truisms about God’s nature!
- Chapter 14 is an idiot’s guide Greek philosophy, definitely useful to anyone who is not an expert on the subject.