4. THE GNOSTIC
CRISIS
 

 Debating Philosophers, Medieval illum ms.

Walker, “Period II. The Gnostic Crisis” . 2.1-2.6, pp. 53-66.

 [4.1] Gnosticism;   [4.2] Marcion;   [4.3] Montanism;   [4.4] The Catholic Church;
[4.5] The Growing Importance of Rome;   [4.6] Irenæus

[4.]1. GNOSTICISM

 

[4.1] GNOSTICISM
 

 

The later New Testament literature, and at least one of the Apostolic Fathers, strongly combat conceptions of Christ which it is evident must have been widely prevalent, especially in Asia Minor, in the opening years of the second century. These views denied His real humanity and His actual death. He had not come “in the flesh,” but in ghost-like, Docetic appearance.[1] These opinions have generally been regarded as the beginnings of Gnosticism. It is true that this Docetic conception of Christ was a feature of much Gnostic teaching. It is more probable, however, that these early teachings were more largely based on an attempt to explain a seeming contradiction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of experience, than on purely Gnostic speculations. That earthly life of humiliation was so contrasted with His pre-existent and post- existent glory, that the simplest solution of the Christological problem may well have seemed to some the denial of the reality of His earthly life altogether. Christ did, indeed, appear. He taught His disciples; but all the time as a heavenly being, not one of flesh and blood.

Gnosticism, properly speaking, was something much more far-reaching. The height of its influence was from about 135 to 160, though it continued a force long after the latter date. It threatened to overwhelm the historic Christian faith, and by so doing brought upon the Christian Church its gravest crisis since the Pauline battle for freedom from law. Its spread and consequent peril were made possible by the relatively weakly organized, and doctrinally undefined state of the church at its beginning. The church overcame the danger; but at the cost of the development of a rigidity of organization, creed, and government which rendered the condition of the church at the close of the second century a striking contrast to that of its beginning.[2]


Gnostic Syncretism

 

GNOSTIC SYNCRETISM

 

 

Gnosticism professed to be based on “knowledge” but not as that word is now commonly understood. Its knowledge was always a mystical, supernatural wisdom, by which the initiates were brought to a true understanding of the universe, and were saved from this evil world of matter. It had a fundamental doctrine of salvation. In these respects it was akin to the mystery religions.

Its most prominent characteristic, however, was its syncretism. It took unto itself many elements from many sources, and assumed many forms. It is, therefore, impossible to speak of a single type of Gnosticism. It was prevailingly mystical, magical, or philosophical according to the dominant admixture in its syncretism. Gnosticism was pre-Christian in its origin, and was in existence before Christianity came into the world.

[1] There were Jewish and pagan types.

[2] It is represented in the Hermetic literature of Egypt.

[3] It had astral elements which may be traced back to Babylonian religious conceptions, a dualistic view of the universe, Persian in origin, and a doctrine of emanations from God in the “pleroma” or realm of spirit, which was probably Egyptian.

[4] Perhaps its most fundamental conception, the wholly evil character of the phenomenal world, was due to a combination of the Platonic theory of the contrast between the real spiritual sphere of “ideas,” and this visible world of phenomena, interpreted in terms of Persian dualism—the one good and that to which man strives to return, the other wholly bad and the place of his imprisonment.

The world of matter is evil. Its creator and ruler is not, therefore, the high, good God, but an inferior and imperfect being, the demiurge. Man, to be saved, must be freed from this bondage to the visible world, and its rulers, the planetary spirits; and the means of his freedom is “knowledge” a mystical, spiritual enlightenment for the initiated which brings him into communion with the true realm of spiritual realities.

Strongly syncretistic already, Gnosticism found much in Christianity which it could use. In particular, the figure of Christ was especially adapted to give a definite and concrete center to its theory of a higher saving knowledge. He was the revealer of the hitherto unknown high and all-perfect God to men. By that illumination all “spiritual” men, who were capable of receiving it, would be led back to the realm of the good God. Since the material world is evil, Christ could not have had a real incarnation, and the Gnostics explained His appearance either as Docetic and ghostly or as a temporary indwelling of the man Jesus or as an apparent birth from a virgin mother without partaking of material nature. The God of the Old Testament, as the creator of this visible world, cannot be the high God whom Christ revealed, but the inferior demiurge. That all Christians did not possess the saving “knowledge,” the Gnostics explained by holding it to be a secret teaching imparted by the Apostles to their more intimate disciples, a speaking “ wisdom among the perfect.” [3]It is true that while Paul was in no sense a Gnostic, there were many things in Paul’s teachings of which Gnostics availed themselves. His sharp contrast between flesh and spirit ;[4] his conception of Christ as victor over those “principalities and powers” which are the “world rulers of this darkness,”[5]  and his thought of Christ as the Man from Heaven,[6] were all ideas which the Gnostics could employ. Paul was always to them the chief Apostle.

Varieties of Gnosticism

 

VARIETIES of GNOSTICISM

 

 

Gnosticism was divided into many sects and presented a great variety of forms. In all of them[:]

[1] the high, good God is the head of the spiritual world of light, often called the “pleroma.”

[2] From that world fragments have become imprisoned in this visible world of darkness and evil.

[3] In later Gnosticism this fallen element from the pleroma is represented as the lowest of a series of aeons, or spiritual beings, emanating from the high God.

To rescue this fallen portion, the seeds of light in the visible evil world, Christ came, bringing the true “knowledge.” By His teaching those capable of receiving it are restored to the pleroma. They are at best few.

[4] Most Gnostics divided mankind into “ spiritual,” capable of salvation, and “ material” who could not receive the message.Later Gnosticism, especially the school of Valentinus, taught a threefold division, “spiritual,” who alone could attain “knowledge” ; “psychical,” capable of faith, and of a certain degree of salvation; and “ material,” who were hopeless.


Valentinus’ system is known to us only in the developed and modified form given to it by his disciples. It appears to have been based on earlier systems (perhaps including the Ophite), and to incorporate Platonic and Pythagorean elements.

The spiritual world or ‘pleroma’ comprises 30 ‘aeons’ emanated by the Primal Ground of Being, who form a succession of pairs (syzygies). The visible world owes its origin to the fall of Sophia, the last of these aeons; this fall is variously described, but results in the emergence of her offspring the Demiurge or creator, identified with the God of the Old Testament. The Valentinian myth is intended to explain the human predicament by showing how a divine element has come to be imprisoned in this alien and hostile world, at the mercy of the Demiurge and his ‘archons’, the rulers of the planetary spheres. Redemption is effected by another aeon, Christ, who unites with the man Jesus (either at his conception or at his baptism) to bring mankind the saving knowledge (‘gnosis’) of its true origin and destiny.

This gnosis, however, is given only to the ‘spiritual’ or ‘pneumatics’, i.e. the Valentinians, who through it are destined to return to the pleroma; other Christians, described as ‘psychics’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14 etc.), can attain by faith and good works to a form of salvation, but only in a lower realm below the pleroma; the rest of mankind, called ‘hylics’ as merely material and not ‘spiritual’, are doomed to eternal perdition.  (Livingstone, Oxf Dict. Chr. Ch,)


Christian tradition represented the founder of Christian Gnosticism to be Simon Magus,[7] but of his real relations to it little is known. More clearly defined leaders are Satornilus of Antioch, who labored before 150; Basilides, who taught in Alexandria about 130; and, above all, Valentinus, who was active in Rome from about 135 to 165, and who must be regarded as one of the most gifted thinkers of the age.

Gnosticism was an immense peril for the church. It cut out the historic foundations of Christianity. Its God is not the God of the Old Testament, which is the work of an inferior or even evil being. Its Christ had no real incarnation, death, or resurrection. Its salvation is for the few capable of spiritual enlightenment. The peril was the greater because Gnosticism was represented by some of the keenest minds in the church of the second century. The age was syncretistic, and in some respects Gnosticism was but the fullest accomplishment of that amalgamation of Hellenic and Oriental philosophical speculation with primitive Christian beliefs which was in greater or less degree in process in all Christian thinking.

[4].2. MARCION

 

[4.2] MARCION
 

 

A SPECIAL interest attaches to Marcion as one who was the first church reformer.[8] Born in Sinope, in Asia Minor, where he was a wealthy ship-owner, he came to Rome about 139, and joined the Roman congregation, making it a gift for its benevolent work equivalent to ten thousand dollars. He soon came to feel that Christianity was under the bondage of legalism, and, under the light of the Gnostic teaching of Cerdo, he saw the root of this evil in acceptance of the Old Testament and its God. Never more than partially a Gnostic, his prime interest was in church reform. Salvation, with him, was by right faith rather than by knowledge. To Marcion, Paul was the only Apostle who had understood the Gospel; all the rest had fallen into the errors of Judaism. The God of the Old Testament is a just God, in the sense of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” He created the world and gave the Jewish law. Christ, who was a Docetic manifestation, revealed the heretofore unknown good God of mercy. The God of the Old Testament opposed Him; but in Christ the authority of the Jewish law was done away, and the “just God” became unjust because of this unwarranted hostility to the revealer of the “good God.” The Old Testament and its God are therefore to be rejected by Christians. Christ proclaimed a Gospel of love and of righteousness by faith, though, curiously enough, Marcion was extremely ascetic in his conception of the Christian life.

Marcion’s endeavor to call the Roman Church back to what he deemed the Gospel of Christ and of Paul resulted in his own excommunication about 144. He now gathered followers into a separated church. For their use he compiled a canon of sacred books, composed of the epistles of Paul (omitting the Pastorals), and the Gospel of Luke, shorn of all passages which implied that Christ regarded the God of the Old Testament as His Father, or was in any way related to Him. As far as is known, this was the first attempt to form an authoritative collection of New Testament writings.

Marcion’s movement was probably the most dangerous of those associated with Gnosticism. He sundered Christianity from its historic background as completely as had the more speculative Gnostic theories. He denied a real incarnation, and condemned the Old Testament and its God. All this was the more plausible because done in the name of a protest against growing legalism. For such a protest there was much justification. His churches spread extensively, in the Orient especially, and survived into the fifth century. His own later history is wholly unknown.

[4].3. MONTANISM

 

[4.3] MONTANISM (c. 156)
 

 

UNLIKE Gnosticism, Montanism was a movement distinctly of Christian origin. In most of the churches of the second century the early hope of the speedy return of Christ was growing dim. The consciousness of the constant inspiration of the Spirit, characteristic of the Apostolic Churches, had also largely faded. With this declining sense of the immediacy of the Spirit’s present work came an increasing emphasis on His significance as the agent of revelation. Paul had identified the Spirit and Christ.[9] That was not the general feeling half a century later.

The Spirit had been the inspiration of prophecy in the Old Testament.[10] He guided the New Testament writers.[11] To Christian thought at the beginning of the second century the Holy Spirit was differentiated from Christ, but was classed, like Him, with God. This appears in the Trinitarian baptismal formula,[12] which was displacing the older baptism in the name of Christ.[13] Trinitarian formulae were frequently in use by the close of the first and beginning of the second century.[14] The Johannine Gospel represented Christ as promising the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples; “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall bear Witness of Me,” (1526). The second century was convinced, therefore, not only that the Holy Spirit was in peculiar association with God the Father and Christ; but that Christ had promised the Spirit’s coming in more abundant measure in the future.

It was this thought of the special dispensation of the Holy Spirit, combined with a fresh outburst of the early prophetic enthusiasm, and a belief that the end of the world-age was close at hand, that were represented in Montanism. To a considerable extent Montanism was, also, a reaction from the secular tendencies already at work in the church.

 

 

Montanus, from whom the movement was named, was of Ardabau, near the region of Asia Minor known as Phrygia—long noted for its ecstatic type of religion.[15] A tradition, recorded by Jerome, affirmed that, before conversion, he had been a priest of Cybele.

About 156 Montanus proclaimed himself the passive instrument through whom the Holy Spirit spoke. In this new revelation Montanus declared the promise of Christ fulfilled, and the dispensation of the Holy Spirit begun. To him were soon joined two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla. They now affirmed, as mouthpieces of the Spirit, that the end of the world was at hand, and that the heavenly Jerusalem was about to be established in Phrygia, whither believers should betake themselves. In preparation for the fast-approaching consummation the most strenuous asceticism should be practised, celibacy, fastings, and abstinence from meat. This vigorous attitude won response as a protest against the growing worldliness of the church at large, and to many was the most attractive feature of Montanism.

The movement speedily attained considerable proportions. By the bishops of Asia Minor, who felt their authority threatened, one or more synods were held soon after 160, which have the distinction of being the earliest synods of church history, and in which Montanism was condemned. Its progress was not easily checked, even by the death of the last of its original prophets, Maximilla, in 179. Soon after 170 it was represented in Rome, and for years the Roman church was more or less agitated by it. In Carthage it won Tertullian, about 207, attracted chiefly by its ascetic demands, who thenceforth was the most eminent Montanist. Though gradually driven out of the dominant church, Montanism continued to be represented in the Orient till long after the acceptance of Christianity by the imperial government. In Carthage the followers of Tertullian persisted till the time of Augustine. In its ascetic demands Montanism represented a wide-spread tendency, and an asceticism as strict as anything Montanism taught was later to find a place in the great church in monasticism.

[4].4. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

 

[4.4] THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
 

 

NEITHER Gnosticism nor Montanism, though extremely perilous, were ever embraced by a majority of Christians. The large church remained faithful to historic Christianity. By the latter third of the second century it was calling itself the Catholic Church. The word Catholic is first used of the church by Ignatius,[16] who employed it in the wholly untechnical sense of “universal.” It is next to be found in the letter of the Church of Smyrna, describing the martyrdom of Polycarp (156), where it is difficult to decide whether the use is technical or not. Its employment as a technically descriptive adjective gradually became common, so that the strongly consolidated church that came out of the Gnostic and Montanist crises is now usually described as the “Catholic.” This Catholic Church developed its distinguishing characteristics between 160 and 190. The hitherto relatively independent congregations were now knit into an effective union. The power of the bishops was greatly strengthened, a collection of authoritative New Testament Scripture recognized, and a creed formulated. Comparatively loosely organized Christianity now became a rigid corporate body, having recognized official leaders and capable not merely of defining its faith, but of shutting out from its communion all who did not accept its creed or its officers. As a recent German writer has epitomized the change: “About 50, he was of the church who had received baptism and the Holy Spirit and called Jesus, Lord; about 180, he who acknowledged the rule of faith (creed), the New Testament canon, and the authority of the bishops.”[17]

In a measure, the beginnings of this great change may be seen before the Gnostic and Montanist crises; but it was those struggles that brought it effectively into being. The characteristic answer of the Catholic Church to the Gnostics may be seen in the argument of Irenæus of Lyons.[18] Against Gnostic claims Irenæus, writing about 185, held that the Apostles did not preach before they had “perfect knowledge” of the Gospel. That preaching they recorded in the Gospels—Matthew and John, were written by Apostles themselves; while Mark reproduced the message of Peter and Luke that of Paul. Nothing Gnostic, Irenæus declares, is found in any of them. But the Gnostic may object that, besides this public apostolic teaching in the Gospels, there was a viva voce instruction, a speaking “wisdom among the perfect,” [19]of which Gnosticism was the heir. This Irenæus denied. He argued that, had there been such private teaching, the Apostles would have intrusted it to those, above all others, whom they selected as their successors in the government of the churches. In these churches of apostolic foundation the apostolic teaching had been fully preserved, and its transmission had been guaranteed by the orderly succession of their bishops. Go therefore to Rome, or to Smyrna, or Ephesus, and learn what is there taught, and nothing Gnostic will be found. Every church must agree with that of Rome, for there apostolic tradition has been faithfully preserved as in other Apostolic ‘Churches.

It is difficult to see what more effective argument Irenæus could have advanced in the peculiar situation which confronted him; but it was an answer which greatly increased the significance of the churches of real or reputed apostolic foundation, and of their heads, the bishops. Irenæus went further. The church itself is the depository of Christian teaching: “Since the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth.” [20]This deposit is especially intrusted to “ those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth,”[21] i. e. to the heads of the churches. To agree with the bishops is therefore a necessity. This argument was not peculiar to Irenæus, it was that of the leaders of Catholic teaching generally.

Apostolic Tradition and Creed

While the power of the episcopate and the significance of churches of apostolic foundation was thus greatly enhanced, the Gnostic crisis saw a corresponding development of creed, at least in the West. Some form of instruction before baptism was common by the middle of the second century.[22] At Rome this developed, apparently, between 150 and 175, and probably in opposition to Marcionite Gnosticism, into an explication of the baptismal formula of Matt. 2819—the earliest known form of the so-called Apostles’ Creed. What antecedents in Asia Minor, if any, it may have had is still a question in scholarly dispute. Without symbolic authority in the Orient, all the Western churches received this creed from Rome, and it was regarded, by the time of Tertullian at least, as having apostolic authority, that is as a summary of apostolic teaching.[23] In its original form it read;

“ I believe in God the Father Almighty; and in Christ Jesus, His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried; the third day He rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, being seated at the right hand of the Father, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, holy church, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the flesh.”

The development of a canon of New Testament books was, also, the work of this period. By the church from the beginning the Old Testament was reckoned as Scripture. The Gospels and the letters of Paul were doubtless highly valued, but they did not, at first, have Scriptural authority. Clement of Rome (93-97), though constantly quoting the Old Testament as the utterance of God, was very free in his use of the words of the New Testament, and nowhere styled them divine.

The New Testament Canon

The earliest designation of a passage from the Gospels as “Scripture” was about 131, by the so-called Barnabas,[24] and of a quotation from Paul about 110-117, by Polycarp.[25] By the time of Justin (153), the Gospels were read in the services in Rome, together with the Old Testament prophets.[26] The process by which the New Testament writings came to Scriptural authority seems to have been one of analogy. The Old Testament was everywhere regarded as divinely authoritative. Christians could think no less of their own fundamental books. The question was an open one, however, as to which were the canonical writings. Works like Hermas and Barnabas were read in churches. An authoritative list was desirable. Marcion had prepared such a canon for his followers. A similar enumeration was gradually formed, probably in Rome, by the Catholic party. Apparently the Gospels were the first to gain complete recognition, then the letters of Paul. By about 200, according to the witness of the Muratorian fragment, Western Christendom had a New Testament canon embracing Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Romans, Philemon, Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy, Jude, 1 and 2 John, Revelation, and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter.[27] In the Christian East the development of a canon was not quite so rapid. Certain books, like Hebrews and Revelation were disputed. The whole process of canonical development into its precise present form was not completed in the West till 400, and in the East till even later.

By the year 200 the church of the western portion of the empire had, therefore, an authoritative collection of New Testament books, in the main like our own, to which to appeal. The East was not much behind. The formation of the canon was essentially a process of selection from the whole mass of Christian literature, made originally by no council, but by the force of Christian opinion—the criterion being that the books accepted were believed to be either the work of an Apostle or of the immediate disciple of an Apostle, and thus to represent apostolic teaching.

Thus out of the struggle with Gnosticism and Montanism came the Catholic Church, with its strong episcopal organization, credal standard, and authoritative canon. It differed much from the Apostolic Church; but it had preserved historic Christianity and carried it through a tremendous crisis. It may be doubted whether a less rigid organization than that developed in this momentous second half of the second century could have achieved as much.

[4].5. THE GROWING IMPORTANCE of ROME

 

[4.5] THE GROWING IMPORTANCE of ROME
 

 

The Roman Church had been of prominence since the time of Paul. To it that Apostle wrote his most noteworthy letter. At Rome Paul, and probably Peter, died. The church endured the severest of early persecutions under Nero, and survived in vigor. Situated in the capital of the empire, it early developed a consciousness of strength and authority, which was doubtless increased by the fact that, by 100, it was, it would appear, the largest single congregation in Christendom. Even before the close of the first century Clement, writing anonymously to the Corinthians in the name of the whole Roman congregation (93-97), spoke as for those who expected to be obeyed.[28] The tone, if brotherly, was big-brotherly. This influence was increased by the well-known generosity of the Roman congregation.[29] Ignatius addressed it as “having the presidency of love.”[30] The destruction of Jerusalem in the second Jewish war (135) ended any possible leadership of Christianity that might there have been asserted. The successful resistance to Gnosticism and Montanism strengthened it; and it reaped in abundance the fruits of that struggle. There the creed was formulated, there the canon formed. Above all, it was advantaged by the appeal of the opponents of Gnosticism to the tradition of the Apostolic churches, for Rome was the only church in the western half of the empire with which Apostles had had anything to do. Irenæus of Lyons, writing about 185, represented the general Western feeling of his time, when he not only pictures the Roman Church as founded by Peter and Paul, but declares “it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church.” [31]It was leadership in the preservation of the apostolic faith, not judicial supremacy, that Irenæus had in mind; but with such estimates widespread, the door was open for a larger assertion of Roman authority. Rather late in developing the monarchical episcopate, since Anicetus (154-165) seems to have been the first single head of the Roman Church, the prominence of its bishop grew rapidly in the Gnostic struggle, and with this growth came the first extensive assertion of the authority of the Roman bishop in the affairs of the church at large.

The Easter Controversy

While Rome was thus gaining in strength Asia Minor was relatively declining. At the beginning of the second century Asia Minor and the adjacent portion of Syria had been the most extensively Christianized sections of the empire. That was probably, also, true at the century’s close. Ephesus and Antioch had been, and were still, great Christian centers. Asia Minor had resisted Gnosticism, but it had been torn by Montanism and other sources of controversy, though the Montanists had been rejected. There is reason to think, however, that these disputes had borne hard on the united strength of its Christianity. The quarrel between Asia Minor and Rome arose over the time of the observance of Easter. While there is reason to suppose that Easter had been honored from early in Christian history, the first definite record of its celebration is in connection with a visit of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, to Anicetus, bishop of Rome, in 154 or 155. At that time the practice of Asia Minor, probably the more ancient, was to observe Easter with the Lord’s Supper on the evening of the fourteenth of the month Nisan, like the Jewish Passover, regardless of the day of the week on which it might fall. The Roman custom, and that of some parts of the East, was to hold the Easter feast always on Sunday. The question was, therefore, should the day of the week or that of the month be the norm. Polycarp and Anicetus could not agree, but parted with mutual good-will, each adhering to his own practice.[32] The problem was further complicated by a dispute, about 167, in Laodicea, in Asia Minor itself, as to the nature of the celebration on the fourteenth of Nisan, some holding that Christ died on the fourteenth, as the fourth Gospel intimates, and others placing His death, as do the other Gospels, on the fifteenth. The latter treated the commemoration of the fourteenth of Nisan, therefore, as a Christian continuation of the Hebrew Passover.

About 190 the problem became so acute that synods were held in Rome, Palestine, and elsewhere which decided in favor of the Roman practice. The churches of Asia Minor, led by Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, refused conformity. Thereupon Victor, bishop of Rome (189-198), excommunicated the recalcitrant congregations. This high-handed action met with much protest, notably from Irenæus of Lyons, but it was a marked assertion of Roman authority.[33]

These embittered controversies were costly to Asia Minor, and any possible rivalry on equal terms of Ephesus and Rome was out of the question. The collapse of Jewish Christian leadership, the apparent lack at Antioch of men of eminence in the second century, and the decline of the influence of Asia Minor left Rome, by 200, the most eminent and influential center of Christianity—a position of which the Roman bishops had the will and the ability to make full use. The rise of Alexandria and of Carthage to importance in the Christian thought and life of the third century could not rob Rome of its leadership. Their attainment of Christian significance was far younger than that of the capital of the empire.

[4].6. IRENÆUS

 

[4.1] IRENÆUS of LYONS
 

 

The earliest theological leader of distinction in the rising Catholic Church was Irenæus. His argument in defense of traditional Christianity against Gnosticism has already been outlined (§ 2.4). Born in Asia Minor, he was brought up in Smyrna, where he saw and heard Polycarp. The date of his birth has been most variously placed by modern scholars from about 115 to about 142, chiefly in the light of its possible bearing on traditions as to the authorship of the fourth Gospel. The later part of the period indicated has more probability than the earlier. From Asia Minor he removed to Lyons in what is now France, where he became a presbyter. The great persecution of 177, at Lyons, found him, fortunately, on an honorable mission to Rome; and, on his return, he was chosen bishop of Lyons, in succession to the martyred Pothinus. That post he continued to hold till his death (c. 200). Not far from 185 he wrote his chief work, Against Heresies, primarily to refute the various Gnostic schools, but incidentally revealing his own theology.

Brought up in the tradition of Asia Minor and spending his later life in Gaul, Irenæus was a connecting-link not merely between distant portions of the empire, but between the older theology of the Johannine and Ignatian literature and the newer’presentations which the Apologists and the Catholic movement of his own day were introducing. A man of deeply religious spirit, his interest was in salvation. In its explication he developed the Pauline and Ignatian conceptions of Christ as the new man, the renewer of humanity, the second Adam. God created the first Adam, He made him good and immortal; but both goodness and immortality were lost by Adam’s disobedience. What man lost in Adam is restored in Christ, the incarnate Logos, who now completes the interrupted work. “ I have shown that the Son of God did not then begin to exist [i. e. at Jesus’ birth], being with the Father from the beginning; but when He became incarnate and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus.” [34]The work of Christ, thus described, Irenæus characterizes in a noble phrase. We follow “the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did through His transcendent love become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” [35]Christ is also the full revelation of God.[36] Our union with Him, following the teaching of Asia Minor and of Justin, Irenæus views as in some sense physical, through the Supper.[37] Irenæus’ss theory of Christ’s new headship of humanity had added to it a suggestion of His mother as the second Eve. “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by the obedience of Mary. For what the Virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.” [38]In this curious ascription is one of the earliest evidences of that exaltation of the Virgin which was to play so large a part in Christian history. In some ways, even for his time, Irenæus was an old-fashioned man. The belief in Christ’s speedy second coming had been growing faint, and the contest with Montanism was to extinguish it almost entirely With Irenæus it still burned brightly, and he looked eagerly for the time when the earth would be marvellously renewed.[39] For Irenæus the New Testament is as fully sacred Scripture as the Old.


 

[1] John 1:1-3, 2:22, 4:2, 3; Ignatius, Trallians, 9-11; Smyrn., 1-6.

[2] Useful selections regarding Gnosticism may be found in Ayer, pp. 76-102.

[3] 1 Cor. 2:6.

[4] Romans 8:22-25; 1 Cor. 15:50.

[5] Col. 2:15; Eph. 6:1

[6] 1 Cor. 15:47.

[7] Acts 8:9-24; Irenæus, Heresies, 1:22; Ayer, p. 79.

[8] See selections, Ayer, pp. 102-105.

[9] 2 Cor. 3:17.

[10] E.g., 1 Clem. 8, 13, 16; “the prophetic Spirit,” Justin, Apology, 13.

[11] 1 Clem., 47.

[12] Matt. 28:19.

[13] Acts 2:32

[14] E. g., 1 Clem. 46, 58; Ignatius, Eph., 9.

[15] See selections, Ayer, pp. 106-109.

[16] Smyrn., 8; Ayer, p. 42.

[17] Heussi, Kompendium der Kirchengeschichte, p. 44.

[18] Heresies, 3:1-4; Ayer, pp. 112-114.

[19] 1 Cor. 26.

[20] Heresies, 3: 4.1.

[21] Ibid., 4: 26.2.

[22] Justin, Apology, 61.

[23] Prescription, 13, 36.

[24] Barn., 4.

[25] Phil. 12.

[26] Apology, 66, 67.

[27] Ayer, pp. 117-120.

[28] Clem., 59, 63.

[29] Eusebius, Church History, 4: 23.10; Ayer, p. 24.

[30] Romans

[31] Heresies, 3: 3.2; Ayer, p. 113.

[32] Eusebius, Church History, 5: 24.16, 17; Ayer, p. 164.

[33] 1 Eusebius, Church History, 5: 23, 24; Ayer, pp. 161-165.

[34] Ag.Heresies, 3:18.1; Ayer, pp. 137, 138.

[35] Ag.Heresies, 5; Preface.

[36] Ag.Heresies, 4: 20.7.

[37] Ag.Heresies, 4;18:5; Ayer, p. 138.

[38] Ag.Heresies, 3: 22.4.

[39] Ag.Heresies,:333; Ayer, p. 26.

 


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