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Irenaeus of Lyons (The Early Church Fathers) [Paperback]

Robert M. Grant
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

21 Nov 1996 0415118387 978-0415118385
During the second century the Christian world was shaken by the Gnostics. Irenaeus came from Asia Minor via Rome to become bishop of Lyons, clarify Christian doctrines and fight the Gnostics with a major, five-volume work. He was a living part of his contemporary culture and his approach filled early Christian thought with new life.
The writings of Irenaeus exist as a whole only in Latin and Armenian. This study offers new translations of significant parts of his work, critically based on a complete reconstruction of the original Greek in the French series Sources Chretiennes. This collection of sources will also be an invaluable resource for students of the Early Church.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (21 Nov 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415118387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415118385
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 13.5 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,110,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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..." a satisfying introduction to "Against Heresies ... [T]eachers of Gnosticism, of early Christianity, and of the Fathers may find this study useful for classroom use."-Mary Ann Donovan, SC, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley/Graduate Theological Union "Grant's insightful remarks and discerning English rendition of the Greek text make a splendid contribution to the corpus of early Christian texts in translation."-C. Thomas McCollough, Centre College "Religous Studies Review

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Irenaeus of Lyons was the most important Christian controversialist and theologian between the apostles and the third-century genius Origen. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
Irenaeus of Lyons, active in the late second century, is one of the most fascinating, and in recent years controversial, figures of the early church. Hitherto, my acquaintance with Irenaeus' life and work was limited to Elaine Pagels' trenchant critiques of his (in her view) rather narrow-minded and conservative opinions about what was orthodox and what was not in the thinking and beliefs of the early church. I hoped Robert Grant's work would provide further illumination. Largely, I'm afraid, it didn't. The introduction skimps on the broader social and intellectual context of Irenaeus' life, and contains way too much - pitched at too high a level for the general reader - on the obscurities of the gnostic systems he was seeking to oppose. The flat, even (dare I say) dull, style fails to bring Irenaeus to life, and while the extracts from his works are substantial, they lack verve in translation. What the work really lacks - but needs, in my view, to round it off - is some concluding analysis of Irenaeus' enduring value, if any, in a postmodern context uncannily similar to the one in which he lived.

Some fascinating snippets and insights here, then, but a lot of mud amidst the gold.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christian Theology's First Great Work 23 Sep 2003
By Christopher P. Atwood - Published on
Irenaeus of Lyons (in modern France) was the first great expositor of Christian theology, writing around 175 A.D. Born in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and taught by the disciples of the apostles, he wrote as a churchman using scripture, his own thoughts, and a few other early writings (Justin Martyr, Papias, Ignatius of Antioch) to explain and defend the deposit of faith he had received. Irenaeus defined his theology in conflict with the Gnostics who frequently shared churches with the Christians but advocated an often wildly divergent theology from that shared by the orthodox Christians. His big book was "Against the Heresies," a five-volume description and refutation of the Gnostic beliefs. He describes the Valentinian Gnostics in detail; the Marcionites and other schools get less attention. Thus Irenaeus can be read both to find out what Gnosticism was like, and also to find out about Christian theology in the second century A.D.
No modern unabridged translation of "Against the Heresies" exists. Dominic Unger translated only the first of the book's five volumes, that which consists of a simple description of Gnostic beliefs without detailed refutation. It is unclear if any subsequent volume will appear. In the meantime, Robert Grant in this book "Irenaeus of Lyons" presents an abridged translation of the whole book including virtually all of the the main passages that touch on important theological issues. Even if the complete translation appears, I think general readers will want to stick with Grant's translation. I have the Unger volume and can testify that Irenaeus unabridged is hard to plough through, partly because the beliefs he is refuting seem so colossally strange and partly because Irenaeus tends to repeat the main points several times. Hence few but hard-core specialists would want to read the whole thing.
In his preface, Grant usefully points out the importance of "hypothesis" (meaning the overall plot line) and "economy" (meaning dispensation or sub-plot, more or less ) in Irenaeus's thinking. The "hypothesis" and "economy," which together make what Irenaeus calls "the Rule of Faith" (basically something like the later Nicene and Apostolic creeds), is the big story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. To Irenaeus, the problem with the Gnostics is that they broke free from this Rule of Faith in order to answer the puzzles of theology and scripture. Irenaeus insisted that the salvation brought by Christ is a "recapitulation" of the blessed state of Adam and Eve before the fall, not a return to some world of pre-material and pre-Creation "eons" (manifestations of the Godhead). Irenaeus testified that he was taught this Rule of Faith by the martyr Polycarp who had it from the apostle John, and that it is identical to the theology taught by the Roman bishops who likewise traced their teaching back to apostles Peter and Paul. While the Gnostics used their concept of a pre-Creation world of interacting "eons" and a division between merely carnal and truly spiritual Christians to explain scriptural puzzles like the many names of God in the Old Testament, the divine Christ and the human Jesus, faith vs. works, and predestination vs. moral responsibility, Irenaeus demonstrated through Scripture (he knew all four of the Gospels, the letters of Paul, 1 and 2 John, and Revelation) that their explanations could not be accepted as responsible interpretations. (Irenaeus later summarized the "overall plot line," together with refutations of Rabbinic Jewish attacks on Christianity in his "Proof of the Apostolic Preaching").
It's also worth noting the pervasive physicality of Irenaeus's theology. Eucharist is the real body of Christ because otherwise how would our body be redeemed? Likewise, there must be a thousand-year earthly rule of the resurrected saints, otherwise Christ would not be redeeming our bodies, and so on. Indeed at some points he seems to be viewing God as a kind of super-huge body surrounding the cosmos. His explanation of the Trinity defines the persons solely by how they relate to the material world rather than by their internal relations: Jesus is defined as the God the Father's Word that creates all things and the Spirit as God's Wisdom that governs the motions of all things. Later Christian theologians lost interest in Irenaeus, whose work seemed somewhat out of date and his works, originally written in Greek, survived only in obscure Latin and Armenian translations. Fortunately scholarship has revived these fascinating early works.
In sum, this is a very useful edition of an important testimonial to the Christian teaching in the first generations after Christ. To judge by this testimony, the orthodox bishops of the early church had great difficulty plumbing the depths of what Paul, John, and the other New Testament writers wrote. Yet they knew in their gut that the Gnostics explanations had to be wrong. Irenaeus, by holding on to the essential "plot line" (hypothesis) of salvation through Christ's recapitulation of the original unfallen state of physical Creation, began the long process of drawing out the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" hidden in the New Testament.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise Introduction to the World of Irenaeus 14 Oct 2004
By Mark Lee - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found Dr. Grant's work to be well-written and lucid. If there are those who are willing to criticize his work for not revealing every little detail about the life of St. Irenaeus, it's because we actually don't know much about him above what he wrote and the later comments of other writers - most of them incidental to other conversations. Grant has collected the essential information about the Bishop of Lyons and has, in my opinion, covered the most interesting parts of "Against Heresies" in his translation.

Recommended for those who are students of early Christian history and heresies. Irenaeus writes cleanly and it's not too difficult to discover the trajectory of the gnostic threat from his arguments. In fact, Irenaeus, as noted by Pelikan, is the father of the traditional Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican three-fold authority (Scripture, Tradition and apostolic authority).
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An incomplete edition 10 Jan 2007
By Benjamin Thomas - Published on
The introduction to Irenaeus's methodology is brief, but very useful. The text of Against Heresies, however, is only an incomplete reproduction of an earlier translation. If you are looking for the whole text of Against Heresies, this book does not contain it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Work - Important Pieces Missing 25 Feb 2006
By Michael Philliber - Published on
Overall, a great little book. The introductory sections by Grant are really helpful. My only real complaint is that it does not have every chapter or paragraph. Nowhere was this mentioned; neither in the preface, nor introductory chapters. So buyers need to know that this is an abridged addition. I was really disappointed when I realized, for example, that Book III chapter 2 was missing. I think this is a significant chapter in the book. There are lots of other chapters, & whole paragraphs missing. I assume the editor left out what he felt was redundant. So to find out what you missed, you'll have to hit the Early Christian Writings web site & take a glance to see if there are chapters & paragraphs missing that you might want to read.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Collection of Irenaeus's works 7 Jun 2006
By Greg - Published on
This work attempts to introduce the reader to the important Church Father Irenaeus, who presided as a Bishop in Lyons in around the 2nd century AD.

Irenaeus is remembered today for his long anti-Gnostic polemic called the 'Detection and Overthrow of Gnosis, so Falsely called.' Irenaeus was strongly concerned to differentiate what he saw as Orthodox, correct Christianity as handed on by the Apostles and confirmed by scripture, with the bizarre and chaotic mythology of the diverse Gnostic sects, who seemed to constantly churn out endless works claiming to be divinely inspired scripture which talked about various strange motifs and ideas, many of which seemed to totally reverse accepted ideas.

Irenaeus saw the most dangerous heretic in the form of the brilliantly gifted Gnostic Valentinus, who grafted Gnostic teachings into Orthodox Christian theology. Irenaeus saw this as extremely dangerous to the Church and to Christianity itself, which he felt had a definite and exact continuity as well as very clear doctrines which were totally opposed to what the Gnostics believed. Hence much of Irenaeus's work is devoted to exposing and refuting Valentinian 'Gnosis' by showing its blasphemous contempt for God's goodness and the goodness of the created world, its incoherent and chaotic mythology, and its bizarre symbolism and interpretation of the Bible.

Unfortunately looking back now, it can't be said Irenaeus was as calm and objective as he should have been, and his demonisation of Gnostics as agents of the devil and heretics set a very dangerous precendent within Christianity itself for the later brutal persecution of pagans, Jews and Muslims, and alleged 'heretics' within Christianity itself. His obsession with correct doctrine, while saving Christianity from many of the more absurd ideas of Gnosticism, also laid the dark seeds for persecution, and probably helped make it much harder for Western Christianity to develop a genuine interior search for God and absolute reality, which was after all what the Gnostics said they were seeking. We must remember that while a brilliant man, brilliant men also often made mistakes and their ideas often had negative as well as positive consequences for Christianity as a whole.

Nevertheless, Irenaeus is to be admired as a brilliant and original theologian whose unwavering faith in the goodness of God and the created universe, helped set a strong precedent in later Christian theology to see God's beauty and glory mirrored in the created world and within ourselves, and later formed an integral and deeply positive spiritual doctrine which is to this day an excellent antidote to any Gnostic-style pessimism about this world and our life within it.
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