Preface of the Epiphany
[Common of a Theologian and Teacher]
[Common of a Pastor]
[For the Ministry]
PRAYER (traditional language)
Almighty God, who didst strength thy servant Irenaeus to defend thy truth against every blast of vain doctrine: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in thy true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
Almighty God, who strengthened servant Irenaeus to defend thy truth against every blast of vain doctrine: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This commemoration appears in Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018 with revised lessons and collects.
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Last updated: 27 April 2019
BISHOP OF LYONS, THEOLOGIAN
(28 JUN 202)
(pronounced ear-a-NAY-us) was probably born around 125. As a young man
in Smyrna (near Ephesus, in what is now western Turkey) he heard the preaching
of Polycarp, who as a young man had heard the preaching of the Apostle
John. Afterward, probably while still a young man, Irenaeus moved west
to Lyons in southern France. In 177, Pothinus, the bishop of Lyons, sent
him on a mission to Rome. During his absence a severe persecution broke
out in Lyons, claiming the lives of the bishop and others (see 2 June).
When Irenaeus returned to Lyons, he was made bishop. He died around 202.
He is thus an important link between the apostolic church and later times,
and also an important link between Eastern and Western Christianity.
His principal work is the Refutation
of Heresies, a defense of orthodox Christianity against its Gnostic
rivals. A shorter work is his Proof
of the Apostolic Preaching, a brief summary of Christian teaching,
largely concerned with Christ as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
An interesting bit of trivia about this latter book is that it is, as
far as I know, the first Christian writing to refer to the earth as a
One of the earliest heresies to arise in the Christian church was Gnosticism,
and Irenaeus was one of its chief early opponents. Not all Gnostics believed
exactly the same thing, but the general outlines of the belief are fairly
Gnostics were dualists, teaching that there are two
great opposing forces: good versus evil, light versus darkness, knowledge
versus ignorance, spirit versus matter. Since the world is material, and
leaves much room for improvement, they denied that God had made it. "How
can the perfect produce the imperfect, the infinite produce the finite,
the spiritual produce the material?" they asked. One solution was to say
that there were thirty beings called AEons, and that God had made the
first AEon, which made the second AEon, which made the third, and so on
to the thirtieth AEon, which made the world. (This, Gnostics pointed out
to the initiate, was the true inward spiritual meaning of the statement
that Jesus was thirty years old when he began to preach.) As Irenaeus
pointed out, this did not help at all. Assuming the Gnostic view of the
matter, each of the thirty must be either finite or infinite, material
or non-material, and somewhere along the line you would have an infinite
being producing a finite one, a spiritual being producing a material one.
The Gnostics were Docetists (pronounced do-SEE-tists).
This word comes from the Greek word meaning "to seem." They taught that
Christ did not really have a material body, but only seemed to have one.
It was an appearance, so that he could communicate with men, but was not
really there. (If holograms had been known then, they would certainly
have said that the supposed body of Jesus was a hologram.) They went on
to say that Jesus was not really born, and did not really suffer or die,
but merely appeared to do so. It was in opposition to early Gnostic teachers
that the Apostle John wrote (1 John 4:1-3) that anyone who denies that
Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of antiChrist.
Gnostics claimed to be Christians, but Christians with a difference.
They said that Jesus had had two doctrines: one a doctrine fit for the
common man, and preached to everyone, and the other an advanced teaching,
kept secret from the multitudes, fit only for the chosen few, the spiritually
elite. They, the Gnostics, were the spiritually elite, and although the
doctrines taught in the churches were not exactly wrong, and were in fact
as close to the truth as the common man could hope to come, it was to
the Gnostics that one must turn for the real truth. They remind me very
much of the Rosicrucians. When I mention this, I often get blank stares,
but not many years ago many popular science magazines carried their advertisements,
with assertions that Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci,
Plato, Archimedes, and so on had all been members of a secret society
called the Rosicrucians, and owed their achievements largely to this fact.
Was there any evidence of this aside from the traditions of the group
itself? Of course not! They were a secret society. Why were they secret?
"Because our wisdom would be misunderstood by the common man, and so must
be reserved for the tiny handful of mankind in every generation who are
spiritually advanced enough to appreciate it. So send us twenty bucks
and we'll spill our guts."
In opposition to this idea, Irenaeus maintained that the Gospel message
is for everyone. He was perhaps the first to speak of the Church as "Catholic"
(universal). In using this term, he made three contrasts:
(1) He contrasted the over-all church with the single
local congregation, so that one spoke of the Church in Ephesus, but also
of the Catholic Church, of which the Churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Rome,
Antioch, etc. were local branches or chapters.
(2) He contrasted Christianity with Judaism, in that
the task of Judaism was to preserve the knowledge of the one God by establishing
a solid national base for it among a single people, but the task of Christianity
was to set out from that base to preach the Truth to all nations.
(3) He contrasted Christianity with Gnosticism, in
that the Gnostics claimed to have a message only for the few with the
right aptitudes and temperaments, whereas the Christian Gospel was to
be proclaimed to all men everywhere.
Irenaeus then went on to say: If Jesus did have a special secret teaching,
to whom would He entrust it? Clearly, to His disciples, to the Twelve,
who were with Him constantly, and to whom he spoke without reservation
(Mark 4:34). And was the teaching of the Twelve different from that of
Paul? Here the Gnostics, and others since, have tried to drive a wedge
between Paul and the original Apostles, but Peter writes of Paul in the
highest terms (2 Peter 3:15), as one whose teaching is authentic. Again,
we find Paul saying to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:27),
that he has declared to them the whole counsel of God. Where, then, do
we look for Christ's authentic teaching? In the congregations that were
founded by the apostles, who set trustworthy men in charge of them, and
charged them to pass on the teaching unchanged to future generations through
carefully chosen successors.
by James Kiefer
Note also that the city is now spelled "Lyon".