Review of Irenaeus of Lyons: Early Church Fathers Series

Review of Irenaeus of Lyons (Early Church Fathers) by Robert Grant

Grant did a nice job summarizing difficult sections of St Irenaeus, and a good job in presenting them to us in a nice manner.  Unfortunately, he spent most of his time summarizing the wrong sections and missed many key opportunities to explicate more helpful topics in St Irenaeus’s thought.    For some reason academics think it is very important to summarize what Gnostics and ancient feminists believed about reality.   Are they, too, Gnostics and feminists?  Probably.  Much of the book was laborious and boring—and this comes from someone who has read all five books of St Irenaeus’ Adversus Haerisis.

That is not to say the book is without merit.  As noted earlier, Irenaeus’ key arguments are presented in an easy-to-find manner (this is made even easier if one reads it on the Amazon Kindle, as I did).  We have Irenaeus’s very clear teaching on apostolic succession as a demonstration that the Gnostics are pale imitators of the Faith, and given their lack of AS, they cannot prove their faith.   We see how to interpret Scripture—interpreting it in light of the regula fide within the context of the church.  Most importantly, (if sadly too briefly) we have the Recapitulation of all things in Christ.

Excerpts from Irenaeus

Reading this in the Amazon Kindle makes it possible to bookmark, collect, and recall dozens of passages at a moment’s notice (while Kindle will never replace books, the research and cross-referencing abilities are overwhelmingly superior).

Irenaeus and the Septuagint

“Like other Patristic authors, Irenaeus fully accepted the authority of the LXX.  The idea that the canon should be confined to Hebrew books never occurred to him.  He therefore used 1-2 Esdras as well as 1 Enoch, Baruch (ascribed to Jeremiah) and the Greek additions to Daniel.”


Irenaeus uses it as the key to at least four events in Scripture: God’s covenant with Adam, Noah, Moses, and the final covenant that renews man and recapitulates everything in itself, that which by the Gospel raises men and wings them for the celestial kingdom (3.11.8).

The structure of anakephalaiosis is this:  events repeat one another, as well as the story involves not just progress, but restoration (see Joseph Farrell’s section in GHD).

The Nature of the Godhead

Irenaeus is rebutting Gnostic claims to God’s being, but he does so in a way that suggests later Eastern expressions of God.  Irenaeus lists the standard attributes of God which can be found in any Western dogmatics model, but he takes it a step further and says, “But he is still above this and therefore ineffable” (1.13.4).  In other words, God is hyperousia and beyond being.

Apostolic Succession

Irenaeus gives the standard defense of apostolic succession: bishops in communion with one another transmit and pass down the sacred deposit, but he goes a step further.  He acts like apostolic succession is a common-sense given, but he says if it weren’t true then a great calamity would befall the church.  (3.3.1)

In 3.4.1 he notes the easiest way to find out what the church believes on matters not found in Scripture is to ask those in the church.   He goes on to say that the wisest thing to do when coming to sacred matters, is to ask for the most ancient form of your religion.

He makes one other interesting point:  he says that many barbarians in German and elsewhere do not have a bible but are fully saved and accurately pass down the tradition.   This one statement destroys a key part of Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism.

Sin and the Curse

In either Book IV or Book V (at this point Kindle is not so helpful) Irenaeus notes that God did not curse Adam himself, but the land.  He also notes this is an ancient tradition as well.

Free Will

In section 20.1 he notes that God has always preserved man’s free will.


Is the book worth getting?  I’m not sure.   Kindle makes the purchasing easier (if going by the paperback price the answer is  a definite no).   I’m beginning to suspect this Early Church Fathers Series by Routledge is not as superior as many wannabe scholars say it is.  You get the same text you will find in Schaff or, although the text is admittedly organized better.  The introductory sections are varying.   Brian Daley’s section on Gregory is good, as is Anatolios’s on St Athanasius.  Neither, however, is remarkable to justify the purchasing price.   Neither section really alters one’s perception of the Father (since the people who take the time and money to read these books are already reasonably familiar with said fathers).

As noted earlier, Grant’s intro to Irenaeus does not stand out one way or another.  He covered the basic ground, but did not say anything too different from what you would find in a theological or church history dictionary.  He spent too much time incredulating (forgive the neologism) on Irenaeus’s belief that Christ was 50 years old, and too little time on the actual recapitulatory hermeneutic itself.