Who was the most dangerous of the early heretics?
Is the most dangerous heretic the one who directly denies Jesus and makes himself God, like Simon Magus did? Is the most dangerous heretic the one who first did away with the Old Testament and the Sabbath, like Marcion did? Is most dangerous heretic the first one who taught an odd Trinity like Montanus or Valentinus did? Is the most dangerous heretic one who wrote clearly inaccurate and false statements, like Justin Martyr?
Or is the most dangerous heretic, the one while writing against heretics, was a more subtle heretic himself?
This article will discuss some of the reasons why Irenaeus of Lyon was perhaps the most dangerous heretic.
Why the Others May Not Have Been the Most Dangerous
The Bible clearly shows that the Apostle Peter condemned Simon Magus. And while some consider that Simon Magus was "the father of all heresies" and in that sense highly dangerous, the fact is that all should know that the Bible condemned Simon Magus. Thus any interested in the following the Bible should be careful about following in some of Simon's practices (though a very large church seems too).
Furthermore, since even Catholic preserved history shows that Polycarp of Smyrna, the disciple of the Apostle John, condemned Marcion as the "son of Satan" and turned people away from the heretics Marcion and Valentinus, it should be clear to any who consider that Polycarp was a true Christian, that Marcion and Valentinus were heretics.
Catholic preserved history also shows that Serapion of Antioch, Apollonius of Ephesus, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Thraseas of Eumenia opposed the Montantist heresies (though the early bishops of Rome, did not).
Pretty much all who study early Christianity realize that Simon Magus, Marcion, Montanus, and Valentinus were all condemned as apostate heretics.
Thus, all who have looked into early Christianity should realize that they should not follow the practices of those heretics (though to some degree, depending upon the heretical teaching, all the "mainstream" churches do).
One Who May Have Been the Second Most Dangerous Heretic
Justin (called Justin Martyr) was perhaps the second most dangerous heretic. His writings are heavily relied upon by those who prefer Sunday to the biblical Sabbath. He, like Irenaeus, wrote against some he considered to be heretics. Justin even properly did explain a few doctrines and actual Christian positions. But unlike Irenaeus, he distanced himself from the true Christians and wanted to have little to do with them (Irenaeus preferred a blending of the two).
Justin made so many false and inaccurate statements in his few authentic writings that any interested in the truth should be able to clearly see that Justin was not a true Christian. Even the Roman Catholic Church has admitted that his writings contained fiction. Scholars of various backgrounds have noted major errors as well.
Because of the clarity of Justin's false statements, and the fact that they have been noticed by many scholars, Justin was perhaps only the second most dangerous heretic. (Many of Justin's inaccurate statements, as well as some Roman Catholic quotes about Justin are included in the article Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate?).
The late evangelist John Ogwyn wrote:
Justin Martyr (ca. 95–167AD) and Irenaeus (ca. 130–202AD), while maintaining some truths they had learned under Polycarp, also sought to accommodate themselves to the new direction of Roman theology in the name of "church unity"...Justin also molded the thinking of Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons...He believed that the God of Plato was also the God of the Bible (Ogwyn J. God's Church Through the Ages. LCG Booklet, 2003).
As far as some truths, consider the following Irenaeus wrote against Simon Magus:
12. For all those who are of a perverse mind, having been set against the Mosaic legislation, judging it to be dissimilar and contrary to the doctrine of the Gospel, have not applied themselves to investigate the causes of the difference of each covenant. Since, therefore, they have been deserted by the paternal love, and puffed up by Satan, being brought over to the doctrine of Simon Magus, they have apostatized in their opinions from Him who is God, and imagined that they have themselves discovered more than the apostles, by finding out another god; and [maintained] that the apostles preached the Gospel still somewhat under the influence of Jewish opinions, but that they themselves are purer [in doctrine], and more intelligent, than the apostles. Wherefore also Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened. (Against Heresies. Book III, Chapter 12, Verses 12).
This is all the more of interest because the Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics consider Irenaeus to be a saint, yet they tend to accept the position to be against the Jewish influence on Christianity.
Furthermore, when Irenaeus later refused to stand for Passover on the 14th (though at least he did not want that condemned), he went along with those who wanted less 'Jewish influence' in the faith they called Christian.
Eusebius reported that Irenaeus wrote this in his letter to Florinus:
5. For when I was a boy, I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp, moving in splendor in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation. 6. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the 'Word of life,' Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures. (Eusebius. The History of the Church. Book V, Chapter XX, verses 5-6. Digireads, Stilwel (KS), p. 112).
So, Irenaeus claimed to have seen Polycarp when he was a youth. But that does not mean he embraced, or even knew, all of Polycarp's teaching.
While I have not seen any major other treatise explaining why Irenaeus was a major heretic (actually, outside of Church of God circles, I have little that specifically considers him to have been a heretic, though groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses probably do), it appears to me that he may have been the most dangerous heretic.
Because, Irenaeus' heresies were not obvious to those outside the true Church of God. His heresies and false statements were less numerous and less obvious than Justin's, thus have been missed by nearly all scholars (though some have noticed one or two errors he made).
What were his most important heresies?
Irenaeus heard Polycarp, yet made deals with Rome that disagreed with Polycarp's teachings. Irenaeus knew that Justin did not agree with Polycarp, yet he approved of Justin--and sadly seemed to prefer to be influenced more by him that by Polycarp.
Irenaeus knew that Polycarp condemned heretics such as Marcion and Valentinus, but failed to mention that they were still allowed to be Roman Catholic until at two decades later. Irenaeus supported the Roman Church even though Irenaeus knew they tolerated heretics that had earlier been condemned by Polycarp (and eventually by Irenaeus himself).
Notice this from Tertullian:
Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago,—in the reign of Antoninus for the most part,—and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled (Tertullian. The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 30. Translated by Peter Holmes. Electronic Version Copyright © 2006 by Kevin Knight. All rights reserved).
Even though Marcion and Valentinus were condemned by Polycarp as a heretic about two decades before Eleutherius became bishop, apparently they were not put out of the Roman Catholic Church then. (Marcion gave a large financial contribution that kept him in good graces for a while--though the Roman Church allegedly returned that contribution after some time.)
And why is all of this about Polycarp and Irenaeus so important?
Because Irenaeus knew that Polycarp had the original faith that the apostles had, but did not stand up for it. Apparently, he did not consider that faith to be important enough to fully follow it personally. Notice what Irenaeus records this about Polycarp:
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).
So we have from this early Roman Catholic source that Polycarp and his successors in Asia Minor (at least until the time that Irenaeus wrote this, around 180 A.D.) practiced the true teachings that they learned from the apostles.
Irenaeus also wrote:
And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou know me?" "I do know thee, the first-born of Satan."(Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
What Irenaeus failed to mention is that Marcion was possibly the first heretic to do away with the seventh-day Sabbath. And while Justin did not believe in keeping the Sabbath either, Justin did attend church services on Sunday. Irenaeus apparently felt that neither Saturday nor Sunday was of particular importance, as long as one worshipped God regularly--and this is a heresy that many still hold to today (including even the Jehovah's witnesses).
Irenaeus also had some teachings that Polycarp held. For example, like Polycarp, Irenaeus clearly did not teach the trinity--he held a binitarian view, hence he did not follow that error of Montanus or Valentinus:
...there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book IV, Preface, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Notice that Irenaeus states that only the Father, the Son, and those who possess the adoption (Christians) are God. This is a binitarian, not a trinitarian view.
So why would binitarians consider Irenaeus a dangerous heretic?
Because he sided with Roman unity above the teachings that he must have known that Polycarp held. And he also introduced prophetic and other misunderstandings that many still accept today.
Irenaeus has been pointed to as being an early promoter of the "universal church" that certain others later also pushed (Pagels E. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Vintage, reprint 2004, pp. 323-324). Essentially there is a view that "orthodox Christianity is really the product of a late second-century, church father, Irenaeus" (Bock DL. The Missing Gospels. Thomas Nelson, 2006, pp. xxi-xxii). While some deny that is true (Bock p. xxii), the reality is that Irenaeus affected the course of history when he chose the Greco-Roman confederation over the Church of God.
Now, notice one statement Irenaeus wrote that Rome really likes (cf. #834 Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 240-241):
...the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere. (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 2)
But at this time in history, Irenaeus must have known the differences in Passover and the false prophet Montanus, etc. that the faithful in Asia Minor held from those of Rome. Furthermore, the Bible contradicts the account about Peter and Paul founded the Church of God in Rome (cf. Romans 15:18-22). Additionally, even Roman Catholic scholars admit that Peter and Paul did NOT found the Church in Rome (for some details, please see What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History?).
Yet, Irenaeus put out wrong information on this that is still be relied on today.
Furthemore, Irenaues believed and pushed the myth about the Septuagint:
2. For before the Romans possessed their kingdom, while as yet the Macedonians held Asia, Ptolemy the son of Lagus, being anxious to adorn the library which he had founded in Alexandria, with a collection of the writings of all men, which were [works] of merit, made request to the people of Jerusalem, that they should have their Scriptures translated into the Greek language. And they— for at that time they were still subject to the Macedonians— sent to Ptolemy seventy of their elders, who were thoroughly skilled in the Scriptures and in both the languages, to carry out what he had desired. But he, wishing to test them individually, and fearing lest they might perchance, by taking counsel together, conceal the truth in the Scriptures, by their interpretation, separated them from each other, and commanded them all to write the same translation. He did this with respect to all the books. But when they came together in the same place before Ptolemy, and each of them compared his own interpretation with that of every other, God was indeed glorified, and the Scriptures were acknowledged as truly divine. For all of them read out the common translation [which they had prepared] in the very same words and the very same names, from beginning to end, so that even the Gentiles present perceived that the Scriptures had been interpreted by the inspiration of God. And there was nothing astonishing in God having done this—He who, when, during the captivity of the people under Nebuchadnezzar, the Scriptures had been corrupted, and when, after seventy years, the Jews had returned to their own land, then, in the times of Artaxerxes king of the Persians, inspired Esdras the priest, of the tribe of Levi, to recast all the words of the former prophets, and to re-establish with the people the Mosaic legislation. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 21, Verse 2)
Various Greco-Romans, starting no later than Augustine, and including the Eastern Orthodox Church, have believed that God inspired the Septuagint translators to IMPROVE the original from the Hebrew and hence it is a superior rendering. This is not true and has led to other problems, like accepting non-canonical books as canonical (see also The Old Testament Canon).
The Real "Passover Plot"
Irenaeus clearly knew that Polycarp kept Passover yet he did not condemn Rome for changing it. Notice what he wrote:
And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points…For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc).
Eusebius records that Polycrates explained how the Apostles Philip and John, as well as faithful church leaders and martyrs such as Polycarp and Melito, kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan in accordance with the gospel and would not deviate from it.
This displeased the Roman Bishop Victor. Notice what Eusebius also recorded:
But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him: "We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away..."
He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows: "I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus." Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord's day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows:
"For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith."
He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert:
"Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which thou now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it. But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things...For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord..." (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24).
Notice that what Irenaeus did was persuade to the Roman Bishop Victor to not be as angry against those who in Asia Minor did what the Bible and the Apostles Philip and John stated. And also notice that Irenaeus himself did not stand up for the biblical Passover even though he knew that Polycarp observed it.
So why was that so heretical?
First of all, because Irenaeus' own practices were complicit with Rome's--Irenaeus should have condemned Rome's practices. And secondly, because Irenaeus knew that Sunday was not observed by Polycarp as Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John--hence should not have advocated it. Thirdly, Irenaeus also had to have known that Victor was not binitarian (he was Sabellian). And fourthly because he, unbiblically, is referring to Sunday as the Lord's Day (an article of related interest may be Is Revelation 1:10 talking about Sunday or the Day of the Lord?). Because of Irenaeus most who profess Christ now accept Easter.
And why was that so dangerous? Besides the pagan connections, notice what Eusebius recorded:
Irenæus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord's day...Thus Irenaeus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24).
Instead of condemning Irenaeus for not standing up for the biblical Passover, he is praised by Roman supporters for persuading those in the second century to not be too harsh on those that kept the proper biblical teaching of the date of the Passover.
Notice that the Apostle John taught that those who seemed like Christians, but did not do what John did were following leaders John describes as antichrists,
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us (1 John 2:18-19).
The change of Passover may have been the first specific departure from the practices of John that we have a historical record of (involving John's name) (see also Some Doctrines of Antichrist).
Roman supporters ultimately did eliminate the observance of the Passover on the 14th among those they had cordial contact with by the decree of the pagan Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. And later did try to kill those who refused to accept that decree (please see article Europa, the Beast, and Revelation).
Apparently Irenaeus valued doctrinal compromise above biblical truth. Irenaeus, while knowing that Polycarp was faithful, only followed some of his faithful teachings (this reminds me of what Daniel told Belshazzar--Belshazzar knew what happened earlier, yet chose to ignore much of it and live the opposite--see Daniel 5:22-23).
These are reasons that most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant scholars seem to have overlooked. Instead, they all tend to consider that Irenaeus was a great early apologist and/or saint.
Furthermore, notice that Pope Benedict XVI called him:
The true founder of Catholic theology, St. Irenaeus of Lyon (Pope Benedict XVI. Homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. June 29, 2005, http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/647/Homily_on_Saints_Peter_and_Paul_Pope_Benedict_XVI.html 6/19/07).
Those in the Church of God do not consider that Irenaeus was the founder of true theology. As far as the Passover plot goes, you may wish to read the article The Passover Plot and/or watch the sermon video: The Passover Plots, Including Easter.
Irenaeus Quoted "The Shepherd of Hermas" the Same as He Did Scripture
In a writing called The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Irenaeus wrote:
For it is necessary that, things that are made should have the beginning of their making from some great cause; and the beginning of all things is God. For He Himself was not made by any, and by Him all things were made. And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things, and made what was not that it should be, and who, containing all things, alone is uncontained (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920).
The 69th footnote at that writing, which includes the original Greek states:
69 In IV, xxxiv. 2 he quotes, as “Scripture,” the Shepherd of Hermas, Mand.: Πρώτον πάντων πίστευσον ότι είς έστίν ό θεός, ό τά πάντα κτίσας καί καταρτίσας, καί ποιήσας έίκ τού μή όντος είς τό είναι τά πάντα, καί πάντα χωρών, μόνος δέάχώρητοςών. Cf. also I, xv. 1.
This is also the opinion of Roman Catholic scholars:
..."The Shepherd" (Poimen, Pastor), a work which had great authority in ancient times and was ranked with Holy Scripture. Eusebius tells us that it was publicly read in the churches, and that while some denied it to be canonical, others "considered it most necessary". St. Athanasius speaks of it...St. Irenæus and Tertullian (in his Catholic days) cite the "Shepherd" as Scripture. Clement of Alexandria constantly quotes it with reverence, and so does Origen, who held that the author was the Hermas mentioned by St. Paul, Romans 16:14. He says the work seems to him to be very useful, and Divinely inspired; yet he repeatedly apologizes, when he has occasion to quote it, on the ground that "many people despise it". (Chapman. J. Transcribed by Don Ross. Hermas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
It should be despised. No one can read The Shepherd of Hermas and think that it is on par with scripture--it is simply too bizarre. Irenaeus, however, was apparently the first known leader to do so. Irenaeus may have deferred to it as many believe that it was written by the brother of the Roman "bishop" Pius. This was a dangerous compromise. And one of the most dangerous.One of the First to Write of Heaven as the Reward
While most who profess Christ seemingly hope that they will go to heaven after they die, that was NOT the view of original Christians. One of the first to write supporting this heretical view was Irenaeus. He claimed that some will go to heaven, others to paradise, and others to the city, as their reward:
1...And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy.
2. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 35, Verses 1,2. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
This view that various ones are worthy of heaven while others are only worthy for 'paradise,' etc. is not scriptural. Irenaeus seemed to have learned it from others, as he said that 'presbyters' taught this. But these would have been false ministers (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Irenaeus obviously came in contact with presbyters that did not understand the Bible. Yet Irenaeus is promoting this, which is why he is a dangerous heretic.
(More on heaven is in the article Did Early Christians Teach They Were Going to Heaven?)
What Motivated Irenaeus?
While it is impossible to know for certain what Irenaeus thought, there are some clues in his writings including some of his sources.
Irenaeus' writings against heretics shows that there were many heretics who held views of God that they could not have possibly gotten from the Bible--essentially the views of the followers or Simon Magus and others like Valentinus that were later termed "gnostics". Apparently as far as Irenaeus was concerned, these were the important heresies.
And while Irenaeus commended Polycarp for blasting the heretic Valentinus (who originated the idea that God existed as three hypostases) and Marcion (who tried to do away with the Old Testament, the law, and the sabbath), he apparently did not think that changing the date of the Passover to Sunday (as some Roman bishops did) or the day of worship to Sunday (as Justin advocated) was heretical.
The question is: Was he right?
The answer is simply no.
The proof that Irenaeus gave (as mentioned earlier) was tradition, not scripture. However, based upon the following writing, it might appear that Irenaeus is providing scriptural justification for his position:
The apostles ordained, that "we should not judge any one in respect to meat or drink, or in regard to a feast day, or the new moons, or the sabbaths.'' Whence then these contentions? whence these schisms? We keep the feast, but in the leaven of malice and wickedness, cutting in pieces the Church of God; and we preserve what belongs to its exterior, that we may cast away these better things, faith and love. We have heard from the prophetic words that these feasts and fasts are displeasing to the Lord. (Fragments of Irenaeus XXXVIII.)
However, he has misconstrued that scripture. He left off the end of the statement, Colossians 2:17. The verse he left out has been translated:
3739.... .2076........ 4639... 3588........ 3195...... 3588...1161 ..4983... 9999 3588...5547
Which are a .........shadow of things ....to come; the...... but...body..... is........ of .....Christ
(Interlinear Transliterated Bible. Copyright (c) 1994 by Biblesoft). Note: The term is does not exist in the original Greek (that is what 9999 represents--a translator added term).
Thus Colossians 2:16-17 literally states:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body of Christ.
Since the church is "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27), this passage is stating to ignore outsiders (those that are not true Christians) as to how the feasts and the sabbaths should be kept, but that the church is the judge.
Notice that Irenaeus did not appeal to vs. 17 that the Roman Church had authority on this over those in Asia Minor--he probably did not do this because almost none outside of Victor thought that the Roman Church had that type of authority (Victor was the first to clearly attempt to actually project Roman Catholic authority to distant areas).
And this is why Irenaeus was possibly the most dangerous heretic. He decided to ignore what the Bible taught, decided that those not faithful to the original teachings were close enough and that both sides had valid views. Irenaeus, like nearly all theologians after him, concluded that certain traditions were of more value than what the Bible (or those faithful to the teachings of the apostles) taught. He also listened to 'presbyters' that were false ministers (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
The New Testament warned of the same type of problems in Jesus' day:
Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43, NKJV).
And the approval of certain men was apparently more important to Irenaeus than the truth of God.
The Apostle Paul warned that some who professed Christ simply would not have a proper love of the truth:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way... and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:7,10-12).
While Protestants tend to blast Roman Catholics for relying on traditions of men above the Bible, the simple truth is that Protestant scholars not only realize that Protestants do this, they actually teach that relying on human traditions is more important than the Bible. Look at this admission from the Protestant scholar and theologian H. Brown:
Although classical theology is certainly not without its problems, historically it is almost always the case that the appeal to the Bible alone...leads to the reemergence of ancient heresies (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 335).
Notice that this Protestant scholar is claiming that if you rely on the Bible alone, sola Scriptura, that you will believe so-called ancient heresies--that is the teachings of true Early Christianity! It should be noted that the above is not limited to one Protestant scholar, even Martin Luther truly did not believe in rallying cry sola scriptura (an article of related interest may be Sola Scriptura or Prima Luther? What Did Martin Luther Really Believe About the Bible?).
And while Irenaeus reasonably should have known that Justin taught heresy as Justin taught against the ten commandments, he instead seemed to praise Justin. Notice these praises of the apostate Justin from the writings from Irenaeus:
In his book against Marcion, Justin does well say (IV, VI, 2).
Truly has Justin remarked (V, XXVI, 2).
A certain man named Tatian first introduced the blasphemy. He was a hearer of Justin's, and as long as he continued with him he expressed no such views; but after his martyrdom he separated from the Church (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, I, XXVIII, 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
But the simple facts are that Justin taught so many heresies that Irenaeus should not have written the above statements as they suggest that Justin was not a heretic.
But there was one major difference between Justin and Irenaeus. Even though both were against the gnostics, Justin originally wanted to also distance his form of religion from those who practiced what is now called "primitive" or apostolic or Jewish Christianity (this is documented in the article Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate?), while Irenaeus felt that both apostolic and Roman Christianity should cooperate and coexist together.
Some scholars believe that Irenaeus was simply highly influenced by Justin. And perhaps as Irenaeus had more contact with Justin, he felt and farther and farther connection from Polycarp and the true Christians. The following is from a 19th century book, in a chapter titled THE DEBT OF IRENÆUS TO JUSTIN MARTYR:
... repeated coincidences, in large matters and in small, make us feel that Irenæus was very familiar with Justin's writings. Everywhere he goes beyond him: but again and again he starts from him. (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920).
Because of him allowing himself to quote and be highly influenced by Justin, it appears that Irenaeus himself fell prey to the pull of being influenced by vain philosphy. Notice that if Irenaeus was following the teachings from the Bible, he would have heeded Paul's warning and been wise enough to not let this happen:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).
Only by being cheated through philosophy and empty deceit, could Irenaeus do what he did.
Some Other Odd Writings of Irenaeus
As the following writing shows, Irenaeus did not get everything correct:
Truly has Justin remarked: That before the Lord's appearance Satan never dared to blaspheme God, inasmuch as he did not yet know his own sentence, because it was contained in parables and allegories (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, V, XXVI, 2. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Both Irenaeus and Justin clearly ignored scripture to come to this conclusion.
This is NOT biblical. Since the Satan knew scripture (e.g. Matthew 4), he would have known Psalm 9:17,
The wicked shall be turned back unto Sheol" (ASV).
And Isaiah 14:12-15 which states,
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit (NKJV).
Satan also deliberately encouraged blaspheming centuries before Christ,
...stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face! (Job 1:11)
...stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face! (Job 2:5).
The fact that he rebelled against God also shows Satan's blasphemous nature.
To claim Satan did not blaspheme or know his fate before Christ was an outrageous claim on both Irenaeus' and Justin's part.
Irenaeus apparently did not understand the New Testament account of Jesus' age as he wrote:
For when the Lord said to them, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad," they answered Him, "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?" Now, such language is fittingly applied to one who has already passed the age of forty, without having as yet reached his fiftieth year, yet is not far from this latter period. But to one who is only thirty years old it would unquestionably be said, "Thou art not yet forty years old." For those who wished to convict Him of falsehood would certainly not extend the number of His years far beyond the age which they saw He had attained; but they mentioned a period near His real age, whether they had truly ascertained this out of the entry in the public register, or simply made a conjecture from what they observed that He was above forty years old, and that He certainly was not one of only thirty years of age. For it is altogether unreasonable to suppose that they were mistaken by twenty years, when they wished to prove Him younger than the times of Abraham. For what they saw, that they also expressed; and He whom they beheld was not a mere phantasm, but an actual being of flesh and blood. He did not then wont much of being fifty years old; and, in accordance with that fact (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book II, Chapter 22, Verse 6. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
The New Testament is clear that Jesus' public ministry lasted 3 1/2 years and that Jesus was "about 30" (Luke 3:23) when He began it. Thus, it is illogical for Irenaeus to come up with his "almost 50" statement based on making an assumption about a comment by the Pharisees.
It appears that Irenaeus decided to use his human reason above the clear statements in the Bible--and that is the most dangerous of all the heresies!
One scholar noted the following about Irenaeus and the Bible:
Irenæus goes on to attribute to Jeremiah a yet more strange quotation: "Blessed is he who was, before he became man." The German translations render the last words differently: one of them has "before the coming into being of man (vor dem Werden des Menschen):" the other has: "before through him man was made (bevor durch ihn der Mensch warde)." We have however an exact parallel to the construction in the Armenian rendering of the words "before he knoweth" in c. 53. The Greek there is prin e gnonai auton (Isa. vii. 15); and we may suppose that here it was prin e genethenai auton anthropon.
No such text is to be found in any book now known to us which is attributed to Jeremiah. (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920)
Even though the Greek Orthodox Church considers that Irenaeus was a saint, notice something that two of their bishops wrote about Irenaeus and his sources in the 21st century:
In this way ... the relevant details given by ... Irenaeus of Lyons ... are proved to be baseless and untrue, and this because these details are obviously based on apocryphal texts and inaccurate sources...
Irenaeus states that Peter and Paul founded together the Church of Rome. Irenaeus lived during the second century (140 - 202 A.D.). He acquired his information from Rome, and he believed the myth about Simon Magus. He writes that indeed there was erected in Rome an edifice in honor of Simon Magus and his magical arts. The acceptance of the myth as a historical truth explains the acceptance of Peter’s traveling in Rome during the reign of Claudius Cesar, because this myth recounts all the struggles of Peter and Paul against Simon Magus , as well as Peter’s journeys there...
The Acts of the Apostles Peter and Paul and the lost Teaching of Peter are apocryphal works which have their beginnings in the first century. They are product s of the Jewish Christians who did not break away from the customs and worship of the Law, and who, because of their devotion to the Jewish religion, warred against the Apostle Paul and his teachings . Some of them later created the heresy of the Ebionites, while others joined the Essenes . This is without a doubt the well from which both Justin and Irenaeus drew, and therefore Irenaeus’ information about the founding and building of the Church of Rome by Peter and Paul lacks historical validity...
We already saw that Irenaeus accepted in good faith the myth of Simon Magus as historical fact , and consequently Peter and Paul ’s collaboration in Rome, which, as we have already shown, lacks historical validity. So how could the Gospel according to Matthew be written simultaneously with something that never took place, namely the founding of the Church in Rome by both the Apostles Peter and Paul?
The witness of Irenaeus is proved to be incorrect by the Gospel according to Matthew itself, which testifies to having been written during the onset of the Jewish War in 67 A.D., as is apparent from the twenty fourth chapter, verse fifteen, and therefore after the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Close inspection reveals that this detail of Irenaeus is inaccurate, and we cannot therefore base ourselves on this witness...
It is possible that Mark was Peter’s interpreter, however not in Rome. Rather, Egypt is more likely, as in Egypt they spoke Coptic, Greek and Latin. It is not possible that this took place in Rome because a) Peter never traveled to Rome ; and b) as we saw, until 62 - 63 A.D. Mark was in Egypt with Peter, and then afterwards , as we learned co ncerning the letters of Paul, he served as Paul’s helper, and no mention is made of Peter. So this detail of Irenaeus is also deprived of its validity by the witness of Scripture ; and since it is not supported by the latter, it falls...
From this detailed and analytical criticism of the information given by Irenaeus of Lyons ... completely proves that these details are based on erroneous local custom and sources, and moreover, obviously in opposition to the clear and conflicting evidence from Scripture and History. (Letter to Francis. HOLY AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CATHOLIC CHURCH OF GREECE. April 10, 2014, pp. 45-56. http://cdn.romfea.gr/images/stories/photos/2014/4/romfea1/spiti/Epistle%20to%20Pope%20Francis%20I.pdf viewed 04/21/2014)
Irenaeus was not a true Christian leader. And while he had some proper and useful information, he relied on many improper sources, some of which contradicted the Bible.
Why Four Gospels?
While Irenaeus correctly realizes that there are four canonical gospels, his logic is not really based upon the Bible and is not accurate. Here is what he wrote:
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the "pillar and ground" of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, "Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth." For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, "The first living creature was like a lion," symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but "the third had, as it were, the face as of a man," -- an evident description of His advent as a human being; "the fourth was like a flying eagle," pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Also, "all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham;" and also, "The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise." This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet," -- pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal (kaqolikai) covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom. (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, VIII, XI, 8. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
He then goes on and blasts any who say there are more or less. He simply could have stated that this is what the apostle passed on to Polycarp or something logical. Instead, his reasoning seems nonsensical. This suggests that he only had little contact with Polycarp--enough contact to know some of what Polycarp taught and why Polycarp was faithful, but not enough that he paid sufficient attention to his teachings.
Nothing is certain about Irenaeus' death. It is likely that he died near the end of the second century or the beginning of the third century.
Inaccurate Claims About the Founding of the Roman Church
Here is some of what Irenaeus wrote around 180 A.D.:
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops...
The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book III, Chapter 3, Verses 2,3. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Yet, the Roman Catholic Church admits that at least part of that account of Irenaeus (circa 180 A.D.) regarding a tradition derived from the apostles that both Peter and Paul first started the great church in Rome and that they (NOT Peter alone) passed the leadership to Linus was in error.
Notice this comment from the modern Catholic scholar F.A. Sullivan:
Irenaeus focuses on the church of Rome which he describes as "greatest, most ancient and known to all, founded and established by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul." Here we must acknowledge a bit of rhetoric, as the church of Rome was obviously not so ancient as those of Jerusalem or Antioch, nor was it actually founded by Peter or Paul (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 147).
The Catholic Encyclopedia also agrees with me here (and not Irenaeus) as it states this about Paul's epistle to the Romans:
Paul would have worded his Epistle otherwise, if the community addressed were even mediately indebted to his apostolate (Merk A. Transcribed by W.G. Kofron. Epistle to the Romans. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Furthermore, the Bible clearly agrees with me, The Catholic Encyclopedia, and F.A. Sullivan here. The Bible shows that Paul did not start the Church in Rome--thus the apostolic tradition that Irenaeus relied on is a fraudulent one--as it is not true--it is a myth. For here is what Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
20. And I have so preached this Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build
upon another mans foundation:
21. But as it is written, They to whom it hath not been preached of him, shall see: and they
that have not heard, shall understand.
22. For the which cause also I was hindered very much from coming unto you (Romans 15:20-22, Rheims NT of 1582).
There is no way that Paul could have written the above if he considered that he founded or co-founded the church in Rome as in these verses he explains that he did not first come to Rome lest he build on another man's foundation. (Note: I choose to use the Rheims New Testament of 1582 A.D. as this is considered to the Catholic standard English translation of the New Testament).
Catholic scholar F.A. Sullivan also further agrees, as he wrote:
...it doesn't appear that Paul ever appointed any one person as "resident bishop" over any of his churches...(Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 35).
Admittedly the Catholic position, that bishops are the successors of the apostles by divine institution, remains far from easy to establish...The first problem has to do with the notion that Christ ordained apostles as bishops...The apostles were missionaries and founders of churches; there is no evidence, nor is it at all likely, that any one of them ever took up permanent residence in a particular church as its bishop...The letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, known as I Clement, which dates to about the year 96, provides good evidence that about 30 years after the death of St. Paul the church of Corinth was being led by a group of presbyters, with no indication of a bishop with authority over the whole local church...Most scholars are of the opinion that the church of Rome would most probably have also been led at that time by a group of presbyters...There exists a broad consensus among scholars, including most Catholic ones, that such churches as Alexandria, Philippi, Corinth and Rome most probably continued to be led for some time by a college of presbyters, and that only in the second century did the threefold structure of become generally the rule, with a bishop, assisted by presbyters, presiding over each local church (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, pp. 13,14,15).
And that is certainly correct concerning Rome. There were no "bishops of Rome" in the first century, certain Roman Catholic scholars understand this, hence the idea that there is an unbroken line of bishops in apostolic succession from Rome is false (more information can be found in the article Apostolic Succession).
The fact is that the Bible itself mentions nothing about the Church of Rome in terms of any leadership significance for the true church. Other than Paul’s letter to those in Rome and his imprisonment there, only three other, non-related, times does the New Testament use the word ‘Rome’. The first mentions that Jews from Rome and other areas of the world were in Jerusalem around Pentecost (Acts 2:10); the second that Claudius had the Jews depart from Rome (Acts 18:2); and the third that involves Onesiphorus who visited Paul in Rome and later in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16-18). While some writers believe that Peter was in Rome when he mentioned this in his first epistle--“The Church saluteth you, that is in Babylon, coelect,” 1 Peter 5:13--this was not a clear reference to Rome (as there was a Babylon in the Asia Minor region at the time), but even if it is referring to Rome, this does not prove that Rome was of central significance to the church--it only suggests that Peter may have once been in contact with Christians from Rome.
Notice this comment from a Catholic scholar about Irenaeus Peter, Paul, and Rome:
Irenaeus focuses on the church of Rome which he describes as "greatest, most ancient and known to all, founded and established by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul." Here we must acknowledge a bit of rhetoric, as the church of Rome was obviously not so ancient as those of Jerusalem or Antioch, nor was it actually founded by Peter or Paul (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 147).
Irenaeus simply made false claims about the founding of the Church at Rome, and sadly many still rely on these false claims (an article of related interest might be What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History?).
In addition to the doctrinal errors that Irenaeus promoted through his writings and attempt at unifying under Roman Catholicism, the one category of his errors that will wreak havoc upon the world is his prophetic misunderstandings.
Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God's legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book IV, Chapter 16, Verse 2).
For Enoch, when he pleased God, was translated in the same body in which he did please Him, thus pointing out by anticipation the translation of the just. Elijah, too, was caught up [when he was yet] in the substance of the [natural] form; thus exhibiting in prophecy the assumption of those who are spiritual, and that nothing stood in the way of their body being translated and caught up. For by means of the very same hands through which they were moulded at the beginning, did they receive this translation and assumption...If, however, any one imagine it impossible that men should survive for such a length of time, and that Elias was not caught up in the flesh, but that his flesh was consumed in the fiery chariot, let him consider that Jonah, when he had been cast into the deep, and swallowed down into the whale's belly, was by the command of God again thrown out safe upon the land (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book V, Chapter 5, Verses 1-2).
The truth is that Enoch and Elijah are dead and are not preserved to be the final witnesses. By perpetuating a Jewish misunderstanding of what occurred, Irenaeus has helped set the stage for massive delusion.
Specifically notice the following that is claimed to have been written by Irenaeus:
The disciples of the apostles say (from oral tradition) that they (Elias and Henoch) whose living bodies were taken up from this world have been placed in an earthly paradise where they will remain until the end of the world (as quoted in Birch D.A. Trial, Tribulation & Triumph. Queenship Publishing, Goleta (CA), 1996, p. 466).
The facts are, just like Irenaeus was wrong about his position about Peter and Paul founding the Church of Rome allegedly derived a tradition from the apostles, that if he actually wrote the above, he is clearly wrong about that it came from any true disciples of the apostles.
Sadly, many Catholics believe the above statements from and possibly from Irenaeus (which were later confirmed by writers such as Catholic saints Ephraem, John Damascene, and Hildegard), and this is one of the reasons that many of the Roman Catholics will be deceived about the real two witnesses and will not believe their message (more information can be found in the article The Two Witnesses).
Many Roman Catholics believe that Enoch (whose name they often spell Henoch) and Elijah will not appear until after the discovery of the ark of the covenant (ibid, p. 509), hence they simply will not be able to discern the true witnesses from God, as improper interpretation of prophecies (partially began by Irenaeus) will deceive them.
Irenaeus also misunderstood about Antichrist. Look at some of what he wrote:
And not only by the particulars already mentioned, but also by means of the events which shall occur in the time of Antichrist is it shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God; and that, although a mere slave, he wishes himself to be proclaimed as a king. For he (Antichrist) being endued with all the power of the devil, shall come, not as a righteous king, nor as a legitimate king, [i.e., one] in subjection to God, but an impious, unjust, and lawless one; as an apostate, iniquitous and murderous; as a robber, concentrating in himself [all] satanic apostasy, and setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising up himself as the only idol, having in himself the multifarious errors of the other idols (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book V, Chapter 5, Verses 1).
Irenaeus was perhaps the first person in writing to confuse the ten-horned Beast with Antichrist (the two-horned Beast). This, sadly, has become the position of most Protestants and Catholics who try to be followers of prophecy--and this position is wrong (for scriptural details, please see Some Doctrines of Antichrist).
Furthermore, Antichrist will not come destroying idols (though ultimately he will betray the Roman Catholic Church per Revelation 17). Perhaps because of this statement from Irenaeus, the following inaccurate prophecy from Dionysus of Luxembourg (died 1682) claimed to be about Antichrist will probably become accepted in some Roman Catholic circles (parenthetical statements mine):
Antichrist will be an iconoclast. Most in the world will adore him. He will teach that the Christian (Catholic) religion is false, confiscation of Christian (Catholic) property is legal, Saturday is to be observed instead of Sunday, and he will change the ten commandments...He will read people's minds, raise the dead, reward his followers, and punish the rest (Conner Edward. Prophecy for Today, 4th ed. TAN Books, Rockford (IL) 1984, p.85).
The truth is that Antichrist will accept idols (iconoclasts abolish idols) originally embrace Catholicism, originally practice Sunday worship, and accept the Roman Catholic numbering of the ten commandments. The Bible does not teach that the Antichrist will read people's minds or raise the dead (although it mentions one who was healed of a deadly wound, Revelation 13:12).
Jesus, after His return, will abolish idols (Isaiah 2:17-18; Ezekiel 30:13), will insist on the Saturday Sabbath (Hebrews 4:4,9), and will correctly number and enforce the keeping of the ten commandments after His return (Revelation 22:14-15). He will, of course, be able to read people's minds (I Corinthians 3:20), will raise the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16), reward His followers (Matthew 16:27), and punish the rest (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 22:15).
When Christ comes, it appears that statements at least partially based upon Irenaeus' writings (and those of other traditions/private prophecies) may deceive many.
Irenaeus is clearly one of the most dangerous heretics, even in these end times.
His Writings Have Been Filtered Through Others
While it should be clear to any that study the writings we have left from Irenaeus, it appears to be true that we really only have writings from him that are translations or simply writings others have ascribed to him. Hence he may have been a bit less "orthodox" than the mainstream claims.
Here is the opinion of one scholar about the lack of original writings:
IT is a remarkable fact, and much to be regretted, that none of the works of St Irenæus, the greatest theologian of the second century, have come down to us in the language in which they were written. Of his chief work, the five books Against Heresies, we have a very early Latin translation, and a few fragments of the original Greek preserved through quotation by other writers. (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920)
The Post-Constantine Roman Church Has Beliefs that Irenaeus Condemned
Irenaeus did hold several views that we in the Churches of God hold that differ markedly from those now held by the Roman Catholic Church and certain other mainstream churches.
Specifically, he endorsed the millennium, was opposed to allegorizing prophecies in the Book of Revelation, claimed he was opposed to using tradition over scripture, and was opposed to baptism by annointing.
Here is some of what The Catholic Encyclopedia notes about the millennium:
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a native of Asia Minor, influenced by the companions of St. Polycarp, adopted millenarian ideas, discussing and defending them in his works against the Gnostics (Adv. Haereses, V, 32)...
The most powerful adversary of millenarianism was Origen of Alexandria. In view of the Neo-Platonism on which his doctrines were founded and of his spiritual-allegorical method of explaining the Holy Scriptures, he could not side with the millenarians. He combatted them expressly, and, owing to the great influence which his writings exerted on ecclesiastical theology especially in Oriental countries, millenarianism gradually disappeared from the idea of Oriental Christians...
St. Augustine was for a time, as he himself testifies (De Civitate Dei, XX, 7), a pronounced champion of millenarianism; but he places the millennium after the universal resurrection and regards it in a more spiritual light (Sermo, CCLIX). When, however, he accepted the doctrine of only one universal resurrection and a final judgment immediately following, he could no longer cling to the principal tenet of early chiliasm. St. Augustine finally held to the conviction that there will be no millennium...The struggle between Christ and His saints on the one hand and the wicked world and Satan on the other, is waged in the Church on earth; so the great Doctor describes it in his work De Civitate Dei. In the same book he gives us an allegorical explanation of Chapter 20 of the Apocalypse...at all events, the kingdom of Christ, of which the Apocalypse speaks, can only be applied to the Church (De Civitate Dei, XX 5-7). This explanation of the illustrious Doctor was adopted by succeeding Western theologians, and millenarianism in its earlier shape no longer received support...
The Middle Ages were never tainted with millenarianism; it was foreign both to the theology of that period and to the religious ideas of the people. (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. Millennium and Millenarianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Since perhaps beginning with Origen, and definitely since the time of Augustine, those associated with the Roman Catholic Church have done away with the meaning of the Book of Revelation by way of allegorizing its actual meaning. Irenaeus, however, condemned those who would do that:
1. If, however, any shall endeavour to allegorize [prophecies] of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions [in question]. (Book V, Chapter 35, Verse 1 ).
Yet The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
St. Augustine has perhaps more than any one else helped to free the Church from all crude fancies as regards its pleasures. He explained the millennium allegorically and applied it to the Church of Christ on earth (Van Den Biesen C. Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler. Apocalypse. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
It is sad that Roman Catholic scholars seem to believe that allegoricially understanding the Book of Revelation (which they call The Apocalypse) helped to free the Church from all crude fancies.
Notice that Irenaeus seems to only endorse baptism through immersion in water as opposed to annointing a head and mumbling phrases:
But there are some of them who assert that it is superfluous to bring persons to the water, but mixing oil and water together, they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated, with the use of some such expressions as we have already mentioned (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book I, 13:1-2; 21:3-4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. KnightBook).
What was one of the bad practices of the Gnostic Valentinians? According to Irenaeus, they relied on tradition more than scripture:
1. Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book 1, Chapter 8, Verse 1).
1. When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but viva voce: wherefore also Paul declared, "But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world." And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 2, Verse 1).
For these men are not more to be depended on than the Scriptures; nor ought we to give up the declarations of the Lord, Moses, and the rest of the prophets, who have proclaimed the truth, and give credit to them, who do indeed utter nothing of a sensible nature, but rave about untenable opinions (Book II, Chapter 30, Verse 6. BY ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS; Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson American Edition, 1885 Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Is that not what the Roman Catholics now do?
How can the modern Roman Catholic Church consider that Irenaeus was an important saint since he condemned many of its current practices?
Because he was a second century writer, and because he learned some things from Polycarp, and because he wrote against gnostic heretics, and because he accepted Sunday worship, Irenaeus has been accepted by the mainstream as a true Christian writer.
However, since he preferred unity and traditions of men over what the Bible teaches, he set a dangerous precedent. A precedent that most who profess Christianity now support, even if they do not realize it. Several of his writings contain inaccurate, unbiblical, and nonsensical statements, and while mistakes of facts can happen, his errors are not of the sort that one would expect of him if he was truly a saint of God.
Irenaeus supported the Roman Church even though Irenaeus knew it had tolerated heretics, as well as heretical practices, that had earlier been condemned by the faithful Polycarp.
Since most do not realize how they have been directly or indirectly influenced by his writings, Irenaeus was probably the most dangerous heretic.
Learning about the old heretics may help warn us about the most dangerous heretics today.
And in this Laodicean era, it may be that those who follow in Irenaeus' footsteps and value unity above doctrinal truth and the apostolic work may be the most dangerous heretics today.
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Below are two appendices of quotes from Irenaeus. Appendix A includes Sabbath quotes, while appendix B includes prophetic quotes.
Appendix A: More Sabbath Quotes
While Irenaeus did not seem to care much about the Sabbath, he did mention it in other writings which are included with little comment, in this appendix.
2. For the Lord vindicated Abraham's posterity by loosing them from bondage and calling them to salvation, as He did in the case of the woman whom He healed, saying openly to those who had not faith like Abraham, "Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath-days loose his ox or his ass, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath-days?" It is clear therefore, that He loosed and vivified those who believe in Him as Abraham did, doing nothing contrary to the law when He healed upon the Sabbath-day. For the law did not prohibit men from being healed upon the Sabbaths; [on the contrary,] it even circumcised them upon that day, and gave command that the offices should be performed by the priests for the people; yea, it did not disallow the healing even of dumb animals. Both at Siloam and on frequent subsequent occasions, did He perform cures upon the Sabbath; and for this reason many used to resort to Him on the Sabbath-days. For the law commanded them to abstain from every servile work, that is, from all grasping after wealth which is procured by trading and by other worldly business; but it exhorted them to attend to the exercises of the soul, which consist in reflection, and to addresses of a beneficial kind for their neighbours' benefit. And therefore the Lord reproved those who unjustly blamed Him for having healed upon the Sabbath-days. For He did not make void, but fulfilled the law, by performing the offices of the high priest, propitiating God for men, and cleansing the lepers, healing the sick, and Himself suffering death, that exiled man might go forth from condemnation, and might return without fear to his own inheritance.
3. And again, the law did not forbid those who were hungry on the Sabbath-days to take food lying ready at hand: it did, however, forbid them to reap and to gather into the barn. And therefore did the Lord say to those who were blaming His disciples because they plucked and ate the ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands, "Have ye not read this, what David did, when himself was an hungered; how he went into the house of God, and ate the shew-bread, and gave to those who were with him; which it is not lawful to eat, but for the priests alone?" justifying His disciples by the words of the law, and pointing out that it was lawful for the priests to act freely. For David had been appointed a priest by God, although Saul persecuted him. For all the righteous possess the sacerdotal rank. And all the apostles of the Lord are priests, who do inherit here neither lands nor houses, but serve God and the altar continually. Of whom Moses also says in Deuteronomy, when blessing Levi, "Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not known thee; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, and he disinherited his own sons: he kept Thy commandments, and observed Thy covenant." But who are they that have left father and mother, and have said adieu to all their neighbours, on account of the word of God and His covenant, unless the disciples of the Lord? Of whom again Moses says, "They shall have no inheritance, for the Lord Himself is their inheritance." And again, "The priests the Levites shall have no part in the whole tribe of Levi, nor substance with Israel; their substance is the offerings (fructifications) of the Lord: these shall they eat." Wherefore also Paul says, "I do not seek after a gift, but I seek after fruit." To His disciples He said, who had a priesthood of the Lord, to whom it was lawful when hungry to eat the ears of corn, "For the workman is worthy of his meat." And the priests in the temple profaned the Sabbath, and were blameless. Wherefore, then, were they blameless? Because when in the temple they were not engaged in secular affairs, but in the service of the Lord, fulfilling the law, but not going beyond it, as that man did, who of his own accord carded dry wood into the camp of God, and was justly stoned to death. "For every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire;" and "whosoever shall defile the temple of God, him shall God defile." (Book IV, Chapter 8, Verses 2-3)
Tradition and Commandments:
3...For, being driven away from Him who truly is [God], and being turned backwards, he shall be for ever seeking, yet shall never find out God; but shall continually swim in an abyss without limits, unless, being converted by repentance, he return to the place from which he had been cast out, confessing one God, the Father, the Creator, and believing [in Him] who was declared by the law and the prophets, who was borne witness to by Christ, as He did Himself declare to those who were accusing His disciples of not observing the tradition of the elders: "Why do ye make void the law of God by reason of your tradition? For God said, Honour thy father and mother; and, Whosoever curseth father or mother, let him die the death." And again, He says to them a second time: "And ye have made void the word of God by reason of your tradition;" Christ confessing in the plainest manner Him to be Father and God, who said in the law, "Honour thy father and mother; that it may be well with thee." For the true God did confess the commandment of the law as the word of God, and called no one else God besides His own Father. (Book IV, Chapter 9, Verse 3).
Tradition, Law, and Sabbath:
1. For the tradition of the elders themselves, which they pretended to observe from the law, was contrary to the law given by Moses. Wherefore also Esaias declares: "Thy dealers mix the wine with water," showing that the elders were in the habit of mingling a watered tradition with the simple command of God; that is, they set up a spurious law, and one contrary to the[true] law; as also the Lord made plain, when He said to them, "Why do ye transgress the commandment of God, for the sake of your tradition?" For not only by actual transgression did they set the law of God at nought, mingling the wine with water; but they also set up their own law in opposition to it, which is termed, even to the present day, the pharisaical. In this [law] they suppress certain things, add others, and interpret others, again, as they think proper, which their teachers use, each one in particular; and desiring to uphold these traditions, they were unwilling to be subject to the law of God, which prepares them for the coming of Christ. But they did even blame the Lord for healing on the Sabbath-days, which, as I have already observed, the law did not prohibit. For they did themselves, in one sense, perform acts of healing upon the Sabbath-day, when they circumcised a man [on that day]; but they did not blame themselves for transgressing the command of God through tradition and the aforesaid pharisaical law, and for not keeping the commandment of the law, which is the love of God (Book IV, Chapter 12, Verse 1).
5. Now, that the law did beforehand teach mankind the necessity of following Christ, He does Himself make manifest, when He replied as follows to him who asked Him what he should do that he might inherit eternal life: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." But upon the other asking "Which?"" again the Lord replies: "Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, hon-our father and mother, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," -- setting as an ascending series (velut gradus) before those who wished to follow Him, the precepts of the law, as the entrance into life; and What He then said to one He said to all. But when the former said, "All these have I done" (and most likely he had not kept them, for in that case the Lord would not have said to him, "Keep the commandments"), the Lord, exposing his covetousness, said to him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast, and distribute to the poor; and come, follow me;" promising to those who would act thus, the portion belonging to the apostles (apostolorum partem). And He did not preach to His followers another God the Father, besides Him who was proclaimed by the law from the beginning; nor another Son; nor the Mother, the enthymesis of the Aeon, who existed in suffering and apostasy; nor the Pleroma of the thirty Aeons, which has been proved vain, and incapable of being believed in; nor that fable invented by the other heretics. But He taught that they should obey the commandments which God enjoined from the beginning, and do away with their former covetousness by good works, and follow after Christ (Book IV, Chapter 12, Verse 5).
More on the Sabbath:
1. Moreover, we learn from the Scripture itself, that God gave circumcision, not as the completer of righteousness, but as a sign, that the race of Abraham might continue recognisable. For it declares: "God said unto Abraham, Every male among you shall be circumcised; and ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, as a token of the covenant between Me and you." This same does Ezekiel the prophet say with regard to the Sabbaths: "Also I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord, that sanctify them." And in Exodus, God says to Moses: "And ye shall observe My Sabbaths; for it shall be a sign between Me and you for your generations." These things, then, were given for a sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither unmeaning nor to no purpose, inasmuch as they were given by a wise Artist; but the circumcision after the flesh typified that after the Spirit. For "we," says the apostle, "have been circumcised with the circumcision made without hands." And the prophet declares, "Circumcise the hardness of your heart." But the Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God's service. "For we have been counted," says the Apostle Paul, "all the day long as sheep for the slaughter;" that is, consecrated [to God], and ministering continually to our faith, and persevering in it, and abstaining from all avarice, and not acquiring or possessing treasures upon earth. Moreover, the Sabbath of God (requietio Dei), that is, the kingdom, was, as it were, indicated by created things; in which [kingdom], the man who shall have persevered in serving God (Deo assistere) shall, in a state of rest, partake of God's table (Book IV, Chapter 16, Verse 1).
Appendix B: Prophetic Quotes
3. Daniel too, looking forward to the end of the last kingdom, i.e., the ten last kings, amongst whom the kingdom of those men shall be partitioned, and upon whom the son of perdition shall come, declares that ten horns shall spring from the beast, and that another little horn shall arise in the midst of them, and that three of the former shall be rooted up before his face. He says: "And, behold, eyes were in this horn as the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was more stout than his fellows. I was looking, and this horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of days came and gave judgment to the saints of the most high God, and the time came, and the saints obtained the kingdom." Then, further on, in the interpretation of the vision, there was said to him: "The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall excel all other kingdoms, and devour the whole earth, and tread it down, and cut it in pieces. And its ten horns are ten kings which shall arise; and after them shall arise another, who shall surpass in evil deeds all that were before him, and shall overthrow three kings; and he shall speak words against the most high God, and wear out the saints of the most high God, and shall purpose to change times and laws; and [everything] shall be given into his hand until a time of times and a half time," that is, for three years and six months, during which time, when he comes, he shall reign over the earth. Of whom also the Apostle Paul again, speaking in the second [Epistle] to the Thessalonians, and at the same time proclaiming the cause of his advent, thus says: "And then shall the wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy by the presence of His coming; whose coming [i.e., the wicked one's] is after the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and portents of lies, and with all deceivableness of wickedness for those who perish; because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And therefore God will send them the working of error, that they may believe a lie; that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but gave consent to iniquity," (Book V, Chapter 25, Verse 3).
3...Then also Lateinos (LATEINOS) has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom [of the four seen by Daniel]. For the Latins are they who at present bear rule: I will not, however, make any boast over this (Book V, Chapter 30, Verse 3).
Thus Irenaeus apparently was taught (perhaps by Polycarp) that 666 represented the Latin, or Roman, kingdom.
What of those that allegorize Revelation?
1. If, however, any shall endeavour to allegorize [prophecies] of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions [in question]. (Book V, Chapter 35, Verse 1 ).
Sadly, the Roman Church which considers Irenaeus to be probably its greatest theologian of the second century, has decided that they do need to allegorize Revelation (for more information please see the article Tradition and the Bible).
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