A Second Century Defender of the Faith: Irenaeus

by Melissa Travis

As of late, I have become increasingly fascinated with prominent figures from the first few centuries of the church, men often referred to as “early church fathers.” Who were these guys, and why are they considered particularly authoritative? Over the next few months, I will occasionally devote a blog post to profiling one of these figures who lived, taught, and contended for the Christian faith during the church’s infancy.

Irenaeus (c. 130-200 A.D.)

Irenaeus (usually pronounced “ear-uh-NAY-us”) was born in Asia, in the region that is now Turkey. He moved to Lyons, a city in the region we now know as France. This is why he is sometimes referred to as Irenaeus of Lyons. He became Bishop of Lyons in 180 A.D.

The twelve apostles, who lived alongside Jesus and were specially discipled by him during his earthly ministry, went on to disciple other men in the Christian faith after Jesus’ ascension. These “second generation” disciples mentored “third generation” church leaders. The important point here is that these men of the third generation had access to a very short, unbroken chain of authoritative teaching anchored in the very words and deeds of Christ himself. Irenaeus was one of the third generation students of Christianity. Here’s how it went. The Apostle John (almost certainly the author of the Gospel of John and 1, 2, and 3 John) taught a man by the name of Polycarp, a bishop of Smyrna. While Irenaeus was young, he was instructed in the faith by Polycarp.

These early church fathers were ardent defenders of the traditions carefully taught to them by the Apostles themselves or by direct students of the Apostles…

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