Meet Irenaeus (air-in-ay-us) a theologian from the early 2nd century.
Irenaeus was the bishop of the Christian church in Gaul, what is now French Lyon and he is considered one of the first truly comprehensive Christian theologians of the church. Many of the earlier church writings are situational (The Pauline/Post-Apostolic Epistles) or simply instructional (The Didache) but Irenaues’ writings try to tell a ‘big picture’ story of God’s purposes in the world – from creation to the end.
Irenaeus wrote two books, at least that we know of. The first was titled Against Heresies; this was an apologetic defense of the church’s teaching in light of a Gnostic teacher name Valentinus. The second book was titled The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; this was a straightforward telling of the church’s Christian preaching and teaching. Interesting side note, an Armenian copy of The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching was found in 1904.
Irenaeus introduced two interesting theological ideas that shaped Christology (Explaining the person of Christ) and Soteriology (Explaining the salvation we have in Christ)
In terms of Christology, Irenaeus introduced the church to the idea of recapitualtion. Irenaeus taught that God had created mankind in His image for mutual fellowship – participation in His Divine Essence. Adam and Eve were supposed to grow in fellowship and life with Him, but instead disobeyed and marred the image; they broke fellowship. Christ recapitulated or relived the calling and purpose of Adam and Eve – this time however, He was victorious. From creation to eternal resurrection life, Christ embodied God’s perfect way and invites us into that way. Where Adam failed, Christ was victorious.
Irenaeus also helped shape the future of Soteriology with the teaching of Theosis or literally ‘deification’. For Irenaeus, salvation meant participating in God’s divine nature through Christ in order that we might become more and more the likeness of God. Salvation then, is not so much a one-time decision you make or a prayer you pray to escape the clutches of hell. No, for Irenaeus, salvation is the rich joy of fellowship each and every day with the Trinity through Christ. It is a long winding road – a journey. You could say, Irenaeus’ theology tends to be more dynamic than static. Along these lines, Irenaeus’ favorite image or symbol for God was that of a shepherd; God is the one who leads us in the way to life everlasting through Christ our Second Adam.
Irenaeus, meet the world.
World, meet Irenaeus.
“For one is the way leading upwards for all who see, lightened with heavenly light: but many and dark and contrary are the ways of them that see not. This way leads to the kingdom of heaven, uniting man to God: but those ways bring down to death, separating man from God”
The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching