- Irenaeus of Lyons
The rise of Gnosticism is central to second century Christianity, and Irenaeus of Lyons presents a major Christian response to that phenomenon. Robert M. Grant has written a compact six chapter introduction to the Irenaean contribution (pp. 1–53) accompanied with extensive translations of selected parts of Against Heresies. Grant begins with a review of the life and sources of Irenaeus (chapter 1), pointing out that while the latter does not represent second-century thought in toto, still “ he does represent the majority views outside Alexandria, where Christian speculative thought was closer to the Gnosticism he fought” (p. 1). Irenaeus handled Gnostic origins by demonstrating that the predecessors of contemporary Valentinians were themselves wrong and perverse; on the principle of a “genetic” continuity in thought, the errors of the parents are then passed to their offspring (chapter 2). Grant devotes chapter 3 to a concise and clear review of the Irenaean account of Valentinian teaching, before turning in chapter 4 to the key controverted issue between Irenaeus and the Gnostics, namely exegesis. As one might expect, Irenaeus took the position that scripture, interpreted through Christian tradition, is authoritative and not Gnostic exegesis.
Turning to Greek education in chapter 5, Grant shows that Irenaeus laid the foundation for the widespread and perduring theological opinion that Christians and devout pagans like Plato agree in their views of God, views which Gnostics do not support. Significantly it is via discussion of Irenaeus’s rhetorical methodology in chapter 6 that Grant comes to review the key theological themes of hypothesis, oikonomia, and anakephalaiosis, which he notes had all been used in the old grammatical scholia on the Odyssey (p. 47). There, hypothesis had denoted plot or structure of a play or argument. For Irenaeus it is the Christian rule of faith or of truth. Oikonomia “is the ‘arrangement’ of a poem or the purpose and direction of the plot” (p. 49). In Irenaeus, Grant sees the principal meaning to be God’s saving plan of salvation revealed through the prophets, though he recognizes a secondary usage applied to the work of Jesus recounted by Luke. Further, Grant notes that anakephalaiosis, which other writers use to designate a concluding summary, becomes a theological argument in Irenaeus, who presents Jesus as summing up in his person and life not only the story of salvation but even the stages of human life. What we have in chapter 6 is a tantalizing signal of the interplay between methodology and theology so important in Against Heresies. An introduction that not only summarizes but tantalizes serves its purpose well, for it may well bring readers to deeper study of the complete work.
Together with the texts the volume makes a satisfying introduction to Against Heresies. The hardcover price will probably restrict that edition to purchase for institutional libraries. While the paperback price is high, nevertheless teachers of [End Page 674] Gnosticism, of early Christianity, and of the Fathers may find this study useful for classroom use.
Berkeley/Graduate Theological Union