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Reviewed by:
  • Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy Edited by Sara Parvis and Paul Foster
  • William Tabbernee
Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy. Edited by Sara Parvis and Paul Foster. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2012. Pp. xvi, 274. $39.00. ISBN 978-0-8006-9796-9.)

It is no doubt unusual for a reviewer to suggest that readers should read the penultimate chapter of a book first, but that is exactly what this review recommends. Paul Parvis’s masterful summary of and insights concerning the various scholarly editions of St. Irenaeus’s Adversus haereses demonstrates clearly that even the best critical editions of ancient texts are never “value free.” This applies equally, if not more so, to modern translations of Irenaeus’s extant genuine works—conveniently listed on pp. xi–xiii. Parvis’s chapter (17) is a powerful reminder that the task of understanding the literary and personal legacy of Irenaeus includes taking into account the biases and contexts of the scholars who give us access to that legacy.

The “Irenaean legacy,” as Irenaeus Steenberg (chapter 18) points out, is also shaped, somewhat inaccurately, by the way in which the earliest Church Fathers utilized his writings. They, at least until St. Augustine, portrayed Irenaeus primarily as heresiologist, peacemaker, and “statesman” rather than as theologian (p. 205).

The contributors to this volume, the product of a conference held at the University of Edinburgh in 2009, examine Irenaeus’s life and work from a much broader perspective. Part 2, “Scripture: Irenaeus and His Scriptural Traditions” (which should be read after chapter 17), for example, commences with a fascinating study by Denis Minns on Irenaeus’s exegesis of the “Parable of the Two Sons” (chapter 4). This study also sheds light on the specific version of Matt. 21:28–31 to which Irenaeus had access. Other chapters in this section explore Irenaeus’s use of Hebrews (chapter 5, by D. Jeffrey Bingham), the Song of Songs (chapter 6, by Karl Shuve), and noncanonical gospels (chapter 9, by Paul Foster). This section also includes a study (chapter 10) by Charles Hill on Irenaeus’s concerns regarding the unintentional (and even intentional) scribal corruption of texts, drawing insights from P. Oxy. 405—the earliest known extant fragment of Irenaeus’s writings.

Chapters 7–8 of part 2 “debate” the identity of “the elder” in Adv. Haer. 4.27–32, with Hill defending his position, against Sebastian Moll (chapter 7), that the unnamed “elder” is, indeed Polycarp of Smyrna (chapter 8). These chapters could, [End Page 585] perhaps, have fitted equally well in part 1, “Life: Irenaeus and His Context,” as each of its current three chapters refers to Irenaeus and his relationship to Polycarp. These chapters carefully nuance and add to what is known about Irenaeus’s life (chapter 1, by Paul Parvis), his own Greek worldview within the Celtic/Latin context of Lyons (chapter 2, by Jared Secord), and his use of succession lists to emphasize continuity of apostolic teaching, rather than (as misunderstood later) episcopal monarchy (chapter 3, by Allen Brent:; cf. chapter 1, by Paul Parvis).

The view that Irenaeus had personally been a student of Justin Martyr in Rome, previously articulated by Michael Slusser, is deemed highly likely by Steen-berg (p. 202). Most of the other authors in this volume acknowledge that Justin’s writings at least influenced Irenaeus greatly on significant aspects of his theology: e.g., the Trinity (chapter 15, by Stephen Presley)—but contrast Peter Widdicombe’s “Irenaeus and the Knowledge of God as Father” (chapter 12). Slusser himself traces “Recapitulation” to Justin and argues that, whether or not Irenaeus’s understanding of the interrelationship of God’s magnitudo (greatness) and love (dilectio) was also derived from Justin, it forms “The Heart of Irenaeus’s Theology” (chapter 11).

The chapters that complete the theological section of “Part III: Legacy: Irenaeus and His Theological Traditions” also provide exciting new insights necessitating a re-evaluation of earlier perceptions. Alistair Stewart argues convincingly that the Trinitarian component of the “Rule of Truth” derives from prebaptismal catechesis and should not be taken as evidence for a threefold baptismal interrogation (chapter 13). Sara Parvis demonstrates that a crucial subtext of the Adversus haeresus is a strong defense...


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