On the commemoration for Irenaeus of Lyons today, we read a devotion taken from Reconciliation and Justification.
Irenaeus was a second-century bishop whose writings greatly influenced how the Early Church articulated its faith. On this day especially, we thank God for Irenaeus’s clear confession and pray that God would continue to bless the Church with pastors, teachers, and confessors who articulate God’s Word clearly and faithfully.
The influence of Irenaeus cannot be overestimated; for he is the first theologian since the days of the apostles who has given us a comprehensive exposition of the Christian faith. Little is known of his personal history; but he was probably born in Smyrna or some neighboring city in Asia Minor ca. 115–125 AD. In his “early youth” he became acquainted with Polycarp, and in later years he was a presbyter in Southern Gaul. During persecution in Lyons and Vienne under Marcus Aurelius he was sent to Bishop Eleutherus of Rome with a letter from the church at Lyons; and when the aged Bishop Pothinus fell a victim to the persecution, Irenaeus was chosen bishop of Lyons ca. 177 AD, and in this office he labored for many years.
His principal writing is a Refutation and Exposure of Knowledge Falsely So Called, which since Jerome has been called by the shorter title of Adversus Haereses. It was written after he became bishop of Lyons and is divided into five parts. The first book contains a minute description of the various Gnostic sects. The second book refutes these heresies mainly on the ground of their unreasonableness. The last three books exhibit the Christian doctrine on the basis of the rule of faith and the Scriptures. It is very unfortunate, however, that this work is primarily a refutation of the Gnostic sects; for it is only after we have laboriously gathered the various ideas scattered throughout the work together and have put them into a systematic form that the theology of Irenaeus becomes known to us. . . .
The writings of Irenaeus clearly prove that the early Christian Church did not have a fragmentary and superficial view of the atonement. Irenaeus was the first of the Church Fathers to treat this doctrine in detail. . . . The Son of God became incarnate, and as man’s Substitute He was obedient unto death, even unto the death on the cross. By His perfect obedience He canceled our disobedience and thereby reconciled us to God and delivered us from sin, death, and the devil.
Devotional reading is from Reconciliation and Justification, pages 140–41, 158 © 1938 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.