Irenaeus, Against Heresies [#21]

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Against Heresies is one of only two surviving works written by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130–200). It attacks Gnosticism, a complex and diverse religious movement that believed secret knowledge is necessary for salvation and only the spiritual realm is good. 

Against Heresies is significant for its role as the first major treatise of Christian theology, its detailed account of Gnosticism, and its reference to most of the writings that would later be collected in the New Testament. Irenaeus maintained that human salvation has two components: first, humans must make an intentional commitment to goodness; they then become immortal through the divine power of resurrection. He also described Christ’s atonement as “recapitulation,” in which he became incarnate to renew the image and likeness of God in humanity. Thus Christ is understood as the second Adam, Mary as the second Eve, Christ’s Passion as a new creation, and so on. Against Heresies contains one of Christianity’s earliest creedal statements:

Many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent . . . carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of his surpassing love towards his creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, he himself uniting man through himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise his Father and his coming.


This article is from Christian History magazine #116 Twenty-Five Writings that Changed the Church and the World. Read it in context here!

By Jennifer Freeman

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #116 in 2015]

Jennifer Freeman is art researcher for Christian History.
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