As I mentioned yesterday it is time to refresh my understanding of several subjects I will be asked to discuss during my forthcoming oral defense at Western Seminary. The first topic will be the personalities of Irenaeus of Lyons and Origen of Alexandria. Though not technically “Greek Fathers” themselves we studied them as “precursors” to Eastern Christianity.
Irenaeus is sometimes discussed as the first person to “systematize” Christian doctrine. In his Against Heresies he addressed his opponents on various topics that we may today classify as Theology Proper, Christology, Eschatology, and the like. Some say Augustine of Hippo was the transition into the medieval period, so Ireneaus is seen as the transition out of the “apostolic” period. Irenaeus shapes and orders Christianity like no one before him. He defends the “four-fold Gospel” with much vigor. He understands himself to be loyal to the “Rule of Faith” handed to him from Polycarp who received it from John the Elder (or Apostle). Many critics see him as the beginning of the “catholicizing” of Christianity.
If we are to discuss Irenaeus the Theologian we must talk about Irenaeus the Pastor. He became the pastor of Lyons after the former pastor had been martyred. What makes Irenaeus passionate is not that he defended orthodoxy as he saw it, but that he defended orthodoxy while his parishioners faced persecution. Some like to imagine orthodoxy coming to formation as a bunch of theologians sat around doing primarily a political task. It is hard to argue this with Irenaeus. Rather, he wanted for what one should be willing to die, literally! If he was going to preach the Gospel to people who may be killed as Christians he seems to have been driven to give them a religion worth their lives.
Origen reminds me of modern academics more than a pastor. While he did teach in churches his main gifting was his amazingly sharp mind and his philosophical skills. In the tradition of the apologists Origen was able to defend Christianity against pagan detractors on their own terms. He seems to have been influential in the development of Logos Christology, though the church did not know what to do with him later. He interpreted Scripture allegorically, even arguing that some troublesome parts of Scripture are present because God wants it to slow us down and make us think. Many know him for what seems to be an openness to a universalism of sorts.
As I examine some of the Greek Fathers I see Athanasius of Alexandria in the tradition of Irenaeus, i.e.the pastor-theologian. Basil the Great may be this type as well. The Gregories seem to follow the line of Origen.
These are my brief thoughts on these two characters, please comment and tell me what else you think I should prioritize when discussing Irenaeus of Lyons and Origen of Alexandria.
Something that stands out to me about Irenaeus, it is one of the first things I think when I hear his name, is his development of recapitulation as a hermeneutical schema. This might be something you want to touch on (or at least mention) in your oral examination. I would have to say that Ir. is one of my favorite Patristics!
WRT Irenaeus of Lyons, given his defense of the authority the apostolic tradition, his use of the authority of scripture in his apologetic efforts, and the authority he seems to exhibit in the canonization of scripture, it would seem the theme of ‘authority’ would be a good one; although he himself seems to have focused on the holiness and unity of God.
I know I read a bit about recapitulation in a chapter on Irenaeus that I read recently, but I don’t remember much about it. Thank you for pointing it out. I will go back and give it more attention!
He is very much about authority. This is true. It is his main weapon against the heretics. I hadn’t thought of holiness as a big part of his project, but that is worth pondering. When you speak of the unity of God do you mean the oneness of Father and Son or something else?
I think folk like NT Wright and others actually have benefited from the kind of stuff Iren. was doing, seminally, with recapitulation (and of course Ir didn’t come up with it, Justin Martyr is known to be the first pace JND Kelly).
I revisited the idea of recapitulation and it sounds a bit like Federalism, no?
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