Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXI
Chapter XXI.—The Ecclesiastical Writers that flourished in Those Days.
1. At that time there flourished in the Church Hegesippus, whom we know from what has gone before, 1217 and Dionysius, 1218 bishop of Corinth, and another bishop, Pinytus of Crete, 1219 and besides p. 198 these, Philip, 1220 and Apolinarius, 1221 and Melito, 1222 and Musanus, 1223 and Modestus, 1224 and finally, Irenæus. 1225 From them has come down to us in writing, the sound and orthodox faith received from apostolic tradition. 1226
On Hegesippus life and writings, see the next chapter. He has been already mentioned in Bk. II. chap. 23; Bk. III. chaps. 11, 16, 20, 32; and Bk. IV. chap. 8.197:1218
On the life and writings of Dionysius, see below, chap. 23.197:1219
On Pinytus, see below, chap, 23, note 14.198:1220
On Philip, see below, chap. 25.198:1221
On Apolinarius, see below, chap. 27.198:1222
On Melito, see chap. 26.198:1223
On Musanus, see chap. 28.198:1224
On Modestus, see chap. 25.198:1225
Irenæus was born in Asia Minor, probably between the years 120 and 130. There is great uncertainty as to the date of his birth, some bringing it down almost to the middle of the second century, while Dodwell carried it back to the year 97 or 98. But these extremes are wild; and a careful examination of all the sources which can throw any light on the subject leads to the conclusion adopted by Lipsius, and stated above. In Asia Minor he was a pupil of Polycarp (cf. the fragment of Irenæus letter to Florinus, quoted by Eusebius, Bk. V. chap. 20). The Moscow ms. of the Martyrium Polycarpi states that Irenæus was in Rome at the time of Polycarps martyrdom (155 or 156 a.d.), and appeals for its authority to a statement in Irenæus own writings, which does not exist in any extant work, but may have been taken from an authentic work now lost (cf. Gebhardt, in the Zeitschrift für die hist. Theologie, 1875, p. 362 sqq.). But whatever truth there may be in the report, we find him, at the time of the great persecution of Lyons and Vienne (described in the next book, chap. 1), a presbyter of the church at Lyons, and carrying a letter from the confessors of that church to the bishop Eleutherus of Rome (see Bk. V. chap. 4). After the death of Pothinus, which took place in 177 (see Bk. V. præf. note 3, and chap. 1, §29), Irenæus became bishop of Lyons, according to Bk. V. chap. 5. The exact date of his accession we do not know; but as Pothinus died during the persecution, and Irenæus was still a presbyter after the close of the persecution in which he met his death, he cannot have succeeded immediately. Since Irenæus, however, was, according to Eusebius, Pothinus next successor, no great length of time can have elapsed between the death of the latter and the accession of the former. At the time of the paschal controversy, while Victor was bishop of Rome, Irenæus was still bishop (according to Bk. V. chap. 23). This was toward the close of the second century. His death is ordinarily put in the year 202 or 203, on the assumption that he suffered martyrdom under Septimius Severus. Jerome is the first to call him a martyr, and that not in his de vir. ill., but in his Comment. in Esaiam (chap. 64), which was written some years later. It is quite possible that he confounded the Irenæus in question with another of the same name, who met his death in the persecution of Diocletian. Gregory of Tours first gives us a detailed account of the martyrdom, and in the Middle Ages Irenæus always figured as a martyr. But all this has no weight at all, when measured against the silence of Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and all the earlier Fathers. Their silence must be accepted as conclusive evidence that he was not a martyr; and if he was not, there is no reason for assigning his death to the year 202 or 203. As we have no trace of him, however, subsequent to the time of the paschal controversy, it is probable that he died, at the latest, soon after the beginning of the third century.
Irenæus was the most important of the polemical writers of antiquity, and his works formed a storehouse from which all subsequent heresiographers drew. He is quoted very frequently by Eusebius as an authority for events which happened during the second century, and is treated by him with the most profound respect as one of the greatest writers of the early Church. Jerome devotes an unusually long chapter of his de vir. ill. to him (chap. 35), but tells us nothing that is not found in Eusebius History. His greatest work, and the only one now extant, is his ῎Ελεγχος καὶ ἀνατροπὴ τῆς ψευδωνύμου γνωσεως, which is commonly cited under the brief title πρὸς ῾Αιρέσεις, or Adversus Hæreses (“Against Heresies”). It consists of five books, and is extant only in a very ancient and literal Latin translation; though the numerous extracts made from it by later writers have preserved for us the original Greek of nearly the whole of the first book and many fragments of the others. There are also extant numerous fragments of an ancient Syriac version of the work. It was written—or at least the third book was—while Eleutherus was bishop of Rome, i.e. between 174 and 189 (see Bk. III. chap. 3, §3, of the work itself). We are not able to fix the date of its composition more exactly. The authors primary object was to refute Valentinianism (cf. Bk. I. præf., and Bk. III. præf.), but in connection with that subject he takes occasion to say considerable about other related heresies. The sources of this great work have been carefully discussed by Lipsius, in his Quellenkritik des Epiphanios, and in his Quellen der ältesten Ketzergeschichte, and by Harnack in his Quellenkritik der Geschichte des Gnosticismus (see also the article by Lipsius mentioned below). Of the other works of Irenæus, many of which Eusebius refers to, only fragments or bare titles have been preserved. Whether he ever carried out his intention (stated in Adv. Hær. I. 27. 4, and III. 12. 12) of writing a special work against Marcion, we cannot tell. Eusebius mentions this intention in Bk. V. chap. 20; and in Bk. IV. chap. 25 he classes Irenæus among the authors who had written against Marcion. But we hear nothing of the existence of the work from Irenæus successors, and it is possible that Eusebius is thinking in chap. 25 only of the great work Adv. Hær. For a notice of Irenæus epistle On Schism, addressed to Blastus, and the one On Sovereignty, addressed to Florinus, see Bk. V. chap. 20, notes 2 and 3; and on his treatise On the Ogdoad, see the same chapter, note 4. On his epistle to Victor in regard to the paschal dispute, see below, Bk. V. chap. 24, note 13. Other epistles upon the same subject are referred to by Eusebius at the close of the same chapter (see note 21 on that chapter). In Bk. V. chap. 26, Eusebius mentions four other works of Irenæus (see notes on that chapter). In addition to the works referred to by Eusebius, there are extant a number of fragments which purport to be from other works of Irenæus. Some of them are undoubtedly genuine, others not. Upon these fragments and the works to which they belong, see Harveys edition of Irenæus works, II. p. 431 sq., and Lipsius in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. article Irenæus, p. 265 sqq.
The best edition of Irenæus works is that of Harvey (Cambridge, 1857, in 2 vols.). In connection with this edition, see Loofs important article on Irenæushandschriften, in Kirchengeschichtliche Studien, p. 1–93 (Leipzig, 1888). The literature on Irenæus is very extensive (for a valuable list, see Schaffs Ch. Hist. II. 746), but a full and complete biography is greatly to be desired. Lipsius article, referred to just above, is especially valuable.198:1226
ὧν καὶ εἰς ἡμᾶς τῆς ἀποστολικῆς παραδόσεως, ἡ τῆς ὑγιοῦς πίστεως žγγραφος κατῆλθεν ὀρθοδοξία. Compare chap. 14, §4.
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