Friday, June 28, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the *first* church father: Irenaeus of Lyon.

It is the 28th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


We head back to the early church today. Yesterday, we met a church father, Cyril of Alexandria, who was called the “seal of the church fathers” as he was one of the last, dying in the mid-fifth century.

Today, we meet a man credibly considered to be the FIRST of the church fathers and a man who, as of 2022, is considered a doctor of the church- one of only 37 people with this designation. He was Irenaeus of Lyon- a Bishop we can place between the years 120 and 200.

Irenaeus (there’s an e and an a and a u… leave the spelling to the professionals) was originally from modern-day Turkey. There, he came to faith and studied under Polycarp, a disciple of St. John the Apostle. This made Irenaeus a kind of “grand disciple” of the man who authored the 4th Gospel, the disciple, the “one whom Jesus loved.” The concern of John from his epistles that Jesus came IN THE FLESH is of primary concern for Irenaeus.  

We know of him primarily from his role as the bishop of Lyon in France. He left Turkey for what was then called “Lugdunum” in Gaul (France), where he wrote a five-volume work, “Against Heresies.”

This very early work of Christian theology centered the so-called “Gnostics” as “Heretics.” We need to do some translating. A “heretic” is a person within the church who makes the active decision to hold to a divergent view of a central doctrine.

The gnostics were (and are) legion- in Irenaeus’ day it was the Valentinians and Marcionites who caused the most trouble.

The Valentinians—like many of the gnostic groups—are difficult to understand by design. They follow an obscure Greek philosophy that, among other things, holds that God did not become human in Jesus. This would be an affront to the nature of the godhead and debase the nature of flesh. John wrote that the spirit of the Antichrist would deny that Jesus came in the flesh, and his grand disciple, Irenaeus, defended the Incarnation.

The second major group was the followers of Marcion, who, among other things, denied the relevance of the Old Testament and believed that the “god” portrayed in those books was not the same as Jesus Christ.

In arguing against the followers of Marcion, Irenaeus became one of the earliest proponents of a biblical canon—that is, a unified Bible consisting of agreed-upon texts as divine revelation.

But it wasn’t just that one had the Scriptures, a person wanting to be baptized needed to be guided in the proper doctrines- thus not only was a “canon” needed but so too was a “creed”, a statement of belief. Irenaeus notes that many sufficient “rules of faith” are used for those entering the church (this supports the theory that our modern Apostles Creed is based on the oldest rule of faith).

Furthermore, Irenaeus wrote “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching”- his only other work we still have today is a catechism for teaching the faith. In it, and the earliest creeds, we see an important emphasis on God as the creator. The gnostics, to explain how the world could fall as it is, claimed that it was a second-tier god- a demiurge who created what we see and is evil.

So- the early creeds insisted that the creator was the one and only God, that what he created was good, fell, and was redeemed by the incarnate God-Man. Jesus shows us how central it was to oppose Gnosticism in the early church.

Irenaeus was a “bishop” or overseer. The position was still evolving in his time, but he saw it the position as giving a divine seal of approval to received doctrine. He may have been partial to the theory of Roman supremacy (as opposed to the other 4 major centers) and has thus been a favorite of Roman Catholic apologists.

We knew much about the gnostics from Irenaeus’ writings until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls last century—they happily revealed Irenaeus to be a faithful expositor of the philosophy he would go on to excoriate.

Irenaeus is listed as a martyr in the church, although we have no record of his death. According to those who believe this story, he died under the persecution of Severus in 202.

Today, on his recognized feast day, we remember Irenaeus of Lyon, bishop and first of the Church Fathers.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Psalm 30:

I will exalt you, Lord,
    for you lifted me out of the depths
    and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

Lord my God, I called to you for help,

    and you healed me.

You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;

    you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;

    praise his holy name.

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may stay for the night,

    but rejoicing comes in the morning.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Marcions include the heretic, Mork from Ork and Ray Walston- he is Christopher Gillespie. 

The show is written and read by a man who spelled Irenaeus 18 different ways in today’s script- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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