"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Irenaeus for the Uninitiated

Irenaeus of Lyons has long been recognized as one of the most important figures of the sub-apostolic period.  The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once called him the Church's first "systematic" theologian.

James R. Payton Jr., author of a decent work introducing Orthodoxy to evangelicals, has a new book out introducing one of the most important--if not the most important--works of the earliest patristic period by St. Irenaeus:

Irenaeus on the Christian Faith: A Condensation of Against Heresies (Wipf and Stock, 2011), 234pp.

About this book the publisher says the following:

Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202) was the greatest theologian of the early post-apostolic church. In his writings we have access to the Christian teaching of a spiritual grandson of the apostle John, for Irenaeus' instructor in the faith was himself taught by the apostle. Irenaeus stresses the importance of apostolic teaching and faithfully handing on the apostolic tradition. His presentation of the Christian faith deserves careful attention, since he knew exactly what he was talking about. There is no better avenue to the apostolic tradition in the early church than his writings.

Irenaeus' massive Against Heresies offers a winsome and compelling presentation of the Christian faith, but few have read this magnum opus since the first two of its five books focus on exposing and answering Gnostic heresies, and the only complete English version is difficult to read.

This volume eliminates both these obstacles. James Payton has condensed Against Heresies by cutting out most of the interaction with the Gnostics, allowing Irenaeus' rich presentation on the Christian faith to shine through. Furthermore, the author has refurbished the English prose to make it accessible to contemporary readers.

With this distillation readers now have access to Irenaeus' rich presentation of the Christian faith, saturated in a thorough knowledge of Scripture and steadfastly rooted in the apostolic tradition of the early church. Anyone who wants to know what the early Christian church had received and passed on from the apostles can do no better than to begin with this book.
For those who want a fuller introduction to the overall life and work of this Greek Father who came from the East to tend to his flock in a Western see, they would do well to consult the recent work of Denis Minns:

Irenaeus: An Introduction (T&T Clark/Continuum, 2010), 192pp.
About this book, the publisher tell us:
This is a general introduction to the theology of Irenaeus. Readers will find it comprehensive, informative, lucid, and elegantly written. It is especially welcomed by those able to read only English, for it is the first general book on Irenaeus to appear in English since 1959. The book is chiefly aimed at those approaching him for the first time, but it is based on the most recent scholarship and provides much help for those who wish to work on him as a more advanced level.
Denis Minns explains why Irenaeus, the 2nd-century theologian, deserves his place in history. He explains why, though unfamiliar in its primitiveness, the Christianity represented by Irenaeus is recognizably that of the Catholic Church. Minns takes account of the recent scholarly work on Irenaeus and his period which has been done in recent years, but this book is principally an introduction to the problems of reading him. It is aimed mainly at those approaching Irenaeus for the first time.
Before his sudden death, the Archpriest Robert Anderson, founder of the St. Irenaeus Mission Society, was going to review the Minns volume for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. We hope to see it reviewed later this year nonetheless alongside the Payton volume.

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