Studies in Irenaeus: Against Heresies, (Five Volumes).
Book I. Review, Part 1.

Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons

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Studies in Irenaeus: Against Heresies, (Five Volumes).
Book I. Review, Part 1.

Copyright © April 6, 2012 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

I am currently reading the tractates of Irenaeus, one of the earliest Church Fathers. To be specific, I am reading his five volume Against Heresies, a huge work consisting of 615 pages in a PDF file. Irenaeus was chiefly concerned with the Gnostic heresies that entered the Church shortly after the apostolic period. He begins with a thorough examination of Gnosticism as a group of pagan doctrines that entered the Church very early in her history. Gnosticism challenged every aspect of the true Biblical revelation of who Jesus is and how God is involved in man's salvation. Most will find Irenaeus' writing is dry history and theology that is hard to read and has little relationship to the next 1800 years of Church history. What I have read so far may prove the prior criticism true, but regarding the latter, Irenaeus is invaluable. Irenaeus thoroughly describes the worst "Christian" errors of all time; errors that have persisted in varying forms down to our own times. Two of the most formidable cults that exist today are easily discoverable in Irenaeus before they even existed in their later more defined forms. Those are the Roman Catholic cult of Mary-worship on the one hand, and the cult of Islam on the other. Both of these modern heresies are direct descendents of the Gnostic heresies described so aptly by Irenaeus.

We may easily discover a relationship between ancient Gnostic heresies and quite a few modern ones. Mormonism, for instance, seems to be adequately described in this passage from Irenaeus:

When all the seed shall have come to perfection, they state that then their mother Achamoth shall pass from the intermediate place, and enter in within the Pleroma, and shall receive as her spouse the Saviour, who sprang from all the Ćons, that thus a conjunction may be formed between the Saviour and Sophia, that is, Achamoth. These, then, are the bridegroom and bride, while the nuptial chamber is the full extent of the Pleroma. The spiritual seed, again, being divested of their animal souls, and becoming intelligent spirits, shall in an irresistible and invisible manner enter in within the Pleroma, and be bestowed as brides on those angels who wait upon the Saviour.

Mormonism is nothing more than a modern reinterpretation of ancient Gnosticism.

There are many translations of the text of Irenaeus. The last quoted was from Philip Schaff's translation, Book I, Ch vii. I quote it because I am not able to copy and paste the version I am reading, which is Harvard College version of John Keble's translation with notes (1873).

Some will wonder what the relevance of Irenaeus' hard to read defense against Gnosticism has to do with modern Christianity. I will take it to a personal level only this once and then go on to more important matters. I experienced personal salvation in Jesus Christ as a young teen, but soon fell away because of the cares of this world and lusts of the young flesh. Soon I became enamored by the philosophies of the East and came to know several people involved in mystical practices that grew out of experimentation with LSD, similar to my own. One of these individuals, who eventually married my best friend's sister, was deeply involved in astral projection. He warned me that in his spiritual travels he once encountered demiurges (demonic spirits) that tried to prevent him reentering his body so that they could kill him. All of what he spoke to me was very similar to the Gnostic heresies which Irenaeus describes. Irenaeus was not just warning the Church about doctrinal heresies, but about spiritual agents that literally hope to take our lives away from the simplicity of the gospel, and ultimately bring us into eternal damnation along with them.

Irenaeus' first book discusses not only doctrinal errors, but social and ethical failings of the heretics. For instance, he critiques the false use of the gift of prophesy, wherein many women of higher social strata were deceived by the false prophet Mark (obviously not the Biblical author). He encouraged the women to pronounce revelations based upon their own fleshly lusts. Many of these women were later drawn into lascivious relations with him generally because their social rank could benefit him. Women that had little financial wherewithal were not encouraged or considered prophetically.

Other women who's hearts were committed to God alone, rejected the directions of the false prophet Mark. Despite Mark’s demands on their gifts, they would only prophesy at the direction of the Spirit of God, rather than subjecting their spiritual gifts to the direction of that false prophet. They would "speak where and when God willeth, and not when Mark directs." Generally, the prophetic gifts, especially coming from a woman, were subordinated to the will of the male leader within Gnostic Churches.

Irenaeus describes in this first book how Gnostic falsehoods gradually invaded the true Church of God. Many believers were seduced by them but gradually drifted away from their extremism. Some returned to the true faith of the apostles, but many more, having been swallowed up in their errors, forsook Christ altogether and returned to the world. Many of these Gnostic heresies, like weeds, became established positions of the early Church as well as the basis of Catholic doctrine in the Western and Eastern Churches. As I said earlier, much of Gnostic thought also became the foundation for Islam as we now understand it.

Irenaeus may have been the greatest surveyor of the early cults that influenced the Christian world of his times. As a fore-runner of modern anti-cult writers, he may possibly have been the strongest opponent of cultism of all times. He reveals many, if not most, of the errors that entered the Church before Constantine the Great legalized Christian worship. There is little doubt that Irenaeus defended the early Church, and her apostolic foundations against a growing tide of apostasy. Irenaeus, despite his short-comings, was likely the closest exponent of apostolic Christian doctrine that we have access to in our own time. It is time for the Church to reevaluate his contributions, with an understanding that what he was criticizing then, survives today as variations of the ancient heresies. Unless we return to the Bible alone as our source, the Church will remain in Babylonian captivity to Romanism and Islam, the one venerating the Queen of the Heavens as a demiurge deity, and the other worshipping a hateful god who has no concern for his own creation.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the You may contact him at


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