Saint Irenaeus (125-202) was a Greek-born bishop and luminary of the early Christian Church. Irenaeus had witnessed the preaching of Saint Polycarp who in turn had heard John the Evangelist, one of the early Apostles according to Christian tradition.

A new saint to be declared a Doctor of the Church: Pope Francis is expected to proclaim Irenaeus a ‘Doctor of Unity’ – catholicnewsagency.com

As bishop of Lyons in Gaul Iranaeus wrote his most famous work Against Heresies, a fierce attack on Gnosticism.

In his writing against the Gnostics, who claimed to possess a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles and that the oral tradition he lists from the Apostles is a safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture.¹

The religion and philosophy scholar John Hick writes about the Irenaean Theodicy (Irenaeus’ defense of God’s goodness given the reality of evil) in his 1966 work Evil and the God of Love.

Along with Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, Hick’s book comprised a large part of my introduction to the whole idea of early Christian Gnosticism back when I was an impressionable undergraduate at Trent University, Peterborough.

John Hick (1922-2012)

Hick says that, according to Irenaeus, a soul freely choosing good over evil is more valuable than one that, if such a thing were possible, mindlessly enacts the good like an automaton.

Before the glory of souls freely cooperating with God comes about, sins will be committed and evil will manifest in this world. Put simply, souls need to learn and understand why choosing the good is the better option.

That is why God gave us free will and evil exists in our world. Freedom to choose and enact the good trumps both evil and the hypothetical scenario of mindless, robotic goodness.

Tradition has it that Irenaeus was martyred and beheaded in 202 or 203 CE by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. Like much of early Christianity, no definitive biographical evidence supports or refutes this belief.

Lucius Septimius Severus – Rome’s first African emperor

Related » Adam, Evil


¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

Compare to this 2011 Wikipedia entry (from my last revision of this entry):

In his writing against the Gnostics, who claimed to possess a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none were Gnostic — and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture.[29] He emphasized the unique position of the bishop of Rome.