St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. ca. 202)
If St. Paul is the first Christian theologian, Irenaeus is considered the founder of Christian theology. He eventually found his way to Lyons, France where there is a large church center. This gifted apologist and disciple of St. Polycarp, radiated Christ from every pore in his body. Irenaeus proclaimed the goodness of creation. For him, the reality of man and woman as God’s image is all important. Jesus Christ is the new Adam who renews all creation and leads it back to its author through the Incarnation and Redemption. Mary is the new Eve. The Church celebrates his feast day on June 28th.
Irenaeus refuted the error of Gnosticism. Its underlying tenets are found today in some New Age movements. Gnosticism dilutes the meaning of the Incarnation because it spiritualizes the body, intellectualizes holiness, and denigrates materiality. Having originated in the pagan world, Gnosticism insists that the human body is evil and the material world is irredeemable.
Therefore, it has to be re-engineered. Salvation, it asserts, comes only through knowledge (gnosis), and it is Jesus who brought this gnosis into the world. Accordingly, for Gnosticism, only the purely spiritual person, only the initiated will be saved. Contrary to this belief, God is a God of Agape and not of Gnosis. Irenaeus is one of the most important writers of the early Church because he remains in close touch with the apostolic age. A few of his popular aphorisms are quoted below:
“I have to become me, and that me has to become God. When I am not like God, I am not me.”
“The glory of God is man and woman fully alive, and the glory of man and woman is the vision (contemplation) of God.”
“The Eucharist makes (constitutes) the Church; the Church makes (constitutes) the Eucharist.”
“Jesus Christ on account of his measureless love became what we are that he might make us in the end what he is.” (Asking the Fathers, 22-23)
“Man is the receptacle of God’s goodness. If man and woman make themselves supple and malleable in the hands of the Divine Artist, God can make of them works of art.”
The Church celebrates the feast day of St. Irenaeus on June 28.
(Column continues below)
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Apologetics through Beauty
The notion of apologetics does not ring favorably with most Catholics. For one thing, standing up to anti-Catholicism in social, political, and cultural spheres can be intimidating. Even Catholic officials publicly contradict the Church’s teaching. Second, there is the fear element, fear of being ridiculed, fear of having one’s family publicly embarrassed. The weekly television program, “Blue Bloods” is one exception to this.
Third, because the Church is highly dogmatic, sacramental, and hierarchical in character, most Catholics do not feel adequately prepared to answer questions about their faith. Many fail to grasp the universal validity of the Church’s message. Consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church is probably the best catechetical aid in this regard.
Fourth, while many know about Christ, they lack close, direct, and personal familiarity with him in personal or liturgical prayer. Before Catholics can defend their faith to others, it must have permeated their lives.
Finally, the faith must be communicated as a message of beauty. Even before revealing himself as truth to man and woman, God revealed himself through the universal beauty of creation. Beauty is a power that can attract and overwhelm both child and scientist. All men and women aspire to transcendent beauty, which brings joy. Such an approach leaves a profound imprint on others.
Despite difficulties to a rebirth of apologetics—and there are many, as in the Early Church—St. Peter’s words are as relevant today as they were centuries ago: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you the reason for the hope you all have; but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1Pet 3:15). St. John of the Cross expresses only exuberance in this poetic proclamation addressed to the Father: