Academic journal article Theological Studies

Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity

Article excerpt

Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity. By John Behr. Christian Theology in Context. Oxford: Oxford University, 2013. Pp. xi + 236. $110.

Second-century studies have been undergoing a "Copernican revolution" over the past three decades. Our approaches to understanding early Christian self-identification have been shaken out of the historical-critical structures that have framed it for over two centuries and into hybridity: the search for ways to interpret Christ evolving among diverse Christian groups in diverse social contexts with different hermeneutical practices as they rub against one another. Behr captures this revolution in this closely argued volume. He draws especially on Irenaeus's Against Heresies (henceforth Haer.) and what survives in later quotations from his letters to liberate him from the confines of the standard attributes that mostly obscure his real contribution. B. thus allows Irenaeus to give voice to a "community of interpretation" in understanding a common hypothesis. The hypothesis is that the one God, Father and Creator, willed from the beginning that the human would finally become wholly God's own image and likeness, and established an all-encompassing economy for this purpose, to be effects by the Word and Spirit of God (77, 205). Most crucially for biblical interpretation, Irenaeus articulates the belief that the economic activity of this Word of God was already manifest in the OT (123).

Thus, in his usual lucid and succinct manner, B. organizes in a modest three chapters a volume that is profoundly researched and the product of mature thought about Irenaeus and his theological legacy. It thus admirably meets the series's goal to produce "well-researched yet accessible books" (cover).

B. first contextualizes our limited information for Irenaeus's life (chap. 1). To do this, he takes account of recent advances in understanding Polycarp, Papias, the Marcionites, Montanists, Valentinians, and second-century Rome. This part of his exposition appears very derivative, but his critical reading is attested in his notes, and his meticulous use of the work of Cornelius Hill, Peter Lampe, Christine Trevett, Einar Thomassen, and others attends carefully to Irenaeus's own texts. Emerging from this background, in contrast to many earlier studies, is a sophisticated Irenaeus, architect of church unity in Rome and Gaul, with powerful networks in Smyrna, the Rhone Valley, and Rome. These findings inform the ensuing discussion of Haer.

Analysis of the structure and contents of the five books of Haer. …

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