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Tag: Eusebius of Caesarea

Peter of Alexandria (and Balsamon and Zonaras)

Peter of Alexandria

We are now on our second of three days reading Peter of Alexandria. Peter of Alexandria was was Bishop of Alexandria from 300 to 311; his episcopate thus covered the Diocletianic Persecution, also called the Great Persecution — that last, great persecution of Christians by the Roman imperial powers that would leave an indelible mark upon the church’s identity and self-image ever after.

Eusebius, in Book 8.10 of the Ecclesiastical History, gives a description of the persecution in Alexandria from an eyewitness named Phileas:

And the spectacle of the outrages was varied and exhibited great malignity. For some, with their hands bound behind them, were suspended on the stocks, and every member stretched by certain machines. Then the torturers, as commanded, lacerated with instruments2542 their entire bodies; not only their sides, as in the case of murderers, but also their stomachs and knees and cheeks. Others were raised aloft, suspended from the porch by one hand, and endured the most terrible suffering of all, through the distension of their joints and limbs. Others were bound face to face to pillars, not resting on their feet, but with the weight of their bodies bearing on their bonds and drawing them tightly.

6. And they endured this, not merely as long as the governor talked with them or was at leisure, but through almost the entire day. For when he passed on to others, he left officers under his authority to watch the first, and observe if any of them, overcome by the tortures, appeared to yield. And he commanded to cast them into chains without mercy, and afterwards when they were at the last gasp to throw them to the ground and drag them away.

7. For he said that they were not to have the least concern for us, but were to think and act as if we no longer existed, our enemies having invented this second mode of torture in addition to the stripes.

8. “Some, also, after these outrages, were placed on the stocks, and had both their feet stretched over the four2543 holes, so that they were compelled to lie on their backs on the stocks, being unable to keep themselves up on account of the fresh wounds with which their entire bodies were covered as a result of the scourging. Others were thrown on the ground and lay there under the accumulated infliction of tortures, exhibiting to the spectators a more terrible manifestation of severity, as they bore on their bodies the marks of the various and diverse punishments which had been invented.

9. As this went on, some died under the tortures, shaming the adversary by their constancy. Others half dead were shut up in prison, and suffering with their agonies, they died in a few days; but the rest, recovering under the care which they received, gained confidence by time and their long detention in prison.

10. When therefore they were ordered to choose whether they would be released from molestation by touching the polluted sacrifice, and would receive from them the accursed freedom, or refusing to sacrifice, should be condemned to death, they did not hesitate, but went to death cheerfully. For they knew what had been declared before by the Sacred Scriptures. For it is said,2544 ‘He that sacrificeth to other gods shall be utterly destroyed,’2545 and, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’

However, as we see in the readings from Peter, not everyone withstood persecution so well. These people are the lapsed, much discussed several decades earlier in St Cyprian of Carthage’s works. Peter’s discipline for the lapsed in his Canons represents the standard line of what would be the mainstream tradition, that different offenders or kinds of lapse require different severities or lengths of penance and excommunication before restoration to fellowship, and clerics who lapse are to be cut off from ministry ever after.

Theodore Balsamon

Along with the canons of Peter, we find commentary by Balsamon and Zonaras. Theodore Balsamon (c. 1130 to after 1195) was Patriarch of Antioch (although he stayed in Constantinople), hegoumenos of Blachernai and the monastery called to Zipon, and a major canonist; that is, he compiled documents pertinent to canon law and commented on them, particularly those of the Nomokanon in Fourteen Titles which is the main source of Byzantine canon law, including many texts otherwise now lost and seeking to revise statements that were contradictory or obsolete. Interestingly, this is the same period as Gratian in the West and some of the major Latin canonists, as well.


Zonaras (d. after 1159) was a historian, theologian, canonist, and court official under Emperor Alexius I (1048-1118). After the death of Alexius, Zonaras left the civil service and became a monk at the monastery of St Glykeria. Besides writing commentaries on a number of sources for canon law, he also wrote an Epitome Historion, running from creation to death of Alexius in 1118. His perspective on running the empire was based on the Roman ideal of bureaucracy and officialdom, thus of meritocracy, over against the more feudal or “seigneurial” style of Alexius.

Introducing Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus of Lyons

Because this introduction is something of a long read, I am posting it a day in advance. Tomorrow, January 12, we begin On the Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge/Gnosis, commonly known as Against the Heresies, by Irenaeus of Lyons. This is the longest work we’ve encountered, and it is dense. The introduction will be a bit fuller as a result. Because of the difficulties many have in reading this work, each of the five books will have a brief introduction of its own as we progress through the work, although Book 1 will get its introduction as part of today’s general introduction.

We shall consider Irenaeus’ life, his works, the main themes and famous parts of Against the Heresies, and the structure of the work before listing translations and other works for further reading. Today’s post is very long for Internet reading, so feel free to skip along through the headings of the sections below to what interests you. But I do hope that if you read the whole post, you will be better equipped to appreciate Irenaeus.

The life of Irenaeus

Irenaeus was not from Lyons. Like many early theologians and Christian philosophers, Irenaeus was from Asia Minor. He lived from around  AD 120 to around 200. Before leaving his homeland, he heard Polycarp of Smyrna preach. He was a presbyter (priest) among the Christian community at Lyons by 177, at which time he represented the community on a trip to Rome.

The context of this visit to Rome was the martyrdom of many Christians at Lyons, as recounted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1-3. Irenaeus was to become bishop of Lyons, where he lived, as he himself notes, among people of a barbaric tongue. However, given that he had come on established trade routes to a major city of Gaul, and given that he writes in Greek for a Greek audience (probably in Rome), Lyons is probably not as much of a backwater as it may sound — although it may have felt that way, sometimes!

Works of Irenaeus

None of Irenaeus’ works survives entire in the original Greek. Besides Against the Heresies, Irenaeus wrote a surviving work entitled Proof of the Apostolic Preaching which survives for us in an Armenian translation, coming to the West only in 1904. According to John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, this work was written after books 1 and 2 of Against the Heresies but before the rest (p. 69). This work is an abridgement of Irenaeus’ anti-heretical theology as found in Against the Heresies. He also wrote now-fragmentary letters of an indeterminate number, dealing with questions such as the sole sovereignty of God, schism, the Ogdoad, and the date of Easter.

Against the Heresies survives complete only in a Latin translation, although a number of Greek fragments do exist as quotations elsewhere. It is a work in five books, as the original title shows, against ‘so-called knowledge’ — against groups that would come to be considered ‘Gnostic’. It was written at various stages when Irenaeus was bishop of Lyons, probably with an audience in Rome. This work was known to Eusebius who quotes from it frequently in the original Greek.

Main themes and famous parts of Against the Heresies

Obviously, a main theme of Against the Heresies is the definition of orthodoxy and true knowledge against that of the false teachers whom Irenaeus has encountered. Based on his descriptions of his opponents’ teaching, we can see that Irenaeus had access to certain original ‘Gnostic’ documents, particularly of the local Ptolemaeans of Gaul, as well as some second-hand documents by other (proto-)orthodox Christians.

As a result of his focus on the Gnostic movement and his opposition to it. one of the main themes that runs through Irenaeus’ work is how to define orthodoxy and where the authority for making such a definition lies. Thus, Irenaeus is one of our earliest witnesses for the ‘rule of faith‘, for statements that are essentially credal. One such example from Irenaeus is found at Against the Heresies 1.10.1:

The Church, indeed, though disseminated throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples the faith in one God the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth and the seas and all things that are in them; and in the one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was enfleshed for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets preached the Economies, the coming, the birth from a Virgin, the passion, the ressurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, and His coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to recapitulate all things, and to raise up all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus our Lord and God, Savior and King, according to the invisible Father’s good pleasure … (Trans. Unger and Dillon, Ancient Christian Writers series)

He is also one of our earliest witnesses for Apostolic Succession — the idea that Christian truth has been handed down in an unbroken succession from the Apostles to this day through bishops, and these bishops are the people with the authority to teach in the church and to lead the church.

Furthermore, Irenaeus is an early witness to the fourfold Gospel — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — to which he allows no additions, such as the various gospels associated with the Gnostic movements.

All of these things for which he is famous as one of the earliest expositors are in this book as part of his anti-Gnostic arsenal.

Irenaeus is also famous as an exponent of Christus Victor atonement theology, also called the Classic View (or, as in Gustav Aulén’s book Christus Victor,  theClassic Idea). To quote Aulén:

It is the Word of God incarnate who overcomes the tyrants which hold man in bondage; God Himself enters into the world of sin and death, that He may reconcile the world to Himself. Therefore Incarnation and Atonement stand in no sort of antithesis; rather, they belong inseparably together. …

The work of atonement is … depicted in dramatic terms, as a conflict with the powers of evil and a triumph over them. This involves a necessary doublesidedness, in that God is at once the Reconciler and the Reconciled. His enmity is taken away in the very act in which He reconciles the world unto Himself. (Christus Victor, 50-51)

An aspect of this atonement theology in Irenaeus is anakephalaiosis, or recapitulation, made popular amongst evangelicals by Robert E. Webber’s book Ancient-Future Faith. This is the idea that Christ, in reconciling the world to God, is the second Adam, and he lives a full human life, his divine life cutting through human life, of eternity intersecting history. Through his holiness, divinity, and obedience, Christ recapitulates Adam and sets the whole human race free from bondage.

Sometimes this presentation of Christus Victor is misunderstood, and people think that Irenaeus has no room in his atonement theory for the cross. This is not true. It precisely on the cross and through his death that Jesus takes on and conquers the forces of evil.

Irenaeus summarises the theology of Against the Heresies in the final sentence of the work (as noted by John Behr):

For there is the one Son, who accomplished His Father’s will; and one human race also in which the mysteries of God are wrought, which the angels desire to look into; (1 Peter 1:12) and they are not able to search out the wisdom of God, by means of which His handiwork, confirmed and incorporated with His Son, is brought to perfection; that His offspring, the First-begotten Word, should descend to the creature (facturam), that is, to what had been moulded (plasma), and that it should be contained by Him; and, on the other hand, the creature should contain the Word, and ascend to Him, passing beyond the angels, and be made after the image and likeness of God. (Book 5.36.3; trans. ANF 1)

Structure of Against Heresies

Against the Heresies is divided into two main sections of unequal length. The first section is books 1 and 2, which focus on the Gnostic movement. The second section is books 3-5, a presentation of orthodoxy. John Behr writes:

If readers make it to book three, where Irenaeus begins an exposition of his own theology, many of the elements that he discusses are now so familiar to those who know something of Christian theology that, paradoxically, he is … a difficult figure to read because, laying all this out so fully for the first time in the history of Christian theology, he does so according to his own rationale, rather than the ‘logical’ order of Christian theology we might expect to see, and so he can … appear rather inept. (Irenaeus of Lyons, 73)

Book One – The teachings of Irenaeus’ opponents

Book Two – Why Irenaeus’ opponents are wrong

Book Three – Proofs from the Scriptures

Book Four – The teachings of Christ

Book Five – The apostolic epistles

Structure of Book One (from Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 85)

Book One: Refutation/Exposure of the Valentinians


I. The ‘Ptolemaean’ hypothesis (haer. 1.1-12)
Pleroma (haer. 1.1-3)
Creation (haer. 1.4-5)
Human beings (haer. 1.6-7)
Their use of Scripture (haer. 1.8-9)

II. The Ecclesial Rule of Truth and the Genealogy of the Valentinians (haer. 1.10-21)
The Rule of Truth (haer. 1.10)
The teaching of Valentinus and his followers on the Pleroma haer. 1.11-16)
Their teaching on the creation (haer. 1.17-19)
Their use of Scripture (haer. 1.20)
Their redemptive practices (haer. 1.21)

III. The Ecclesial Rule of Truth and the Genealogy of the Heretics (haer. 1.22-28)
The Rule of Truth (haer. 1.22)
The succession of the heretics (haer. 1.23-28)
The ‘Gnostics’ (haer. 1.29-1.31.2)

Conclusion (haer. 1.31.3-4)



Besides the translation of Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, to which we will link on the daily readings page. you can also find an English translation of books 1-3 with annotations in three volumes for Ancient Christian Writers:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies. Volume 1: Book 1. Translated and annotated by Dominic J. Unger, revised by John J. Dillon.  Ancient Christian Writers 55. New York: Paulist Press, 1992.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies. Volume 2: Book 2. Translated and annotated by Dominic J. Unger, revised by John J. Dillon. Ancient Christian Writers 63. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies. Volume 3: Book 3. Translated and annotated by Dominic J. Unger, revised by John J. Dillon and M. C. Steenberg. Ancient Christian Writers 64. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.


The only major translation I know of in French is that of Sources chrétiennes. It is a multilingual edition, using Greek alongside Latin where available, and with copious notes, thus stretching Against the Heresies into 10 volumes, edited by A. Rousseau, L. Doutreleau, C. Mercier, and B. Hemmerdinger, in volumes 100, 152, 153, 210, 211, 263, 264, 293, and 294. If you have access to a university library, this may be nice, mais …

There is another translation online, but I have no bibliographical details for it.  It is part of Lire le Pères (what a nice title!).

Other languages coming soon…

I promise to make a post about Spanish when I have a chance to find a Spanish translation…

Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260 – c. 341) was the most significant of the early historians of the church. His Ecclesiastical History was a chronicle of Christianity from Jesus to Constantine’s success in taking over the Roman Empire. Eusebius himself played a role in the most significant event of Christianity in the fourth century. As the bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius was one of the leaders of the semi-Arian party. He wrote about the events of his own day in his Life of Constantine. As historian and participant, Eusebius was vital to the transition of the Christian church from proscribed sect to dominant religion.

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