The Catholic Church’s ritual calendar celebrates St. Irenaeus of Lyons on June 28 th. Born in 130, Irenaeus was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. This means that St. Irenaeus had a connection to the apostolic Church. He became the bishop of Lyons and was a mentioned theologian, who attacked the church against numerous rampant heresies in his voluminous succeed Adversus Haereses, in addition to providing his other writings including the Presentation of the Apostolic Preaching. His theological writings made a major contribution to the theological heritage and are still used to this day. Not only did he make a contribution to theology at large, but his writings tell us a lot about Mary in the early days of the Church and still influence our thoughts about her today.
Here are a few quick Marian realities about St. Irenaeus.
1. The Father of Mariology
While Francisco Suarez is noted as the Father of Systematic Mariology, many have called St. Irenaeus the early Father of Mariology. In his use of the scriptures, Irenaeus is the first to make a significant contribution to the study of Mary, opening his recognition as one of the first Mariologists. Frederick Jelly, O.P. noted in his classical Mariological verse Madonna “with[ Irenaeus ], Mariology was given birth”( 71 ).
Previous written citations to Mary indicated her relationship to Christ as damsel and father. Other Apostolic Fathers( e.g. St. Ignatius of Antioch) and Apologist( e.g. Justin Martyr) realized notes to the Blessed Virgin, but none developed such a systematic view of Mary’s contribution in saving history.
2. The Early Church Thought About Mary
In his direct, A Complete Mariology, C.X.J.M. Friethoff, O.P. is to say that the “oldest depositions we retain of habit arrange Mary in an antithetic latitude with Eve, and therefore call her the New Eve”( 33 ). Three early writers made reference to the New Eve: Justin Martyr (d. 165 ), Irenaeus of Lyons( d. 202 ), and Tertullian( d. 222 ). For Friethoff, this was an important distinction because it intended the notion of Mary as New Eve embraced three continents respectively–Europe( Rome ), Asia, and Africa.
Some have noted the importance of ensuring Justin Martyr’s reference to the Eve/ Mary similarity because he was not far removed from the actual events of atonement, that is, the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Freithoff concludes that readers of Irenaeus, Justin, or Tertullian presumably known about the Eve-Mary parallel because they do not expound upon it, they presuppose its lore among the faithful. As such, he being of the opinion that the New Eve was a part of the early proclamation of the truth in the nascent Church. And if this is indeed true, Irenaeus would have received the teaching from either John or Polycarp. John Henry Newman believed that Irenaeus’ use of Mary as the New Eve is the first musing about her and her mission in the Church which shall be granted to us by the Church Fathers.
3. Mary is the Vanquisher of Heresies
Mary is often called the destroyer or vanquisher of heresies. This is one way Irenaeus exerts the Blessed Mother in his writings. In the early Church, some heresies accepted the Old Testament. In using Eve-Mary, Irenaeus demonstrates the continuity of the Old Testament with the New Testament, thereby refuting the Gnostic heresy. The two examples once quoted contextualize the work of Irenaeus. It was from these contexts in which his Mariological contributions developed. His understanding of Mary within salvation biography, through the Incarnation, instantly refutes the heresies prevalent at his time.
4. Irenaeus Lays the Groundwork for Marian Co-Redemption
Mariology in the 20 th and 21 st century has checked a great divide over Mary’s role in emancipation. At its stature in the early 1900 ’s, Cardinal Mercier sought a fifth Marian dogma calling Mary the Co-Redemptirx and Mediatrix of All Grace. The move stopped in wake of Vatican II when the Council chose to incorporate the role of Mary within Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium, but has met force with digits such as Dr. Mark Miravalle and Monsignor Calkins.
Marian Co-Redemption is greatly misunderstood by numerous in the Church of today because the word “co” seems to connote equal to, whereas it means to cooperate. Irenaeus made this very clear in his writing by the use of two different Greek words–one used for the role of Christ as savior and redeemer, and a second for the role of Mary in the active, immediate, and subordinate succeed of redemption.
5. A Foundation for the Devotion Mary, Undoer of Bow
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has promoted a devotion to Mary announced “Mary, Untier( or Undoer) or Knots.” The decorate by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner represents Mary untying a string of braids and was commissioned in thanksgiving for Mary’s assistance in a troubled wedlock. Besides the agitated wedding, Irenaeus can help us understand a deeper meaning for the devotion.
St. Irenaeus writes in Adversus Haereses the following: “And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was released by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” Mary’s obedience and faith ruins the knots of Eve’s disobedience and unbelief. In Mary we experience the perfection of goodnes because she is the sinless one. Her example of the qualities offers an opportunity to destroy the many evils of “peoples lives”, and not only that she can will assist us with her prayers.
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