Irenaeus of Lyons on Baptism and Eucharist

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Joint Liturgical Studies 18

Selected texts with Introduction, Translation and Annotation

For liturgical scholars, the interest of the writings of Irenaeus can be expressed in his words from the treatise Against the Heresies IV.18.5: ‘our opinion agrees with
the eucharist, and the eucharist in turn confirms our opinion’. This is an early formulation of the viewpoint expressed later in the adage, ‘lex orandi lex credendi’, by which writers note the relation between the doctrine of the faith and the rites of worship.

Irenaeus was of the third generation of Christian teachers, who had known some of the disciples of the apostles and their companions. A presbyter of the church of Lyons, he became its bishop in succession to Saint Pothinus in 177/178 c.e. He died around 202 and is venerated as a martyr. His writings are essentially a defence against gnostic heresies of the rule of faith handed down by the elders, or in other words of the apostolic doctrine. What he says of sacramental rites is relatively sparse, but it is of interest on two scores. First, it gives some information about the rites and doctrine of eucharist and baptism in the early Christian centuries for which little exists by way of liturgical texts. Second, it shows where sacrament and the rule of faith relate to one another. Something will be said on both of these scores by way of conclusion, after a reading of the texts.

David N Power