Irenaeus of Lyons: Take part

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I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different teachings and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-5

“From the beginning God created man out of His own generosity. He chose the patriarchs to give them salvation. He took his people in hand, teaching them, unteachable as they were, to follow Him. He gave them prophets, accustoming man to bear His Spirit and to have communion with God on earth… In so many ways He was training the human race to take part in the harmonious song of salvation… He kept calling them to what was primary by means of what was secondary, that is, through foreshadowings, to the reality, through things of time to the things of eternity, through things of the flesh to things of the Spirit, through earthly things to the heavenly things.”

Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202) in Against Heresies as recounted Milton Walsh in Witness of the Saints: Patristic Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012) 188.

There is so much in this reading from Irenaeus, who was discipled by Polycarp, who was discipled by the Apostle John. Let’s unpack it section by section.

God’s generosity to humankind goes all the way back to creation. He took His people by the hand and taught them, though they (like us today) were unteachable. Why teach and train them then or teach and train people now.

This is the part that relates to our generosity. God teaches and trains us for a purpose. It is to “take part in the harmonious song of salvation” both then and now. We are blessed to be a blessing.

Think about this in light of the person saying it, a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.

God shows His glory by what we can see, by what is secondary. We see His gifts everywhere. But the gifts are not the end. The Giver is the primary and the One that the secondary gifts point us to. So John taught Polycarp who taught Irenaeus, who teaches us to take part.

Let us use the secondary things as good stewards and take part in the song of salvation so people come to know and love the primary. The God of creation and the One who accomplished our redemption.

Don’t be unteachable. Take part in the harmonious song of salvation with what you have.