The Apostolic Fathers
Key words and definitions –
Apostolic Fathers – The earliest Christian writers outside of the New Testament.
Episcopacy – is the government of a church by bishops.
Congregational Episcopacy – A bishop in charge of each church.
Diocesan Episcopacy – A bishop was in charge of the churches and their leaders in each ‘diocese.’
Episcopal Succession – Ministry of the church is derived from the Apostles.
Little is known about the early life of Ireneaus. Most scholars claim he was born in Smyrna, although the dates of his birth and death have been widely debated. (Vreeland, 2005)
As a boy, he sat under the teachings of Polycarp; who was a disciple of the Apostle John. It is very evident from his writings that Ireneaus was influenced by Polycarp, “I can tell you the very place were the blessed Polycarp use to sit when he preached his sermons.”
His connection to Polycarp puts Ireneaus in a special category. Ireneaus was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John, who indeed was a disciple of Jesus himself.
Some time during Ireneaus’ early life, he moved to Lyons in the South of France. At the time, Lyons was the capital of the Roman occupied France. The church in Lyons was planted by missionaries from Asia Minor.
During the 170’s, Ireneaus became a presbyter at the church in Lyons. The bishop, Potinthis was martyred during 178-179 AD during a time of persecution in Lyons. As such, Ireneaus was installed as the second bishop of Lyons.
In earlier literature from Ignatius, we see that episcopacy was congregational; one bishop in charge of each church. However, in Irenaeus’ writings, episcopacy seems to be more diocesan; a bishop was in charge of the churches and their leaders in his ‘diocese’
In Irenaeus’ writings we find the idea of Episcopal Succession, “… for to the bishops the apostles entrusted the care of the church in each place, which has come down to our...