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A: Lyon, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Irenaeus of Lyon Insists on Only Four Gospels

Circa 185 CE
Cambridge University library manuscript 4113 / Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 405. Irenaeus. Ca. 200 AD.
Writing by Irenaeus in Koine Greek. Cambridge University Library manuscript 4113 / Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 405. Circa 200 CE.

“Of the many gospels written in antiquity, exactly four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical. An insistence upon a canonical four, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyon,[Lugdunum in Gaul] c.185. In his central work, Adversus Haereses Irenaeus denounced various Christian groups that used only one gospel…as well as groups that embraced the texts of new revelations.…Irenaeus declared that the four he espoused were the four pillars of the Church: ‘it is not possible that there can be either more or fewer than four’ he stated, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds (1.11.8). His image, taken from Ezekial 1, of God’s throne borne by four creatures with four faces—‘the four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and the four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle’— equivalent to the ‘four-formed’ gospel, is the origin of the conventional symbols of the Evangelists: lion, bull, eagle, man. Irenaeus was successful in declaring that the four gospels collectively, and exclusively these four, contained the truth. By reading each gospel in light of the others, Irenaeus made of John a lens through which to read Matthew, Mark and Luke“ (Wikipedia article on Gospel, accessed 12-04-2008).

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