Before I move on from Irenaeus, I want to address his beliefs in general, not just his view of apostolic succession. Roman Catholics claim him as one of their predecessors, and they often cite his alleged agreements with them. How likely is it that Irenaeus would agree with Catholic claims that doctrines like the sinlessness of Mary and Purgatory are apostolic traditions always held by the church and passed down in unbroken succession?
Not everything I'm going to mention below is meant to be a contradiction of Roman Catholic teaching. But it is worth noting if Irenaeus rejected a particular Catholic argument for a doctrine or didn't discuss the doctrine in contexts in which he might have mentioned it, for example.
In previous posts in this series, I discussed some of Irenaeus' beliefs that are problematic for Catholicism, such as his apparent ignorance of a papacy and the non-papal reasons he gave for believing in a form of Roman primacy. What I want to do in this post is address some examples not discussed earlier in this series.
Unlike many Roman Catholic clergymen, including many bishops and even some Popes, Irenaeus held a high view of the historicity of the Bible and its traditional authorship attributions. David wrote some of the psalms (Against Heresies, 1:14:8), John wrote 2 John (Against Heresies, 1:16:3), Isaiah wrote Isaiah 43 (Against Heresies, 3:6:2), Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Against Heresies, 4:2:3), etc. Irenaeus viewed scripture as perfect and harmonious (Against Heresies, 2:28:2-3), often referring to some of the most doubted passages of scripture as historical, a view of scripture widely rejected among modern Catholic clergymen and in Catholic scholarly circles. What would Irenaeus think of such Catholic leadership and the failure to correct and discipline the people involved in such errors?
He interpreted scripture as referring to a young earth (Against Heresies, 5:28:2-3, 5:29:2; Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching, 19).
He was a premillennialist (Against Heresies, 5:30:4). The historian Eric Osborn notes that premillennialism, which Catholicism has traditionally rejected, had a high place in Irenaeus' theology: "Millenarianism is for many a foreign body in the thought of Irenaeus, and only at the end of the fifth book [of Against Heresies] does this teaching emerge; but it is needed to fulfil the hope which springs from the recapitulation of all things....Irenaeus' eschatology is not an embarrassing postscript but a necessary consequence [of other theological concepts in Irenaeus' thinking]...chiliasm [premillennialism] is a prelude to incorruptibility" (Irenaeus Of Lyons [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], pp. 99-100, 139, 251).
Irenaeus refers to public confession of some sins (Against Heresies, 1:13:5, 1:13:7), but says nothing of the Catholic practice of private confession to a priest.
While some Catholics cite Luke 16:19-31 as evidence of Purgatory, Irenaeus thought the rich man in that passage was in Hell (Against Heresies, 2:24:4, 4:2:4-5). We know that Jesus went to Paradise on the day of His crucifixion (Luke 23:43), and Irenaeus refers to all believers going to the same place until the time of resurrection. He also identifies this place as the place where Paul went in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Irenaeus refers to all believers going to Paradise until the time of the resurrection (Against Heresies, 5:5:1, 5:31:2). Purgatory isn't just absent from his view of the afterlife. It's contradicted.
Roman Catholicism refers to the "urgency" of baptizing infants in order to be sure of their salvation, even though they might be saved apart from baptism (Catechism Of The Catholic Church, 1261). Irenaeus, however, seems to have believed in universal infant salvation, and not on the basis of baptism (Against Heresies, 4:28:3). (Concerning arguments for infant baptism in Irenaeus, see here.)
Jesus is referred to as Mary's "first-begotten" more than once (Against Heresies, 3:16:4; Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching, 39), a phrase that could refer to an only child, but is more naturally taken as a reference to the first of more than one. Eric Svendsen discusses some other passages in Irenaeus that likewise carry the implication that Mary ceased to be a virgin sometime after Jesus' birth (Who Is My Mother? [Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2001], pp. 101-102).
He says nothing of the sinlessness of Mary, but asks, "And who else is perfectly righteous, but the Son of God, who makes righteous and perfects them that believe on Him, who like unto Him are persecuted and put to death?" (Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching, 72) He interprets John 2:4 as a rebuke of Mary for her "untimely haste" (Against Heresies, 3:16:7).
Irenaeus writes about the power of God to deliver people from death, and he cites Enoch, Elijah, and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2) as illustrations of people who were "assumed" and "translated", but he says nothing of an assumption of Mary (Against Heresies, 5:5).
While Catholics often argue that the ark of the covenant is a type of Mary, Irenaeus sees the ark as a type of Jesus and says nothing of applying the concept to Mary as well (Fragments, 48).
He suggests that some slaves of Christian catechumens were ignorant in "imagining that it was actually flesh and blood" that Christians consume in the eucharist (Fragments, 13). Irenaeus describes the eucharist as consisting of two realities, one that comes from Heaven and another that's from the earth, just after referring to the preconsecrated bread as earthly (Against Heresies, 4:18:5). He refers to the eucharist as an example of drinking wine, the same substance that people will drink in Christ's future kingdom (Against Heresies, 5:33:1), after the eucharist has served its purpose (1 Corinthians 11:26). He does describe the eucharist in a manner that could be interpreted as referring to a physical presence of Christ, and all of the passages I've cited above would be consistent with a spiritual presence, but transubstantiation isn't the best explanation for his view. As Eric Osborn notes, Irenaeus has been interpreted in many different ways on this issue over the centuries (Irenaeus Of Lyons [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 134).
Revelation 5:8 is often cited in support of prayers to the dead, but Irenaeus sees the prayers in that passage as directed to God (Against Heresies, 4:17:6-4:18:1). He says nothing of praying to the dead or angels, but instead speaks of prayer as if it's something directed to God: "Nor does she [the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error....so did the Word give to the people that very precept as to the making of oblations, although He stood in no need of them, that they might learn to serve God: thus is it, therefore, also His will that we, too, should offer a gift at the altar, frequently and without intermission. The altar, then, is in heaven (for towards that place are our prayers and oblations directed)" (Against Heresies, 2:32:5, 4:18:6).
In the context of describing the erroneous beliefs and practices of heretics, Irenaeus disapprovingly mentions that they venerate images "after the same manner of the Gentiles". The way in which they venerate images is no different than what Roman Catholics do. No Roman Catholic would disapprove of venerating an image of Jesus this way, but Irenaeus does disapprove of it: "They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles." (Against Heresies, 1:25:6) It seems likely that Irenaeus was part of the ante-Nicene consensus against the veneration of images.