The religiously greatest of the three men I named is Irenaeus, who more than most of the people of his time, understood the spirit of Paul. You will recall that I said that already in the Apostolic Fathers, John and Matthew and the “catholic letters” were effective, but that Paul was not very much effective for that time any more.
Now a man came – Irenaeus – who again had a feeling for what Paul’s theology meant for the Christian Church. But it was not so much the doctrine with which Paul fought against Judaism – the doctrine of justification through faith by grace – but it was more the center of Paul’s own teaching, namely, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which was important for Irenaeus.
In some ways Irenaeus was nearer to the Protestant ideas of Christianity than most of early Catholicism. Nevertheless he was the father of early Catholicism and ultimately not a Protestant, insofar as this side of Paul – which I like to call the “corrective side” of Paul, namely the doctrine of justification by faith – was not in the center even of Irenaeus.