Saint of the Week: St. Irenaeus (June 28)
The writings of St. Irenaeus entitle him to a high place among the fathers of the Church, for they not only laid the foundations of Christian theology but, by exposing & refuting the errors of the gnostics, they delivered the Catholic Faith from the real danger of the doctrines of those heretics.
He was probably born about the year 125, in one of those maritime provinces of Asia Minor where the memory of the apostles was still cherished and where Christians were numerous. He was most influenced by St. Polycarp who had known the apostles or their immediate disciples.
Many Asian priests and missionaries brought the gospel to the pagan Gauls and founded a local church. To this church of Lyon, Irenaeus came to serve as a priest under its first bishop, St. Pothinus. In the year 177, Irenaeus was sent to Rome. When he returned to Lyons it was to occupy the vacant bishopric. By this time, the spread of gnosticism in Gaul was ravaging the Christians of his diocese. He produced a treatise in five books in which he exposed the errors of gnosticism’s various sects, and contrasted them with the teaching of the Apostles and Holy Scripture. His work, written in Greek but quickly translated to Latin, was widely circulated and succeeded in dealing a death-blow to gnosticism. From that time onwards, the heresy ceased to be a serious threat to the Catholic faith.
St. Irenaeus is believed to have died in 202. His bodily remains were buried in a crypt under the altar of what was then called the church of St. John, but was later known by the name of St. Irenaeus himself. This tomb or shrine was destroyed by the Calvinists in 1562, and all trace of his relics seems to have perished.