Irenaeus was a highly influential writer, bishop, and theologian of the early Church. Born in Asia Minor, he was a student of St. Polycarp, who had known some of the apostles. This link with apostolic tradition became important in his later work. Irenaeus traveled to Gaul and was ordained a priest in Lyon. He later became bishop there and around 180 wrote an important work, Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies.) The Church in Gaul had been troubled by the false teachings of the Gnostics, who were confusing people. They claimed to have secret knowledge and rejected Christian teachings. In his 5-volume book, Irenaeus detailed where the Gnostics went wrong. He explained Christian teachings in light of Scripture and the apostolic tradition, underlining that the true teaching was passed on through the bishops in the Church. Except for another book called Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, his other writings have been lost.
Irenaeus is also an important figure in Marian teaching, being one of the first theologians to develop the parallel between Eve and Mary. He saw Mary’s role as the New Eve, undoing the damage from the original sin and cooperating in the redemptive work of Christ.
The name Irenaeus means “man of peace,” and although he was involved in controversies, Irenaeus was a peacemaker. He persuaded Pope Victor I to lift a ban of excommunication that had been imposed on some Eastern Christians who didn’t accept the Western date for Easter. The pope agreed and this matter was resolved amicably.
St. Irenaeus, intercede for us that we too may be peacemakers and seek unity. Pray that those who turn to violence to achieve their goals may be converted to the way of love, and follow Jesus who taught us to love one another.