June 28: St. Irenaeus

The Universal Church celebrates today St. Irenaeus. While some of his most important writings have survived, the details of his life are not as well-preserved. He was born around the year 140. As a young man he heard the preaching of the early Bishop (and eventual martyr) Saint Polycarp, who had been personally instructed by the Apostle John. St. Irenaeus eventually became a priest, and served in the Church of Lyons (in the region of Gaul) during a difficult period in the late 170s. It was a time of intense persecution and doctrinal controversy.

In the course of his work as a pastor and evangelist, St. Irenaeus, the second Bishop of Lyon, came up against various heretical doctrines and movements, many of which sounded a common note in their insistence that the material world was evil and not part of God’s original plan. The proponents of these ideas often claimed to be more deeply “enlightened” or “spiritual” than ordinary Christians, on account of their supposed secret knowledge (or “gnosis”). The particular heresy he confronted most often was called “Gnosticism.”

One of the great gifts St. Irenaeus brought to the Church was his desire for peace. Rather than shunning or ostracizing those who had errant beliefs, he sought to convince them with the truth of the Gospel and draw them back into the fold. In our tumultuous times, we do well to pray for a similar spirit of peace and a willingness to work for it!

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