c. 125-c. 203
Born in Asia Minor, probably at Smyrna, he was well educated and probably knew and was influenced by men who knew the Apostles, especially St. Polycarp, who had been a pupil of St. John. According to Gregory of Tours, Polycarp sent him as a missionary to Gaul, where he was a priest under St. Pothinus at Lyons. Irenaeus was sent to Rome in 177 with a letter from his fellow Christians to Pope St. Eleutherius pleading for leniency to the Montanists in Phrygia. In Irenaeus' absence a violent persecution of Christians broke out at Lyons, claiming Pothinus as one of its Martyrs, and Irenaeus returned to Lyons in 178 as bishop. He was active in evangelizing the area around Lyons and was the fierce opponent of Gnosticism in Gaul, which he refuted in a five-book treatise, Adversus omnes haereses. He was successful in 190 in reconciling the Quartodecimans, who had been excommunicated by Pope Victor III for refusing to celebrate Easter on the date of Western usage adopted by Rome. Irenaeus was the first great Catholic theologian. His treatise against the Gnostics is witness to the Apostolic tradition and in it, at this early date, is a testimony to the primacy of the Pope.
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