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Irenaeus of Lyon. Irenaeus against Heresies

Saint Irenaeus of Lyon was born in Asia Minor, in Smyrna or the vicinity of this city, around 0130 AD. At the beginning of his journey, he was a disciple of Saint Polycarp. A former disciple of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons is a Church Father and hierarch who, through his life and writings, witnessed to and defended Christian teaching in the face of Gnosticism and Montanism, the main heresies of the time. Irenaeus of Lyon was against heresy and wanted to demonstrate the true faith and right measure of Christianity. After the death of Bishop Potin of Lyon, he became his successor to the episcopal throne. His main ministries as bishop were preaching the Holy Gospel among the people of Gaul and fighting against heretics by word and writing.

Irenaeus of Lyon was the mediator, in 0190 AD, in overcoming the disagreements between Pope Victor I of Rome and the bishops of the East concerning the date of the celebration of Easter. Irenaeus wrote to the pope not to take things too far because the Easterners were right.

Who is Irenaeus of Lyon?

Irenaeus of Lyon was originally from Asia Minor. Among the fondest memories of his youth is his meeting with Polycarp of Smyrna, a holy bishop who was taught by eyewitnesses to the life of the Word, particularly by the Apostle John, who had established his headquarters in Smyrna. Through St Polycarp, Irenaeus was in close contact with the apostles. But then he left Asia Minor, spent some time in Rome, and finally settled in Lyons.

Irenaeus of Lyons was a disciple of Polycarp and a bishop of the Christian Church. Irenaeus of Lyon testifies that in addition to the teachings he received from Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, he had other teachers, whom he designates as immediate successors of the apostles. As for his cultural training in his youth, of Greek origin, this can only be seen from his writings. These works show a great familiarity with Greek poets and philosophers. Saint Irenaeus often quotes Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, and Plato.

In 0177 AD there was heavy persecution against the Christians, persecution which made many martyrs, but Irenaeus of Lyon was not among them, for he was just then in Rome, where he had been sent by the Christian community of Gaul, to discuss with Pope Elephtherius some doctrinal problems.

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Biography of Irenaeus of Lyon

Full name:Irenaeus of Lyon
Date of birth:0120/0140 AD
Death day:June 28, 0200/0203 AD
The thread of life:almost 90 years old
Place of birth:Smyrna, the modern city of Izmir in Turkey, Asia Minor
Father's name:Unknown Name
Mother's name:Unknown Name
Spouse:He was married but her name is not mentioned
Children:4
Physical appearance:tall in height, blond in his youth, handsome and slender. Eyes as black as an olive
Nationality:Turkish
Summary of life:He followed Polycarp closely and was his disciple and later spread the word of God throughout the world. And he died a worthy martyr.
Life lessons:If you serve the Lord with faith, the reward of life awaits you at the end of your journey. A martyr's death is worthy to receive Jesus.
Life accomplishments:He led the missionary work of converting the pagan peoples of southern Gaul, in a fairly large area around Lugdun.
Death cause:MARTYRDOM.
He was cut by a sword.

Places from the times of Irenaeus of Lyon

  1. The Aegean Sea- The exact location of The Sea
  2. France- Was France a biblical location?
  3. Izmir- Is Izmir in Turkey?
  4. Smyrna- Was Smyrna a safe location for Christians?

Irenaeus of Lyon

What is the Irenaeus of Lyons known for?

At the time of the persecution in Lyons, in 0177-0178 AD, the confessors here send St. Irenaeus a letter to the bishop of Rome, Eleuter, concerning the Montanist problem. On his return from Rome, Irenaeus of Lyon is elected bishop of Lugdun in place of Photinus, who suffered martyrdom.

Saint Irenaeus is known for being a disciple of Polycarp and wrote several letters and books against heresy. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote in his mother tongue, which is Greek. It contains several works, the titles of which have been handed down to us by Eusebius and Jerome. The young man was a convinced Christian and an assiduous listener at the feet of Saint Polycarp, as we read in one of his letters, addressed to Florin and preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea.

Irenaeus spent part of his childhood in Smyrna, near St. Polycarp, whose teachings and deeds he shared. He was a disciple of Polycarp, one of the greatest and most prestigious Apostolic Fathers. From Polycarp. Irenaeus learned an irreproachable orthodoxy, love for the Tradition, and rage against heresies.

What is the meaning of Irenaeus?

The Holy Martyr Irenaeus was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyon, France. He was a disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna, who in turn was a disciple of St John the Evangelist. And had Greek origins from his mother, this is why his name was from Greek ancient roots.

The name Irenaeus symbolizes peace and right faith. It is a derivative of the feminine form of the name “Irene”, which from the Greek symbolizes: peace, this beautiful name reminds us that peace is the most important thing between us, people, neighbors, nations, and peoples. So cruel and unnatural is war, so many lives needlessly cut short, so much pain. That is why every Christian must pray not only for his peace and that of his loved ones but also for the peace and well-being of all mankind, for we are all one big family.

His name was given for a purpose, to restore peace among the nations. His mother received in a dream a vision to name the child Irenaeus, for he would be a bringer of peace to the nations.

Did Irenaeus believe in Trinity?

Irenaeus of Lyon defined the divine revelation of the Old and New Testaments as having the purpose of not exposing all the mysteries of the Godhead. But of all the teachings necessary for man’s salvation, he tells us of the original acts of the Triune Persons only as: The Son was born of the Father and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons strongly believed in the Trinity because he preached Christ. And he maintained that He was indeed the Son of God from Panama. The Holy Trinity is the foundation of Christian teaching and faith in God. Belief in the dogma of the Holy Trinity distinguishes Christian teaching about God from other doctrines and conceptions, in the sense that only Christian teaching shows us that God works salvation in a man who comes to Christ.

He also maintains that to admit that there was a single, primordial God is to commit the ineptitude of applying the notion of our cosmic time. And material, created, to the eternal, immaterial, uncreated Divinity.

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Key Verse related to Irenaeus of Lyon

“He [Jesus] fought and conquered. On the one hand, he was a man who struggled for his fathers and through his obedience canceled their disobedience. On the other hand, he bound the strong one and freed the weak, and bestowed salvation on his handiwork by abolishing sin.

For he is our compassionate and merciful Lord who loves mankind… Again, had it not been God who bestowed salvation we would not possess it securely.”

― Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3

Read also: Who destroyed Jerusalem? Siege of Jerusalem, 70 AD

What did Irenaeus argue?

Saint Irenaeus the Martyr is mentioned as a martyr of the faith, although there is no evidence as to how he died, probably shortly after entering the third century. 

Saint Irenaeus argues that man’s greatest and most perfect knowledge is the knowledge of Christ. About the condition of being born again, the vocation, the Saviour reveals and teaches: Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. And again: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. During his lifetime, Saint Irenaeus wrote several theological works that confirm his words, such as:

  • “Adversus Haereses”
  • “Commentaries on the Apocalypse”
  • “Homilies on Saint Polycarp”
  • “Words on Faith”

The words of Irenaeus of Lyon the incarnation reveal this mystery brightly even portraying the words of Isaiah who sees prophetically: A swamp shall come forth from the stem of Jesse and a Lastar from his root shall give. And the Spirit of God will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and wisdom, the spirit of knowledge and good faith. And the spirit of the fear of God shall fill Him.

When did Irenaeus of Lyons write Against Heresies?

Heresy is a religious doctrine or belief that arises within a church, deviates from established dogma, and is condemned by that church. It is religious teaching that deviates from the authentic Christian faith and is therefore misguided and anti-Christian.

In 0142 AD Irenaeus wrote against heresies. Which were pagan sects trying to discover the truth for themselves. Believing they could maintain themselves. Even while the apostle John was still alive, there was already a form of Gnosticism that struck a blow with its writings and stopped those with false teachings. But at the time of the birth of Irenaeus of Lyon, around 0125 AD, the tide of heresy began again.

The devil, when he saw that his power had been destroyed by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, began to fight against the Church by a new method, the method of falsification. The word heresy is mentioned in the New Testament and is the Greek word hairesis, which can be translated as election, or grouping.

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Why did Irenaeus write Against Heresies?

The cause of all heresies was from the beginning the pride of man, who desires to make innovations. The proud man cannot bear to follow the Tradition of the Church, thinking that he can better interpret Holy Scripture. And so, cutting and hanging, denying and adding, he makes religion to suit himself.

According to apocryphal sources, Irenaeus of Lyon wrote against heresies because they were of false doctrine. Teaching that did not lead to Christianity. The danger of the sects is not in their number but rather in their destructiveness. The heresies were indirectly dealing with a mental imbalance and for people to have a break from their home environment. They were recruiting small child followers for their sects and had attempted to infiltrate the state, to hold power, and declare heresy the only proper dogma.

Irenaeus the Saint did not consider heretics good teachers of the law because they lied and had false teachings. Mental manipulation of followers. Centralization of power in the hands of a person with charismatic authority: a guru or ruling council. They had a pyramidal organization. And exclusive teaching: the only true one. 

What are the 4 heresies?

Heresy or heretical is religious teaching or belief that originates within the Church, deviates from established teaching, and is condemned by the Church. And even by the great martyrs of the Christian Faith.

According to Irenaeus’ categorization of heresies. They are divided into 4 broad categories:

  1. MONTANISM
  2. DOCETISM
  3. ADOPTIONISM
  4. DONATISM

Each of them can be understood better in the following lines. They are the forms of heresy that St. Irenaeus grouped in one of his writings.

Map legend

  1. Orange dots- the predominant states of the Christian religion.
  2. Signs with location- Heresies with dogmas of false faith.

1. The Montanism Heresy

The movement placed great emphasis on ecstatic revelations and prophecies. This heresy contained a movement of the prophetic and eschatological character, which appeared in Phrygia, around 0156 AD, under the leadership of Montanus, a former Phrygian priest converted to Christianity, who claimed that it was only in that historical period that the age of the Paraclete, the actual activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church, began.

Time of disappearance: 0500 AD.

The Montanist heresy was not accepted by the Church because of the curious nature of its charisms and the conception that questioned salvation by grace and forgiveness of sins after baptism. After the year 0500 BC, the Montanist movement disappeared.

2. The Docetism Heresy

This one is a heresy that arose in the second century, according to which Jesus Christ was not incarnate, but His body seen by men was only an opinion, an illusion. Proponents thus denied Christ’s humanity. The first mention of this school of thought appears in a letter of Bishop Serapion of Antioch around the year 0200.

Time of disappearance: the end of the first Christian millennium AD.

The heresy was opposed at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 0325 AD and largely disappeared by the end of the first Christian millennium.

3. The Adoptionism Heresy

This heresy was a movement anti-trinitarian. One that arose in Rome from Theodotus who preached that Jesus, born of a virgin, was adopted by God as His Son at the time of his baptism in the Jordan River. In this way, Jesus would have been chosen by God as Son because of his godliness to God’s will. Not that He came prepared as the Son of God.

Time of disappearance: the end of the second century AD.

Adoptionism was declared heresy at the end of the second century and was condemned at the Council of Antioch and the first ecumenical council of Nicaea.

4. The Donatism Heresy

This false heresy arose in the North African church in the fourth and fifth centuries around the dispute over the ordination of Christians who had repudiated the faith during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. Donatists believed that the mysteries administered by a compromised priest or bishop could not be true.

Time of disappearance: 7th-8th Centuries AD.

This heretical movement disappeared completely at the time of the Arab conquest in the 7th-8th centuries AD.

Curiosities

Protestantism was and still is, considered heresy by Roman Catholicism, which is valid according to ecclesiastical rules, but it cannot be called a sect from a sociological point of view, because there are societies that are themselves Protestant. So the Catholic Church will never use the term sect in the American context but will use it in Catholic Poland. 

Read also: Persecution of Christians in Rome. First martyrs of the Church of Rome

What is Irenaeus’ patron saint?

Irenaeus of Lyon remains a true witness to the faith in a period of heavy persecution: his field of activity was very wide if we consider that there is probably no other bishop in Gaul and the nearby lands of neighboring Germany. Since his mother tongue was Greek, he learned the barbarian languages to preach the Gospel to the Celtic peoples.

Saint Irenaeus is the patron of peace in the land of Greece. He blesses all the people who pass through Greece, thanks to his mother who was buried there. It is said that all tourists who go to Greece or the inhabitants indirectly receive the blessing of Irenaeus the Martyr of Faith.

With the same desire for peace as his patronage, this wise man intervened with the bishops of other Christian communities for the triumph of good understanding and unity by preserving the apostolic tradition to combat the rationalism of the Gnostic heresy.

Prayer to Saint Irenaeus

Saint Pothin, the worthy Bishop of Lyons, seeing his strength

dwindling below the number of years, asked for help from his brother in Smyrna,

who sent you to Gaul, where we sing to you:

Rejoice, the root of the Faith of the fathers,

Rejoice, the living stone of the Church;

So rejoice you who answered His call.

Rejoice, you who are the tree of the Church;

Hallelujah to God, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons.

Saint Pothin blessed the Apostles for your name’s sake.

AMEN.

Primary Takeaways

  • Saint Irenaeus claims that God is everywhere. He affirms that where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, all grace and truth.
  • Information about his life we have from the so-called Martyr Acts, documents drawn up after the trials of those who suffered for their faith.

Conclusion

Irenaeus, a man of peace and martyr of Christ is the initiator of those who wanted to remove from power the heresies. At the beginning of the 4th century AD, with the death of the priest Montanus and his wife Maxima, the bishop of the city, Irenaeus of Lyon, was arrested. According to his martyrdom record after his trial, Irenaeus was young and had a family and young children. Later, he died as a martyr of the faith. 

Read also: Origin of Trinity. Tertullian Trinity

If you enjoyed reading our article, play the following Quizlet to test your knowledge about Irenaeus. Have a good day and thank you for your time!

Quizlet about Irenaeus of Lyon

Trivia about Irenaeus of Lyon

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Who is Irenaeus?

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Where was Irenaeus from?

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After the death of Bishop ____ of Lyon, he became his successor to the episcopal throne.

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Irenaeus quotes from ___.

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What does the name of Irenaeus symbolize?

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He defended Christian teaching in the face of ______.

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Who was his teacher?

8 / 10

Who was Polycarp?

9 / 10

Polycarp, was by birth and growing up a son of the city of _____.

10 / 10

He was considered a by the Roman state because he was a Christian.

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Bibliography

  • Behr, J. (2013). Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity. OUP Oxford.
  • Farrow, D. (1995). St. Irenaeus of Lyons: The church and the world. Pro ecclesia4(3), 333-355.
  • Grant, R. M. (2006). Irenaeus of Lyons. Routledge.
  • Lashier, J. (2011). The Trinitarian Theology of Irenaeus of Lyons. Marquette University.
  • Osborn, E. (2001). Irenaeus of Lyons. Cambridge University Press.