top of page

The Catholic Defender: Saint Irenaeus Declared a Doctor of the Church (Doctor of Unity)

Irenaeus was a Greek from Polycarp's hometown of Smyrna in Asia Minor, now İzmir, Turkey, born during the first half of the 2nd century. The exact date is thought to be between the years 120 and 140.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was brought up in a Christian family rather than converting as an adult.

During the persecution of Christians by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor from 161 to 180, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyon. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the faith, sent him in 177 to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning the heresy of Montanism.

Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyrSaint Pothinus and became the second bishop of Lyon.

The last action reported of him (by Eusebius, 150 years later) is that in 190 or 191, he exerted influence on Pope Victor I not to excommunicate the Christian communities of Asia Minor which persevered in the practice of the Quartodeciman celebration of Easter.

Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was said to have been tutored by John the Apostle.

Saint Irenaeus, one of the Fathers of the Church, fought against heresy, supported the Papacy, and even helped define Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the four Gospels. He was born probably about 125 to Christian parents living in Smynra, Asia, which is now Izmir in Turkey, an area that was home to many Christians.

Which are the best ones?" And Irenaeus, the leader of a church in France in about the year 170, declared that "The heretics boast that they have many more gospels than there really are.But really they don't have any gospels that aren't full of blasphemy. There actually are only four authentic gospels.

The glory of God is man fully alive.” St. Irenaeus

St Irenaeus showed how Jesus, the incarnate Word, is a meeting point between God and humanity. 'He revealed God to men and presented men to God' 'Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God'. The Son (Jesus) was with the Father (God) from the beginning.

The Church is fortunate that Irenaeus was involved in many of its controversies in the second century. He was a student, well trained no doubt, with great patience in investigating, tremendously protective of apostolic teaching, but prompted more by a desire to win over his opponents than to prove them in error.

When Irenaeus said that the human race is saved by a virgin, he meant that, as the one who said Yes, Mary revealed paradoxically both the finitude of her human nature and also the freedom with which she was endowed.

Up to the present time in the history of the church, four Marian doctrines have been defined as central Catholic truths by the Church: the Motherhood of God, the Immaculate Conception, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and her Glorious Assumption into heaven.

He also argued that God's creation was not inherently corrupt, as the Gnostics claimed, but rather, that human sin was responsible for evil in the world. Irenaeus had a gentle disposition and made his arguments out of a genuine concern for the souls of his opponents.

As bishop of Lyons he was especially concerned with the Gnostics, who took their name from the Greek word for “knowledge.” Claiming access to secret knowledge imparted by Jesus to only a few disciples, their teaching was attracting and confusing many Christians.

Irenaeus was an early father appealed to by Augustine on the doctrine of original sin, although he did not believe that Adam's sin was as severe as later tradition would hold and he was not wholly clear about its consequences.

After thoroughly investigating the various Gnostic sects and their “secret,” Irenaeus showed to what logical conclusions their tenets led. These he contrasted with the teaching of the apostles and the text of Holy Scripture, giving us, in five books, a system of theology of great importance to subsequent times. Moreover, his work, widely used and translated into Latin and Armenian, gradually ended the influence of the Gnostics.

In Gnosticism, Sophia is a feminine figure, analogous to the human soul but also simultaneously one of the feminine aspects of God. Gnostics held that she was the syzygy (female twin divine Aeon) of Jesus (i.e. the Bride of Christ), and Holy Spirit of the Trinity.

Gnostic cosmogony generally presents a distinction between a supreme, hidden God and a malevolent lesser divinity (sometimes associated with Yahweh of the Old Testament) who is responsible for creating the material universe.

Irenaeus also attacked the doctrine of predestination set out by Valentinus, arguing that it is unfair. For Irenaeus, humans were free to choose salvation or not. Justin Martyr attacked predestinarian views held by some Greek philosophers.

The circumstances and details about his death, like those of his birth and early life in Asia Minor, are not at all clear. However in 2022, Pope Francis named Saint Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church.

In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) quoted presbyters as saying that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself: "[T]hose who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city;

The classic source for ancient controversies regarding groups conventionally classified as gnostic is Adversus haereses (Latin: “Against Heresies”), a five-volume work written in Greek about 180 ce by the Christian bishop Irenaeus of Lyon. Originally titled “Exposure and Refutation of Knowledge

Irenaeus tells Marcianus that his goal is that 'you may be pleasing to God, your Creator' (Epid. 1). This could only be a proper goal if, in fact, the God (Father, Son, and Spirit) named at baptism is, in fact, the Creator.

c. 135–c. 202 Patron Saint of those who work for the unity of the Eastern and Western Churches Invoked against Christological heresies, and by apologists and catechists Pre-Congregation canonization Declared a Doctor of the Church (Doctor of Unity) by Pope Francis in 2022 Liturgical Color: Red

For the glory of God is a man fully alive; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God, which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God. ~Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.20.7

A deep and genuine concern for other people will remind us that the discovery of truth is not to be a victory for some and a defeat for others. Unless all can claim a share in that victory, truth itself will continue to be rejected by the losers, because it will be regarded as inseparable from the yoke of defeat. And so, confrontation, controversy and the like might yield to a genuine united search for God’s truth and how it can best be served.

Saint Irenaeus, you were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and you allowed that inspiration to guide you in your pastoral ministry, in which you led the Church away from error and into a deeper understanding of the Truth. Please pray for me, that I will never deviate from the truths handed down throughout the ages, beginning with the Scriptures and continuing today. May I always remain faithful as you were faithful so that I will come to a full knowledge of the full Truth given to us by God. Saint Irenaeus, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.


bottom of page