Who is Saint Irenaeus?

The Glory of God is Man fully Alive!

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. Irenaeus enjoyed a rich education, studying the Scriptures as well as Greek philosophy and literature. More importantly, he associated with men who had actually known the Apostles. The words of St.Polycarp, who had known John the Evangelist, left a lasting impression on Irenaeus.


As a young priest, Irenaeus was sent to the city of Lyons in Gaul (France) to serve under its first Bishop, St. Pothinus. Irenaeus quickly earned the respect of the local clergy and eventually became the second Bishop of Lyons.


A period of peace allowed Bishop Irenaeus time to pursue his pastoral duties and to encourage missionary work in the surrounding towns of Gaul. It also allowed Irenaeus time to write. A prolific writer, most of his work has been lost; however, two remain. The first work, a treatise in five books, is titled “Adversus Haereses” or “Against Heresies." It is here that we find Irenaeus’ much beloved quote The Glory of God is Man fully Alive.


A copy of Irenaeus’ other remaining work, “The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” was discovered around 1904. Very similar to “Adversus Haereses,” it continues Irenaeus’ passion but also adds a more practical guidance for those newly converted.


Popular at Irenaeus’ time was a regional choice of which Gospel was preferred. Some areas liked John while other areas might prefer Matthew or Mark or Luke. In fact, use of the Fourfold Gospel was rare. Irenaeus asserted that four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - were canonical to Scriptures and all four were important.


Around 203 Irenaeus died and his body was buried under the altar of St. John in Lyons. Later, the church was renamed St. Irenaeus. In 1562, Calvinists destroyed his tomb and no relics remain, only Irenaeus’ hope that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit - the two hands of God - touch us all.


Feast Day - June 28th

It is not you that shapes God

it is God that shapes you.

If you are the work of God

await the hand of the artist

who does all things in due season.

Offer Him your heart,

soft and tractable,

and keep the form

in which the artist has fashioned you.

Let your clay be moist,

lest you grow hard

and lose the imprint of his fingers.


attributed to Saint Irenaeus