Patron Saint of Positive Alternatives

Today the church honors a Second Century Bishop known for fighting dualism and promoting peace, especially between the Eastern and Western churches: Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Writer, and Wise Leader.

Saint Irenaeus was a student of Saint Polycarp (check out February 23rd for more info on him). This is significant only because Polycarp was a disciple of Saint John the Apostle. In other words, Irenaeus knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Jesus…which is kinda cool.

We don’t know a whole lot about Irenaeus as a young boy, but as an adult he finds himself in Gaul at the frontier of the Empire under Marcus Aurelius. He was eventually elected as Bishop of Lyons, a city seen as the gateway to the outer territories, and Christianity grew quickly amongst the Greek speaking population living there.

He was known as a wise Bishop, and fought hard against Gnostic dualism (light vs. dark/good vs. evil/revelation vs. secret knowledge), and fought hard to keep Pope Victor from excommunicating the Eastern Church because they chose to celebrate Easter according to the Jewish calendar.

He died just at the turn of the Century around the year 202 AD.

One interesting note about Irenaeus is that, unlike many of his contemporaries, when he wrote against a heresy or a theological tenet he thought was untrue, he did so by offering positive alternatives rather than scathing critiques. He also felt theology should steer clear of confusing insider language, and focus on the core basics handed down by the emerging tradition: scripture, good order, and the creeds still in development.

In this way he may be the first Lutheran, honestly.

Saint Irenaeus is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes a positive construction goes much farther than a blistering criticism. History will hug the former and shake its head at the latter in due time.

My favorite quote of this wise and wily theologian is, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive; the life of a human being is the vision of God.” (Book 4.20.7)

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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