Information as to the life of the holy Father of the Church Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, is scarce, and in some measure inexact. He was born in Proconsular Asia, or at least in some province bordering thereon, in the first half of the second century; the exact date is controverted, between the years 115 and 125, according to some, or, according to others, between 130 and 142. It is certain that, while still very young, Irenaeus had seen and heard the holy Bishop St. Polycarp (d. 155) at Smyrna. During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyons. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the Faith, sent him (177 or 178) to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning Montanism, and on that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits.
Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr St. Pothinus as Bishop of Lyons. During the religious peace which followed the persecution of Aurelius, the new bishop divided his activities between the duties of a pastor and of a missionary (as to which we have but brief data, late and not very certain) and his writings, almost all of which were directed against Gnosticism, the heresy then spreading in Gaul and elsewhere.
In 190 or 191 he interceded with Pope Victor to lift the sentence of excommunication laid by that pontiff upon the Christian communities of Asia Minor which persevered in the practice of the Quartodecimans in regard to the celebration of Easter. Nothing is known of the date of his death, which must have occurred at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century. In spite of some isolated and later testimony to that effect, it is not very probable that he ended hiscareer with martyrdom. His feast is celebrated on June 28 in the Latin Church, and on August 23 in the Greek.
Irenaeus wrote in Greek many works which have secured for him an exceptional place in Christian literature, because in controverted religious questions of capital importance they exhibit the testimony of a contemporary of the heroic age of the Church, of one who had heard St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, and who, in a manner, belonged to the Apostolic Age. None of these writings has come down to us in the original text, though a great many fragments of them are extant as citations in later writers (Hippolytus, Eusebius, etc.). Two of these works, however, have reached us in their entirety in a Latin version:
A treatise in five books, commonly entitled Adversus haereses (Against Heresies), and devoted, according to its true title, to the “Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge” (see GNOSTICISM, sub-title Refutation of Gnosticism). Of this work we possess a very ancient Latin translation, the scrupulous fidelity of which is beyond doubt. It is the chief work of Irenaeus and truly of the highest importance; it contains a profound exposition not only of Gnosticism under its different forms, but also of the principal heresies which had sprung up in the various Christian communities, and thus constitutes an invaluable source of information on the most ancient ecclesiastical literature from its beginnings to the end of the second century.
In refuting the heterodox systems Irenaeus often opposes to them the true doctrine of the Church, and in this way furnishes positive and very early evidence of high importance. Suffice it to mention the passages, so often and so fully commented upon by theologians and polemical writers, concerning the origin of the Gospel according to St. John (see JOHN, GOSPEL OF SAINT), the Holy Eucharist, and the primacy of the Roman Church.
Of a second work, written after the “Adversus Haereses”, an ancient literal translation in the Armenian language. This is the “Proof of the Apostolic Preaching.” The author’s aim here is not to confute heretics, but to confirm the faithful by expounding the Christian doctrine to them, and notably by demonstrating the truth of the Gospel by means of the Old Testament prophecies. Although it contains fundamentally, so to speak, nothing that has not already been expounded in the “Adversus Haereses”, it is a document of the highest interest, and a magnificent testimony of the deep and lively faith of Irenaeus.
Of his other works only scattered fragments exist; many, indeed, are known only through the mention made of them by later writers, not even fragments of the works themselves having come down to us. These are a treatise against the Greeks entitled “On the Subject of Knowledge” (mentioned by Eusebius);
- a writing addressed to the Roman priest Florinus “On the Monarchy, or How God is not the Cause of Evil” (fragment in Eusebius);
- a work “On the Ogdoad”, probably against the Ogdoad of Valentinus the Gnostic, written for the same priest Florinus, who had gone over to the sect of the Valentinians (fragment in Eusebius);
- a treatise on schism, addressed to Blastus (mentioned by Eusebius);
- a letter to Pope Victor against the Roman priest Florinus (fragment preserved in Syriac);
- another letter to the same on the Paschal controversies (extracts in Eusebius);
- other letters to various correspondents on the same subject (mentioned by Eusebius, a fragment preserved in Syriac);
- a book of divers discourses, probably a collection of homilies (mentioned by Eusebius); and
- other minor works for which we have less clear or less certain attestations.
It is interesting to note that the four fragments which Pfaff published in 1715, ostensibly from a Turin manuscript, have been proven by Funk to be apocryphal, and Harnack has established the fact that Pfaff himself fabricated them. Source: Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911. On this day there is also a commemoration within the Octave of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
This is also the Vigil of the Feasts of the holy Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul. On this vigil in the Divine Office, the last lesson with the homily on the Gospel was sung by the Pope himself. At one time this vigil was kept with equal solemnity in the Basilicas of St. Peter and of St. Paul. Later the celebration at St. Paul’s became monastic; the people attended the Mass at St. Peter’s and the vestments were, for a vigil, violet. In today’s Mass St. Irenaeus takes precedence with a commemoration of the Vigil tomorrow at the Collect, Secret and Postcommunion.
INTROIT Malachi 2: 6
The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and in equity, and turned many away from iniquity. (Ps. 77: 1) With them that hated peace I was peaceful, when I spake unto them, they fought against me without cause. v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Repeat The law of truth…
O God, Who didst vouchsafe unto blessed Irenaeus, Thy martyr and bishop; by his strenuous teaching of the truth, utterly to confute heresies, and happily to establish peace in Thy Church: unto us Thy people, grant, we beseech Thee, to be steadfast in the practice of our holy religion, and in all our days to enjoy that peace which is from Thee. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
Collect Within the Octave of St. John the Baptist
We beseech Thee, O almighty God, that the double joy of this day’s festival, which proceedeth from the glory of blesssed John and Paul, kindred through the one faith and the one martyrdom, may take possession of us…
Collect for the Vigil of Sts. Peter and Paul
Let us pray. Grant, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that Thou permit us not to be shaken by any fears, whom Thou hast solidly established upon the rock of the apostolic confession. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, Forever and ever. R.Amen.
LESSON 2 Timothy 3: 14-17; 4, 1-5
Lesson from the Epistle of blessed Paul the Apostle to Timothy. Dearly Beloved: Continue thou in those things which thou hast learned and which have been committed to thee: knowing of Whom thou hast learned them; and because from thy infancy thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which can instruct thee to salvation by the faith which is in Jesus Christ. All Scripture, inspired by God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work. I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the living and the dead by His coming, and His kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time when they shall not endure sound doctrine: but according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labor in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry.
GRADUAL Psalm 121:8
For my brethren and companions’ sake, I spake peace concerning thee. V. (Ps. 36: 37) Keep innocence and behold justice, for the prosperity of the peaceable man continues. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Ecclus. 6: 35) Stand in the multitude of the ancients that are wise, and join thyself from thy heart to their wisdom, that thou mayest hear every discourse of God. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matthew 10: 28-33
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, ” Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows. Every one therefore that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in Heaven. But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in Heaven.”
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Ecclus. 24: 44
I make my doctrine to shine forth to all as the morning light, and I will declare it afar off.
O God, Who suffererest not the nations that believe in Thee to be shaken by any fear, deign, we beseech Thee, to receive the prayers and sacrifices of the people consecrated to Thee, that peace, the gift of Thy loving-kindness, may render Christian countries safe from every enemy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God
Forever and ever. R.Amen.
Secret Within the Octave of St. John the Baptist
We heap Thine altars with gifts, O Lord, celebrating with fitting honor the nativity of him who heralded the coming of the Saviour, and pointed Him out when He had come,Our Lord Jesus Christ…
Secret for the Vigil of Sts. Peter and Paul
Sanctify the gift of Thy people we beseech Thee, O Lord, by the apostolic intercession, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, Forever and ever. R.Amen.
PREFACE of the Common
It is truly meet and just, and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, through Christ, our Lord. Though whom the angels praise thy majesty, the dominions adore it, the powers are in awe. Which the heavens and the hosts of heaven together with the blessed seraphim joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to us join with them in confessing thee, while we say with lowly praise:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Eccl. 24:47
See ye, that I have not labored for myself only, but for all that seek out the truth.
O God, the author and lover of peace, to know Whom is to live, and to serve Whom is to reign, protect us Thy suppliants from all assaults, that we, who trust in Thy defense, by the intercession of blessed Irenaeus, Thy martyr and bishop, may not fear the arms of any of our foes.Through the Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God For ever and ever.
Postcommunion Within the Octave of St. John the Baptist
May Thy Church, O God, be joyful at the birth of blessed John the Baptist, through whom she knew the Author of her regeneration, our Lord Jesus Christ,Thy Son…
Postcommunion for the Vigil of Sts. Peter and Paul
Let us pray. Keep from all adversity, O Lord, by the apostolic intercessions, those whom Thou hast filled with heavenly nourishment. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God
Forever and ever. R. Amen.