Feast of St. Irenaeus

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Friday was the feast of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, and martyr. (I meant to get this up earlier in the day, but meetings and treating a summer cold intervened.) He flourished around the end of the second century: born ca. AD 140, he was made bishop of Lyons in Gaul in 177 upon the martyrdom of St. Pothinus, wrote Against Heresies and the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, and died a martyr under Septimus Severus in 202.

I’m especially excited because I took him as my patron upon my confirmation two years ago at Easter Vigil of 2011. Why?

Because St. Irenaeus is a saint for our own day; as Church and Empire become ever more estranged, we ever more approximate the times in which St. Irenaeus lived. Further, St. Irenaeus was famously a defender of the goodness of creation and the body against the Gnostics, members of various heresies who generally regarding the material world and thus bodies as evil. Some (like Harold Bloom) have suggested our own culture is deeply Gnostic. We reject the idea that the body is a given and a good, seeing it as an obstacle to be manipulated through biotechnology or eradicated, and thus (like various Gnostics of St. Irenaeus’ day) our culture embraces anti-human practices such as contraception and abortion. Finally, St. Irenaeus is also known as the “father of Roman Catholic theology,” fighting for the integrity and identity of the visible Church in his own day, much as many from faithful families in the pews to Pope Francis are doing today. And so, St. Irenaeus, ora pro nobis!

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