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1. St., bishop of Lyon, in Gaul, during the latter part of the second century after Christ, seems to have been a native of Smyrna, or of some neighboring place in Asia Minor. The time of his birth is not known exactly, but Dodwell is certainly wrong in placing it so early as A. D. 97; it was probably between A. D. 120 and A. D. 140. In his early youth he heard Polycarp, for whom he felt throughout life the greatest reverence. The occasion of his going from Asia to Gaul is uncertain; the common account is that he accompanied Pothinus on his mission to Gaul, which resulted in the formation of the churches at Lyon and Vienne. He became a presbyter to Pothinus, on whose martyrdom, in A. D. 177, Irenaeus succeeded to the bishopric of the church at Lyon. His government was signalised by Christian devotedness and zeal, and he made many converts from heathenism. He was most active in opposing the Gnostics, and especially the Valentinians. He also took part in the controversy respecting the time of keeping Easter, and wrote a letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, rebuking the arrogance with which he anathematised the Asiatic churches. Irenaeus seems to have lived till about the end of the second century. The silence of all the early writers, such as Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustin, and Theodoret, sufficiently refutes the claim to the honours of martyrdom, which later writers set up in his behalf. But he eminently deserves the far higher honour attached to sincere piety and the zealous, but not arrogant discharge of his episcopal duties. He was possessed of considerable learning, but was very deficient in sound judgment respecting the value of those traditions, which, as they came from men who lived in the age next to the apostles, he eagerly received and recorded. On the subject of the Millennium, for example, his writings contain the most puerile absurdities.


The chief work of Irenaeus, and the only one now extant, is entitled Adversus Haereses, or De Refutatione et Eversione falsae Seientiae, Libri V., the object of which is to refute the Gnostics. The original Greek is lost, with the exception of some fragments preserved by Epiphanius and other writers on heresies; but the work exists in a barbarous, but ancient Latin version, which Dodwell supposes to have been composed towards the end of the 4th century.

Other Works

Irenaeus also wrote a discourse against the Gentiles, περὶ ἐπιστήμης; a work on the preaching of the apostles, addressed to his brother Marcianus; a book of tracts on various questions, Διαλέξεων διαφόρων; and several letters respecting the ecclesiastical controversies of his day, among which were two to Florinus, a friend of his, who had become a convert to Gnosticism; one to Blastus on schism, and the synodic epistle above referred to, from the Gallic churches to Victor, bishop of Rome, respecting Easter. Of these works only a few fragments remain.


The editio princeps of Irenaeus is that of Erasmus, Basel, 1526, 8vo., containing the Latin version of the five books against heretics, reprinted at Basel, 1534, 1548, 1554, and 1560, fol.; at Paris, 1545, 1563, and 1567, 8vo.; re-edited, with various readings, by Jo. Jac. Grynaeus, Basel, 1571; the first edition, containing the fragments, besides the Latin version, was that of Nicolas Gallasius, Paris, 1570, fol.; next comes the edition of Fr. Feuardentius, Cologne, 1596, 1625, and best, 1639 but the best edition of all is that of Grabe, Oxon. 1702, fol., which was re-edited by the Benedictine Massuet, Paris, 1710, fol.: this Benedictine edition was reprinted in two volumes folio, at Venice, 1734.

The chief separate edition of the fragments is that of Pfaff, Hag. Corn. 1715, 8vo.

Further Information

Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 5.15, 20, 24, 26; Hieron. de Vir. Illust. 33; Dodwell, Dissertationes in Irenaeum; Cave, Hist. Litt. sub ann. 167; Lardner's Caredibility; the Ecclesigstical Histories of Tillemont, Fleury, Jortin, Mosheim, and Schröckh; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. vii. p. 75.

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