28 June - For the most part, the information available on Irenaeus' life comes from his own works. Of Greek culture and language, Irenaeus was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor around 120 or 130, of Greek and Christian parents. He testifies to having known Saint Polycarp, who himself is said to have received the imposition of the hands of the apostle John.
Arriving in Gaul around 1753, he first worked as a simple pastor, and was associated with the work of Pothin, the first bishop of Lyon. When Pothin was persecuted by Marcus Aurelius in 177, Irenaeus was chosen to replace him. His episcopal life was then devoted to the instruction of peoples and the defence of truth by fighting against the heresies of the Gnostics and the Valentinians.
Irenaeus was charged with carrying the Letter on the Martyrs of Lyons, reported by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History. The note of recommendation, which accredits the bearer of the letter to the Bishop of Rome Eleutherus, presents Irenaeus as the "presbyter" of the Church. This term can be interpreted as proof of his accession to the episcopate of Lyon. His ministry is marked by a strong missionary expansion. A large number of dioceses are founded by missionaries sent by Irenaeus: this is the case of Besançon and Valence, which owe their first pastors to the bishop of Lyon.
Concerned for the unity of the Church, he emphasizes his name as a man of peace. This is how he intervened with the Bishop of Rome during the quarrel around the date of Easter. In a part of Asia, Easter is celebrated on the 14th Nisan, like the Jews. Elsewhere, Easter is celebrated the following Sunday. After several attempts to resolve the dispute during the second century, the Bishop of Rome Victor I wants to put an end to it. Around 190, he decided to excommunicate the bishops of Asia. Irenaeus, through his intervention, urged him to leave each Church free in matters that did not concern the Faith. Open conflict was thus avoided. The Eastern Churches will gradually and peacefully take over the majority use. He draws up the list of succession of the bishops of Rome.
According to the late testimonies of Saint Jerome in the 5th century and Gregory of Tours in the 6th century, he died a martyr in Lyon in 202, victim of an edict of persecution by Septimius Severus. His relics have been kept since the 5th century in the church of Saint-Irénée, alongside other martyrs of Lyon, despite the sacking of the church by the Protestants of the Baron des Adrets in 1562.