Today we honor St. Irenaeus, a man who grew up in Smyrna where St. John, half a century earlier, had spent his last days. Back then, a young man named Polycarp had spent numberless hours sitting at the feet of John, listening to all his stories from when John was with Jesus day and night.
Irenaeus, as a young man man, had sat at the feet of Polucarp, listening to all the stories he had heard from John. We highly value Polycarp and Irenaeus as direct links to the Apostles, and through the Apostles, to Jesus.
The Christian community, recognizing Irenaeus as a man of solid spirituality, kept turning to him for guidance.
His skills in dealing with different peoples came to the attention of Rome, and the pope asked him for help in dealing with Roman groups straying from orthodoxy. Rome’s Christians, who were direct descendents of Peter and Paul, didn’t think they should agree with people who were preaching new gospels that they claimed to have been revealed to them by angels.
The Christians remembered the warning St. Paul had written to the Christians of Galatia.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that one be accursed.”
With those newcomers claiming to know more than anyone about Christianity, their critics began calling them Gnostics, which was Greek for the knowing ones. For years Irenaeus patiently visited with Roman Gnostic groups, leaving us over a hundred pages of detailed notes on them. As to our need to confine ourselves to bwlieving what Jesus taught the Apostles, he wrote:
“It is in the power of all to contemplate clearly the tradition of the Apostles manifested throughout the world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the Apostles instituted bishops in the churches, to demonstrate the succession of these men. . . Since, however, it would be very tedious to reckon up the succession of all the churches we will indicate that tradition derived from the apostles of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. It is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church.”