Unity and Peace
How often do we take for granted the treasures of our Christian tradition, especially Scripture? Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Irenaeus, the great second century father of the Catholic Church. Unity and peace in the Church were the goals of St. Irenaeus (130-202); he was priest and bishop of Lyons, France, and a martyr for the love of Jesus Christ and our faith.
St. Irenaeus is an important witness to apostolic succession in that he knew the greatest churches founded by the apostles, and compiled a list of the bishops of those sees, located in Asia Minor and in Rome. Born and educated in Smyrna (now Turkey), he is an important link with the age of the apostles through St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John.
In addition to his anti-heretical writings and his simple, clear explanations of the doctrines of the Church, he is seen a valuable servant of the faith for his witness to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the See of Peter. He insists that one must defer to it as the center of doctrinal unity, and he sees it a great symbol of this unity.
He emphasized the relationship between Old and New Testaments, demonstrating that the "God of the Old Testament" and the "God of the New Testament" is one and the same true God. He also defends the fact that there are four and only four Gospels by pointing out the many examples of the "four" in nature, such as the four winds, and the four covenants (Noah, Abraham, Sinai, and the Gospel). He relies more on the description of the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1 (see Adversus haereses 3.11.8). The faces of these four living creatures - man, lion, ox, and eagle - eventually become symbols for the four Gospels.
As we reflect upon St. Irenaeus' life today, we value his testimony to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and he is a major link in the history of Eucharistic theology. He clearly teaches that the Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ represented by the sacramental signs of bread and wine. His writings touch all major areas of theology: Christology, Mariology, and the theology of the Church, which touches on the key point about why Jesus came as man: that there will be life after death.
Today in prayer we ask that Irenaeus's intercession will help "renew us in faith that we may always be intent on fostering unity and peace" (opening prayer from today's Mass). Let us listen to the reminder from the Gospel Acclamation, "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 95:8).