Years ago, 50 years ago to be exact, I studied in Rome under Fr. Antonio Orbe, SJ, an expert on St. Irenaeus, the saint we honor today. Irenaeus was a 2nd century bishop and theologian who wrote extensively against Gnosticism, an early heresy that threatened Christianity then and has an appeal in some circles today.
Ireneaus wrote against the gnostic teachers of his day who claimed their wisdom was wiser than the gospels. He compared their teaching to the faith of “the great church,” the church all over the world. The widely-traveled Christian bishop knew that church; originally he came from Asia Minor, became bishop of Lyons in Gaul, visited Rome. He knew what Christians over the Roman world believed.He also knew what the new gnostics taught, and he wrote down their teachings in great detail in a book called: Against the Heresies. Eventually the gnostic movement waned and its writings were destroyed, until this century when a large cache of gnostic writings were discovered in the sands of Egypt.
When I studied with him, Fr. Orbe was just back from Egypt and busy deciphering a trove of gnostic writings. I don’t remember much from his class except an observation he made about St. Irenaeus. He said Irenaeus reported with great accuracy what the gnostics taught in his book–the only source of their teaching till now– not distorting what they said or omitting their ideas.
The saint was a peace-maker, fair and respectful to friend and foe. Not a bad example for today when smear attacks, hot words, distortions and lies dominate politics, religion and personal relations. Peace-makers don’t destroy, but heal and unite. Blessed are they!