Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Irenaeus

June 28; A.D. 202

There is yet one other great and noble Greek Father of the Church about whom I must tell you something. His name was Irenaeus, which means "peaceful; "and I think through all the storms and trials of his life he must indeed have kept the peace of GOD in his heart.

He was a very learned man, and was sent by the Church in Asia to preach and work in Gaul. He could at first speak no language but Greek, but in order to be able to teach the faith of CHRIST to the people of Gaul he worked hard till he could speak Celtic quite well, and so talk to the Gauls and teach them in their own tongue.

This was a very brave thing to do, for it must have given him much trouble and taken up a great deal of his time. But it won for him the love of the people of the land: they were proud that the Christian Priest should care to learn their language, instead of thinking they ought to learn to understand his, which was what many others thought at that time. Among the richer classes in Gaul, Latin and Greek were very commonly spoken; Irenaeus might have considered he was doing his duty in preaching to those alone who could understand the language he was used to speak: that he should stoop to learn the speech of the poor and lowly touched all hearts.

He did a great work in Gaul, and it was through him that the town of Lyons, in the south of France, became a Christian city.

But suddenly there came a terrible end to all the saint's missionary labours. It was a time of cruel persecution. Men were paid to hunt out the Christians and kill them wherever they were to be found. There were very many now in Lyons; without mercy the Roman hirelings fell 'upon them, killing right and left. Thousands were slain—there was not a single Christian spared. The Priest perished among his people.

There is an old church at Lyons, called the Church of St. Irenaeus, where is to be seen an ancient Roman pavement on which are inscribed some Latin verses, saying that 19,000 Christians were killed at the time of this slaughter.

"This is the dawn of infant faith;

The day will follow soon,

When hope shall breathe with fuller breath,

And morn be lost in noon.

"For to the seed that's sown to-day

A harvest-time is given,

When charity with faith to stay

Shall make on earth a heaven."