Irenaeus, referred to by some as Saint Irenaeus, was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire. He was an early Church Father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a hearer of Polycarp, who in turn was traditionally a disciple of John the Evangelist.
Irenaeus' best-known book, Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of the Gnostic Valentinus. As one of the first great Christian theologians, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles—and none of them was a Gnostic—and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture. His writings, with those of Clement and Ignatius, are taken as among the earliest signs of the developing doctrine of the primacy of the Roman see. Irenaeus is the earliest witness to recognition of the canonical character of all four gospels.