Bust of Porphyry found at Sirmium © Mladen Raseta/Dreamstime

The Passion of Blessed Bishop, Irenaeus of Sirmium

Irenaeus of Sirmium was martyred in AD 304 in Sirmium. His vita reads as an official report.

In AD 294, Sirmium was proclaimed one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire and allotted to the emperor Galerius. Sirmium boasted an imperial palace, a horse-racing arena or hippodrome, a sporting arena, and a theatre. Two bridges crossed the river, Also, the city sported numerous baths, villas, and public palaces. Glued to its important status were the silver mines in the Dinaric Alps and the mint established in the city. Already by the third century, the Sirmium housed a Christian community and from c. 300 the bishop acted as metropolitan for the Pannonian bishops. The first known bishop was Irenaeus of Sirmium, who was martyred together with his deacon St. Dimitrius and others during the Diocletian persecutions in AD 304.

Archaeologist have provided evidence for a vibrant cult in the 4th and 5th centuries. However, around AD 600 the Avars destroyed the city, and the cult was not renewed until the Bavarian and Byzantine missions took off in the 10th century,

The following translation is based on one of the earlier manuscripts containing the vita: (ÖNB), Cod. Ser. n. 371, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. The manuscript is dated to the 10th century and derives from Salzburg.


Passio sancti Irenaei episcopi – The Passion of the Blessed Bishop Irenaeus

When there was persecution under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian, Christians, participating in various agonies and with a devoted mind to God willingly endured punishments inflicted by tyrants. Thus, they made themselves participants in perpetual rewards.

This also happened to the servant of God, Irenaeus, Bishop of the city of Sirmium, whose trial I shall now recount for you to show you his victory. He, because of his inherent modesty and his fear of God whom he served with worthy deeds, was found worthy of his name.

So, he was seized and presented before the rightful governor of Pannonia. This governor said to him, “Obey the divine commands, and sacrifice to the gods.” Irenaeus answered, “He who sacrifices to gods and not to God will be eternally lost.” The governor said, “The most merciful emperors have commanded that you either sacrifice or succumb to tortures.” Irenaeus replied, “For me, it is commanded to endure tortures rather than denying God and sacrificing to demons.” The esteemed governor ordered him to be tortured.

And when he was severely tortured, he said to him, “What do you say, Iraeneus? Sacrifice!” Ireaneus responded, “I sacrifice through a full confession to my God, whom I have always worshiped”.

His relatives, seeing him being tortured, implored him; his children embraced his feet, saying, “Have mercy on yourself and us, father.” The women, with mournful faces, begged for his life. But, detained by a better desire, he held the judgement of the Lord before his eyes, who says, “If anyone denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father who is in heaven.”

Disregarding everyone, he responded to none and hastened to attain the supreme hope of his calling. The erightful governor said, “What do you say? For the sake of your youth, be moved by the tears of these, and sacrifice.” Irenaeus responded, “I look to eternity; I am resolved, I shall not sacrifice.” The rightful governor ordered him to be taken to prison.

For many days, he was confined there and subjected to punishments. But at a certain time, in the middle of the night, the most blessed martyr Iraeneus was brought again before the tribunal of the rightful governor. This governor said to him, “Now sacrifice, Irenaeus, gain by sacrificing and avoid pains.” Iraeneus responded, “Do what is commanded; do not expect this from me.”

The rightful governor again ordered him to be beaten with rods. Irenaeus responded, “I have God, whom I have been taught to worship from my earliest age; I adore Him, who confirm me in all things, and to whom I also bring offers. But I cannot adore gods made by hands.” The rightful governor said, “Gain death. Let the tortures you endured be sufficient.” Irenaeus responded, “I shall obtain death through those punishments which you think to inflict on me, which I do not feel. Because of God, I shall receive the eternal life.”

The rightful governor then said, “You have a wife, Irenaeus.” Irenaeus responded, “I do not have one.” The rightful governor said, “You have sons.” Irenaeus responded, “I do not have any.” The rightful governor said, “You have parents.” Irenaeus responded, “I do not have any.” The rightful governor said, “And who were those who lamented your past inquisitions?” Irenaeus responded, “It is the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, who says, “He who loves father or mother or wife or sons or brothers or parents more than me, is not worthy of me.” Therefore, looking up to God in Heaven and turning toward His promises, while despising all things, I offer up myself for them.” Irenaeus responded, “My sons have God. By His grace, I can save them. But you, do what you are commanded to do.” The rightful governor said, “I advise you, young man, sacrifice, so that I do not have to inflict tortures on you.” Irenaeus responded, “Do what you wish. Soon you will see how much esteem, the Lord Jesus Christ will grant me as opposed to your scheming.”

The rightful governor said, “I will pass the sentence on you.” Irenaeus responded, “I congratulate you if you do. Passing the sentence, the rightful governor said, “I order that Irenaeus, disobedient to imperial commands, be thrown into the river.” Irenaeus responded, “I expected your many threats and many tortures, so that, because of these, you might subject me to the sword. But you have decided not to inflict this. I pray that you understand how Christians, because of the faith they have in God, are accustomed to despise death.”

Therefore, angered, the rightful governor, at the calm and trust of the most blessed man, ordered him to be struck with a sword. The holy martyr, as if being met with waving palm branches, gave thanks to God, saying, “I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, who, through various pains and tortures, which you have granted me patience to suffer, that you have deemed me worthy to partake in your eternal glory.”

And when he came to the bridge called Basentius, he removed his clothes, extended his hands to heaven, and prayed, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, who deigned to suffer for the salvation of the world, let your heavens open to receive the angels. Let them receive the spirit of your servant Irenaeus, who, for your name and your people in your Catholic Church in Sirmium, endures these things. I beg you, for your mercy to receive me and to deem us worthy as faithful.

Thus, struck by the sword by the officers, he was thrown into the river. The servant of God, the holy bishop Irenaeus of the city of Sermium, suffered on the 8th of the Ides of April. Under the Emperor Diocletian, with Probus acting as governor, and our Lord Jesus Christ reigning, to whom the glory be forever and ever. Amen; the account is complete.”


Le dossier hagiographique d’Irénée, évêque de Sirmium
By François Dolbeau (2000)
Antiquité Tardive. Revue Internationale d’Histoire et d’Archéologie (IVe-VIIe siècle), Vol 7, pp. 205-214




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