What else does Irenaeus say?

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

It seems that most Christians who study the early church love Irenaeus. It’s probably because he battled the gnostic heresies so well in his 5-volume work Against Heresies in the 180s A.D. Since there are no more Valentinians or Marcionites (at least not purposefully) we can all look to him as a hero of the faith and cheer at most of what he wrote.

However, within Christian circles the main question is whether Irenaeus was more Catholic or Protestant.  Now it didn’t take me long to sense that he was more Roman Catholic than Protestant. Yet many Protestants claim him too and do their best to show his words to be in line with Reformation doctrines.

Probably the main quote they love is in 3, 1, 1. Irenaeus says,

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…. When, however, they [the heretics] are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and assert that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For they allege that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.”

Protestants use this passage of Irenaeus to prove that he believed in sola scriptura. I’m not so sure because he still goes on to approve of traditions passed down by the apostles through the bishops.

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, and which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. (3, 2, 2)

So he still believes in the traditions passed down straight from the apostles and in the next several chapters he shows how the heretics are not part of the apostolic succession and therefore cannot have a “secret” tradition from the apostles. Irenaeus does not condemn traditions of the apostles but rather shows how the heretics can’t have it because they do not have apostolic succession.

However, for the sake of argument, what if Irenaeus did actually believe in sola scriptura the same way Protestants do? If we trust him enough as a source to believe this passage we musn’t stop there, right? We must continue on and find out what else he said and take it seriously.

So what else did Irenaeus say?

What did Irenaeus consider Scripture?

septuagintIrenaeus quoted from the deuterocanonical books in the same way he quotes Scripture.

For example, in 4, 26, 3 Irenaeus quotes from Daniel 13 (which is not in Protestant Bibles) and in 5, 35, 1 quotes the entire chapter of Baruch 5.  Both times he did this alongside other Scripture without making any distinction.

Even other Protestants agree that Irenaeus considered the deuterocanonical books as Scripture.

Anglican J.N.D. Kelly said that in the first couple centuries “the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense” and gives multiple examples including Irenaeus who “refers to Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon and Baruch.” (Early Christian Doctrines ch. 3)

Protestant Evangelical F.F. Bruce also said, “Irenaeus is well able to distinguish ‘the writings of truth’ from ‘the multitude of apocryphal and spurious writings.’ The Old Testament writings are indispensable witnesses to the history of salvation; the Septuagint version was divinely inspired, the writings which we call the Apocrypha being evidently invested with the same authority as those translated from the Hebrew Bible.” (The Canon of Scripture ch. 13).

So Irenaeus considered the deuterocanonical books to be Scripture. Therefore, even if he did believe in sola scriptura, his Bible includes books that the Reformers removed. Protestants do not believe these books are inspired but Roman Catholics do.

What did Irenaeus say about the Eucharist?

eucharistAgain, giving directions to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits of His own, created things — not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful — He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, “This is My body.” And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout all the world, to Him who gives us as the means of subsistence the first-fruits of His own gifts in the New Testament, concerning which Malachi, among the twelve prophets, thus spoke beforehand: “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord Omnipotent, and I will not accept sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun, unto the going down [of the same], My name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the Gentiles, saith the Lord Omnipotent;” — indicating in the plainest manner, by these words, that the former people [the Jews] shall indeed cease to make offerings to God, but that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and that a pure one; and His name is glorified among the Gentiles. (4, 17, 5)

So Ireaneus saw the Eucharist as a sacrifice and a fulfilment of Malachi 1:10-11 which prophesied a “pure offering” that would one day be offered by all nations. That’s still Roman Catholic doctrine, not Protestant. (CCC 1330, 1350)

Inasmuch, then, as the Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God….And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, the things taken from His creation. (4, 18, 4)

So the only place we can offer this oblation is in the Church. Not just anyone can offer this sacrifice to God. That’s still Roman Catholic doctrine, not Protestant (CCC 1330, 1350). Protestants just don’t talk like this.

What did Irenaeus say about Mary?

Though he didn’t use the phrase, Irenaeus saw Mary as the New Eve. Just as Jesus is a type of Adam so Mary is a type of Eve. Adam and Eve disobeyed and brought destruction upon mankind but Jesus and Mary obeyed and brought salvation to mankind.

mary-and-jesusIn accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin….so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race…. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (3, 22, 4)

Protestants just don’t talk like this about anyone and certainly not about Mary. Meanwhile, Roman Catholics still see Mary as the New Eve and a Mediatrix.

Conclusion:

Scripture, the Eucharist, and Mary are three very big and contentious issues between Protestants and Catholics and yet it seems Irenaeus is far closer to Roman Catholicism than to Protestantism.

So what do we do?  It seems there are three options.

  1. Accept his quote about the Scripture being the “ground and pillar of our faith” as more truthful than his other doctrines and therefore the others can be safely ignored.
  2. Explain away many of his other doctrines to mean something other than what they actually sound like.
  3. Accept that he was just not a Protestant.

 

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9 thoughts on “What else does Irenaeus say?

  1. Mustfollowifican,

    A few notes:

    1) It seems to me that you are being a bit too hasty with the term tradition. Irenaeus uses the term tradition, and, it seems to me, you simply assume that he means the same thing that the current Roman Church means when it says tradition. If you really want to interact with Protestant scholarship on Irenaeus, I commend the following to you:

    http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/07/30/tradition-scripture/

    http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/08/05/the-ground-and-pillar-of-our-faith/

    http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/08/07/ground-and-pillar-again/

    The question is, what does Irenaeus mean when he uses the term “tradition”?

    2) Irenaeus, in the first quote you provided, states that the gnostics claim that Scripture is ambiguous and can only be understood if you follow a certain tradition. Irenaeus rejects this, confuting Rome and the gnostics.

    3) Irenaeus, despite his many true and helpful statements, is also a testimony to the unreliability of oral tradition. Irenaeus, for instance, believed that Jesus died in his fifties:

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103222.htm

    4) Even though I think everything Irenaeus said is compatible with Protestant understandings of the Eucharist (particularly Lutheran and Reformed, who believe that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving), I see nothing of the modern notion that the elements are transubstantiated into the resurrected and glorified body of Christ and are sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins.

    • 1) It seems to me that you are being a bit too hasty with the term tradition. Irenaeus uses the term tradition, and, it seems to me, you simply assume that he means the same thing that the current Roman Church means when it says tradition. If you really want to interact with Protestant scholarship on Irenaeus, I commend the following to you:
      http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/07/30/tradition-scripture/
      http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/08/05/the-ground-and-pillar-of-our-faith/
      http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/08/07/ground-and-pillar-again/
      The question is, what does Irenaeus mean when he uses the term “tradition”?

      One thing I’ve discovered the last few years is that everyone has explanations. The difficulty is finding the most reasonable explanations. Those articles are certainly explanations but I’m not sure I completely buy them. There is definitely a mutual relationship and overlap between Scripture and tradition (since what we believe to be Scripture is a product of tradition). But that doesn’t mean Scripture and tradition are 100% the same; they’re just closely connected.

      Maybe my hesitancy with those articles is because I rejected Calvinism years before looking into any historic doctrines of the Church. Since I believe they misuse the Scriptures I wouldn’t be surprised if they misuse the early church fathers too. I hope that doesn’t sound too “mean” or closed-minded. I’m just admitting my bias against Calvinism, though I believe that bias has grounding. So even if I reject Catholicism, I’m not likely to accept Calvinism.

      2) Irenaeus, in the first quote you provided, states that the gnostics claim that Scripture is ambiguous and can only be understood if you follow a certain tradition. Irenaeus rejects this, confuting Rome and the gnostics.

      I don’t think it’s quite right to say “Irenaeus rejects this.” It seems gnostics only claimed Scripture was ambiguous and therefore needed “secret” tradition after they were refuted by those very Scriptures. However, Irenaeus also said they dropped tradition just as quickly when they were refuted with that, as seen in the second quote by Irenaeus. It seems they accepted or rejected something based on whether it was advantageous or not. When they used Scripture Irenaeus refuted them with Scripture. When they used tradition Irenaeus refuted them with tradition.

      Since he mentions “Scripture” and “tradition” in two different ways, it seems they are two separate topics (even though they can overlap and are closely connected).

      It seems the questions haven’t changed much since Irenaeus’ day; what is the proper interpretation of Scripture and how do we know for sure? When the Bible itself is the topic of controversy, we must look to something else outside the Bible. For Irenaeus, the Church under the apostolic succession of the bishops had the key to understanding. Even non-Catholic patristic scholar J.N.D. Kelly said Irenaeus believed “Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the original revelation itself. For that reason correct exegesis was the prerogative of the Church, where the apostolic tradition or doctrine which was the key to Scripture had been kept intact.”

      The connection to the apostolic succession of bishops seems just as important to Irenaeus as Scripture. (4,26; 5,20)

      3) Irenaeus, despite his many true and helpful statements, is also a testimony to the unreliability of oral tradition. Irenaeus, for instance, believed that Jesus died in his fifties:
      http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103222.htm

      Okay. So what do we do with this? Use Irenaeus as support for our beliefs until he says something we’re uncomfortable with? We can then pull this statement out as evidence that he wasn’t infallible and which gives us the “out” to disregard the stuff we don’t like?

      Minor historical facts are not the same as doctrine, faith, and morals. Not even the RCC claims infallible knowledge of historical facts but only on faith and morals. The age of Jesus at his death does not fall under faith and morals and therefore I think it’s a non-issue.

      4) Even though I think everything Irenaeus said is compatible with Protestant understandings of the Eucharist (particularly Lutheran and Reformed, who believe that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving), I see nothing of the modern notion that the elements are transubstantiated into the resurrected and glorified body of Christ and are sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins.

      Very interesting thought. A couple thoughts and questions.

      1: I didn’t deal specifically with transubstantiation in the post. But even for that I still think Irenaeus is an early witness (see 5, 2, 2-3). He doesn’t use the term but we shouldn’t expect him to. Again, Protestants just don’t talk like this (at least not the version I’ve always known).

      2: Can you explain the Lutheran doctrine of the Eucharist? If you believe it is a sacrifice, what is it a sacrifice of (i.e. what is being sacrificed)? Also, do all Lutheran denominations believe the same thing about this? If not, how would an outsider choose the right denomination?

      3: I did not grow up Lutheran nor do I know many specifics about it so it might be worth looking into. However, I’ve already told you my bias against Calvinism. Since Luther was too Calvinistic for my taste, I don’t see much hope of me joining a church bearing his name; but then again…we never know. 🙂

      While on that subject, how much do you think Irenaeus supports Calvinist doctrine and predestination?

  2. Imust,

    1) The articles are not about Calvinism. They are historical analysis grounded on an interaction of the primary sources in the original languages. You can safely buy Hutchinson’s analysis of Irenaeus without having to become a Presbyterian.

    You claim that Calvinists twist Scripture, so maybe they also twist the fathers. That may be true. But that doesn’t mean that they twist every Scriptural passage or every passage from the fathers.

    I’m convinced that Hutchinson is right in his analysis. I’d be interested in knowing where he goes wrong.

    Furthermore, Hutchison is not engaging in the ahistorical exercise of determining whether Irenaeus was Reformed or Roman. Irenaeus must be understood in his own terms (and we must also allow him to define his own terms). Protestant and Roman apologists go wrong in this area.

    2) I’m not sure what the difficulty is here. Irenaeus states:

    “When, however, they [the heretics] are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and assert that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.”

    He certainly rejects these claims as charges against Scripture. Scripture should be enough to refute the gnostics. I believe you are right in saying that Irenaeus refuted them with Scripture and tradition. This is not inconsistent with my claim–Irenaeus does seem to reject the claim that Scripture is ambiguous and one needs a secret oral tradition to understand it. I don’t think even Kelly’s quote supports that. But before that, we need definitions, by Irenaeus, on what he means by tradition (I don’t think he always means the same thing).

    3) I don’t take Irenaeus error concerning the death of Christ as a non-issue (“He who is faithful in little” and all that). I reject the distinction between matters of faith and matters of history. In some cases they are distinct. But this is not always the case. The Resurrection is an example of this. If its historicity is false, we are all dammed.

    Now, I certainly don’t believe the age of Christ is that kind of issue. But Irenaeus does given his understanding of Christ’s redeeming work–Christ redeems what he takes upon himself.

    My main point in bringing this up is that Irenaeus is certainly not infallible. We all believe that he got somethings right and other things wrong. This could include his view of Scripture or the Sacraments. Roman Catholics also “disregard” things they deem false about Irenaeus.

    4)

    a) I don’t expect Irenaeus to use the term transubstantiation, or to explain the Eucharist using Aristotelian metaphysical categories. The thing is, Irenaeus, in the passages you cited, calls the bread bread and the wine wine. He never makes the Roman Catholic claim that the bread is no longer bread. If he believes that the flesh of Christ is physically present in the elements, the Irenaeus is much closer to the Lutheran view.

    b) According to the Lutheran view, the consecrated elements and still bread and wine. But Christ is physically present in them. All Lutheran denomination believe this. The nature of the sacrifice is different than in the Roman Church though. Lutherans do not believe that they are sacrificing Christ for the propitiation of sins. They are offering up a thanksgiving to God, a eucharist, if you will.

    c) Honestly, I don’t remember anything that bears very strongly on the issue. He talks about the elect and about God’s providence in a way that is probably compatible with different confessions. I could be wrong though.

    ——————————————————–
    As you probably already know, Presbyterians claim that their doctrine of Predestination can be found in Augustine and Aquinas:

    Per Aquinas (Summa 1.23.5)

    “It is impossible that the whole result of predestination in general should have any cause in ourselves. For whatever is in a human being. disposing him towards salvation, is all included within the results of predestination. Even a person’s preparing himself to receive grace is the effect of predestination such preparation is impossible apart from divine assistance, as the prophet Jeremiah says: “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored” (Lamentations 5:21). In this , as far as its results are concerned, the reason for predestination lies in the moral excellence of God. All the results of predestination are directed towards God’s moral excellence as their end, and predestination proceeds from God’s moral excellence as its first cause and principle.”

    And his response to the third objection:

    “The reason why some souls are predestined to glory and others reprobated can be found only in the moral excellence of God. He made all things through His moral excellence, so that He might display it in all things. Now, God’s moral excellence is one and undivided in itself, but it is revealed in many different way in His creation, because created things cannot attain to the simple oneness of God. The perfection of the universe requires different grades of being, God allows some evil things, without which many good things would never happen. We must therefore consider the whole human race in the same way that we consider the whole universe. God chooses to reveal His moral excellence in human beings. He reveals it through his mercy in those whom He predestines to glory by pardoning them; in others He reprobates, He reveals His moral excellence through His justice, by punishing them. This is the general reason why God elects one part and of mankind and rejects the other…Yet why in particular He chooses these people for glory but reprobates those—there is not reason for this except His own will. As Augustine says, “Why He draws one but not another, do not seek to know, unless you wish to go astray.”

    And a from Augustine’s commentary on John 15:16:

    “You did not choose Me,” Christ says, “but I chose you” (John 15:16). Such grace is beyond description. What were we, apart from Christ’s choice of us, when we were empty of love? What were we but sinful and lost? We did not lead Him to choose us by believing in Him; for if Christ chose people who already belied then we chose Him before He chose us. How then could He say, “You did not choose me,” unless His mercy came before our faith? Here is the faulty reasoning of those who say that God chose us before the creation of the world, not in order to make us good, but because He forekenew we would be good. This was not the view of Him Who said, “You did not choose Me.” We were not chose because of our goodness, for we could not be good without being chosen. Grace is no longer grace, if human goodness comes first. Listen, you ungrateful person, listen! “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Do not say, “I am chosen because I first believed.” If you first believed, you had already chosen Him. But listen: “You did not choose Me.” And do not say, “Before I believed I was already chose on account of my good works.” What good work can come before faith, when the apostle Pauls says, “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23)? What then shall we say when we hear these words, “You did not choose Me”? We shall say this: We were evil, and we were chose that we might become good by grace of Him who chose us. For salvation is not by grace if our goodness came first; but it is by grace—and therefore God’s grace did not find us good good but makes us good.
    ——————————————–

    • Imust,

      Back to Irenaeus–

      1) I think that there are instances of Irenaeus where he certainly uses Scripture and tradition interchangeably. I will not regurgitate the what Hutchinson has already said. I will use a different passage:

      a) “Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, John 14:6 and that no lie is in Him” (Against Heresies 3.5.1).

      I don’t have the Latin with me, but the English seems to indicate an identity with Scripture and Apostolic tradition. They are, it seems to me, the same thing in content. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Irenaeus goes on to explain certain elements of the Christian faith. All of them can be found in Scripture.

      b) “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one, Ephesians 1:10 and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess Philippians 2:10-11 to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send spiritual wickednesses, Ephesians 6:12 and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory” (1.10.1).

      Tradition is handed down, and received. In this case the faith that we have received from the Apostles, is contained in Scripture. Everything Irenaeus says here is grounded on the teaching handed down by the Apostles. And this teaching (as can be seen in Irenaeus’ citations, is found in Scripture).

      Thus Irenaeus defined the teaching we received from the Apostles.

      2) Irenaeus seems to believe that Scripture is clear:

      “Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture” (2.27.2).

      3) You provide the following quote from Irenaeus:

      “But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, and which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.” (3, 2, 2)

      We must ask ourselves, what is the tradition that originates from the apostles and is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters? A more complete look at earlier portions of Book 3 help us out.

      First we have this:

      “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” (3.1.1)

      Thus, the teaching of the Apostles is handed down to the Church first by public proclamation, and then it was written down. We find the Gospel preached by the Apostles in the Scriptures.

      Irenaeus then gives us a summary of what the Apostles preached:

      “These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.” (3.1.2)

      Then comes 3.2.1 (the first quote in your post) which is followed by 3.2.2.

      Thus, I believe the following to be Irenaeus argument–

      – Scripture refutes the Gnostics.
      -Gnostics claim that Scripture is ambiguous and needs a certain tradition in order to be interpreted.
      -Irenaeus then challenges them on this. If tradition is necessary, let us look at what the disciples of the Apostles teach, and the disciples of the disciples of the Apostles. What teaching did the Apostles tradition to the disciples, and those disciples to their own? What tradition is taught be these disciples?

      The answer is clear: certainly not what the gnostics teach!

      We see a powerful argument against the gnostics. What we do not see is a claim that there is an authoritative oral tradition that cannot be found in Scripture. The doctrine taught in Scripture is the same (materially) as the one taught by the Apostles and their disciples, and on to the next batch of presbyters.

      • Jonathan. I definitely appreciate the conversation. This is way more than I’ve gotten from friends and family who threw a few Bible verses at me and then gave up trying. You’ve certainly gotten me thinking.

        So I’ve been pondering the relationship between Scripture, tradition, and Irenaeus’ belief that Scripture is clear, so I didn’t get much done at work this week. 🙂 The main point of the original post was even if Irenaeus believed in sola scriptura the same way modern day Protestants do I wanted to compare some of his other beliefs with modern day Protestantism—at least the version I grew up with. With that, I must also consider his constant appeal to apostolic succession which he constantly brings up alongside all these other things (Preface to vol 3; vol 3, 1-5; vol 4, 26; vol 5, 20). A couple example quotes from those sections are:

        1. “I therefore have undertaken—showing that they spring from Simon, the father of heretics—to exhibit both their doctrines and successions, and to set forth arguments against them all.” (Preface of volume 3)
        2. “Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church,—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession” (4,26,2)
        3. “Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection.” (5,20,1)

        So Irenaeus seems to take successions just as seriously as doctrines.

        First point: Again, even if Irenaeus believed in sola scriptura, it seems he still believes the true teaching of the Scriptures is in the Church of apostolic succession, whereas the heretics don’t have it.

        Second point: Does Irenaeus believe Scripture is clear? Probably. So do all who already have a theology with which to interpret it. I believed the Trinity was “clearly” Biblical until I actually discussed it with a non-Trinitarian. We both believed in “sola scriptura” and both used the Bible as our sole source, but at the end of it I had to admit he made a case at least as good as mine. The Trinity is not “clearly” in Scripture unless one already believes in it. My final appeal was to the historic understanding of Christianity and the councils. Perhaps that was the beginning of the end for my sola scriptura Protestantism. Further study has continued to show me the Bible isn’t as “clear” as we’d like.

        So if we need a theology before we can interpret the Bible, and if the true teaching of Scripture is maintained in the apostolic succession of bishops which Irenaeus had, then maybe the Scriptures would be far clearer for Irenaeus than for the heretics because they did not have the right succession. In 5,20,1 Irenaeus says it’s the heretics without apostolic succession who are “scattered here and there without agreement or connection.” Protestants also don’t have apostolic succession and are also scattered and without agreement. Are we sure there is no connection here?

        And again, even if Irenaeus believed in sola scriptura the same way Protestants do, his Bible was bigger than ours. I don’t know for sure, but maybe Scripture is clearer if we actually had the whole thing.

        ———————————–

        Finally, a quick word on historical facts vs. doctrine. You brought up the resurrection being a historic fact. Absolutely! And since Christian doctrine is based upon it (1 Cor. 15:17), it falls into the realm of doctrine. I know of no doctrine held by anyone that has anything to do with Jesus’ age. That’s why I called it a non-issue (which you also seem to agree with). So maybe we shouldn’t go around in circles with this one too.

        • Must,

          I likewise I appreciate your calm and cordial attempt to think through these most grave matters. I hope you continue to do so.

          Last things first–Irenaeus– Irenaeus believed that the age of Jesus’ death was theologically important. Irenaeus believed that Jesus redeemed everything He took up, and, since Jesus took up old age, He redeemed it. Roman and Reformed Catholics do not accept Irenaeus’ historical or the theology attached to it. It’s a theological non-issue for us, but not for Irenaeus.

          ——-

          1) This argument can be flipped over– even if Irenaeus believed in the Roman Catholic understanding of Apostolic Succession, he believed that all doctrine must come from Scripture because Scripture contains the genuine Apostolic tradition. If protestantism has departed from Irenaeus’ Apostolic Succession, Rome has departed from Irenaeus’ understanding of Scripture and tradition.

          2) Is Scripture clear? I find this to be an interesting question. Many Church Fathers have stated at many times that Scripture is clear. Irenaeus, who debated with the gnostics, believed Scripture to be clear, Athanasius, who debated with the Arians, believed Scripture to be clear. I’ve discussed the Trinity with non-Trinitarians, and still find Scripture to be clear.

          We simply disagree here. I don’t believe that you must come to Scripture believing in the Trinity in order to see it in Scripture. I believe that Scripture clearly teaches it. This is what the Church Fathers believed (no citations for now, I’m out of town, sorry).

          3) You made the following statement:

          “So if we need a theology before we can interpret the Bible, and if the true teaching of Scripture is maintained in the apostolic succession of bishops which Irenaeus had, then maybe the Scriptures would be far clearer for Irenaeus than for the heretics because they did not have the right succession. In 5,20,1 Irenaeus says it’s the heretics without apostolic succession who are “scattered here and there without agreement or connection.” Protestants also don’t have apostolic succession and are also scattered and without agreement. Are we sure there is no connection here?”

          A) “So if we need a theology before we can interpret the Bible.” Where would we get this theology from? This is certainly not Irenaeus understanding. God revealed Himself to us in Christ, and Christ taught his apostles. The apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote down what we need to know about Christ’s life and teaching. There is no such thing as an extra-scriptural thing that we need in order to be saved or that we need in order to be faithful member’s of God’s covenant people.

          B) “and if the true teaching of Scripture is maintained in the apostolic succession of bishops which Irenaeus had.” Correct. Irenaeus believed that the Christians presbyters had maintained orthodoxy. Thus, they could be safely followed, for the preached what was contained in the word of God. This argument, however, would be of no use during the Arian controversy. Properly ordained Presbyters/Bishops, would preach the Arian Christ–even after the Council of Nicea.

          C) “…then maybe the Scriptures would be far clearer for Irenaeus than for the heretics because they did not have the right succession.” I don’t think this follows. Here is a slightly more formalized version of your argument:

          a) We need theology prior to what is revealed in Scripture to interpret Scripture correctly.
          b) We get this theology from the succession of bishops.
          c) Scripture is clear for those who follow the bishops that are in the Apostolic line.

          a) is problematic for theological reasons, b) is problematic for historical reasons, and I really doubt that c) follows from a) and b).

          D) “Irenaeus says it’s the heretics without apostolic succession who are “scattered here and there without agreement or connection.” Protestants also don’t have apostolic succession and are also scattered and without agreement. Are we sure there is no connection here?”

          I think that divisions amongst protestants are overhyped and divisions within Rome ignored. All too often the picture that Roman Catholics paint of protestants would make one think that there have never been two protestants that believe the same thing and that every singly Roman Catholic believes the same.

          I might be overstating things, but I believe you get the point. Confessional Protestants agree on a ton and there disagreements are, quite frankly, minimal. Read the Augsburg Confession (Reformed/Lutheran), the Westminster Confession (Reformed/Presbyterian), and the Thirty-Nine Articles (Reformed/Anglican).

          If one can believe that Roman Catholics in Mexico who pray to the Santa Muerte and practice witchcraft (limpias are especially common, less and less so these days though, but this is due to increased secularization, not because of the increased influence of true Christianity be it Roman or Reformed), are members of the same church as American Roman Catholics, then it is a cake walk for me to see a considerable amount of unity amongst traditional and historic protestants.

          F) “And again, even if Irenaeus believed in sola scriptura the same way Protestants do, his Bible was bigger than ours. I don’t know for sure, but maybe Scripture is clearer if we actually had the whole thing.”

          I honestly don’t think that the books which separate Roman Catholics and Reformed Catholics make any decisive pro-Roman Catholic claims. I will make the learned Roman Catholic theologian, make my point for me:

          “Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find any where, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome . Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.”

          • Jonathan. There is definitely a lot to ponder and I’ll continue searching. Here are a few other thoughts floating in my head in no particular order and not really connected together in a coherent thought.

            Irenaeus was refuting the gnostics. For that task I think Scripture is clear enough. The gnostics were crazy with their aeons and pleromas. But Christians today are not gnostic (at least not on purpose) and so Scripture is less clear in discussing the differences between them. It’s less clear on the Trinity, it’s even less clear on the dual-nature of Christ, etc. Determining the Christological theology consumed hundreds of years for the early Church and the opposing side used Scripture just as much and the differences were often subtle. We moderns are basically operating with a “cheat sheet” after the big debates are over and then saying Scripture is so “clear.” We’re living with the blessings of discoveries that are already made.

            I said before that the Scriptures are clear when one already holds a theology. You asked where “Where would we get this theology from?” Exactly. Where indeed? An authoritative Church that Christ established, perhaps? After all, it’s what gave us the Bible in the first place. So which Church would that be?

            If Scripture is supposed to be clear, than I’m still left to consider Roman Catholicism. Actually hearing their explanations of Scripture often makes way more sense to me than Protestant explanations. If they didn’t make sense I wouldn’t have gotten this far. I grew up in a sola scriptura household and yet I couldn’t quite get my head around Scripture. Scripture is only becoming clearer to me because of Roman Catholicism. I have to consider that in my decision too (even if you have not yet encountered this difficulty).

            You then said, “This is certainly not Irenaeus understanding.” I don’t know about that. I think Irenaeus could be understood in the way described, or at least something close to it. Maybe that’s why he pushed apostolic succession just as much as Scripture and tradition (3,2,2; 3,3,1-4; 4,26,2). Did individual bishops teach heresy like Arianism? Yes. But that only seems a problem for those who believe each individual church is autonomous. But a theology that says the institutional Church is the “body of Christ” means that individuals can’t go “off the reservation.” Bishops don’t operate autonomously and I doubt Irenaeus would have said so. Once the Church as a whole determined Arianism a heresy, everyone including bishops needed to “fall in.” In fact, this also seems like further evidence for a “living voice” that makes the final call when disputes and disagreements arise. (I just posted a quote about this here.)

            Gnostics held to a “secret” tradition they claimed to have gotten from the apostles. Irenaeus objects and uses apostolic succession as a witness that they couldn’t possibly have such a “secret” tradition, not that tradition doesn’t exist. I’ve already expressed my belief that Irenaeus does not equate Scripture and tradition as if they are the exact same thing (3,2,2). They are closely connected and overlap, but that is not the same as encompassing the exact same material and no more or less. (For example, what we believe Scripture to be is itself a product of tradition since the Bible does not give us a list of authoritative books.)

            I’ve found Irenaeus can be made to support Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and now Lutheranism. The fact that everyone claims Irenaeus suggests that maybe he’s not as easy to define as we may want. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he was writing in the 180’s and we’re in 2015 so he’s almost as old as the Biblical writings. Since Christianity can’t even agree on what the Bible says, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it can’t agree on Irenaeus either. (Again, the more debate there is about this stuff the more sense a magisterium and a “living voice” makes.)

            On the canon: After a google search it seems you quoted Cajetan. So is he saying Jerome is the final word on the subject? Is Jerome a sort of pope that we follow infallibly? Like I said above, bishops (including cardinals) don’t operate autonomously. Historically, the Church used councils to settle a matter (like in Acts 15). If the Church has a council, discusses the issues, and makes an official pronouncement, that’s the end of it. I’m guessing Cajetan would have followed Trent if he had been alive. Besides, even Jerome eventually accepted the deuterocanonical books and at one point quoted Sirach as Scripture (Letter 108, To Eustochium).

            A quick word about the Eucharist. Does Irenaeus believe in consubstantiation or transubstantiation? I honestly don’t know. By his words alone I think he can fit both. He’s certainly not professing the “it’s only a memorial service” theology I was raised with. So Lutherans are at least ahead of the game on this one.

            • Must,

              1) Your first claim is, essentially, that Scripture is now clear for faithful Christians because of the discoveries of the past. I certainly agree that great men such as Athanasius and Augustine have been great heroes of the Church for pressing and arguing for things that are clearly in Scripture. In this regard, as recommended by Aquinas, they ought to be followed.

              I find it interesting that the ancient Christians, even in the midst of controversy, contended that Scripture was clear. It is we moderns, who charge the Scriptures with obscurity. I would argue, with Athanasius, that Scripture clearly teaches the Trinity. We could go through the Christological controversies as well. If we are to be deep in history, we’ll recognize that the ancients believed in the clarity of Scripture, whereas we moderns (or perhaps post-moderns with our worries about language and textual interpretation?) reject their witness on this particular point.

              2) You respond to my question: “Where would we get non-Scriptural (not anti-Scriptural) theology to interpret Scripture?” You say, in the Church. The Church gave us the Bible in the first place. These claims raise huge questions on their own.

              Where do we get this idea that we need some oral tradition in order to properly interpret Scripture? Certainly not from the Old Testament. If anyone was to pass on any oral tradition (after the Exodus) it would have been Joshua, but this is what Joshua is commanded:

              Joshua 1:7: “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.”

              And, this is precisely what Joshua commands to the Israelites:

              Joshua 23:6: “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.”

              This idea that we need oral tradition in order to interpret Scripture is not found in Irenaeus either. The Gospel of Salvation has been written down and passed on to us. On his own terms his argument succeeds because the disciples of the disciples of the apostles taught the same thing as the Apostles (and what they thought can be found in Scripture)–which is not what the gnostics taught. In other words, the tradition of these disciples is materially the same as that of Scripture. Whenever Irenaeus defines tradition, he states things which can be found in Scripture.

              As for the Canon–When did the Church give us the canon? During the council of Carthage? Or Trent? These two are not the same Trent rejected at least on book that Carthage accepted (per the Catholic Encyclopedia). Anyway, the canon is its own big discussion. I think that saying that the “Church gave it to us” is a bit to quick at this point.

              3) Your next claim is that Scripture now makes more sense to you. I’ve heard Roman Catholic philosophers, priests, and Canon Lawyers, say the exact same thing when they became Protestant. Also, I’m not sure what Scriptural things you’ve struggled with or what forms of protestantism you are familiar with. But, I’m guessing, that your background is non-denomination evangelical. Perhaps taking a look into historical protestantism might be equally helpful to you.

              People usually convert over questions of historical or systematic theology, rarely is it over Biblical theology (as far as my experience goes anyway).

              4) I think what you (or someone else) would have to show that Irenaeus believed in an oral tradition which contained things outside of Scripture which were essential to the Christian faith. I don’t think that is going to be possible. But until a tradition that is materially different is proven, we should be careful of reading full-blown out Roman Catholic Ecclesiology into Irenaeus.

              5) Irenaeus, as best as I can tell, (I know I’m repeating myself) is using tradition in (3.2.2) in the following sense–to talk about what the disciples, of the disciples, of the disciples teach. If anyone would have access to the tradition which the gnostics are talking about, it would be said disciples. Instead, these disciples teach the same things which are in Scripture. Thus, as I have said before, their tradition is materially equivalent to what is found in Scripture.

              6) I think your claims are too broad and general here. You say, “Since Christianity can’t even agree on what the Bible says, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it can’t agree on Irenaeus either.” We disagree one certain key and identifiable items. But there is also much that we (Roman Catholics, Reformed Catholics, and Orthodox) agree on –Creation, Sin, the need of Christ for redemption, the Triunity of God, the Divinity of Christ, the need for repentance. And the list could go on. The fact that we don’t agree has more to do with sinful humanity than it does with textual interpretation (that’s why Roman Catholic Biblical Commentators such as Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Raymond Brown often agree with key with Protestants when they do Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. It would be interesting if the Holy See would produce a series of infallible Biblical commentaries).

              I understand the appeal to Rome in this regard though. There is an appearance of unity under a central authority. I believe this is a mere appearance. American Catholics routinely disregard official RCC decrees on ethics, Roman Catholic theologians have embraced liberal textual criticism, many Roman Catholics in Latin America are a bizarre combination of Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism, and native religions.

              Roman Catholic theologians and scholars also disagree about what official Roman Catholic teaching even us. I’m sure you’ve noticed this–particularly when it comes to Vatican II.

              7) Oops! I forgot to attribute the quote to Cajetan. Mea culpa! It’d be interested in seeing the documentation for Jerome accepting the deuterocanonicals. The interesting thing about the quote is that, here is Cajetan, a mainstream Roman Catholic theologian, very learned, articulating those views on the canon. More can, and should be said about the canon though…

              8) On the Eucharist–I think that Irenaeus’ view is incompatible with the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. According to the Roman Catholic view, the bread can no longer be bread, and the wine can no longer be wine after they are consecrated.

              Irenaeus on the other hand, makes the following claims:

              “For when the Greeks, having arrested the slaves of Christian catechumens, then used force against them, in order to learn from them some secret thing [practiced] among Christians, these slaves, having nothing to say that would meet the wishes of their tormentors, except that they had heard from their masters that the divine communion was the body and blood of Christ, and imagining that it was actually flesh and blood, gave their inquisitors answer to that effect. Then these latter, assuming such to be the case with regard to the practices of Christians, gave information regarding it to other Greeks, and sought to compel the martyrs Sanctus and Blandina to confess, under the influence of torture, [that the allegation was correct]. To these men Blandina replied very admirably in these words: ‘How should those persons endure such [accusations], who, for the sake of the practice [of piety], did not avail themselves even of the flesh that was permitted [them to eat]?’” (Fragment 13)

              This, along with my earlier quote (or link?) strongly suggests to me an actual incompatibility between the Roman Catholic view and Irenaeus view.

  3. Must,

    Some Thomistic goodness:

    1) Aquinas seems to think that Scripture alone is the rule of faith: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/John21.htm

    In his commentary, he writes–“sola canonica Scriptura est regula fidei.” Literal translation–Only the canonical Scripture is the rule of faith.

    2) Aquinas also seems to have a theory of the relationship between Scripture and tradition–“We believe the successors of the apostles and prophets only in so far as they tell us those things which the apostles and prophets have left in their writings” (De veritate, q. 14 a. 10 ad 11).

    http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer14.htm

    3) Thus, it seems, tradition– Christian words outside of Scripture– are helpful insofar as they help God’s people understand God’s word.

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