Response to Robin Phillips “Questions About St. Irenaeus and Apostolic Succession”

Irenaeus of Lyons

On April 1, 2011, there appeared on Robin’s Readings and Reflections an interesting and important posting: “Questions About St. Irenaeus and Apostolic Succession” by Robin Phillips.  I have reposted Phillips’ article as is followed by my response.

Robin Phillips writes:

Between now and June 24 I am finished up a book for Canon Press about different heroes of the faith. The publishers kindly gave me an extra year to allow me time to add some chapters about bad guys, so the good guys no longer have a monopoly on my time.

This last week I’ve been fine-tuning my chapter on Saint Irenaeus. When I wrote the first draft of the chapter I didn’t have enough time to read all the primary sources so I relied on the first volume N.R. Needham’s book 200 Years of Christ’s Power to help with research. Speaking about Irenaeus’ view of apostolic succession, Needham contrasted his formulation of this doctrine with later formulations, pointing out that “In Irenaeus, however, it was more a case of the bishop deriving his importance from belonging to an apostolic church, rather than a church being a true church because it had an apostolic bishop.” 

Since a colleague I used to teach with once discovered an error in Needham’s history, I thought that it might be a good idea to check to see if he was correct about Irenaeus before my manuscript goes to print. So this week I borrowed Irenaeus’ Against Heresies from my pastor with these two questions in mind: 

Question #1:    Is it correct that Irenaeus taught that a bishop derived his importance from belonging to an apostolic church? 

Question #2:    If the answer to question #1 is affirmative, then how did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts? 

As a good protestant, I had always assumed that the answer to question #2 is that the criteria for determining if a church is truly apostolic is to look at the doctrine.  

If my reading of Irenaeus this week is correct, the church is the custodian of the truth, but only those churches that have continuity to the teachings of the apostles qualify as being the true church. It thus turns out that my Protestant assumption was half correct, for Irenaeus does teach that to determine if a church was within the apostolic tradition one had to look to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith that the apostles had passed down in the sacred writings. Thus, Irenaeus used Biblical exposition to show that the teaching of the Gnostic churches were incompatible with the apostles’ doctrine revealed in scripture. 

But that is only one side of the coin. Equally important in determining whether a church is legitimacy apostolic is whether the church is under a bishop that is the recipients of a chain of ordination going back to the apostles. This is because it was to be assumed that the apostles and their successors would only have appointed leaders who agreed with their teaching and also because apostolic authority was transmitted by the laying on of hands in a transfer of real divine power and authority.

“we appeal again to that tradition which has come down from the apostles and is guarded by the succession of elders in the churches… Even if the apostles had not left their Writings to us, ought we not to follow the rule of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they committed the churches?”

Thus, it would seem that Needham presents us with a false dilemma: it is true that the bishop derives his importance from belonging to an apostolic church, but it is also true that a church must have an apostolic bishop in order to be part of the true church. Remove either of these, and what you’re left with is a counterfeit church. 

Although Irenaeus did not have time “to enumerate the successions of all the churches”, he took the church at Rome as one example and traced the succession of ordinations back to Peter and Paul. This, he maintains, provides “a full demonstration that it is one and the same life-giving faith which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles to the present, and is handed on in truth.” 

The doctrine of apostolic succession provided a hedge around the interpretation of scripture, according to Irenaeus. Any church which taught private innovations different to the public tradition of the other apostolic sees, was a church teaching heresy.

At the end of this blog post I’ll put a longer quotation from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. But right now, I’d like feedback on the following questions:

Question #3: One of the reasons that Irenaeus taught apostolic succession is because he believed that the apostles “certainly wished those whom they were leaving as their successors, handing over to them their own teaching position, to be perfect and irreproachable, since their sound conduct would be a great benefit [to the Church], and failure on their part the greatest calamity.” If Irenaeus was correct, might it be possible that the purity of this chain of succession could expire after a time, as the link to the first apostles becomes more and more distant? Sort of like photocopying a copy of a copy, etc – eventually the resulting copy is no longer an adequate representation of the original. It may have been very well for Irenaeus to propose this golden chain of ordination in his day because the apostles hadn’t been dead that long, but would this have become unrealistic after a certain amount of time? 

Question #4: Is Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession a Biblical doctrine? If so, where can we find it implied or inferred in scripture? 

Question #5: If Irenaeus is correct in his doctrine of apostolic succession, which churches today satisfy the criteria for a ‘true church’? 

 

My Response to Robin Phillips

Question #1:    Is it correct that Irenaeus taught that a bishop derived his importance from  belonging to an apostolic church?

My Response:

Like a good Protestant Robin Phillips started out assuming that Irenaeus looked to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith the apostles had passed down in Scripture.  However, Phillips soon recognized that just as important for Irenaeus was the bishop being part of a chain of succession going back to the apostles.

In the passages below Irenaeus makes it clear that he considers the Church to be the custodian of the truth.

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith…. (AH 1.10; (ANF) Vol. 1 p. 330; italics added)

Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master…. (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

The early Church was apostolic because her bishops were able to trace their lineage back to the original apostles.  Irenaeus holds up two men as exemplars of apostolic succession: Clement of Rome and Polycarp.  Irenaeus writes of Clement:

…Clement received the lot of the episcopate; he had seen the apostles and met with them and still had the apostolic preaching in his ears and the tradition before his eyes.  He was not alone, for many were then still alive who had been taught by the apostles. (AH 3.3, Grant p. 125)

Note that Irenaeus does not make any reference to Clement receiving the keys to the Papacy.  The stress here is on his deep personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings.  In the case of his predecessor Polycarp, Irenaeus also stressed the personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings.

And there is Polycarp, who not only was taught by the apostles and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but also was established by apostles in Asia in the church at Smyrna. ….  He always taught the doctrine he had learned from the apostles, which he delivered to the church, and it alone is true. (AH 3.4; Grant p. 126; italics added)

Irenaeus did not understand apostolic succession in terms of institutional authority but authority rooted in the apostolic Gospel.  Only if he taught the true Gospel could a bishop be in apostolic succession.  A bishop who altered the Gospel had abandoned the true faith and broken the chain of succession.

For Irenaeus evidential support for apostolic succession came in the form of succession lists.

Thus, the tradition of the apostles, manifest in the whole world, is present in every church to be perceived by all who wish to see the truth.  We can enumerate those who were appointed by the apostles as bishops in the churches as their successors even to our time…. (AH 3.3.1; Grant p. 124; italics added)

He enumerates in detail the apostolic succession for the Church of Rome as follows:

To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus.  Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus.  Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate.  In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us.  And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3.4; ANF Vol. I p. 416; italics added)

Unlike the Gnostics who invoked a secret spiritual genealogy, the Christian church in Irenaeus’ time were able to trace their lineage back to the apostles.  That this was a widely accepted practice can be seen in Eusebius’ Church History which contains succession lists for various dioceses.  Protestantism’s inability to provide a similar listing is something Irenaeus would view with suspicion.  The closest thing that Protestantism has to such a listing is the far fetched claim made by the Landmark Baptists who claim a secret lineage back to John the Baptist.

Central to Irenaeus’ apologia is an apostolic church that was also at the same time a catholic (universal) church.

Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house.  She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; Richardson 1970:360; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

It was not enough for a bishop to claim apostolic succession, he also needed to be in communion with the church catholic.  In contrast, Gnosticism was comprised of teachings that varied according to schools and geographic locations.  In other words, the unity of the church catholic stood in sharp contrast to Gnosticism’s denominationalism.

Phillips was mistaken in his initial assumption that Irenaeus did theology like a Protestant. This evident from the fact that Irenaeus had no qualms about doing theology on the basis of oral tradition transmitted via the ordination process.

…if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches?  (AH 3.4.1; Grant p. 127; italics added)

Yet it must be recognized that Irenaeus was one of the earliest biblical theologians.  Irenaeus did not simply invoke his episcopal authority like a hammer.  Instead, he exercised his episcopal authority through the exposition of Scripture.  His high view of Scripture can be seen in his carefully reasoned exegesis of Scripture.  He writes:

…and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us praising in hymns that God who created all things.  (AH 2.28.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 400)

Irenaeus cited numerous scriptural references from Old and New Testaments to refute the Gnostics (cf. AH 2.2.5; AH 3.18.3).  He sounds much like an Evangelical when he wrote: “as Scripture tells us.” (AH 2.2.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 362)  In one particular passage in Against the Heretics, Irenaeus invoked the authority of Scripture repeatedly: “We have shown from the scriptures….”; “The scriptures would not give this testimony to him if….”; “…the divine scriptures testify to him….”; and “The scriptures predicted all this of him.” (AH 3.19.2,  Grant p. 137)

Does this make Irenaeus a second century proto-Protestant?  I think not.  Irenaeus did not oppose Scripture against church and tradition.  He urged his readers:

It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their (Gnostics) doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. (AH 5.20.2, ANF p. 548)

Irenaeus described the church’s teaching authority in warm maternal terms and assumed the two to be mutually compatible.  This stands in contrast to later Protestant views which often saw the church in antagonistic tension with Scripture.  Unlike the Protestant principle of sola scriptura which makes Scripture the supreme norm for doing theology, Irenaeus saw the traditioning process as an interlocking matrix of which Scripture was one integral component.

The answer to Phillips’ Question #1 is that while the bishop derived his importance or authority from the traditioning process, Irenaeus also emphasized that apostolic succession is corroborated by the catholicity of the Faith.  The authority of the bishop is not autonomous but contingent on the faithful transmission of the Faith received from the apostles.  Because apostolicity is correlated with catholicity Eucharistic communion provides an essential confirmation of the bishop’s teaching and his pastoral authority.

Question #2:    If the answer to question #1 is affirmative, then how did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?

My Response:

For Irenaeus two foremost criteria were: apostolic succession and doctrinal agreement with the church catholic.  A corollary of apostolic succession is antiquity.  This is evident in Irenaeus’ insistence that weight be given to the earliest — “most ancient” — Christian churches.

If some question of minor importance should arise, would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved?  And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches?  (AH 3.4.1: Grant p. 127; italics added)

By means of the criterion of antiquity, Irenaeus finds the Gnostics falling short.  This can be seen in the phrase: “much later” used to describe the Gnostic teachings.

All the others who are called Gnostics originated from Menander the disciple of Simon, as we have shown, and each of them appeared as the father and mystagogue of the opinion he adopted.  All these arose in their apostasy much later, in the middle of the times of the church.  (AH 3.4.3; Grant p. 128; italics added)

And in contrast to the unity and universality of the apostolic preaching, Gnosticism was divided among the various schools of thought which resulted in doctrinal diversity — another marker of deviant theology.

All these are much later than the bishops to whom the apostles entrusted the churches, and we have set this forth with all due diligence in the third book.  All the aforementioned heretics, since they are blind to the truth, have to go to one side or the other off the road and therefore the traces of their doctrine are scattered without agreement or logic (AH 5.20.1; Grant p. 171; ANF p. 547).

Apostolicity did not reside in any one particular church body but pervaded the entirety of the church catholic.  Using the second century church of Rome which was known for its doctrinal conservatism, he notes that the churches in other areas would be in agreement with it (AH 3.2).  He sums his case for the apostolicity of Rome thus:

In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us.  And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in that Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 416; see also Grant p. 125)

Thus, emphasis is on: (1) apostolic succession  — a chain of ordination going back to the apostles, (2) apostolic teaching — a body of teachings going back to the apostles, and (3) catholicity — being in agreement with the universal church.  Irenaeus’ commendation of the church of Rome would give rise to the respect accorded to other patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem by later Ecumenical Councils.

Question #3: One of the reasons that Irenaeus taught apostolic succession is because he believed that the apostles “certainly wished those whom they were leaving as their successors, handing over to them their own teaching position, to be perfect and irreproachable, since their sound conduct would be a great benefit [to the Church], and failure on their part the greatest calamity.” If Irenaeus was correct, might it be possible that the purity of this chain of succession could expire after a time, as the link to the first apostles becomes more and more distant?

My Response:

I would answer that Irenaeus did not envision a diminishing chain of succession.  It would be like a banker entertaining the thought that one day his vault will be broken into and all his depositors’ money will be lost.  Irenaeus understood tradition as a sacred deposit.

Since these proofs are so strong, one need not look among others for the truth that it is easy to receive from the church, for like a rich man in a barn the apostles deposited everything belonging to the truth in it (the church) so that whoever might take the drink of life from it. (Rev. 22:17; AH 3.4.1; Grant p. 126)

If anything, Irenaeus, like the good banker, would have been horrified at the thought of the Depositor coming back to claim His deposit and finding it gone.

That he expected the Christian Faith to be preserved against heresy and innovation can be seen in the passage below.

Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house.  She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; Richardson 1970:360; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331)

Here Irenaeus fully expects that the Church will “carefully preserve” the apostolic faith.  One empirical test of this claim is the fact that the early Church was able to maintain doctrinal uniformity as it spread throughout the vast Roman empire.  One could expect that as the church became dispersed across vast distances regional differences in doctrines would emerge.

The way of church members surrounds the whole world, contains the firm tradition from the apostles, lets us view one and these same faith with all, for all believe in one and the same God and in the “economy” of the Son of God and know the same gift of the Spirit and care for the same commandments and preserve the same organization in the church and await the same coming of the Lord. (AH 5.20.1; Grant p. 171-172; italics added)

In Irenaeus’ phrase “firm tradition” we get the sense that the Christian faith is stable and resistant to innovation and heretical distortion.  One can innovate only by “deserting the preaching of the Church.” (AH 5.20.2; ANF p. 548)

Orthodoxy has multiple safeguards to ensure the preservation of the Faith.  The most important is the fact that Tradition consists of an interlocking and mutually reinforcing matrix. One important component is the episcopacy.  Elevation to the episcopacy entails not just the conferring of ecclesiastical authority but also the obligation to keep the apostolic faith intact and to guard it against change.

Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master…. (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

This is a complete proof that the life-giving faith is one and the same, preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now. (AH 3.3.2; Grant p. 125; italics added)

Next, there is the inscripturated word of God.  Irenaeus writes:

For we have known the “economy” for our salvation only through those whom the Gospel came to us; and what they then first preached they later, by God’s will, transmitted to us in the scriptures so that would be foundation and pillar of our faith. (I Timothy 3:15) (AH 3.3.1; in Grant pp. 123-124; italics added)

In addition to the episcopal office and inscripturated Tradition is the regula fide in the form of creed.  In Against the Heretics 1.10 Irenaeus writes:

The Church, though dispersed throughout 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 Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit…. (AH 1.10; ANF Vol. 1 p. 330)

By the fourth century, the regula fide would be standardized in the Nicene Creed as a result of the decisions made by the first and second Ecumenical Councils.  The Eastern Orthodox churches fierce resistance to the Church of Rome’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque clause points to its taking seriously the task of preserving the apostolic deposit.

Another component is the Eucharist.  For Irenaeus there is a close link between Christian doctrine and Christian worship.

But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion.  (AH 4.18.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 486)

The above quote anticipates the theological principle: lex orans, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith).  Worship in the early church was liturgical.  The liturgy was part of the received apostolic tradition (I Corinthians 11:23 ff.).  It was not the result of creative expression but served to conserve the Christian faith.  An examination of the ancient liturgies used by the Eastern Orthodox churches — Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of St. Basil, and Liturgy of St. Basil — shows how much the faith of the early church lives on the Eastern Orthodox churches today.  The ancient liturgies have pretty much disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church with the shift to the Novus Ordo Mass in the 1960s.

All these, however, are insufficient apart from divine grace.  That is why preservation of the apostolic teaching depends on: (1) the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), (2) Christ’s guarantee of the church against the powers of Hell (Matthew 16:18), and (3) Christ’s charge to teach the nations and the promise of his presence with the church until the Second Coming (Matthew 28:19-20).  The Great Commission probably has the most bearing on Phillips’ Question #3.  The traditioning process is implied in the Great Commission — “teaching them to observe everything I commanded you” — and is guaranteed by Christ’s promise to be with the Church “always even unto the end of the age.”

Question #4: Is Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession a Biblical doctrine? If so, where can we find it implied or inferred in scripture?

My Response:

That Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession is rooted in Scripture can be seen in the ample citations below.

Irenaeus in the Prologue to Book 3 explains how the Lord Jesus himself laid the foundation for apostolic succession:

The Lord of all gave his apostles the power of the Gospel, and by them we have known the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God.  To them the Lord said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who despises you despises me and Him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)  (in Grant p. 123; italics added)

Another biblical support for apostolic succession can be found in II Timothy 2:2 in which Paul describes to Timothy how the traditioning process is key to the ordination to the ministry:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.  (NIV)

Biblical support for apostolic succession can be inferred from Titus 1:5 in which Paul gave Titus instructions on the ordination of men to the priesthood:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  (NIV)

The top-down approach described here is sharply different from the ordination practices of congregationalism.

Apostolic succession can also be found in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preserve the apostolic teaching against heretical innovations (I Timothy 6:3, 20; II Timothy 2:14, 24; Titus 1:9, 2:1).  In these verses Paul stresses the need to preserve the Faith against heresy; the very same point reiterated by Irenaeus.

Question #5: If Irenaeus is correct in his doctrine of apostolic succession, which churches today satisfy the criteria for a ‘true church’?

My Response:

If Irenaeus were to examine the churches today he would be looking for the “most ancient” churches and at the “sequence of the tradition” from the apostles for those churches.

…would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved?  And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches?  (AH 4.1; Grant p. 127; italics added)

The application of these two criteria rules out all of Protestantism.  That being the case, there remains two present day options: the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Irenaeus had some knowledge of these two branches.  In Against the Heretics 3.3 Irenaeus showcased the Church of Rome.  Irenaeus’ predecessor, Polycarp, was bishop of the church in Smyrna, which would be closely linked to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

One would think in light of Irenaeus’ high praise for the church of Rome in AH 4.1 that he would automatically point us to the present day Roman Catholic Church.  But it should be kept in mind that he lived in the second century and that much has happened over the next two millennia, most notably the Schism of 1054.

Would Irenaeus identify himself with present day Roman Catholicism?  I think not for three reasons: (1) Roman Catholicism has adopted a strongly forensic approach to the doctrine of salvation  — something not found in his teachings, (2) it has superimposed Aristotelian categories on to the doctrine of the Eucharist — something not found in his teaching, and (3) it has promoted the supremacy of the Roman papacy — something not found in  his teachings.  Furthermore, Irenaeus would likely have regarded Rome’s later independence from the other patriarchates contrary to the catholicity of the second century church.

In Eastern Orthodoxy’s favor is the fact that it has retained Irenaeus’ understanding of salvation in terms of recapitulation, i.e., Christ through the Incarnation recapitulated the entirety of human existence (cf. AH 3.20.2; Grant p. 138; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 450).  Also, where the Roman Catholic Church has introduced the medieval emphasis on penal substitution as the basis for our salvation, Eastern Orthodoxy, like Irenaeus, has retained the emphasis on salvation as union with Christ and theosis (AH 3.4.2; Grant p. 127; AH 3.20.2, Grant p. 138-139).

Conclusion

A careful reading of Irenaeus’ Against the Heretics shows that one cannot view his theological system in terms of apostolic succession versus Scripture.  That kind of dichotomy oversimplifies the sophisticated traditioning process that enabled the early church to withstand the Gnostic heresy.  The dichotomy between apostolic succession and Scripture cannot be found in the early church and likely reflects the later Catholic-Protestant controversy.

In an earlier posting I described the various components of the Orthodox theological system: apostolic tradition in oral and written forms, the regula fidei, the liturgy, and the episcopacy.  Irenaeus’ Against the Heretics provides historical evidence to support Orthodoxy’s claim that the way it does theology has deep historic roots.  A close reading of Irenaeus will give pause to any thoughtful Protestant who base their theological method on sola scriptura.

In closing, Robin Phillips’ selection of Irenaeus of Lyons as a test case for historical theology is an excellent choice.  Irenaeus has been regarded as the leading Christian theologian of the second century.  He represents a transitional figure in the development of Christian theology, standing between the Apostolic Fathers who had personal knowledge of the original apostles and the later church fathers who worked solely from received apostolic tradition.  In view of present day Christianity’s considerable theological diversity, Irenaeus of Lyons stands as a valuable benchmark for determining what doctrines and practices are congruent with the historic Christian Faith.

Robert Arakaki

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References

AH = Against the Heretics.

ANF = Ante-Nicene Fathers Series

Grant, Robert M., trans. 1997.  Irenaeus of Lyons.  London and New York: Routledge.

Richardson, Cyril C., trans. 1970.   Early Christian Fathers.  Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc.

Additional Resources

In Parchment & Pen Blog.  “Top Ten Theologians: #10 – Irenaeus” by Tim Kimberly

In Moving Towards Existence.  “Irenaeus of Lyons: Contending for the Faith Once Delivered” by Robert Arakaki

 

26 comments:

  1. Once again Great post! However, a number of Roman Catholics might complain about the medieval Roman Church believing in a Penal Substitution view of the atonement. And so you might want to make a distinction between Anselm’s satisfaction view in where God’s honor was offended with the later Penal Substitution view within Reformed protestantism (they stress the penal concept far beyond others before them, to the point of it either being the main factor or the only factor). Also the understanding of Theosis can be found within Rome, and some could probably make the argument that some within the Reformed camp tried to make use of the concept of theosis as simply union with Christ. As seen by one Calvinistic Baptist from this forum: deification

    I saw a similar view among some Calvinistic protestants who seemed to stress “”union with Christ”” over at this blog:A “Reformed civil war”

    Now I may doubt that they really believe in it for they reject Baptismal Regeneration as well as the doctrine of the Real Presence. They also seem to stress imputation even to the point of Christ never really having any real contact(that could change someone). Especially contact “IN” the individual. They may believe in being in union with the Holy Spirit(their doctrine of Regeneration and maybe also Sanctification), but I doubt if they really believe in being united with Christ. Their view seems to be non-Incarnational in this area. And so even-though a school of thought within the Reformed tradition may claim to believe in being united with Christ, what they mean by it is different than what we mean by it. But hey, out of all those in the Reformed tradition (that I am aware of…..not including the high Anglicans before the Oxford Movement) this batch of Reformed in the non-Anglican world would be the closest to us in this area.

    1. Jnorm,

      Thank you for your comments about the complexities in Roman Catholic and Reformed understandings of salvation. I wish I had the time to follow up on all these. I’m glad that there are informed folks like you enriching the conversation on this blog site.

  2. Robert,

    It stunned me one day when an author casually mentioned that Jesus Himself never wrote anything (except once in the dirt)! Nor do we have repeated exhortations to His disciples “you write this, you write that…as soon as the Holy Spirit comes so you don’t
    forget”. Not a word from the Word about their writing Scripture.

    Now, of course, this dosn’t make Scripture unimportant at all. It does, however, set it in a different “non-essential for the first 30+ yrs” category. IF history is the record of God’s mighty acts on earth with His people — there seems to be no way to escape the logic of authoritative Oral Tradition. Perhaps we don’t yet realise just how much the Church has suffered from Rome’s innovative abuses — and the Reformers (given the violent response of Rome) progressive over-reaction to any form of Oral Tradition?
    Irenaeus’ Against the Heretics has some potentially sobering implications.

    1. It’s just absurd to say that Scripture was non-essential for 30+yrs. The Apostles, our Lord, and early Christians relied on the Old Testament until the New was written and completed. Acts 17:11 makes that point quite nicely. Jesus Christ didn’t say “Man does not live by bread alone, but by all the words tradition will cryptically tell you”. Rather, man lives by ‘every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’. In other words, man lives by God’s Word, the Scriptures.

      1. Don’t mean to steal your well used LOL…..but…….
        LOL!
        The OT Jews did not employ or believe in sola of any kind!
        God’s “word” was not restricted to OT scripture and you know it.

      2. The unbelieving Jewish Berean’s did not believe in or practice Sola Scriptura. And Paul gave them divine revelation
        NOT found in scripture that they and every other Jew must believe…..”this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” 17:2

      3. Kevin,

        Wasn’t talking about the the Old Testament above — but the writing of New Testament Scripture…which didn’t even start happening till the late 40s after Pentecost. Guess I should have stated what I thought would be obvious to most any reader reading in context — and not straining to read as uncharitably as possible, to make something out of what was clearly not intended. (pity your wife if you converse with her like this…which I seriously doubt.)

        But I have a question about your last comment here: “Rather, man lives by ‘every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’. In other words, man lives by God’s Word, the Scriptures.”

        So are you contending that every word that ever proceeded out of the mouth of God…is written down as Scripture? I’m asking as a courtesy (rather than mocking, LOL, & ridiculing such an absurdity) because John clearly say this is NOT true for Christ (Jn 21:25). Moses came down the mount with two tables…did they contain every single word God said to Moses…or were their other authoritative words not written down?

        Of course I have not the slightest quarrel atall with “man living by the Word of God”…it just that “only” or “alone” part that’s being challenged and questioned.

  3. >>>Irenaeus will give pause to any thoughtful Protestant who base their theological method on sola scriptura.

    LOL. Yeah. Right.

    You see. The problem I have here is statements like this. Believe it or not, what you are saying is just not true. For one thing, it boils down to an ad hominem argument because if I disagree with you as a Protestant–for your statement to be true–I’m immediately cast as something other than thoughtful. But, not all thoughtful Protestants have issues with someone like Irenaeus and his statements are not of necessity pointed toward the East. I would recommend reading Lightfoot’s appendix to his commentary on Philippians and Beckwith’s “Elders in Every City” as a counter to this sort of naive approach to the history and theology of the early Church.

    But, one of the hidden assumptions here is that the current expression of Orthodoxy in the United States is anything like the ancient expression of the sort of Christianity Irenaeus practiced. Are we to believe that today’s what’s behind door #3 Orthodoxy is really like the orthodoxy of the early Church? You say such is the case but you really have not demonstrated it to be true. And, this assumption is read into your interpretation of the text and it’s not something you can empirically demonstrate as true. Nevertheless, we’re still subjected to your unfounded assertion in reading Irenaeus and as such I find your conclusion highly suspect. So, yes, there are thoughtful Protestants who disagree in the main with what you are presenting here.

    1. Kevin is right in one respect. We shouldn’t say “any” thoughtful Protestant. Perhaps the past tense “Irenaeus has given” and changing the “any” to “many” (more than “several”) understating even “some” having the sentense read: “Irenaeus has given pause to (“some/several/many”) thoughtful Protestants who base their theological method on sola scriptura.”? This grants the historic fact/truth of “pause” — while, of course, the possiblity of thousands, even millions of “thoughtful Protestants” who aren’t given the slightest “pause” from reading Irenaeus’ 2nd century comments (100+ yrs before the New Testament Cannon was settled)…like the below ones.

      “Since these proofs are so strong, one need not look among others for the truth that it is easy to receive from the church, for like a rich man in a barn the apostles deposited everything belonging to the truth in it (the church) so that whoever might take the drink of life from it.” (Rev. 22:17; AH 3.4.1; Grant p. 126)

      “For we have known the “economy” for our salvation only through those whom the Gospel came to us; and what they then first preached they later, by God’s will, transmitted to us in the scriptures so that would be foundation and pillar of our faith.” (I Timothy 3:15) (AH 3.3.1; in Grant pp. 123-124;)

      “Thus, the tradition of the apostles, manifest in the whole world, is present in every church to be perceived by all who wish to see the truth. We can enumerate those who were appointed by the apostles as bishops in the churches as their successors even to our time….” (AH 3.3.1; Grant p. 124;)

      “In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in that Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.” (AH 3.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 416; see also Grant p. 125)

      Finally, of course, giving some thougthful Protestants “pause” about how the Church (as “the pillar and ground of Truth”) accomodates Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) does not mean he will convert to Orthodoxy.

    2. 1.) Not all thoughtful Seventh Day Adventists and Oneness Pentecostals have issues with someone like Saint Irenaeus and his statements on things like the Sabbath and Trinitarianism. It should be obvious that smart people are capable of explaining away what the Fathers say. But this in and of itself doesn’t mean that their explanations are sufficient. All it means is that they are capable of doing mental gymnastics when the need arises. The same is true with some thoughtful Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. Despite their strong mental powers in explaining away stuff, we all know that they are wrong when it comes to such issues. The same is true in this area. When it comes to the issue of Apostolic Succession, it should be obvious to all where the Church Fathers stood on the issue. And it also should be obvious that the Orthodox view has the same doctrinal and spiritual blood / DNA as the Fathers (our stuff is at least recognizable as being family related). The low church protestant views are obviously a totally different animal than that of the Fathers(no relation whatsoever).

      2.) We are like the Orthodox of the Early Church in the sense of having the same spiritual and doctrinal DNA / Blood. It should be obvious to all that our essence is the same. What we say and do on a whole host of issues is at least recognizable (you would know if you read the Fathers, Church councils, Divine Liturgies, prayers….etc). And so if one had to compare who was closest to the Early Church Fathers (between American Orthodox and your classical protestant principle that doesn’t really exist as a modern protestant American Denomination) then it should be obvious to all that the American Orthodox are the closest.

  4. I don’t even find this thread very engaging enough to comment. A request Robert. Can you please read some original material from Protestants instead of this featherweight 21st century foppery? Suggestion. Samuel Rutherford was the most influential and widely written divine at the westminster assembly. His catechism was almost plagiarized in the Westminster catechisms and his books on Ecclesiology were reference material at the westminster assembly. They were virtually summarized to form the ratified manuals on The Form of Presbyterian Church Government and the Chapters in the Westminster Confession on the Church and Church Censures etc. The books he wrote during the Westminster Assembly on all this stuff was Due Right of Presbyteries and the Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication. If you read these you will never have to read another book on Protestant Ecclesiology again. If you refute these books you will turn the world upside down.

    1. Drake,

      There are living, breathing individuals in the 21st century who are wrestling with some serious questions about Christ and his church. I want to engage in a conversation with these real individuals than to just rebut books written by authors who have lapsed into obscurity. It puzzles me that you want me to engage Samuel Rutherford than John Calvin and Martin Luther.

  5. Authors who have lapsed into obscurity. LOL! Samuel Rutherford was not just a theologian. He was the premier Theologian of the Westminster Assembly. Many issues were worked out at the Westminster Assembly that Calvin missed. Many issues. These 21st century guys do not have a clue how deep these issues go. Rutherford mastered the best Roman critic of Protestantism to ever live, Robert Bellarmine. He read all of his works and knew them like the back of his hand. Do you seriously think that the group of people who separated from what they knew as visible Christianity for centuries in their own land and were face to face with their dire enemies who happened to be some of the most educated people in the world, the Jesuits, and also conquered Romanism to the point where they had the entire United Kingdom under a Solemn League and Covenant that obligated them to banish the very religion that had dominated their lands for centuries, and they didn’t deal with all the ecclesiastical issues? Just do me a favor and read the table of contents here: http://books.google.com/books?id=rDlYNNlw4jYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=due+right+of+presbyteries&hl=en&ei=5MpQTsjlN8qjtgfBgb3KCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Please show me who in the 21st century is dealing with all this.

  6. To stay relevant to the post here is a section where Rutherford speaks to Apostolic Succession:
    Rutherford says, regarding Apostolic Succession,

    “we deny the Popish succession to be a note of the Church, nor doe we in any sort contend it. First, because a right succession must be a succession to truth of Doctrine, not persaonall or totall to the chaire and naked office. So Tertullian [Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 32-DS], and falshood may succeed to truth, sickness to health, as Naziazen [Orations 11-DS]. Yea, as Occam saith, Laymen and Teachers extraordinarily raised up, may succeed to hereticall Pastors.
    Secondly, there is succession to the errors of preceding teachers, either materiall without pertinacie, holding what they hold; orformall to the same errors, with hatred of the truth and pertinacie; the latter we reject, the former may be in lawfully called Pastors. See what Beza saith of this …And as Augustine [FN: Aug-de vinc.c.16.], when they doe prove themselves to be the Church onely by Scriptures, non nisi canonicis libris. Thirdly, we deny not but Asia, Africa, Ehypt, and a great part of Europe heard not a word of Christ for a long time, as Binnius [FN: Binnius 10.4 p. 599] observeth in the Lateran Councell [FN: Concil. lateran.c.10.l.8. iscet deslaza]. And succession was interrupted many ages in the world saith Prosper [FN: Prosper de vocat gentium l.2.c.6.] and Augustine [FN: Aug-de consens. Evang-l.2.c.31]. Nor can Bellarmine [FN: Bellarm de Pont. Rom cap.4.] deny it.”

    Due Right of Presbyteries [London: E. Griffin, 1644], pg. 185

  7. Drake,

    While I understand (and once shared) your zeal for Rutherford, Westminster and the Puritans, they departed from Calvin and the early Continental Refomers — and much less represent the theology of most of today’s Reformed thinkers. However much you believe they are right, they represent a narrow faction in broader Reformed thought — and a small blip the larger context of a far broader historic Christendom. Robert’s focus is on where present-day Reformed thinkers have intersected with Orthodoxy — and of necessity has deal with Calvin and the earlier Refomers. We can’t really expect him to devote space to every narrow splinter group or favorite theologian outside the circle of most Reformed thinking. Refuting them would hardly turn the world upside down, as most Reformed Christian don’t know, or care, what they thought, however sad and unfortunate you might think this is.

  8. Dabid,

    More than your opinion here is needed. First your statement that the puritans departed from Calvin seems to me like the typical ignorance I get from the fed vis camp. You do realize that after Knox leaves England for Geneva and has much correspondence with Calvin that Calvin changed on a number of issues. Calvin approved Knox’s chuch order in 1556 after he sees the incompatibility of some of his own practices with the Reg. Principle and ipso facto becomes a Puritan.

    1. Yep, knew and read all about that stuff 20 years ago. Knox’s liturgy was very similar to Calvins…FAR different than the far more stripped down Puritan services 60 years later after the turn of the century.

  9. So the Westminster assembly is a faction and a splinter group. LOL! Please keep typing. I may have to pop some popcorn this is so entertaining. First you need to undestand that the church you go to is not the visible church (constitutionally). You are the deformed spawn of the resolutioners and apostates from the solemn league and covenant.

  10. David,
    If I may ask, which book did you read by Rutherford? Due Right, Free Disputation, Church Government, which one? And aside from your opinions of Rutherford what contemporary book deals with all the issues that Rutherford already dealt with?

  11. World’s worst speller here Drake, no problem. But not gonna let you devole this blog to what Rutherford books I’ve read. And I’d have LOL with you 30 years ago when I also imagined the English Puritans and Westminster the center of the theological universe! We all tend to think our present-day favorite theological group IS the triumphal new Jerusalem. Wasn’t true at Westminster in 1643, or Geneva in 1550. The Church is far bigger than we are usually thinking — particularly bigger and broader than what is happening with one faction, one Country in one group. You really think the Dutch Reformed were consummed with Westminster then — much less the Orthodox in Keiv in 1643? On this blog I think we’re looking for present-day Orthodox-Reformed intersects we can discuss and learn from…not my 30-yr old book reading list! LOL

    1. Then leave & start your own Rutherford-Puritan blog! LOL Only online does a man (in ignorant-omniscience) call another a liar in a public forum. In person, this wouldn’t likely happen — and if so, only once. Say what you want Drake, I’m done…

      1. Drake,

        I think there’s some merit to David’s suggestion that you start your own blog with a focus on Samuel Rutherford and his Puritan cohorts. I’m sure there folks out there who would be interested in your particular approach to Reformed theology.

        I also sense your frustration with this blog. It is quite evident that my agenda and yours are quite different. I’ve stated from the start what the agenda of the OrthodoxBridge would be and I plan to stick with that agenda. I’m sure that there are other venues more congenial to your views.

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