What is Orthodoxy? [Part 2] Irenaeus weighs in



The question as to whether orthodoxy is narrow or wide was considered in the last post?  A narrow orthodoxy is one in which the basic set of Christian doctrine is defined. It does not incorporate speculative theological ideas but only what has been held by the historic church as essential truth. A wide orthodoxy is one that encompasses all the varying and often speculative teachings found in church history. Based on a sampling writers ancient and contemporary I asserted that orthodoxy is narrow. In this post I will share some research into what a narrow historic orthodoxy includes.

Before starting with an creedal examination, the first tenet of historic orthodoxy would include the reliance on the Scriptures as the trustworthy source of knowledge about God:

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 […] 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 and that no lie is in Him. (Ad Haer III.1 and III.5)

We will start with the Apostle’s Creed and compare that to the essentials that are described by Irenaeus. Irenaeus is a bishop who has probable ties to the Apostle John (through Polycarp and Ignatius). He lived in the second century and among his extant writings is a series of books called “Against Heresies” often abbreviated Ad Haer. In these books he describes and refutes the heretical teachings of Gnostics like Valentinius. Another important document is his treatise “Proof of the Apostolic Teaching”, which was written “to show forth in brief the preaching of the truth for the confirmation of your faith” and be “a manual of essentials”. This document elaborates on the “rule of faith”.

Apostle’s Creed Ad Haer Book I.10.1 Ad Haer Book III.4.2
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord one Christ Jesus, the Son of God Christ Jesus, the Son of God
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary who became incarnate for our salvation […] the birth from a virgin because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried the passion, having suffered under Pontius Pilate
He descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead and the resurrection from the dead […] in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord and rising again
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord and having been received up in splendour
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” 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 shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.
I believe in the Holy Ghost and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations […]
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints 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
The forgiveness of sins He Himself uniting man through Himself to God
The resurrection of the body And the life everlasting. to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race […] 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

In the Proof of Apostolic Teaching Irenaues describes our redemption in Christ:

37. Thus then He gloriously achieved our redemption, and fulfilled the promise of the fathers, and abolished the old disobedience. The Son of God became Son of David and Son of Abraham; perfecting and summing up this in Himself, that He might make us to possess life. The Word of God was made flesh by the dispensation of the Virgin, to abolish death and make man live. For we were imprisoned by sin, being born in sinfulness and living under death.

38. But God the Father was very merciful: He sent His creative Word, who in coming to deliver us came to the very place and spot in which we had lost life, and brake the bonds of our fetters. And His light appeared and made the darkness of the prison disappear, and hallowed our birth and destroyed death, loosing those same fetters in which we were enchained. […]

39. Now, if He was not born, neither did He die; and, if He died not, neither did He rise from the dead; and, if He rose not from the dead, neither did He vanquish death and bring its reign” to nought; and if death be not vanquished, how can we ascend to life, who from the beginning have fallen under death? […]

The Apostle’s Creed (with the exception of the “descended into hell” clause) can be shown to be a sound basis for narrow orthodoxy that was affirmed by the early church based on the writings of Irenaues as the Rule of Faith.

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