An Ancient Theologian explains Tradition


Irenaeus, a 2nd century theologian, defended Christianity from the Gnostic philosophies that were popular at the time. His 5 volume work, Against Heresies, dedicates the first two volumes to describing the Gnostic views and then precedes to dismantle them in the remaining volumes.

saint_irenaeus_oflyonsThroughout the work we are invited to explore the fundamental beliefs of the early church as they are contrasted with the opposing system.

Underlying Irenaeus’ defense lies the questions: how do we know what the truth is? and how do we decide between different interpretations of Scripture?

The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas – which centered on two gods – a good one and an evil one. It was the evil god who created the physical world that we must rid ourselves of.

In Book III chapters 1-4, Irenaeus, having laid out the heretical views and prior to engaging them, explains why his interpretations of Scripture should be accepted over those offered by the heretics.

Irenaeus proposes the same principles as Vincent of Lerins – that which is believed everywhere, always, and by all – just without the catchy phrase.

The first thing to note is that Irenaeus has a high view of Scripture, considering them the “ground and pillar” of the faith.

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. (III.1)

The view of this 2nd century teacher and theologian is that the teachings of the apostles, received from Jesus, were originally transmitted orally but are preserved for us in writing. Our theology must be grounded in Scripture. It should be noted that after he defends his views on Scripture and tradition over the next 3 chapters, Irenaeus will begin making his arguments using passages and principles from the Scriptures.

Here is how he starts chapter 5:

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 …

The problem, as already noted, is that the heretics used the Scriptures “adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions” (I.8). In addition, when confronting the heretics with Scriptural interpretations that refuted their ideas they would “accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous” (III.2).

The heretics would then claim that truth could only be known by those who knew tradition.

the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.

However, the heretics reject apostolic tradition as being a valid source of truth. Instead they claim:

they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.

and

boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles

This led to Irenaeus’ assessment of the heretics:

it comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition

The heretics could not be ignored as they were drawing many into their view. The problem then is how to assess the two different interpretations of Scripture that are offered. Who is guilty of “violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions” (III.2; 4)?

To answer that question, Irenaeus, asks the hypothetical question: what would we do if we did not have the Scriptures.

For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?

Irenaeus argues that we could visit the churches (of his day) and see what they taught. It is there that we will find the tradition taught by the apostles because, he Traditionreminds us, it is in the church in Rome, Ephesus, the Asiatic churches, and even the “nations of barbarians” that we find preserved the “ancient tradition”.

If we were to endeavor on this task, we should note the following characteristics of tradition:

we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles (III.2)

  • Tradition which is true originated with the apostles. It is not newly discovered ideas.

apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (III.3)

  • Tradition has been passed on to the faithful, who continue to pass it on.

For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world (I.10)

  • Tradition that is true is universally accepted, It is taught the same in all the churches and theologians.

[the apostles] neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.

[Clement’s] Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood

Polycarp …  always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify

(III.3)

  • Tradition that is true is ancient. It can be traced back to the Apostles and the earliest theologians.

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world;

From this document [Clement’s epistle], whosoever chooses to do so, … may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church …  (III.3)

  • Tradition is not hidden but accessible to anyone
  • Tradition can be studied and understood by all because it is preserved in the earliest documents (the Scriptures and the writings of those who heard the apostles).

As we explore the fundamental beliefs of both the early and modern church we should be careful to assess them against these characteristics.

Irenaeus closes this section of volume three reminding the reader that where there is ancient and universal testimony the churches hold firm.

Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established.

32 thoughts on “An Ancient Theologian explains Tradition

  1. Fantastic article!

    “However, the heretics reject apostolic tradition as being a valid source of truth.”

    And they used Scripture to arrive at their conclusions.

    That should serve as a warning to us Protestants. The more I study the early church and the modern Protestant church, the more I realize that we are very, very similar in outlook to those heretics. We don’t care about tradition and we only care about our interpretation of Scripture.

    I may re-blog this in a couple of days to help get more traffic over to you. This is quickly becoming one of my must read blogs and I think more people should know about it. Keep it up, brother!

    • Jim

      Thanks for the very kinds words.

      The more I think through the idea of how doctrine forms, the more I am convinced that a framework for incorporating the early church theology into our exegesis and interpretation work is needed.

      Feel free to re-blog or incorporate into your own post as you continue to provide excellent insights on paleo-orthodoxy.

      Have you ever read Formation of Christian Doctrine by Malcom Yarnell? He is critical of the use of tradition in doctrinal development. I am wrestling with a response.

  2. Reblogged this on Not For Itching Ears and commented:
    “The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas…”

    Interesting!

    We don’t often re-blog other posts, but this was such a thought provoking and stimulating article that we just had to! Mike discusses the framework we should use to interpret opposing views of what Scripture says and how we should use the early church Fathers to aid us in that. Be challenged!

    We also wanted to introduce you to Mikes blog, so take a few minutes to check it out. You will probably hit the “Follow” button like we did.

  3. So no one is climbing down your back yet for leaving out the parts about Rome? One of Rome’s favorite sentences is in that section, and you quoted only the last half of it.

    My experience is that RCC apologists blindly repeat portions of those chapters and a discussion with them never ends, so it’s probably good you avoid those. I am going to reblog this on my blog. I doubt I’ll get away with it as I have several active RC readers.

    I’ll let you know.

    • Paul

      Not yet. 🙂

      When I was first shown just that portion of Irenaeus referring to Rome, as you noted, it was surprising. But 3 things pop out when reading him in context:
      1) Irenaeus says in essence I can use any church as an example but will choose Rome.
      2) The church of Rome is considered preeminent not because of Peter – but because of Peter and Paul. This would undercut where the RCC ultimately wants to go with this – Rome is primary because of Peter the rock on whom the church is built.
      3) Irenaeus also emphasizes other churches including Smyrna, Ephesus, and the Asiatic churches as true witnesses of apostolic tradition.

      I think Irenaeus focuses on Rome because it is the capital of the Empire and thus well known, and the “two most glorious apostles” are credited with both founding the church and with being martyred there. And since we know from Ignatius’ letters that Christians were often taken to Rome to be martyred for their faith, Irenaeus is highlighting that the true faith can be seen by all in Rome since their beliefs are on display and tested constantly.

  4. As a layman Protestant who is probably going to convert to something else, perhaps I can make some statements on Irenaeus’ words about Rome without being accused of “Romanism”, but we’ll see.

    I’ve re-read the section of Irenaeus dealing with Rome multiple times and still do not see how anyone can read this differently than what it says; that the church at Rome had pre-eminent authority. If it was just another example out of many, why would he say this? No one says their example has pre-eminent authority if it was simply an example.

    However, even if Irenaeus didn’t quite intend that, the basis of his belief is still apostolic succession of the bishops. He said the apostles delivered up “their own place of government to these men” (the bishops) and that the faith of the apostles “comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.”

    Either way, Irenaeus doesn’t support Protestantism nor self-made non-denominational churches or house churches. These don’t have bishops at all nor do they even believe in the authority and apostolic succession of bishops. Whether Irenaeus supports Rome or not, it doesn’t seem like he can be used as an authoritative source by Protestant/non-denom/house churches since they’re not following this teaching at all.

    If Rome doesn’t have pre-eminent authority, but rather all bishops equally who have apostolic succession, by what authority do any of us operate who do not even have bishops?

    Other than Rome, the only ones who believe in apostolic succession of bishops are Eastern Orthodoxy and High Anglicanism. Such a theology would seem to require an institutional and hierarchical church, which is exactly what most Protestants reject today and why non-denom and house churches are on the rise.

    Those are just some of my own thoughts as I attempt to decide the best course of action for myself. Since I have no intention or authority to start my own non-denom/house church, I must choose from the options available. Admittedly, so far Rome is winning for multiple reasons; not just this one.

    • “Either way, Irenaeus doesn’t support Protestantism nor self-made non-denominational churches or house churches. These don’t have bishops at all nor do they even believe in the authority and apostolic succession of bishops. Whether Irenaeus supports Rome or not, it doesn’t seem like he can be used as an authoritative source by Protestant/non-denom/house churches since they’re not following this teaching at all.

      If Rome doesn’t have pre-eminent authority, but rather all bishops equally who have apostolic succession, by what authority do any of us operate who do not even have bishops?”

      This is a good point and a worthy challenge! I do know that the EO reject Rome’s claim of pre-eminence, as do the Oriental Orthodox. But none of these suggest that apostolic succession is not critical. It is. We protestants don’t care at all about that, which isn’t surprising since it would eliminate us from the discussion. But we should.

      Given the three choices, I lean more towards Anglicanism and EO myself. Catholicism has too many issues with its later development of doctrine for me to overcome. I recently read an official catholic booklet on indulgences, the things you do to mitigate your time in purgatory, and it was so eerie!

    • I am sorry for both you and I that we are left with the choices we are left with.

      The one thing I do know is that in every strain of Christianity there has been, people have failed to benefit from their faith, living in nominalism, and others have walked in the presence of God and seen power, ministry, deliverance, love, etc.

      The Scriptures say to pursue love, faith, peace, and righteousness along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. We will never walk close to God without doing that. May you find exactly that.

      • I guess we could only be sorry for the choices available if we believe the church Christ established has failed so miserably and the gates of hell have prevailed against it. If that’s true, and all I need to do is call on the Lord out of a pure heart, than I may as well stay Protestant or start my own house church; that’s the Protestant way. But if it’s not true, and His church is still around with authority straight from God, than ignoring that such a church even exists seems unwise. I know I don’t have the authority straight from God to determine what Christianity is.

      • “Don’t you think we could have saved a lot of trouble debating the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the NT canon during the first 4 centuries, if that infallible interpretive ability had been put to good use early on?”

        That is a very good question! I am enjoying this discussion!

    • Must Follow:

      I’ve re-read the section of Irenaeus dealing with Rome multiple times and still do not see how anyone can read this differently than what it says; that the church at Rome had pre-eminent authority.

      The question is in what way did Irenaeus mean that Rome has pre-eminient authority? Reading Irenaeus in context I don’t see him trying to teach us that Rome has authority over the other churches. I think that is reading what Catholics currently hold as dogma back into this text.

      If it was just another example out of many, why would he say this?

      Irenaeus tells us before mentioning Rome that it would be “very tedious” to show apostolic succession for all the churches so he limited himself to one. However, while he does not list all of the leaders for other churches Irenaeus does highlight the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and the Asiatic churches as also having the true Rule of Faith just as Rome does.

      I think he chose Rome since that is the place where the faith of Christians is put to the ultimate test (see this comment).

      the faith of the apostles “comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.

      As we examine the idea of “successions of the bishops” we should not lose sight of an important point. Irenaeus starts with the idea that the Scriptures are the “ground and pillar of our faith”. We turn to tradition (the creeds, Rule of Faith, early church writings) to help us evaluate different interpretations or doctrines of Scripture.

      The question is what did “successions of the bishops” mean in Irenaeus’ day and what does that mean now. Clearly for Irenaeus, he could cite the chronological list of elder/bishops for Rome (and likely other churches). But what made that so important?

      The fact that these bishops held to the teachings of the apostles and were passing that on to others.

      It is this principle that Irenaeus is noting as of great importance. Passing on the apostolic teaching (Scriptures and the Rule of Faith) from faithful men who in turn pass it on to other faithful men (2 Tim 2:2).

      Irenaeus can prove that what Peter taught is what Clement taught and is also what Soter now teaches. When we use tradition we are attempting to imitate what Irenaeus is doing. Looking back to what others taught to see how that lines up with what is being taught now.

      Today, I think that it is important to find a church where Christ is per-eminent and where His teachings are clearly taught. This, according to Irenaeus, starts with the Scriptures. If a church claims to have a “succession of the bishops” but fails to do this it is not worth being a part of.

      Irenaeus doesn’t support Protestantism nor self-made non-denominational churches or house churches. These don’t have bishops at all …

      Actually, many Protestant churches are elder led. The role of an elder in the NT is described with different Greek words which correspond to various functions of the role including the idea of oversight (ie bishop).

      I hold to the idea that God grants freedom to churches in deciding their governance model. Though Scripture shows us that the NT churches were led by a plurality of elders. And the Scriptures (I am thinking of numerous Proverbs) teach us the wisdom of council and getting the advice of many.

      The churches as described in the 2nd century do seem to have adopted a governing model that has a single bishop over the church. However, I am not sure there is much evidence for the idea that some bishops have authority over other bishops at the time Irenaeus is writing. It would make for an interesting study to see how the plurality of elders we see in the NT (Acts 20:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1,5) shifted to that of a single bishop in a church.

      Wrestling with where to worship can be a challenge. I hope and pray you find a community of believers who will encourage you in your walk and help you follow Christ.

      • One of the things I like to point out is that apostolic succession is an argument, not a doctrine. Both Irenaeus and Tertullian use the argument. Both of them were addressing gnostic heretics, and both of them are saying that the claims of the gnostic leaders, to have secret knowledge passed on through unknown people, is far more likely to be false than the open, known passing down of truth both from bishop to bishop and from one set of elders to the next. (Irenaeus says both at the start of book III.)

        It was a great argument in the late 2nd century. It’s not very convincing 2,000 years later. Nowadays it’s nice to have access to the early Christian writings to check out the claims of those who have turned the argument into a doctrine suggesting authority.

        Mike, have you ever made an effort to trace the bishop/elders thing in the early church? Paul and Peter are the ones who use elder and bishop interchangeably in Scripture. Immediately after Scripture, one finds that Paul and Peter’s churches also use bishop and elder interchangeably (e.g., 1 Clement 42, 44). It is John’s churches, the Asia Minor churches that are first seen with bishops, such as Ignatius and Polycarp. Despite the fact, however, that Ignatius and Polycarp were monarchial bishops, when they wrote to a church formed by Peter or Paul (Rome & Philippi), they never mention the bishop/elders model, but only the presbytery taught by Peter and Paul.

      • Paul

        I have not looked to much into the shift from elders to a monarchical bishop. Nor have I examined how Peter & Paul’s church structure (plurality of elders/bishops) might differ from John (singular elder/bishop).

        Do you have any article or post that might kick start that line of study?

  5. These are all interesting possibilities of what this passage from Irenaeus might say. The other alternative is that it means exactly what it sounds like.
    Mike, you said, “As we examine the idea of ‘successions of the bishops’ we should not lose sight of an important point. Irenaeus starts with the idea that the Scriptures are the “ground and pillar of our faith”. We turn to tradition (the creeds, Rule of Faith, early church writings) to help us evaluate different interpretations or doctrines of Scripture.”
    The doctrine of sola scriptura is what led me to the early church writings. I was frustrated with everyone interpreting the Bible their own way and frustrated that I could never really be sure myself. When I discovered these guys existed I figured, “These are the guys who preserved, compiled, and gave us the very Bible we’re using. Surely they must have something interesting to say about it.” This seems to be what you’re saying too. However, it seems you’re not really following through.

    Yes, Irenaeus strongly appeals to Scripture, but not personal interpretation which is what Protestantism is based upon. You said “Today, I think that it is important to find a church where Christ is per-eminent and where His teachings are clearly taught. This, according to Irenaeus, starts with the Scriptures. If a church claims to have a ‘succession of the bishops’ but fails to do this it is not worth being a part of.” So we should read the early church to learn about the Scriptures, but we use our personal interpretation of Scripture to “verify” what we read there? What’s the point of reading them at all if we’re going to judge them by what we choose to believe anyway?

    What are Christ’s “clear teachings” and how can we know for sure? This is the whole point of the search. John 6 seems pretty clear yet Protestants reject that all the time. Irenaeus says we can be sure because of the apostolic succession of bishops who hold the apostles’ traditions and their very place of government. Even the heretics interpret the Bible for themselves. A question we should all ask ourselves: “How do I know I’m not a heretic?”

    Scriptures haven’t changed. The problem of personal interpretation of Scripture hasn’t changed. So, if Irenaeus is a trustworthy source, why should we believe that his method of determining truth has changed? Why should we believe apostolic succession is not very convincing 2,000 years later? It seems like the only people to whom it’s not convincing are those that know they don’t have it. If they did, I think they would be all over it and claiming Irenaeus as a historical witness.

    • These are all interesting possibilities of what this passage from Irenaeus might say. The other alternative is that it means exactly what it sounds like.

      You ask several good questions in this comment, so before engaging much further, in your opinion what does it sound like Irenaeus is saying? How are you interpreting what Irenaeus has written regarding Rome and the other churches?

      Why should we believe apostolic succession is not very convincing 2,000 years later?

      Can you define what you mean by apostolic succession? Can you show why your view (assuming it is different than what I wrote above) is what Irenaeus meant by that term?

    • So we should read the early church to learn about the Scriptures, but we use our personal interpretation of Scripture to “verify” what we read there? What’s the point of reading them at all if we’re going to judge them by what we choose to believe anyway?

      I think we would all agree that a clear & consistent teaching in Scripture will have more authority than what is taught in tradition. The challenge is what is “clear & consistent” in Scripture to me may not be “clear & consistent” to you.

      So we are all seeking the correct interpretation of Scripture.

      The point of bringing in early church writings is to be a for guide us. They help us understand whether we are importing newly discovered ideas about what a passage means when we interpret it. They help us understand if a particular interpretation of a passage had early and wide support among early theologians.

      But then we face the challenge of interpreting the early theologians. I am reading Irenaeus in context and trying to understand what he meant just like you and everyone else that reads him.

      None of us are infallible interpreters. At the end of the day we are still wrestling with the question: is this the right interpretation. So we must ask the question why are we choosing one interpretation over another. Are we reading in context or proof-texting? What factors are we using to make that decision.

      A question we should all ask ourselves: “How do I know I’m not a heretic?”

      That is a great question.

      My basic framework is to use the Vincentian Canon, which would look something like this:
      1) is the doctrine clearly taught or clearly rejected in Scripture?
      2) is the doctrine clearly taught or clearly rejected in the Rule of Faith/creeds?
      3) is the doctrine clearly taught or clearly rejected by early/multiple theologians?

      The last few posts I wrote treat that in more detail.

      • MikeB: You’ve got some pretty cool formatting in your comments. Are manually typing in HTML tags to get that cool look? I’ve done that before so I’m going to try it here. Hopefully it works and doesn’t make my comment look stupid.

        The point of bringing in early church writings is to be a for guide us.

        That’s exactly why I started looking into these guys and is exactly why I’m considering the Catholic Church (or at least Eastern Orthodoxy). I don’t feel I can remain intellectually honest by using these guys as reliable guides and stay a Protestant. These guys just don’t look Protestant to me.

        None of us are infallible interpreters. .

        Yet another reason why I’m, considering Catholicism. I know I’m not, therefore someone else must be. Infallible Scriptures require infallible interpretation, right? (Not to mention an infallible decision to say what books are infallible and should be in the Bible at all.) Otherwise, I have to believe Jesus left us with no rock to be grounded upon and He’s cool with whatever I come up with as best I can.

        Can you define what you mean by apostolic succession? Can you show why your view (assuming it is different than what I wrote above) is what Irenaeus meant by that term?

        What do I believe Irenaeus is saying? I think he’s saying all churches must agree with Rome because of its pre-eminent authority and that apostolic succession is the handing on of the apostles’ authority: the apostles “were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men.” That sounds like a pretty big deal.

        Like I said, the only people “not convinced” by apostolic succession are those that know they don’t have it. The ones that do have it (or at least claim to) are very convinced and take it extremely seriously.

        For example:

        Eastern Orthodox:

        “The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical Church. An essential element in its structure is the Apostolic Succession of bishops. ‘The dignity of the bishop is so necessary in the Church,’ wrote Dositheus, ‘that without him neither the Church nor the name Christian could exist or be spoken of at all…He is a living image of God upon earth…and a fountain of all the sacraments of the Catholic Church, through which we obtain salvation.’ ‘If any are not with the bishop,’ wrote Cyprian, ‘they are not in the Church.’ At his election and consecration an Orthodox bishop is endowed with the threefold power of (1) ruling, (2) teaching, and (3) celebrating the sacraments.” (Timothy Ware, “The Orthodox Church”)

        Roman Catholicism:

        See Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 861 – 862 and 1575 – 1576
        http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p3.htm#IV
        http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c3a6.htm#V

        Here are a couple more passages from the early church on apostolic succession.

        Clement 1 – Letter to the Corinthians:

        “The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, ‘I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.’” (42)

        “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.” (44)

        Irenaeus:

        “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, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth.” (Vol IV, chap. 26, para. 2)

        This is what I mean by apostolic succession and it’s what I believe Irenaeus is saying too. I don’t mean a self-made church which is led by self-made elders.

      • Must Follow:

        Looks like you figured out the formatting thing. 🙂

        I don’t feel I can remain intellectually honest by using these guys as reliable guides and stay a Protestant. These guys just don’t look Protestant to me.

        As I read the first few centuries of writers I am not sure that they look like modern Roman Catholicism very much either.

        Infallible Scriptures require infallible interpretation, right?

        Before you start your swim across the Tiber, have you considered the case for the infallibility of interpreters. Rome may claim this for herself, but does her history or the history of the early church support that claim?

        Are you claiming that Irenaeus is saying the same thing here as Rome does in Vatican I? Does he use the same argument of the primacy of Peter & Matt 16 as Rome does in Vatican I?

        If tradition was manifest for all to see & understand in the 2nd century (a point Irenaeus makes & Vatican I agrees with), why was Papal Infallibility made dogma as late as the 19th century? Where in history do we find this and other late Catholic doctrines? Has Catholicism (and its bishops) preserved the original teachings of the apostles or have they innovated and added to them?

        The 2nd part of this post explores some of the early church theologians views on Matthew 16, which is what Rome uses as the Scriptural basis for its claims. Do we see consensus here?

        Don’t you think we could have saved a lot of trouble debating the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the NT canon during the first 4 centuries, if that infallible interpretive ability had been put to good use early on?

        Your conclusion (there are infallible interpreters) does not follow from the premise (there are infallible Scriptures). Something you probably understand since you are also considering EO.

        At the end of the day you still need to wrestle with your presupposition: infallible Scriptures require infallible interpretation. Where is that clearly taught? Why should you or I accept Rome’s claim?

        I often find that those who look to Rome, do not go b/c tradition supports it as much as they want the comfort of certainty that they think it offers.

        Otherwise, I have to believe Jesus left us with no rock to be grounded upon …

        The Rock we are grounded on is Jesus. He is risen & the gates of Hades/death could not contain Him. We are grounded on what He taught (Matt 7:24) which is recorded in the Scriptures. Consider Paul says that Jesus is the cornerstone and the foundation of the church is the apostles & prophets (Eph 2:20). All that are saved are those that are placed in the body of Christ by grace & through faith (all of Ephesians 1).

        I think he’s saying all churches must agree with Rome because of its pre-eminent authority

        We will have to disagree. Read all 4 chapters. He points to barbarians, Smyrna, Ephesus, and Asiatic churches as all valid places where one can find orthodox teaching.

        that apostolic succession is the handing on of the apostles’ authority

        authority or doctrine? I see Irenaeus arguing primarily for the latter as he is trying to prove that he is rightly teaching the same thing as what the apostles taught and not what the heretics are teaching.

        Irenaeus, Clement, and others will argue that elders/bishops have authority in the church in which they serve. More importantly Scripture (Heb13:17) agrees with that too. But there is no early evidence that one set of leaders in a church had authority over other churches.

        Clement (CH 44) writes that the apostles “gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry”. He goes on to say that those “who were appointed by (the apostles), or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole Church” are valid leaders. These instructions (& qualifications) are contained in 1 Tim and Titus. And it is these that are used in many Protestant churches that are elder run today.

        The early church theologians are just that guides. They are useful in helping us understand the Scriptures but they are not the “ground & pillar of the faith”. Nor are they or any other theologians “infallible” in what they teach.

      • Yeah! The formatting worked. 🙂

        Jumping between two different Protestants might be getting me confused or you all confused, or something, I think maybe we all got off track from the original point I was trying to make: Irenaeus does not look Protestant.

        There were a lot of issues brought up which go way beyond that particular point and, in essence, are really the entire debate between the RCC and Protestantism. I’m not trying to be an apologist for the RCC here. What I’m saying is that the early church is not Protestant, so why use them as reliable guides? It seems better to stick to sola scriptura and not even deal with them.

        All the extra issues brought up fall into the topic of “development of doctrine” which, again, is way beyond the comments for this post. Fr. Robert Barron has a good explanation of this here so I’ll leave y’all with that and not get into it myself.

        But there is no early evidence that one set of leaders in a church had authority over other churches.

        Unless, of course, Irenaeus means that Rome had pre-eminent authority. That would be early evidence of one set of leaders over other churches.

        authority or doctrine? I see Irenaeus arguing primarily for the latter as he is trying to prove that he is rightly teaching the same thing as what the apostles taught and not what the heretics are teaching.

        I think maybe they’re the same thing. Who has the authority to determine doctrine? Me? Or some authority higher than me?

        Nor are they or any other theologians “infallible” in what they teach.

        That means the best we can say is, “I know what I believe…maybe.” If that’s good enough for you that’s your choice. I’m not sure that’s good enough for me. Those saying there is no infallible interpretation are definitely not going to have it. There is really only one church even claiming infallibility, so the choices available are already slim.

    • The heading of this post says I’m responding to MikeB. I don’t know why. This response is to mustfollowifican.

      The reason apostolic succession is not very convincing 2,000 years later is simple enough. If Joe tells Bill something, who tells Frank, who tells me, then the likelihood that Frank is accurately representing Joe is good. If there are hundreds of people in that line, then the likelihood that the last person accurately represents Joe is slim to none.

      As for “the only people to whom it’s not convincing are thone that know they don’t have it.” That’s like saying the only people who don’t have Toyota Camry’s are those who didn’t buy one. Somewhere in this thread is a statement about “ignoring” Rome’s claims, which is pretty offensive to me. This thread makes it clear that Rome’s claims are not being ignored. I wrote a very thorough discussion of Rome’s claims at http://www.christian-history.org/roman-catholic-one-true-church.html.

      “Ignoring” is quoting part of a sentence out of Irenaeus and not addressing four chapters of the discussion. Irenaeus is very clear in stating that the reason for Rome, Ephesus, and Smyrna’s succession is “proof” that they held the truth. He is very clear that he could have used any church’s succession for that proof, but that he chose Rome’s because it would be tedious to do all the churches.

      Oh, one more thing on the 2,000 years. When succession includes 70 years with no bishop in Rome at all and about a century of two or three competing bishops, it’s really not much of a succession.

      Rome’s claims are not being ignored. They are being rejected. Irenaeus wanted people to agree with Rome because Rome held the truth in the second century. Today, however, they have added some pretty far out doctrines, things Irenaeus would never have heard of. Again, Irenaeus’ concern was truth.

      The answer to that is not “Well, Protestants have worse doctrines.” I won’t contest that, though I don’t see the benefit of comparing the large number of false doctrines in both movements.

      • I did not say people were ignoring Rome’s claims. Speaking about the idea of a church with authority coming straight from God I said, “ignoring that such a church even exists seems unwise.” I did not name Rome to be that church.

        Regardless, perhaps “ignoring” was the wrong word to use. Would you than say you “reject” that a single church exists which is established by Jesus to be His church and which holds authority straight from God?

        “If Joe tells Bill something, who tells Frank, who tells me, then the likelihood that Frank is accurately representing Joe is good. If there are hundreds of people in that line, then the likelihood that the last person accurately represents Joe is slim to none.”

        Can you show me the Scripture where Jesus promised that the game of telephone would be led into all truth, that it is the pillar and foundation of the truth, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it?

      • Some of the confusion about the two “Protestants” here is that you are expecting a stereotype of Protestant. I’m only Protestant in the sense that I am not Roman Catholic. I do not hold to faith alone, I do not hold to symbolic sacraments, and I am part of a church that is led by the Anointing into everything and is the pillar and support of the truth. It grows together as every part does its share.

        I believe those Scriptures apply to any local church that will obey God and walk in his ways. You will notice that when Jesus threatened to remove Ephesus’ candlestick and spew Laodicea out of his mouth, the problem was never that they didn’t have apostolic succession. The problem was their works.

        Divisiveness is a work of the flesh, as is denominationalism (Gal. 5:19-20). I can’t defend Protestant denominatians, but I can point to several churches who don’t like the word Protestant, who are living out the things we read about in Scripture, even the things about the church. Those churches don’t really like the idea of being Roman Catholic, either, because they don’t see the Roman Catholics living out what Scripture says about the church.

        I know this won’t convince you, either, and I’m not trying to convince you, but I am trying to make sure that other readers know there are answers for all these RCC claims.

  6. “mustfollow” (I assume you’ll see this),

    It looks like these guys might be ultimately helping you make your way home to Rome. I encourage you to continue your honest inquiry.
    When I was a Protestant, I avoided the term, but now I refer to my past self as a Protestant for a couple of reasons:
    1. My theological “lens” (perspective with which I viewed the Bible and history) could only be defined in a broad sense as “Protestant” (not Catholic, not EO, not even Anglican), and perhaps most importantly,
    2. I did not accept the authority of the pope, in effect protesting Rome’s authority. So a simple test to see if someone qualifies as a “Protestant” is if they “doth protest too much” against Rome’s authority. Understandably not everyone agrees with this criteria…

    It sounds like you’re having a difficult time remaining “Protestant”, as you are finding fewer things about Rome to protest against. For a modern American Evangelical Protestant like I was, the journey doesn’t start with Rome as the obvious choice, but it usually ends with Rome as the last remaining contestant to fit the real-life criteria of “the Church” that Christ established. After a while (and after relinquishing our own illusions of personal doctrinal authority), it turns out that the Catholic Church is greater than we ever could have originally hoped for when we were Protestants.

    May God bless you in your journey!

    -Ben

  7. You wrote “The heretics did not just offer a different worldview. They were using Scriptures to uphold their ideas – which centered on two gods – a good one and an evil one. It was the evil god who created the physical world that we must rid ourselves of. ” but later it was worse, then there where people who created three gods in similarity with the Roman and Greek gods and called it the holy trinity. further they also created a demonic extraterrestrial figure, making from satan a name Satan and co-devils which would have torturing man.

    We should profess the Only One God who is One and stick to the Biblical Truth.

  8. Pingback: Were Gnostics the original Christians? | Stepping Toes

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