Monday, August 25, 2008

Irenaeus (130-200) AD

This quote and possibly others to follow are meant as springboards for discussion. Enjoy~

"Having therefore the truth itself as our rule and the testimony concerning God set clearly before us,
we ought not, by running after numerous and diverse answers to questions, to cast away the firm and true knowledge of God...If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God."

--ANF, Vol.I, Against Heresies, 2.28.1-2 [emphasis mine]

29 comments:

David Cox said...

"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 in truth."

- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3, 3, 3 (ca. A.D. 185)

"Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, those who as I have shown, possess succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of bishops, 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 of the succession, and assemble themselves...But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, shall recieve from God the same punishments as Jeroboam did."

- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2

David Cox said...

Cat
Are you intending this to be an argument for Sola Scriptura?

Catz206 said...

“Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3, 3, 3 (ca. A.D. 185)”

It is unfortunate that apostolic succession in itself was not able to keep the Eastern and Western churches unified.


“Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2”

This goes nicely with the command in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7 and Rom 13.

...What are your thoughts on the passage posted initially?

"Cat
Are you intending this to be an argument for Sola Scriptura?"

Eventually yes... Not all by itself of course. For now it is just a discussion starter.

Catz206 said...

Alright, on a more argumentative line, how does apostolic succession bring us to Church infallibility if those coming later “are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit…” ?

David Cox said...

What does St. Irenaeus mean when he says "the Word of God and His Spirit?" The Word of God is Jesus Christ. As for us coming later (Irenaeus is referring to himself as well), I beleive that St. Irenaeus is saying that we are not on the same level as God and that which we know about him is through his revelation of himself.

I don't really see this as an argument against Church authority at all. Scripture is indeed perfect. It just isn't a self interpreting document. It truly comes to life within the context of the living tradition of His Church.

flourence n. said...

"What does St. Irenaeus mean when he says "the Word of God and His Spirit?" The Word of God is Jesus Christ. As for us coming later (Irenaeus is referring to himself as well), I beleive that St. Irenaeus is saying that we are not on the same level as God and that which we know about him is through his revelation of himself."

Who then interprets St. Irenaeus? And, if there are different interpretations, which interpretation is correct? I can see this going on ad infinitum. It would have to be that if scripture isn't a self-interpreting document (one written by man) then the Fathers are not self-interpreting documents, in which case, even if the Church, for however long agrees with a certain interpretation, that interpretation needs to be interpreted with in conext.

Is the claim that the bible is not self-interpreting a consistent thema throughout the rest of literary analysis with other documents?

I'm just curious.

with respect,

~ flourence n.

David Cox said...

"Who then interprets St. Irenaeus? And, if there are different interpretations, which interpretation is correct? I can see this going on ad infinitum. It would have to be that if scripture isn't a self-interpreting document (one written by man) then the Fathers are not self-interpreting documents, in which case, even if the Church, for however long agrees with a certain interpretation, that interpretation needs to be interpreted with in conext."

You are absolutely correct to point out that I am not an authority on Irenaeus or any other Fathers. Nor am I an authority when it comes to scripture interpretation.

The issue comes down to authority. Who has the final authority to interpret scripture? Is it you or the Church within whose context scripture was written? Can you explain to me why one would need to interpret an interpretation?

David Cox said...

"Is the claim that the bible is not self-interpreting a consistent thema throughout the rest of literary analysis with other documents?"

I suppose if we lump the bible in with other "documents" then we are free to interpret it as we choose. However, wouldn't this will result in many different interpretations that would all have to be equally acceptable? If the bible is the written Word of God, then wouldn't it be necessary to treat it differently?

Nathanael Taylor said...

I suppose if we lump the bible in with other "documents" then we are free to interpret it as we choose. However, wouldn't this will result in many different interpretations that would all have to be equally acceptable? If the bible is the written Word of God, then wouldn't it be necessary to treat it differently?

Response: This is a rather strange response that most Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox say against the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. First off, we don't interpret it anyway we choose there are objective and properly basic ways of interpretation. We have said this time and time again and you haven't really addressed these issues. Secondly, we do not think for a second that interpretations are equally valid there rules of interpretation that would make one interpretation more reasonable than other ones. Just like in any field of study there are going to be things in the Bible that are taught that most reasonable people are going to believe in (Christ's death on the cross and the trinity and so on), but there are going to be disputed issues with reasonable folks that are not essential (like is calvinism true or not)....this is true in philosophy and other field of study and this does not mean for a second that there are many truths or that all beliefs are equally justified. All it means is that someone is mistaken and that some people have truth. The Bible is different in the Protestant religion because it is self-attesting and because of this we do not need the church for this would be to violate Ockham's razor.

NPT

David N said...

David C,

"Can you explain to me why one would need to interpret an interpretation?"

Simple. Take Paul's descriptions of the Lord's Supper. Nowhere does Scripture explicitly outline Aquinas's formula, nor does it even speak of Christ being present in the elements in any way. So, if I said, "I think that Christ is really present in the Eucharist." That is an interpretation of Paul. But what do I mean? Lutherans, Catholics and Calvinists can all affirm that statement. So you might go on to say, "I think that means that Christ's physical body is really present in the Eucharist." That again is an interpretation. And it could go on and on.

This is why creeds and confessions and catechisms have gone from short and simple to long and complex over the last 2,000 years. There is always a need to interpret.

Because we are finite human beings who must describe things to each other using finite language, what we say will always be an interpretation. That doesn't mean it can't be objectively true, but it's still an interpretation, strictly speaking.

David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...

David
I pretty much agree with you here. That is why we must interpret scripture in light of the living tradition of the church. Much of the reason that the creeds and catechisms have gotten longer is a response to heresy or misunderstandings. It is also worthy to note that many heresies were the result of private interpretation of scripture.

Today's mass reading:
We ask you, brothers and sisters,
with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our assembling with him,
not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly,
or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us
to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.
Let no one deceive you in any way.

To this end he has also called you through our Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm
and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught,
either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts and strengthen them
in every good deed and word.

David Cox said...

Nathanael
I have addressed your point on interpretation. If there are accepted norms for interpretation and one Holy Spirit to guide you in that interpretation, then why are there so many different interpretations? Is God a God of confusion?

"Secondly, we do not think for a second that interpretations are equally valid there rules of interpretation that would make one interpretation more reasonable than other ones. Just like in any field of study there are going to be things in the Bible that are taught that most reasonable people are going to believe in (Christ's death on the cross and the trinity and so on), but there are going to be disputed issues with reasonable folks that are not essential (like is calvinism true or not)....this is true in philosophy and other field of study and this does not mean for a second that there are many truths or that all beliefs are equally justified."

If there is one Bible, and one Spirit who guides us, then there must be one interpretation, right? If you and I agree to read the same Bible translation, use the same resources and have a sincere heart, we will most likely come to different conclusions about things like the Eucharist or baptism. Who is right? Or do we chalk these up to being 'non essential?' How do you distinguish between 'essential' and 'non essential' doctrine? I am sure Luther and Calvin thought their positions were pretty essential. Can you give me a list of these 'essential' doctrines?

Nathanael Taylor said...

Nathanael
I have addressed your point on interpretation. If there are accepted norms for interpretation and one Holy Spirit to guide you in that interpretation, then why are there so many different interpretations? Is God a God of confusion?

Response: I don't know where you have gotten the idea the holy spirit somehow helps us with the interpretive process...I don't think he does (we use reason and interpretation; which happen to be gifts of God nonetheless). I think he causes in us beliefs that this is God speaking to us, but we still have to interpret the content of what God is saying (once we have established that God is speaking to us through the Bible by us functioning properly by the HS). It becomes sort of ironic I think when a Roman Catholic reasons the same way the pluralistic pagans do when they ask if there is one true religion then why is there some many different view points about religion and so on. The answer to these are simply: people are fallible, sinful, and can be honestly mistaken, but we of course can correct those mistakes by further study and sanctification. Any argument you can raise about different interpretations you can raise about other areas in which there are different view points (like religions). Does this mean that somehow truth cannot be found or that there is no truth. No, not at all. It is a completely false inference from what Protestants and what Christians say when responding to pluralistic pagans.


If there is one Bible, and one Spirit who guides us, then there must be one interpretation, right?

Response: I don't think that Spirit gives us an infallible interpretation like the Pentacostals think (another view of authority that Roman Catholics have to deal with independent of Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, JW's, and Mormons). So in that sense the Spirit does guide us. There is one interpretation that is correct however infinitely many false ones. We use logic, reason, and hermeneutics to determine which one is correct.

If you and I agree to read the same Bible translation, use the same resources and have a sincere heart, we will most likely come to different conclusions about things like the Eucharist or baptism.

Response: That is because you have added something to the Bible, which is church. And because of that presupposition you will do hermanutical gymnastics to make the text fit your interpretation of the Roman Catholic church.

Who is right? Or do we chalk these up to being 'non essential?' How do you distinguish between 'essential' and 'non essential' doctrine? I am sure Luther and Calvin thought their positions were pretty essential. Can you give me a list of these 'essential' doctrines?

Response: We determine them by the Bible. If the Bible says if you believe this you will die in your sins or accursed then we can be pretty certain that this is an essential doctrine. Look in Galatains 1 Paul says that if you reject the Gospel you are accursed....find out what the Gospel is by doing systematic theology and you will find that that is essential plus the Trinity (John 8:24 is a good start I think). It's not hard to find out if you just read the Bible.

God Bless,

NPT

flourence n said...

we need to interpret an interpretation so we are confident the interpreters weren't victims of the fallacy of presentism. i think this much is clear.

"If there is one Bible, and one Spirit who guides us, then there must be one interpretation, right? "

Response: This is why Christ can reveal all the truths of scripture to a person without need of the Church because it is a living Word. I am not saying the Church is not necessary. Christ gave us the Church and it is what we have to operate in. This does not mean it's infallible or all doctrines are 100% kosher, it means this is the best standard to go to, besides scripture.

Church is an interesting concept, though. The Church and it's doctrines are really the statements of people interpreting scripture and the gathering of people. (speaking of the visible Church, but we do need to take into account the invisible Church). Since people have interpreted the documents their interpretation can be fallible as you implied by questioning how can we know when one is right. Therefore, some doctrines in the CHurch can be fallible -- if we understand this logically, i'm sure my point is clear. We assume it is coherent and correct if it best describes what Scripture is saying. This is why Irenaeus, Tertullian (pre-montanist....), etc lined up everything with what the apostles had to say. What the apostles had to say, basically later became known as the NT.

Most sincerely,

~ flourence n.

Catz206 said...

"Scripture is indeed perfect. It just isn't a self interpreting document."

agreed.

"It truly comes to life within the context of the living tradition of His Church."

what indication do we have from Irenaeus that the Church is the infallible interpreter?

David Cox said...

Cat

"Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, those who as I have shown, possess succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of bishops, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father."

Irenaeus stresses submission to those who posess apostolic succession, the presbyters in the Church and he says that the bishops have "received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father." How does that not speak of infallible authority?

David Cox said...

Florence
St. Paul states in 2 Thess 2:15 that oral tradition must be followed as well. Not all apostolic teaching was committed to scripture.

flourence n. said...

"15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle."

Are you, David, assuming that Paul means the future fathers of the Church here? Can you substantiate this?

Example: All the different nuances in the canon for Greek, Russian, and Ethiopian Orthodox, and Catholic...is this phenomena tradition passed down by the word?

What doctrines are you talking about that were oral traditions, not written down by the apostles, that are now doctrine?

We must be logic and understand what Paul is saying here: he is writing to the Thessalonians -- if the Apostles started the Churches (ergo apostolic succession and the Church in Thessalonica) then this is tradition passed down by the Apostles (not taking into consideration epistle). So, what doctrines are oral, not written, tradition that are now doctrines?

If such doctrines exist, of which I confess ignorance here, then I would like substantial proof that these were, in fact, the traditions passed down by the Apostles (to keep in the tone of Irenaeus lining up the doctrines of presbyters with those of the apostles).

(by substantial proof I do not mean: "St. Irenaeus said (fill in the blank), therefore this was oral tradition")

I am very interested on this. Thank you for your remarks David.

In Christ,

~ flourence n.

MG said...

Catz--

You wrote:

“Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3, 3, 3 (ca. A.D. 185)

It is unfortunate that apostolic succession in itself was not able to keep the Eastern and Western churches unified."

How does this addres whether or not Irenaeus believed in an authoritative oral tradition?

You wrote:

"Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2

This goes nicely with the command in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7 and Rom 13."

How does this address whether or not the quote indicates that the Church authoritatively interprets Scripture?

MG said...

Catz--

Have you read a substantial portion of Against Heresies?

Also, is there any chance that Irenaeus is speaking here of the supremacy of Scripture, not sola Scriptura?

flourence n. said...

MG, are you eastern orthodox or have you grown up in the Church or been part of the Eastern Church for a substantial period of time to fully understand all of the doctrine? Have you read a significant amount of the early fathers to proclaim consensus patrum?

I'm intrigued with your interpretation of much of Eastern Orthodox doctrine and literature on your website (of which I have become acquainted with via bywhoseauthority).

I only ask because (being part of the Eastern Orthodoxy for a long time) I am always amazed by those that are acquainted with the sect for only a few years and argue for it.

I mean this in respect, but out of curiosity as to establish your ethos when you say:

"Have you read a substantial portion of Against Heresies?"

With respect,
~ flourence n.

MG said...

Flourence--

Hey :)

You wrote:

"MG, are you eastern orthodox or have you grown up in the Church or been part of the Eastern Church for a substantial period of time to fully understand all of the doctrine?"

Though surprised that you do not know more about me, I'm glad to answer your questions. I am a convert to Orthodoxy who was only recently chrismated. It is definately true that I'm new to Orthodoxy and I don't fully understand it; I hope nothing I have said implies otherwise.

I am sincerely sorry if my question to Catz was an insult or a personal attack or an attack on her intelligence; I did not intend it to be, but it may have turned into that. What I was trying to get at was whether or not she had read a substantial portion of Against Heresies, which many scholars think does not imply what Catz thinks it teaches (if you look at many other passages). As someone who has read a good deal of it, I was struck by Irenaeus' preoccupation with the Church as the normative interpreter of Scripture, and I wanted to know if Catz was aware of the passages that are used to argue for this.

You wrote:

"Have you read a significant amount of the early fathers to proclaim consensus patrum?"

It is hard to know when one has read enough to claim to *know* that the consensus of the Fathers on some subject is in favor of Orthodox teaching on that subject. Though far from a patristic scholar, I am familiar with many of the primary sources and secondary literature both critical and favorable to the Fathers and the Orthodox interpretation of them. From everything that I've seen so far, it seems to me safe to claim that the majority of the Church Fathers teach what the Orthodox Church teaches today. I am aware of Protestant scholarship on this issue, but remain unconvinced that Oden, Boersma, Chadwick, etc. are interpreting them correctly. Perhaps I will post about this sometime soon.

You wrote:

"I'm intrigued with your interpretation of much of Eastern Orthodox doctrine and literature on your website (of which I have become acquainted with via bywhoseauthority)."

Is there anything in particular that is intriguing? Do you think, for instance, that there is some grave error in my understanding of Orthodox teaching on some issue, or my interpretation of the Fathers? If so, I would really appreciate it if you pointed it out.

You wrote:

"I only ask because (being part of the Eastern Orthodoxy for a long time) I am always amazed by those that are acquainted with the sect for only a few years and argue for it."

If I understand your amazement the same way I understand most Protestants' amazement at converts to Orthodoxy, then let me give a quick note of recognition:

I know about convert zeal. I fully realize that I am a young, reckless, foolish person. Forgive me if I have shown myself to be ungentelmanly. And please feel free to criticize my attitude if need be. Perhaps someday this won't be a problem, but for the time being I would ask that you please try to tolerate my often conceited and ignorant ways. I'm just the beginning of a work in progress, and because I appreciate the input of those around me who are either wiser than I am, or fellow-travelers, I hope that my attitude does not drive you away from interacting with me (and the people I am associated with).

(If I have misunderstood your amazement, then sorry for being assuming)

Is there anything in particular that has bothered you, or just struck you as odd, about my behavior or claims?

You wrote:

"I mean this in respect, but out of curiosity as to establish your ethos when you say:

"Have you read a substantial portion of Against Heresies?"

With respect,
~ flourence n."

Hopefully the above adequate addresses your concerns.

flourence n. said...

Thank you for your response.

All is fine over here. You can never tell, sometimes, in blog life. Haha.

~ flourence n.

Catz206 said...

Cox-

Sorry for the late response. I just started school today and am having to get certain things in order.

“Irenaeus stresses submission to those who posess apostolic succession, the presbyters in the Church and he says that the bishops have "received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father." How does that not speak of infallible authority?”

I also believe that we should obey and exercise submission to those who are in authority over us- especially in the Church. However, is the necessary ingredient apostolic succession or Orthodoxy? If apostolic succession is the important element then what about those in the line of succession that act contrary to the common Christian teaching or those like the Eastern Orthodox Church who fall in line with succession but are not considered part of the one true Church?

As for the quote itself, how does obedience to those who have been appointed as authorities by the line of succession and “received the certain gift of truth” bring us to infallible authority? Spell this out for me. I have ideas about how you might arrive at this conclusion but would find it more helpful if you were to explicitly say so as to avoid miscommunication.

Just a heads up, I am still in the process of deciding what I believe the Church fathers are trying to say and am interacting and asking questions in order to gain a better understanding of where everyone else is coming from as well as new insight.

MG-

Quote Cox gave: "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 in truth."

My Comment to Cox: “It is unfortunate that apostolic succession in itself was not able to keep the Eastern and Western churches unified."

You said: “How does this addres whether or not Irenaeus believed in an authoritative oral tradition?”

An authoritative oral tradition was not addressed because I found no disagreement with the mere quote. In other words, I did not address the matter because I saw that Irenaeus believed in an authoritative oral tradition at his time and do not find this in conflict with my present day Protestant beliefs. A point of contention that has been teased out now is whether or not this line of succession was thought to be infallible by Irenaeus and this is where the dialogue will be going.

Also, my comment addressed another issue in the mere quote provided. Irenaeus says, “And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith” If apostolic succession is proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith then how come we have different versions of the Christian faith (as the Eastern Orthodox Church might see it?) in the Eastern and Western churches?

Even though my remark was not picked up by Cox… My quote and comments were only placed to inspire more discussion and I am pleased that the question of whether or not this teaches infallibility is being addressed instead (or in addition to?).

Next Quote: "Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, those who as I have shown, possess succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of bishops, 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 of the succession, and assemble themselves...But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, shall recieve from God the same punishments as Jeroboam did."

My Comment to Cox: “This goes nicely with the command in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7 and Rom 13."

You said: “How does this address whether or not the quote indicates that the Church authoritatively interprets Scripture?”

The passages speak about obedience to authority which would include the Church by extension. The passages were aimed at bringing out the real issue. Obedience to authority is not being denied by Protestants and (as far as I know) the Church’s authoritative interpretation of Scripture is not a point of contention. The real issue here is the kind of authority. I need indication of infallible authority.

In a discussion starter where only quotes are provided, the conversation can take a variety of turns. I mentioned the verses to provoke a more specific response or to allow the issue to rest.

You said: “Have you read a substantial portion of Against Heresies?”

All of it cover to cover in the beginning of the summer. I found it extremely interesting and it was hard to put it down. I am now going back and looking over much but not all of it along with my chaotic notes. Is there any specific reason you are asking?

You asked: “Also, is there any chance that Irenaeus is speaking here of the supremacy of Scripture, not sola Scriptura?”

Michael, how would you define the supremacy of Scripture and what is your conception of Sola Scriptura?

Catz206 said...

MG-

I see your aim now. In the future, if you find yourself disagreeing with my interpretation (which until my very last post was not given) because you suspect that I have not done my homework, I would appreciate a more private inquiry (since we know each other) so as to not send the wrong message. Wrong messages happen though- I know by experience. ^_-

David Cox said...

Nathanael
Much of what you wrote in the first few paragraphs just didn't make sense to me. With that, there were a couple of things that I can respond to.

"That is because you have added something to the Bible, which is church. And because of that presupposition you will do hermanutical gymnastics to make the text fit your interpretation of the Roman Catholic church."

This is innacurate. I haven't added anything, you have subtracted something. I have to say that much of the hermaueutical gymnastics take place in the Protestant arena. There is one Catholic interpretation. There are thousands of Protestant interpretations. All Catholic interpretations fit quite nicely if you look at scripture as a whole. The presupposition is that Christianity is a religion of the book, but the irony is that the "book" is meant to be read and truly comes to life in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church. You study the menu, we share the meal (see the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Their eyes were opened to the scriptures in the breaking of the bread.)

"If the Bible says if you believe this you will die in your sins or accursed then we can be pretty certain that this is an essential doctrine."

So when Jesus says, "unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the son of man you have no life in you," he is indicating an essential doctrine. I am pretty sure we don't agree on Eucharistic doctrine, but it seems pretty essential.

By the way, what are you defining to be the "Gospel?"

David Cox said...

Flourence
I wasn't trying to point out any particular doctrines. I was only pointing out that not all of what the apostles taught wasn't necessarily explicitly written in scripture.

I personally believe that all Catholic doctrine can be seen in scripture. However, scripture must be interpreted in the light of the living tradition of the church for one to see it.

Catz206 said...

Cox,
If you get this, I would still like to continue our discussion over how the quotes you provided lead us to believe in Church infallibility.