Wednesday, July 8, 2009
In the Scripture and Tradition in the early Church Fathers and Ken Temple, Mike Liccione and Randy on Scripture and Tradition threads we have been exploring the relationship between Scripture and Tradition in the early Church Fathers. In this thread, I am going to focus specifically on Irenaeus’ view. I will start with a quote from a 19th century Anglican scholar:
There was, however, another aid which he looked upon as of the most certain and most important utility, so far as it extended, and that was the baptismal creed, which he regarded as infallible for leading to the right sense of Scripture upon fundamental points, and according to which he thought all Scripture ought to be interpreted. [I.ix.4] It is evident, therefore, that he regarded the tradition of the Church, to that extent, as divine and infallible. (James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and Martyr, 1841, p. 139.)
I think all will agree that the magisterial Reformers (as well as modern day Evangelicals who embrace their view) never argued that “the tradition of the Church” could be termed “divine and infallible”.
Now, what was in Irenaeus’ “baptismal creed”, his “rule of faith”, his accepted “tradition of the apostles”?
Beaven in the quote above referenced a selection from Against Heresies (I.ix.4). Below is a recent (1992) translation of the passage, and the translator’s note:
In the same way, anyone who keeps unchangeable in himself the Rule of the Truth received through baptism will recognize the names and sayings and parables from the Scriptures, but this blasphemous theme of theirs he will not recognize. For even if he recognizes the jewels, he will not accept the fox for the image of the king. He will restore each one of the passages to its proper order and, having fit it into the body of the Truth, he will lay bare their fabrication and show it is without support.
 In A.H. Irenaeus speaks of Tradition as “the Rule of the Truth,” but in Proof 3 he calls it “the Rule of the Faith.” So these terms are used as synonyms for Christian Tradition. In the concrete, Irenaeus applies “Rule of the Truth” to the Sacred Scriptures (2.25.1; 2.28.1; 4.35.4) and to the preaching of the Church (Proof 3), which is also known as the body of the Truth (2.27.1; Proof 1). This Rule of the Truth forms a harmonious picture (1.8.1). It also serves as a criterion of Truth (1.9.4; 1.10.1). N. Brox…also holds that the Rule of the Truth is in Irenaeus not a Creed, but is the entire faith believed and preached by the Church. It is ipsa veritas. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies – Book 1, trans. by John J.Dillon, Newman Press, p. 48 – endnote p. 182.)
We now turn to Irenaeus’ The Proof of Apostolic Preaching, for his most comprehensive presentation of “the rule of faith:
THE RULE OF FAITH
3. So, lest the like befall us, we must keep strictly, without deviation, the rule of faith, and carry out the commands of God, believing in God, and fearing Him, because He is Lord, and loving Him, because He is Father. Action, then, is preserved by faith, because unless you believe, says Isaias, you shall not continue; and faith is given by truth, since faith rests upon reality: for we shall believe what really is, as it is, and, believing what really is, as it is for ever, keep a firm hold on our assent to it. Since, then, it is faith that maintains our salvation, one must take great care of this sustenance, to have a true perception of reality. Now, this is what faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting One is God, and is above all creatures, and that all things whatsoever are subject to Him; and that what is subject to Him was all made by Him; so that God is not ruler and Lord of what is another’s, but of His own, and all things are God’s; that God, therefore, is the Almighty, and all things whatsoever are from God. (Irenaeus, The Proof of Apostolic Preaching, trans. by Joseph P. Smith, S.J., Newman Press, pp. 49, 50.)
Is further commentary on Irenaeus’ position really needed?
Grace and peace,