The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church (part 5)

The Early Church knew that there was but one Chief Shepherd, and He wasn’t in Rome.
The Early Church knew that there was but one Chief Shepherd, and He wasn’t in Rome.

Last week we spent some time analyzing the thoughts of Tertullian and Origen on the concept of a strong central episcopate to rule the Early Church. As we have shown, the very idea was not only foreign to them, but also repugnant. They relied on the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit and the Chief Shepherd in heaven to guard the church, even in times when there were known disagreements among men. Christ, His Spirit, and His Scriptures provided the solutions to whatever ailed the Early Church. The Church did not desire, and did not seek, a visible chief shepherd for this task. Tertullian rejected the pretenses of ostensibly “papal” edicts from a fallible “bishop of bishops,” and insisted that men ought rather to “imbibe the Scriptures of that Shepherd who cannot be broken” (Tertullian, On Modesty, chapter 10). Origen rejected the carnality of an earthly chief city, and insisted that Christians instead “have the heavenly Jerusalem as their metrop­olis” (Origen, De Principiis, Book IV, chapter 22). Such statements, so forceful and adamant, can hardly be construed as support for the early rise of papal and Roman primacy that Roman Catholics earnestly desire to find in the post-apostolic era.

This week we continue the series with Irenæus (early 2nd century). Irenæus insists, with Clement, Polycarp, the church at Smyrna, Ignatius, the Shepherd of Hermas, Mathetes, Tertullian and Origen that the observable doctrinal, fraternal, apostolic unity of the many earthly bishoprics is mysteriously administered invisibly from heaven, and not visibly from earth. This we shall address first. Attentive readers will note that we have taken him out of chronological order, assessing Tertullian (early 3rd century) and Origen (3rd century) ahead of him. We have ordered it this way intentionally for reasons that we hope the readers will find quite illuminating. Roman Catholicism believes that she has found in Irenæus incontrovertible evidence of the early primacy of Papal Rome. As we shall demonstrate, Rome is up to her typical devices, relying on an English mistranslation of a garbled Latin translation of a lost Greek original in order to find in Irenæus that which Irenæus obstinately refuses to allow. Tertullian and Origen provide additional data for understanding the the era immediately following him, data that overturns Rome’s attempt to find Roman primacy in Irenæus. This we shall address second.

Irenæus and the Invisibly Shepherded Church

Irenæus believed that the purity and unity of the Church were guarded invisibly from heaven. Listen as he marvels that the Church, “though dispersed throughout the whole world,” still manages to teach one singular doctrine as if she possessed only one mouth:

“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: … although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book I, chapter 10, paragraphs 1 & 2).

The Church “hands them down” as if she had only one mouth? What mouth might that be? Is it the mouth of Peter and his successors? Is it to be found in Rome? No, the “one mouth” by which the Church speaks and “hands down” apostolic doctrine is the Scriptures, and that mouth can be found in Germany, Gaul, Spain, Syria, Egypt, Libya—and yes, even in “the central regions of the world.” Though Rome can be inferred from such a description, for some reason Irenæus does not see fit to mention her by name:

“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.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book I, chapter 10, paragraph 2).

What could possibly bring about this unity of doctrine? Does our unity emanate like that of a single light from a particular Latin city set on seven hills? Perhaps Irenæaus here meant to elevate Rome by not mentioning her  (in the same way that John Paul II claimed that the Gospel “omission” of Mary at Jesus’ tomb is evidence of her presence there).

Remarkably, Irenæus is unaware of any individual ruler of the Church imbued with infallibility or indefectability, but he seems to make the argument in the plural—that “the rulers in the Churches” are protected from error. The mystery of the unity of the Church was not that one indefectable ruler presided over the rest, but that all “the rulers of the Churches” together could not fail. Note well—yes note very well indeed—that the bishops of the visibly apostolic Church had but one Master, and he was in Heaven, not in Rome:

“Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book I, chapter 10, paragraph 2).

Irenæus recognized, as Ignatius and the Church at Smyrna did, that there are “rulers in the Churches,” and above them, a Master in Heaven. He was unaware of a hierarchical position in Rome standing between “the rulers in the Churches” and their Master in heaven. Notice how Irenæus speaks of one Church, one path, one doctrine, one faith, one dispensation, one gift, one constitution, one way, one light and one truth, but stubbornly refuses to identify “one man” on earth who is responsible for maintaining this state of affairs. Instead he refers to a plurality of bishops “to whom the apostles committed the Churches”:

“Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches;  …
But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. And undoubtedly the preaching of the Church is true and steadfast, in which one and the same way of salvation is shown throughout the whole world. For to her is entrusted the light of God; and therefore the ‘wisdom’ of God, by means of which she saves all men, ‘is declared in [its] going forth; it utters [its voice] faithfully in the streets, is preached on the tops of the walls, and speaks continually in the gates of the city.’ [Proverbs 1:20-21] For the Church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven-branched candlestick which bears the light of Christ.  Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters …” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 20, paragraphs 1-2)

What could possibly account for this unity in the visibly apostolic Church? What is the source of the unity of doctrine?  Why, the Scriptures, of course. After refusing to point to a single bishop who ostensibly protects the Church from error, Irenæus then points to the source of the light of “the seven-branched candlestick”—the Scriptures themselves:

“It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their [heretics’] 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. For the Church has been planted as a garden in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, ‘You may freely eat from every tree of the garden, [Genesis 2:16] that is, Eat from every Scripture of the Lord.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 20, paragraphs 1-2)

“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.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 1, paragraph 1)

Irenæaus, quite obviously, was unaware of Rome’s “three tree” rubric in which we are to eat the fruit of the trees of the Magisterium, Tradition, and Scriptures. What we eat in the Church is the “Scripture of the Lord.” It is this tree, breathed of the Holy Spirit, that accounts for the visible unity about which Irenæus marvels in his books.

The emphasis on visible apostolicity is seen in Irenæus’ refutation of heretics who claimed that they had access to special apostolic knowledge that could not be found in the Scriptures. Irenæus had been sent to Rome from Gaul with letters correcting the rising heresy there. To this error Irenæus strongly objected on the grounds that the heretics alleged that the source of Church’s truth was not limited to written documents. These heretics were introducing two additional trees from modern Rome’s arboretum: the magisterium and tradition. When confronted from the Bible, the heretics argued that the Scriptures cannot be properly understood by those who are not sufficiently equipped with tradition of which they alone were the custodians. Irenæus would have none of it:

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, ‘But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.’ [1 Corinthians 2:6] And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing …” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 2.1).

What was the solution to this problem? How could we answer these men who claimed that they had special access to oral apostolic tradition not contained in the Scriptures? The answer was simple. Just as we noted earlier, apostolic doctrine could be found in Germany, Gaul, Spain, Syria, Egypt, Libya—and yes, even in “the central regions of the world.” Because every church on earth could trace its lineage to the teachings of the apostles, those who sought for truth could simply go find apostolic teaching in any church in the known world:

“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; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to ‘the perfect’ apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 3, paragraph 1)

In light of these proofs, “it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 4, paragraph 1), and what is obtained from the Church is the apostolic doctrines contained in the Scriptures alone. To demonstrate his point, Irenæus then poses one of the most interesting hypothetical questions in all of his works: What would have happened if the Apostles had not left us their writings? If they had not, we would need to go to the Churches they founded and ask them what was true:

“For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 4, paragraph 1)

We need not wonder, says Irenæus, for the situation is not hypothetical at all. Remarkably, Irenæus claims that he has proof of illiterate barbarians in his day, evangelized by the apostles themselves, “without paper or ink” who yet hold to precisely the same truths that our Scriptures contain, guarded in their simplicity by the Holy Spirit Himself. Yet the truths these barbarians hold are explicitly Scriptural, and there is not one thing in Irenæus’ list of their doctrines that is not explicitly Scriptural, implicitly affirming that the “ancient tradition of the apostles” is exactly what they handed down to us in the written documents we now hold. All without the imposition of an imperial papacy. Thus the “barbarians” had been preserved in their purity by the administration of the Holy Spirit, and would not entertain these new “traditions” for a moment:

“If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. 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.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 4, paragraph 2)

And that, says Irenæus, is “what would have happened if the Apostles had not left us their writings.” The invisibly shepherded church would have continued in its visible apostolicity, guarded by the Spirit and holding to that “which [the Apostles] did at one time proclaim in public,” which were “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” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 1, paragraph 1). And such truth as that revealed to us in the Scriptures may be found in any apostolic church on earth, if the current heretics in Rome truly desired to find it.

Irenæus and the Alleged Primacy of the City of Rome

It is at this point in Irenæus’ work that Roman Catholicism believes she can find evidence for the primacy of a visible Roman shepherd, and in the process she misses the point that Irenæus makes about the invisible superintendence of the church by the Chief Shepherd in heaven. In order to demonstrate the visible apostolicity of the church throughout the world, Irenæus claims that the succession of bishops from the apostles can be proved in any church on earth. But for expediency, he only lists the succession of bishops in Rome, the greatest city of the empire and, as it turns out, the epicenter of the current heresy.

In the third chapter of the third book of his work Against Heresies, Irenæus is therefore construed to establish beyond doubt the Early Church’s embrace of a strong central episcopate in Rome. In that work, Irenæaus wrote,

“For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [in Rome], on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 2).

As it turns out, Irenæus’ statement is based on a questionable English translation of a “barbarous” Latin translation of a lost Greek original. Ironically, a more credible English translation comes not from the lips of obstinate Reformers but from a Roman Catholic Patristic scholar. As we shall demonstrate below, Rome leans too heavily upon errant mistranslation to construct the foundation of her illicit authority, and the building she seeks to build upon it is demolished by Irenæus himself.

What we notice first is what the editors are only too eager to point out about Irenæus’ works—namely that the Greek original is lost, and the translator of the Latin version was far from equal to his task:

“After the [Latin] text has been settled, according to the best judgment which can be formed, the work of translation remains; and that is, in this case, a matter of no small difficulty. Irenæus, even in the original Greek, is often a very obscure writer. At times he expresses himself with remarkable clearness and terseness; but, upon the whole, his style is very involved and prolix. And the Latin version adds to these difficulties of the original, by being itself of the most barbarous character. … We have endeavoured to give as close and accurate a translation of the work as possible, but there are not a few passages in which a guess can only be made as to the probable meaning.” (Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies)

As it turns out, Irenæus’ alleged claim that every church in the world “should agree with this Church” in Rome as “a matter of necessity” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 2), is just such a difficult passage in which guesswork is reluctantly elevated by the translators to the level of scholarship. This point is conceded by the Protestant translator, William W. Rambaut. The Latin text is difficult enough, and the Greek eludes us entirely:

“We are far from sure that the rendering given above is correct, but we have been unable to think of anything better” (Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, Against Heresies, Book III, ch. 3, n. 3313).

The editors of Schaff’s Ante-Nicene Fathers, of course, are aghast at Rambaut’s inability “to think of anything better.” In the same footnote, they say it would in fact be difficult to think of anything worse, so heavily does the literary and historical context weigh against such a rendering.

To our rescue rides not a Protestant ideologue, but a Roman Catholic translator who was able to think of something much better, something that was more consistent with the context of Irenæus’ work and the period in which he lived. Indeed, it makes very little sense at all for Irenæaus to come to Rome to correct Rome’s errors only to find that Rome was the cause of the error, and remind everyone that he is not the first to have to come to Rome to correct Rome’s errors—and then insist therefore that everyone must agree with Rome. In fact, it very much appears—and the facts bear this out—that Irenæaus thought every church in the world must come to Rome to correct her, not to receive instruction from her. And that, as it turns out, is roughly how the Roman Catholic translator renders the corrupted Latin into English.

To understand the passage, we must first remember the purpose for Irenæus’ visit to Rome in the first place. Irenæus was a bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (modern day Lyon, France) when he received word that the errors of Marcion and Valentinus were taking root in Rome. What is a bishop in the remote regions of the continent to do when such heresy is taking root across the mountains? Should he leave the matter to the infallible “chief shepherd” residing there? Au contraire! The Gallic Bishop hurriedly ran to Rome with letters of correction to halt the advance of heresy in the capital of the empire. What dismay lay in wait for him when he found upon his arrival that the heresy was being underwritten by no less than the “pope” himself:

“Irenæus was sent to Rome with letters of remonstrance against the rising pestilence of heresy; …  But he had the mortification of finding the Montanist heresy patronized by Eleutherus the Bishop of Rome; and there he met an old friend from the school of Polycarp, who had embraced the Valentinian heresy.” (Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies)

This formative event was the inspiration of Irenæaus’ life work, Against Heresies. In this work he explained that he was not the first bishop who had to come to Rome’s aid in such a manner. Others before him had come to Rome to correct her errant ways, including Polycarp, and his weapon of choice was the “sole truth from the apostles” which had been handed down to him by the Church at Smyrna:

“He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of [bishop] Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 4).

Here we have Irenæus, already obliged to travel to Rome from Gaul to correct the Montanist heresy that was thriving under the blessing of “Pope” Eleutherus, and he reminds his audience that Polycarp before him also had to come to Rome from Smyrna to correct the heresies then prospering under “Pope” Anicetus’ watchful eye. Chrysostom, we recall, also noted the providential transit of Ignatius from Antioch to Rome. Rome, it seemed, “required more help” than the East because of the “great impiety there” (John of Chrysostom, Homily on St. Ignatius, chapter IV). Last week, we found Tertullian complaining that the bishop of Rome had adopted the heresy of Praxeas (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 1). We also found Hippolytus complaining that popes Zephyrinus and Callistus were constantly advancing heretical views, “but we have frequently … refuted them, and have forced them reluctantly to acknowledge the truth,” only to find them repeatedly wallowing in “the same mire” again (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book IX, chapter II). Origen had gone to Rome in the days when “the truth had been corrupted” under Zephyrinus and returned to Alexandria more eager than ever to shore up the defenses of the church (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 28, paragraph 3).

In this same vein, Eusebius also relates this very telling episode: the churches in Asia had seen the ravages of Montanism first hand, and after some consternation and several synods throughout Asia, addressed the heresy and condemned it (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 16, paragraph 10). Gaul, too, in the west, had seen the ravages of the new heresy, and “set forth their own prudent and most orthodox judgment in the matter” (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 3, paragraph 4). From both sides—east and west—the apostolic churches were responding to the error and seeking to halt its advance. But one apostolic church located in “the central regions of the world” was flatly oblivious to the problem and instead of restraining it, was actually writing letters in support of the error. That apostolic church was no less than the church at Rome, under the dithering and “infallible guidance” of “pope” Eleutherus. The Catholic Encyclopedia euphemistically refers to his “conscientious and thorough study of the situation” prior to his ruling on the matter (Catholic Encyclopedia, Pope St. Eleutherius), but one does not issue letters of support for a heresy while one is “conscientiously” and “thoroughly” studying a situation. Only under pressure did he ultimately rescind the letters he had written in support of the heresy (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 1).

To this litany of Roman errors, we add Eusebius’ account of the Passover controversy. Some churches wanted to celebrate Passover on the 14th of the month, and some wanted to celebrate it on the Lord’s Day. In the spirit of Diotrephes (3 John 9), Victor had directed all episcopates to conform to one rule. In response, Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, told Victor that his opinions carried no weight outside of his own episcopate, and that the churches of Asia were unmoved by his presumptuous tone:

“I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.’ [Acts 5:29]” (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 24, paragraph 7).

Essentially, Polycrates pulled rank on Victor, testifying that “a great multitude” of bishops stood with him, and “that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.” He clearly, clearly, was unaware of any chief bishopric across the Adriatic, but understood that there was one above him in Heaven. Polycrates’ deferral to the Scriptures as his guide and to the Lord as His Shepherd, instead a fallible man in Rome was more than Victor could stomach. In a petulant response, “pope” Victor issued a wholesale excommunication of the Asian bishops and those who agreed with them. For this he earned a sharp rebuke from bishops on every side, even from those who agreed with his dating of Passover:

“But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them was Irenæus…” (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 24, paragraphs 9-11)

Irenæaus went on to explain that there was no Scriptural mandate that any bishop could impose on the matter, and that various churches had “formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode” (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 24, paragraph13). They were to be left to themselves in the spirit of Romans 14:5, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

To this we must add the case of Firmilian, bishop of Cæsarea, writing to Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, complaining that “they who are at Rome … vainly pretend the authority of the apostles.” We will cover this controversy more next week, but in brief, Firmilian’s complaint highlights in particular “pope” Stephen’s “audacity and pride” and “the things that he has wickedly done,” and includes thanks to Cyprian because he had “settled this matter” of an upstart bishop thinking more highly of himself than he ought (Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 74, From Firmilian, Against the Letter of Stephen, paragraphs 3 & 6).

We recite this sordid history of the successors in Rome to provide the context for the language of Irenæus that has been so difficult to translate—a history of Rome’s propensity for error, pride, audacity, petulance, wickedness and heresy, and of the surrounding churches’ persistence in correcting that city’s bishops and forcing them to return to apostolic truth. In that context, which of the following two candidate translations may be taken to reflect Irenæus’ true meaning?

A. Because of its preeminence, all churches must agree with the church of Rome.

B. Because of the Roman church’s propensity to wander, faithfully apostolic churches on every side must necessarily convene with her to correct her, so influential is she from this position in the crossroads of the empire, and therefore dangerous when left to her own devices.

Option B is quite clearly the answer, and thus does our Roman Catholic patristic scholar render the passage. The Latin here is:

“Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam.”

“Convenire,” is what Rambaut had translated “agree,” but it rather has the sense of coming together, as in “to convene,” and for three hundred years after the apostolic age, the surrounding churches had to meet with Rome to help her, correct her and restrain her from her propensity to inflict damage upon herself and others. Irenæaus’ meaning is clearly that apostolic churches throughout the world necessarily and constantly had to correct Rome when she strayed from the truth and overreached beyond her jurisdiction—a necessity that history bears out in striking relief. After all, Rome was at the crossroads of an empire, and heresy was best nipped in the bud before it could spread like a cancer to the rest.

Note that the Roman Catholic translator has the apostolicity of the church in Rome preserved by faithful churches on every side, instead of the apostolicity of the churches on every side being preserved by the church in Rome, yielding a much more natural translation, given the its context. He renders “convenire” as “resort,” but the meaning is clear enough:

“For to this Church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every Church, that is, those who are on every side faithful, resort, in which (Church) ever, by those who are on every side, has been preserved that tradition which is from the Apostles.” (Berington & Kirk, The Faith of Catholics, vol. I, 2nd ed. (New York, 1885) 248)

Indeed, the bishops of the surrounding churches had their hands full, rebuking the bishop of Rome for his pride, correcting him for his audacity, rejecting his chronic propensity for overreach, and “forcing him reluctantly to acknowledge the truth.” What they did not do is “agree with” him out of some ancient obligation to do so.

Notably, Irenæus lists Linus, then Anacletus, then Clement as successors to the apostles. Here he stops, resting upon the great legacy of Clement, imploring “these men who are now propagating falsehood” to go examine Clement’s letter to discover the origins of the Church’s apostolicity.  When Irenæus continues his list of successors, the list includes within it the name of one of the men who had been “propagating falsehood,” “pope” Eleutherius himself! (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 3).

Irenæus then continues in the next paragraph, suggesting that if the heretics in Rome could not trouble themselves to investigate the claims of the apostles there in their own home town, then Smyrna, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and all the churches of Asia would do just fine. If one could not be bothered to read the letter of Clement to Corinth, one could just as well read the letter of Polycarp to Philippi and find the same truth. If they did not believe the teachings of Clement, they ought to believe the teachings of Polycarp, who had come to Rome to help the bishop there. Both had received these truths from the apostles, and all the apostles received the truth from the same Spirit (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 4).

As lists of successors go, Irenæus appeals to the line of succession in Smyrna—”those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time”—as if it had equal authority. Clement “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears]” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 3), but Polycarp “was not only instructed by apostles,” but also, having “received this one and sole truth from the apostles” via Smyrna, had to bring it with him to Rome to instruct the church there . It was Polycarp, not “pope” Anicetus, “who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than … the heretics” troubling Rome (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, paragraph 4).

Small wonder, then, that when Tertullian addressed the issue of unbroken succession, he said that all “the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna” does. Succession was just as important in Smyrna as it was with all the other apostolic churches, and they all kept registers of it. Thus, when Irenæus was correcting errors that had taken root in Rome, he appealed first to the apostolicity of the Roman Church. When he was correcting the errors of his friend, Florinus, whom he had known as a boy in Smyrna, Irenæus appealed to the Scriptural truths that had been received by the successors of John in Smyrna (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 24, paragraph 5). At the time, all their registers of succession were available to be inspected, and anyone sincere enough to look into the truth could do so in Germany, Gaul, Spain, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and all the churches of Asia. Oh, and in Rome, too. After all, said Irenæus, Jesus had come “to generate the twelve-pillared foundation of the Church” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chapter 21.3), not the one-pillared foundation.

We close this week’s entry by highlighting Polycrates, the Asian bishop to whom we referred above, and his defiant response to “pope” Victor. As we noted, he appealed to “Holy Scripture,” insisting that he “governed [his] life by the Lord Jesus,” and not by any pope in Rome (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 28, paragraph 3). He was clearly unaware of an earthly chief shepherd. But he was aware of a heavenly One. In his response to Victor he appealed to the apostles Phillip and John, two “great lights” that had “fallen asleep” in Asia. He then lists five other prominent bishops since the apostles, who had also fallen asleep there. They had died, Polycrates says, not awaiting a chief episcopate on earth, but “awaiting the episcopate from heaven” (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 24, paragraph 5). They had died, in other words, believing in a visibly apostolic Church, invisibly shepherded from on high, where the chief episcopate of the Church of Christ resides.

We will continue next week with Cyprian of Carthage.

33 thoughts on “The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church (part 5)”

  1. Tim wrote:

    “Notice how Irenæus speaks of one Church, one path, one doctrine, one faith, one dispensation, one gift, one constitution, one way, one light and one truth, but stubbornly refuses to identify “one man” on earth who is responsible for maintaining this state of affairs. Instead he refers to a plurality of bishops “to whom the apostles committed the Churches”:”

    Yes, this is Presbyterianism run by both Teaching and Ruling Elders from the Session all the way up to the General Assembly. It does not describe independent or only local churches spread throughout the world. It speaks of national churches composed of various branches of courts to insure that not one person has authority to promote heresy.

    Until the Presbyterian churches learn of the importance of national churches, and a fully functioning court system which holds their members and ministers to established biblical doctrine they will continue to spread “new teaching” throughout the world in sin. Everyone with a new vision on worship, government, doctrine, discipline and the gospel message should be avoided…especially those who are not truly called to be ordained, well-trained ministers.

  2. Tim wrote:

    “To this error Irenæus strongly objected on the grounds that the heretics alleged that the source of Church’s truth was not limited to written documents. These heretics were introducing two additional trees from modern Rome’s arboretum: the magisterium and tradition. When confronted from the Bible, the heretics argued that the Scriptures cannot be properly understood by those who are not sufficiently equipped with tradition of which they alone were the custodians.”

    This is why the Baptists all trace their independent church government back to Irenæus, and reject both Presbyterian form of government and national churches.

    They reject any form of magisterial court system, made up of Elders who oversea these courts with equal authority, and develop both written and oral subordinate standards because they believe only in local churches rejecting all human testimony except for the Scriptures themselves. They make it absolutely clear they reject any written terms of communion because it adds human tradition to the Scriptures, and local courts are all suppose to operate using only “Scripture alone” no matter how much they disagree with each other’s doctrine, worship, discipline or practice. These local churches can be uninspired songs of Satan, and as long as that local Elder believes it is from the bible alone they permit it. If someone sings the songs contained in the Psalter now that is going too far…it is either the songs of Issac Watts there hero, but not the Psalms in the inspired Psalter. Organs or guitars are fine, but songs without instruments is going too far.

  3. TIM–
    You said: “The Church “hands them down” as if she had only one mouth? What mouth might that be? Is it the mouth of Peter and his successors? Is it to be found in Rome? No, the “one mouth” by which the Church speaks and “hands down” apostolic doctrine is the Scriptures, and that mouth can be found in Germany, Gaul, Spain, Syria, Egypt, Libya—and yes, even in “the central regions of the world.”

    Nowhere does Irenaeus say that. Instead he says TRADITION:

    “As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same… Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition.…But [the superior skill spoken of] is not found in this, that any one should, beyond the Creator and Framer [of the world], conceive of the Enthymesis of an erring Æon, their mother and his, and should thus proceed to such a pitch of blasphemy; nor does it consist in this, that he should again falsely imagine, as being above this [fancied being], a Pleroma at one time supposed to contain thirty, and at another time an innumerable tribe of Æons, as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.” Irenaeus–Against Heresies Book I, Chapter 10

    He actually says the tradition of the Catholic Church that the apostle is talking about. Not the spiritual force of the many tribes of the gnostics, but the traditions taught by the teaching magisterium (the communion of bishops) of the Catholic Church.

  4. TIM–
    Also said: “Perhaps Irenæaus here meant to elevate Rome by not mentioning her (in the same way that John Paul II claimed that the Gospel “omission” of Mary at Jesus’ tomb is evidence of her presence there).”

    Nice little cheap shot. The article on JPII gives an explanation of why he said what he said and it is very plausible, just not in scripture. So if you are a Sola Scriptura fan, just disregard what the pope said. If you are not Sola Scriptura, it’s something to think about.

    1. Hardly a cheap shot, Bob. John Paul II’s “plausible” story is precisely that to which Ireæus is objecting: “by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive” (Book I, chapter 1).

      You cannot backfill the Roman Catholic definition of tradition into the early church fathers. Read the first few chapters of book 3 and you’ll find that Irenæus is objecting to the fact that these men are introducing traditions that are not recorded in the Scriptures. Just like John Paul II did.

      Tim

      1. He’s talking about the gnostics here, Tim, not about Mary.
        You’re reading things into this that just aren’t there.

        1. And in book III, he’s talking about Monantists who claimed “that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents.” Irenæus criticizes them because they deny “that tradition which originates from the apostles,” and instead “they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser … even than the apostles,” and Irenæus has made clear that what was handed down to us has been securely preserved in written documents:

          “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.”

          Irenæus’ argument is that the truth is handed down to us in written documents that he calls Scriptures, and the problem with the Montanists is that they think they can improve on the Scriptures with additional apostolic information not available to the rest of us in the Scriptures—just as Roman Catholicism claims today. Thus, they say, Mary simply must have been at the tomb, she simply must have!

          Perhaps I do have a unique perspective. But compare what you just said with what Irenæaus did:

          Bob: ” We flee to the Church because it passes down the TRADITION that includes the Scriptures along with a teaching magisterium in communion with one another so that they can be one united front against heresy.”

          Irenæaus: “flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, ‘You may freely eat from every tree of the garden, [Genesis 2:16] that is, Eat from every Scripture of the Lord.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 20, paragraphs 1-2)

          Nobody is denying the need for Christians to be churchgoers and church members. Irenæus’ statement that we come to the Church which is a garden, and eat from every tree of the garden, and every tree is scripture. Is it your position that Tradition and the Magisterium are scripture, as well?

          Thank,

          Tim

          1. TIM–
            “Nobody is denying the need for Christians to be churchgoers and church members. Irenæus’ statement that we come to the Church which is a garden, and eat from every tree of the garden, and every tree is scripture. Is it your position that Tradition and the Magisterium are scripture, as well?”

            And nobody is denying the need for Scripture!! Tradition and magisterium are scripture? Where did that come from? Scripture bears witness to the apostles. Tradition bears witness to the apostles. The magisterium bears witness to the apostles by scripture and tradition. Why is that concept so hard for you to grasp? It’s not either scripture or tradition, it’s both scripture and tradition.
            “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those(the Church) through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they(the Church) did at one timeboth</strong proclaim in public(word of mouth), and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures(by letter), to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” 1 Tim 3:15
            “You may freely eat from every tree of the garden, [Genesis 2:16] that is, Eat from every Scripture of the Lord.”
            When you eat a peach from a peach tree, you are actually eating the fruit which the peach tree gives, you are not eating the peach tree itself. You may eat from every peach. That is just silly to read it as you have done.

  5. TIM–
    You said: Irenæaus, quite obviously, was unaware of Rome’s “three tree” rubric in which we are to eat the fruit of the trees of the Magisterium, Tradition, and Scriptures. What we eat in the Church is the “Scripture of the Lord.” It is this tree, breathed of the Holy Spirit, that accounts for the visible unity about which Irenæus marvels in his books.

    I don’t think so, Tim. The trees are the Church, the fruit of the trees is scripture. You don’t eat the tree, you eat the fruit.
    “It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their [heretics’] 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. For the Church has been planted as a garden in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, ‘You may freely eat from every tree of the garden, [Genesis 2:16] that is, Eat from every Scripture of the Lord.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 20, paragraphs 1-2)

    And all the commas in this passage have maybe confused you somewhat. Let me help dissect the sentence for you by placing parentheses:
    “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.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 1, paragraph 1)

    You see, the Church is the ground and pillar of faith, not the Scriptures. Yes, the Church uses the Scriptures because they are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. We flee to the Church because it passes down the TRADITION that includes the Scriptures along with a teaching magisterium in communion with one another so that they can be one united front against heresy.

    I’ll have to say, Tim, you have a different way of reading things. You are definitely unique in your perspective.

  6. TIM–
    You said: “And in book III, he’s talking about Monantists who claimed “that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents.” Irenæus criticizes them because they deny “that tradition which originates from the apostles,” and instead “they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser … even than the apostles,” and Irenæus has made clear that what was handed down to us has been securely preserved in written documents.”

    And isn’t it interesting that Tertullian became a Montanist. What was it you said about Tertullian:
    “Tertullian rejected the pretenses of ostensibly “papal” edicts from a fallible “bishop of bishops,” and insisted that men ought rather to “imbibe the Scriptures of that Shepherd who cannot be broken” (Tertullian, On Modesty, chapter 10).”

    Ooooops.

  7. TIM–
    You said: ” But one apostolic church located in “the central regions of the world” was flatly oblivious to the problem and instead of restraining it, was actually writing letters in support of the error. That apostolic church was no less than the church at Rome, under the dithering and “infallible guidance” of “pope” Eleutherus. The Catholic Encyclopedia euphemistically refers to his “conscientious and thorough study of the situation” prior to his ruling on the matter (Catholic Encyclopedia, Pope St. Eleutherius), but one does not issue letters of support for a heresy while one is “conscientiously” and “thoroughly” studying a situation. Only under pressure did he ultimately rescind the letters he had written in support of the heresy (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 1).

    It is interesting to note that you conveniently left out the reason why the Roman Bishop was “conscientious and thorough”. Looks like he was requested to refrain from any rash decision:
    “During the violent persecution at Lyons, in 177, local confessors wrote from their prison concerning the new movement to the Asiatic and Phrygian brethren, also to Pope Eleutherius. The bearer of their letter to the pope was the presbyter Irenæus, soon afterwards Bishop of Lyons. It appears from statements of Eusebius concerning these letters that the faithful of Lyons, though opposed to the Montanist movement, advocated forbearance and pleaded for the preservation of ecclesiastical unity.

    Seems there is always two sides to the story. Most likely Eleutherius wasn’t supporting the error but rather expressing patience until a thoughtful decision was made. Sounds Catholic to me. And here is something else that sounds Catholic from the footnote you cited Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, Against Heresies, Book III, ch. 3, n. 3313 :
    “For to this Church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every Church (that is, those who are on every side faithful) resort; in which Church ever, by those who are on every side, has been preserved that tradition which is from the apostles.” (Berington and Kirk, vol. i. p. 252.) Here it is obvious that the faith was kept at Rome, by those who resort there from all quarters. She was a mirror of the Catholic World, owing here orthodoxy to them; not the Sun dispensing her own light to others, but the glass bringing their rays into a focus.”
    That sounds very much like the teaching office of the Catholic Church. From the Catechism:
    85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
    That is plural–bishops. Not bishop.

    1. Bob, you observed,

      “It is interesting to note that you conveniently left out the reason why the Roman Bishop was “conscientious and thorough”. Looks like he was requested to refrain from any rash decision:

      What you cite is the Roman Catholic spin on Eusebius. The section to which the Catholic Encyclopedia refers is Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapters 3-4. What is missing in Eusebius’ account is where anyone asks Eleutherus to hold off in his judgment. Here is the section of Eusebius:

      “4. The followers of Montanus, Alcibiades and Theodotus in Phrygia were now first giving wide circulation to their assumption in regard to prophecy—for the many other miracles that, through the gift of God, were still wrought in the different churches caused their prophesying to be readily credited by many—and as dissension arose concerning them, the brethren in Gaul set forth their own prudent and most orthodox judgment in the matter, and published also several epistles from the witnesses that had been put to death among them. These they sent, while they were still in prison, to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia, and also to Eleutherus, who was then bishop of Rome, negotiating for the peace of the churches.
      Chapter 4. Irenæus commended by the Witnesses in a Letter.

      1. The same witnesses also recommended Irenæus, who was already at that time a presbyter of the parish of Lyons, to the above-mentioned bishop of Rome, saying many favorable things in regard to him, as the following extract shows:

      2. “We pray, father Eleutherus, that you may rejoice in God in all things and always. We have requested our brother and comrade Irenæus to carry this letter to you, and we ask you to hold him in esteem, as zealous for the covenant of Christ. For if we thought that office could confer righteousness upon any one, we should commend him among the first as a presbyter of the church, which is his position.”

      3. Why should we transcribe the catalogue of the witnesses given in the letter already mentioned, of whom some were beheaded, others cast to the wild beasts, and others fell asleep in prison, or give the number of confessors still surviving at that time? For whoever desires can readily find the full account by consulting the letter itself, which, as I have said, is recorded in our Collection of Martyrdoms. Such were the events which happened under Antoninus. ” (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, Chapters 3-4)

      Where do the people of Gaul ask Eleutherus to exercise “forebearance”?

      Here is the introductory notice on this from Schaff:

      “It was during this persecution that Irenæus was sent to Rome with letters of remonstrance against the rising pestilence of heresy; and he was probably the author of the account of the sufferings of the martyrs which is appended to their testimony. But he had the mortification of finding the Montanist heresy patronized by Eleutherus the Bishop of Rome; and there he met an old friend from the school of Polycarp, who had embraced the Valentinian heresy.” (Schaff, Introductory Notice on Irenæus’ Against Heresies

      I imagine that you are constrained in your defense of Rome to believe that “Most likely Eleutherius wasn’t supporting the error but rather expressing patience until a thoughtful decision was made.” Even the Roman Catholics encyclopedia agrees that Eleutherus was actually supporting the heresy, since they cite Tertullian who testified that “the Bishop of Rome had acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, and, in consequence of the acknowledgment, had bestowed his peace on the churches of Asia and Phrygia” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 1)

      With that in mind, the Catholic Encyclopedia concedes,

      “Just when the Roman Church took its definite stand against Montanism is not certainly known. It would seem from Tertullian’s account (Against Praxeas 1) that a Roman bishop did at one time address to the Montanists some conciliatory letters, but these letters, says Tertullian, were recalled. He probably refers to Pope Eleutherius, who long hesitated, but, after a conscientious and thorough study of the situation, is supposed to have declared against the Montanists.” (Catholic Encylcopedia, Pope St. Eleutherius

      That doesn’t sound to me like “Most likely Eleutherius wasn’t supporting the error.” It sounds like Eleutherus was supporting the error, and Irenæus arrived in Rome with letters of remonstrance against the heresy, only to find the heresy being underwritten by the bishop of Rome. Unless, Schaff and the Catholic Encyclopedia both “conveniently left out” the fact that Eleutherus was not supporting the error. If he wasn’t supporting it, why rescind the letters that “weren’t in support of it”?

      You are quite right that there are “always two sides to the story.” My offense, so it seems, is to refuse to accept Rome’s side in its anachronistic interpretation of a barbaric Latin translation of a lost Greek original of a text in which Irenæus comes to Rome not to “agree” with the bishop there, but with strong words of correction against a heresy that the bishop of Rome had only recently been supporting. Guilty as charged.

      Thanks,

      Tim

  8. TIM–
    As I read paragraph 3 of Chapter iii against heresies, something astounding is said:
    3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus ,the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric… (now the list of succession of bishops down to) …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.

    He says this of the See of Rome! My, my. Funny what is said when you actually read the lines instead of trying to read between the lines.

    1. Bob, I do not believe that I understand your point. Irenæus says traceability of apostolicity is true in every episcopate, and he has already said he is limiting his comment to Rome, even though it is true in all the Churches. This from Paragraph 2:

      “Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul;”

      Then in paragraph 4:

      “But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. … Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.”

      Is it your position that Irenæus did not believe that the bishops of Smyrna and Ephesus were in episcopates of their own, but that there was only one episcopate in the church, that in Rome?

      Thanks,

      Tim

      1. TIM–
        You said: “Bob, I do not believe that I understand your point. ”

        I guess not. The point I am making is that Irenæus is praising the Roman office of the episcopate for its “vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.” He is not saying it is in error. And it is because of its makeup of bishops from the Church worldwide that keeps it that way–a strong central episcopate. You yourself said that the rendering of the latin of this letter from Irenæus was better from the Catholic than the Protestant. I agree.
        “Here it is obvious that the faith was kept at Rome, by those who resort there from all quarters. She was a mirror of the Catholic World, owing here orthodoxy to them; not the Sun dispensing her own light to others, but the glass bringing their rays into a focus.”
        I could not have said it any better myself. And to this day, the Roman See is made up of individuals from across the globe. Even the pope today is from South America of all places. The one before him was German, the one before him was from Poland. The college of Cardinals are worldwide. And they are the ones who choose the pope in the first place.

        1. Bob,

          You wrote,

          “The point I am making is that Irenæus is praising the Roman office of the episcopate for its “vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.””

          As I said, and as Irenæus said, the apostolic church exists everywhere, and Rome is just one of those churches that have apostolic origins. When he goes on, he says essentially that Ephesus and Smyrna have that same vivifying faith, not on account of a strong central episcopate, but on account of their apostolicity. Smyrna and Ephesus trace their apostolicity through John and Paul, not through Peter. But mysteriously, they all have the same faith. Nobody has denied that Rome has apostolic origins, and no one is saying that Irenæus is denying that the church in Rome had apostolic origins. But Against Heresies was written during the episcopate of Eleutherus, and Irenæus comes out strongly and emphatically against the Montanist heresy in his works, and even the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that Eleutherus was a proponent of Montantism, and withdrew his support only under pressure from the surrounding bishops.

          Thus, the more accurate rendering of Irenæus is that the faith was kept at Rome, not by Rome, but by the pressure exerted on her by the bishops around her, or “by those who resort there from all quarters.” Your summary conclusion, therefore is a grossly anachronistic:

          “And to this day, the Roman See is made up of individuals from across the globe.”

          Yes, of course, because when Irenæus went there to address the Montanist heresy, he went there as a Pope not to correct the errors there but to receive the tiara because Rome’s apostolicity is guarded by the many men from around the world who go there because they have been elected as pope. And when Polycarp went there to help Anicetus, he went there as a Pope not to correct the errors there but to receive the tiara because Rome’s apostolicity is guarded by the many men from around the world who go there because they have been elected as pope. And when Ignatius went there because Rome “required more help” than the East, he went there as a Pope to receive the tiara.

          I am being facetious, of course. The Roman bishopric was not electing bishops from around the world at that time. The Roman bishopric was electing Roman bishops and those bishops relied heavily on the surrounding bishops to keep the faith, often earning their strong rebuke, including the rebuke of Irenæus, and Irenæus’ acknowledgement that Polycarp, not Anicetus, was equal to the task of rebuking the heretics in Rome, equipped with nothing other than the “one and sole truth from the apostles—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church” in Smyrna. Thus, the better rendering of the passage in Book III, chapter 2 is not that Irenæus was saying that every other church must agree with Rome, but rather that Rome must agree with every other church—the very opposite of how you have interpreted it yourself.

          You may recall that you cited this section of Irenæus to me earlier in this series, baffled that I could say that there is no evidence for a strong central episcopate in the early church. You wrote,

          “I find that comment interesting since your knowledge of the writings of the Early Church Fathers is so extensive. Here is something I came across by Irenæus while searching down the texts you provided from Clement:”

          “… For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere….”

          A strong case was made for the primacy of Rome as a “strong central episcopate” that would be needed to combat heresy. Irenaeus made the case in the second century. We talked about this, remember?

          Now we have had a chance to look more closely at Irenæus and what do we find? We find that Irenæus had to come to Rome to help combat heresy, must as Polycarp had to come to Rome to help combat heresy. We find that the better rendering is that the apostolicity of Rome really was preserved by the pressure exerted on her from without, and Irenæus’ point is that Rome must agree with the other churches on account of their apostolicity, rather than that the other churches must agree with Rome on account of her apostolicity. After all, in either rendering, the apostolicity of Rome (in Irenæus’ day) “has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere” else besides Rome. Your anachronistic reading would have Irenæus say that Rome’s apostolicity is preserved by the fact that her Pope’s are elected from around the world—something that was unheard of in that day.

          I will simply conclude that your anachronism is precisely that which needs to be corrected in Rome’s apologists today—namely, the anachronism of reading “contemporary methods for governing the universal Church” into an era when bishops around the known world had to come to Rome, not as popes and cardinals, but as instructors and guardians of the faith, so often were Rome’s bishops in need of correction, instruction, guidance and shepherding by those who modern Rome would presume to have required the shepherding they were administering to their imagined “chief shepherd.”

          The strong central episcopate is a novelty of the late 4th century, no earlier. Rather than disproving this statement, Irenæus very strongly supports it.

          Thanks,

          Tim

          1. TIM–
            You said: “Your summary conclusion, therefore is a grossly anachronistic:
            “And to this day, the Roman See is made up of individuals from across the globe.”
            Yes, of course, because when Irenæus went there to address the Montanist heresy, he went there as a Pope not to correct the errors there but to receive the tiara…I am being facetious, of course.”

            Yes you are. And deliberately misinterpreting what I said. I am talking about the teaching office of the communion of bishops, not about being crowned the Pope. I cited CCC 85 for reference. And you twist it with your spin to make it sound like I was talking about the Pope. I state the See of Rome and you read the Pope. There is a lot more to the Roman See than the Pope. Do you not know what plural means?

            It’s not a matter of my anachronism but of your tainted perception of Rome.

          2. Hardly a deliberate “misinterpretation,” Bob. You said,

            “Even the pope today is from South America of all places. The one before him was German, the one before him was from Poland. The college of Cardinals are worldwide. And they are the ones who choose the pope in the first place.”

            I said,

            “namely, the anachronism of reading “contemporary methods for governing the universal Church” into an era when bishops around the known world had to come to Rome, not as popes and cardinals

            You have basically taken the contemporary practice of electing bishops from the college of cardinals from around the world, and superimposed it upon Irenæus’ observation that Rome was kept within the bounds of orthodoxy by non-popes and non-cardinals from other episcopates. It is an anachronism, and Irenæaus’ text cannot possibly bear the weight that you need and want it to bear. The bishops who kept Rome in line were not bishops assigned to that See, yet your reading of it requires the anachronism of assuming that Irenæus was talking about bishops and cardinals of the See of Rome keeping it in line, as in, “And to this day, the Roman See is made up of individuals from across the globe.” Yes, just like it was in Irenæaus day, right? The Roman See was made up of individuals from around the world? Is that you position, Bob—that Irenæus was saying that Rome was kept orthodox the members of its own See?

            That is an interpretation that Irenæus cannot possibly bear.

            Thanks,

            Tim

  9. TIM–
    You said: “The bishops who kept Rome in line were not bishops assigned to that See, yet your reading of it requires the anachronism of assuming that Irenæus was talking about bishops and cardinals of the See of Rome keeping it in line, as in, “And to this day, the Roman See is made up of individuals from across the globe.” Yes, just like it was in Irenæaus day, right?”

    Right. “For to this Church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every Church (that is, those who are on every side faithful) resort; in which Church ever, by those who are on every side, has been preserved that tradition which is from the apostles.”
    “Here it is obvious that the faith was kept at Rome, by those who resort there from all quarters.” What do you think the rendering of “resort” means?
    My point once again is that Rome today communes with bishops across the globe. They are not limited to just Vatican City.

  10. Number of cardinals from each Nationality

    50– Italy
    16– United States
    11– Spain
    10– Brazil, Germany
    9– France
    6– Poland
    5– India, Mexico
    4– Argentina, Colombia, Philippines, Switzerland
    3– Canada, Chile, Nigeria, Portugal, United Kingdom
    2– Australia, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Lebanon, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Slovakia, South Korea, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam
    1– Angola, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Myanmar, Panama, Peru, Romania, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela

    That’s pretty worldwide, wouldn’t you say? Wouldn’t these guys who reside in those countries “resort” in Rome?

    1. Bob,

      Yes, in the same way that one might ask, “Wouldn’t George Washington live in the White House?” Sure, presidents live in the White House, but the question, like yours, includes an anachronism that you have not sufficiently addressed.

      Thanks,

      Tim

  11. Bob said,

    Sounds to me like Walt is promoting a strong central episcopate, here, wouldn’t you say, Tim?…”What say ye, Walt?”

    Bob, reading your posts compared to what I see in the Scripture is dramatically different. You believe that a central episcopate is defined by the early church fathers.

    When I read Tim’s writings on the early church fathers, and his interpretation of them, I don’t know if they were all promoting independent form of church government or they were promoting a central episcopate in Rome. You seem to suggest everything pointed to a central episcopate and Pope head of a central universal church in Rome.

    I do not have time or patience to split hairs on whether the early church promoted independency or a central episcopate since neither of these are taught in Scripture.

    The old testament church provides no evidence of a central episcopate nor pope, cardinals, etc. with universal authority. The new testament church does not either. There is no evidence in Scripture that Peter was appointed the central head of the Universal Christian Church on earth.

    In fact, the old testament and new testament show that all ceremonies, types, shadows and prophecies point to Jesus Christ being the sole authority and head of His elect church. For the true believer and born again Christian, we know this in our heart, mind, soul and with all our strength.

    The idea that some Pope can claim he is the alone central authority of the Christian church is preposterous to me today. When I was a Catholic, I really did believe it, but I was neither born again nor a true child of Christ like I am today. What the Pope is head of has nothing to do with the true Christian church…but it is an anti-christ church. This is a simple fact.

    Scripture provides for no central head of the Christian church outside of Jesus Christ alone. If the early church fathers promoted a central head in Rome, or a sole local church Pastor as being the head, I don’t know. Both are absolutely wrong.

    After the true translation of the Bible from greek and hebrew into english, german, french, etc. so Roman priests like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Beza, Hamilton, etc. could read it for themselves, they all agreed universally Presbyterian form of government was the only bible church government. This puts Christ alone as the head of the Universal church on earth, and rightly treats all Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders with the same authority to build local churches up into national churches with each nation…similar to what Israel was suppose to do as a nation.

    National churches are established in Presbyterianism, and grow out of local congregations, presbyteries, regional synods and national general assemblies. No one man or group of men have more authority than others. All are ordained with equal authority to rule the church, and this authority whether you are a local pastor (teaching elder) working at the congregational level, or you move to the national general assembly to teach and promote national church discipline, you are subject to Christ and the national church.

    In Presbyterianism we believe that the best reformed churches, and the acts of general assembly from the national church of Scotland during her purest times are binding upon those who claim to be Presbyterian. This is biblical as whatever is inerrant being founded upon and in agreement with the truth of Scripture is binding. The bible gives us specific commands, examples and necessary inferences for which we can draw biblical truths and principles. These principles are further defined by the Church itself using the Scripture, and bind men to obedience through terms of communion, covenants, confessions, catechism, acts of general assembly, creeds and all forms of extra-biblical historical testimony. These subordinate standards are binding, and do not change with the culture or times which we live. The principles do not change…only the circumstances in which they are applied.

    The principles in the National Covenant of Scotland that the Pope is anti-christ does not change since it is based upon a solid biblical argument. What changes are the circumstances within the covenant when it was written in 1638-1639 vs. how it is applied today in 2015.

    National churches are biblical where run by elders who represent Christ equally. A local church run by a Pastor who grants no authority to appeal his ruling, or a Pope who claims to be the visible earthly head of the Christian church has no warrant from Scripture. It is possible the early church fathers taught both independency and a central Pope in Rome. For me it is not important what they taught.

    I’m interested solely in what the Scriptures say, and finding a true church in history who taught the principles of the Scriptures. That is definitely the first and second reformation reformers and especially those who upheld the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland, England and Ireland.

  12. Tim,

    I have a question. From approx. 100 AD in the writing of Revelation to the closing of the Canon, do you know what main bible manuscripts were being used by the Early Church fathers? For example:

    “Irenaeus quotes and cites 21 books that would end up as part of the New Testament, the excluded ones being Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude.[2] By the early 200s, Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books as in the modern New Testament, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation,[3] see also Antilegomena.”

    “In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books that would formally become the New Testament canon,[6] and he used the word “canonized” (kanonizomena) in regards to them.[7] The first council that accepted the present Catholic canon (the Canon of Trent) may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.[8] These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.[9]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Christian_biblical_canon

    Thus, do we know with any accuracy the list of manuscripts that each early church father had access to in their writings?

    Is there a list somewhere that shows which early church father had which manuscript to be able to write their opinions?

    Do you know the first early church father that had access to all the old & new testament books in his own native language?

    1. Thanks, Walt. Regarding your questions,

      “From approx. 100 AD in the writing of Revelation to the closing of the Canon, do you know what main bible manuscripts were being used by the Early Church fathers?”

      I don’t know which ones were being used, but that information probably has already been extracted and analyzed by other writers. A reader can often (but not always) tell which version was being used in a writer’s citation. Jeremiah 11:19 says, “Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof,” but the Douay-Rheims says “Let us put wood on his bread,” following the Vetus Latina, and thus the Latin Fathers saw this as a reference to Christ, and by this you can see which version they were using. On a side note, as I have mentioned before, I hold to an early dating of Revelation (before 69 A.D.) because John foretold things that occurred prior to the fall of Jerusalem. This should not be taken to mean that I support the preterist view—I certainly do not. I’ll get into this in more detail in a later post, but we ought not reject an early dating of Revelation solely because preterists hold to one. There is internal evidence in Revelation that militates for an early dating, and points incontrovertibly to the historicist position. But that evidence lies hidden beneath the assumption of a late dating, and is overlooked because of it. It would be a shame to reject (or at least, overlook) evidence for the historicist school in Revelation just because preterists hold to an early dating. Just my opinion…

      Thus, do we know with any accuracy the list of manuscripts that each early church father had access to in their writings?

      I am interested in this, too, for similar reasons. I will let you know if I come across any data on this. I have not pursued this line of evidence, so I have nothing at the moment.

      Is there a list somewhere that shows which early church father had which manuscript to be able to write their opinions?

      I suppose there is. I’ll see what I can find.

      Do you know the first early church father that had access to all the old & new testament books in his own native language?

      That’s an interesting question. Since the early church was Greek and not Latin, and the Old Testament was originally in Hebrew, not Greek, it would have to come down to a Greek writer who had access to the New Testament and the Septuagint translation. Although the Septuagint was cited authoritatively in by New Testament writers, there are parts of it (not cited in the New Testament) that took translational liberties—some of which I will get into later. Wouldn’t you be more interested in a Greek-speaking early Church Father with a working knowledge of Hebrew, rather than one who had all the works in his native tongue? I don’t know which early church father had access to all the old & new testament books in his own native language, but it’s certainly something worth looking into.

      Thanks,

      Tim

  13. Tim, you wrote:

    “On a side note, as I have mentioned before, I hold to an early dating of Revelation (before 69 A.D.) because John foretold things that occurred prior to the fall of Jerusalem. This should not be taken to mean that I support the preterist view—I certainly do not. I’ll get into this in more detail in a later post, but we ought not reject an early dating of Revelation solely because preterists hold to one. There is internal evidence in Revelation that militates for an early dating, and points incontrovertibly to the historicist position. But that evidence lies hidden beneath the assumption of a late dating, and is overlooked because of it. It would be a shame to reject (or at least, overlook) evidence for the historicist school in Revelation just because preterists hold to an early dating. Just my opinion…”

    This view is indeed held and promoted by partial preterists and more consistent full preterists. I once agreed with this view after I became a proponent of Rushdoony a few years after leaving the Catholic church.

    However, while you may believe there there is “internal evidence” from the Scriptures (I assume you mean), I have never read any faithful minister in either the first or second reformation take this “biblical view”.

    While I agree that you cannot ignore someone such as yourself stating or implying that you are the first to discover something that many great ministers have ignored or avoided or learned in past generations, especially regarding date setting on the book of Revelations, I will always error more with whom I believe were faithful ordained ministers and men called to the role of a teaching elder then I would a lay person, or bible expert or bible scholar or prophecy apologist.

    I’ve wondered down to many rabbit trails with various views on doctrine, worship, government, prophecy, etc. only to later learn that the true root of the ultimate heresy has been the Roman Catholic church or the Jesuit inspired anti-reformation mind set. Thus, an early date for the book of revelations has no warrant from Scripture in my opinion. However, I will leave it to your proofs to argue it otherwise.

  14. Tim wrote:

    “I am interested in this, too, for similar reasons. I will let you know if I come across any data on this. I have not pursued this line of evidence, so I have nothing at the moment.”

    Thank you. It would be interesting if any researcher has examined this issue…as much will help me to avoid this “oral tradition” preached by Rome that put in place her wicked system that is literally taking millions of soul to everlasting torment and destruction.

    You said:

    “That’s an interesting question. Since the early church was Greek and not Latin, and the Old Testament was originally in Hebrew, not Greek, it would have to come down to a Greek writer who had access to the New Testament and the Septuagint translation. Although the Septuagint was cited authoritatively in by New Testament writers, there are parts of it (not cited in the New Testament) that took translational liberties—some of which I will get into later. Wouldn’t you be more interested in a Greek-speaking early Church Father with a working knowledge of Hebrew, rather than one who had all the works in his native tongue? I don’t know which early church father had access to all the old & new testament books in his own native language, but it’s certainly something worth looking into.”

    Yes, it would be great to learn of any early church father that was fluent in Hebrew and Greek, but I assumed most of them were either fluent in Greek or Latin. I do believe that t he Greek Septuagint was a relatively acceptable translation as I believe the various “King James” translations of the received texts are generally a good english translation.

    Would you be able to put a list together sometime of all the early church fathers (so defined) in their chronological order of dates they were ministers and whether or not Rome has used (or does use) their writings as a basis for their theological foundation?

    Would you say that Rome uses every single early church father and their writings as a basis for their essential existence and doctrines?

    I’ve not bought the books by Scott Hahn and his co-workers that have written claiming that “all” the early church fathers writings support the existence of Rome as the universal church. I just watched this morning on EWTN an apologist for Rome who went through claiming that Rome’s existence is fully supported by “all” the early church fathers, and that the reformation period was a huge problem for the church in keeping unity from 1300 to 1700 AD. I could not believe what I was hearing as people are so completely ignorant on what happened during the reformation. Like a child, I was taught so many lies about it and people must just sit in front of the TV watching EWTN listening to these fools selling lies.

    Do you know of the list (you might have posted it in the past) which lists all the early church fathers and Rome’s claim that they do in fact all support her positions?

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