We are living in an age enslaved in many kinds of deification of modern rationality, its twin product science and technology and in the midst of false teachings or doctrines.
Before we start with our discussion on heresies let us remember and keep in mind the song we sing at every Holy Qurbana (Eucharist) of the St. James Liturgy . The song is sung before the lesson from the epistle of St. Paul, as:
Paul the Blessed Saint, the Lord’s Apostle said
If one comes to preach to you
A doctrine other than I preached to you
Be he man or angel bright,
Cursed be he in Church’s sight;
Doctrines all diverse arise;
Sprouting up with many lies;
Blest is he who first and last
Trusts God’s Truth and holds it fast.
Every conceivable opinion, even the most absurd, even those hitherto rejected by the universal consent of all civilized people -now has its platform and its own “teacher.” A few of these teachers come with demonstration or promise of “spiritual power” and false miracles, as do some occultists and ” charismatics”; but most of the contemporary teachers offer no more than a weak concoction of undigested ideas which they received “out of the air,” as it were, or from some modern self-appointed “wise man” (or woman) who knows more than all the ancients merely by living in our “enlightened” modern times.. As a result, philosophy has a thousand schools and “Christianity” a thousand sects.
Where is the truth to be found in all this, the truth that needs to be found in our most misguided times?
St. Gregory of Palamas says:
“And not many days after,” it says, “the younger son gather all together, and took his journey into a far country” (Luke 15:13). Why did [the Prodigal Son] not set off at once instead of a few days after? The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” When he separates someone from the divine services and obedience to the holy teachers, he also distances him from God’s vigilance and surrenders him to evil deeds. God is everywhere present. Only one thing is far away from His goodness: evil. Being in the power of evil through sin we set off on a journey far away from God. As David says to God, “The evil shall not stand in thy sight” (Ps. 5:5).
A part of the quote says …The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” This is the spiders’ web the devil weaves around us that separates many of us from the divine services and obedience to the Holy teachers, as a result, falling apart from God’s vigilance and therefore surrendering to the evil of heresy.
The first Heresy in Christian church can be traced back to the apostolic times itself and is written in the Scripture. This is well documented in St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ work from 2nd Century – ‘Against Heresies’. Given below is an extract taken from this book…
“Simon the Samaritan was that magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, says, “But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime used magical arts in that city, and led astray the people of Samaria, declaring that he himself was some great one, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This is the power of God, which is called great. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had driven them mad by his sorceries.” Acts 8: 9-11.
This Simon, then who feigned faith, supposing that the apostles themselves performed their cures by the art of magic, and not by the power of God; and with respect to their filling with the Holy Ghost, through the imposition of hands, those that believed in God through Him who was preached by them, namely, Christ Jesus–suspecting that even this was done through a kind of greater knowledge of magic, and offering money to the apostles, thought he, too, might receive this power of bestowing the Holy Spirit on whomsoever he would lay his hands,–was addressed in these words by Peter: “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God; for I see that you are poisoned by bitterness, and bound by iniquity.” Acts 8: 20 – 23
He, then, not putting faith in God a whit the more, set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to be a wonderful being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Caesar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. This man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a god; and he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son, but descended in Samaria as the Father while he came to other nations in the character of the Holy Spirit. He represented himself, in a word, as being the loftiest of all powers, that is, the Being who is the Father over all, and he allowed himself to be called by whatsoever title men were pleased to address him.
Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect.”
What is a heresy?
“The Greek word hairesis (literally choice or thing chosen) was applied to the doctrines of philosophical schools. But already in I Cor. 11.19 and Gal. 5.20 Paul uses the term in a negative sense to mean a divisive faction. In the work of St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107), that is, even before the days of the conciliar definitions of Christian faith, it denotes theological error. Tertullian (160-225) identifies the root of heresy as the willful choice of philosophical opinion over revealed Christian truth”.
The ecclesial meaning of the term signified the sin of a person who, having been baptized and calling him or herself a Christian, denied a defined doctrine of faith even after having been formally instructed. These notions have two aspects: formal and material/concrete. In the first aspect, heresy is the persistent adherence to erroneous teaching. The second aspect, material, heresy means adherence to error, and acting upon this error, without such culpability. The definition of heresy is dependent, therefore, on acknowledged doctrine of the Church. Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting doctrine by the introduction of a denial of some essential part therein.
To put it in simple words Heresies are the false ideas of those that disagree with the faith of the Church.
Heresies are always tend to be found at the opposite poles and end up forming their own sects. Once a separate sect is formed, they concentrate on increasing their followership, as did Simon of Samaria who formed his own sect by the name Simonians. It is not unusual for one heresy to arise in reaction to another. One heresy claims that Christ is not God, another that He is not man. One heresy condemns the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Mother of God, another makes her the Immaculate Conception. One claims that man is saved by grace alone, another that he is saved only by works, all with different doctrines ‘that was not from the beginning’, ultimately forming their own sects and each began to mass up the followership. Such extremes are not easily embraced by Orthodoxy. True Orthodoxy tends to be the middle-way between the two extremes.
It is very necessary in this context to understand the Apostolic Fathers.
Who Are the Apostolic Fathers?
By the end of the first century, all the Holy Books of the New Testament were written. But at that time, still were not all compiled into one Holy Book as it is today. However, all the churches in the world during that time accepted these Holy Books as the Pillar of Faith and the Christian life that was inspired by God through the Apostles who were the means used by the Holy Spirit. “For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God.” (II Peter 1:21)
From the beginning the Christian Church was more conservative in acceptance of any book as prophetic even than the Jewish Church itself. For example earlier, there were some writings found in certain manuscripts but the Church did not accept them as prophetic books, for example, very early manuscripts contained, in addition to the Holy Books of the New Testament, two books, which belonged to St. Clement, the Roman.
The era of the Apostolic Fathers began in the middle of the first century and these Fathers followed the Apostles of our Lord immediately. The teachings of the Apostolic Fathers are truly considered as a direct reflection of the Apostles preaching. The Apostolic Fathers were either directly connected to the Apostles themselves or they received their teachings from the Apostles through the disciples lives.
In reality, the term “Apostolic Fathers” was not known in the primitive church, however, it is expressed first by scholars in the seventh century and it refers to the church’ fathers who were direct disciples for the Apostles, or saw them, or received teachings and instructions from the Apostles themselves.
The writers in this era included St. Clement the Roman, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp the Martyr, The Bishop Papias of Hierapolic, Higyspoc, Hermas author of the Didache and the author of the Barnabas Letter. Although these writings are very rare, they have a great importance. The scholars examined and studied these writings extensively regarding Theology, Liturgy, and Church Rituals. The Apostolic Writings focused on patronage in Christianity and their style, which is very similar to the style of writing of the New Testament, especially the style of the Epistles.
Remember your instructors, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the end of their life… Be not led away with various and strange doctrines. (Hebrews 13:7, 9)
“One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.”- St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III.4
”We have learned the plan of our salvation from no one else other than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us. For they did at one time proclaim the gospel in public. And, at a later period, by the will of God, they handed the gospel down to us in the Scriptures-to be the `ground and pillar of our faith.'”- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volumes On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, normally referred to as Adversus Haereses (in English, Against Heresies). Irenaeus cites from most of the New Testament canon, as well as works from the Apostolic Fathers.
The holy and glorious, right-victorious Hieromartyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France. His writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of the Apostle St. John the Theologian.
To support this topic on heresies let us look at the following example regarding The True Church and the Apostolic Succession from the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, quotes taken mostly from the book Against Heresies written by St. Irenaeus. These are the common questions that can arise in one’s mind due to the influence of other doctrines (heresies) that is easily available around us. In the following example/case ‘Response’ is given to a protestant believer’s questions/doubts.
In short let us understand what the main doubts of a protestant believer are and what St. Irenaeus says in respect to this
A good protestant always assumes that the criteria for determining if a church is truly apostolic is to look at the doctrine of that particular church. (The answer to this is response to question #2 (How did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?) elaborated further in the article)
The church is the custodian of the truth, but only those churches that have continuity to the teachings of the apostles qualify as being the true church. It thus turns out that the Protestant assumption was only half correct, for Irenaeus does teach that to determine if a church was within the apostolic tradition one had to look to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith that the apostles had passed down in the sacred writings. Thus, Irenaeus used Biblical exposition to show that the teaching of the Gnostic churches were incompatible with the apostles’ doctrine revealed in Scripture.
But that is only one side of the coin. Equally important in determining whether a church is legitimacy apostolic is whether the church is under a bishop that is the recipients of a chain of ordination going back to the apostles. This is because it was to be assumed that the apostles and their successors would only have appointed leaders who agreed with their teaching and also because apostolic authority was transmitted by the laying on of hands in a transfer of real divine power and authority.
Although Irenaeus did not have time “to enumerate the successions of all the churches”, he took the church at Rome as one example and traced the succession of ordinations back to Peter and Paul. This, he maintains, provides “a full demonstration that it is one and the same life-giving faith which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles to the present, and is handed on in truth.”
The doctrine of apostolic succession provided a hedge around the interpretation of Scripture, according to Irenaeus. Any church which taught private innovations different to the public tradition of the other apostolic sees, was a church teaching heresy.
Question #1: Is it correct that Irenaeus taught that a bishop derived his importance from belonging to an apostolic church?
Response: If a protestant believer reads St. Irenaeus’ writings, he will always start out assuming that Irenaeus looked to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith the apostles had passed down in Scripture. However, the believer will soon recognize that just as important for Irenaeus was the bishop being part of a chain of succession going back to the apostles.
In the passages below Irenaeus makes it clear that he considers the Church to be the custodian of the truth.
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… (AH 1.10; (ANF) Vol. 1 p. 330; italics added)
Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master… (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)
The early Church was apostolic because her bishops were able to trace their lineage back to the original apostles. Irenaeus holds up two men as exemplars of apostolic succession: Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna. Irenaeus writes of Clement:
Clement received the lot of the episcopate; he had seen the apostles and met with them and still had the apostolic preaching in his ears and the tradition before his eyes. He was not alone, for many were then still alive who had been taught by the apostles. (AH 3.3)
Note that Irenaeus does not make any reference to Clement receiving the keys to the Papacy (the government of the Roman Catholic Church; pontificate). The stress here is on his deep personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings. In the case of his predecessor Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus also stressed the personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings.
And there is Polycarp, who not only was taught by the apostles and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but also was established by apostles in Asia in the church at Smyrna… He always taught the doctrine he had learned from the apostles, which he delivered to the church, and it alone is true. (AH 3.4; italics added)
Irenaeus did not understand apostolic succession in terms of institutional authority but authority rooted in the apostolic Gospel. Only if he taught the true Gospel could a bishop be in apostolic succession. A bishop who altered the Gospel had abandoned the true faith and broken the chain of succession.
For Irenaeus evidential support for apostolic succession came in the form of succession lists.
Thus, the tradition of the apostles, manifest in the whole world, is present in every church to be perceived by all who wish to see the truth. We can enumerate those who were appointed by the apostles as bishops in the churches as their successors even to our time… (AH 3.3.1; italics added)
He enumerates in detail the apostolic succession for the Church of Rome as follows:
To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, 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. (AH 3.3.4; ANF Vol. I p. 416; italics added)
Unlike the Gnostics who invoked a secret spiritual genealogy, the Christian church in Irenaeus’ time were able to trace their lineage back to the apostles. That this was a widely accepted practice can be seen in Eusebius’ Church History which contains succession lists for various dioceses. Protestantism’s inability to provide a similar listing is something Irenaeus would view with suspicion. The closest thing that Protestantism has to such a listing is the far-fetched claim made by the Landmark Baptists who claim a secret lineage back to John the Baptist.
Central to Irenaeus’ apologia is an apostolic church that was also at the same time a catholic (universal) church.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)
Irenaeus stresses the importance of these handed down traditions in the following words…
….if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 3.4.1; italics added)
It was not enough for a bishop to claim apostolic succession, he also needed to be in communion with the church catholic (universal). In contrast, Gnosticism was comprised of teachings that varied according to schools and geographic locations. In other words, the unity of the church catholic (universal) stood in sharp contrast to Gnosticism’s denominationalism, a case similar to today’s Protestantism.
It must be recognized that Irenaeus was one of the earliest biblical theologians. Irenaeus did not simply invoke his episcopal authority like a hammer. Instead, he exercised his episcopal authority through the exposition of Scripture. His high view of Scripture can be seen in his carefully reasoned exegesis of Scripture. He writes:
…and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us praising in hymns that God who created all things. (AH 2.28.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 400)
Irenaeus cited numerous scriptural references from Old and New Testaments to refute the Gnostics (cf. AH 2.2.5; AH 3.18.3). He sounds much like an Evangelical when he wrote: “as Scripture tells us.” (AH 2.2.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 362) In one particular passage in Against the Heretics, Irenaeus invoked the authority of Scripture repeatedly: “We have shown from the scriptures…”; “The scriptures would not give this testimony to him if…”; “.the divine scriptures testify to him…”; and “The scriptures predicted all this of him.” (AH 3.19.2)
Does this make Irenaeus a second century proto-Protestant?
No. Irenaeus did not oppose Scripture against church and tradition. He urged his readers:
It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their (Gnostics) 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. (AH 5.20.2, ANF p. 548)
Irenaeus described the church’s teaching authority in warm maternal terms and assumed the two to be mutually compatible. This stands in contrast to later Protestant views which often saw the church in antagonistic tension with Scripture. Unlike the Protestant principle of ‘sola scriptura’ which makes Scripture the supreme norm for doing theology, Irenaeus saw the traditioning process as an interlocking matrix of which Scripture was one integral component.
The answer to the protestant believer’s Question #1 is that
while the bishop derived his importance or authority from the traditioning process, Irenaeus also emphasized that apostolic succession is corroborated by the catholicity (universality) of the Faith. The authority of the bishop is not autonomous(independent) but contingent(dependent) on the faithful transmission of the Faith received from the apostles.
Because apostolicity is correlated with catholicity (universality), Eucharistic communion provides an essential confirmation of the bishop’s teaching and his pastoral authority.
Question #2: If the answer to question #1 is affirmative, then how did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?
Response: For Irenaeus two foremost criteria were: apostolic succession and doctrinal agreement with the church catholic (universal). A corollary of apostolic succession is antiquity. This is evident in Irenaeus’ insistence that weight be given to the earliest ꟷ “most ancient” ꟷChristian churches.
If some question of minor importance should arise, would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved? And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 3.4.1; italics added)
By means of the criterion of antiquity, Irenaeus finds the Gnostics falling short. This can be seen in the phrase: “much later” used to describe the Gnostic teachings.
All the others who are called Gnostics originated from Menander the disciple of Simon, as we have shown, and each of them appeared as the father and mystagogue of the opinion he adopted. All these arose in their apostasy much later, in the middle of the times of the church. (AH 3.4.3; italics added)
In the above quote ‘Simon’ refers to Simon of Samaria who was a magician mentioned in Acts 8: 20 . And in contrast to the unity and universality of the apostolic preaching, Gnosticism was divided among the various schools of thought which resulted in doctrinal diversity ꟷ another marker of deviant theology.
All these are much later than the bishops to whom the apostles entrusted the churches, and we have set this forth with all due diligence in the third book. All the aforementioned heretics, since they are blind to the truth, have to go to one side or the other off the road and therefore the traces of their doctrine are scattered without agreement or logic (AH 5.20.1; ANF p. 547).
Apostolicity did not reside in any one particular church body but pervaded the entirety of the church catholic (universal). Using the second century Church of Rome which was known for its doctrinal conservatism, he notes that the churches in other areas would be in agreement with it (AH 3.2).
Iranaeous sums his case for the apostolicity of Rome thus:
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 that Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 416)
Thus, emphasis is on: (1) apostolic succession ꟷa chain of ordination going back to the apostles, (2) apostolic teaching ꟷa body of teachings going back to the apostles, and (3) catholicity ꟷbeing in agreement with the universal church.
Irenaeus’ commendation of the Church of Rome would give rise to the respect accorded to other patriarchates: (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), Catholicate (India, Armenia) and Pope (Coptic) by later Ecumenical Councils.
Question #3: One of the reasons that Irenaeus taught apostolic succession is because he believed that the apostles “certainly wished those whom they were leaving as their successors, handing over to them their own teaching position, to be perfect and irreproachable, since their sound conduct would be a great benefit [to the Church], and failure on their part the greatest calamity.” If Irenaeus was correct, might it be possible that the purity of this chain of succession could expire after a time, as the link to the first apostles becomes more and more distant?
Response: Irenaeus did not envision a diminishing chain of succession. It would be like a banker entertaining the thought that one day his vault will be broken into and all his depositors’ money will be lost. Irenaeus understood tradition as a sacred deposit.
Since these proofs are so strong, one need not look among others for the truth that it is easy to receive from the church, for like a rich man in a barn the apostles deposited everything belonging to the truth in it (the church) so that whoever might take the drink of life from it. (Rev. 22:17; AH 3.4.1)
If anything, Irenaeus, like the good banker, would have been horrified at the thought of the Depositor coming back to claim His deposit and finding it gone.
That he expected the Christian Faith to be preserved against heresy and innovation can be seen in the passage below.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331)
Here Irenaeus fully expects that the Church will “carefully preserve” the apostolic faith. One empirical test of this claim is the fact that the early Church was able to maintain doctrinal uniformity as it spread throughout the vast Roman Empire. One could expect that as the church became dispersed across vast distances, regional differences in doctrines would emerge.
The way of church members surrounds the whole world, contains the firm tradition from the apostles, lets us view one and these same faith with all, for all believe in one and the same God and in the “economy” of the Son of God and know the same gift of the Spirit and care for the same commandments and preserve the same organization in the church and await the same coming of the Lord. (AH 5.20.1; italics added)
In Irenaeus’ phrase “firm tradition” we get the sense that the Christian faith is stable and resistant to innovation and heretical distortion. One can innovate only by “deserting the preaching of the Church.” (AH 5.20.2; ANF p. 548)
Orthodoxy has multiple safeguards to ensure the preservation of the Faith. The most important is the fact that Tradition consists of an interlocking and mutually reinforcing matrix. One important component is the episcopacy. Elevation to the episcopacy entails not just the conferring of ecclesiastical authority but also the obligation to keep the apostolic faith intact and to guard it against change.
Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master… (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)
This is a complete proof that the life-giving faith is one and the same, preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now. (AH 3.3.2; italics added)
Next, there is the inscripturated word of God. Irenaeus writes:
For we have known the “economy” for our salvation only through those whom the Gospel came to us; and what they then first preached they later, by God’s will, transmitted to us in the scriptures so that would be foundation and pillar of our faith. (I Timothy 3:15) (AH 3.3.1; italics added)
In addition to the episcopal office and inscripturated Tradition is the regula fide in the form of creed. In Against the Heretics 1.10 Irenaeus writes:
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: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit.. (AH 1.10; ANF Vol. 1 p. 330)
By the fourth century, the regula fide would be standardized in the Nicene Creed as a result of the decisions made by the first and second Ecumenical Councils. The Orthodox church’s fierce resistance to the Church of Rome’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque clause points to its taking seriously the task of preserving the apostolic deposit.
Another component is the Eucharist. For Irenaeus there is a close link between Christian doctrine and Christian worship.
But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. (AH 4.18.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 486)
The above quote anticipates the theological principle: lex orans, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith). Worship in the early church was liturgical. The liturgy was part of the received apostolic tradition “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took the bread;”(I Corinthians 11:23). Here the words ‘received‘ and ‘delivered‘ refer to the transmission of Holy Tradition. These words were the part of the Eucharist celebrations in the first century as it is today. It was not the result of creative expression but served to conserve the Christian faith. An examination of the ancient liturgies used by the Orthodox churches ꟷLiturgy of St. James, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of St. Basil ꟷshows how much the faith of the early church lives on the Orthodox churches today. The ancient liturgies have pretty much disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church with the shift to the Novus Ordo Mass in the 1960s.
All these, however, are insufficient apart from divine grace. That is why preservation of the apostolic teaching depends on: (1) the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), (2) Christ’s guarantee of the church against the powers of Hell (Matthew 16:18), and (3) Christ’s charge to teach the nations and the promise of his presence with the church until the Second Coming (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission probably has the most bearing on the protestant believer’s Question #3. The traditioning process is implied in the Great Commission ꟷ “teaching them to observe everything I commanded you” ꟷand is guaranteed by Christ’s promise to be with the Church “always even unto the end of the age.”
Question #4: Is Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession a Biblical doctrine? If so, where can we find it implied or inferred in scripture?
Response: That Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession is rooted in Scripture can be seen in the ample citations below.
Irenaeus in the Prologue to Book 3 explains how the Lord Jesus himself laid the foundation for apostolic succession:
The Lord of all gave his apostles the power of the Gospel, and by them we have known the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God. To them the Lord said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who despises you despises me and Him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) (Italics added)
Another biblical support for apostolic succession can be found in II Timothy 2:2 in which Paul describes to Timothy how the traditioning process is key to the ordination to the ministry:
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Tim 2:2)
Biblical support for apostolic succession can be inferred from Titus 1:5 in which Paul gave Titus instructions on the ordination of men to the priesthood:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I commanded you. (Titus 1:5)
The top-down approach described here is sharply different from the ordination practices of congregationalism.
Apostolic succession can also be found in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preserve the apostolic teaching against heretical innovations (I Timothy 6:3, 20; II Timothy 2:14, 24; Titus 1:9, 2:1). In these verses Paul stresses the need to preserve the Faith against heresy; the very same point reiterated by Irenaeus.
Question #5: If Irenaeus is correct in his doctrine of apostolic succession, which churches today satisfy the criteria for a `true church’?
Response: If Irenaeus were to examine the churches today he would be looking for the “most ancient” churches and at the “sequence of the tradition” from the apostles for those churches.
…would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved? And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 4.1; italics added)
The application of these two criteria rules out all of Protestantism. That being the case, there remains two present day options: the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
Irenaeus had some knowledge of these two branches. In Against the Heretics 3.3 Irenaeus showcased the Church of Rome. Irenaeus’ predecessor, Polycarp, was bishop of the church in Smyrna, which would be closely linked to the Patriarchate of Constantinople belonging to the Orthodox Church. Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire during that time, one should not confuse Church of Rome with Roman Catholic Church which is based out of Vatican and not Constantinople.
One would think in light of Irenaeus’ high praise for the Church of Rome in AH 4.1 that he would automatically point us to the present day Roman Catholic Church. But it should be kept in mind that he lived in the second century and that much has happened over the next two millennia, most notably the Schism of 1054 A.D.
Would Irenaeus identify himself with present day Roman Catholicism?
No, for three reasons: (1) Roman Catholicism has adopted a strongly forensic approach to the doctrine of salvation ꟷsomething not found in his teachings, (2) it has superimposed Aristotelian categories on to the doctrine of the Eucharist ꟷsomething not found in his teaching, and (3) it has promoted the supremacy of the Roman papacy ꟷsomething not found in his teachings. Furthermore, Irenaeus would likely have regarded Rome’s later independence from the other patriarchates ((Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), Catholicate (India, Armenia) and Pope (Coptic)) contrary to the catholicity of the second century church.
In Orthodoxy’s favor is the fact that it has retained Irenaeus’ understanding of salvation in terms of recapitulation, i.e., Christ through the Incarnation recapitulated the entirety of human existence (cf. AH 3.20.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 450). Also, where the Roman Catholic Church has introduced the medieval emphasis on penal substitution as the basis for our salvation, Orthodoxy, like Irenaeus, has retained the emphasis on salvation as union with Christ and theosis (AH 3.4.2; AH 3.20.2).
St. Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies provides historical evidence to support Orthodoxy’s claim that the way it does theology has deep historic roots. A close reading of St. Irenaeus will give pause to any thoughtful Protestant who base their theological method on sola scriptura. Irenaeus of Lyons stands as a valuable benchmark for determining what doctrines and practices are congruent with the historic Christian Faith.
An example of a great heresy that we will need to look at is Arianism. This was the debate within the Church in the fourth century over the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was great because this heresy, from its beginning, changed the minds of people and urged them to understand divinity in a rational way. Since it is very difficult to rationalize the union of the Infinite with the finite, there is an apparent contradiction between the two terms ꟷthe final form into which the confusion of heresies settled down was a declaration by the Arians that our Lord was of as much of the Divine Essence as it was possible for a creature to be, but He was none the less a creature. It is very interesting how the Arian system keeps its strength after so many centuries, after so many controversies. Arius was the father of many heresies, which have grown up after him. From his roots many heresy take the saps, like the branches from the root of tree. These branches develop own systems, but checking the genesis of them we will see the old root. We will discuss more on this topic on a later date in another article about heresies.
The article continues as….Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3