Here, we continue through Irenaeus, and a little bit of Jerome, to show that the Early Church Fathers did not teach that Apostolic Succession was a “living institution” which can contradict demonstrably genuine Apostolic teachings, specifically those in the Scripture.
When we speak of tradition, it is a teaching whose origin is historically Apostolic. Anyone can claim that something is “tradition.” As we reviewed previously, Irenaeus’ point was that Apostolic Succession demonstrated historically the origin of the traditions he espoused. Hence, true Apostolic Tradition CANNOT contradict the Scripture or the writings of the Early Church Fathers, as far as they are consistent with the Scripture. For a “tradition” to be legitimate it cannot suddenly appear hundreds of years after the beginning of the Church.
All of this aside, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox claim that historically, only they can lay claim to Apostolic Succession anyway. And, because “the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church,” this means that Protestants must be schismatics.
However, tradition does not bear out this contention either. In fact, we can find a reference to Apostolic Succession referring clearly to a group of people, though not “Catholics” in the sense of the term we understand. In Book III, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2 of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies he writes:
To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. 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.
From the preceding we can safely conclude three things:
1. These barbarians were saved, and thereby Christians.
2. These barbarians were cut off from the institution of the Church. Not only were they illiterates and thereby had no Scriptures or written communication with the Catholic Church of the ancient world, they also were identified as separate from the institutional church.
-Irenaeus supposes that there are “many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ,” but otherwise only speculates “if” someone preached “the inventions of the heretics…in their own language” then they would act like children and run away. Obviously this is not the response of real people, but speculatory barbarians. This does not sound like people that had any Bishop in correspondence with Rome (or any other civilized part of the world), and therefore was under Rome’s authority.
-Irenaeus’ grammar excludes the possibility these people had a Bishop. He speaks of the barbarians as a mutually exclusive party to the Church: “[B]y means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they [the barbarians] do not suffer their mind to conceive [of any Marcionite heresy]…among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever established.” The word “neither” shows that they are not considered part of the Church that Irenaues speaks of in some sense. Yet, they would be in agreement in their faith so that both the historical Church and these barbarians who have remembered what the Apostles taught would both deny the innovations of the heretics.
3. These same barbarians maintained faithful by preserving tradition. Hence, within this whole discussion on Apostolic Succession that spans for chapters (that we covered in Part I), it is possible to be successors of the Apostles without even a recognized Bishop of the institutional Church. How? By preserving tradition. Obviously, this is Irenaeus point, which mitigates against any understanding that Apostolic Succession is a “living institution.”
Now, no one claims that apart from literally seeing the Bible, you cannot be saved. Those of us that espouse what is coined “Reformed Theology,” which is rather the Biblical and traditional doctrines of the Church, assert that we are saved by faith alone. The Bible merely communicates details concerning saving faith in Christ.
Look at what Irenaeus wrote. How do the barbarians have “salvation written on their hearts?” In Irenaeus’ own words, they “believe in Christ,” and though they are cut off from the Church and its written documents “because of faith, [they are] very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom.” Their wisdom is not that of the learned, but that of faith.
Therefore, Biblical and apostolic faith is what saves, not a connection to an institutional church, according to what we find in Irenaues. Now, I have been told by a Catholic (and correctly so) that Ignatius wrote at an earlier point in time that “[l]et no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 8).
It is my opinion that what Irenaues speaks of is a different situation than that of Ignatius. However, what if they contradicted? Being that neither of their writings are Scripture, they can contradict one another and that does not pose us any problems. Nonetheless, it is more likely that Irenaeus was speaking of a peculiar group of people he supposed existed while Ignatius had a literal audience within the civilized world, already part of the Church. The differences in audiences gives us the context of each man’s teachings.
So, while the barbarians might have not had a Bishop recognized by the civilized Catholic Church, they probably would have had “bishops.” Following the model we see in the Scripture, the Elders of their churches were in effect their Bishops (i.e. Overseers,) though not in the Roman Catholic sense.
Such an arrangement would indeed be Apostolic. Paul in Acts 20:17, 28 conflates Elders and Bishops as the same thing. This means that there were no singular Bishops originally in the church, but rather a plurality (as Phil 1:1 would show definitively.) Interestingly enough, St. Jerome concurs with this:
Before parties sprung up in the Christian administration; before such expressions as these were uttered amongst the faithful, I belong to Paul, I to Apollo, I to Cephas; the churches were governed by a common council of their presbyters [elders]. But, when it came to pass, that each individual (presbyter) looked on those whom he had baptized, to be an acquisition for himself, not for Christ; every where it was decided, that one presbyter should be chosen, and placed over the others , and that to him the care of the church at large should appertain, thereby to remove every principle of schism. These instances I have brought, to show that presbyters and bishops were, for those of old, one of the same;but that by degrees, the government was restricted to one, in order to do away the possibility of dissentions in future. As therefore, presbyters should know, that, in virtue of the church usage, they are submitted to their prelate, whosoever he may be; so let bishops understand, that they themselves are greater than presbyters, more from a usage than from the primary ordinance from the Redeemer, and it is their duty to govern their churches by joint deliberation.
So, nothing was done by the barbarians “without the Bishop,” but the bishops were likely not Roman Catholic (or aware that they were “Catholic.”) They were elders appointed the old fashioned way.
All of this is yet another case of how tradition has been misappropriated by supposed “Apostolic” churches that make a practice of propagating teachings unknown by the apostles and disputed by the early church fathers.
Just a few points:
Actually, the Anglican church and even some Lutherans claim to have valid lines of episcopal (apostolic) succession.
Most of the rest of Protestants do not even have bishops, let alone do they even attempt to uphold the doctrine which has defined catholicity and unity with the Church of Christ since the earliest times — which you yourself cite: “Let no one do any of the things appertaining to the Church without the bishop. … Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Universal (Catholic) Church” (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans VIII). By that very understanding, Protestants have placed themselves outside what early Christians understood as the body of the Church.
Um… Do you even know who, and where, Ireneaus was? He was the bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons), in Gaul — that is, among the “barbarians”, appointed by and faithful to Rome, having been dispatched from Asia Minor. You are operating under a baseless historical prejudice that these peoples called “barbarians” — in fact, a term for a whole category of especially Germanic peoples — were “illiterate” and outside civilization — but in fact, towards the latter centuries of the Roman Empire, the so-called “barbarians” were just as literate and just as cultured as anyone else. Most of the earliest vernacular translations of the Scriptures were into the so-called “barbarian” languages, though the learned people among the Germans were perfectly capable of reading Latin or even Greek. What Ignatius wrote about bishops and what Irenaeus writes are perfectly consistent: Just as Christ’s Apostles went to the ends of the earth to carry the Gospel, where they appointed presbyters to continue their ministry, the Church of the second century was just as dutiful in continuing to send and appoint faithful ministers to the frontiers of the world and even to her own back yard — which in fact is what Gaul was. These peoples were just as much a part of the Catholic Church, and just as orthodox, as those in Greece, Africa, or Rome — as the very fact of Irenaeus’s writing attests. I think you might do well to read about them before you judge them.
“Actually, the Anglican church and even some Lutherans claim to have valid lines of episcopal (apostolic) succession.”
Mentioned in the first article…
“And, because “the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church,” this means that Protestants must be schismatics.”
That’s a very narrow definition of what constitutes the “Church” especially considering that the Barbarians (which we will get into) are disconnected yet considered legit Christians with APostolic doctrine and that even in Jesus’ time the disciples were opposed to someone else not of their number healing in Jesus’ name and Jesus rebuked them for it.
“Most of the rest of Protestants do not even have bishops…”
Well, maybe not as you define them but many have “elders” which in Acts 17 are conflated with Bishops (same with Phil 1 where a plurality of Bishops are mentioned.)
“By that very understanding, Protestants have placed themselves outside what early Christians understood as the body of the Church.”
Not if they submit to the elders/bishops of their respective churches.
“Um… Do you even know who, and where, Ireneaus was? ”
“He was the bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons), in Gaul — that is, among the “barbarians”, appointed by and faithful to Rome…”
You might want to reconsider this interpretation and reread Against Heresies Chapter 4, Book 3, Par 2. Clearly Irenaeus is literate…the men he speaks of are illiterate, who cannot even speak the language Irenaeus speaks of. THese are theoretical unidentified barbarians that Irenaeus supposes exist.
“You are operating under a baseless historical prejudice that these peoples called “barbarians” — in fact, a term for a whole category of especially Germanic peoples — were “illiterate” and outside civilization — but in fact, towards the latter centuries of the Roman Empire, the so-called “barbarians” were just as literate and just as cultured as anyone else.”
Reread what Irenaeus actually wrote, I am repeating nothing other than he strictly presented the situation. I think you are being intellectually dishonest here, which you have not been in your previous replies. Irenaeus calls them illiterates, it is not some anti-germanic prejudice or something on my part.
Yes, I’m sorry, he does say that, about their illiteracy. I wrote this a bit hastily between classes; forgive me.
If anything, though, his argument only further separates the Apostolic faith from any faith based in “Scripture alone,” and bolsters the understanding that there is an authoritative, oral Apostolic tradition which has the power to save as surely as does Scripture.
The rest of my argument, however, still stands: You are presuming these people are “out in the sticks,” are “out of touch” with the rest of the Christian world, are “outside the institutional Church” — but you have no reason to presume this. You underline:
Who are “they,” who “by means of the Tradition of the Apostles, do not suffer their mind to conceive of anything of the doctrines suggested by these teachers”? “They,” certainly, are the “barbarians” of whom he is writing — but who are “these teachers” who have “portentous language”? “These teachers” are the heretics against whom he is writing, and it is among the heretics, not among the barbarians, that neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established.. Again, Irenaeus himself is a bishop among the barbarians, and he was not alone: the Church sent many missionaries into foreign lands, and Gaul at that time was not really even very “foreign.”
There was not really any such thing as “Roman Catholic” in the second century (and there arguably still isn’t today). Each bishop has authority over his own church. He is in communion with all the other bishops of the world — which is what makes the Church “Universal.” And yes, this term was one that they would have understood.
His peace be with you.
“Yes, I’m sorry, he does say that, about their illiteracy. I wrote this a bit hastily between classes; forgive me.”
No problem, it happens, you were so insistent I was really confused as to your point!
“If anything, though, his argument only further separates the Apostolic faith from any faith based in “Scripture alone,” and bolsters the understanding that there is an authoritative, oral Apostolic tradition which has the power to save as surely as does Scripture.”
I totally agree. I do not need to know the Bible to be saved. I need to know Jesus Christ and trust Him as my Lord and know that He raised for the dead for me. The Scripture in the civilized world is our inerrant means of knowing God’s truth, but there is nothing wrong with the same truth (Irenaueus laid out a creed in AH Bk 3 Ch 4 P 2) and taking it to heart.
“You are presuming these people are “out in the sticks,” are “out of touch” with the rest of the Christian world, are “outside the institutional Church” — but you have no reason to presume this…”
For the reasons given in the article, that they are listed as a group that never taught such heresies alongside the Church in the present and Tradition, I think viewing them as a separate theoretical group is the most sensible conclusion.
“Each bishop has authority over his own church. He is in communion with all the other bishops of the world — which is what makes the Church “Universal.” And yes, this term was one that they would have understood.”
They might not have been aware of the term Catholic being that they are illiterate and it only entered use in Ignatius’ time.