28 February 2008

Patristic Quote of the Day

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, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself. -- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 2, Par. 1


orrologion said...

St. Irenaeus is arguing not against unwritten Tradition but against secret tradition, secret gnosis that was referred to as authoritative. The saint later goes on to compare the Gnostics to the public declaration of doctrine and practice in the apostolic Churches, which included both written and unwritten traditions, Scripture and their proper understanding, the lex orandi surrounding them, etc.

Again, one must also look at the context of this saint's life, his church, his pastoral practice, etc. to understand what he understood by appealing to Scripture as unambiguous. This selection, outside of this context can incorrectly be taken to mean that he saw in "scripture alone" what others a millenium later have seen in "scripture alone" - very different things.

Behr is a very good Irenaeus scholar should anyone care to dig more deeply into the saint's thought. His bibliographies are also very helpful in gaining a fuller understanding of the saint, his full corpus of extant work, his life and the church and culture of his day.

William Weedon said...

I concur that Behr is incomparably good on St. Irenaeus. Behr points out that while the heretics claimed to substantiate from unwritten tradition what they taught, St. Irenaeus showed that the church's unwritten tradition taught absolutely nothing at variance with her written tradition, the Sacred Scriptures of the OT and the Apostolic writings.

orrologion said...

Well, the late Fr. Seraphim Rose described some Orthodox as falling into "Eastern Rite Protestantism". Fr. John, as Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary must have fallen into this error. That's what studying Irenaeus'll do to a presbyter.

William Weedon said...

LOL. Studying Irenaeus will do many things for a person - perhaps even teach him that the apostles established a succession of PRESBYTERS!


orrologion said...

So, if Pelikan became Orthodox when he finally read his own books, will Behr become Lutheran when he reads his own? One can only hope/fear, as one prefers.

Scholarly consensus seems to have come down on the side, barring new evidence coming to light, that there were two seperate practices in the Church: the Ignatian model of monarchical episcopate sharing in but distinct from the presbytery and the 'Roman' model of presbyter/bishops where a single leader of each community held the full office, which was called by either name interchangeably.

Whatever the diversity of practice (or theology) in the early Church, one needs to answer for oneself whether the child is more fully the person than that same person as a man. Can we really know what the early and ante-Nicene Church believed and did apart from the Nicene Church? can I hop over the testimony of my parents as to how their parents and grandparents lived? do we place ourselves over and above the bishops (apart from idiosyncratic, isolated references the distinction between bishop and presbyter happened well before Constantine and Nicea) emerging from the Catacombs in determining, from our vaunted 21st Century perspective, what the 'real' faith of the Apostles was? over and against the established consensus across the vast and often isolated geographies and cultures of the 3rd-4th Century ecumene? What sources and testimonies we find reliable is really what determines our position on any of these matters. Not trusting that the Spirit guided the church as a whole, rather than various small and often invisible, assumed groups, is common to those appealing to only 'the earliest texts' of Scripture and contemporary sources as well as to liberal, achristian critics.

William Weedon said...


Do you really believe in Newman's developmental theory when it comes to the Church? To confess the Apostolic Church was to reject any and everything that could not grow out from that root. Which picture is the Apostolic picture? The one that Ignatius describes or the one that we see in Irenaeus? Which accords with the faith of the Apostles?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or. . . perhaps we should note what they have in common - trained men given the responsibility of publicly teaching the Apostolic Faith (of course using the Scriptures) and administering the Sacraments.

In every place, there is a leader with responsibility, and there are assistants. Where those assistants go, and if they end up getting assistants of their own - their responsibility is the same.

orrologion said...

There's development and then there's development. I don't think Orthodox have yet come up with the word to describe what it is that is experienced in the growth and maturation of the Church, her doctrines and structures. I don't think it was ever really an issue until it came to confronting the West and what has gone on there since the 1054.

I tend to think that we lack far too much data to be able to 'prove' anything about the early Church one way or the other. The way I know something about the early Church is by looking at the Church that emerged, maimed and confessing, from the catacombs and established the Nicene Church. We know what they thought, believed and did by looking at what the later Councils did, believed and thought, etc. There is a great danger in identifying any period as the golden age; we know we are in the Body of Christ if we can trace the public continuity of apostolic foundations from father to son, so to speak. We can't 'jump over' the more immediate church to get at the earlier given our paucity of surviving texts. Besides, to do so is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in preserving and guiding the Church in the world - rather than a "Church" comprised of the private intimations and thoughts of unknown men and women wholly different than the Church we see in history.

William Weedon said...

But Christopher, you must know that Lutherans do not believe that they are guilty of "jumping back." We do NOT disavow the medieval Church or the church of the first millennium. We recognize it all as OUR history too. The institution of the ministry remains the same, though in many places in Lutheranism the human distinction between bishop/presbyter (witnessed throughout Western history by even saints ordaining while in presbyteral ranks, and abbots being given that privilege) was set aside. But the very institution of the Church herself: the gathered congregation around the Apostolic Gospel and the Eucharist, entered into by Holy Baptism, and sustained with the Church's prayers and piety - THIS remained. Cleansed of all that was contrary to the wisdom of the Scriptures which the "wisdom of men" had tagged on over the years, but the thing itself remained the same. This is the Lutheran conviction; none other. We have nothing to do with folks who imagine that the Holy Spirit lay dormant in all the years between the death of St. John and the birth of Blessed Martin.

orrologion said...

I would suggest that tagging a goodly amount of what the Church taught and believed of herself "in all the years between the death of St. John and the birth of Blessed Martin" as the "wisdom of men" is in fact "jumping back" and denying the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the intervening 1300+ years. The paradigm difference boils to down to how we understand "reform", and in what way it is and has been appropriately done in the Church. For instance, Nestorius viewed his opposition to the term "Theotokos" to be a reform of a corupted, popular lex orandi; the iconoclasts viewed themselves in much the same way. At the same time, St. Gregory the Theologian served at the Anastasis in Constantinople calling the Arian populace of the capital back to orthodox Christianity, St. John Chrysostom preached repentence to his people, the same with the testimony of the Desert Fathers. Discernment is key, and most difficult to acquire - God save us all!

Past Elder said...

I've never understood the search for the Holy Grail, so to speak, that the "New Testament church" or "the early church" is in some quarters.

You've got Protestants tossing out everything to have a New Testament Church and Catholics with a whole new liturgy, every change of which in my experience was argued for as bringing us back closer to the early church, among other things.

One thing that the Epistles and the Fathers seem pretty clear on was that the early church was hardly a Golden Age but ruddy awful.

Maybe the pruning of the Lutheran Reformation (as distinct from The Reformation) of the wisdom of men from the wisdom of Scripture was precisely that guidance of the Holy Spirit at the time.

William Weedon said...


I'd say there's no "maybe" about that one. :)