Note: This “essay” is actually an email I wrote to a list. We were debating the nature of the church. I removed references to my interlocutor's identity out of respect for him. Though we disagree on certain things, his scholarship remains unquestioned (by me – anyway) and I have learned much from corresponding with him.
What follows is actually a precursor to a more full essay I plan on writing about 'Tradition” and “Scripture” in the early church fathers.
Dr. [name left out to protect the innocent],
Allow me to illustrate what I think you're saying ... That 'faith,' once and for all delivered to the saints, is that Rule of Faith, that Holy Tradition, that paradosis with a capital 'T', that 'abstraction' which is concretized in the practices/praxis of the Church and is itself the *essence* of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is alive in that it moves and grows, branches. Being instantiated in various 'concretions' as churches are planted and ministers ordained by the laying on of hands in an essential succession; like plants popping up in a field, all of which share the same root system (that root system being the Holy Tradition). That this Holy Tradition is manifest in the spiritual gift of Apostle (i.e., the ministry of ("binding and loosing") bestowed upon the Priesthood (and so outside of this succession there is no Holy Tradition, and no One Holy Catholic And Apostolic Church).
Through Holy Baptism congregants are added and the plant grows (as does the outworking of this Holy Tradition). This Holy Tradition is God's deposit, his gift, We partake through the Sacraments which are therefore the objective means of grace; grace itself being the gift of partaking in this Universal. Through the Holy Eucharist the plant is nourished like the life giving nutrients flow from the root system; that is this Tradition. This Tradition is the *mystical* Body itself in the abstract; the Holy Spirit's moving. Whose very outworking is the Church itself. Congregants partake in it through the Holy Sacraments; the preforming of which itself is an instantiation of this Faith, this Truth, this FAITH of the WHOLE Church.
Is that it? Is it that (to borrow from the above metaphor) a rogue plant, though it might be the same in all other respects, if it is not part of the same root system, it is not part of the Church for it has cut itself off (consciously or otherwise) from that Holy Tradition, that abstraction, the essence of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and thereby rejected (dare I say it) the Holy Spirit Himself. Right doctrine itself is also related to this abstraction as particulars to the ideal; where there is this Holy Tradition, there is right doctrine, where there is not, there cannot be. For this reason right doctrine is only to be found in the instances, the institutions, which are the very perpetuation and extension of this Paradosis in time and space. Right doctrine then is right, not only because it is a list of true theological and essential propositions (THE SHEER RATIONALISTIC HORROR!), but because of its relationship to the 'Faith', 'Truth', 'Holy Tradition', 'Paradosis', that wondrous and Holy Abstraction.
If I am close, the problem for me is, when I let Irenaeus and Tertullian explain themselves, I don't see this at all.
Before I continue though, there was some misunderstanding in my attempt to “frame the issue in question.” I was hoping you would, rather than argue with my points, concede that what we were arguing about was captured in the outline. I was then going to point out that these two positions are not completely mutually exclusive. I try to keep in mind the historical circumstances within which the Fathers were writing. One generation removed from the last living Apostle there is one (to borrow an anachronistic term) denomination. Regardless of the doctrinal content of Apostolic Succession, the simple fact of the matter is, succession happens. A rather erudite man, when misinterpreting my reasoning for quoting a particular Father on the subject once quipped “aside from the fact that it flies in the face of the American Evangelical mindset to say so, churches do not spontaneously generate [emphasis in the original].” Succession is a simple objective, descriptive fact of the way churches were planted; it happened no other way. I will return to the point before I close; I wanted to mention it upfront because I do not want to be criticized for loosing sight of it during what follows. I have not lost sight of it. In everything that follows, all parentheticals (not square braces, they are in the translation I'm quoting from), emphasis and formatting is mine.
"The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: " AH B I. Ch 10.
What is it that's been Paradosis'ed (so to speak)? What is that 'Holy Tradition' in the abstract?
"[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 one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, ..." AH B I. Ch 10.
He doesn't explain, in some way, our Oneness in partaking of 'Holy Tradition,' he enumerates propositions. And then goes on to say:
"As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith," AH B I. Ch 10.
He calls a list of propositions, 'this faith' and 'this preaching,' and goes on to say:
"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 (verb of paradosis?), with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. " AH B I. Ch 10.
He goes on and again equates 'the faith' with 'these points' and the church 'proclaims' and 'teaches' them and 'hands them down' (that is, literally, "traditions" them). Now, I'm naive in things so profound as the mystery of 'Holy Tradition' but it seem to me that he's talking about 'doctrine' in the sense of a list of propositions to be believed and cherished. When talking about the unity of the Church throughout the whole world he defines that unity as follows:
"For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition ('paradosis' - literally, what is handed down, the preaching, synonymous with the 'the faith') is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe (doctrine?) or hand down (paradosis/tradition?) 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. ..." AH B I. Ch 10.
It seems then (perhaps again in my naivete) that the unity of the church is in not in it's one 'Faith' understood as partaking in a Holy Abstraction/Pardosis, but in it's one 'faith' understood as a set of beliefs cherished, nourished, and handed down ('tradition'ed). Continuing:
"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." AH B I. Ch 10
of this faith/doctrine he says:
"It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, ..."
He calls it the "subject-matter [of the faith] itself". But maybe this is simply an incomplete understanding on my part. It is only (so far) one place in his writings. To continue:
"The rule of truth which we hold is, that there is one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist. [... and so extends a long list of Scriptural and creedal propositions ...]. Holding, therefore, this rule, we ...". AH B I, Ch 22
“declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, (and that tradition is? ...) proclaiming ...
- the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels." AH B III Ch. 2
"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 (and that tradition is? ...), (1) believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, (2) 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." AH B III Ch 4
"The disciple of the Lord therefore desiring to put an end to all such doctrines, and to establish the rule of truth in the Church, that (and that rule of truth is? ...) (1) there is one Almighty God, who made all things by His Word, both visible and invisible; (2) showing at the same time, that by the Word, through whom God made the creation, He also bestowed salvation on the men included in the creation; thus commenced His teaching in the Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. What was made was life in Him, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." AH B III, Ch 10
"For, though holding wrong opinions, they do in the meanwhile, however, convict themselves, since they are not of one mind with regard to the same words. But as we follow for our teacher the one and only true God, and possess His words as the rule of truth, we do all speak alike with regard to the same things (and that rule of truth is? ...) (1) knowing but one God, the Creator of this universe, who sent the prophets, who led forth the people from the land of Egypt, (2) who in these last times manifested His own Son, that He might put the unbelievers to confusion, and search out the fruit of righteousness. ..." B IV, Ch 35 ff
here (following) he literally links the 'Rule of Faith' with an enumerated set of propositions (vaguely familiar ones at that):
"This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: (1) God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. (2) The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. (3) And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God." The Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching
Here the Rule of Faith is consonant with the teaching of the Apostles:
"[all persons] holding the unadulterated rule of truth, may be saved. [Luke's] testimony, therefore, is true, and the doctrine of the apostles is open and stedfast, holding nothing in reserve; nor did they teach one set of doctrines in private, and another in public."
That said, there is no doubt that Irenaeus believes that this framework, this Rule of Faith, this faith, this doctrine, is received by all Christians at baptism - it is coincident with Christianity itself, yet, in every case he points at it, it is doctrinal in nature. Elsewhere it is his basis for claiming that a right grasp and acceptance of the Rule (which means one must be a Christian, and have the Holy Spirit) is, in itself, enough to allow the believer to read and understand Scripture. He says in twisting the scripture and not following an appropriate mode of interpretation no one can possess the 'rule of truth' (AH B II, 27) again equating it with right doctrine, right understanding, literally a right "system of truth."
What is then the relationship between the act of faith, the rule of faith, and right doctrine?
"Now, that we may not suffer ought of this kind, we must needs hold the rule of the faith without deviation, and do the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him as Lord and loving Him as Father. Now this doing is produced |72 by faith: for Isaiah says: If ye believe not, neither shall ye understand.10 And faith is produced by the truth; for faith rests on things that truly are. For in things that are, as they are, we believe; and believing in things that are, as they ever are, we keep firm our confidence in them. Since then faith is the perpetuation of our salvation, we must needs bestow much pains on the maintenance thereof, in order that we may have a true comprehension of the things that are." The Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching
Here Irenaeus defines that "faith deliverd unto us":
True knowledge, then, consists in the understanding of Christ, which Paul terms the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which "the natural man receiveth not," the doctrine of the cross; of which if any man "taste," he will not accede to the disputations and quibbles of proud and puffed-up men, who go into matters of which they have no perception. For the truth is unsophisticated (a0sxhma/tistoj); and "the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart," as the same apostle declares, being easy of comprehension to those who are obedient. For it renders us like to Christ, if we experience "the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings." For this is the affinity of the apostolical teaching and the most holy "faith delivered unto us," which the unlearned receive, and those of slender knowledge have taught, not "giving heed to endless genealogies," but studying rather [to observe] a straightforward course of life; ..."
Moving on to Tertullian, before I get (once again) accused of creating a “glaring contradiction/split personality” in Tertullian, I must point out that though Tertullian would mix praxis and doctrine when referring to 'paradosis' (tradition – that which was handed down), he is always careful to distinguish between paradosis as the Rule of Faith and paradosis as simply things handed down. For example, after describing the sources of wrong praxis he says:
“The rule of faith, indeed, is altogether one, alone immovable and irreformable ... This law of faith being constant, the other succeeding points of discipline and conversation (i.e. Praxis) admit the "novelty" of correction.” On the veiling of virgins
In his defense of monogamy, where he is defending the charge that his Montanist prescriptions on monogamous marriage are a novelty, he lays out the accusation against him:
“[in prescribing monogamy is] there [..] room for maintaining that the Paraclete has taught any such thing as can [...] be charged with novelty, in opposition to catholic tradition.” “For the adversary spirit would be apparent from the diversity of his preaching, beginning by adulterating the rule of the faith, and so (going on to) adulterating the order of discipline; because the corruption of that which holds the first grade, (that is, of faith which is prior to discipline,) comes first. A man must of necessity hold heretical views of God first, and then of his institution.” On Monogamy, (parentheticals in the translation, square brackets mine).
and explicitly distinguishes between praxis and dogma and makes dogma primary. About the Rule of Faith/tradition when understood thus, he says:
“Now, with regard to this rule of faith--that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend--it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen "in diverse manners" by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh.” Prescription against heretics
Again, there is no doubt that, during this time period there was one church and one set of elders, and one bishop, in a community. That all of these individual churches were planted either by Apostles or by successors of the Apostles is not only a fact but (since churches do not “spontaneously generate”), but obviously so; “succession happens.” That, at the very least, schism (though usually outright heresy) was created by these “unauthorized meetings” is readily admitted and is warned against; we are only a couple of generations from the Apostles now. However, in every case it is the doctrine that is primarily in view with exhortations to unity and Apostolicity is primarily doctrinal and secondarily institutional:
“But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,--a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles.
In exactly the same way [i.e. demonstated succession] the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the *apostolic seed*. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. ... For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner.
To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine.
Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith.” Prescription against heretics
It is not that Tertullian is endorsing schismatic churches, as long as their doctrine is fine (that is not what I have been trying to point out), but that what is first and foremost is the doctrine handed down in the rule of faith. It seems clear that for Irenaeus (and even more explicitly in Tertullian) the Church is first identified with right doctrine. The succession is a means to prove what doctrine is Apostolic. Why else would Tertullian conclude that a church is “not less apostolic” because “they agree in the same faith/ they are akin in doctrine” rather than “since they can each trace ministers through a succession to the Apostolate and therefore have that gift; binding and loosing can be done nowhere else?”
What then do we say about Irenaeus' statements in Book IV, Ch 26. Certainly it's true that (again) one generation removed from the Apostles the only place you could find this doctrine was in churches with a succession traced to the Apostles. In all cases (again) though, it is the doctrine that is primary. Does the text here indicate that that the 'Rule of Faith' (as a mystical instantiation of the Holy Abstraction) could only be (using 'could' modally - that is, it is by nature of the case impossible for it to be otherwise) found there? Or does it indicate that Irenaeus, being one generation removed from the last Apostle, could rightly say that the Apostolic succession of the presbyters is where the 'Rule of Faith' (as the right set of propositions) was (using 'was' descriptively) found.
If the former, how are we to understand the supplied reason for the exhortation that follows: Is it "For all these have fallen from the 'Truth'" in that they've lost the connection with the Holy Abstraction and conclude that they must follow wrong 'Doctrine' (in that, though it may propositionally be coincident, it has lost it's rooting in the Holy Tradition)? Or is it "For all these have fallen from the truth" in the descriptive sense that all those, a generation or two from the Apostles that have separated themselves from the succession, have actually abandond the 'Rule of Faith' as a enumeration of the right essential doctrine.
If the former again, how do we understand it when he continues on to say "Those, however, who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts, and, do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt towards others ...?" Are we to conclude that what he meant to say following this is that " since, however, they partake through the succession of the Apostles, in the Holy Tradition, they are part of the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church by the laying on of hands" and ignore (because it could not possibly be so) that he actually tells us to separate from such on the basis of their morality and to "adhere to those who [...] do hold the doctrine of the apostles."
Now, to return to the quote mentioned:
"... 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 ( that is, right doctrine) derived from the apostles, ..."
If I have characterized Dr. so and so's position correctly I now see what he means in his interpretation of the above. If 'tradition' in the above means 'Holy Tradition' as I have explained it, then what Irenaeus is saying is that he is going to "put to confusion all those who [...] assemble in unauthorized meetings by" pointing to that 'Holy Tradition', of which, as explained, those who assemble in "unauthorized meetings" do not partake, by reason of their separating themselves from the 'succession' which is itself the ministerial outworking of that Tradition. They are rouge plants, not rooted in the Truth.
However, if, as I have indicated through the plethora of quotes from Irenaus himself, what he means by 'tradition' is: 'the Rule of Faith;' a specific propositional framework; a loose creed; an enumerated set of (what should be for every Christian) presuppositions implanted in the church by the exposition of the Scriptures by the Apostles themselves, then his concern is clearly that these "unauthorized meetings" are breading grounds for wrong doctrine.
Note: The following quote was in response to an objection to the idea that Cyprian changed the requirement for church membership. It does not directly follow or build upon what preceeded but is a change of topic (somewhat). My contention, which was previously objected to in a prior exchange, was that Cyprian changed the requirements for church membership in order to effectively define Novatian out of the church because he could not do so doctrinally. In support of this contention I appeal to the authority of J.N.D. Kelly and leave the arguemtn there.
Moving to Cyprian. In support of my contention that Cyprian introduced an ecclesiastical novelty, I will simply quote J. N. D. Kelly. Of Cyprian Dr. Kelly says:
“For all his profound sense of the church as a spiritual entity, his approach was practical and even legalistic, owing much to analogies borrowed from Roman law and conditioned by the problems created by the Novatianist schism. This was the rigorist, doctrinally orthodox movement [...] and so Cyprian was obligated to find some other basis for unity than strict orthodoxy of teaching. [...] Cyprian does not hesitate to draw logical corollaries from his theory. The criterion for church membership is no longer, as for Irenaeus, acceptance of the teaching guaranteed by the episcopate as apostolic, but submission to the bishop himself” Early Christian Doctrine pg 204,206
Moving 1300 or so years into the future. I wonder which path Irenaeus and Tertullian (Cyprian's would be obvious) would take were they to have seen the Reformation and beyond. That those with the Succession produced the obscuring of the gospel by the selling of salvation in the form of indulgences, by the mediatorial role of the ministerial succession to the point of removing the cup from faithful, and by salvation through the propitiatory sacrifice of the Eucharist. The abuses of position from the selling of the episcopal office for money down to the sexual abuse of children. The mockery of the morality of God with overseers of the flock within the line of succession openly forsaking their marital vows to live in a homosexual relationship, and the chant of 'unity over heresy' to placate those that want to preserve tradition (or Tradition as the case may be). It is so apparent that their concern is with doctrine and not succession as the essence of the church that I could only conclude they would join the Reformers.
I hope you will pardon me for saying this but: were you to take the scriptures from me, I would be lost. I will admit it. I do not have recourse to a Holy Tradition whose life is traced by the succession of ministers from the Apostles. However, were I to take Plato from you, the concepts that inform your idea of 'Holy Tradition' would evaporate. It seems to me, though only leisurely reading philosophy, and so can very well be misinformed, that Hellenism and it's ancient notions of ideal and particular are what drives this view. It seems the Alexandrian school's affects on theology reverberate in these notions down to our very day.