I have to admit, running full-steam for eleven months and putting the brakes on full-stop doesn’t exactly work. Twiddling my thumbs proved tolerable for the first five minutes, and even music seems to get old after playing or singing the same song (the only one I know) five times. So, considering all of this, I searched the web for something I could write a blog on. Vualah! I have found it.
Looking a pictures of Bishop Fulton Sheen online – he was just declared venerable by Holy Mother Church – I found an add, “The True Church”. This intrigued me, and for those who know me know that I like to debate for the sake of debate. Well, here it is, the True Church founded by Christ. Amazing, I thought to myself – there is ANOTHER?!
Many denominations of protestant churches claim authentic and authoritative interpretations of scripture, each as the ONLY interpretation, and all of them disagreeing about one point or another. To clear up the issue, lets see what St. Irenaeus taught in the year 140-200 A.D. about how to clear up these matters.
St. Ireneaus wrote, “Against Heresies” in which he argued that different doctrines that claim authority cannot both be authoritative. To find out which one was correct, one would have to follow the line of Apostolic succession. He was fighting against the gnostic heresies that were blossoming at the time. They all claimed to have secret knowledge that was given to them by Christ, but none could show Apostolic Succession.
I wrote an email to a minister running the AD I saw online and in it I included the following excerpt from Irenaeus. Please read it, and think about his words. I believe this problem is running rampant today in protestantism. The problem is not their belief in Christ, but their ecclesiology. Most Protestants will claim authority but without a foundation of authoritative teaching. Here is what Iranaeus says:
~”But when they are refuted from the Writings they turn around and attack the Writings themselves saying that they are not correct, or authoritative, and that the truth cannot be found from them by those who are not acquainted with the tradition. For this was not handed down in writing but orally, which is why Paul said, “We speak wisdom among the perfect but not the wisdom of this world” each of them utters a wisdom which he has made up, or rather a fiction, so that according to them the truth was once to be found in Valentinus, then at another time in MCarcion, at another time in Cerinthus, then later in Basilides, or was also in that opponent who has no saving message to utter. Each one of them is wholly perverse and is not ashamed to preach himself corrupting the rule of faith.But When we appeal again to that tradition which has come down from the apostles and is guarded by the successions of the elders in the churches, they oppose the tradition, saying that they are wiser not only than the elders, but even than the apostles, and have found the genuine truth. For the apostles mixed matters of the Law with the words of the Saviour, and not only the apostles, but even the Lord himself spoke sometimes from the Demiurge (they say), sometimes from the middle power, sometimes from the highest, while they know the hidden mystery without doubt or corruption, and in its purity. This is in nothing less than shameless blasphemy against their Maker. What is comes to is that they will not agree with either Scripture or tradition. It is such people, my dear friend, that we have to fight with, who like slippery snakes are always trying to escape us. Therefore we must resist them on all sides, hoping that by cutting off their escape we may be able to bring them to turn to the truth. For although it is not easy for a soul which has been seized by error to turn back, still it is not absolutely impossible to put error to flight by putting the truth beside it.The tradition of the apostles, made clear in all the world, can be clearly seen in the every church by those who wish to behold the truth. We can enumerate those who were established by the apostles as bishops in the churches, and their successors down to our time, none of whom taught or thought of anything like their mad ideas. Even if the apostles had known of hidden mysteries, which they taught to the perfect secretly and apart from others, they would have handed them down especially to those to whom they were entrusting the churches themselves. For they certainly wished those whom they were leaving as their successors, handing ver to them their own teaching position, to be perfect and irreproachable, since their sound conduct would be a great benefit to the church …I can by pointing out the tradition which that very great, oldest, and well-known Church, founded and established at Rome by those two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, received from the apostles, and its faith known among men, which comes down to us through the successions of bishops, put to shame all of those who in any way, either through wicked self-conceit, or through vainglory, or through blind and evil opinion, gather as they should not. For EVERY CHURCH MUST BE IN HARMONY with this Church because of its outstanding pre-eminence, that is, the faithful from everywhere, since the apostolic tradition is preserved in it by those from everywhere. When the blessed apostles had founded and built up the church, they handed over the ministry of the episcopate to Linus. Paul mentions this Linus in his Epistles to Timothy. Anencletus succeeded him. After him Clement received the lot of the episcopate in the third place from the apostles. He had seen the apostles and associated with them, and still had their preaching sounding in his ears and their tradition before his eyes-and not he alone, for there were many still left in his time who had ben taught by the apostles….Polycarp, who not only was taught by the apostles, and associated with many who had seen Christ, but was installed by apostles for Asia, as bishop tot he church in Smyrna, I saw myself in my early youth – survived for a long time and departed this life in a ripe old age by a glorious and magnificent martyrdom.” ~
What I find wholly intriguing about Iraneaus’ writing is the perspective he takes on the question, “What is authenticity”. The burden for authentic belief and authentic worship is the connection one has with the apostles through the bishop. Following the lineage we can trace the root of faith to Jesus Christ. Remember, there was no canon of scripture during his time, but a collection of works read in their liturgy and shared among different communities. The canon of scripture was first introduced at the council of Hippo in 395 and closed (meaning that nothing could be added to or subtracted from it) in the year 397 at the council of Carthage.
The answer to the problem of disputes about documents is turning to another authority. If each person claims to be his or her own authority, then each is their own Magisterium, but to where do we turn if people still dispute? Protestantism has so many denominations resulting from these disputes. The result is that the disputing parties go their own way and create their own church. Iraneaus saw this problem in his day (c.140-200) and realized that the answer could only be found in Christ.
Most protestants will confess that the bible interprets itself. Granted, the bible is the Word of God, inspired by God, and written for our sake to reveal the mysteries, it does NOT interpret itself. Jesus never said in scripture that when there is a dispute between you and your brother, open up your bibles and settle the dispute. Rather, Jesus said bring the dispute to another brother, and then to the Church. Jesus did not say, “the pillar and foundation of truth is in the King James Version of the bible”. In fact, the bible itself says differently! 1 Tim. 3:15 says, “The pillar and foundation of truth is the Church”. Why is this so? It is so because the bible needs to be interpreted by an authoritative body!
Can a stool standing on one leg stand? No. So, the bible cannot stand by itself. But, even a two-legged stool cannot stand by itself, it falls to one side or the other. The third leg of the stool is the Tradition of the Church. Yes, the tradition helps the authoritative body of the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, stay within the bounds of orthodox teaching. I like what G.K. Chesterton has to say about tradition: “Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. IT is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.”(Orthodoxy p.47-48). Tradition is rigid, unwavering historical fact, and it’s weight in authority comes from the fact that it has already “been there, done that”. It is this tradition which stands as the third pillar of the Catholic Church, holding up the three legged stool. The Bible, Magisterium, and Tradition help the church to take a balanced approach toward theology. Then of course, we must consider the work of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost to the disciples and apostles in the upper room, and the same Spirit at work in Matthew 16:15-18 which end in Jesus saying, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in Heaven. You are Petrus (peter) and on this pieta (rock) I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it”.
If Jesus assures us that the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter, I’m sticking with Peter’s lineage. This lineage can only be traced within the Roman Catholic Church.
I am thinking that this is a good time to begin an online discussion. After reading this post, let me know your thoughts.