doctrine could be validated by the claim that it derived, by succession, from a secret or esoteric tradition handed down by Jesus to his disciples, then any doctrine at all could be validated in this way. In order to rescue the concept of tradition as a tool for identifying authentic doctrine, Irenaeus needed to demolish the idea that there was a secret or esoteric tradition and he did this precisely by pointing out that there was no secret about the succession in churches of apostolic foundation. If Christ handed down to his apostles any tradition, secret or otherwise, that tradition would be found in churches founded by those apostles, handed down by their successors. But we know of churches founded by the apostles of Jesus, and we know the names of the successors of those founders; therefore a doctrine can claim to be an apostolic tradition handed down by succession only if it can be shown to be identical with the doctrine taught in churches founded by the apostles. As the teachings of the heretics are manifestly not the teachings found in churches of apostolic foundation they have no claim to apostolic authenticity (Haer. 3.3.1-3).

Although bishops in succession from the apostles guarantee the church's claim to authentic teaching, it does not follow that hierarchical structure looms large in Irenaeus' definition of Christianity. He is sometimes credited with assigning an important, or even exclusive, role to bishops in the life of the church,18 but, in fact, he has relatively little to say about bishops, and when he does use the term it is by no means unambiguously clear that he always thinks of a bishop as a person having sole government in a particular church. His numbering of bishops in the Roman succession list might suggest he thought that these, at least, were of such a kind, but this list may have been confected only shortly before he made use of it.19 Irenaeus also uses other terms for church leaders, such as presbyter and leader (proestos), and it is clear that he does not believe that these leaders can materially affect the content of the faith they are charged to pass on. Precisely because the faith is one and the same throughout the world, an eloquent leader will not be able to add to its content, any more than an inept one will diminish it (Haer. 1.10.3). If they do their work properly, they will simply hand down what had been handed down to them. The 'certain charism of truth' which presbyters receive along with episcopal succession is simply the unchanging truth handed down to them.20

Irenaeus held that the authentic tradition would be found in any church of apostolic foundation. But it would be both tedious and unnecessary to enumerate the succession lists of all the churches, because, if any one church

18 Cf.for example, Pagels, Gnostic gospels, 59-69; Brox, Early church, 79.

19 Cf.Lampe, Paul to Valentinus, 404-6.

20 Haer. 4.26.2; cf.Congar, Tradition, 28 n. 4, and 177.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment