Irenaeus on Apostolic Succession

Hey all, that OneFold blog is at it again:

He’s made a response to a Catholic Answers tract. Would anyone like to refute this? I’m really confused.

Pax Christi

The author is delusional if he thinks heretics have not gone against that which he claims is “pure basic Christian doctrine”. He fails to see that such a position is considered orthodox because the Church has upheld it for him to call “pure basic and Christian”.

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [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, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickedness,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. (Against Heresies 1:10:1)

Besides, what does he define as “Scripture”, and why? How does he reach his conclusion?

If one reads “Against Heresies,” one will better understand that heresy against which Irenaeus chose to write. To quote a quick sample:

  1. They maintain, then, that in the invisible and ineffable heights above there exists a certain perfect, pre-existent Æon, whom they call Proarche, Propator, and Bythus, and describe as being invisible and incomprehensible. Eternal and unbegotten, he remained throughout innumerable cycles of ages in profound serenity and quiescence. There existed along with him Ennœa, whom they also call Charis and Sige. At last this Bythus determined to send forth from himself the beginning of all things, and deposited this production (which he had resolved to bring forth) in his contemporary Sige, even as seed is deposited in the womb. She then, having received this seed, and becoming pregnant, gave birth to Nous, who was both similar and equal to him who had produced him, and was alone capable of comprehending his father’s greatness. This Nous they call also Monogenes, and Father, and the Beginning of all Things. Along with him was also produced Aletheia; and these four constituted the first and first-begotten Pythagorean Tetrad, which they also denominate the root of all things. For there are first Bythus and Sige, and then Nous and Aletheia. And Monogenes, perceiving for what purpose he had been produced, also himself sent forth Logos and Zoe, being the father of all those who were to come after him, and the beginning and fashioning of the entire Pleroma. By the conjunction of Logos and Zoe were brought forth Anthropos and Ecclesia; and thus was formed the first-begotten Ogdoad, the root and substance of all things, called among them by four names, viz., Bythus, and Nous, and Logos, and Anthropos. For each of these is masculo-feminine, as follows: Propator was united by a conjunction with his Ennœa; then Monogenes, that is Nous, with Aletheia; Logos with Zoe, and Anthropos with Ecclesia.

The beliefs of the heretics only get more absurd as you read through the first section. They denied the divinity of Christ. They denied that Christ had actual flesh. They denied that Christ really died on the cross. That Irenaeus gives a creedal summary of the faith (bearing resemblance to our Apostles’ Creed) doesn’t prove that these are the sum all of traditions.When Irenaeus writes, "And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about.” he’s referring to the absurd propositions which I began to quote above.

The article you posted then chooses to ignore the more explicit statements that Irenaeus makes about the episcopate and apostolic succession which immediately follow the quoted portion:

For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to the perfect apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

  1. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, 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 derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithfuleverywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
  1. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, 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, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.

  1. Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles

The Catholic Church doesn’t disagree that the “Apostles’ Creed” like statement is the essence of the Church, but it’s a mistake to conclude that Irenaeus had no belief in the religious practices of the Church, that the Creedal statement summarizes the only tradition he’s referring to. Who he is particulary focused in responding to are those who deny Christ’s incarnation and death, and he’s undermining them by pointing out that the people preaching these things have no succession back to apostles.

Irenaues condemns the heretics of being ignorant of both scripture and of ignoring the traditions of the presbyters and apostles:

  1. 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.
  1. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.
  1. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Where-fore they must be opposed at all points, if per-chance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth. For, though it is not an easy thing for a soul under the influence of error to repent, yet, on the other hand, it is not altogether impossible to escape from error when the truth is brought alongside it.

We also only need continue to read further into Against Heresies to find other traditions of the Church which that Protestant article implies Irenaeus is silent on:

  1. The oblation of the Church, therefore, which the Lord gave instructions to be offered throughout all the world, is accounted with God a pure sacrifice, and is acceptable to Him; not that He stands in need of a sacrifice from us, but that he who offers is himself glorified in what he does offer, if his gift be accepted. For by the gift both honour and affection are shown forth towards the King; and the Lord, wishing us to offer it in all simplicity and innocence, did express Himself thus: Therefore, when you offer your gift upon the altar, and shall remember that your brother has ought against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then return and offer your gift…
  1. And the class of oblations in general has not been set aside; for there were both oblations there [among the Jews], and there are oblations here [among the Christians]. Sacrifices there were among the people; sacrifices there are, too, in the Church…
  1. Inasmuch, then, as the Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God . . . And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, [the things taken] from His creation. But the Jews do not offer thus . . . Nor, again, do any of the conventicles (synagogæ) of the heretics [offer this] . . . But how can they be consistent with themselves, [when they say] that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord, and the cup His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
  1. Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.
  1. Now we make offering to Him, not as though He stood in need of it, but rendering thanks for His gift, and thus sanctifying what has been created. For even as God does not need our possessions, so do we need to offer something to God . . . As, therefore, He does not stand in need of these [services], yet does desire that we should render them for our own benefit, lest we be unfruitful; so did the Word give to the people that very precept as to the making of oblations, although He stood in no need of them, that they might learn to serve God: thus is it, therefore, also His will that we, too, should offer a gift at the altar, frequently and without intermission. The altar, then, is in heaven (for towards that place are our prayers and oblations directed); the temple likewise [is there], as John says in the Apocalypse, And the temple of God was opened: Revelation 11:19 the tabernacle also: For, behold, He says, the tabernacle of God, in which He will dwell with men.

There we go: the mass and Eucharaist as an offering, a sacrifice, and oblation, as Christ’s true body, in the same book from which that Protestant website you quoted says only includes the Apostles’ Creed-like statement as the received tradition. We have very explicit information on both Apostolic Succession and the Eucharist.

The Protestant article is selective quoting, nothing more. The silence [what silence there is, though they implied that Irenaeus was silent on issues (apostolic succession, the Eucharist) when he wrote very clearly about them] is because Irenaeus is responding to particular arguments from the heretics and isn’t writing a treatise on Church tradition in itself.

Please keep in mind that my response is spur of the moment. I say that (1) to demonstrate how quickly the Protestant response falls apart if one engages Against Heresies even just a little more, and also to apologize for any sloppy writing on my part.

If you recently came back, why are you perusing the sites of those who would lead you astray? The entire world tries to lead you astray. Stick with what you know. Sites that teach and preach division are not driven by the Holy Spirit. Of that you can be certain.

First, that blog post is from 2009, so this guy is not exactly “at it again.” He was at it 8 years ago – and he hasn’t updated that post since then, from what I can tell. (His most recent post on the blog is still about Catholicism, but it’s also a little bit old – from March 2016.)

Second, the non-Catholic author’s main point is that the only thing St. Irenaeus meant by “tradition” is the articles of faith enumerated in the Apostles’ Creed. But the quotes he supplies from the context of St. Irenaeus do not limit tradition to those articles of faith. St. Irenaeus spoke of many other Catholic doctrines than just the ones in the Apostles’ Creed, including: The Catholic Canon of Scripture, Doctrine versus Discipline, Peter in Rome, Peter’s Successors, The Authority of the Pope, Offering Penances for Self and Others, Mortal Sin, Sacred Images, Just War, Original Sin, Free Will, Musical Instruments, Baptismal Regeneration, Infant Baptism, The Real Presence, The Sacrifice of the Mass, Confession, Holy Days, Mary, Full of Grace, Mary, Mother of God, Mary, Assumed into Heaven, Ongoing Miracles, Private Revelation, Salvation for Non-Catholics, No Salvation Outside the Church, and Good Works. (See details and quotations for all these doctrines in the writings of St. Irenaeus by scrolling to St. Irenaeus here:

This is all evidence that the term “tradition” in St. Irenaeus’s work includes more than the things that author limits them to.

We’ll, he’s even more confused. First of all, how did the Reformers, going by Scripture alone, get the faith so wrong? And secondly, why do they, going by Scripture alone, often diagree with each other on critical tenets?

I got linked to the site. I like challenges, they make my faith stronger. Nowadays I’m just learning how to “be still and know God.”

““First, that blog post is from 2009, so this guy is not exactly “at it again.” He was at it 8 years ago – and he hasn’t updated that post since then, from what I can tell. (His most recent post on the blog is still about Catholicism, but it’s also a little bit old – from March 2016.)”” (I’m on my phone and can’t use the quote feature")

Oops! I’m on mobile and couldn’t find the date?? I saw the only comment was from 2017 so i assumed it was recent. Apparently the author was banned from CAF .

Thanks all!

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