Irenaeus On Apostolic Succession

I’m reviewing Charles E. Hill, From the Lost Teaching of Polycarp: Identifying Irenaeus’ Apostolic Presbyter and the Author of Ad Diognetum. vol. 186, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006). 207 pages (incl. index) for the Confessional Presbyterian. He writes,

In Irenaeus’ view the presbyters, indeed are the essential links between the apostles and the apostolic teaching, on the one hand, and the faithful churches of Irenaeus’ day on the other. Even the notion of apostolic succession as held by Irenaeus has to do first all with the presbyters, and not simply with those presbyters who are bishops, for it is the presbyters who are the guardians of apostolic teaching (A[versus] H[aereses], 3.2.2; 4.26.2; 32.1; 5.20.2; Proof 3). And for Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, there is no one n the body of the church’s presbyters since the apostles as prominent as his former teacher, Polycarp of Smyrna.

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  1. Thought Horton made a great point on a recent WHI; the gospel is the ultimate authority in the church, not the apostles. Paul said that if he, or even an angel from heaven, preach another gospel then let him be accursed. So even if there is a succession of dudes who can trace their hand-laying back to the apostles, it doesn’t mean jack if they deny justification sola fide.

  2. Nick, I am new to the site. I am fine saying that the Gospel trumps even Apostolic Authority (which St. Paul obviously held). However, your equating the Gospel with “Sola Fide” has me confused. Is it possible that you (a non-Catholic) and I (a fairly recently confirmed Catholic) can agree on some definition of the Gospel WITHOUT your particular sola fide prescriptions? For example, could we say that the Gospel leading to salvation comes through Christ alone, by Grace alone and end the discussion there? Sola Fide, after all, isn’t universally held among Protestants. Interesting piece. Thanks for pointing out Dr. Horton’s insight, as well! thanks.

    • Hi Herbert, I think Protestant and Catholics do agree that salvation is by grace alone. The crux is how that grace comes to the believer. Does it come in the form of grace infused, leading to justification or does it come in the form of a legal declaration of ‘righteous’ resting solely on faith?

      Anyone who denies sola fide may consider themselves ‘Protestant’ but they certainly don’t stand in the Reformed stream.

      • Hi Nick,

        I might not be so accommodating. Trent said (Canons 9, 12, 18) in Session Six:

        If any one says, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

        If any one says, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

        If any one says, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

        Trent requires cooperation with grace that has the effect of transgressing the apostle Paul’s doctrine that we are justified without the works of the law (Gal 3). Rome’s doctrine is justification by medicinal grace, which creates the disposition toward justification with which the baptized has to cooperate. The cooperation of the sinner/sanctified is essential to the Roman doctrine of justification. Hence to unequivocal condemnation of anyone who says that faith, in the act of justification, is only a “confidence” alone.

        In the Roman doctrine, we must do our part. In the Protestant doctrine Christ has accomplished all righteousness for us and we receive that only through trusting in Christ.

        I know you know this but I thought it’s worth spelling out why I said what I said.

  3. Herbert,

    From a confessional Protestant point of view, it’s very hard to see how a faithful Romanist, in submission to the magisterium, can agree with a Protestant as to what the gospel is. See this earlier post for example:

    Trent, Sungenis, Shepherd, and the FV

    See also:
    The teaching of Session Six of Trent is still binding on Romanists (see the citations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). Trent explicitly condemned our understanding of the gospel. We say the gospel is that Jesus accomplished salvation for his people, that we receive that salvation by grace (unmerited favor) alone, through faith alone (trusting in Christ alone). Trent says that anyone who so defines faith as “confidence” (fiducia) is eternally condemned. We define faith, in justification, as fidcuia! Ergo, we’re condemned.

    Rome confesses that the good news is that Jesus has made justification possible for those who cooperate sufficiently with grace.

    We say that that isn’t good news at all! It certainly isn’t the good news of Galatians 1-2. Indeed, according to confessional Protestants, the Roman version of the good news is just like that condemned by Paul: grace plus works (i.e. cooperation with grace to eventual, final justification on the basis of sanctification).

    The chasm between is quite wide and shows no signs of getting smaller despite claims to the contrary.

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