Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for September 24, 2006

This week, we continue with St. Irenaeus of Lyons and his important work Adversus Hæreses (Against the Heresies), which analyzes and demonstrates the errors of the Gnostic heresies of the second century. In the first book (of five), Irenaeus set forth the errors of the Gnostics; in the remaining books, he explores the Truth.

He begins his teaching with the eternal and uncreated being of God, who has created all things – not as a defect – but as a revelation of Himself: “For even creation reveals Him who formed it, and the very work made suggests Him who made it, and the world manifests Him who ordered it” (bk. 2, ch. 9, n. 1). Contrary to the Gnostics, who believed that creation was a series of irrational “fragmentation” that progressively distanced itself from its origin, the Catholic faith believes that Creation – and all creatures, including man – have been created by God as good.

Christ, then, does not only come to His creation as an appearance or phantom, but as a man to save all men, as Irenaeus says, “He did not seem one thing while He was another, as those affirm who describe Him as being man only in appearance; but what He was, that He also appeared to be. …Not despising or evading any condition of humanity, nor setting aside in Himself that law which He had appointed for the human race, but sanctifying every age…. For He came to save all through means of Himself – all, I say, who through Him are born again to God” (ch. 22, n. 4).

Continuing, Irenaeus arrives at the Gnostic errors about the nature of God as well. By gradually growing in knowledge (gnosis) they arrived at a purified knowledge of the various levels of “spirits,” who each approach God. In this case, knowing the real truth requires an examination of the Trinity, which Irenaeus offers: “[it was] the Father only who begat, and the Son who was begotten” (ch. 28, n. 6). This may not seem remarkable (since we repeat this in the Creed every Sunday), but this preserves the teaching received from the Apostles, who were taught by Christ Himself.

At the beginning of the third book, Irenaeus provides testimony to the existence of the four Gospels, and their historical context: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia” (bk. 3, ch. 1, n. 1).

Beyond the Gospels, Irenaeus also bears witness to the importance of the Apostolic Tradition, passed on through the bishops of the Church: “we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, and which is preserved by means of the successions of presbyters in the Churches” (ch. 2, n. 2). The heretics, Irenaeus says, “consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition” (ibid.).

The studied defense that Irenaeus then presents of the continuous succession of bishops since the apostles strengthens our faith in Christ’s care for His Church, even today: “It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and to demonstrate the succession of these men to our own times” (ch. 3, n. 1). Irenaeus does not need to list every diocese, so he chooses Rome to illustrate the constant teaching of the Church, “that tradition derived from the apostles, of the vey great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by the succession of bishops” (ch. 3, n. 2).

As early as the second century, the universality of the teaching authority of Rome was clear, and the norm for the rule of the Faith: “It is a matter of necessity that every Church [diocese] should agree with this Church [Rome] on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously” (ibid.).

Next week, we continue to see Irenaeus’ defense of the Catholic Church and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. May God bless you all!