Let us return to Irenaeus again, for a brief addendum to last week’s post.
In Against Heresies 3.1, Irenaeus writes this:
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
That last phrase, “the ground and pillar of our faith,” will be familiar to readers of Scripture as appearing in 1 Timothy 3:15. But there it is said of the Church–namely, of the Church of the living God. Here it is said of the Gospel. 1How can this be? The echo shows that Irenaeus was familiar with this text, but he seems to have ripped it away from its original referent like some sort of me-and-my-Bible Protestant. Gasp!
This apparent inconsistency is explained elegantly and economically on Irenaeus’ own principles as they were delineated in the previous post. The Church says and teaches nothing other than what is contained in Scripture: there is an identity of content between “Scripture” and “tradition.” So what does the Church teach? “The plan of salvation”; “the Gospel.” In teaching this, the Church is “the ground and pillar of our faith.” But, insofar as the Church teaches this–that is, the Gospel–that too can be said to be “the ground and pillar of our faith.” Church-discourse and Bible-discourse are to have the same content, the same message.
For Irenaeus, then, there is no Church apart from the Word of the Gospel, which gives to us “the plan of salvation.” That Word was at one time oral kerygma; it then was committed to writing as Scriptured kerygma; and that same Word, as preserved in Scripture, is now proclaimed as Scriptured-oral kerygma (for oral preaching must have the same content as the Gospel written). In Protestant terms, the Word constitutes the Church in the logical order of things, and the Church guards and proclaims the Word in the temporal order of things.
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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