Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Melanchthon on the Church and the Word (3)

In today’s post, Melanchthon begins to marshal patristic support for his understanding of the relative weight of various authorities in theology. Melanchthon’s high view of both Scripture and patristic antiquity are clear in what follows from his use of Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Basil.  

On the Church and the Authority of the Word of God (Continued)

Tertullian1 says in Against Praxeas that the following rule should be maintained against all heresies: whatever is first is right, but whatever is later is counterfeit.2 And, indeed, he calls that “first” which has certainly been handed down by the apostles–for thus does he interpret his own meaning.

Irenaeus, in his work written against Florinus,3, adduces the authority of his forebears, and of Polycarp by name, who had been a disciple of John the Apostle. For he says that he4 would curse the dogmas of Florinus if he heard them, and that he would avoid the place where those things were said as if it were polluted.

Basil adduces his own nurse, whose piety he says was praised as being in the first rank in those days; and he adds that she received her teaching from Gregory of Neocaesarea,5 who was famous at that time for his learning and miracles, and who refuted Paul of Samosata and left behind a brief confession of faith,6 which contains an illustrious testimony about the Trinity. It is extant in Book 7 of the Ecclesiastical History.7

  1. The translation is my own.
  2. The adjective he uses can also mean “adulterous” (adulterinum).
  3. Melanchthon refers to a now lost work of Irenaeus mentioned and quoted from in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.20.
  4. That is, Polycarp.
  5. I.e. Gregory Thaumaturgus.
  6. The Ἔκθεσις τῆς πίστεως [Ekthesis tēs pisteōs].
  7. Book 7 of Eusebius’s Church History discusses Gregory Thaumaturgus, but does not give the text of, or even refer to, his “Exposition of the Faith.” The Greek text is found in Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Gregory. The Latin text, however, is found in Rufinus’s additions to Book 7 in his Latin translation of Eusebius’s Church History, and it must be this to which Melanchthon refers.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.