Back in July, somebody tried to tell me that St. Irenaeus held to the teaching of Sola Scriptura ; so I typed up an email to defend St. Ireneaus beliefs and showing he was far from believing in Sola Scriptura. I would like to share this with everyone. I would like to thank Robert Sungenis and all of his collaborators that put together an extensive study on Sola Scriptura, Not by Scripture Alone.
My friend said to me Irenaeus mainly mean Scripture when he used the word tradition by quoting Against Heresies 3:2:2. This is not true. When he used Tradition, he mean the whole deposit of faith in both written and unwritten form. If you read the whole quote, St. Irenaeus means more than Scripture because he said the traditions are preserved by the presbyters (not by Scripture). In addition, Irenaeus made a distinction between Scripture and Traditions in the last sentence.
"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."
Here is another quote from him that clearly shows that at times he made a distinction between Scripture and Traditions.
For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?" (Against Heresies 3:4:1)
You can also see in that quote is that Irenaeus believe that it is the Church that carries the entire deposit of the NT teachings from the apostles. You can see it clearer from what he wrote in the first half of the paragraph I just quoted.
"Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth."
Even the title of the chapter is, The truth is to be found nowhere else but in the Catholic Church, the sole depository of apostolical doctrine. Heresies are of recent formation, and cannot trace their origin up to the apostles.
I totally agree that Scripture is the pillar and foundation of faith (as well as other Catholics), but Irenaeus beilieve you must have the correct interpretation of Scripture in order to know its true meaning.
True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]. (ibid. 4:33:8)
The only way- Irenaeus believe- to hold to the true teachings that came from the apostles and get the true meaning of Scripture is if you are in the Church because the presbyters are the successors of the apostles and guards the deposit of faith.
"Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question othe knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequnce is a religious man, even in a private station, than a blasphemous and impudent sophist...It behooves us to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but flee to the Church, and be brout up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures. For the Church as been planted as a garden in the world: therefore says the Spirit of God, "Thou mayest freely eat from every tree of the garden," that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord; but ye shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor touch any heretical discord. (ibid. 5:20:2)
Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church- those who, as I have shown, posess the succession form the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. (ibid. 4:26:2) (the title of this chapter is The reasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ; the true exposition of the Scriptures is to be found in the Church alone)
And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligentlyread the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostlic doctrine, as I have pointed out. (ibid. 4:32:1) (the title of this chapter is That one God was the author of both Testaments, is confirmed by the authority of a presbyter who had been taught by the apostles)
These quotes from Irenaeus are very Catholic. He don't show he believe that people should follow Scripture alone or Scripture is the ultimate authority. He believe people should follow Scripture and Church authority because the full deposit of truth is in the Church. Even Phillip Shaff (Protestant in the nineteenth century put together the volume set of the Church Fathers writing) agree with me consernig the Church Fathers
The church view respection the sources of Christian theology and the rule of faith and practice remains as it was in the previous period, except that it is furthe rdeveloped in particulars. The divine Scriptures of Old and New Testaments, as opposed to human writings; and the oral tradition or living faith of the catholic church (he is not talking about the Roman Catholic Church of course) from the apostles down, as posed to the varying opinions of the heretical sects- together form the one infallible source and rule of faith. Both are vehicles of the same substance: the saving revelation of God in Christ; with this difference in form and office, that the church tradition determines the canon, furnishes the key to true interpretation of the Scriptures, and guards them against heretical abuse.(History of the Christian Church pg 248-249; I believe it is in volume one)
There is a lot I can go through, but I'll end this with two more beliefs from Irenaeus that are in line with Catholic teaching. If anyone hold to Sola Scriptura and believe Irenaeus (and other Church Fathers) hold to it as well, you must believe Irenaeus got these beliefs from Scripture alone.
Apostolic succuesion and Primacy of Roman Church:
...[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 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 succession of bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on acconut of its pre-eminent authority, that is the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (ibid. 3:3:2)
“And dipped himself,” says [the Scripture], “seven times in Jordan.” It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Fragment 34)
From William Webster:
Irenaeus and Apostolic Tradition
"Irenaeus speaks often of tradition in his writings. He constantly referred to an apostolic tradition handed down to the Church which he called the canon of truth or the rule of faith. One of the most frequently quoted passages used to substantiate his belief and teaching of tradition is the following:"
ANF, Vol. I, Irenaeus, Against Heresies I.10.2.
As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it...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.
"It is not uncommon in Roman Catholic apologetic literature to see this particular passage quoted as confirmation of their concept of tradition. For example, under the heading of Sacred Tradition is a True Source of Revelation, listed in the Doctrinal Index of his book, The Faith of the Early Fathers, William Jurgens cites it to support this point of view. Roman Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, in Not By Scripture Alone, also gives the above quote and then makes this comment:"
Not By Scripture Alone, pp. 296–297.
Obviously, Irenaeus believes not only in Scripture, but in thetradition that originates from the apostles. Moreover, Irenaeus also believes in the perpetuation of that tradition through the unbroken succession of presbyters (bishops and priests) in the Churches. How can Irenaeus be teaching that the oral tradition of the apostles was retired if he believes that the presbyters preserve it by means of successive generations...Catholics and Protestants accept as fact that after the first century God ceased the charism of divine inspiration. Hence Irenaeus is not saying that the preservation and perpetuation of the apostles’ oral tradition was retired, but only that the charism of inspiration had ceased. If anything, Irenaeus is assuring us that responsible and qualified men had systematically preserved the apostles’ orally inspired messages. Thus we have further proof of an unwritten Tradition that existed alongside the written Scripture in the life of the Church.
"Clearly, then, Roman Catholics employ the teaching of Irenaeus to support their own doctrine of tradition—doctrine which they claim is handed down orally from the apostles and is independent of Scripture. This position, however, is untenable when the teaching of Irenaeus is interpreted in context. The above quote (by Sungenis) is taken out of context. This quote is preceded by a lengthy statement defining what Irenaeus meant by tradition. That passage reads:"
ANF, Vol. I, Irenaeus, Against Heresies I.10.1.
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 wickednesses,’ 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.
"Note that according to Irenaeus, the Church has received what he callsthis faith from the apostles and their disciples. He then goes on to give the doctrinal content of this faith which are primarily the cardinal truths of the Creed. And this faith, and the content as he has defined it, is equated with what he calls the tradition. He puts it this way:"
ANF, Vol. I, Irenaeus,
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...For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world...For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.
For to him all things are consistent: he has a full faith in one God Almighty, of whom are all things; and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things, and in the dispensations connected with Him, by means of which the Son of God became man; and a firm belief in the Spirit of God, who furnishes us with a knowledge of the truth, and has set forth the dispensations of the Father and the Son, in virtue of which He dwells with every generation of men, according to the will of the Father (Ibid., Against Heresies 4.33.7).)