A discussion of the Papacy and Irenaeus

I wanted to save this discussion for future reference.  original source


Just a thought or two about Irenaeus.

He wrote in Greek but we have only the Latin text.

However, it isn’t likely he used the Greek “dei” for “must” signifying a moral obligation or duty, or it would have been translated into Latin as “oportet”. Rather, “necesse est” likely translates the Greek “anagke” which signifies simply a necessity which must be gathered from the context.

The question is, what is the basis of this necessity?

In this case, Irenaeus mentions that Rome has “potior principalitas”, a “more powerful pre-eminence”.

He bases this pre-eminence of influence not only on being jointly founded by two apostles, but because the faithful must resort to Rome, and that the tradition there preserved, from the apostles, “is always preserved by those who are from all quarters”.

In other words, just as the Church was later divided into jurisdictions headed by “Metropolitans” because it was easier for the bishops of larger cities to gather meetings — compare the 9th canon of Antioch (341 A.D.) which reads, “The bishops of every province must be aware that the bishop presiding in the metropolis has charge of the whole province, because all who have business come together from all quarters to the metropolis; for this it is decided that he should also hold the foremost rank” — so it was natural that Rome, as the huge magnet and civil centre of the Empire, would necessitate the faithful to resort to it on business as a matter of fact.

Note that the Tradition is preserved, not just by the Church of Rome, but by “the faithful who are from all quarters”. You see that the charism of Truth is not just the possession of Rome, but of all God’s people, as First John tells us, “You all know the truth”. The “sensus fidelium” one might say. The community, not the supreme pontiff, preserves the Tradition.

Likewise in Acts 15, although Peter has a powerful witness to share of how the Holy Spirit moved him with Cornelius, it is James who actually decides and makes the decree. It is also mentioned there that the apostles, elders and people shared consensus. Likewise, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (note the plural). St. Peter appears here not as a monarch, but as senior spokesman operating within a framework of collegiality in which not only he, but also the other apostles and elders and people have a conciliar share…and in which James has the last word! That is not exactly the picture of papal supremacy Catholics might expect.

By the way, St. Jerome thought Peter, and not John, was chosen to lead the Twelve on account of his age (Against Jovinian 1:26); note also for interest that Hosius or Ossius who presided at Nicea was not a legate of the bishop of Rome at all, but was simply the oldest.

Read this passage also as it is translated in Guettee (great in places even if you don’t always agree with him), which I think is an interesting and compelling reading:

“But,” he adds, “as it would be very tedious to enumerate in such a work the succession of all the Churches, we will trace that of the very great and very ancient Church and known of all, which was founded and established at Rome by the two very glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul; which possesses a tradition that comes from the Apostles as much as the Faith declared to men, and which has transmitted it to us through the succession of her Bishops; by that, we confound all those who in any manner whatsoever, either through blindness or bad intention, do not gather where they should; for every Church, that is to say, the faithful who are from all places, are obliged to go toward that Church, because of the most powerful principality. In this Church, the tradition of the Apostles has been preserved by those who are of all countries.” We must quote the text of St. Irenæus, that it may be compared with our translation, “Quoniam valde longum est, in hoc, tali volumine omnium eccelesiarum enumerare successiones; maximæ et antiquissimæ et omnibus cognitæ, a gloriosissimis duobus apostolis Petro et Paullo, Romæ fundatæ et constitutæ Ecclesiae, eam quam habet ab Apostolis Traditionem et annunciatam hominibus fidem, per successiones Episcoporum pervenientem usque ad nos, indicantes confundimus omnes eos, qui quoquomodo, vel per coecitatem et malam sententiam præterquam oportet colligunt. Ad hanc enim Ecclesiam, propter potentiorem principalitatem, necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, hoc est eos, qui sunt undique fideles; in qua semper ab his qui sunt undique, conservata est ea, quæ est ab Apostolis, Traditio.”

The Romish theologians choose a bad translation of this passage, in order to find in it an argument in favor of the papal sovereignty. Instead of saying that the faithful of the whole world were obliged to go to Rome, because it was the Capital of the Empire, the seat of government, and the centre of all business, civil and political, they translate convenire ad by the words, to agree with—which is a misinterpretation; they make potentiorem principalitatem refer to the Church of Rome, and they see in this its primacy, whereas these words are only used in a general manner, and nothing indicates that they do not solely designate the capital and principal city of the Empire. Again, they translate, maximæ, antiquissimæ, by greatest and most ancient, without reflecting that they thus attribute to St. Irenæus an assertion manifestly false; for, granting that the Church of Rome was the greatest of her day, she could not certainly be called the most ancient—every one knew that a great number of churches had been founded in the East before that of Rome. Moreover, their translation does not make the author say in conclusion, that the Apostolic tradition has been preserved at Rome, by those who were of all countries—(ab his qui sunt undique,) as the text requires, but like Pius IX, in his Encyclical Letter to the Christians of the East, “In all that the faithful believe,” not reflecting that this is a misconstruction, and that they are thus attributing nonsense to the good Father.

In the text as we render it all things hang together. St. Irenæus after having established that only the universal Faith should be received, points out to the heretics of that city the Church of Rome, as offering to them an evidence the more convincing that Apostolic tradition had been there preserved by the faithful of the whole world.

How then could St. Irenæus, whose purpose it is to give the universal Faith as the rule for private belief, and who enlarges precisely upon this point in the chapter from which the text is taken, logically say what is attributed to him by the Popes and their theologians? He would then have argued thus: It is necessaryto adopt as the rule the belief of all the churches; but it suffices to appeal to that of the Church of Rome, to which there must be uniformity and submission, because of her primacy. St. Irenæus never expressed so unreasonable an opinion. He lays down as a principle the universal Faith as a rule, and he points out the Faith of the Church of Rome as true—thanks to the concourse of the faithful who assembled there from all parts, and who thus preserved there the Apostolic tradition. How did they preserve it? Because they would have protested against any change in the traditions of their own churches, to which they were witnesses at Rome. St. Irenæus does not give the pretended Divine authority of the Bishop of Rome, as the principle of the preservation of tradition in the Church of that city—but logically, he attributes that preservation to the faithful of other Churches who controlled her traditions by those of their own Churches, and who thus formed an invincible obstacle to innovation.

It was natural that the Bishop of the Capital of the Empire, precisely because of the faithful who there gathered from all parts, should acquire a great influence in religious matters, and even occasionally take the lead. But all the monuments, as also the circumstances attending, those transactions in which he took part, show that he enjoyed no authority superior to that of the other Bishops.

It is clear that all discussion relative to this text of St. Irenæus turns upon the sense to be given to the word convenire. If this word signifies to agree with, we must conclude that the venerable writer thought it all must necessarily agree with the Church of Rome, and without that it is impossible to be in the unity. If the word means to go, all the Ultramontane scaffolding will fall of itself, for it can not reasonably be affirmed that all the faithful must of necessity go to Rome, even though the Church established in that city should be the first and principal Church, the centre of Unity. It follows that the sense of this word should be determined in so evident a manner that there remain no doubt in respect to it.

We have already remarked that the preposition ad determined the sense of it—we can add many others to this already conclusive proof.

If we possessed the Greek text of the passage in question, there is no doubt there would not be the uncertainty resulting from the Latin word. But Eusebius and Nicephorus have preserved for us other fragments of the primitive text. Now it happens that in these fragments the good Father uses expressions which the Latin translator has rendered by the word convenire, and which have no meaning, except just this one of going—whether together or separately.

In the second book, chapter xxii., (Migne’s edition, col. 785,) St, Irenæus says: “All the priests who have gone to Asia, to John, disciple of the Lord, bear witness to it.”

Greek Text: καὶ πάντες οἱ πρεσβύτεροι μαρτυροῦσιν, οἱ κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν Ἰωάννῃ τῷ τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῇ συμβεβληκότες.

Latin translation: “Omnes seniores testantur qui in Asia apud Joannem discipulum Domini convenerunt.”

In the third book, 21st chapter, (Migne’s edition, col. 947,) speaking of the Septuagint interpreters of Scripture, St. Irenæus says of them, “Being assembled at Ptolemy’s house,” etc.

In Greek: “Συνελθόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ παρὰ τῷ Πτολεμαίῳ.”

The Latin translator renders this “Convenientibus autem ipsis in unum apud Ptolemæum.”

The Benedictine Massuet, editor of St. Irenæus’s works, pretends that St. Irenæus must have used in the text in question, the words συμβαίνειν πρὸς τὴν τῶν Ρωμαίων Ἐκκλησίαν. And he pretends that συμβαίνειν πρὸς τινα is the same thing as συμβαίνειν τινί.

Although this opinion were unimpeachable, such erudition would be worth nothing, for we must content ourselves with supposing that the good father has used the word συμβαίνειν. It would seem to us more natural and logical to look for the unknown word among the known words, which the translator renders convenire. Now from that study, it should appear that St. Irenæus did not use συμβαίνειν but συμβεβληκότες, which has the sense of a running together toward a place, or of συνελθότες, which has an analogous signification, since, in the Greek texts that have been preserved, he has used these words to express the idea for which the translator used convenire.

In general, the translator of St. Irenæus gives to the word convenire the sense of to go, and not to agree with. Why then give it this sense in the famous text in question, when in the text itself the preposition ad gives the idea of direction toward a place, and the adverb undique gives that of departure from all places other than Rome where the faithful were found?

Nothing is wanting to prove that it is impossible to give to the words of St. Irenæus the sense attributed to them by the Romish theologians. The good father then has simply said that, the concourse of Believers from all countries, drawn to Rome by the necessities of their business, because that city was the first and most powerful of the Empire, contributed to preserve there the Apostolic tradition, because those Believers carried there the Faith of the Churches to which they belonged.

It is certain that Rome, in her position as an Apostolic Church, had a very great authority during the first centuries, and Tertullian is right in calling her as a witness against the heretic to whom he said, “Thou hast Rome, whose authority is close at hand. Happy Church! to whom the Apostles gave all the doctrine with their blood!” (De Præscrip. c.xxxvi.) But cannot an Apostolic Church bear witness to the Faith against heresy without enjoying universal and divine authority?”

Joe: The Council of Jerusalem, as you know, was called to resolve the issue of whether, and to what extent, the gentile converts were subject to the requirements of the Jewish law regarding circumcision and the dietary laws. All the apostles and presbyters gather; several speak, including Peter. He arguably makes the most influential speech; the assembly falls silent at this speech. Nevertheless his speech doesn’t conclude the matter; Barnabas and Paul speak after him. Then James, bishop of Jerusalem, recounts all that has been said, and says “It is *my judgment*, therefore, that we ought not to cause God’s gentile converts any diificulties”. The Greek verb is “krino” which means final judgment or decision. He then goes on to give specific applications of the general principle he announces. The decision is issued in the name of the “apostles and presbyters”.

The clear import of Luke’s account is that of a *council* of bishops making the decision. Peter does not preside, he is one of several speakers. He does not chair the assembly, and he does not make the final decision. To the extent any make the final decision, it is James. There is no way this account can be squared with modern RC notions of papal supremacy. Absolutely none.

Gregorio: Joe is right on about Acts 15. It simply makes no sense on Roman Catholic papal principles of governance. Acts 15 is a model of conciliar decision-making, not of papal supremacy. Yet “Satis Cognitum” of Leo XIII says that papal supremacy was always known and accepted everywhere. That is just not true in Church history; it’s not the attitude of Basil toward the Westerners for heaven’s sake, nor of the north African fathers toward Rome when they forbade appeals to that church, nor the attitude of the saintly fathers of Constantinople I who drafted the canon raising Constantinople to next See after Rome, nor the attitude of the fathers of Constantinople II who held their council without the pope and excommunicated Pope Vigilius. The Roman model is certainly a powerful and compelling one. But it is just not true.

Someday Rome, shorn of overstated claims, will again hold primacy in honor and in love. Peter will convert…and then he will strengthen his brethren.

William Tighe: I do not have before me on of the books to which I referred above, *Jurisdiction in the Early Church* by Dom Gregory Dix, but in it he treats both the meaning of the Latin verb “convenire ad” in Irenaeus and demonstrates pretty conclusively that it cannot mean in the context “to have recourse to” but rather “to agree with” (as in the Pauline “Quod conventio Christi cum Belial”), just as the word “principalitas” must translate “archaiotates.” He also discusses the Council of Jerusalem and significance (or lack thereof) in the order of James’s and Peter’s addresses to it. It is worth perusing — but unfortunately it is long out-of-print.

Gregorio: But according to “Satis Cognitum”, there should be no difference in the reality of Papal supremacy, regardless of the chronological time. Leo calls Peter the “Master” of the Apostles and “vice-regent” of Christ, claiming that Peter exercised a “full and supreme” power of jurisdiction, “identical with that which Christ himself exercised over the Apostolic College”.

Leo XIII himself does not see that there has been any development in papal power; it simply was handed on whole and entire by Christ to Peter and his successors in Rome.

That being the case, is it “anachronistic” to suppose that the co-opting of Peter by James in Acts 15 is just a little bit strange according to papal principles? Why was it not the “vice-regent” of Christ who finally said “I judge” and who wrote the letter that would be sent out to instruct the Church in how to receive the Gentiles?

cathedraunitatis: Since this discussion has really gone off-topic, here’s the last comment on the Acts 15 issue – and because I own the blog, I’m going to be the last commenter! :-)

I still think that it is anachronistic to read later ecclesiastical developments into Acts 15, no matter who is doing it (Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants). As you recall, I was reacting against the rather simplistic statement that the Pentarchy has scriptural roots in Acts 15. I concede that it is perfectly legitimate to find in Acts 15 the foundation of the conciliar principle in the Church, but I still fail to see how it’s a “slamdunk” refutation of Petrine primacy.

Quite a bit of apologetic ink has been spilled over Acts 15. I have no interest in having all of the arguments regurgitated here. In my reading of Acts 15, what is important is that Peter, at the Apostolic Council, delivers the decisive testimony. That James, as the brother of the Lord and head of the extremely influential Jerusalem Church, presides at the Council, and announces his agreement with the position of Peter, presents no substantive problems to the Catholic understanding of Peter’s primacy, because Catholics don’t believe that the primacy has been exercised in the exact same way throughout the centuries.

The Catholic view is able to make a distinction between the substance or essence of the Petrine office, as willed by Christ, and the various ways throughout history in which the primacy has been exercised. The former is non-negotiable, while the latter is changeable and has changed quite a bit throughout the centuries.

So, no, I don’t think that it presents any insurmountable problem for the Catholic position. Catholics will fully concede that what was normal for the exercise of the primacy in the time of Leo XIII is very different from the way that Peter exercised his primacy at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. It’s only a “slamdunk” for those who wish to isolate Acts 15 from the rest of the New Testament data concerning Peter’s role, and who wish to conflate the substance of the Petrine office with its changeable historical forms.

A discussion of the Papacy and Irenaeus

Odds and Ends

orthodox cathedral
orthodox cathedral (Photo credit: slideshow bob)

I wanted to make some notes here before they escaped me.  This is all minor stuff, but perhaps note worthy.

1) I was recently in another discussion with a different Protestant professor of patristics.  When asked about Protestant distinctives and his thoughts on Orthodoxy he made a curious defense of Sola Scriptura (I won’t bother to post it here) and then pointed me at Karl Barth’s discussion of the Reformed view of Scripture in chapter two of The Theology of the Reformed Confessions (http://books.google.com/books?id=KGup6Xl_lzAC&lpg=PP1&dq=barth%20reformed%20theology&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false), which thankfully I could read entirely online thanks to the preview shown on Google Books.  I’ve considered doing some “conversation” with Barth on his views, but why bother.  I didn’t find them particularly enlightening or convincing, but I can check it off my list.  Yes, I’ve read Barth’s discussion on the topic.  Moving on.

2)  I recently read another book on the issue of the primacy of the Pope, and how Orthodox and Roman Catholic might reconnect.  I thought the book was very good, and unlike my previous recommendation in this area you don’t have to read with a large grain of salt.  The book is called You Are Peter (http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Peter-Orthodox-Reflection/dp/1565481895/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341188415&sr=1-1&keywords=you+are+peter).  I still haven’t read Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (http://www.amazon.com/Orthodoxy-Roman-Papacy-Prospects-East-West/dp/0268026076/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341188445&sr=1-2&keywords=ut+unum+sint) due to the cost and other interests, but I’m sure it’s got good things to say to the subject of reunification.

3) My wife and I have been meeting with our parish priest to discuss any remaining issues we have prior to Chrismation.  We still haven’t made any commitments of scheduled anything, but this is one of the last steps.

Odds and Ends

Understanding development of the papacy

Deutsch: Emblem des Pontifikats English: emble...

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.]

It seems that this is papacy week for me.  After the last post I made about a book I had read on the development of the papacy I came across a document called The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium issued by the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.  I think the content of that document reflects the Orthodox view of the papacy very well, and while long, is much shorter than a book, so enjoy.

Understanding development of the papacy

Origins of the Papacy

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.]

A picture of Pope Pius XII made after his elec...
A picture of Pope Pius XII made after his election to the papacy in 1939. It was composed by a French nun, who donated it to the Pontiff. He upon looking at it, decided “this is not me” and gave to Madre Pascalina Lehnert, who gave to the copyholder. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This doesn’t have anything to do with current research I’m doing or a letter I’m writing, but it just came to mind so I thought I’d mention it before it escaped my tiny attention span.  When doing research on the papacy I ran across this old book, now out of copyright, and read it.  Even though the author does have a bit of an axe to grind as an ex-Catholic priest (he became Orthodox), he was an extremely informed man it appears and I found it very informative and thorough on the subject of the development of the papacy.  Don’t discount old books.  Just because a book wasn’t written in the last ten years doesn’t mean it’s out of date or irrelevant.  There’s a LOT in this book to consider.

Thanks to Google you can also get it in ebook form, which is super handy.  You can get the ebook by clicking the button on the top left that says Read Ebook.

The Papacy: Its Historic Origin and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Churches by Abbe Guettee, D.D.

Origins of the Papacy