The Four Authorities for Revealing the True Revelation of Jesus Christ to His Church
St. Irenaeus [c. 130-200 AD], Christian Bishop of Lyons, was the second generation from the Apostles and a disciple of St. Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna who was himself a hearer of the Apostles and a disciple of St. John the Apostle. His writings contain the oldest existing writings of a bishop and references to the same New Testament books that are in our canon today. Sadly, only two of Irenaeus' works have survived the ravages of time: The Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So-called, also known more simply to history as Against the Heresies, and the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, which was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century. In these two surviving works, St. Irenaeus insisted that the proper teaching of the revelation of Jesus Christ could only be taught through using both the Holy Spirit inspired writings given to the Church before the birth of Christ (known by his time as the Old Testament) together with the Holy Spirit inspired writings of the Apostles and their disciples which we call today the New Testament. He also insisted that these books could be properly understood only by those people who accepted four authorities.
Irenaeus four authorities for revealing the revelation of Jesus Christ to His Church:
St. Irenaeus makes the point that the bishops' very lives as direct successors to the Apostles provide the Church with a visible witness that the true teaching about Christ is still being preserved and preached. In this point, Irenaeus links the preaching of the Apostles and the other New Testament writers to its source in the Book of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament), the Psalms, and the Prophets of the Old Testament and the interpretation of the revelation of Jesus Christ which belongs only to the successors of the Apostles as led by God the Holy Spirit. The oral teaching, only a portion of what was written down (Jn 21:24-25), was presented to the Apostles during Jesus' three year earthly ministry and continued after His Resurrection during the forty days He taught the Kingdom of His Church until His Ascension (see Lk 24:25-26, 44-49 and Acts 1:3).
The Catholic Church continues to support these four authorities as the only legitimate interpretation of the revelation of Jesus Christ to His Church.(1) Very little has changed since Irenaeus' time with regard to the attack on the teachings handed down to us from Jesus to His Apostles and disciples. In Against Heresies St. Irenaeus criticizes the heretics that have disregarded the order and connection of the Scriptures, as revealed through these four authorities. He accuses "these heretics" as having rearranged or disregarded the order of the body of truth as taught by Christ, presented to the Church, and interpreted by the power of the Holy Spirit through the ministerial priesthood much like taking a mosaic of a king and rearranging the stones to form a picture of a dog or fox while claiming that this is the original picture. Each faction of professing Christian churches that has separated from the authority of the Church founded by Jesus Christ has its own mosaic rearranged to its own standards and doctrine, but it is only the universal Catholic Church that contains the body of truth which reveals the living, unchanging, glorified Christ in an unbroken image of true teaching from Christ to His Apostles and disciples and to the faithful of the Church today.
1. That "Catholic Church" is a title for the Church founded by Jesus Christ is found in its earliest surviving source in a letter of St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans in c 107/110 AD, in which he writes: "Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8.1). Ignatius was the bishop of the church at Antioch, Syria where as we know from Acts 11:26 that followers of Christ were first called "Christians." It was one of the first faith communities outside of the Holy Land and also the first faith community home of St. Paul. It was the church at Antioch that send Paul on his missionary journeys to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:20-26; 13:1-3).
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