Sunday, 10 February 2019

Christopher Mooney: Necessary and Sufficient? Irenaeus on the Rule of Faith, Scripture, and Apostolic Tradition

Disagreements between Irenaeus and his opponents’ theological cosmologies led him to a fundamental question: how can one adjudicate between competing claims of fidelity to a received tradition, especially if the original content of that tradition is disputed? In order to address this problem, Irenaeus employed a technical vocabulary drawn from the Greek philosophical tradition, namely the theme or meaning of a work (ὑπόθεσις,lit.hypothesis) and the rule of its interpretation (κανών, lit. straight-edge). I argue that for Irenaeus the rule (also called rule of faith or rule of truth) should be understood not as a proto-creed or a set of creedal propositions but as the apostolic theme insofar as it is employedregulativelyto adjudicate other claims, as one might derive a ruler from a known benchmark in order to test the straightness of other surfaces. This can result in a set of creedal propositions, and thus is a logical precursor to later creeds, but is not itself a creed. The apostolic hypothesis, in turn, is the meaning of the apostolic preaching, which has been delivered through oral teaching (oral tradition) and writing (Scripture). Because Irenaeus sees Scripture and tradition as modes of the single apostolic preaching, he does not privilege, prioritize, or subordinate one to the other, despite the claims of his modern interpreters. Rather, Irenaeus understands both of them as sufficient and necessary; both suffice for the knowledge of the full apostolic hypothesis, and both are necessary in practice to avoid the misinterpretation of the other.

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