St. Irenaeus [ca 130-200AD], 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 which include all the books that are in our New Testament 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 only recently 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 used only by those people who accepted four authorities:

The four authorities for revealing the revelation of Jesus Christ to His Church:


  1. The first authority is the "rule of truth" as put forth in the Creed of the Apostles which is the belief in One God, who Jesus Christ revealed to the New Covenant people as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  2. The second authority is the whole canonical body of Sacred Scripture, given by the Holy Spirit to the Old Covenant Church and to the New Covenant Church = Old and New Testaments.
  3. The third is the apostolic tradition; that is, the Oral Tradition which is the deposit of faith handed down, once for all, from Jesus to the Apostles to their successors who are the successor of St. Peter and the Bishops-- which is preserved intact in the Church to the present [he was speaking of his present but we Catholic believe this deposit of faith extends to our present]. This point of St Irenaeus refutes the contemplation of Christ only according to the Scriptures which was an issue in his day as well as today.
  4. The fourth authority is the interpretation of the revelation of Jesus Christ, both oral and written as exercised by the ministerial priesthood, the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome together with the Bishops of the Catholic Church [a title already in use by the time of St. Irenaeus].  The bishops whose very lives as direct successors to the Apostles provided the church then as now with a visible witness that the true teaching about Christ was 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 Pentateuch], 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 Catholic Church today continues to support these four authorities as the only legitimate interpretation of the revelation of Jesus Christ to His Church. 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" Irenaeus criticizes the heretics that have "disregarded the order and connection of the Scriptures," as revealed through these four authorities, and have 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 "Christian" churches has its own mosaic rearranged to its own standards and doctrine but it is only the universal Catholic Church that contains to body of truth which reveals the living, unchanging glorified Christ.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2005 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.