i've got sister sharon euart on line one

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jun 28, 2007

Today is the memorial of St. Irenaeus, who died around the year 203), and my thoughts were carried back to Pope Benedict's excellent catechesis on Irenaeus given last March. While it's worth re-reading in its entirety, the following summary points are particularly striking. The Pope is speaking of Irenaeus as a theologian and an expositor of Church doctrine:

a) The Apostolic Tradition is "public," not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know "the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men": tradition and faith that "have reached us through the succession of bishops" (Against Heresies 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.

Why is this important? Among other reasons, because the public nature of the faith protects the faithful from frauds aimed at them by purveyors of a false gospel, whether they be bogus mystics or prophets or revolutionaries. Christian faith is not something whispered in code to initiates, or attainable while in an ecstatic frenzy, or biologically restricted to Aryans (or women, or the descendants of the eighth avatar), but is "proclaimed from the housetops."

b) The Apostolic Tradition is "one." While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church's Tradition is one in its fundamental contents, which -- as we have seen -- Irenaeus calls "the rule of faith" or "the rule of truth." And given that it is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content like that of truth, despite different languages and cultures.

Note how this flips contemporary sentimentalisms about "diversity" on their head. If a man tells you he's a Unitarian (where anything goes doctrinally), you can accurately guess his race, income, social class, and how he voted for the past fifteen years. If you know nothing more about a man than that he's Catholic, you have no confidence about any of the above. The greater the insistence on doctrinal unity, the greater possibility for authentic diversity.

c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, "pneumatic," that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is "pneuma." It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.

Absolutely key. Irenaeus was no proto-Lollard, contemptuous of book-learning. Pope Benedict contends, on the contrary, that Irenaeus was the first systematic theologian. But the content of the faith is not something vouchsafed to the professoriat in preference to the simple, and those academics who would have us abandon inherited belief in favor of a theoretically superior novelty are scamming the faithful. Note too that the Spirit does not simply assist the Church in the articulation of true doctrine, but assists the individual Christian in adhering to it. A theologian is as likely as a waitress to be an apostate. A stable hand is as likely as a bishop to die a martyr.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 30, 2007 2:24 PM ET USA

    Sr. Sharon Euart RSM, JCD involved in Canon Law in the US with a heavy hand in US-centric USCCB matters, including the Dallas accord & the attending to "norms" of conduct, pro diversity. Irenaeus, "no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God... no teaching aside from this." Remember Gnosticism sows the roots of discord. We may mention episcopal discord with Rome. Note Pope's letter to China on same.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 30, 2007 2:10 PM ET USA

    Dear D.S.: thanks for the second thought. (Actually, am grateful for ANY thought!) Tricky, this business of "knowing"...

  • Posted by: - Jun. 29, 2007 7:13 PM ET USA

    Sterling, as Uncle Di uses it, 'Lollard' refers to to a person who has no, or very little, formal education. Originally, it referred to the followers of the 14th Century English heretic John Wyclif, most of whom had no formal education and who believed power to administer the Sacraments came from personal piety, rather than Holy Orders. The term 'Lollard' seems to come from the Dutch word 'lollaerd,' which means mumbler. As to Sister Sharon Euart, you'll have to ask Uncle Di.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 29, 2007 6:58 PM ET USA

    On second thought, mae, maybe what I said in my first comment was your point. If it was, I totally agree.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 29, 2007 6:57 PM ET USA

    mae, intellectuals are more likely than non-intellectuals to be heretics and apostates, these days. In fact, that's always been the case. Neither Arius nor Nestorius were day laborers.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 29, 2007 5:43 PM ET USA

    "Is a waitress as likely as an intellectual to be a theologian?" Both are servants of Christ.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 29, 2007 3:09 PM ET USA

    Is a waitress as likely as an intellectual to be a theologian?

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 10:12 PM ET USA

    No proto-Lollard??? I may be in the wrong religion, this stuff is way over my head. Maybe I'm a seventies Catholic after all - "Know God, know peace. No God, no peace." At least I can understand it.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 5:29 PM ET USA

    Sorry, Di, but I'm missing the Sister Sharon Euart reference from your title. Can you enlighten or is it just one of those things that if you try to enlighten, it falls completely on its face?

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 1:05 PM ET USA

    Dear Publicus, Well you are exactly right. I'm all in on the evangelism. It's the trumpeting of diversity that I could do without. On second reading, however, I'd like to redact my comment. Di wasn't championing the diversity of Catholicism. He was pointing out what fools Irenaeus makes of the diversity sentimentalists. Heigh ho! By the way, I'm not so sure about my own righteousness. I'm old school Lutheran. We fret about these things.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 11:55 AM ET USA

    Dr. FMc, we *should* give a hoot as those are our brethren. The Gospel calls us to correct our neighbor and earnestly contend for the faith. If is not enough to be happy in our own righteousness.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 11:20 AM ET USA

    Oh my, I may have found my first quibble with Di. Di writes: "The greater the insistence on doctrinal unity, the greater possibility for authentic diversity" I take your point, and it's true, but should we give a hoot? Let's just be happy about Christian orthodoxy for its own sake and not worry about secular measures of success, most especially those of a political-academic stripe. (Still it's hard to resist rubbing their noses in it.)

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 9:44 AM ET USA

    "A theologian is as likely as a waitress to be an apostate. A stable hand is as likely as a bishop to die a martyr. " I would like to commit this to memory. It is a gem! Thank you.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 28, 2007 8:21 AM ET USA

    Excellent reading! A great way to start off my day-----immersing myself in some aspect of the truth.