23 August, 2010

Irenaeus on the Clarity of Scripture

"A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in [acquaintance with] them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures."

Irenaeus (c.130-200), Against Heresies, Book II, ch XXVII, para 1. (p. 398 in ANF ed. by Donaldson & Robertson).

Given the proximity in time of Irenaeus to the apostles (one generation removed from the apostle John via Polycarp), we are reasonably entitled to assume that this teaching on the clarity of scripture was passed on to the early church by the apostles (compare Irenaeus's teaching with that of Chrysostom posted here earlier). Indeed, a complete trust in the power of the Word to enlighten to salvation was a hallmark of our Lord's teaching ministry: "It is written...", "Have you not read...?".
By logical deduction, if all things necessary for our salvation are "clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in scripture", then the scriptural revelation of the way of salvation through faith in Christ is sufficient to that purpose.
Note also that implicit in Irenaeus's understanding of scripture's clarity is the testimony of the Spirit ("a sound mind...devoted to piety and the love of truth") which inspires ongoing study of the Word. This is in accord with the later insights of the magisterial Reformation's theologians into the inseparable link between Word and Spirit which guarantees that the former is "living and active". It is this guarantee that assures us that the ongoing study of the Word which Irenaeus recommends will make us "wise to salvation".
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