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3 Keys to understanding Apostolic Tradition from St. Irenaeus

Saint Irenaeus

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Philip Kosloski - published on 06/28/22

Pope Benedict XVI outlined 3 keys to understanding Apostolic Tradition from Doctor of the Church St. Irenaeus

Pope Francis named St. Irenaeus the newest Doctor of the Church, seeing in him a sign of unity and fidelity to truth.

In a similar way, Pope Benedict XVI saw St. Irenaeus as a firm defender of the faith and saw value in the Church Father’s teaching on Apostolic Tradition.

Benedict laid out 3 keys to understanding Apostolic Tradition in a general audience from 2007.

1Apostolic Tradition is Public

Apostolic Tradition is ‘public,’ not private or secret. Irenaeus did not 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 other teaching than this. Therefore, for anyone who wishes to know true doctrine, it suffices to know ‘the Tradition passed down by the Apostles and the faith proclaimed to men’: a tradition and faith that ‘have come down to us through the succession of Bishops’ (Adversus Haereses, 3, 3, 3-4). Hence, the succession of Bishops, the personal principle, and Apostolic Tradition, the doctrinal principle, coincide.”

2Apostolic Tradition is One

“Apostolic Tradition is ‘one.’ Indeed, whereas Gnosticism was divided into multiple sects, Church Tradition is one in its fundamental content, which — as we have seen — Irenaeus calls precisely regula fidei or veritatis: and thus, because it is one, it creates unity through the peoples, through the different cultures, through the different peoples; it is a common content like the truth, despite the diversity of languages and cultures.”

3Apostolic Tradition is guided by the Holy Spirit

Lastly, the Apostolic Tradition, as he says in the Greek language in which he wrote his book, is ‘pneumatic’, in other words, spiritual, guided by the Holy Spirit: in Greek, the word for ‘spirit’ is ‘pneuma.’ Indeed, it is not a question of a transmission entrusted to the ability of more or less learned people, but to God’s Spirit who guarantees fidelity to the transmission of the faith. This is the ‘life’ of the Church, what makes the Church ever young and fresh, fruitful with multiple charisms.”

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