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Home > Fathers of the Church > Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus) > Book IV, Chapter 26

Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 26)

The treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ; the true exposition of the Scriptures is to be found in the Church alone.

1. If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling (vocationis). For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, Matthew 13:44 that is, in this world (for the field is the world Matthew 13:38); but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and parables. Hence His human nature could not be understood, prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ. And therefore it was said to Daniel the prophet: Shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of consummation, until many learn, and knowledge be completed. For at that time, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things. Daniel 12:4, 7 But Jeremiah also says, In the last days they shall understand these things. Jeremiah 23:20 For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is to men [full of] enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. And for this reason, indeed, when at this present time the law is read to the Jews, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature; but when it is read by the Christians, it is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God and declaring His dispensations with regard to man, and forming the kingdom of Christ beforehand, and preaching by anticipation the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the man who loves God shall arrive at such excellency as even to see God, and hear His word, and from the hearing of His discourse be glorified to such an extent, that others cannot behold the glory of his countenance, as was said by Daniel: Those who do understand, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:3 Thus, then, I have shown it to be, if any one read the Scriptures. For thus it was that the Lord discoursed with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead, proving to them from the Scriptures themselves that Christ must suffer, and enter into His glory, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout all the world. And the disciple will be perfected, and [rendered] like the householder, who brings forth from his treasure things new and old.

2. Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God— namely, strange doctrines— shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. Leviticus 10:1-2 But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. Numbers 16:33 But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. 1 Kings 14:10

3. Those, however, who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts, and, do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt towards others, and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat, and work evil deeds in secret, saying, No man sees us, shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance (secundum gloriam), nor looks upon the countenance, but the heart; and they shall hear those words, to be found in Daniel the prophet: O you seed of Canaan, and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you, and lust perverted your heart. You that are waxen old in wicked days, now your sins which you have committed aforetime have come to light; for you have pronounced false judgments, and have been accustomed to condemn the innocent, and to let the guilty go free, albeit the Lord says, The innocent and the righteous shall you not slay. Of whom also did the Lord say: But if the evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delays his coming, and shall begin to smite the man-servants and maidens, and to eat and drink and be drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day that he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

4. From all such persons, therefore, it behooves us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of priesthood (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others. In this way, Moses, to whom such a leadership was entrusted, relying on a good conscience, cleared himself before God, saying, I have not in covetousness taken anything belonging to one of these men, nor have I done evil to one of them. Numbers 16:15 In this way, too, Samuel, who judged the people so many years, and bore rule over Israel without any pride, in the end cleared himself, saying, I have walked before you from my childhood even unto this day: answer me in the sight of God, and before His anointed (Christi ejus); whose ox or whose ass of yours have I taken, or over whom have I tyrannized, or whom have I oppressed? Or if I have received from the hand of any a bribe or [so much as] a shoe, speak out against me, and I will restore it to you. 1 Samuel 12:3 And when the people had said to him, You have not tyrannized, neither have you oppressed us, neither have you taken ought of any man's hand, he called the Lord to witness, saying, The Lord is witness, and His Anointed is witness this day, that you have not found ought in my hand. And they said to him, He is witness. In this strain also the Apostle Paul, inasmuch as he had a good conscience, said to the Corinthians: For we are not as many, who corrupt the Word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ; 2 Corinthians 2:17 We have injured no man, corrupted no man, circumvented no man. 2 Corinthians 7:2

5. Such presbyters does the Church nourish, of whom also the prophet says: I will give your rulers in peace, and your bishops in righteousness. Isaiah 60:17 Of whom also did the Lord declare, Who then shall be a faithful steward (actor), good and wise, whom the Lord sets over His household, to give them their meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when He comes, shall find so doing. Matthew 24:45-46 Paul then, teaching us where one may find such, says, God has placed in the Church, first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers. 1 Corinthians 12:28 Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.

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Source. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103426.htm>.

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