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The Early Church Fathers on the Church as the Expounder of the Scriptures.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220)
    Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)

St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

1. "If any one, therefore, read the Scriptures attentively, he will find in them, discourse concerning Christ, and a prefiguration of a new vocation. For Christ is the treasure hidden in the field, that is, in this world (for the field is the world); but Christ is a treasure hidden in the Scriptures, because He was signified by types and parables. . . .Wherefore, as we have shown, if any one read the Scriptures (for so the Lord discoursed with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead, showing them, from the Scriptures themselves, that it behooved Christ to suffer and to enter into His glory, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout the whole world), he will both be a perfect disciple and like unto a householder who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old.

2. "Therefore we ought to be obedient to those presbyters who are in the Church, to those who have the succession from Apostles, as we have shown; who, together with the succession of the episcopacy, have received, according to the good will of the Father, the sure gift of truth: but the others, who depart from the principal succession, and assemble in any place whatever, (we ought) to hold suspected either as heretics, and of evil opinion; or as schismatics, and proud, and as men pleasing themselves; or, again, as hypocrites, doing this for gain's sake and vain-glory. But all these have fallen away from the truth. And heretics indeed, who bring a strange fire to the altar of God, that is, strange doctrines, will be consumed by fire from Heaven, as Nadab and Abiud. Whilst they who rise up against the truth, and give advice to others against God's Church, dwell in Hell, swallowed up by the yawning earth, as they who surrounded Core, Dathan, and Abiron. But they who rend asunder and sever the unity of the Church, receive from God the same punishment as befell Jeroboam.

3. "But they who are indeed by many believed to be presbyters, but are enslaved to their pleasures . . . from all such we ought to keep aloof, but (4) to cling to those who both guard the doctrine of the Apostles, as we have already said, and, together with the order of the priesthood, present sound discourse, and an inoffensive life, for the confirmation and chastening of others. . . ."

5. "Such presbyters the Church nourishes. . . . Where, therefore, the gifts of God are placed, there we ought to learn the truth, (from those) with whom is that succession of the Church which is from the Apostles; and that which is sound and irreprovable in conversation, and unadulterated and incorruptible in discourse, abides. For they both guard that faith of ours in one God, who made all things, and increase our love towards the Son of God, who made such dispositions on our account; and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither uttering blasphemy against God, nor dishonoring the patriarchs, nor contemning the prophets."

Adv. Hæres. l. iv. c. xxvi. n. 1-5, pp. 261-3.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Pages 335-337

"If a man believe in one God, who also by His word made all things, as Moses saith, God said. "Let there be light, and there was light . . ." and likewise the Apostle Paul: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, who is above all, and in us all,— he will first hold to tlie head . . . " (Colossians 2:19). Then, afterwards, also every discourse will be clear to him, if also he read the Scriptures diligently with (amongst) those who are presbyters in the Church, with whom is the apostolic doctrine, as we have demonstrated."

Adv. Hæres. l. iv. c. xxxii. n. 1,2, pp. 269-70.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 337

"He who preserves within him "that unvarying rule (canon) of faith which he received through" baptism, will indeed recognize the names which are from the Scriptures, and the sayings and the parables, but this their blasphemous argument he will not recognize." (*)

Adv. Hæres. l. i. c. ix. n. 4, pp. 46-7.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 337

(*) "It is evident that he (St. Irenæus) regarded the tradition of the Church to that extent (the Baptismal Creed) as divine and infallible."

— Beaven's Account of Irenæus, Lond. 1841

St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220), Greek; theologian, a scholar of Pantaenus, to whom he succeeded as head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Egypt. His writings display great acquaintance with the Gentile philosophy. He wrote with the express design of hiding the mysteries of the Christian religion from the Pagans, and the uninitiated, while at the same time, laboring to show the immense practical superiority of the Christian code of morals over that of every Pagan sect and system of philosophy.

Replying to the objection, that there were differences of opinion, or of faith, amongst Christians, Clement says:

"If a man violate his plighted faith, arid overstep that confession which is amongst us, shall we also abstain from the truth, on account of his having belied the confession? Rather, as it be incumbent upon on every upright man to avoid falsehood, and to violate in no one thing what he has promised, although others may overstep their pledged faith, so does it behoove us in no way whatever to overstep the ecclesiastical rule (canon); and we guard especially, whilst they overstep, the confession which refers to things of the greatest importance. Wherefore, credence is to be given to those who hold firmly to the truth.... As where there is one royal road, and also many other roads, some of which lead to a precipice, and others to an impetuous river, or to the deep sea, one would not be afraid, on account of that diversity, to journey on, but would use the one that is free from danger, and is the king's highway, and the frequented road; so also, when different men assert different things regarding the truth, we are not to withdraw; but the most accurate knowledge respecting the truth is to be the more carefully sought after. As, even with the garden-plants there spring up weeds; do the laborers therefore cease from their horticulture? We have, then, from nature, many incentives to an examination into the things that are spoken, and we ought to search out the coherence of the truth. Therefore also are we deservedly condemned, if we settle not down together with those who ought to be obeyed, and discriminate not what is repugnant and unbecoming and unnatural and false, from what is true and coherent and becoming and natural."

Strom, l. vii. pp. 887-8.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 337-338

Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218), North African; ecclesiastical writer, Christian apologist and lawyer, son of a centurion and contemporary of St. Irenæus, a native and citizen of Carthage. The zeal and ability with which he defended the Christian cause, and vindicated its faith and discipline, have immortalized his name, though it has suffered by his adoption, around the year A.D. 200, of some of the Montanist's errors, whose cause he is thought to have supported until his death. His works are numerous, and are written with great ability and erudition, but in an harsh style.

"Therefore there must be no appeal to the Scriptures, nor must the contest be constituted in these things, in which the victory is either none or doubtful, or too little doubtful. For even though the debate on the Scriptures should not so turn out as to confirm each party, the order of things required that this question should be first proposed, which is now the only one to be discussed, "To whom belongs the very faith; whose are the Scriptures; by whom, and through whom, and when, and to whom, was that rule (discipline) delivered whereby men become Christians;" for wherever both the true Christian rule and faith shall be shown to be, there will be the true Scriptures, and the true expositions, and all the true Christian traditions. If these things be so, so that the truth be adjudged to us, as many as walk according to that rule which the Church has handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, Christ from God, the reasonableness of our proposition is manifest, which determines that heretics are not to be allowed to enter upon an appeal to the Scriptures, whom we prove, without the Scriptures, to have no concern with the Scriptures."

De Praescr. n. 37.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 338-339

"Who shall understand the marrow of Scripture better than the school of Christ itself, whom the Lord hath adopted as His disciples, namely, to be taught all things, and set as masters over us, namely, to teach all things?"

Scorpiace, n.12, p. 497.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 339

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

"After having thus, as it were in passing, spoken on the inspiration of the divine writings, it is necessary to address myself to the manner of reading and of interpreting them; most errors having arisen from the many not having found the way in which it is necessary to proceed with the sacred lecture. ... To those who are convinced that the sacred books are not the composition of men, but that, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, by the will of the Father, they have been written, and have come down to us, we must point out the manifest ways (of interpretation) to those who hold to the rule (canon) of the heavenly Church of Christ, according to the succession from (of) the Apostles. And that, indeed, there are certain mystical dispensations indicated throughout the divine writings, all, even the most simple of those who have made progress in the word, have believed: but what those (dispensations) are, the humble and the upright confess that they know not."

Note: From passages quoting Origen on the Authority of the Church, it is clear that Origen's standard of truth and rule for discriminating between the doctrines of Christ and the false interpretations and the errors of heretics is, that the truth always accords with the teaching and tradition of the Church; whilst that teaching, tradition, and interpretation, can alone be accounted genuine and divine, which has been transmitted by an uninterrupted succession from the Apostles.

T. i. De Princip.pp. 164-6.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 339-340

"Let Basilides, and whosoever agrees with him, be left in their impiety. But for us, let us turn to the meaning of the Apostle, according to the piety of the ecclesiastical doctrine."

T. iv. In Ep. ad Rom. 1. 5, p. 349.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 340



If the Church can assuredly tell us what particular books make up the Written Word of God, as it did at the Council of Rome in A.D. 382, so She can, with the like assurance, tell us the true sense and meaning of it, in controverted points of faith. The same Spirit, which directed the writing of the Scriptures, directs the Church to understand them, and teaches all the mysteries and duties that are necessary to salvation.


Though the Church did not have a known Canon of Scriptures for about 350 years after Our Lord's Ascension, we can be sure that the Spirit Jesus promised Peter and his successors will not fail him.



The Church's Scriptures on the Church as the Expounder of the Scriptures:


Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

13 When Jesus came into the region of Cæsarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" 14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"


16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build MY church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven."


Matthew 16:13-19

Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial but prays for his (singular) faith.

31 "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you (second person plural pronoun, meaning "all of you") that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee (singular, Peter) that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren."

Luke 22:31-32

Christ, after His resurrection, commissioned St. Peter to feed His lambs, and to feed His sheep, i.e., to be Shepherd over the whole flock:

15 "When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? He saith to Him: Yes, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again: Simon son of John, do you love me? He saith to Him: Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love you. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 17 He saith to him the third time: Simon son of John, do you love me? Peter was grieved, because He had said to him the third time, Do you love me? And he said to Him: Lord, Thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love Thee. He said to him : Feed my sheep."

John 21:15-17

The Catholic Church is the pillar and ground of truth

14 "These things I write to thee, hoping that I shall come to thee shortly. 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth."

1 Timothy 3:14-15


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