Feast Day: June 28th
If we select the top several early fathers of the Church (Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Eusebius, etc.), and peruse their writings we would find ourselves with all but 11 verses of the New Testament. These men knew the writings of the Apostles, and they quoted them with abandon as they preached and taught. St. Irenaeus is our guide and model this week, but any of them offer us a profound, childlike, refreshing approach to the Bible, so I entrust to all of you the invitation to pair your reading of the bible with a glance as well at what the Fathers said about those lines. (Look up Thomas Aquinas Catena Aurea, which is available for free online, and offers their commentary on all four Gospels).
Irenaeus asks us to take a step back with him to our understanding of scripture in general. How do we approach the readings we hear at every Mass. Why, actually, do we read the Bible at every Mass? Have we ever asked ourselves that question?
“True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scripture, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor suffering curtailment in the truths which she believes; and it consists in reading the word of God without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures both without danger and without blasphemy; and above all it consists in the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts of God.– St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus Haereses, 4.33.8
A few questions for our consideration with these lines in mind:
Truth and Knowledge. Where do we look for it? Friends? Wikipedia? Facebook? Us priests always joke with each other saying, “I read it online … so it must be true…”, but in an age where the words, images, and videos that appear before us online are all determined by algorithms beyond our control, showing us precisely what that website thinks will best appeal to our current feelings, should we flippantly go looking there first when we need direction or insight? Irenaeus points us to the doctrine of the apostles, the ancient constitution of the Church throughout the world, and the succession of the bishops. The Church now tends to call these three pillars of truth: scripture, tradition, and magisterium, but Irenaeus was explaining the same three to his flock in AD 180! If they needed it, just a generation or two after the Apostles, do we think we can turn elsewhere?
A second takeaway: the Pre-Eminent gift of Love. The great, staunch, soon-martyred bishop, spoke of love above even the gift of scripture! Scripture, the gift of God’s self-revelation, entrusted to the bishops of the Church, and to all the members of Christ’s body, to be cherished, protected, passed-on, and contemplated. That gift pales in comparison to the pre-eminent, more fundamental, more amazing gift of love?! I suppose this makes sense, but scripture is easier to carry around, and share with someone, and study, right??… or maybe God’s love is a better gift than we imagine. Cannot we carry God’s love in our heart, and know that it carries us? And cannot we share with a friend how God’s love has been shown in our lives? And, in studying the faith at all, aren’t we studying God’s love?
– Fr. Dominic Rankin is currently working on reading the Bible again in its entirety this year, but is happy to have been given a number of different reminders recently to read it as a story of God’s love. It is easy to peruse its pages and compare stories or meditate on familiar scenes, but what if I looked at the entire thing with fresh, childlike, awe-struck eyes? Might I catch a glimpse of a grand gift of Love?