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May 17, 2008


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I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that, in the early Church, the catechumen had to memorize the Apostles' Creed before entering into the Church. If this is the case, then I would think that the Apostles' Creed would have been the hermeneutical key for the individual Christian of the Faith. In other words, the individual Christian was given the correct interpretation of Christianity, and by connection the Scriptures, when he was handed the Apostles' Creed. Thus, later on in his/her life, should he/she come across false teaching, they would know.

Perhaps since catechesis and baptism went hand-in-hand in those days, saying that the canon of truth was received in baptism, without question also meant that the canon of truth was received in "baptismal process."

Just a thought.


Thanks for the great post.

What passage did you quote from Against Heresies? Who are the translator, publisher, etc.? I would like to properly cite the passage in the hermeneutics article I'm working on.

Chris Jones

Thanks, DRB, for your kind words.

The "mosaic" metaphor is used by St Irenaeus in book I, chapter 8, paragraph 1 of Adversus Haereses, and the paragraph about the canon of truth that I quoted in this post is from book I, chapter 9, paragraph 4. The translation of the "canon of truth" passage is by Fr John Behr, dean of St Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, in his book The Way To Nicaea (SVS Press). That book, along with Fr Behr's The Mystery Of Christ (also from SVS Press), is invaluable. Fr Behr sets forth St Irenaeus's teaching on the canon of truth, Scripture, tradition, and apostolic succession far more ably than I could ever do. I highly recommend it.


Thank you, Chris. I enjoyed The Way To Nicaea and excerpts of Adversus Haereses, but I have not yet read the other works you mentioned.

The quote reminded me of this article by Prof. Scaer:

His "position is that the Spirit is encased in the apostolic witness to Christ's redemptive acts out of which the baptized community of believers has its origin. From this witness to and within this community the Spirit gives the Scriptures. Inspiration has its origins in the Spirit's accompanying Jesus' acts and words. This culminates in Jesus fully giving the Spirit at his crucifixion and resurrection to his apostles from and through whom the New Testament documents possess their inspiration and authority. The Spirit's working on the writers cannot be isolated or divorced from the historical incarnation of the Son of God and his words and deeds, but it is an extension of them as they were witnessed and preserved by his followers who are recognized by their being baptized" (p. 125). "Scriptures derive their authority from [Jesus] through the apostles — not the other way around! The earliest creeds from which our Apostles' Creed evolved were not mere human formulations, but Jesus' own self-understanding that believers at their baptism confronted and responded to in creeds: 'you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Thomas' confession, 'my Lord and my God,' is the foundation of Christian truth. Belief in the God whom Jesus revealed and the confession made at baptism were not disparate things, but they constituted one reality in which the Spirit worked. God can only be known in the one who died for sins and rose again. Just as Jesus' disciples were given the full revelation of God in baptism as Father—Son—Holy Spirit, so the same revelation is given to subsequent baptized generations" (p. 126). "No other moment in the church's life is so specifically trinitarian as baptism and every recitation of the creed is a response to that moment" (p. 127).

Edward Reiss

Great post!

I wonder, though, if we are not missing a more spiritual sense, if St. Irenaeus is not speaking only of catechesis, but also the idea that "My sheep hear my voice". In other words, there is a spiritual dimension to understanding the Scriptures when the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer. When we are baptized, we become one of his "sheep"; through catechesis, whic includes the liturgy, we learn to hear the Master's voice.

Steve Martin

I don't think "we've inverted the process."

Jesus instructs us in Matthew 28 to "go,... baptise and teach..."

When He says it, baptism comes first!


- Steve Martin San Clemente, CA

Chris Jones

It is not so simple, Steve, in the Greek text. The grammatical structure of the Greek is unlike anything we use in English, and is certainly not three sequential imperative verbs ("go ... baptize ... teach"). The three verb forms are πορευθεντες (aorist passive participle of "to go"); μαθητευσατε (aorist imperative of "to make disciples"); and βαπτιζοντες (present participle of "to baptize"). The most literal translation would be "Having gone, therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." To the extent that the grammatical structure indicates the order of these actions, the "going" precedes the other two actions and the "discipling" and the "baptizing" are simultaneous.

However one reads the grammar of the Greek text, however, it is an historical fact that in the early Church a relatively long period of catechesis normally preceded baptism. Rightly or wrongly, that is how the first Christians interpreted and obeyed Christ's command to "make disciples."



Great post. I am surprised, however, that you don't make mention of the Creed as what is actually confessed by the baptised or his sponsors, together with the whole congregation, in the baptism. Thus before the pastor baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he, the person to be baptized, and the congregation solemnly "check" that they all understand the same thing by these words, by affirming the Creed together. Now this Creed we usually understand as being a definition of the Trinity, but it is also a narrative statement of the Bible's overall structure. Creation by the Father starts it, then you get Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, and then you get the Holy Spirit in the church. So this baptismal confession is also an acknowledgement of a particular "recapitulation" plot-line to Bible reading.

This was fairly important in my attraction to Lutheranism. The Presbyterian baptismal confession is about "resting on Christ alone for your salvation." Good words, but not in the continuous tradition of the original baptismal confession, which developed from confessing God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. That Lutheran churches baptized in this confession was important -- and although I can't be rebaptized, I can reaffirm this confession each time a person is baptized in our church.

By the way, the prevalence of infant baptism today obviously plays a major role here in downplaying pre-baptismal catechesis. I'm assuming you don't have a problem with that!


Sounds quite Grundtvigian to me! :)

Chris Jones


I did not refer specifically to the Creed because it is not clear whether the Creed as we know it was in existence at the time of the Irenaean text I was working with. It was, however, what I was alluding to when I said "the contents of [the rule of faith] will not be a surprise to any orthodox Christian." Irenaeus's elaboration of the rule of faith in chapter 10 is clearly consistent with a Creed similar to what we know as the Apostles' Creed, but it does not give the exact text of such a Creed. Also, the recitation of the Creed at baptism, though liturgically important, does not by itself constitute the "receiving of the canon of truth in baptism"; the imparting of the Tradition through catechesis is also part of it, which is an important part of my point.

"I am assuming you don't have a problem with that!"

Of course I do not have a problem with infant baptism as such. How could I have, when I myself was dunked at age 5 months or so? But I do have a problem with the downplaying of catechesis. However common and (obviously) valid infant baptism may be, adult baptism remains theologically and liturgically the norm.


The name Grundtvig is unfamiliar to me. From the sound of it I presume that Grundtvig is or was a Lutheran theologian; what about Grundtvig's theology is echoed in my post?

Steve Martin


Catechesis is important, but it is what we do. Baptism (infant or otherwise) is God's work. God is the subject of the verb in almost every instance of baptism in the new testament (except in John's baptisms).

Since it is God that is doing the baptising, I would place the emphasis there.


- Steve M.

Jason Loh Seong Wei

The whole thing about the canon of truth received through Baptism is PROCLAMATION. That is to say, the GOSPEL proclaimed ORALLY and SACRAMENTALLY so that FAITH is created to recognise and receive the truth. "My sheep hear my voice" ...

Infant baptism does not negate St Irenaeus of Lyons' dictum, but reinforces it. The "inversion" that you baulk at is the most proper way of describing salvation.

The thing is this: the correct sequence is first and foremost, Church does not appropriate the canon of truth. But it is the canon of truth which claims the Church. Only then does the Church pass on the canon of truth to the succeeding generation, and so the same process continues.

Truth is not an abstraction. But truth is Jesus Christ Himself. So, to come to the knowledge of truth and be saved AND be saved by the truth itself IS the same.

Edith M. Humphrey

Friend, I found your comments concerning Irenaeus to be a good catalyst for my own thinking on this, as I draw to a conclusion in writing a book on Scripture and Tradition. I was an Anglican, now Orthodox. I think that your emphasis upon the whole process of baptism is right-headed, although Irenaeus would certainly consider that baptism itself effects the transfer of the tradition, for it incorporates the person into the tradition, to which they are "traditioned," as St. Paul puts it. Are you interested in discussion? (I am a good friend also of Fr. Douglas Spittel, Missouri Synod pastor here in Pittsburgh.)
Kind Regards,
Edith M. Humphrey

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