It is convenient thus to combine, and to contrast, the positions taken up in this controversy by Anicetus and Victor. But now let us turn from Irenaeus' practical line in view of a Roman bishop's public conduct, to the memorable passage in which, a few years before, in the time of Victor's predecessor Eleutherus, he had described


the relation of Churches in general to the "very great, ancient, and universally known" Roman Church. [1]

What, let us ask, had led him to this subject? The Valentinians, against whom he was writing his great treatise, used to meet the argument from Apostolic tradition to the received or Catholic type of Christian doctrine, by the audacious assertion that the Apostles themselves, and even Christ as His words were reported in the Gospels, had "Judaized," or had spoken at times under an inspiration less than the highest. Irenaeus replies in effect - as did Tertullian a few years later - We are quite able to trace up our theology, through lines of episcopal succession, to the Apostolic founders of the Churches: and it is inconceivable that they would keep back, economically, their real beliefs from those to whom they were leaving their own posts of teachership. "But since it would be tedious to go through all these successions," let us take a specimen Church - that of Rome.

Here, before going further, observe the significance of the motive expressly assigned for adducing this particular Church - it is done in


order to save trouble; but such a motive would never have occurred to a believer in the Papal theory. To proceed, next come the words on which much debate has turned, but which, unfortunately, exist only in a Latin translation: "Ad hanc [to this Church], propter potentiorem [or potiorem], principalitatem, necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, hoc est, eos qui sunt undique fideles - in qua semper ab his qui sunt undique conservata est ea quae est ab apostolis traditio." [*]

First of all, what does principalitatem mean? "Antiquity" is a sense which, so far as the use of principalis goes, might be supported by several passages in the Latin translation of Irenaeus: [2] and principalitas is used some five times for primary or original being: but the context suggests the sense of "pre-eminence," [3] and the Greek may have been prwteian. But does this "more effective" [4] or "superior eminence" belong to the Roman Church, or to Rome the city? Irenaeus does not explain; but if the city itself had been meant, a word or two


would have been, perhaps, almost necessary, in order to prevent the quality from being associated with "the Church," which had just been mentioned: still, the "city" view has something to say for itself, and is adopted by Dr. Salmon and Fr. Puller. [5] Let us, however, suppose it to be the Church of Rome that is thus regarded as "pre-eminent." What, then, is meant by necesse est, and what by convenire ad? Does the first of these phrases indicate a moral obligation, and the second mean "agree with"?

Obligation would have required oportet: while necesse est implies the simple necessity that something should take place, the fact that it cannot but happen. What is that something? That "every other Church, that is, the faithful who are from all sides," - as we should say, coming from all quarters, - "should - convenire ad the Roman Church," that is - if we take the phrase naturally, with an eye to ad and to undique - "should resort to, converge or come together to, that Church." It is inevitable, St. Irenaeus means, that Christians from all the other parts of the empire should, from time to time, for various reasons, visit the Church in the great centre of


the empire; [6] this is a process which is always going on, which cannot but go on. If Irenaeus had meant that other Churches must, as a matter of duty, agree with the Roman Church, or even that they would be sure to be found agreeing with her, one would think that he would have used language suggesting a different translation. For convenire ad would be a strange Latin equivalent for "agree with." And further, the ensuing words would have lost their point if "agreement with the Roman Church" had been the idea. For Irenaeus goes on at once to add a clause which Roman quotations of the sentence are apt to omit or slur over. [7]


In which (Church)," i.e. the Roman, "the tradition which comes from the Apostles has been always preserved by those who are from all sides," i.e. who flock from all parts of the empire to the capital. But if the point had been that other Churches must needs teach just what the Roman Church taught, whether under obligation or from circumstances, why go on to say that it was by members of these same Churches that the Apostolic tradition was preserved in the Roman? That fact would be no reason for, no illustration of, the supposed necessity of agreement: but it would be strictly apposite to the remark that other Churches were habitually pouring into the Roman a conflux of their own members, so that the genuine Christian tradition, deposited there by Apostolic hands, might be continuously freshened and reinforced by concurrent testimonies, representing an identical universally diffused belief. Take, then, this final clause of the sentence, with its in qua and its ab his - for I pass over, as really too absurd for serious treatment, the assumption that "in" here means


"in communion with, [8] or subjection to," - observe that, instead of saying that true faith was preserved by the Roman Church for her multifarious foreign visitors, it emphasises her obligation to them, and explains more fully why she can be taken as a sample of all Churches; and is not this quite decisive against the notion that Irenaeus recognised in her bishop the "universal doctor" of Christians? He views her as a reservoir of orthodoxy; and herein he assigns to her even a less active part than that which St. Gregory of Nazianzus, in his farewell to Constantinople, [9] assigns to that city,


as now, through the restored Catholic life of her Church, a "general mart of the faith," i.e. a centre whither Catholic Christians bring their orthodoxy, and take back, so to speak, her witness in its confirmation. Of course. no one doubts that St. Irenaeus would have said, for instance, a Gallic or Ephesine Christian about to visit Rome, "You will get much good from the great Roman Church - you will return home with your own faith quickened and invigorated by what you have seen of hers:" but that is not the exact point which he takes in the sentence which explains why the argument from the several lines of Church tradition may be summarised by pointing to Rome. If he had held what Roman or Papal writers impute to him, he must have spoken quite otherwise: he must have used the short-cut argument, "You Gnostics are at once put out of court by not 'seeking the law at the mouth of' Eleutherus; he is the Divinely appointed exponent of Christian doctrine: hear him, and so you will hear Christ." Papalists have to explain why this typical Father of the second century took a different and less compendious method.


[1] Iren. iii. 3. 2.

[*] Note in handwriting: See Dr. Cole's use of this passage in Cardnell [?] History [?] of Conferences 8 [?], Oxford 1846, p. 66.

[2] Cf. i. 30. 6; ii. 21. 1; 28. 4, 5. Tertullian opposes principalitatem to posteritatem (De Praescr. Haer. 31).

[3] Principalitas = pre-eminence in Iren. iv. 38. 3. Mr. Rivington (who relies a good deal on sheer iteration) renders it "sovereignty" five times within four pages (pp. 32-34).

[4] The Latin translation, a little further on, renders ikanwtathn geafhn (Clement's Ep. to Cor.) by potentissimas litteras.

[5] Infallibility of the Church, p. 382: The Primitive Saints and the See of Rome, p. 40.

[6] Compare the ninth canon of the Antiochene council of 341, stating the fact that "all who have business from all sides (pantaxoqen) meet (suntrexein) in the metropolis." It is possible that they were actually borrowing from Irenaeus' Greek, then extant. Of such a "concursus" to Rome Duchesne says, "Au deuxieme siecle tout le christianisme y afflue." But he assumes too much when he attributes to the Roman Church at this period a "direction g,n,rale" (Origines du Culte Chr,tien, p. 15). The word undique must be noted; it is not ubique, and pantachothen in iii. 11. 8 refers to the idea of winds blowing from all quarters. Cp. S. Aug. Ep. 29. 10.

[7] This is significantly illustrated in the second chapter of the Vatican decree. The first words of the sentence are given with almost verbal exactness, down to "hoc est, eo qui sunt undique fideles:" then we read "ut in ea sede ... in unam corporis compagem coalescerent." W. G. Ward is quoted by his son as having written after the appearance of Pius IX.'s syllabus, "to which [the local Roman] Church, because of her potentior principalitas, all others are to look for doctrinal guidance" (W. G. Ward and the Catholic Revival, p. 248). Could he, one asks, have ever read the whole Irenaean sentence?

[8] Mr. Rivington - again (as his habit is) relying on Döllinger's early work - endeavours to support this gloss by St. Paul's use of en Xristw (p. 38). Such a parallelism does but exhibit a strange insensibility to the depth and richness of the Pauline idea. And in this same chapter of Irenaeus, we have "in every church," "in the church," "in the church which is at Smyrna," "in the churches," always with the simple meaning, "within" or "at."

[9] Orat. 42. 10. It is futile to evade the force of this expression by referring to other language of Gregory's, which dwells on what Constantinople had been in its Arian times, before the revival to which, as he modestly says, he had "contributed." Then, no doubt, it was a sad contrast to orthodox Rome; it had ceased to stand upright - as he strongly words it, en buqois ekeito ths apwleias (Carm. de Vit. 573, 575). But his short work there as missionary bishop had rehabilitated the Catholic forces, and secured the influence of a great political centre on the side of orthodoxy. The description of the Roman city, in the autographical poem just quoted (De Vit. 571) as thn proedron twn olwn does not go beyond precedency, and must be taken with the context in which new Rome is said to shine in the East, and old Rome in the West.