Santo Irineu e o Primado Romano

Estudos Patrísticos


Perhaps the most used and most important passage in Irenaeus is the locus on the importance of the Roman Church as a criterion of apostolic tradition. And perhaps no other text of this great apologist has received such varied interpretations. Almost all the variations appeared after Luther's rebellion from the Roman Church and his consequent rejection of the Roman primacy. Especially within the last century has much been written on this classic text. Even within the last few years new opinions have been advanced on some parts of the passage. It seems timely, therefore, to make a complete study of the passage and to evaluate all the arguments anew. For convenient reference and further study a list of pertinent works follows (some unfortunately not available to the present writer).

 The original Greek of this passage (Adversus haereses, III, 3, 2) is not extant. We are dependent solely on the ancient Latin version, which reads:

Ad hanc enim Ecclesiam, propter potentiorem principalitàtern, necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, hoc est, eos qui sunt undique fidèles, in qua semper ab his qui sunt undique conservata est ea quae est ab Apostolis tradition.[1]

To get a firsthand view of this passage in its context, we give here the pertinent parts of chapter 3, nn. 1-3, italicizing the passage under consideration.

1. All, therefore, who wish to see the Truth, can view in every Church the tradition of the Apostles which has been manifested in the whole world. Besides, we are able to list the bishops who were appointed in the Churches by the Apostles, and their lines of successors even to ourselves. These neither taught nor knew of anything like what the heretics rave about....

2. Since, however, in a volume of this kind it would be very long to count up the lines of succession of all the Churches, we point out the tradition, received from the Apostles, as well as the faith preached to men, which has come down even to us through the lines of succession of the bishops, namely, that of the chief and most ancient Church, known to all, which was founded and built up at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul. In this way we put to confusion all those who in any way whatever, either because of an evil self-complacency, or of vainglory, or of blindness and evil-mindedness, gather in unauthorized assemblies. The reason is this: with this Church it is necessary that every Church, that is, the faithful who are everywhere, should be in agreement, because of her greater sovereignty; in which the apostolic tradition has always been safeguarded by those who are everywhere.

3. The blessed Apostles, therefore, having founded and built up the Church, handed over to Linus the bishopric for administrating the Church.... And this is the fullest proof that there is one and the same life-giving faith, which has been safeguarded in the Church from the Apostles till now and has been handed down in truth.

We shall discuss the reading in the course of the article. Nearly every phrase, and every word, in this passage has received varied interpretations. Since, therefore, so many combinations are possible, it is difficult to group the authors according to definite opinions in respect to the whole passage. One could, however, make two main groups: the one granting the Roman Church a primacy of moral power, of sovereignty, the other denying her this and granting her a primacy of honor only. The opinions on all the other phrases and words somehow converge on these two interpretations. It seemed more advisable, however, to treat the whole matter by studying each word or group of words separately, but not necessarily in the order in which they occur in the passage.

Interpreters have at times picked one word or expression of this text as the key to the interpretation: some have taken principalitas, some con-venire, some potentiorem. As we proceed it should become evident that potentiorem is fatal to many an interpretation that has been advanced. It is, I believe, the key word for the interpretation, though, of course, principalitas is the most important word.