Rule of Faith

In a series of posts, Michael Bird pointed me toward a term with which I was unfamiliar: regula fidae [rule of faith]. So, I dug a little deeper. Here’s what I found.

Around the end of the second century, the church had scriptures that were understood to be inspired, but no canon [that is, no authoritative list of scriptures by which to measure faith claims].

Anyway, some people at the time were promoting some rather imaginative philosophical and religious ideas and backing them up with words from Christian scriptures. We don’t know too much about these folks, but we generally label their beliefs with the word “gnostic”. Gnosis is knowledge, and the gnostics had some fantastic ideas about how people can learn esoteric spiritual truths, and they supported their teaching with bits of scripture.

A Christian Bishop named Irenaeus wrote in opposition to the gnostics, saying that they really drew their ideas from non-Christian sources and misused scripture to justify their teachings.

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavor to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, VIII

Irenaeus said that it is as if the gnostics had torn to pieces a work of art depicting a king and then used the disassembled parts to create the image of something totally different.

Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skillful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skillful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, VIII

The key to seeing the parts in their proper place, Irenaeus said, was to have the big picture in view. The big picture – the framework into which all the pieces fit – is the rule (or measure or canon) of faith that the church has always preached.

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. Irenaeus, Against Heresies X

It sounds to me quite like the the summary of the faith that one finds in the Apostles Creed.

Now back to Michael Bird, who quotes Paul Blowers’ article, “The Regulae Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith”

My premise here is that at bottom, the Rule of Faith (which was always associated with Scripture itself) served the primitive Christian hope of articulating and authenticating a world-encompassing story or metanarrative of creation, incarnation, redemption, and consummation. I will argue that in the crucial ‘proto-canonical’ era in the history of Christianity, the Rule, being a narrative construction, set forth the basic ‘dramatic’ structure of a Christian vision of the world, posing as an hermeneutical frame of reference for the interpretation of Christian Scripture and experience, and educing the first principles of Christian theological discourse and of a doctrinal substantiation of Chrsitian faith. (Quoted at Euangelion, Paul Blowers on the Rule of Faith)

The narrative structure of creation – fall – redemption beginning with Abraham and moving through the patriarchs and Moses into the age of kings, prophets, priests and sages – culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – issuing in the birth of the church and the gift of the Spirit – ending in the resurrection of the just and the moral and physical transformation of all creation – this is the framework in which I interpret scripture. It is essentially the same framework put forth by Bishop Irenaeus over 1800 years ago.