• Sarah Raad


“Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered…” (Saint Irenaeus).

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I teach a lot of students, which means that I help a lot of people with their assessments and research. When you teach, plan and review a lot of assessments, you become very accustomed to referencing your work through the use of a bibliography. From an academic perspective, references are important because they allow the writer to acknowledge the origin of the ideas in their work. If a student uses someone’s idea without attributing the idea to them, it is the same as stealing that idea – and this is the worst form of academic misconduct and is considered as equally bad as cheating…

Recently, I was assisting a student with her studies in Theology. She referenced the Bible several times in her writing. Interestingly, the Bible is such a widely referenced text, that it does not need to be included in the reference list of an academic paper. Instead, the relevant sections of the Bible are referenced within the text (this is called an in-text citation) and there is no reference to the Bible in the bibliography at the end of the writing. In fact, the Bible is the only text that does NOT need to be referenced in the bibliography of academic writing because it is so widely recognised…

When I think of the Bible – and most particularly the New Testament – I most often imagine a finalised and formulated document handed down from God. Though I vaguely remember learning at school that the Books of the Bible were compiled during the centuries that followed the Resurrection of Christ, I never put very much thought into how such a formulation occurred before I read a little bit about it the other day…

Saint Irenaeus was born in modern day Turkey in the second century and later became Bishop of France. Saint Irenaeus was responsible for fixing the canon of the Bible, and most particularly of the New Testament. This means that Saint Irenaeus was responsible for working out which of the scriptural writings that Christians were relying on following the Resurrection of Christ should be included in the Bible. He is remembered for his logical arguments in relation to the inclusion of scripture in the canon of the Bible.

Early in the Church, when people mediated on the Church’s teachings, there was really no common ground. Scripture could be altered to suit the speaker’s perspective and without agreement on what should or should not be included in the Bible, heresies blossomed.

Heresies are basically just errors – things that people believe that are incorrect. And Saint Irenaeus said, “Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses elegantly, so that the unwary may be led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself.”

During the second century, there were several prominent heresies, which included Gnosticism, which argued that the world was irredeemably wicked, and the Valentinians, who believed that they possessed a secret tradition that had never been written down but passed from master to disciple. At this time, there was “common consent” about what should be included in Sacred Scripture, but it was not enough to eliminate such heresies, because each heretic could modify what they included from writings to suit their argument.

This is why Saint Irenaeus went through the texts and argued for and against their canonicity to determine reasons for their inclusion in the Bible. In fact, Irenaeus’s canon of Sacred Scripture is almost identical to the modern canon – though he excluded three of the short universal epistles.

Saint Irenaeus is considered the father of Biblical scholarship, through this work that he did in correcting errors through the process of faith and logic.

And it is important to identify errors…

Saint John Chrysostom said, “When the virtuous and humble man is corrected for a fault, he grieves for having committed it; the proud man on the other hand, on receiving correction, grieves also, but he grieves that his fault is detected; and on this account he is troubled, gives answers, and is angry with the person who corrects him.”

And so, as I reflect on the work of this ancient Saint – who I have never heard of before this day – it occurs to me that I should follow the example of Saint Irenaeus, to seek out the errors in my own life. For it is only in humbly accepting my own faults, that I could ever truly be sorry to God for all the terrible things that I do to offend Him…

For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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