During the 2nd century early church teachings were challenged by Gnosticism a religious movement similar to Christianity. Contrary to the Christian teachings that salvation is attained through faith in Jesus Christ; Gnostics taught that salvation was attained through access to secret knowledge. Similar to the Christian tradition Gnostics claimed that the secret knowledge was passed on from the Apostles. In addition, Gnostics taught that access to the secret knowledge was only available to those who read the Bible in a specific manner.
As a result, Christian leaders questioned the methods used by Gnostic writers for interpreting Scripture. The spread of Gnosticism prompted the church to develop a “traditional” method for interpreting certain scriptures. By implementing a “traditional” guide for interpreting Scripture Christian leaders could ensure that Scripture was interpreted based on the background of the history of the Christian Church. Furthermore, it would distinguish Christian tradition from Gnostic tradition. The guide for interpreting scripture became the “rule of faith”.
The Content and Purpose of the Rule
Consequently, Irenaeus, the first great Catholic theologian and Tertullian, the Father of Latin theology developed the idea of an authorized method for interpreting scripture. Both theologians defended the Christian faith and communicated doctrines they believed were essential to the “rule of faith.” Irenaeus defended the understanding of salvation and the role of tradition in his book entitled Against Heresies. In opposition to the secret traditions the heretics claimed to have received from the apostles, Irenaeus argued that,
the teachings of the apostles, which secure salvation for those who accept them, are made known through public teaching of the church. The apostolic teaching “in all its fullness” has been “deposited” – that is, made available and accessible through the church.”
Irenaeus further argued that, “the truth is to be found in the Catholic Church, the sole depository of the Apostle’s doctrine. Heresies are of recent formation, and cannot trace their origin to the Apostles”. According to Lanne, “Irenaeus established rules for discerning the authentic Christian message and insisted that throughout history the world has always had a single unique “rule of faith.”
Similarly, Tertullian defended the identity of one God of the Old and New Testaments in his activity throughout history. In his book entitled, On Prescription against Heretics Tertullian stated that, “The rule was taught by Christ and, raises no other questions than those heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.” He maintained that, “the apostles bore witness to faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea, established churches, and went out into the world proclaiming the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations.”
During the 5th century Christianity continued to be challenged by heretics. Vincent of...