This, of course, presupposes that the bishops who are responsible for the rule of faith and its summary, the creed, have the gift of truth. Why do they have it? Because they are the successors of the apostles. Here you have the clear expression of the episcopalian doctrine of apostolic succession.
The apostolic succession is most visible in the Roman church, which according to the anti-Gnostic Fathers, to Irenaeus and Tertullian, is founded by Peter and Paul.
Irenaeus says about this church: “To this church all nations must come, because of its greater principality, the church in which the Apostolic tradition has been always preserved.” Now please imagine: This is not a statement of the early 1870’s but of the third century.
The unity of the Church everywhere, is based on the tradition of the baptismal creed, which is guaranteed by the apostolic succession. Therefore, Irenaeus demands obedience to the presbyters of whom he says they “have the succession from the Apostles. ” In this way the episcopate became the dogmatic guarantee of the saving truth.
So we have the Bible, the tradition, the rule of faith, the creed, the bishops: they all together are a system of guarantees, a very impressive system created in the fight against the Gnostics. And what we can be astonished about is how early all this happened.
Now against this a reaction took place. I want to deal with this before I go on with an elaboration of the doctrines of the anti-Gnostic Fathers. It was a reaction of the Spirit against the order. This reaction was represented by a man called MONTANUS, and his group the Montanists. This reaction was very serious, so much so that one of the two greatest anti-Gnostic theologians, Tertullian, himself became a Montanist. And it is important for us because Montanistic reactions against the ecclesiastical fixation of Christianity go on through all of Church history So the fact that this group was not very successful historically doesn’t mean that it was not very important from the point of view of Christian theology.