Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus is often quoted arguing for the fourfold gospel on the basis of things like the four wind and four pillars of the earth. For those that would like to see an expanded canon the ridiculousness of such an assertion is quickly highlighted. What is most unfair about this maneuver is that it gives much attention to a secondary argument rather than the primary one (the icing rather than the cake, per se). Immediately prior to these arguments the great Bishop begins by noting something altogether different: the principles of the Gospel. It is this shared “canon of faith” that distinguishes genuine gospels from false gospels. Likewise, it is that which holds the four together that demands that no one gospel be elevated above the other three. Even the heretics use favorite gospels to prove their errors yet Irenaeus contends that this canon of faith can be found in each gospel. Let me quote him now:

These, then, are the principles of the gospel. They declare one God, the maker of the universe, who was proclaimed by the Prophets, and who through Moses established the dispensation of the Law, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and besides him they know no other God, nor any other Father. So firmly established is this position in the Gospels that the heretics themselves bear witness to them, and starting from them each one of them tries to establish his teaching. So the Ebionites, who use only the Gospel According to Matthew, are show by that very document not to have right views about the Lord. Marcion cut up that According to Luke, yet is clearly, by the passage he still keeps, shown to be a blasphemer of the one existing God. Those who separate Jesus from Christ, and say that Christ remained impassible while Jesus suffered, and try to bring forward the Gospel According to Mark, can be corrected out of that, if they will read it with a love for the truth. The followers of Valentinus, who make great use of that According to John to demonstrate their conjunctions, can be demonstrated from them to be wholly mistaken….Since even out opponents bear witness to us and make use of these, our demonstration based on them is firm and true.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresis, Book III, Chapter XI quoted in Cyril C. Richardson, ed., Early Church Fathers, 381-382.