Skip to comments.The Early Church Fathers
Posted on 01/27/2007 6:12:35 AM PST by NYer
The Early Church Fathers were the leaders and teachers of the early Church. They lived and wrote during the first eight centuries of Church history. Some of their writings were composed to instruct and / or to encourage the faithful. Other writings were composed to explain or defend the faith when it was attacked or questioned. The writings of the Early Fathers are widely available and studied. They are accepted by Catholic and non Catholic scholars alike. Thus they provide common ground in establishing the beliefs and practices of the early Church.
The earliest of the fathers are known as the Apostolic Fathers. Their writings come to us from the first two centuries of Church History. They were the immediate successors of the Apostles. Three of them were disciples of one or more of the Apostles. Clement of Rome was a disciple of the apostles Peter and Paul. Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were disciples of the Apostle John. Naturally we would expect that those who were taught directly by the Apostles would themselves believe and teach correctly.
Protestantism is based on the allegation that the Catholic Church became corrupt shortly after 312 AD. Thats when the emperor Constantine converted and made Christianity the state religion. It is alleged that pagan converts came into the Church bringing with them many of their pagan beliefs and practices. According to Protestant historians the pagan practices that were brought into the Church became the distinctive doctrines of Catholicism. Thus the Catholic Church was born and true Christianity was lost until the Reformation. But history tells us a different story.
Shortly after the death of the apostle John, his disciple, Ignatius of Antioch, referred to the Church as the Catholic Church. In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans he wrote: "Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church" (8:2 [A.D. 107]).
In reading the Early Fathers we see a Church with bishops in authority over priests and deacons. We see a church that baptized infants and believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We see a Church that believed in the primacy of Rome, the intercession of the saints in heaven and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Thus we are lead to the inescapable conclusion that the early Church was the Catholic Church.
As you can see, the writings of the Early Fathers are especially helpful in refuting the Protestant claim that many Catholic doctrines were invented in later years. Although they are wrong concerning the age of Catholic doctrines their reasoning is sound. If a teaching appears after the apostolic age without evidence of previous support it must be false. Curiously enough though, they abandon this line of reasoning when it comes to many of their own beliefs such as the doctrine of Scripture Alone (mid 1500s), The Rapture (late 1800s), the licitness of artificial contraception (1930) and many others.
It is important to note that some doctrines existed in a primitive form during the early years. These doctrines would develop over time. One example is the Doctrine of the Trinity. All of its elements were present at the beginning but it wasnt clearly defined the way it is today. It wasnt until later that it was fully understood. This would not make it a late teaching as all of the information was there from the beginning. Other doctrines were developed in this same way.
Also worthy of note is the fact that the Early Fathers occasionally disagreed on minor issues that were not yet settled by the Church. This does not present us with a problem as we do not claim that the Fathers were infallible. While they were not infallible they were unmistakably Catholic. They clearly illustrate the fact that the early Church had no resemblance to Protestantism.
John Henry Newman was one of the more famous converts to Catholicism. After studying the Early Fathers he wrote: "The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant" (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).
Christianity was started by Christ 2000 years ago and it has existed for 2000 years. It didnt go away for 1200 years and come back. Indeed that would have rendered Jesus words impotent. In Matthew 16:18 as He was establishing His Church Jesus gave us a guarantee. He said: "I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." If the Protestant hypothesis is correct, the gates of hell did some serious prevailing and Jesus Christ is a liar. But of course such is not the case.
I can't speak to why others do anything.
See, that's what I was looking for.
You sound like my kind of doctor. And I would be the kind of Catholic patient who would not scandalize you.
I deliberately left that out - because justification is not the site of major controversy. Let's ditch "sola fide," since as a label it's not particularly useful.
When Trent anathematized "faith alone,"in Canon 11 of Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, it anathametized a particular belief - that you could be saved solely by grace, without any works ever occurring. While that may be taught in some Protestant churches, it is not and never has been the Reformed faith. The Reformed Church has always taught that works are the inevitable result of true justification. See, for example, WCF Chp. 11, Section 2.
The anathametizations simply don't apply to the Reformed faith because the anathematized doctrines in the Council of Trent are either mischaracterizations or abuses of the Reformed faith.
"The battle is not amongst those who have good-faith differences about the authority of the Church, the Communion of the Saints, the Sacraments, and so forth. No, the real battle today is against secular post-modernists who want to break people of their faith, against a world that wants to distract us with its baubles, and against an errant heart that wants to buy into the lies of the world so I can do what I know I should hate.
My enemies are not other Christians. It's the world, the flesh and the devil."
Very well said. You are a credit to your upbringing!
God exists. Is that an uncontestable factual statement?
I disagree. Christianity hinges on faith in Christ.
Excellent point! The first two centuries of the Church are filled with martyrs who died for their belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Their belief came from oral transmission by the Apostles. There were no Bibles.
I just caught the fact that I interloped on this caucus thread, so I hope that didn't ruffle any feathers.
Absolutely not! Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant ... we are all seeking the Truth! We all recognize that Truth to be Christ. As I previously said, your comments are most welcome.
Never post before the second cup of coffee. I think that is in the Didache somewhere.
Lol ... according to my clock, it's now time to imbibe something more relaxing. And I already know that is to be found in Scripture :-)
For instance, if it were an "Atheist Caucus" and the article or a reply said that Buddhists believe God exists - and a Buddhist came on thread and said, hold on now that's not exactly right - then the thread would be open to his rebuttal.
I've been away from the thread for several hours and only just found your post. You quote the above:
John Henry Newman was one of the more famous converts to Catholicism. After studying the Early Fathers he wrote: "The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant" (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine)
The Essay fills an entire book. He is a well respected theologian from both the Protestant and Catholic 'confessions'. This was not a random thought but one that developed over many years of study. His conversion to the Catholic Church resulted in the loss of great prestige and many friends. One does not take such risks lightly.
This thread will be followed by a series of others, all of which quote the Early Church Fathers, with no commentary. I believe these threads should stand, as 'Catholic Caucus' threads.
tiki: "God exists. Is that an uncontestable factual statement?"
RM: "For instance, if it were an "Atheist Caucus" and the article or a reply said that Buddhists believe God exists - and a Buddhist came on thread and said, hold on now that's not exactly right - then the thread would be open to his rebuttal."
So then an Orthodox Christian poster, mindful of the Cappadocian Fathers, could butt in with "I believe in God, God does not "exist"." Correct? :)
If, under the guise of a "Proddie Caucus," a series penned by a prominent Protestant convert from Catholicism were posted would you and the rest of our RC FRiends protest? What if that series was at times less than complementary towards Catholic Doctrine?
In fact, I think it would be a great idea if each of the confessions were to begin a series to reveal their beliefs to the Lurkers: "Catholic beliefs on x [Catholic Caucus]".
As long as no other confession is mentioned, e.g. as a comparison, there is no reason the thread should opened for challenges or ridicule.
If an article chosen for a closed caucus thread has no reference to any other confession whatsoever, there is no reason the thread should be opened. Accidental references posted as replies can be removed.
Can we have an Orthodox/Latin caucus to discuss issues of particular interest and concern to us keeping in mind that the post itself wouldn't mention other current persuasions and thus the comments would of necessity likewise avoid such mention (well, if there are any Nestorians or Arians or such like still around we might offend them, but of course they could then come in)?
Yes, you can have a joint caucus; as long as no other confessions are mentioned, there should be no problem keeping the thread closed.
How does one talk about one's conversion then from Protestantism to the Catholic Faith without any reference to doctrine? How does one say "After much study, I was convinced the X-doctrine is in error and so I came to believe as the Church teaches." Would that then be seen as a polemic attack?
Indeed, once you mention another confession by name - and, especially once you testify as to what that confession teaches - then you are subject to a member of the confession objecting that your statement is false, incomplete, a strawman or whatever. It is better just to say what you believe now and why on a caucus thread.
I get your point ;-)
"I get your point ;-)"
I do love that line! Always guaranteed to get a response. Its nearly as provocative, yet true in a certain theological sense as +Athanasius' line "God became man so that men might become gods".
Both lines make much more sense in Greek than in English! :)
Seriously, Isn't there such a thing as a BAD Catholic or an excommunicated Catholic (or even a treacherous Catholic)?