"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ecclesial Deism or Catholicism?


David Cloud provides an example of ecclesial deism when in "The Church Fathers, A Door To Rome," he writes:

"The fact is that the "early Fathers" were mostly heretics!"

At what point does one's own disagreement with the early Church Fathers become evidence against one's own position, rather than an indication that the early Church Fathers were "mostly heretics"? St. Justin Martyr, born around the time that the Apostle John died, describes a Catholic mass in the video below, explaining in his Apology that they had received their belief and practice from the Apostles. St. Justin's testimony counts far more than does the testimony of a contemporary twenty-first century figure, precisely because of St. Justin's closer proximity to the Apostles. So claiming that the early Fathers were "mostly heretics" is in that respect self-refuting. But it is forthright and correct in its recognition of the distinctively Catholic nature of the early Church Fathers.





6 comments:

Devin Rose said...

I had commented on his site after he posted that blog entry, and it showed up for about a day and then was removed entirely, and I think they closed down the comments.

I find it interesting that some Protestants and Protestant apologists I interact with claim the Fathers as their own, that is, claim that they are Protestant in their beliefs while others like Mr. Cloud declare them all to be "heretics" with false beliefs: Obviously both of these cannot be true.

George Weis said...

This is the very first thing from the Father's that I read. It hit me like a chair over my head. I was expecting to find support for "my Christianity" but instead faced something very different... specifically in respect to the Eucharist.

I inquired about this to my then pastor. I simply asked "What does he mean by this?" the answer i received was pure opinion and went something like "...Well, there is no way Justin being that early believed anything close to what the Catholic Church believed." It was a very brief email response. I thought it was plainly irresponsible. If there was a chance to "help me", that would have been a good moment to do so... but, what could have explained the clear text away? Throw all the other Father's on top of that, and it is hard to miss their point.

All Heretics? This is exactly the sentiment that many have... but it holds no water! Then, would they feel so cozy opening a book that God put together by the hands of even later Christians... who were following this same pattern?

Thanks for this post. I would like for someone to put together a motion picture of the Patristic era. That would be nice... but they have to do it justice, or I would rather them leave it alone.

In His Peace,
-g-

Marty Foord said...

Dear Bryan,

The comment you quote is not Protestant, and barely even Anabaptist. The reformers discovered how the early church fathers were so radically different from high and late medieval Catholicism (no powerful pope, no 7 sacraments, no works of satisfaction, no private penance, no Mariology etc.). The humanist movement started to produce editions of the early church fathers' works for all to see just how far the medieval church had moved.

Moreover, your interpretation of church history and Justin Martyr will not convince many serious historians of theology. This is because the Jews of the early church were wiped out very early (mostly in AD70) and hence the Jewish hermeneutic was lost.

Thus, the early church was predominantly made up of Gentiles with a Graeco-Roman mindset they imposed upon Scripture. Hence, Justins logos theology. The story of church history is the story of the church little-by-little coming to understand Scripture in great breakthroughs at Nicea, Constantinople etc.

Moreover, even many people at the time of the apostles embraced gratuitous error--just read Galatians, 1 Corinthians etc. 2 of the 7 churches in Rev. 2-3 had basically run into apostasy.

Closeness to the apostles doesn't guarantee truth. It's the apostolic word in the NT that is the deposit of truth which stands in judgement of all else.

Finally, I believe your thesis fails in that when on compares the theology of the early church fathers they see such variety. Why if they were supposedly so close to the apostles?

Every blessing,

Marty.

micah said...

Well, I'm a bit late to this, but Marty's comment certainly needs a reply. It's a prime example of what I have encountered myself - a Protestant appeal to the Church Fathers that both faults the RC Church for having doctrines not found in the Church Fathers and insists that being associated with the early church is no guarantee of correctness. If this isn't special pleading, I don't know what is.

Then there's the observation that the churches Paul wrote to "were already in danger of heresy," or some such. Assuming this is relevant to the question at hand, let's follow this thought to its logical conclusion. If the only true deposit of apostolic faith were found in the NT (which was not fully canonized until, oh, about the fourth century), it's pretty shocking that no one realized that until the sixteenth century. It would appear, then, that Paul's exhortations in his epistles all fell on deaf ears and no one carried on his apostolic teachings for more than a millenium even though they nominally carried around his letters as scripture. I guess the Holy Spirit must have fallen asleep on the job, huh? There's another group of people who have it that the true gospel almost immediately went defunct and wasn't "restored" until centuries and centuries and centuries later... they're called Mormons.

Specifically regarding the complaint that the full complement of RC doctrines wasn't found in the Early Fathers: well, they also had, presumably, no explicit Trinitarian formulation, no heresy-combating Christology, not to mention no fully canonized NT scripture itself... where does the right to special-pleading end, for the Protestant; to at once demand prooftexting from the Early Fathers as well as insist that "proximity to the Apostles is no guarantee"? The pretense of interest in historical continuity may as well be dropped and one just ignore any theology from earlier than the 16th century as superfluous.

Doctrine develops over time, as is accepted by any Christian who knows any church history, as witness the various Councils over the ages. In any case, it doesn't come conjured out of nowhere (at least, Catholic doctrine doesn't... Lutheran doctrine sure did, though). The so-called "Roman innovations" were doctrines which had already been fully operative notions for centuries and centuries previous... to insist that everything has to be written down first, before they get, well, written down (i.e., ratified in a Church council) is to say that doctrine cannot develop, there may as well not be a Church, and then we're left with pretending that the Bible fell directly out of the sky into our laps a few hundred years ago (i.e., the "evangelical" stance).

The Roman Catholic church is radically different from the early Church, you want to say? Yes, as different as an oak tree is from an acorn.

micah said...

Well, I'm a bit late to this, but Marty's comment certainly needs a reply. It's a prime example of what I have encountered myself - a Protestant appeal to the Church Fathers that both faults the RC Church for having doctrines not found in the Church Fathers and insists that being associated with the early church is no guarantee of correctness. If this isn't special pleading, I don't know what is.

Then there's the observation that the churches Paul wrote to "were already in danger of heresy," or some such. Assuming this is relevant to the question at hand, let's follow this thought to its logical conclusion. If the only true deposit of apostolic faith were found in the NT (which was not fully canonized until, oh, about the fourth century), it's pretty shocking that no one realized that until the sixteenth century. It would appear, then, that Paul's exhortations in his epistles all fell on deaf ears and no one carried on his apostolic teachings for more than a millenium even though they nominally carried around his letters as scripture. I guess the Holy Spirit must have fallen asleep on the job, huh? There's another group of people who have it that the true gospel almost immediately went defunct and wasn't "restored" until centuries and centuries and centuries later... they're called Mormons.

(continued)

micah said...

(continued)

Specifically regarding the complaint that the full complement of RC doctrines wasn't found in the Early Fathers: well, they also had, presumably, no explicit Trinitarian formulation, no heresy-combating Christology, not to mention no fully canonized NT scripture itself... where does the right to special-pleading end, for the Protestant; to at once demand prooftexting from the Early Fathers as well as insist that "proximity to the Apostles is no guarantee"? The pretense of interest in historical continuity may as well be dropped and one just ignore any theology from earlier than the 16th century as superfluous.

Doctrine develops over time, as is accepted by any Christian who knows any church history, as witness the various Councils over the ages. In any case, it doesn't come conjured out of nowhere (at least, Catholic doctrine doesn't... Lutheran doctrine sure did, though). The so-called "Roman innovations" were doctrines which had already been fully operative notions for centuries and centuries previous... to insist that everything has to be written down first, before they get, well, written down (i.e., ratified in a Church council) is to say that doctrine cannot develop, there may as well not be a Church, and then we're left with pretending that the Bible fell directly out of the sky into our laps a few hundred years ago (i.e., the "evangelical" stance).

The Roman Catholic church is radically different from the early Church, you want to say? Yes, as different as an oak tree is from an acorn.