Church Fathers: how reliable?


#1

I was listening to a recording of the show from a few days ago, and one of the callers posed an interesting situation. He said that anytime someone uses a church father writing to support the Catholic position, he could find different church fathers’ writings that could be used to refute it. I wasn’t completely satisfied with Mr. Akin’s response. He said that the only thing the fathers are unanimous on is baptismal regeneration and if the fathers didn’t have such differing opinions there would be no need councils and the like.

This unsettles me a little bit, because all the fathers’ writings I have read have come from Catholic sources and I wonder if I am getting “the whole picture” here. Since I don’t have the time or resources to research all the fathers’ writings, I ask the question: taken in entirety, what percentage of fathers’ writings support Catholic doctrine and what percentage are in disagreement, heretical, etc.? If an undecided mind could read all the writings from all the fathers, how likely is he to adopt the Catholic point of view? Are the fathers really a “slam dunk” for Catholic apologetics as I have been led to believe?

Thanks so much,
LT


#2

The ECF are not infallible.

What if you read the ECF, and discover that 70% support the Catholic position? Or 40%? What percentage would cause you to doubt Catholic teaching?


#3

I am completely secure whatever the number. I just want to know what I am dealing with when defending or inviting people to my faith. I want to be able to confidently discuss the fathers with them should it come to that, but not get caught off-guard by mistakingly thinking the fathers are an “ace” in my back pocket. Also, I think this may be teaching me that I have to study the fathers quite a bit more than I have since it is not so cut and dried.

LT


#4

He said that anytime someone uses a church father writing to support the Catholic position, he could find different church fathers’ writings that could be used to refute it.

Actually, since this is an unproven statement, the burden of proof is on the person who holds this position. I, for one, don’t think this is an accurate statement, and in any case should not be swallowed whole without substatiation.

I think Jimmy’s answer a good one. Did the ECF’s disagree on certain things? Of course they did. Is the value of citing them to show they were unanimous in their every articulation of the Faith? Was it necessary for them to do so? Not at all.

When Catholics cite the ECF’s it is usually in response to charges by anti-Catholics that some distinctive Catholic teaching was “invented” in the Middle Ages or so. Citing the ECF’s primarily shows that this or that Catholic teaching has been present all along from the very beginning, and that then it had not been denounced as heresy (as modern day anti-Catholics would characterize those Catholic teachings). And in the Early Church, you can be sure that if these ECF’s would have taught heresy, we would have records of protests from orthodox Catholics.


#5

That’s an excellent answer, Fidelis. Thank you!:thumbsup:

LT


#6

This is true.

I wasn’t completely satisfied with Mr. Akin’s response. He said that the only thing the fathers are unanimous on is baptismal regeneration and if the fathers didn’t have such differing opinions there would be no need councils and the like.

Yes.

The only thing I could find that the early fathers were possibly unanimous on is baptismal regeneration.

Everything else is basically a mess of contradicition and personal positions.

This unsettles me a little bit, because all the fathers’ writings I have read have come from Catholic sources and I wonder if I am getting “the whole picture” here.

I have not from Catholic apologetics materials.

They usually do not offer the differing materials because they do not make particular arguments stronger, but weaker.

This has been my experience as both a Catholic and Non.

Since I don’t have the time or resources to research all the fathers’ writings, I ask the question: taken in entirety, what percentage of fathers’ writings support Catholic doctrine and what percentage are in disagreement, heretical, etc.?

Ohhhh. That’s a hard one.

I have never seen any percentages, but they are quite large, IMO.

If an undecided mind could read all the writings from all the fathers, how likely is he to adopt the Catholic point of view?

Not very, IMO.

Almost not at all, really.

Are the fathers really a “slam dunk” for Catholic apologetics as I have been led to believe?

No, and this has been one of my greatest disappointments with the RCC.

There are fewer things that convince me of the error of many of the RCC’s claims than the overall testimony of the early fathers.

If the truth of this reality had been presented to me from Catholics beforehand, I would personally be more sympathetic to RC claims.


#7

good thread! to reinforce my faith in the true church, i look again to Matthew 16:18. then i realize, satan was there just as he was here today, and of course would stop at nothing to destroy the church then as he does now. which means, there were dissenters, schizmatics, other writings (gospels/early writings/etc.). the good thing is the church was there to guide us then as they do now. the rest i guess is faith. (with enough logic to keep me satisfied, too.)


#8

Hello Travis!

Blessings to you and your family! I have to agree that we catholics tend to appropriate the writings (Please notice I did not called them teachings... two different things) of the early fathers that prove our dogmas, and ignore the ones the do not conform to church teaching. Is this wrong? On a first glance it seems like we are being selective for our own convenience, however, this would be true if these writings came to us from modern times in theologians. 

When reading the Church Fathers we should keep the historical and theological context in mind. In the early years of the church there was much theological investigation, ideas were bounced around, analyzed and repudiated, as time passed the Holy Spirit guided the church to take what was true and repudiate what was wrong. This is why you should only use the fathers to say "You see this dogma was not created yesterday... the Church fathers where thinking about this 2000 years ago"  IMHO this is the correct way of using them for your arguments.

In His love…

A Catholic Deacon


#9

This pretty much exemplifies what I pointed out in my post (#4) — that non-Catholics make blanket claims like this all day, but I’ve never seen any credible or convincing arguments to support it.

In these Forums, especially, they usually trot out one or two ECF quotations they think are especially damning, but are invariably reduced to back-pedaling or silence when someone calls them on it by re-producing the quote in it’s immediate context, or compared with other statements by that same ECF which provides the necessary balance.

Again, in any unproven statement, especially in important matters, the burden of proof is on the person who holds this position. It should never be unquestionally accepted without verifiable substantiation – provided by he who makes the challenge. :slight_smile:


#10

I feel that with the Church fathers, when it comes to not having a unanimous position on a doctrine that the Catholic Church holds, it is not that Catholics just pick and choose which fathers to listen to willy nilly.

Rather it is Sacred Tradition which was passed on down which points to which position of the fathers we listen to.

A parallel could be the at the start of the American fight for independence from England, we can see writings of our founding fathers sometimes view the opinion that we should not be independent of England.

One of George Washington’s personal letters was used as propaganda by the British government against him during the war when he shared some feelings against independence.

But as Americans, by our tradition, we know this position to be false, because what has been handed down to us is the view that the founding fathers wanted to be independent of England.

The same is true of the Catholic Church and the fathers, yes, there are some fathers who wrote things that seem to contradict Church doctrine, but it is by the Sacred Oral Tradition, that these writings and beliefs are not accepted, and only the writings which seem to match the Catholic teachings are the ECF’s writings which the Church will point to.

Yes the Fathers are reliable, but they are not infallible. But the Church is infallible in its teaching, so we know that when it points to the fathers to support these infallible teachings, that these fathers were correct in their position.


#11

IMHO: The things that were practiced and believed by the Early Church Fathers, that have stood the test of time and are still believed and practiced today most be considered to have merit.
II Timothy 4:3-4
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths."


closed #12

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