Church Fathers only discovered in the 18th century?

I am in a debate with an evangelical regarding the doctrine of the Real Presence, and have presented him with quotes from the Church Fathers I took from Stephen Ray’s book ‘Crossing the Tiber’. He responded by saying that the writings of the Church Fathers were discovered only recently (18th century) and that they may have been altered to support the Catholic position on matters of doctrine. He also questions them because (as far as he knows) they have not been referred to throughout the history of the Church. Finally, he says after Constatine, many documents from the early Church were burned, hence we cannot know for certain what the early Church practiced or believed about such things as the Eucharist, etc…

He seems to take the position that from our vantage point in the 20th century, we are better able to understand the meaning of scripture and can judge (soley by hermenutical analysis) what consitiutes correct doctrine; i.e. he more or less rejects the possibility of using the historical continuity of the Christian Tradition as a basis for holding various doctrinal positions to be true or false.

My question is, how reliable are the writings of the Church Fathers, and is there evidence that they have been referred to throughout the Church’s history? Thanks.

Dear J,

Your friend in terribly naive. Martin Luther was quite fond of St. Augustine who is a Church Father. For more information on the early Church Fathers check out this link:

%between%**Fathers of the Church
**
The existence and value of the early Church Fathers is indisputable and recognized by both Catholic and non-Catholic historians. If your friend is not afraid to go where the truth leads him, then he will take such information with an open mind. But as Cardinal Newman (the respected Anglican clergyman who embraced the Catholic Church in the 19th century) used to say: “To know history is to be Catholic.”

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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