Early Church Fathers: Not Catholic?


#1

It was recently suggested to me that 2nd and 3rd century Christians did not believe what present day Catholics believe.

To me I think this makes a degree of sense, but only in a very limited manner. That is they did not have all the information we do today and the theological developments that have been made since have helped guide us. However, I contend that their beliefs were most certainly “Catholic” in every aspect.

First, they did not have the full canon of Scripture, just some copies of the Jewish scriptures and some writings from Apostles and other authorities, some of dubious authorship or authenticity. So it was up to the early Christians to sift through these and determine authentic Christian teachings from Gnostics and others. Thus, these early Christians could not be described as “Bible Christians” as the canon of Scripture was not set until the later part of the 4th century.

Next, theology was still being worked out. It is during this time that a number of ideas were put forth and rejected. (I am carefully avoiding the word “heresy”.)

We see from early writings, like the Didache, which was an early Catechism, teachings that include everything the Catholic Church still teaches, without the subsequent theological developments, obviously. Early church fathers (ECF) have described their worship service which so closely resembles a Catholic Mass that it is clear that is where the Mass originated.

One other important point is that there have been significant theological developments. People such as St. (Pope) Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, have made immense contributions to Catholic (and, therefore Christian) understanding of doctrine. Obviously, these were not available to those in the 2nd and 3rd century.

The real question, I suppose, is what these early Christians believed a subset, a foundation, of modern Catholic doctrine (include the Assumption and Immaculate Conception of Mary), or were there divergences? And if there were divergences, how could these not be considered heresy?

Here is a link you can review to give us a little basis.
newadvent.org/cathen/06001a.htm#classification


#2

St Ignatius was very Catholic, as was the writer of the Didache (which may have been written as early as 50AD, but certainly very early). There does seem to have been a bit more divergence (Origen being quite different), though I guess it was just due to less infallible statements having been made, for example St Jerome held to a heretical Old Testament Canon til Rome made a statement.


#3

You are right about the development of doctrine and the Spirit leading the Church in truth. So obviously, we understand more as time passes. But I would ask your friend(s) to identify by name which “Christians” he is referring and go from there.


#4

If development is a fact of Christian history, and if we also agree that there is no new revelation, then it becomes a question of discerning who has the true developments and who has corruptions.

This is why councils can speak of “what has always” been believed, because what has always been believed has often been believed implicitly, not explicitly.

You are right to avoid calling mistakes heresy. If heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of truths of the faith, then it can only be heresy if one refuses the correction of the Church. Otherwise it is simply error. Where Christian freedom reigns, there is error, but not heresy. For instance, there is Christian freedom currently over whether Mary died or not prior to her assumption-- the Pope left it open in his encyclical. Suppose that you and I discuss the issue, and I decide that she did die, and you decide that she didn’t. If in 50 years another papal encyclical or conciliar document decides to dogmatize the issue in either direction, neither of us will be considered heretics.

We see from early writings, like the Didache, which was an early Catechism, teachings that include everything the Catholic Church still teaches, without the subsequent theological developments, obviously. Early church fathers (ECF) have described their worship service which so closely resembles a Catholic Mass that it is clear that is where the Mass originated.

All Catholics need to maintain is the seed which allows for the development. This is more plausible that Protestant claims which involve negation of doctrines which the early Church held (e.g., baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence, in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, etc.). Real development can never consist in negation.

One other important point is that there have been significant theological developments. People such as St. (Pope) Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, have made immense contributions to Catholic (and, therefore Christian) understanding of doctrine. Obviously, these were not available to those in the 2nd and 3rd century.

Indeed. The development of Christology, for instance, was a long process involving much ambiguity and even error. We didn’t get to Pope St. Leo’s Tome just from an obvious read of the New Testament text. It took years of development, esp. by Cyril, in order for such a document to be written.

The real question, I suppose, is what these early Christians believed a subset, a foundation, of modern Catholic doctrine (include the Assumption and Immaculate Conception of Mary), or were there divergences? And if there were divergences, how could these not be considered heresy?

As I said above, heresy involves a refusal to submit to revelation. Error is not necessarily heresy.

Since doctrinal development is not of a rigorously logical kind, it is only necessary that certain doctrines anticipate other doctrines. Because of this, I have no qualms in saying that the Immaculate Conception was anticipated in the Fathers, and is a valid development. The Assumption was explicitly mentioned in the Fathers. Some Fathers did question Mary’s sinlessness, but of course, other Fathers also tended towards subordinationism in the Trinity, and other problems. Things become clearer with the passage of time and the clarification of the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

-Rob


#5

That was why I started this thread. :slight_smile:

It was another poster here at CAF. He made this statement and I felt it was one worth discussing. In addition, I wanted others more versed in this particular point of history and development of doctrine to contribute.


#6

Let me address some of what you say because the Didache is a good starting place.
The Didache says the only reason to not baptize by immersion is if running water is not available. The first Christians baptized by immersion unless they did not have running water

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

The choices are:
running water
other water-which would be a tub I assume or something of the sort and the last choice is
pour water on their head

I also contend it was a MEAL. That is what Paul describes as well and this is what the Didache says

But after you are filled,

Now you can say this means “spiritually” filled but based upon Paul I say you have to be predisposed to believe that.

In the Didache, as the Catholic Encyclopedia itself admits, you chose your own bishops and deacons, the congregation decides. They are not appointed by a bishop.

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord

Is this the Lord’s prayer Catholics say?

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever…

Didache, which was an early Catechism, teachings that include everything the Catholic Church still teaches, without the subsequent theological developments, obviously

How do I debate that rpp? It still teaches everything that the Catholic church teaches…except it develops into something else? There IS no arguing with that I will admit. If you believe something different than what you used to believe but call it a development, that really makes it hard for me to say too much.


#7

Catholics pray the Lord’s Prayer as given to us in the Gospel of Matthew, in bold above. Notice the bit of puncuation after “(or, evil)”…a semi-colon which is diferentiating the following part from the actual Lord’s Prayer. It is called the doxology which you can look up to see the history and meaning of. Funny thing…The doxology is said after we pray the Lord’s Prayer in the Catholic Mass so it looks like the protestants are using more of what’s Catholic than they would care to admit.


#8

Thank you. Quite correct.

Mass after “deliver us from evil” and we have prayer intentions, then Catholics do certainly at Mass conclude by say "for the kingdom and the power and the glory are Your forever. Amen. Look at any Catholic missal.


#9

RPP,
Have you read “The Mass of the early Christians”?
It shows the development of the Mass, and how closely it resembles what we have today.
I personally think if the early church would resemble the Catholic Church of today, it would be more in the way it celebrated its worship, not in the level of it’s doctrine.

I think your church library might have it.
If not I can loan it to you.


#10

I don’t follow this. The Didache didn’t develop into something “else.” When our understanding of the faith develops it comes from exegesis, consistent Tradition, etc… The roots remain. They don’t turn into something completely different.


#11

Here is what we know about the Didache.
It says the church picks its own bishops and deacons. Remember any scholar will tell you the two terms are interchangeable. I do not know of anyone who disagrees with this. It changes, I do not think it is a development, from a local assembly picking their leaders to being appointed by an all powerful bishop. Obviously as a person with my beliefs the system of the Bible and the early church did not need developing…

Anyway… And in general, no scholar Catholic or Protestant argues that point. What Catholics will say is this development is okay because…any number of reasons.

Look at the other things in the Didache, we have baptism by immersion, we have a meal for the last supper. Now what many people, not effectively in my opinion, will admit is that we had an Agape meal AND then a liturgical Eucharist if you will. That is not what is described in the Bible and that is not what is described in the Didache as well.

We also do not see anything about veneration of images. The very first example of veneration of images that most people point to is a couple of verses in Martydom of Polycarp from the late 2nd century. But even that in my opinion reflects a group wanting to pay a deep respect to the remains of a martyr. There is absolutely nothing about what you will later see in terms of relics.

Also, no scholar denies, and even the Catholic encyclopedia admits, no one says a word about the Assumption until 200 years after the supposed fact. In fact, we have a bishop who admits we know nothing about what happened!

Although the Assumption was only recently defined as dogma, and in spite of a statement by Epiphanius of Salamis in AD 377 that no one knew of the eventual fate of Mary, stories of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 5th century. The Catholic church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), a narrative which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation.[3] Probably composed by the 4th century, this early Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the “Six Books” Dormition narratives. The earliest versions of this apocryphon are preserved by several Syriac manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the 4th century.[4]

So let me be perfectly clear, I believe that I can make a strong case for a church that:

baptized by immersion
did not have a belief in the assumption
chose its own local bishops and deacons
and ate a common meal
did not venerate images

In fact, we have several early Christians in Eusebius book on Christian history written in the 4th century which give specific examples of people opposed to images.


#12

And did they “prove” that early Christians believed exactly as Protestants? Which Protestant groups?

Did early Christianity look like Protestantism, with all of its conflicting denominations on every street corner?

Did the NT Church look like Protestantism?

Really, where are these guys going with these tactics?


#13

To may knowledge the doxology was added in Antioch.


#14

Scripture itself is not opposed to images. Isaiah propheces about sprinkling instead of immersion.

The Church also does not have an opinion as to whether or not Mary experienced death prior to her Assumption. The teaching is carefully worded, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul…” Wikipedia is ignorant to suggest that bishop’s comment is contrary to the teaching of the Assumption and is not a reliable source on the matter.

Plus, arguing for an early Church that does X simply because you can find a Christian who argued X is illogical. By that logic, you could prop up the Christians who debated against the Trinity. You could argue that the early Christian Church denied the Incarnation. But that would be a specious history. For so often the proper understanding is not determined until differing views arise. That’s why the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 takes place. Some believed circumcision was necessary, some didn’t. The Church settled the matter by it’s authority. But we would not argue today, “Hey, some people in early Christianity argued for circumcision, therefore I can make a strong argument that the early Church mandated circumcision.”

Don’t get hung up on exceptions (which often are not exceptions but quotes plucked out of context) from early Christians. When the universality or unanimous consent of Tradition is cited:
the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors
More.


#15

You cannot find an early Christian who advocates veneration of images. You can find those who argue against it.
Bottom line.
The assumption has no historical support for hundreds of years, never mentioned. Have you read the entire Ante-Nicene FAthers?


#16

But in essence we do choose our Bishops … it is not correct to say that catholics do not choose their own leadership …

First to become a Christian, you need to be instructed and accepted into a Christian community. Most Christians communities have a ritual by which these members are incorporated into the Church [In the Catholic Church we have the Sacraments of Initiation - Baptism, Confiration & Eucharist] … part of this process includes the assent of the community …

Once a person is a Christian, they may receive a vocational call, priest, deacon … They express this vocational call and the community assents to their preparation - which includes discernment, instruction, and examination … if found to be acceptable they are then received [on behalf of the community] by the Bishop … but this is with the consent of the community … The ordination rites formalize this for catholics … the laying on of hands from the time of Jesus to the present …through the ages …

Then from the priests, a Bsihop can be called but again this is essentially a calling, discernment, examination and consent …

No man becomes a Bishop b a military style coup …

Jesus selected the initial apostles and disciples, Peter and the successors began the porcess of apostolic succession [selection of the successors] by choosing Mathias “Let another his "Office" take”…quoting the OT]…note even here is was the leadership; on behalf of of the community …

Today, we have seminaries catholic and non-catholic], whose mission it is to train the church leadership … with requirements for advanced degrees like a Masters in Theology, etc …

Imagine St Clement saying a "Masters in “Whateology! What is that?” But rest assured, the early church had a method of instructing the presbyters, a process of discernment and a method of selecting … then as today that selection begins with the local community chruch … and has a process for each and every step along the way …


#17

I am not crazy about a point-for-point debate on this but if it helps, here goes…

From Protestant historian Philip Schaff
*The earliest pictures of the Madonna with the child are found in the Roman catacombs, and are traced in part by the Cavaliere de Rossi (Imagini Scelte, 1863) to the third and second centuries.*There is so much more regarding images in catacombs or other likenesses passed on from the time of the apostles. Basil said he received images of prophets and martyrs passed on from the apostles which he venerated. Dave Armstrong’s article on the matter. He and Schaff also address Epiphanius in this. Other Christian art from the 2nd century.

But nevertheless, the point is, so what if there was not clarity early on? If the matter was debatable, the Church can settle the matter, just like, as I already noted, they did in Acts 15.

If you need definitions and no objections within 300 years of the Resurrection, then you’d have to discard your Bible, because the Canon is unclear in the centuries following the Resurrection.

God is known for revealing in stages just like He did with the blind man in Mark 8:22-26.


#18

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

It could be that my eyesight is failing, but I don’t see the word immersion in that quote from the Didache. I see it as saying the only reason not to Baptise in running water is if running water is not available. I think it may be possible that you are reading in your own preconcieved ideas into the text.

Regards Doc


#19

And yet, if such a declaration were made, can it truly be said that it “has always been believed”? By some, yes, and perhaps by everyone after the declaration, but prior to that, some, and perhaps a great many, are in error. How can it be said that it’s always been believed or even that the RCC has always taught?

If the RCC has always taught this new dogma, then we should be able to see it now, should we not? So, right now, does the RCC teach for or against the death of Mary? It should be quite clear.


#20

The Church does not claim to have a time machine. Theological developments are just that, developments. What people knew or believed before a magisterial statement matters little if at all. What matters is what people do after they learn what the Magisterium says.

Finally, it is important to point out that the Catholic Church has never changed a doctrine, that is the Magisterium has never reversed itself. It has certainly clarified issues when certain controversies have arisen, but it has never over-ridden or proposed something contrary or contradictory to a previous teaching.

Thus the Church never “transformed into something different.”


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