Heretical Church Fathers?


#1

I have recently read a number of books on the Church Fathers. In reading these books I was somewhat startled to discover that many of our earliest Church Fathers had heretical beliefs, or in their writings were influenced by Gnostics and other heretics. For example, in the introduction to the Penguin Classics book, Early Christian Writings, the editor describes how the writings of Ignatius of Antioch have a slight influence from Gnosticism. Another book I read mentions that Origen propounded two heretical notions: a kind of universal salvation, and the idea of pre-existence before birth. He also castrated himself, which was during his time (and still is) considered a great sin. Clement of Alexandria is charged in one book I read for becoming too Gnostic in his works. Eusebius of Caesura was a devout churchman; but he fell in with the Arians, and he claimed that the Arian belief was misunderstood by others. Oh, not to forget Tertullian. He went over to Montanism.

Anyhow, it just seems odd to me that many of the Church Fathers expressed heretical beliefs. How do we know that thoughts expressed by these Fathers but rejected by later Fathers are indeed untrue? In other words, how can we trust the judgment of later Fathers over that of previous ones? (I would imagine it has to do with the authority of the Church.) If Church Fathers in the past were able to err, is it possible that we today might hold heretical beliefs passed down to us by some of our esteemed bishops?


#2

Madaglan,

I’ve wondered similar things too. What little I can say would be as follows:

  1. Some Church Fathers did not mind pointing out wrong beliefs of other Fathers. For instance, Jerome talks negatively about Tertullian, telling Helvidius that “he’s (Tertullian) no longer in the Church.” That’s in Jerome’s defense of the Perpetual Virgin of Mary Against Helvidius. Helvidius was claiming Tertullian as a supporter of Mary having other “biological” children.

  2. Watch out!! Some heretical groups latch onto something a Father said, when they have no business doing such a thing. For example, the Donatists claimed Cyprian as a forerunner of their belief that if a person was baptized by a sinful/heretical priest, then the baptism wasn’t valid. But Augustine goes to great lengths to show that Cyprian really didn’t teach what the Donatists taught, and when it appears that he’s saying what they claim he is, it’s not in a spirit of schism and not to the extent that they take it.

Ok, somebody could say more, but basically there are Fathers who depart from the faith on points. Some minor, some major. What should you expect? 800 years of great theologians that never err in anything they write/teach/believe/do?

The litmus test? Well, others will propose what the “standard” is. I’m Reformed, so I’ll just say that it’s “the proper understanding of the Christian faith” that is the litmus test for Othordoxy.


#3

[quote=Reformed Rob]Madaglan,

I’ve wondered similar things too. What little I can say would be as follows:

  1. Some Church Fathers did not mind pointing out wrong beliefs of other Fathers. For instance, Jerome talks negatively about Tertullian, telling Helvidius that “he’s (Tertullian) no longer in the Church.” That’s in Jerome’s defense of the Perpetual Virgin of Mary Against Helvidius. Helvidius was claiming Tertullian as a supporter of Mary having other “biological” children.

  2. Watch out!! Some heretical groups latch onto something a Father said, when they have no business doing such a thing. For example, the Donatists claimed Cyprian as a forerunner of their belief that if a person was baptized by a sinful/heretical priest, then the baptism wasn’t valid. But Augustine goes to great lengths to show that Cyprian really didn’t teach what the Donatists taught, and when it appears that he’s saying what they claim he is, it’s not in a spirit of schism and not to the extent that they take it.

Ok, somebody could say more, but basically there are Fathers who depart from the faith on points. Some minor, some major. What should you expect? 800 years of great theologians that never err in anything they write/teach/believe/do?

The litmus test? Well, others will propose what the “standard” is. I’m Reformed, so I’ll just say that it’s “the proper understanding of the Christian faith” that is the litmus test for Othordoxy.
[/quote]

Rob: Or whatever the Succesor to Saint Peter says the proper understanding of the faith is. http://forums.catholic.com/images/icons/icon10.gif A blessed and holy Advent to you, Reformed!


#4

Justin and Origen also believed that Christ was ontologically subordinate to the father. In other words, he was God, just less powerful than the father. They would have both been condemened as heritics later in Church history.

As well, while we are at it, most of the Church believed that the atonement was a price paid to Satan rather than God the Father before Anselm. It was a major turning point in the Church’s soteriology.

But you really can’t expect them to have gotten it all right from the beginning. You must remember that most of the Church Fathers were constantly on the run and dealing with issues from their people. In other words, they were involved in pastoring the church, not developing doctrine. It was only when the Christianity was legalized in 312 that the Church could come out of their hinding places and discuss doctrine eccumenically.

Michael


#5

Originally Quoted by michaelp:

As well, while we are at it, most of the Church believed that the atonement was a price paid to Satan rather than God the Father before Anselm. It was a major turning point in the Church’s soteriology.

Interesting. I’ve never really heard that before. Could someone please expatiate on this?


#6

[quote=Madaglan]I have recently read a number of books on the Church Fathers. In reading these books I was somewhat startled to discover that many of our earliest Church Fathers had heretical beliefs, or in their writings were influenced by Gnostics and other heretics. For example, in the introduction to the Penguin Classics book, Early Christian Writings, the editor describes how the writings of Ignatius of Antioch have a slight influence from Gnosticism. Another book I read mentions that Origen propounded two heretical notions: a kind of universal salvation, and the idea of pre-existence before birth. He also castrated himself, which was during his time (and still is) considered a great sin. Clement of Alexandria is charged in one book I read for becoming too Gnostic in his works. Eusebius of Caesura was a devout churchman; but he fell in with the Arians, and he claimed that the Arian belief was misunderstood by others. Oh, not to forget Tertullian. He went over to Montanism.

Anyhow, it just seems odd to me that many of the Church Fathers expressed heretical beliefs. How do we know that thoughts expressed by these Fathers but rejected by later Fathers are indeed untrue? In other words, how can we trust the judgment of later Fathers over that of previous ones? (I would imagine it has to do with the authority of the Church.) If Church Fathers in the past were able to err, is it possible that we today might hold heretical beliefs passed down to us by some of our esteemed bishops?
[/quote]

Some of the guys you mentioned are not church fathers rather early christian writers note that Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen are not Saints nor are they considered church fathers Tertullian died a heretic and even some of his writings as a Catholic are not in line with catholic teaching while Clement of Alexandria and Origen died Catholics in good standing their school in Alexandria was known for crossing the boundaries of what would be orthodox Christianity. These men are not Church Fathers in fact Origen’s writings and Tertullian were seldom referred to until the last 100 years with resurgance of patristics found these men as useful witnesses although not orthodox examples.

Saint Ignatius was an early church father whose ideas would be considered Orthodox although not as far developed by today’s standards he deserved the title saint by his martydom and orthodoxy.The gnostics used Saint Johns writings to prove gnosticism that alone doesn’t make a church father in error the gnostics picked and choosed some church fahters out of context and parts of the Bible most prominantly the Gospel of John to support their ideas how a catholic interpreted Saint John and Saint Ignatius were very differnent and had no bearing on their acceptance in the church.
Considering they came from all parts of the Roman Empire spoke diifernet languages and has differnt cultures and backgrounds the unity they did display while running an underground church without having a church council was rather extraordinary there are a mere handful that failed sainthood and had heretical doctrine most agreed with each other on almost all the issues most error were not decided upon as domatic error when some church fathers pontificated theories that might have been slightly askew.
None of the church fathers denied dogma that was already accepted by the universal church.
Eusebius is likewise not a church father he is probably the church’s preeminant church historian given this responsiblity by Constantine he was also not a saint. He was a symphatizer of Arius the heretic but when push came to shove Eusebius chose to remain with the church and not join the Arian Heresy.
It is very importatn to designate who was a Doctor of the church and who was a saint. Orthodoxy of the highest degree can be found in their works although they themselves are not infalliable and can contain error but their works on whole are a lot more orthodox than other Christian writers who left the church like Tertullians or those who died not being saints probably because of the doctrinal controversy they espoused thus the work of Clement of Alexandria and Origien are to be taken on a lower level of acceptance and with desrciminate eye than the works of Saint Augustine whose works were universally accepted in the swestern church. And remain influential to this day. Some things Origen said were grossly hereetical and known as Origenism and condemend by the Universal church.
It is remarkable to me that when protestanst debate fine points of disagreement they point to the early christian writers not known as church fathers such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen etc heck even we would admit their catholicism woudldn’t match our todays. Its important to desginate which writers were really the church fathers and who were not.


#7

Originally Quoted by Maccabees:

It is remarkable to me that when protestanst debate fine points of disagreement they point to the early christian writers not known as church fathers such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen etc heck even we would admit their catholicism woudldn’t match our todays. Its important to desginate which writers were really the church fathers and who were not.

Ok, I think this poses a problem I have. Many of these early Christian writers were also high up in the Church; and in these high positions, they instruted the faith to a large number of catechumens. This would mean that the catechumens under them would learn Catholicism with all the details then considered Catholic but later, heretical. Essentially the problem I foresee is that Catholicism may not be so much an unchanging and naturally developing faith as it is a doctrinal revision over time. In other words, it may be that Catholicism follows a dialetic history that redefines what is Catholic and what is heresy. Dialectic thought implies that society starts with a certain view or situation (called the “thesis”), is confronted with a new view or situation that opposes all or part of the “thesis” (called the “antithesis”), and that as a result of the combination of the thesis and the antithesis, society now becomes a “synthesis.” The synthesis then becomes a new “thesis” and the process repeats itself indefinitiely. With each additional antithesis the new thesis exponentially becomes more distant in content from the original thesis.

An hypothetical example of how dialectic thought might apply to the history of the Church. A bishop of the third century sets forth the Catholic faith in writing. The views set forth in that writing are considered completely Catholic by all his Christian contemporaries. In the fourth century a bishop revisits the work of the third century bishop. “Oh my!” screams the bishop. “Parts in this book are contrary to [my understanding of] the Catholic faith!” So, the fourth century bishop declares certain views of the third century bishop as heretical. To make sure that people know that the views of the previous bishop are wrong, the fourth century bishop writes a new catechismal work. The work is hailed by all the bishops of his time as an error-free presentation of the Catholic faith. Three centuries later, a seventh century bishop leafs through the work of the fourth century bishop. “The horror! The horror!” quavers the bishop. “There be mighty heresy in this work!” And so this seventh century bishop writes his own catechism to correct certain errors of the one previous. In the end, the writings of the third century bishop (considered by contemporaries as 100% Catholic) are now considered by the seventh century bishop and then by his contemporaries as only 70% Catholic. (And, of course, it becomes the duty of the present generation to fill in the 30% with clarifications of what constitutes the real Catholic faith and where the previous bishops supposedly went wrong.) In short, the Catholicism of the third century, while very much similiar to that of the seventh century, is still significantly different. It is important, too, since it would mean that some of the earlier writings, once considered completely Catholic, are now considered rank heresy. This is just a model, but I hope it shows some inherent dangers in labeling what is Catholic and what is heretical. If the dialectic process does occur, it is likely a lot more complicated.

The question we must ask: Are the practices of the Catholic Church today a natural, positive and gradual development; or, are they the result of dialectic forces which redefine what is Catholic and what is heretical?


#8

It should also be noted that many of these Fathers wrote prior to the first Ecumenical Council. They had the advantage of being very close to the original Deposit of Faith…but, individuals can not infallibly interpret that Deposit, and thus before certain doctrines are defined by pope or council, there are bound to be theologians and bishops who disagree on one point or another. Even today, bishops and theologians may vary on certain matters…those matters that have not yet been defined by the Church. As history progresses, more and more doctrines are solemnly defined and expanded upon.

(Of course there are theologians and bishops who debate already established points of the Faith, but in such cases, we are dealing with formal heretics and/or schismatics—or possibly sheer ignorance of the correct teaching).


#9

[quote=twf]It should also be noted that many of these Fathers wrote prior to the first Ecumenical Council. They had the advantage of being very close to the original Deposit of Faith…but, individuals can not infallibly interpret that Deposit, and thus before certain doctrines are defined by pope or council, there are bound to be theologians and bishops who disagree on one point or another. Even today, bishops and theologians may vary on certain matters…those matters that have not yet been defined by the Church. As history progresses, more and more doctrines are solemnly defined and expanded upon.

(Of course there are theologians and bishops who debate already established points of the Faith, but in such cases, we are dealing with formal heretics and/or schismatics—or possibly sheer ignorance of the correct teaching).
[/quote]

yeah but according to the RC there were popes then and they were infallible. I am sure you knew that, so I have to ask, are you suggesting the popes didn’t have oversight of all churches? Or that they were not all in communication? I know that RC historians try to demonstrate to great lengths that the early church was one, holy, catholic, apostolic. This means one doctrine?

Jeff


#10

[quote=twf] They had the advantage of being very close to the original Deposit of Faith…but, individuals can not infallibly interpret that Deposit, and thus before certain doctrines are defined by pope or council, there are bound to be theologians and bishops who disagree on one point or another.

(Of course there are theologians and bishops who debate already established points of the Faith, but in such cases, we are dealing with formal heretics and/or schismatics—or possibly sheer ignorance of the correct teaching).
[/quote]

VERY well said sir! :thumbsup:


#11

[quote=Madaglan]Ok, I think this poses a problem I have. Many of these early Christian writers were also high up in the Church; and in these high positions, they instruted the faith to a large number of catechumens. This would mean that the catechumens under them would learn Catholicism with all the details then considered Catholic but later, heretical. Essentially the problem I foresee is that Catholicism may not be so much an unchanging and naturally developing faith as it is a doctrinal revision over time. In other words, it may be that Catholicism follows a dialetic history that redefines what is Catholic and what is heresy. Dialectic thought implies that society starts with a certain view or situation (called the “thesis”), is confronted with a new view or situation that opposes all or part of the “thesis” (called the “antithesis”), and that as a result of the combination of the thesis and the antithesis, society now becomes a “synthesis.” The synthesis then becomes a new “thesis” and the process repeats itself indefinitiely. With each additional antithesis the new thesis exponentially becomes more distant in content from the original thesis.

An hypothetical example of how dialectic thought might apply to the history of the Church. A bishop of the third century sets forth the Catholic faith in writing. The views set forth in that writing are considered completely Catholic by all his Christian contemporaries. In the fourth century a bishop revisits the work of the third century bishop. “Oh my!” screams the bishop. “Parts in this book are contrary to [my understanding of] the Catholic faith!” So, the fourth century bishop declares certain views of the third century bishop as heretical. To make sure that people know that the views of the previous bishop are wrong, the fourth century bishop writes a new catechismal work. The work is hailed by all the bishops of his time as an error-free presentation of the Catholic faith. Three centuries later, a seventh century bishop leafs through the work of the fourth century bishop. “The horror! The horror!” quavers the bishop. “There be mighty heresy in this work!” And so this seventh century bishop writes his own catechism to correct certain errors of the one previous. In the end, the writings of the third century bishop (considered by contemporaries as 100% Catholic) are now considered by the seventh century bishop and then by his contemporaries as only 70% Catholic. (And, of course, it becomes the duty of the present generation to fill in the 30% with clarifications of what constitutes the real Catholic faith and where the previous bishops supposedly went wrong.) In short, the Catholicism of the third century, while very much similiar to that of the seventh century, is still significantly different. It is important, too, since it would mean that some of the earlier writings, once considered completely Catholic, are now considered rank heresy. This is just a model, but I hope it shows some inherent dangers in labeling what is Catholic and what is heretical. If the dialectic process does occur, it is likely a lot more complicated.

The question we must ask: Are the practices of the Catholic Church today a natural, positive and gradual development; or, are they the result of dialectic forces which redefine what is Catholic and what is heretical?
[/quote]

I think you are making to much of a few people here first of all lets Cross Tertullian from your list he was a lay person who was a gifted writer and apologist but he was never a bishop or teacher in the church most of his heretical works were written while he was a montanists or on his way to being a montanists. He was reflecting personal opinion and not catholic church teaching during much of this time. His very early work often does reflect catholic teaching as he was a catholic then but you go to be careful on how use him and how you read him.
That leaves us with Clement of Alexandria, Origin, and Eusebius .
Clement of Alexandria is really not all that heterodox he uses some Platonic language that is difficult for the modern christian to understand thus many misinterpret him but he doesn’t explcitly deny orthodox teaching the reasons he was not a saint is that his teaching weren’t really that great he was not a great intellectual but he did hold a high position. The thing that stands out about him is that he is Origen’s teacher that turns out to be a curse for Clement of ALeandria as his pupil is controversial and brilliant thus the association give Clement of Alexandria a brilliance he does not deserve nor the teacher of heretic he also does not deserve.


#12

That leaves us to one guy out of the church that can rightly described as a key teacher in the church that had major controversy. That would be condemend later Origen.
Out of the hundreds of influential bishops and teachers in the church we have one guy that the church had this problem with.
Origen to his credit was brilliant in scripture interprettion and gave us the church the Hebrew Bible and fixed the discrepencies the church had in its Septugient (the church basically only had the Septugient up till Origen’s time he brought back the Hebrew) He was a loyal son of the church he followed the orthodox interpretative methods of the time. So what gives. Well were Origen goes wrong is that he really is the first father to go into unchartered waters and he developed the first synthesis of philosophical theology. The trouble starts with his ideas on the preexistence of the souls, in the end everybody gets saved, the trinity is recognizable but slightly askew from what we now recognize he was a pioneer and like many pioneers they make mistakes. His error was not in what had been handed down to him but rather this new innovation. The fact that the church caught his error in a way strengthens the fact that most people knew what was handed down and what was the latest fad in interpretation. It is not unlike the modern times. We can recognize modernist theologians and when they are espousing their own opinion and when they are teaching authentic Catholic tradition. In a way Origin was the modernist of his time. His works on scripture are so Orthodox that they are still used today his works Like"On First Principles" where he deals with his own opinions is where he goes heretical.
Eusebius is more historian and lap dog to Constantine than a teacher in the church. He is not considered an important teacher but an important record keeper and historian.
It’s human nature to concentrate on the problem theologians of their day and to ignore the hundreds of saints who had no such controversy but I encourage you to look at the big picture
The church is infallible through councils and the pope and not individuals like Arian who denied the trintiy. The blessing of the catholic church is that it can recognize heresy like Arianism and stop it case enclosed. Jesus promised the keys and the power of binding and loosing and the gates of hell will not prevail against Peter and the church in union with him. He did not promise this to individuals espousing their own opinion thus Arian, Origen, etc are not guaranteed Orthodoxy but the Popes have the power to condemns their error and they did.
Perhaps you should read the catechism on the subject the church and how it works. It works in community not one individual declares the canon of the Bible or dogma it does so together with the guide Jesus left the Pope.
Reflect on this the church as community is infallible the church’s individuals are just that individuals.
That is what protestants contend with their dogma is determined by an individual in the end and that causes division upon division there is only one cure the Pope and the church in community.


#13

[quote=Maccabees]It’s human nature to concentrate on the problem theologians of their day and to ignore the hundreds of saints who had no such controversy but I encourage you to look at the big picture

[/quote]

Since you seem really knowledgable about the early writers maybe you can help me out a little here. The popular early church fathers writings which are published today, are they the only thing? I mean like is tertullian, clement of alexandria and origen and so on the only available writers? Or are there writings the catholic church has from believers then, which have never been disclosed to public?

To restate my question, are these the only writings of the early church from 100 ad to 200 ad? Or are there more the RC has on file? allthingschrist.com/writings_nnt_byauthor.php

Jeff


#14

[quote=jphilapy]Since you seem really knowledgable about the early writers maybe you can help me out a little here. The popular early church fathers writings which are published today, are they the only thing? I mean like is tertullian, clement of alexandria and origen and so on the only available writers? Or are there writings the catholic church has from believers then, which have never been disclosed to public?

To restate my question, are these the only writings of the early church from 100 ad to 200 ad? Or are there more the RC has on file? allthingschrist.com/writings_nnt_byauthor.php

Jeff
[/quote]

I would check your list with these websites.
ccel.org/fathers2/
newadvent.org/fathers/

Your site seems to have many of the major ones.
There have been no new writings from the early church since the finding of the Didache in 1883. You are missing the Didache from your list you should add it.
Perhaps another Indiana Jones will find some more church fathers writings.
The Vatican has disclosed all her treasure of the church fathers to the world. You can go to the Vatican Library in Rome if you like many church fathers works are available to the public.
The Vatican had freedly made avaialble all its works of the church fathers and biblical manuscripts to all christians. They don’t hide the history of the church they preserve it. Without the church we have no church fahters and we have no Bible. Due to the ravages of time, war, and acts of God some documents have invariably been lost if something new comes up the church would share it with the world. I Believe the ORthodox have unveiled works of the church fathers to the world that they found in the 1800’s nothing new that I am aware of.
There are many who know more than I about the church fathers even on this board. I am just sharing what I know. Like I said the writers you mentioned really aren’t church fathers. A good rule of thumb is if they have the title saint before their name and their jumbled in the writings of the early christian writers they are official church fathers. Tertullian is no saint died a heretic thus no church father but an early christian writer. Some Popes are also church fathers some are not. Simply because some Popes didn’t write much that we know of many of them were on the run anyway. Later Popes like Gregory the Great wrote tons of valuable letters.
What is amazing about the fathers is their unity despite the period of 700 years and in about every known culture known to the world they agreed on a lot of things especially after the church was legalized. The church being underground the first 300 years regionalized some thought but it was still unified for the most part.


#15

Actually the didache is there.

Thanks for all the info.
Jeff


#16

[quote=jphilapy]Actually the didache is there.

Thanks for all the info.
Jeff
[/quote]

Sorry I missed it. Looks like a pretty solid list the only thing I can think of adding is some new testament apocrapha like the (Infant) Gospel of James.


#17

[quote=Maccabees]Sorry I missed it. Looks like a pretty solid list the only thing I can think of adding is some new testament apocrapha like the (Infant) Gospel of James.
[/quote]

You the second person that said that :slight_smile:


#18

jphilapy: No, I do believe that the Bishop of Rome held the primacy in the first, second, and third centuries. Clement and Victor certainly used it. My point was that doctrines are defined over time. Dogmas are defined very rarely. Those aspects of the Faith that have not yet been defined may be disagreed upon.

There are a couple of things to consider:

  1. The Bishop of Rome’s infallibility may not have been fully understood yet at that time (the development of doctrine)…though he was appealed to as the ‘final court’, if you will, in matters of faith and morals, as the ‘standard’ of orthodoxy and unity.
  2. At the time of these early Fathers, an Ecumenical Council had not yet been called. The Pope rarely defines new dogmas on his own. This is usually done by Council. Thus, many dogmas had not yet been defined. The Fathers relied upon what they had learned. They did not have official Church documents to consult. (At least, not to my knowledge).
  3. Communication was not what it is today. The Church was being PERSECUTED, for one thing.

The Fathers are Catholic. Plain and simple. They don’t agree on everything, but neither do modern Catholic bishops and theologians. The Faith that the Fathers profess, as a whole, however, is clearly the Catholic Faith, in ‘kernel’ form. Over the centuries, the Ecumenical Councils and the Popes have defined more and more…but in its essence, a unbiased reading of the Fathers will demonstrate that the Faith is the same. The Fathers believed in a sacramental economy of salvation. The Fathers believes in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and the sacrifice of the Mass (even the Diache refers to the “sacrifice”). The Fathers worshiped with liturgy. The Fathers believed that Christ’s Church was governed by bishops, who were the successors of the Apostles, who were assisted by presbyters and deacons…etc. etc.


#19

Madaglan http://forums.catholic.com/images/statusicon_cad/user_offline.gif vbmenu_register(“postmenu_355104”, true);
Senior Member

Your castigation of the entire Church seems to be true as long as you write in generalities.

To actually analyse your thoughts or you charges against the Church, you need to be specific. Tell us just what each man said. Thats the only way to make sence of what you have charged.:yup:
Sence you brought it up, it’s incumbant upon you to be specific.


#20

[quote=Exporter]Madaglan http://forums.catholic.com/images/statusicon_cad/user_offline.gif vbmenu_register(“postmenu_355104”, true);
Senior Member

Your castigation of the entire Church seems to be true as long as you write in generalities.

To actually analyse your thoughts or you charges against the Church, you need to be specific. Tell us just what each man said. Thats the only way to make sence of what you have charged.:yup:
Sence you brought it up, it’s incumbant upon you to be specific.
[/quote]

Exporter I don’t think Madaglan is making charges against the church. Madaglan is researching and has questions. exporter you keep making people sound like they are out to get catholics when they just sincerly inquiring.

Jeff


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