I’ve been in weekly Sunday evening discussions with my Protestant girlfriend’s fundamentalist father. He’s definitely a fundy, but a rational man who I believe to be sincere. Since our last conversation, he has done some “research” on the Catholic Church, and he’s now more opposed to it than before. Before, he was mildly opposed–as far as he knew, we were Christians who “believed in some odd stuff.” I expected this, as push came to shove, and now my work has quadrupled.
I’ve surprised him on a number of issues, but he said that Catholic Church doctrine has changed over the years. I say that’s nonsense, and I asked him to provide examples. He didn’t or couldn’t, but he had obviously “researched” enough to say confidently that the early Church contradicted itself several times, as it did in later centuries.
So, my question is this: we who do apologetical work rely on numerous early Church writings, but is it possible that we are highly selective in what we chose to use? I’m not a historian (yet), so I take the Church’s word that the vast majority of the writings we use represent the bulk of Church history. Do we use representative works from this time period? What do we say when we have disputes among the Fathers? He also says that the early Church relied (solely) on an extant canon long before the Council of Hippo.
I’m on the verge of getting a good perspective on all of it, but I’m also beginning to suspect that our quick references, cheat sheats, and pop-apologetics books paint a MUCH simpler picture of the early Church than actually existed. I suspect that while the Church is still all the things it claims to be, it’s not as simple.