Legitimacy of the Early Fathers


#1

Can anyone out there answer this question. I am working on the conversion of a member of the church of Christ. How can I use the writings of the Church Fathers to defend Catholicism and show it as right when they don’t believe in any authority other than scripture. The Fathers are very valuable sources I’m aware with regards to showing the ligitimacy of tradition and the canon of Scripture, but a Church of Christer will only tell you that the Fathers had obviously broken from the true church and that they can not be relied upon as good sources. How do I confront this?


#2

If he can write as well as Justin Martyr, or St Augustine or John Chrysostom etc, then he could challange the fathers understanding. Until then he’s just a nobody.


#3

Maybe you should ask him to show you what the “real” Church was teaching around the time of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyon (all in the second century). When it comes down to it, by saying that all of these Fathers had already broken from the Church he is claiming that there was some sort of mysterious hidden Church that made no perceptible impact on the world and left no teachings behind that anyone regarded as important enough to pass on (because no one can even tell it ever existed). A witness so strong it goes unnoticed - now that’s what I call a city on a hill, a light to the world, and salt of the earth.


#4

The pre-Nicene Fathers would be excellent sources of information to prove that Catholicism now is esentially the same as it was in the first few centuries. In fact the earlier the sources, the better, such as for instance St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was born within a few years of the Resurrection of Christ and may have known the Apostles personally, and St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who knew the Apostle John himself.

Ignatius and Polycarp truly represented what the Church taught in the first century, since they were indeed eyewitnesses of the eyewitnesses of the Lord. It is said that the essentials of the Catholic faith can be found, at least in outline form, in the writings of Ignatius.

Gerry :slight_smile:


#5

[quote=Andreas Hofer]Maybe you should ask him to show you what the “real” Church was teaching around the time of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyon (all in the second century). When it comes down to it, by saying that all of these Fathers had already broken from the Church he is claiming that there was some sort of mysterious hidden Church that made no perceptible impact on the world and left no teachings behind that anyone regarded as important enough to pass on (because no one can even tell it ever existed). A witness so strong it goes unnoticed - now that’s what I call a city on a hill, a light to the world, and salt of the earth.
[/quote]

What you say here is exactly what many protestant denominations believe. They say that a New Testament teaching church went underground and stayed there until the reformation. The problem with that, besides being unturue, and besides the fact that the New Testament Canon wasn’t closed at the time these claims are made, is there’s not a shread of evidence to support their claims.


#6

You can always throw out :eek:

“Do you believe the Gospel of Matthew goes back to the Apostle Matthew? If so, why?” or :eek:

“Why do you accept 2nd Peter as inspired Scripture?” or :eek:

“Can you give me the text of Scripture where Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are of one substance, nature, or essence, without referring to the Nicene Creed?” or :eek:

“If the Church of Christ did not disappear with the death of the apostles, can you name me a member of the Church of Christ (your church) in the 2nd century?” :eek:

When he names St. Ignatius, St. Justin, or St. Irenaeus, then you can nail him. :smiley: That probably won’t happen though.

Stuff like that. And you can go into a discussion of the development of the NT canon and the Trinity if you get that far. Unless he’s studied James White apologetics, then you have a more uphill battle, and must ask more nuanced questions. Like who was the first Reformed Baptist? :stuck_out_tongue:

Phil P


#7

Peace be with you!

[quote=beng]If he can write as well as Justin Martyr, or St Augustine or John Chrysostom etc, then he could challange the fathers understanding. Until then he’s just a nobody.
[/quote]

The Holy Spirit has written better than anyone of those you mentioned.

In Love,
Yaqubos†


#8

Peace be with you!

[quote=Andreas Hofer]Maybe you should ask him to show you what the “real” Church was teaching around the time of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyon (all in the second century). When it comes down to it, by saying that all of these Fathers had already broken from the Church he is claiming that there was some sort of mysterious hidden Church that made no perceptible impact on the world and left no teachings behind that anyone regarded as important enough to pass on (because no one can even tell it ever existed). A witness so strong it goes unnoticed - now that’s what I call a city on a hill, a light to the world, and salt of the earth.
[/quote]

When you talk about the Fathers, you make us think that those Fathers had understood all the doctrines of the Bible! Yet, many of those Fathers didn’t reach to conclusive answers about some important points in Christian Doctrine. For instance: did you read Justin Martyr about the Trinity? ( By the way: the word “Trinity” was not used by the most early Church Fathers ).

In Love,
Yaqubos†


#9

[quote=YAQUBOS]Peace be with you!

When you talk about the Fathers, you make us think that those Fathers had understood all the doctrines of the Bible! Yet, many of those Fathers didn’t reach to conclusive answers about some important points in Christian Doctrine. For instance: did you read Justin Martyr about the Trinity? ( By the way: the word “Trinity” was not used by the most early Church Fathers ).

In Love,
Yaqubos†
[/quote]

St. Ignatius understood about what the early Church taught much more than any of us since he is a contemporary of the Apostle John, or take the case of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St. John the evangelist himself. This is why we often look up to their wisdom. They actually knew what they talked about, what the** first century** Church believed, said, and practiced. What better evidence could there be than the words of such men and women who were blessed to have known the first disciples or lived amongst them, something none of us will ever again experience here on earth.

And speaking of the Bible, the canon of scripture was not even decided yet during the time of Ignatius, or St. Justin Martyr, and wouldn’t be until the time of St. Augustine in the late 4th century, more than two centuries after Justin’s time. Thus it would be inacurate to speak of the Fathers “not” understanding “all” of the Bible, since there was no “Bible” then to speak of.

Gerry :slight_smile:


#10

Peace be with you!

[quote=RobedWithLight]The pre-Nicene Fathers would be excellent sources of information to prove that Catholicism now is esentially the same as it was in the first few centuries.
[/quote]

The same? But I didn’t find many teachings of the Roman Church in the Fathers… Example: the Immaculate Conception and Purgatory…

[quote=RobedWithLight]In fact the earlier the sources, the better, such as for instance St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was born within a few years of the Resurrection of Christ and may have known the Apostles personally, and St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who knew the Apostle John himself.
[/quote]

I have an earlier source that is very corrupted! For instance, the APOSTLE John sent a letter to a Church, and then he writes:

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.
For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” ( 3 John 9-11 )

And heretical teachings were also in the Church. The Lord tells one of the Churches in the Revelation:

“'So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” ( Revelation 2:15-16 )

So in every age, the Lord makes war against the wrong teachings with the Sword of His mouth.

[quote=RobedWithLight]Ignatius and Polycarp truly represented what the Church taught in the first century, since they were indeed eyewitnesses of the eyewitnesses of the Lord. It is said that the essentials of the Catholic faith can be found, at least in outline form, in the writings of Ignatius.
[/quote]

Even Peter made mistakes concerning doctrine. Paul wrote by the Spirit:

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” ( Galatians 2:11 )

So:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” ( Galatians 1:8-9 )

In Love,
Yaqubos†


#11

Peace!

[quote=RobedWithLight]St. Ignatius understood about what the early Church taught much more than any of us since he is a contemporary of the Apostle John, or take the case of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St. John the evangelist himself. This is why we often look up to their wisdom. They actually knew what they talked about, what the** first century** Church believed, said, and practiced. What better evidence could there be than the words of such men and women who were blessed to have known the first disciples or lived amongst them, something none of us will ever again experience here on earth.
[/quote]

“This is why we often look up to their wisdom”: Right! But we don’t consider them infallible.

[quote=RobedWithLight]And speaking of the Bible, the canon of scripture was not even decided yet during the time of Ignatius, or St. Justin Martyr, and wouldn’t be until the time of St. Augustine in the late 4th century, more than two centuries after Justin’s time. Thus it would be inacurate to speak of the Fathers “not” understanding “all” of the Bible, since there was no “Bible” then to speak of.
[/quote]

  1. The Bible is not just the New Testament.
  2. The whole Bible was decided by God, but not OFFICIALLY declared by the Church. Just like God is Trinity even before the Church declared that!

In Love,
Yaqubos†


#12

[quote=YAQUBOS]Peace be with you!

The same? But I didn’t find many teachings of the Roman Church in the Fathers… Example: the Immaculate Conception and Purgatory…

I have an earlier source that is very corrupted! For instance, the APOSTLE John sent a letter to a Church, and then he writes:

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.
For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” ( 3 John 9-11 )

[/quote]

Thank you for the reply. Since you pointed out that none of the Church Fathers spoke about Purgatory, a Church Father, Lactantius did say something about it:

**“When God judges the just, he will also try them with fire. Then those who surpass the others in the weight or number of their sins will be detained by fire . . . those however whom the fullness of justice and the maturity of virtue have already ‘baked’ will not feel that fire” (The Divine Institutes, 7,21; A.D. 305). **

Lactantius here refers to the just, not the damned, hence none of them are destined for eternal perdition, for how can we call someone destined for the unextinguishable fires of hell as being “just”. However, since even the just themselves have varying levels of sinfullness, hence those with the most sin will still have to pay more than those with less.

Tertullian (160 A.D. - 2??) likewise says:

**“To sum up, since that ‘prison’ which the Gospel indicates we understand to mean the place of the departed, and the ‘last penny’ we interpret to mean even a small fault which must be expiated there before the resurrection, no one shall doubt that the soul will pay something in the place of the departed spirits before the fullness of the resurrection in the flesh” (On the Soul, 58; A.D.208. **

If hell were a place of eternal punishment, there would be no last penny to speak of, because in the case of the damned, the number of pennies they would have to pay would be infinite, because their punishment is infinite. Not so with those who are in the place of the departed, who had to likewise pay but only until the last penny is given as payment for even a tiny fault.

St. Maximus the Confessor:

**“This purification does not concern those who have arrived at a perfect love of God, but those who have not reached complete perfection, and whose virtues are mixed in with sins. These latter will appear before the tribunal of judgment, and, following an examination of their good and evil actions, they will be tried as by fire; their bad works will be expiated by a just fear and pain” (Questions and Doubts on The Church, the Liturgy, and the Soul of Man, question 10; A.D. 649). **

Purification implies that something can be purified, and clearly the damned in hell cannot be purified any longer, because their punishment is forever. Only those whose virtues are mixed in with sin, those who have not reached complete perfection [meaning they are already perfect in some way], can be purified. Purification in its essence, is temporary, not permanent. What else can be temporary if not purgatory!

The Immaculate Conception has already been discussed at length in several other threads. I do suggest you look it up.

Peace and God Bless!

Gerry :slight_smile:


#13

[quote=YAQUBOS]Peace!

“This is why we often look up to their wisdom”: Right! But we don’t consider them infallible.

  1. The Bible is not just the New Testament.
  2. The whole Bible was decided by God, but not OFFICIALLY declared by the Church. Just like God is Trinity even before the Church declared that!

In Love,
Yaqubos†
[/quote]

But then they are authoritative nonetheless. Please do remember the thread is about their legitimacy, not their infallibility.

If I would digress just a little from this thread’s stated topic, the Canon of the Bible was decided by the Catholic Church, under the inspiration of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church [On the Canon of Scripture No. 120] states the following:

It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New.

The Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 *and *2 Samuel, 1 *and *2 Kings, 1 *and *2 Chronicles, Ezra *and *Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 *and *2 Maccabees, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, *the *Song of Songs, *the *Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi.

*The New Testament: the Gospels according to *Matthew, Mark, Luke *and *John, *the *Acts of the Apostles, *the *Letters of St. Paul to the Romans, 1 *and *2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 *and *2 Thessalonians, 1 *and *2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, *the *Letter to the Hebrews, *the *Letters of James, 1 *and *2 Peter, 1, 2 *and *3 John, and Jude, *and *Revelation (the Apocalypse).

Gerry :slight_smile:


#14

Even with protestants who accept the Early Church Fathers, there are those who bend over backwards to explain away what the Fathers actually said. Take the standard early 20th century edition of the ante-nicene fathers: The notes for Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, for example, make several attempts to make Irenaeus sound like a late 19th century American protestant!


#15

[quote=YAQUBOS]Peace be with you! The Holy Spirit has written better than anyone of those you mentioned. In Love,
Yaqubos†
[/quote]

The Holy Spirit was writing thru them. (John chap 14. Specifically Jn 14,15-17 & 14,26). The Holy Spirit does not write anything without using humans. The humans He uses to bring forth the truth are the leaders of the Church Jesus established. It is one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.


#16

There is a book called “By Whose Authority,” the author of which escapes me right now, which is an excellent read on the Catholic concept of Tradition (big T) including the absolute dependence we have on the early Church fathers for interpreting scripture. The book is by a recent Catholic convert from an evangelical backround, who, in his search for biblical support to refute the Jesus Seminar, came to realize that the best source for determining the true meaning of scripture is from the early Church fathers who were contemporaries of the Gospel writers, (or students of them, or students of their students), and are in the best position to know what the writer of the text intended.

While I am sure I can not do the book justice in this short post, the basic idea is that everyone can disagree with the meaning of scripture, because like anything else, its open to different interpretations. For instance, the Gospel of St. John’s bread of life discourse can be interpreted literally (as Catholics do) or as an allegory (as non-Catholic Christians do). So how do we break the tie? How do we know which interpretation is right? The book explains that the best evidence of how that passage is to be interpretated is how the earliest Christians interpreted it, which is recorded in the earliest of Christian writings. This concept was very appealing to my instincts as a lawyer, where we, as lawyers, try to determine the legislative intent of ambiguous statutes by resort to what the drafter’s intended (e.g., “orginal intent of the drafters” concept of Constitutional interpretation).

The book talked about the “Tradition of the Table of Contents of the Bible.” As we all know, scripture itself does not tell us what books are and are not included in the bible - there is no scriptural “Table of Contents.” Hence, we all have relied on the early Church fathers to determine what was to be included in the Bible, (and we all know this developed over several centuries and took two Chruch ecumenical counsels to decide). Hence, the Bible’s Table of Contents is a Tradition of the Church which came to us from the early Church fathers. The book concludes that if we can rely on the early Church fathers to tell us what is and is not the inspired Word of God, then we should certainly rely on the same individuals for the meaning of that scripture. After all, whose interpretation has more authority? some 20th Century student of ancient scripture or Polycarp who was taught by the Apostles and was given the appointment of Biship of Symrna by the Apostles?

The author’s analogy is that while holy scripture is the Light that shines the Truth, Tradition (big T) as handed down by the Church fathers, is the lens that lends focus to that Truth.

I am sure someone who reads this post can give us the name of the author. It was a very helpful book is helping me better understand the concept of Tradition and the absolute dependance we have and should have on the early Church fathers.

Terry Kelly
Bloomington, IL


#17

[quote=vmteglia]Can anyone out there answer this question. I am working on the conversion of a member of the church of Christ. How can I use the writings of the Church Fathers to defend Catholicism and show it as right when they don’t believe in any authority other than scripture. The Fathers are very valuable sources I’m aware with regards to showing the ligitimacy of tradition and the canon of Scripture, but a Church of Christer will only tell you that the Fathers had obviously broken from the true church and that they can not be relied upon as good sources. How do I confront this?
[/quote]

One of the problems you may encounter, as I have encountered, is a claim that the early father’s writings are forgeries, concocted by the Church to make it “look good” and thus perpetuate a false lligitimacy of the Catholic Church! Incredible? Yes, but I have had to address this several times in the past.

The reply, of course, is to demonstrate the acceptance of the early father’s writings by main line Protestantism, by a plethora of hard working scholars who accept them as authentic, including, I might add, the fact there there were false writings, such as the Donation of Constantine and others, exposed by Catholic scholars in contrast to the.authentication of valid writings.

And while they are not scripture, the Church long aqo rejecting some of the earliest writings, such as Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians and the famous didache, excluded from the New Testament, they are nevertheless a most vital testimony to exactly what the early Church taught and believed, from the end of the apostolic era, up to about A.D. 1000.

The Catholicity of these writings cannot be denied, something you can hopefully display, as subtly as you can, that your friends discovers them for himself.

Not as easy as I say, of course…

Good luck!

God bless,

PAX

Bill+†+

Pillar and Foundation of Truth, the Church. (1 Tim 3:15)


#18

[quote=tkelly]There is a book called “By Whose Authority,” the author of which escapes me right now, which is an excellent read on the Catholic concept of Tradition (big T) including the absolute dependence we have on the early Church fathers for interpreting scripture. The book is by a recent Catholic convert from an evangelical backround, who, in his search for biblical support to refute the Jesus Seminar, came to realize that the best source for determining the true meaning of scripture is from the early Church fathers who were contemporaries of the Gospel writers, (or students of them, or students of their students), and are in the best position to know what the writer of the text intended.

Do you mean “By What Authority” by Richard R. Gaillardetz? ISBN 0-8146-2872-9 :slight_smile:
[/quote]


#19

<< Do you mean “By What Authority” by Richard R. Gaillardetz? >>

Naw, he probably means By What Authority by Mark Shea. I have a different evangelical book entitled By What Authority. So there’s at least 3 books with that title. :stuck_out_tongue:

Phil P


#20

[quote=Tom]The Holy Spirit was writing thru them. (John chap 14. Specifically Jn 14,15-17 & 14,26). The Holy Spirit does not write anything without using humans. The humans He uses to bring forth the truth are the leaders of the Church Jesus established. It is one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
[/quote]

Scripture itself states that God always uses human beings to write down and proclaim His message. To say that God writes “better” than any Church father is to create a false dichotomy where none exists ( God “vs.” Church fathers ), and thus completely misses this important point.

Gerry :slight_smile:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.