Need Help Defending the Church at University!



I’m enrolled in a medieval history course at my university, and so far the professor (along with the textbook we’ve been assigned) has been very hostile towards Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular. I’ve done my best to defend some of the practices of the church (the lecture is very open to comments), but we’re entering an area next monday where my knowledge isn’t sufficient to offer a full defense of the church: early Christianity.

I’ve gathered through her comments that the professor plans to make a few key accusations against the Church:

***- *That the early church was a “personal” religion without a formal structured authority. The emergence of a class of clergy and of the episcopate (bishops) was an abberation and a distortion of the original intent of Christ.

- That some of the early church allowed the ordination of women and that “debates raged” about whether women should be ordained. Female ordination was eventually put down by the illegitimate authority of the Church.

***- *That the emergence of large churches and the celebration of a “single kind of Mass” was a massive departure from the original Christianity. She’s going to argue that early christians met in their homes and celebrated a “fellowship ceremony” without the Eucharist or anthing resembling the sacramental priesthood.

***- *That the church became embroiled in temporal considerations as early as the council of Nicea and thereby departed from the faith of the apostles. By becoming intertwined with the political authority of the Roman empire, the faith was corrupted.

- That Christian belief was initially fluid and “pluralistic” and that the introduction of dogma (with the ecumenical councils) was a violation of this plurality and mutual acceptance of “different kinds of truth”.

- That the Papacy didn’t exist in the early church. Peter never had any kind of supremacy over the other apostles and certainly had no infallibility. (protestants and Orthodox stay out of this one, please :stuck_out_tongue: )

- That confession, penance, and purgatory were inventions of the church later on and have no basis in the early church.

I know that most of these ideas are junk, but some of them are difficult to contend with an I need solid historical sources to back myself up if I’m to offer a defense of the Church. Can anyone recommend some solid, orthodox reading for me to do (available online, preferably) about the early church and its harmony with teachings of the Catholic church? I have exactly one week to arm myself for what’s sure to be a full assault on the church! I need you to give me weapons! I want to blow these arguments out of the water. :thumbsup:

Also, can anyone tell me about other ideas that might come up to challenge the church?

Thanks for your help!




You’re not expecting to change her mind, are you? The best you can do is demonstrate to the class her lack of credibility, and not on the whole gamut but on just a single point (if you do any serious damage she’ll likely pull rank and shut down the conversation). Make darn sure you don’t get combative…

I’d go with this one: That the early church was a “personal” religion without a formal structured authority. The emergence of a class of clergy and of the episcopate (bishops) was an abberation and a distortion of the original intent of Christ.

The very earliest texts show this to be a load of rubbish. You can show stuff like this, and then ask her to provide comparable primary source material from the earliest days of the Church to support her claims. She won’t have any.

Clement of Rome, 3rd Bishop of Rome,student of the Apostle Peter“Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ…Throught the countryside they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers…Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect knowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterward added the provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry…Shameful, beloved, extremely shameful and unworthy of your training in Christ, is the report that on account of one or two persons the well-established and ancient Church of the Corinthians is in revolt against the presbyters. And this report has come not only to us, but even to those professing other faiths than ours, so that by your folly you heap blasphemies on the name of the Lord, and create a danger to yourselves…If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger. We, however, shall be innocent of this sin…” Letter to the Corinthians (AD 80)

**Ignatius, 3rd Bishop of Antioch, student of the Apostle John. **“It is necessary, therefore, -and such is your practice, -that you do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope…In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and the college of Apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a Church…anyone who acts without the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons does not have a clean conscience.” Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians (AD 110)

“For Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the will of the Father, just as the Bishops, who have been appointed throughout the world, are the will of Jesus Christ. It is fitting, therefore, that you should live in harmony with the will of the Bishop - as indeed you do…Let us be careful, then, if we would be submissive to God, not to oppose the Bishop. Furthermore, the more anyone observes that a Bishop remains silent, the more he should stand in fear of him. For anyone whom the master of the house sends to manage his business ought to be received by us as we would receive him by whom he was sent. It is clear, then, that we must look upon the Bishop as the Lord Himself…” Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians (AD 110)

“You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the church without the bishop.” Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans (AD 100)


**Ignatius, 3rd Bishop of Antioch, student of the Apostle John. **“I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the unity of God, since the bishop sits in the place of God, and the presbyters in the place of the synod of the Apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, have been entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the world began, and was manifested in the end…Be diligent, therefore, to be confirmed in the doctrine of the Lord and of his Apostles, that ye may be prosperous in all things, whatsoever ye do, both in flesh and spirit, in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, in the beginning and the end, together with your most worthily-distinguished bishop, and the nobly woven spiritual crown of your presbytery, and of your deacons, who walk according to God. Submit yourselves to your bishop and to each other, as Jesus Christ to his Father according to the flesh, and the Apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.” Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians (AD 110)

“Abstain from evil herbage, which Jesus Christ doth not cultivate, because it is not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found division among you, but thorough purity.I cried while I was among you, and spake with a loud voice, saying, Give heed unto the bishop, and to the presbyters, and to the deacons. But they suspected that I spake these things because I knew beforehand the division of certain of them; but he, for whose name I am in bonds, is witness unto me that I knew not these things through the flesh of man. But the spirit preached, saying these things: Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your flesh as the temple of God; love unity, avoid divisions; be imitators of Jesus Christ, even as he is of his Father.” Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians (AD 100)


Well, in your view, would bringing Scripture to the table help? I know how to use Scripture and writings of the Early Church Fathers to defend the Truth, but it doesn’t appear as if you are defending against Protestant heresy, but rather an antagonistic non-believer who has read books that were written venemously against Christianity. So, I’m not sure if the Bible would be a valid (in her eyes) reference to show her that she’s wrong. Does she believe the Bible to be the inspired written Word of God? If not, your strategy may be better to discredit her sources than defend the Truth, in my opinion.


**Irenaeus, 2nd Bishop of Lyons **“It is possible then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles whcih has been known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught to the elite secretly and apart from the rest, they would have handed them down especially to those very ones to whom they were committing the self-same Churches. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority…It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters of the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles; those who have received, with the succession of the epicopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion…For all of these [heretics] are of much later date than are the bishops to whom the Apostles handed over the Churches…” Againt Heresies (inter AD 180/199)

“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church,” Againt Heresies (inter AD 180/199)


And of course, there’s the whole “Keys of the Kingdom” thing. **St. Cyprian of Carthage **“Our Lord, whose commands we ought to fear and observe, says in the Gospel, by way of assigning the episcopal dignity and settling the plan of His Church: “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they will be loosed also in heaven…From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of times an succesions; for the Church is founded on the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. ” Letter to the Lapsed (AD 250)
And Scripture itself indicates that the Church is hierarchical:
[FONT=Arial]“Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17)

“I repeat the request I made of you when I was on my way to Macedonia, that you stay in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to teach false doctrines” (1 Tim 1:3)

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.” (2 Pet. 1:16–21, 3:2)

“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; through them by way of reminder I am trying to stir up your sincere disposition, to recall the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and savior through your apostles.” (2 Pet. 3:2)

“In them (Paul’s letters) there are some things hard to understand that the ignrant and unstable distort to their destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Pet. 3:16)

[FONT=Arial]“For it is written…”may another take his office”…and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven Apostles” (Acts 1:20,26)

[FONT=Verdana]“In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings… Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” (Jude 8, 10-11) (refer to Numbers 16: [FONT=Verdana]“Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.”)[/FONT][/FONT][/FONT][/FONT]


Since it’s her contention that the Catholic Church is essentially unrelated to early Christianity, I think that Biblical sources for the teachings of the church would certainly help establish that they were early teachings. I won’t assert the innerancy or divine inspiration of the Bible, but I think it’s reasonable for me to use the Bible as evidence that the teaching of the modern church is in harmony with that of the early church. Anything you have on purgatory would be especially helpful.


Wow, Neophyte! Thanks for the help! It’ll take a while for me to look through all that, but I’m sure it’ll be very helpful.

No, I don’t expect to change the professor’s mind, but she’s actually very friendly and open to discussion. I think I’ll be able to get a reasonably comprehensive defence in over the course of the lecture (it’s three hours long :eek: ). I’ll make sure to maintain Christian charity when I’m speaking.


The first sentence you used may be your main problem.

She will (hopefully) be using proven historical justifications, rather than theological, to paint her picture, rather than her own interpretation, and, as I believe you mentioned, she should be able to site MULTIPLE sources. One source would not be enough.

Use that as your mantra when dealing with historical accuracies; “One source would not be enough.”

However, should she bring catholic theology or theory into the picture (as she should) or use “established” early church dogma, then be prepared to defend it using neophyte’s quotes; he/she seems to be well versed on early church theology/dogma.

Why do I say she should bring early Catholic theology into the discussion? That should be obvious. One cannot engage in a discussion on early church history without understanding the mindset of the early church.

As that towering intellectual, Homer Simpson would say, “duh.” :smiley:

One of the problems for apologetics (in any religion) is the separation of historical accuracy and scripture.

The written word rarely reflects actual day-to-day usage by the faithful. If it did, then modern day Christians would be stoning disobedient children to death (and to be honest, there just aren’t that many stones in America! :smiley: )

Those that minister to the faithful have always interpreted the scripture for use in everyday life. Lay priests never hit you over the head with the Bible, but rather use it as a living, breathing entity.

While the scripture might have stated something emphatically one way, there can be no doubt that the early church hierarchy debated and argued the point and it’s “meaning” for long periods of time.

“Interpretation” of the scripture is an accepted practice in every known religion. These “interpretations” are always left up to the the power or dominion of a hierarchy.

These arguments over dogma and interpretation go on within every religion, even today.

Good luck with your class.

Best Regards,



Tell me this is not a Catholic University.


Thanks Michael,

I think that if I can demonstrate that the church has always had a single teaching authority (Magisterium) and that this authority has always had the right to assert dogmas, and that it has never contradicted itself (dogmatically embraced something it later rejected), then I can make a good case that Catholic teaching is in harmony with that of the early church and that all major controversies have been settled in a legitimate and consistent manner.


HAHA! Definitely not. Queen’s University was originally a presbyterian institution. Today, its theological college is run by the United Church of Canada, which is a coalition of presbyterians, methodists, and congregationalists. The United Church embraces homosexual marriage, free access to abortion, and quite a number of other repugnant ideas.


This link should help you.

Also, note at the bottom of that page, there is a link to the Early Church Fathers on Purgatory and prayers for the dead.



Thanks! You will be fine. Just fine. :thumbsup:

Be ready for them to tempt you to be uncharitable. I was so relieved to see you say you would reply charitably. Smile till it hurts.

God be with you :slight_smile:


LOL. :smiley:


Didn’t the Vatican just recently change their stance on purgatory?


That is why I asked. Too many are out there that are just plain and simple


I have been “off” for a while. Yet, I think I would have heard about it.

Do you have anything for us to rip to shreads like hungry wolves?

Things have been getting hum drum. :wink:


The Church has not ‘changed’ her stance on purgatory since it is something referred to in the OT and in the NT.

You may be referring to ‘limbo’ which has NEVER been a teaching (as Dogma or Doctrine) of the Church.


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