Protestants and Church Fathers


#1

Honest question for Protestants and Catholics who might know the answer:

Why do Protestants have little or no regard for the writings of the Church Fathers?

For example, very few people at my mom’s SDA church even know that the Church Fathers exist. Other Protestants will deny their credibility altogether, as though they personally know more about the Scriptures than the Church Fathers do!

I understand that the answer may vary between Anglicans, Reforms (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist) and fundamentalists and evangelicals.


#2

My opinion is that if protestants read and studied what the early Church fathers wrote that they would come to the conclusion that the early church IS the Catholic Church and then they would have to do something about it - as in convert to Catholicsm. Protestants have been told that their church is the right church and their way of worshipping is the same as the early church…and so they go along with what they are told from the pulpit. It takes work to read and study and studying the bible, which I dare say protestants do a lot more frequently than us Catholics, takes time, so why would they read the early Church fathers?

“To be steeped in history is to cease to be protestant.” John Cardinal Newmann.


#3

You’ll find many Reformed Protestants quoting St. Augustine like crazy. I don’t understand it, because his writings allude to purgatory, hit on Penance, communion of the saints, etc. It’s a good basis for debate though because if they hold him as credible, he is a great reference to cite to show that Catholic Theology goes back a few millenia.

Mr. “Anti Catholic” himself, R.C. Sproul, even called Augustine an early father of the reformation, or something to that extent, if I am not mistaken. I found that ironic, since Mr. Sproul is about as anti-Catholic as they come.

Jerome is also cited by some Protestans, because he was originally opposed to the Deutercanonical Books, but he is not as credible from what I’ve seen in Reform circles.


#4

Let’s be honest. The average Catholic is probably going to know only a little bit more about the Church fathers than the average Protestant. He (the average Catholic) might know of some through various feast days and the religious names of priests, brothers, or sisters they had as teachers.

He might know that they existed and they taught a lot a long time ago. But as to specifics, forget about it.

The crux of the matter is who has taken his formation in the faith seriously. If a man has done this, be he Catholic or Protestant, he will know more of the Church fathers than his average counterpart.

However, even here, the Catholic will know a little more about the Church fathers than the Protestant.


#5

Well, of course few Catholic know about Church Fathers. I was referring more to people who post on apologetics boards, like this one. Even the Protestants here rarely, if ever, quote Church Fathers.


#6

[quote=SeanG]Let’s be honest. The average Catholic is probably going to know only a little bit more about the Church fathers than the average Protestant.
[/quote]

I agree. In all of my life, the number of Protestants and Catholics I know (not from the internet) that are knowledgable in any church history or early father writings I can count on two hands. More of them were Catholic than Protestant, but that isn’t a significant comparision when the number is in the single digits.

Most Christians in general are ignorant of their spiritual and religious history. Perhaps it is the culture of the United States in general.

~Matt


#7

[quote=Archbishop 10-K]Well, of course few Catholic know about Church Fathers. I was referring more to people who post on apologetics boards, like this one. Even the Protestants here rarely, if ever, quote Church Fathers.
[/quote]

Do you mean significant postings of the fathers? Most postings that are done, by either side, are copy and pastes from popular sites. Few, even on apologetic boards where such types are to be more expected, quote from original sources or bother to look up the context of the quote they copied from an apologetic page.

Some Protestants will quote the fathers to refute historical the claims of the Catholic Church. I’ve seen that happen over at the carm.org discussion board, christianforums.com, ntrmin.org, etc. Perhaps, given how new this board is, there have not been enough church history discussions to accurately judge how Protestants overall (internet or not) approach the fathers?

~Matt


#8

I don’t really expect anybody to have read an entire book written by a Church Father (I haven’t, that I’ll admit right off the bat.)

However, from my observations, Protestants don’t hold the words of Church Fathers in high regard. I do, personally, since they would know much better than us, the intentions of the Apostles.

From my observations, Anglicans and Reformers quote Church Fathers somewhat less than Catholics, and fundamentalists and evangelicals (and anyone who describes himself as simply “born again” or non-denom") don’t care about Church Fathers at all, as though their (the Fathers’) words are on the same level of credibility as a modern-day apologist.

On the flipside, a Catholic will hold a Church Father’s quote in relatively high regard.

I’m just asking: why is this?


#9

[quote=Archbishop 10-K]However, from my observations, Protestants don’t hold the words of Church Fathers in high regard. I do, personally, since they would know much better than us, the intentions of the Apostles.

I’m just asking: why is this?
[/quote]

I can think of a variety of reasons. What they share in common is that most Protestants don’t believe that the early church fathers “would know much better than us” regarding the apostles. Some look at passages like Galatians 3:1, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Peter 2, etc. where the church was, at its infancy, already belabored with heresies and false teachers and distrust the fathers as reliable. Others conclude that the multitude of Scriptural interpretations in the fathers writings do not allow for helpful conclusions regarding spiritual matters and that it is simply better off to consult the original deposit of faith. Some see them as helpful, but are reminded that the Scriptures are the final authority in all spiritual matters binding on the conscience, and thus dedicate more time to Scriptural reading.

Since Catholics hold the fathers in a more substantial and authoritative manner, it is reasonable to expect them to quote them more.

I am sure there are more reasons, but these are what come to mind off the top of my head.

I don’t have time to proof read this. I apologize for that.

~Matt


#10

[quote=p90]I can think of a variety of reasons. What they share in common is that most Protestants don’t believe that the early church fathers “would know much better than us” regarding the apostles. Some look at passages like Galatians 3:1, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Peter 2, etc. where the church was, at its infancy, already belabored with heresies and false teachers and distrust the fathers as reliable. Others conclude that the multitude of Scriptural interpretations in the fathers writings do not allow for helpful conclusions regarding spiritual matters and that it is simply better off to consult the original deposit of faith. Some see them as helpful, but are reminded that the Scriptures are the final authority in all spiritual matters binding on the conscience, and thus dedicate more time to Scriptural reading.

Since Catholics hold the fathers in a more substantial and authoritative manner, it is reasonable to expect them to quote them more.
[/quote]

Thanks. That’s pretty much the kind of answer I was looking for. Now, to wait for some Protestants to show up…


#11

Something by a** Protestant** (who shortly after this became Catholic)…

John Henry Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845):

History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. … This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. … Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. … To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.


#12

The BIG difference for a catholic to learn about the writings of the early Church Fathers is that it will only confirm that the Catholic Church practices the same doctrines as what the fathers believed and received from the Apostles. So there is no really question why he should (at least) learn the writings–it will only confirm the truth of the Catholic faith.
While the Protestants and other non-Catholics, they will find out that what they practice is not the same as what the Church Fathers wrote.
THEREFORE, in the order of importance, it is much better for Protestants to learn the writings than Catholics.

Pio


#13

Zski01,

:hmmm: I have a some questions for you, if you don’t mind me asking.

  1. What is an “anti-catholic”?

  2. Why do you consider R.C. Sproul an “anti-catholic”?

  3. What is an “anti-protestant”?

  4. Are there Roman Catholics who are “anti-protestant”?


#14

Most Catholics I know personally have only the vaguest notion of the Patristic writings. I suppose most Protestants will start out the same way, then when a Catholic apologist recommends the writings all they can think is that “you’ll have to convince me on your own, don’t expect me to make it easy for you and do your reading for you".

But supposing they have heard of the fathers before? What do people think?

The descriptive title of “Fathers” can be difficult for those who would call no man father, it can almost discredit them before a page is turned.

Perhaps it is useful to refer back to a popular mythology impressed upon many non-Catholic Christians (Protestants and some groups that arose out of the Protestant culture).

A common feeling is that shortly after the Apostolic age the church was derailed and became apostate, some people peg the time of conversion of Constantine or just afterward as the date, others much earlier.

The Patristic age was going strong at that time and so Christian writings of the age are automatically discredited. Some people are totally unaware that there were enough literate Christians of the age to write such a vast body of work. Some people posit a theory that there were “secret” Christians keeping the “true” faith from persecution by the “official” corrupt church, these publicly available documents would not reflect the “true” church.

Some people will think that the writings were faked. The existence of some spurious material has served to reinforce that notion.

Finally, the Fathers of the Church are a very diverse bunch, and they did have differing opinions on some things. The teachings of the Fathers are harmonious with each other, of course. But they didn’t agree about everything all of the time. What makes them so special is that they write in a manner that makes it clear that they assume certain doctrines that modern Catholics and Orthodox also take for granted (like the Real Presence, for example). But one could proof text the writings of some Fathers, together with some Gnostic writings and draw a very different picture of the early church.

Any Catholic that wants to quote the Fathers, had better actually read them, and not just excerpts. It will make ones arguments stronger if all of the quotable quotes are read in context. Be prepared to spend the rest of your life at it!

In Christ Always,

Michael


#15

The descriptive title of “Fathers” can be difficult for those who would call no man father, it can almost discredit them before a page is turned.

Hahaha, maybe we should call them the Early Church Framers!

(If you didn’t get that joke, it refers to radical feminists wanting to change the Founding Fathers of America to the Founding Framers, even though they were all male.)

Anyway, I have first-hand experience ith a lot of those theories about apostasy. My family believes the Church went apostate even before Revelation was written, as though God took a vacation from then until the 1800’s. I always imagined that attitude to be a very minority one.


#16

Because to be deep in the history of the Fathers of the Church is to cease to be protestant… who wrote that? Newman or Chesterton? :rolleyes:


#17

[quote=space ghost]Because to be deep in the history of the Fathers of the Church is to cease to be protestant… who wrote that? Newman or Chesterton? :rolleyes:
[/quote]

Newman said something along those lines.

ken


#18

I think Protestants regard Paul as the chief of all church fathers. His epistles are not “RCC” by any means. 1 Corinthians which gives guidlines to church service does not resemble any mass I ever went to ----been to thousands. It does resemble services I have attended that are either non denominational or Pentacostal.


#19

[quote=Xavier]I think Protestants regard Paul as the chief of all church fathers.

[/quote]

Like who? Protestant Bible scholar Bruce Metzger asserts with regard to Matt 16:19, “*The Keys of the Kingdom *are a symbol of Peter’s power as the leader of the church.

From another Protestant scholar, FF. Bruce,

“And what about the ‘keys of the kingdom’? The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or major domo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him. About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim: ‘I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open’ (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. In the early chapters of Acts Peter is seen exercising this responsibility in the primitive church. He **acts as chairman of the group of disciples in Jerusalem **even before the coming of the Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26); on the day of Pentecost it is he who preaches the gospel so effectively that three thousand hearers believe the message and are incorporated in the church (Acts 2:14-41); some time later it is he who first preaches the gospel to a Gentile audience and thus 'opens a door of faiths to Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 10:34-48).”

Seems it isn’t St. Paul but St. Peter who is the “chief of all Church Fathers.”

His epistles are not “RCC” by any means.

The opinion of the 1st thousand years of Christianity disagrees with you. It seems when the Bible is interpreted through the lens of “enlightenment” Reformation era philosophy, many re-visions of Christian teaching result. Yet, when novel Biblical interpretations after 1500 years of Christian history are contradictory to the Christianity of the first 1500 years, one ought to conclude the novel interpretation to be without consequence.


#20

[quote=Archbishop 10-K]Honest question for Protestants and Catholics who might know the answer:

Why do Protestants have little or no regard for the writings of the Church Fathers?

For example, very few people at my mom’s SDA church even know that the Church Fathers exist. Other Protestants will deny their credibility altogether, as though they personally know more about the Scriptures than the Church Fathers do!

I understand that the answer may vary between Anglicans, Reforms (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist) and fundamentalists and evangelicals.
[/quote]

Having been there, It is because they are NEVER mentioned among Evangelicals-- Augustine being the only exception . This is mainly because the average Protestant never considers that the Bible is less than understandable on important matters. The Pastors I have talked to about this have had very little exposure to the Fathers. The reason for this is simple --they talk like Catholics. You must believe on some level that the Church went wrong very early on to be Protestant.
I think this is changing. I helped give a retreat at one of the main Evangelical College/seminary. I spoke often about Catholic ideas and received very careful attention. The former president of the College was there and quoted JPII several times in his speech.


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.