The Early Church Fathers

I am getting myself into a bit of a muddle. The Catholic Church states that many of its doctrines etc are/were accepted and endorsed by the early church fathers. Topics such as supremecy of peter, infant baptism etc. In my research into Catholicism, this certainly does seem to be the case, however when I look into the critics of Catholicism, they seem to be able to quote the ECF as saying the opposite of the Catholic Church. For example I have just read a quote by Augustine stating that Peter was not given supremecy among the apostles.

It appears as if the early church fathers were as diverse in their beliefs as churches today.

How does the Catholic Church view the quotes of ECF that oppose the beliefs/doctrines held?

Help :blush:

the Church does not rely upon ECF acceptance of something or having written about it as a requirement of doctrine. The Church quotes EFCs within various Church documents if what they have to say is a particularly good way to explain or expound upon a topic. It is not the EFC that is authoritative, but the Church.

Many apologists (who are not “the Church”) argue from EFCs. That can be effective in showing the Catholic position.

Augustine was a great Saint of the Church, and you would have to provide the source of the quote that troubles you. Many anti Catholic websites selectively quote, misquote, or misunderstand EFCs.

Sometimes there is a question about a teaching, that is, there may be two or more teachings about a certain article of faith. For instance, some argue that the Eucharist is not the real body of Jesus but only a symbol, while others may argue that it is not a symbol but the real body of Jesus.

The argument against sybolism is to dig into the writing of the early church fathers, those that lived right after the apostles since they would be closest to the truth, and see what the early accepted teaching about the Eucharist really was.

Sometimes not all the church fathers may agree on an article but in most cases, there does seem to be a majority of opinion. But from this it can be shown that the early church goers did believe early on, and how this article of faith was held by them.

Here is an example of early church fathers on the Eucharist.

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine on you. May God be kind to you and give you peace.

And many Catholics and pro Catholic websites do the same. It’s best just to read the source materials yourself if you want a balanced view.

It was an anti catholic site to be fair! Now I have reread the quote, he could have been a bit selective. Here are the quotes relating to the supremecy of peter on said site. I should probably say that I am just using peter as an example.

Augustine (354-430):
“In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: ‘On him as on a rock the Church was built.’ . . . But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,’ that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ For, ‘Thou art Peter’ and not ‘Thou art the rock’ was said to him. But ‘the rock was Christ,’ in confessing whom, as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter. But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable.” (The Retractions, 1:20:1)
Chrysostom (349-407):
“Peter, James, and John, were both first called, and held a primacy among the disciples” (Commentary on Galatians, 1, vv. 1-3). How then is Peter alone the primary apostle?
Cyprian (200?-258):
“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, ‘Feed my sheep.’ And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;’ yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity.” (On the Unity of the Church, 4)
Origen (185-254)
“And if we too have said like Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, ‘Thou art Peter,’ etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, add the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God. But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, ‘The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,’ hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, ‘Upon this rock I will build My church’? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ be common to the others, how shall not all the things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them? For in this place these words seem to be addressed as to Peter only, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,’ etc; but in the Gospel of John the Saviour having given the Holy Spirit unto the disciples by breathing upon them said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit,’ etc, . . . And if any one says this to Him, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto Him but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was.” (Commentary on Matthew, 12:10-11)

So here is the thing, the early church fathers are undeniably Catholic, you can see it in their writings very clearly, especially when you read them holistically in their entirety.

For example, St Augustine wrote like over 4 million words, and Protestant anti catholic arguments might use 50-100 of those words.

What they leave behind are the millions of words that show St Augustine as clearly Catholic in his practice.

Ultimately, you can read the church fathers and step back and look at the big picture. These guys

were bishops or submitted to bishops.
Acknowledged the authority of the bishop over Christian practice
Acknowledge the authority of the church’s Magesterium (church councils)
Celebrated mass
Believed in the real presence in the Eucharist
Believed and performed infant baptisms
Heard confessions
Etc, etc

Picking a quote from one guy here and there is no refutation even if it’s true, no single father speaks for the church. There was plenty of doctrinal discussion and debate, but at the end of the day these writers submitted themselves to the authority of the church. That is why they are Catholic.

Practically, what happened in Protestantism, was primarily through the great awakening, Protestsntism changed dramatically and all reference to pre reformation Christianity was left behind. Doctrine developed without reference to the early church. Then as it becomes more clear and more lay people are exposed to the early church, Protestants have scrambled to defend the erroneous ideas that have developed. The scrambling is quite evident if one reads any church father in its entirety.

And this is also evident in that the Protestant churches that retained a link to pre reformation Christians, have similar beliefs (Lutherans and Anglicans ) as Catholics.

Interestingly enough when Calvin was confronted with the works of Ignatius of Antioch, he dismissed them as forgeries since they were so opposite his ecclesiology. Well, they have since been proven genuine.

When I was evangelical, reading Ignatius of Antioch sealed the deal for my conversion…I highly recommend you read his letters, they are available free online.

Well, I hope you can at least agree, that the church fathers were Orthodox/Catholic as oppossed to “non denominational Protestant” or Lutheran or Calvinist or Baptist or evangelical etc…

What it proves is that there was diversity.

Augustine may have had different beliefs on the Eucharist than me, and at one point he believed differently than me on Peter, but eventually he changed his views on Peter.


I can’t emphasize enough; this was Augustine. Augustine leaves the question open that Catholicism has closed. Why? Because it was allowed and it’s not allowed anymore.

And for those who could/can not read…then what?:shrug:


But you miss the point that if the church had told Augustine it is settled he would have submitted to the church. This of course even assuming he believed what Protestants say he believed which I see as highly spurious.

You are basically saying Arianism is just a diverse opinion instead of the heresy it was declared.

Arianism was a speculative opinion, until the church said it was wrong at Nicea, after that point you could no longer hold that belief as a Christian. So too with any other issue. M

Augustine was a faithful son of the church and his writings clearly display his respect for magisterial authority.

Today there is plenty of diverse opinion in Catholicism…just not on these issues.

Sure there is; see Orthodoxy.

Yet those two branches of Catholicism (Roman and Orthodox) can’t unite and one reason is due to this belief on Peter that Augustine did leave up for interpretation.

He says to let the reader decide; he does not take an official stance, “This is what you must believe!” Although he also takes the position that Peter was not the rock.

So why is this a point of contention between Catholicism and Orthodoxy considering Augustine would’ve been confused at your arguing over Peter.

Anyways, the thread isn’t about this but I believe Paul would have been even more lost over genealogies, “I follow Cephas” etc. But I digress.

Augustine would have listened to his bishop…not to himself, if pressed, as one poster said. He would not have decided for himself…he would have submitted to the authority of the Church…in contrast to prostestantisms…me and my bible alone decide the truth…:shrug:

You did not cite your source…but is it Webster?

Here is a refutation:

and an old thread…

Just a sample:
Let’s take a look at St. Augustine’s treatment of Matt 16:18 a little closer.

“Number the bishops from the see of Peter itself. And in that order of Fathers see who succeeded whom, That is the rock against which the gates of hell do not prevail.”
Psalmus contra partem Donati, 18 (A.D. 393),GCC 51

“Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God is able to forgive all sins. They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they refuse to believe that the keys of heaven, lost from their own hands, have been given to the Church.”
Christian Combat, 31:33(A.D. 397), in JUR,3:51

“For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it !’ The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: – Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found. But, reversing the natural course of things, the Donatists sent to Rome from Africa an ordained bishop, who, putting himself at the head of a few Africans in the great metropolis, gave some notoriety to the name of ‘mountain men,’ or Cutzupits, by which they were known.”
To Generosus, Epistle 53:2(A.D. 400), in NPNF1,I:298

If Protestants believed in the real presence, the authority of the church, infant baptism, the seven sacraments, etc, like the orthodox do than fine.

But we both know that is not the case. The orthodox beef is strictly in what primacy of peter means. What is “first among equals”.

Anyway, it is highly erroneous to compare the early church to Protestsntism. If you did, you would have to say the Arian Church and the Pelagian Church and every other heretic church was just “disputing the non essentials and another form of Christian practice”. Hopefully we can all agree that would be an error.

I’m saying there was diversity among the most revered fathers and therefore I believe there can still be diversity today.

First, don’t worry. The Catholic Church listens carefully to all her sons and then infallibly chooses from among what can be a variety of opinions proposed by them.

Second, read this. :slight_smile:

"Unanimous Consent" of the Church Fathers
by Steve Ray

The Church sees the Fathers as the successors of the apostles, the closest source to the apostolic teaching and tradition, and therefore authoritative. One must ask, why should I trust Protestant Joe X’s interpretation, or his pastor’s, when we can go back to the source and listen to those who knew the apostles?

One must understand what the Church means when she is bound by the unanimous consent of the Fathers. The Church cannot, has not, and does not contradict Herself. She can develop doctrine, but she cannot deny what is organically Her heritage and the foundation of her existence in the Scriptures, the Tradition and the Magisterium. The Church does not claim that all her “authority rests” on the consent of the Fathers. It rests on several things including Scripture; the Fathers are one element of this foundation.

Second, the Church has never understood or taught that unanimous consent means that the Fathers are individually infallible or that various Fathers have never held an alternative opinion. Any given passage of scripture may have several valid applications and they were all appropriated by the Fathers depending on the matter at hand. Thus, a Father may refer to Jesus as the Rock, Peter as the Rock, or Peter’s confession as the Rock. This in not unusual or unexpected. It certainly does not negate the literal intent of Matthew, nor does it invalidate the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

The Catholic Church has organically grown up from the apostles and the Fathers. To say that it does not agree with them is absurd. Now, what is the unanimous consent of the Fathers? The Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary gives a good simple definition:

When the Fathers of the Church are morally unanimous in their teaching that a certain doctrine is a part of revelation, or is received by the universal Church, or that the opposite of a doctrine is heretical, then their united testimony is a certain criterion of divine revelation. As the Fathers are not personally infallible, the counter testimony of one or two would not be destructive of the value of the collective testimony; so a moral unanimity only is required.

The word “unanimous” comes from two Latin words: únus, one + animus, mind. “Consent”, as was used when coined means “to be of the same mind or opinion.” Where the Fathers speak overall with one mind, not necessarily each and every one, nor numerically complete, but by consensus and general agreement, we have “unanimous consent.”

To illustrate, I cite the following excerpt from Pope Leo XIII (“The Study of Holy Scripture”, from the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Nov., 1893) where the pope admits that there are varying ideas among the Fathers and that not everything they write is a matter of dogma. He could not say this if he understood “unanimous consent” as having to agree on every detail:

Because the defense of Holy Scripture must be carried on vigorously, all the opinions which the individual Fathers or the recent interpreters have set forth in explaining it need not be maintained equally. For they, in interpreting passages where physical matters are concerned have made judgments according to the opinions of the age, and thus not always according to truth, so that they have made statements which today are not approved. Therefore, we must carefully discern what they hand down which really pertains to faith or is intimately connected with it, and what they hand down with unanimous consent; for “in those matters which are not under the obligation of faith, the saints were free to have different opinions, just as we are,” according to the opinion of St. Thomas. In another passage he most prudently holds: “It seems to me to be safer that such opinions as the philosophers have expressed in common and are not repugnant to our faith should not be asserted as dogmas of the faith, even if they are introduced some times under the names of philosophers, nor should they thus be denied as contrary to faith, lest an opportunity be afforded to the philosophers of this world to belittle the teachings of the faith” Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [London: B. Herder Book Co., 1954], 491-492).

Was there diversity among Jesus and his disciples?

Should there have been?

John 6 there was some diversity…they left him, perhaps they were just following true Chridtisnity.

Perhaps the Corinthians were just expressing diverse belief…who was Paul to correct them?

Things to consider.

You listen to the prayers and the hymns, look at the holy icons. You live the life of the Church.

There sure was. Read all of Romans 14 and explain to me why not following specific dietary rules as a Catholic may put me in mortal sin. Paul opposed Peter to his face once. How about Mark and Barnabas?

I agree with Paul that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And that “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

I don’t claim that “I follow Cephas” because I follow Christ. There’s tons of passages about division based on minor disputes. Do you believe these weren’t written for a purpose?

So this begs the question…Who defines major and minor disputes. Who says that someone like Simon Magnus is not a simple person with a different view? Who says that the Judaisers are wrong and the Gentiles don’t need to follow the law?

Who says what is a minor dispute and what is a major dispute? Your major dispute might be my minor one and vise versa.

And the whole Peter Paul thing had nothing to do with Doctrine.

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