Unanimous Consent?


#1

Okay, so, I was reading some articles, and I happened across one which mentioned decrees by the Council of Trent and the first Vatican Council, which state that noone, even the Roman Catholic Church herself, is to teach anything which is contrary to the “unanimous consent of the Fathers”.

Now, the overall gist I got from this is that if the “Fathers” expressed an opinion in a particular fashion, then Rome cannot contradict that. I had a few specific questions…

In English, the word unanimous literally means to be of one mind. Such inherantly implies being without division and being in total agreement with one another on this concept. However, I’ve heard that Roman Catholics do not hold to this interpretation of the word unanimous. So, could someone please provide for me a Roman Catholic view on this phraseology?

Additionally, can someone explain how such an interpretation does not in fact contradict these facts…

  1. Unanimity requires that noone is in disagreement. I’ve not seen a single doctrine which hasn’t had at least one detractor to it among the early fathers.
  2. Moreover, for the fathers to have been unanimous on a subject, silence cannot be assumed as being in agreement with a particular view. This itself discounts unanimity, for I know of almost no issue on which every church father spoke at all.
  3. Seeming agreement on certain points of a doctrine cannot be construed as agreement on the whole of a doctrine.
  4. It seems to me that something which may or may not have been done in the past is the declaration of a chruch father as a heretic whenever his teachings began to disagree with Rome. How do we objectively determine who these early fathers are?

A prime example of the early fathers not being in unanimous consent on a subject is the primacy of Peter (and by extension, the papacy). Origen wrote that Peter was the rock, and from that, Roman Catholics often cite two or three sentences to say that Origen fully supported the modern doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. However, a closer inspection (of Origen’s Commentary on Matthew) shows us that he in fact taught that Peter was blessed, was the rock, had the keys, and the power to bind and loose, because of his faith. Further, Origen states that anyone who likewise has such a faith as Peter had, can also be called the same – blessed, having all the power, authority, and promises that were given to Peter. This is clearly not in coordination with the current dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church.

(Note, here I would like to stay out of scripture and dogma, and simply focus on the meaning of “unanimous consent”, and then apply that to the early fathers and see what we get.)


#2

“U.” also allows of “moral unanimity” - the vast preponderance of the Fathers say X., & this is moral unanimity; you are thinkling of numerical unanimity.

Besides, assertions are slippery things - denial is tricky to define at times :slight_smile:

Additionally, can someone explain how such an interpretation does not in fact contradict these facts…

  1. Unanimity requires that noone is in disagreement. I’ve not seen a single doctrine which hasn’t had at least one detractor to it among the early fathers.
  2. Moreover, for the fathers to have been unanimous on a subject, silence cannot be assumed as being in agreement with a particular view. This itself discounts unanimity, for I know of almost no issue on which every church father spoke at all.
  3. Seeming agreement on certain points of a doctrine cannot be construed as agreement on the whole of a doctrine.
  4. It seems to me that something which may or may not have been done in the past is the declaration of a chruch father as a heretic whenever his teachings began to disagree with Rome. How do we objectively determine who these early fathers are?

A prime example of the early fathers not being in unanimous consent on a subject is the primacy of Peter (and by extension, the papacy). Origen wrote that Peter was the rock, and from that, Roman Catholics often cite two or three sentences to say that Origen fully supported the modern doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. However, a closer inspection (of Origen’s Commentary on Matthew) shows us that he in fact taught that Peter was blessed, was the rock, had the keys, and the power to bind and loose, because of his faith. Further, Origen states that anyone who likewise has such a faith as Peter had, can also be called the same – blessed, having all the power, authority, and promises that were given to Peter. This is clearly not in coordination with the current dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church.

(Note, here I would like to stay out of scripture and dogma, and simply focus on the meaning of “unanimous consent”, and then apply that to the early fathers and see what we get.)

As to the interpreting of Fathers, I think we should listen to all that they say - & only then use them as witnesses on a topic


#3

In response to this example, I’d just say that the underlined portion above is the part of Origen that is unanimous and is therefore taught by the Church - while the rest of what he says was not unanimously preached.

Simple, right? :wink:

Nita


#4

I didn’t say either moral or numerical unanimity – I just said unanimity, just as the aforementioned councils did. However, why is there reason to believe that moral unanimity, as you call it, would not also result in numerical unanimity?

Besides, assertions are slippery things - denial is tricky to define at times :slight_smile:

Perhaps, but that’s not always the case. There are examples, like Origen, that are pretty overt.

As to the interpreting of Fathers, I think we should listen to all that they say - & only then use them as witnesses on a topic

If you were speaking of all of what Origen has to say on the subject, feel free to show me what I missed.

If you were saying that we need to consider the whole of the church fathers as a group – this is simply a majority, not unanimity.

Simple, yes, but also totally illogical. So, yes, Origen did teach that Peter (along with others, but we’re focusing on Peter for the moment) had authority, the keys, binding and loosing, etc. In that regard, he was in agreement with the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

However, his overall teaching quite clearly shows that others can have the exact same standing as Peter, and in fact says that the rest of the twelve did have such standing! The Roman Catholic view is that this passage entrusted to Peter a singular authority – the office of the pope, and that this office is superior to regular people. But that’s contradictory to what Origen says. Thus, as Origen teaches this way on the subject, there’s no way the “unanimous consent of the fathers” could reflect the modern Roman Catholic teaching. Even if every other one of the church fathers disagreed with him, and held, verbatim, the Roman Catholic position of today, that’s still not unanimity (an entire group being of one mind).

Thus, to say that this teaching (the primacy of Peter, and thus, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome) is in agreement with the unanimous consent of the fathers is a logial impossibility.

(Note – I don’t think it’s fair to expect unanimous consent from church leaders, but then again, it wasn’t I that established this guideline – it was the Roman Catholic Church that established it, and thus we can apply it to her [and only her], and expect her to comply with it, lest she contradict a teaching which was declared infallibly by a church council, not once, but twice.)


#5

Numerical unanimity is almost always impossible. Whose to distinguish between the Fathers and the heretics? We should research the documents you read further. Seeing if they truly meant moral or numerical unanimity. Also, which is more likely? What was the general connotation of the word at the time of the councils? I’m also sure this question has been addressed in some Catholic thing somewhere…Google it? Maybe, maybe not.


#6

I’m still confused – how does moral unanimity not also require numerical unanimity? It’s simply the meaning of the word – uni (one) + animus (heart, mind, feeling). If someone disagrees with the group, then there is not unanimity as far as I can see.

In other words, how does moral unanimity manage to not be unanimous?


#7

There it is. (Sorry I couldn’t edit my last post for some reason.) Did the documents say that the Church can’t teach something which isn’t in unanimity? Usually, if the ECF ALL teach the same on one thing, then it’s gonna be true. I don’t really see the problem, explain more please.


#8

Origen may have taught this, but it was not unanimously taught. Therefore, the Church is not going against (or contradicting) a “unanimous” teaching if she teaches that we are not all given the same authority/standing of Peter.

Just out of curiosity, where does Origen state that we can all have the keys of the kingdom?

Nita


#9

It’s an interesting, yet subtle, point of logic. So, just a point of interest – what Roman Catholic doctrine is there which is defined by unanimous consent of the fathers? Essentially, I’ve heard “the fathers held this to be true” used to substantiate the validity of many teachings.

If your interpretation of the passage is correct, the Roman Catholic Church can go against any teaching which isn’t unanimously supported by the fathers. This also means that, unless someone is claiming unanimous consent, a Roman Catholic shouldn’t use the fathers as a source for fear of hypocrisy (after all, what good is a source that you can choose to contradict if you like? if the unanimous consent is all that cannot be contradicted, then it’s the only thing that should be a viable source for Roman Catholics).

Another little subtle point – for the fathers to be in unanimous consent, they must all have spoken on the topic (not to mention agreed to the same perspective on it). I seriously doubt there’s any doctrine which was addressed by every father.

As for Origen, the portion in question is from his Commentary of Matthew, Book 12. You can find the page at newadvent.org/fathers/101612.htm or any number of other sites (I just picked a Catholic-affiliated one as to avoid criticism). Though it’s a bit of a read, I’d suggest reading all of chapters 10 and 11 to gain a complete picture of Origen’s words. It’s pretty overt though.


#10

IMO, the use of the Church Fathers comes up in apologetics because Catholics are so often accused of inventing or creating “new” doctrines or teachings - as tho the date of their official declaration as doctrine is the when they first showed up in Christian teaching. Reference to the Early Church Fathers proves the falsity of such charges.

The ECF do not establish doctrine; it’s the Pope and/with the Magisterium that have that authority. Even if all the ECF agreed on some point, that would not make it infallible doctrine; neither would it mean the Pope and Magisterium must declare it to be doctrinal.

Nita


#11

Wouldn’t have criticized you. I have a set of the Early Church Fathers - a Protestant edition. The price was right! :slight_smile:

Thanks for the link.

Nita


#12

So then the whole thing about not doing anything contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers means what exactly?

Also, if the church isn’t required to adhere to what was taught in the past, doesn’t that kind of justify the arguments that they invented certain doctrine?


#13

Regarding your first question. To my knowledge, there is nothing that was unanimously taught by the fathers that has not already been officially defined as doctrine. The declaration you cite was no doubt aimed at the reformers who were putting forth teachings contrary to the long held teaching of the Church - Church teaching/doctrine which faithfully expressed the teaching of the fathers.

Regarding your second question. The Church does adhere to what was taught in the past. Just because some line appears in the writing of an ECF does not mean that the “Church” - Pope and bishops - held that to be Catholic doctrine to be accepted by all. Origen was not even a bishop. The number of officially declared doctrines grows with time - mostly as a response to heresies that arise contradicting what was being taught. When that occurs, it becomes important to make a teaching “official” - to refute the heresy and make Church teaching clear and officially on record, so to speak.

It’s pretty easy to find out what the doctrines of the Church are. A very good book is “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” by Ludwig Ott. That book not only gives the level of certainty on a Catholic teaching (dogma, doctrine, speculation, etc.), but also when something was officially defined, the Scripture sources for it, and also ECF support. In addition, he often gives the heresies that gave rise to the Church officially defining it.

As a Catholic, it’s perplexing to me how one can join a denomination when there is no set of unchangeable teachings - unchangeable because they are TRUE. I have a very good Baptist friend who does not want to talk with me about doctrinal differences because she’s afraid it will affect our friendship. I recall asking her years ago if there was a book she could recommend where I could read the official teachings of the Baptist faith, not just a particular person’s opinion. I was still naive enough to assume there would naturally be such a book. To profess union with a denomination when there is no assurance that what is taught is absolute truth, no assurance that what they’re teaching at the time I join would still be taught in the years to follow, would seem like building my house on shifting sand.

Nita


#14

These may be helpful.

envoymagazine.com/backissues/3.2/faithoffathers.htm

socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/unanimous-consent-of-church-fathers.html


#15

Doesn’t one man armed with the truth make a majority?

Very little Christ taught would have passed a unanimous consent test among the Pharisees, yet he was right and they were wrong.

This watering down of belief to the lowest common denominator seems a glaring fallacy to me in that it subordinates truth to the opinions of men.

As is seen throughout Scripture, the apostles struggled to understand Christ. Much of early Church history reflects this ongoing struggle, and it took some time to understand Christ’s message and formulate doctrine in support of it.

Let me put it another way—if Presbyterian teaching consisted only of those things all Presbyterians unanimously agreed upon, sermons would be over in nanoseconds.

Within the Catholic faith, there is a stark division between what one MUST believe to be a Catholic, and those beliefs entertained by various Catholics. I don’t think the former were the result of unanimity per se but rather Truth handed to the Church.


#16

One other thing to remember is that the Church Fathers didn’t spring fully formed from the forehead of God. They had formation periods and may have written or preached quite a bit during them. So, they may have written records of them preaching something different from what the Church eventually discerned as the Truth. For example Jerome was was iffy about the deutrocanoncal books, but assented to Church teaching that they should belong in the OT cannon. In the same way Origen (or any other Father), may have written or preached ideas that they were thinking through that eventually were not discerned to be correct. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily disagreed with the final Church teaching. The Church works out her faith in fear and trembling, just as we all do. The difference is that as a Body, the teaching magestrium is free from error on Christ’s promise.


#17

Very well said.

I’ve seen this myself, as in my initial reading of the Catechism there were several points at which my own long-held beliefs did not correspond to Church teaching. Yet further study, practice, and prayer has confirmed that the Church is far wiser than I am.

I have much to learn, and thank God I have such teaching to draw upon.


#18

Did Origen became a heretic at some point in his life (as seen in the development of his writings)? If so, it would be important to note whenever we reference Origen whether it was during his orthodox period, or not.

Quick question, are ancient writers like Origen and Tertullian (those who drifted into heresy) really Church Fathers, or are they considered ecclesiastic writers because of their eventual heresy?

Is the reference to Origen’s writing (regarding Peter and the keys) one of his orthodox writings? At what point were they heterodox?


#19

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