Use of "catholic" church in the ECF's


#1

This is the first of two threads in which I want to discuss Catholic concepts of the church. This first one is a bit more limited in scope.

I’m frequently reading on CAF the argument that the Catholic church is “the” original church with quotes from the early church fathers (ECF’s) given as part of the proof of this. Quotes are then provided which contain the words “catholic church”.

I believe there’s a fallacy at work here: semantic anachronism. For more detail, consult Daniel Marsh’s excellent thread on fallacies, especially posts 1 and 4.

In brief the fallacy occurs when modern concepts of a word are read back into an historical text.

The Greek word “katholikos” has a rich history predating Christianity and was frequently used as far back as Aristotle with a meaning of “universal” or at times “complete”.

Therefore the most straightforward reading of these passages in the ECF’s is that they are making reference to the complete or universal church as it existed in their time. This use of “katholikos” is well established while evidence for the use of the term as a proper noun isn’t.

To assume that this church automatically equates to the Catholic church of today because the same word is used is as fallacious as a Baptist claiming that their church predates Catholicism because the Gospels say John was a baptist. (again a common Greek word meaning one who performed baptisms-a baptizer).

So could we see a little less use of this use of the ECF’s please? :slight_smile:


#2

You are wrong. The Early Church Fathers used the words Catholic Church very specifically referring to the Church established by Christ on Peter.


#3

Sorry Non Serviam…not a chance.


#4

His arguments are weak.

In brief the fallacy occurs when modern concepts of a word are read back into an historical text.

The Greek word “katholikos” has a rich history predating Christianity and was frequently used as far back as Aristotle with a meaning of “universal” or at times “complete”.

That what the Catholic means. For 2,000 yrs it has always been. Those who departed from the Catholic Church are the one who are truly universal because they departed from the truth.

Therefore the most straightforward reading of these passages in the ECF’s is that they are making reference to the complete or universal church as it existed in their time. This use of “katholikos” is well established while evidence for the use of the term as a proper noun isn’t.

To assume that this church automatically equates to the Catholic church of today because the same word is used is as fallacious as a Baptist claiming that their church predates Catholicism because the Gospels say John was a baptist. (again a common Greek word meaning one who performed baptisms-a baptizer).

So could we see a little less use of this use of the ECF’s please? :slight_smile:

Let us see what the ECF really have to say:

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Christ Jesus does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles. Do ye also reverence the deacons, as those that carry out the appointment of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrneans, 8:2 (c. A.D. 110).

“[A]ll the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.” Martyrdom of Polycarp, 16:2 (A.D. 155).

“…to be in honour however with the Catholic Church for the ordering of ecclesiastical discipline…one to the Laodicenes, another to the Alexandrians, both forged in Paul’s name to suit the heresy of Marcion, and several others, which cannot be received into the Catholic Church; for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey. The Epistle of Jude no doubt, and the couple bearing the name of John, are accepted by the Catholic Church…But of Arsinous, called also Valentinus, or of Militiades we receive nothing at all.” The fragment of Muratori (A.D. 177).

“[N]or does it consist in this, that he should again falsely imagine, as being above this [fancied being], a Pleroma at one time supposed to contain thirty, and at another time an innumerable tribe of Aeons, as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:10,3 (A.D. 180).

“For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago,–in the reign of Antoninus for the most part,–and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in **the church of Rome **under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled.” Tertullian, On the Prescription Against Heretics, 22,30 (A.D. 200).

”Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church, which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another.” Cyprian, To Florentius, Epistle 66/67 (A.D. 254).

“But for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance…these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.” Creed of Nicea (A.D. 325).

((continue))


#5

“Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church…” Council of Nicaea I (A.D. 325).

“Concerning this **Holy Catholic Church **Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That thou mayest know haw thou oughtest to behave thyself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures,18:25(A.D. 350).

"[T]he Article, In one Holy Catholic Church,’ on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly… for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to thee now the Article, And** in one Holy Catholic Church**;’ that thou mayest avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which thou wast regenerated. And if ever thou art sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God.” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 18:23,26 (A.D. 350).

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and eternal life. Amen.” Apostles Creed (A.D. 360).

“And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped and together glorified, Who spoke through the prophets; in one holy Catholic, and apostolic Church.” Constantinopolitan Creed (A.D. 381).

“Those who from heresy turn to orthodoxy, and to the portion of those who are being saved, we receive according to the following method and custom: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and Novatians, who call themselves Cathari or Aristori, and Quarto-decimans or Tetradites, and Apollinarians, we receive, upon their giving a written renunciation [of their errors] and anathematize every heresy which is not in accordance with the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of God.” Council of Constantinople I, Canon 7 (A.D. 381).

“We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church, which is Catholic and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard.” Augustine, The True Religion, 7:12 (A.D. 390).

“Inasmuch, I repeat, as this is the case, we believe also in the Holy Church, [intending thereby] assuredly the Catholic. For both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. But heretics, in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe. Wherefore neither do the heretics belong to the Church catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same.” Augustine, On Faith and Creed, 10:21 (A.D. 393).

“For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual, men attain in this life…–not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations…so does her authority…the succession of priests…[a]nd so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, *though all heretics *wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church…Now if the truth is so clearly proved as to leave no possibility of doubt, it must be set before all the things that keep me in the Catholic Church…For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church…for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichaeus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you.” Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus, 4:5,5:6 (A.D 397).


#6

Conclusion: It does sound that the ECF very much believe what modern Catholics believe. They believe that the Catholic Church is one and has authority. I believe the OP really made poor fallacies conclusion regarding the use of the word “catholic” in the ECF.


#7

Manny,

Thank you for grasping the concept I was trying to convey. In your reply to me you went beyond simply pointing to the use of the term “catholic church” in the quotes and instead made a stronger argument, pointing to comparisons between the practices mentioned by the ECF’s and those of the Catholic church.

I’m sure you’ll find this works much better when interacting with non-Catholic Christians, even if some Anglicans, Lutherans and the occasional Orthodox believer try to claim those ECF descriptions for their own churches. I think you’ll find that you cover more ground with them this way, and get into the meat of the discussion more quickly.

Thanks again :slight_smile:


#8

**Excellent presentation!

Everyone wants to call themselves “Catholic” but nobody wants to do what is required to be one.**


#9

I don’t think this argument works. The first use of the term that I’m aware by Christians is in Ignatius, and it pretty clearly means his Christian community as opposed to other rival groups. Etymology is not theology. The term “Catholic” has always been a controversial claim and has always been used by one group of Christians to claim superior authenticity.

Of course they think they are talking about the complete or universal Church. That’s what Ignatius thought his Christian community was.

I think the more valid argument against the Roman Communion is that the members of that Communion do not currently make the exclusivist claims that early Christians made. They recognize other Trinitarians as fellow Christians among whose communities grace is to be found. So an argument could be made that “Roman” Catholics implicitly acknowledge the Catholicity of other Trinitarian Christians, but because of their exclusivist traditions don’t want to make that acknowledgment explicit and so attempt to harmonize the two positions (the Catholic Church is the One True Church, but other Christians are connected to it in some imperfect way).

Or it could be that this is a legitimate and praiseworthy development, and that a mature Christian ecclesiology needs to recognize shades of membership in the Church in a way that early Christians did not. (Though a reasonable case has been made that the acknowledgment of heretical/schismatic baptism as valid, which is first found in the 3rd century and was fleshed out by Augustine in his anti-Donatist writings, was an important step in that direction.)

Edwin


#10

Your welcome. However, I have discussed with several Eastern Orthodox Christians here before most of them left since Eastern Christianity was changed to Eastern Catholicism. In my discussions with them, they did acknowledge that the ECF describe that Jesus Christ only had one Church.

Eastern Orthodox believe the Early Church bear four marks.

It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. They believe this to be true. The Eastern and Western Churches were One single Body which made up a single Church we called Catholic Church. There was no division. By 1054 AD, Eastern Orthodox claimed that the Western Church split from them while we Catholics believe that they split from us.

The Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in the beginning there was only One Church just as we Catholic believe.


#11

Edwin,

I agree that one cannot disprove the Catholic church’s claim to be the church mentioned in the ECF’s on semantic grounds-I simply wanted to highlight that one also can’t prove it in that fashion.

That’s why I was glad to see Manny come to the thread and offer additional evidence as to why his church best merits the title. It a more robust argument than a semantic assertion.

by working to raise the level of debate and quality of evidence I believe it paves the way for a discussion of weightier contentions like the two you’ve posted (very clearly presented, btw kudos to you!). I hope that some Catholics will address them and that fruitful discussion can take place.

Thanks again for your contribution. :slight_smile:


#12

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