Skip to comments.The Early Church Fathers
Posted on 01/27/2007 6:12:35 AM PST by NYer
The Early Church Fathers were the leaders and teachers of the early Church. They lived and wrote during the first eight centuries of Church history. Some of their writings were composed to instruct and / or to encourage the faithful. Other writings were composed to explain or defend the faith when it was attacked or questioned. The writings of the Early Fathers are widely available and studied. They are accepted by Catholic and non Catholic scholars alike. Thus they provide common ground in establishing the beliefs and practices of the early Church.
The earliest of the fathers are known as the Apostolic Fathers. Their writings come to us from the first two centuries of Church History. They were the immediate successors of the Apostles. Three of them were disciples of one or more of the Apostles. Clement of Rome was a disciple of the apostles Peter and Paul. Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were disciples of the Apostle John. Naturally we would expect that those who were taught directly by the Apostles would themselves believe and teach correctly.
Protestantism is based on the allegation that the Catholic Church became corrupt shortly after 312 AD. Thats when the emperor Constantine converted and made Christianity the state religion. It is alleged that pagan converts came into the Church bringing with them many of their pagan beliefs and practices. According to Protestant historians the pagan practices that were brought into the Church became the distinctive doctrines of Catholicism. Thus the Catholic Church was born and true Christianity was lost until the Reformation. But history tells us a different story.
Shortly after the death of the apostle John, his disciple, Ignatius of Antioch, referred to the Church as the Catholic Church. In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans he wrote: "Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church" (8:2 [A.D. 107]).
In reading the Early Fathers we see a Church with bishops in authority over priests and deacons. We see a church that baptized infants and believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We see a Church that believed in the primacy of Rome, the intercession of the saints in heaven and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Thus we are lead to the inescapable conclusion that the early Church was the Catholic Church.
As you can see, the writings of the Early Fathers are especially helpful in refuting the Protestant claim that many Catholic doctrines were invented in later years. Although they are wrong concerning the age of Catholic doctrines their reasoning is sound. If a teaching appears after the apostolic age without evidence of previous support it must be false. Curiously enough though, they abandon this line of reasoning when it comes to many of their own beliefs such as the doctrine of Scripture Alone (mid 1500s), The Rapture (late 1800s), the licitness of artificial contraception (1930) and many others.
It is important to note that some doctrines existed in a primitive form during the early years. These doctrines would develop over time. One example is the Doctrine of the Trinity. All of its elements were present at the beginning but it wasnt clearly defined the way it is today. It wasnt until later that it was fully understood. This would not make it a late teaching as all of the information was there from the beginning. Other doctrines were developed in this same way.
Also worthy of note is the fact that the Early Fathers occasionally disagreed on minor issues that were not yet settled by the Church. This does not present us with a problem as we do not claim that the Fathers were infallible. While they were not infallible they were unmistakably Catholic. They clearly illustrate the fact that the early Church had no resemblance to Protestantism.
John Henry Newman was one of the more famous converts to Catholicism. After studying the Early Fathers he wrote: "The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant" (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).
Christianity was started by Christ 2000 years ago and it has existed for 2000 years. It didnt go away for 1200 years and come back. Indeed that would have rendered Jesus words impotent. In Matthew 16:18 as He was establishing His Church Jesus gave us a guarantee. He said: "I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." If the Protestant hypothesis is correct, the gates of hell did some serious prevailing and Jesus Christ is a liar. But of course such is not the case.
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Good article, with my usual caveat that "Catholic" means The Church as we ALL, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, "Eastern Catholics" and Latins can and do define it in the Creed.
In all my years in the Methodist Church, I was never taught that paganism corrupted Catholicism. Now this may have been the view of John Wesley, but as far as I know his gripes were with the Anglican Church, which he broke from.
Of course, I can only speak for the Methodist pastors that I came in contact with, and have no idea about others in the denomination nor what other Protestant churches teach.
And a good article it was.
However, it also served as a hit piece on Protestants hiding behind the guidelines set forth yesterday.
If the Protestant hypothesis is correct, the gates of hell did some serious prevailing and Jesus Christ is a liar.
"Protestantism is based on the allegation that the Catholic Church became corrupt shortly after 312 AD. Thats when the emperor Constantine converted and made Christianity the state religion. It is alleged that pagan converts came into the Church bringing with them many of their pagan beliefs and practices. According to Protestant historians the pagan practices that were brought into the Church became the distinctive doctrines of Catholicism. Thus the Catholic Church was born and true Christianity was lost until the Reformation. But history tells us a different story."
I don't know that this paragraph is accurate. I think it might be more genuine to say that Protestants believe(d) that the Catholic Church was corrupted over time, leading to the Reformation. The 1200 years between Constantine and Luther is a period of many movements, changes, tendancies and events in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church at the time of Luther was not something that today's Catholics would be happy with either. There were real, actual, serious problems, and they didn't appear overnight with Constantine. The Reformation didn't just happen because some people went loco 500 years ago. The Counter-Reformation was apparently a non-event to this author.
As is all to common, this author sets up a Protestant straw-man, and proceeds to pound it. Not to say that Protestants don't do the same thing when making the contra-argument.
This notion of a 'corrupted' Catholic Church, is more recent than the teachings of Wesley.
Thank you! Your insights as a convert are always appreciated.
On the contrary. This article is posted with the intent of educating both Catholics and Protestants, many of whom have never read the Early Church Fathers. If possible, put aside any personal prejudice and reread this article with an open heart and mind. It recounts the lives of the first christians. This is the early church. And, as Orthodox freeper Kolokotronis pointed out, it is clearly recognizable to both Catholics and Orthodox.
Agreed! Even today, the Catholic Church has traveresed some rocky roads yet, throughout it all, the doctrines of the Catholic Church have remained faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Her leaders may not be perfect (no one is without sin except Christ) but her doctrines are.
I can put aside personal prejudice (such as it is) while reading the article, but it's author didn't do so when writing it. It doesn't tell me that much about the Early Church Fathers. It tells me more about the author's lack of knowledge regarding Protestantism. It is a hit piece, with enough locical fallacies to corner the market on same.
well said, even though I don't agree with much of Catholic Doctrine. I wish the author had gone more into the early writings, and how they reflect certain doctrines that are contentious today. Like maybe pick three or four, and analyze them. That would be educational for all. Of course it would be fair to ask if I am too intellectually lazy to do it myself.......
I'm not aware of any Protestant hypothesis that states Hell prevailed against the church that Jesus founded...There was however, tremendous persecution thru-out the Dark Ages for Jesus' church as Foxes Book of Martyrs does attest to...
Protestantism is such a big umbrella...lots of shades of diversity involved, and lots of subgroups, and lots of different degrees of assumption about the history of the church.
I was raised in a church that alternately believed the church went bad with the death of the apostles, and that the church went bad with the Council of Nicea. And somehow believed this simultaneously.
And then there's the groups that believe the "true" church went underground, secretly meeting and baptising and teaching the truth and all those groups that were declared (usually) gnostic heresies are just members of the true church getting into trouble...or they think the Waldensens weren't a group that was formed in the middle ages, but the secret church that goes back to the apostolic age.
It would make an interesting study to see the development, shape and spreading of all the various viewpoints like this...tells a lot about people's points of views about the world as much as which teachers they've come in contact with.
Again, I agree! And, in fact, the author covers 23 such doctrines, all of which I planned to post, one at a time. But, since you are the first to ask, you get to pick the first one posted. Is there any one or two in particular that particularly pique your interest?
The author is suggesting that since Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, true believers would not have left the Church. Even its sinful leaders have never erred in doctrine.
I am a Methodist Pastor and John Wesley had a typical Reformation view of Catholicism.
He commonly referred to "papists," and I believe (fairly certain of this) that I've read him using "antichrist" verbiage in regard to the pope.
His articles of religion, particularly the one on Holy Communion, are not flattering at all toward Catholicism.
Objection. This thread is protected by being ID'd as a Caucus, but even a cursory reading of shows that is a anti-Protestant polemic rather than a RC devotion.
Furthermore many of the posts are a discussion of alleged Protestant error.
I move this thread be opened to general discussion.
I will go back into lurk and while I await your ruling
Tell that to the author of the article.
Have already read the church fathers; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Timothy, Paul...
They were the immediate successors of the Apostles. Three of them were disciples of one or more of the Apostles. Clement of Rome was a disciple of the apostles Peter and Paul. Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were disciples of the Apostle John.
The apostle Paul let us know that his most immediate successor was Timothy...We don't even know if your Clement is the same one Paul briefly mentioned...Wonder if there was more than one Clement way back then...
Naturally we would expect that those who were taught directly by the Apostles would themselves believe and teach correctly.
Unless of course they taught something differently than the apostles taught...Don't forget, there were many false teachers back then as well as now...
2Co 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
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