Skip to comments.Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius: what did he really about the "ancient" Baptists
Posted on 03/30/2002 12:03:57 AM PST by Brian Kopp DPM
When Baptists attempt to maintain their descent from the time of the Apostles, they often will bring up a purported statement of Cardinal Hosius from the sixteenth century, which proves so they think, that the Baptists have been around from the beginning, so they are the true Christian church. That this statement was supposedly made by Hosius, who was a papal legate at the Council of Trent, is sure to cause doubts as to its authenticity, except among those who would like to believe it`s genuineness. It is the purpose of this essay to show the evidence for the inauthenticity of this statement, and to show also what Cardinal Hosius really did have to say about anabaptists in his writings.
A little about Hosius
Born 5.May.1504 in Krakow, Poland, of German parents.
Died 5.August.1579 in Capranica (near Rome).
Cardinal from 1561. Bishop of Ermland from 1551 to 1579.
Legate for Vienna 1560; papal legate for Council of Trent 1561-1563; legate for Poland 1566.
Fought entry of Protestants into Poland. In 1564 he called the Jesuits into Poland for that purpose.
Wrote the Confessio, a famous catechism, in 1577
Complete works published Cologne 1584.
More info at Catholic Encyclopedia: Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius
PART I. Cardinal Hosius and that infamous "statement": Is it genuine?
The statement reads as follows:
"Were it not that the baptists have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in greater number than all the Reformers." (Hosius, Letters, Apud Opera, pp. 112, 113.)" Quoted in the Trail of Blood by J. Carroll.
Does this statement exist in his complete works? No.
The complete works of Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius were published in two volumes in 1584 in Cologne, under the title Opera Omnia. The complete title reads as follows:
D.STANISLAI HOSII, S R E CARDINALIS, MAIORIS POENITENTIARII; ET EPISCOPI VARMIENSIS
Opera Omnia in Duos divisa tomos, quorum primus ab ipso auctore plurimus subinde in locis, integris & dimidijs paginis sic auctus & recognitus, ut novum opus fere censeri possit. Secundum autem totus novus, nuncque primus typis excusus.
Apud Maternum Cholinum
Anno M. D. L XXXIIII
The purported statement is nowhere to be found in the letters of Cardinal Hosius
PART II: What Cardinal Hosius DID have to say about the Anabaptists.
Cardinal Hosius meant by the term Anabaptist a general term for any kind of re-baptizing sect. We see the proof of this in his assertion that the Donatists were Anabaptists. But we know, of course, that the Donatists had completely different beliefs from modern day Baptists (or even 16th century Anabaptists.). For example, they only believed in re-baptism for those Christians who had apostasized under persecution and later returned. Thy did not say infant baptism was wrong, they did not day baptism must be by immersion only, they did not say baptism was merely a symbol. So it is absolutely wrong for modern-day Baptists to suggest that Cardinal Hosius testifies to their existence at the time of Augustine!!!
See Catholic Encyclopedia: Donatists
a) The following is an extract from Liber Primus De Haeresibus Nostri Temporis found in Opera Omnia on page 432 of the Cologne, 1584 edition. It shows clearly how the Anabaptists of the time of Hosius could not agree among themselves, just as the anabaptist groups of Augustines time were also likewise hopelessly disunited.
(Note: original Latin will be shown in italics)
( Margin heading: Anabaptistae inter se dissecti)
"But this sect of Anabaptists is greatly divided. For they neither agree on the main doctrines among themselves .."( Est autem & haec Anabaptistarum secta valde dissecta: Neque enim doctrine capitibus inter se conveniunt. ) .It has also been in Augustines century, (fuit etiam Augustini seculo, & ficut aliae pleraeque omnes haereses) all heresies immediately from the beginning divided into many parts (sic & haec statim ab initio multas in partes fuit divisa).
b) Cardinal Hosius then goes on to list some of the anabaptist heretical groups of Augustines time. This is significant, because among other things it shows that Hosius regarded the Donatists as anabaptists or re-baptizers. However, since we know exactly what the Donatists believed (and it certainly wasnt what Baptists believe) we see that Hosius used the term anabaptist as a generic term for sects which re-baptized. Here is his quote:
(Nam alij vocabantur Donatistae, alij Rogatistae, alij Maximianistae, Circenses alij, qui conversi tandem sunt a factione Donatistarum ( hoc enim nomen caeteris erat celebrius) ad Ecclesiae Catholicae societatem. )
(For some are called Donatists, others Rogatists, other Maximinianists, othere Circenses, which at length are changed from the faction of the Donatists to the Catholic Church)
c) And he continues by listing some of the sects of the sixteenth century.
Muncerani, alij Orantes, alij Silentes, Somniantes, pueris similes, Synceri, Impeccabiles a Baptismo, Liberi, Binderliani, Sabbatarii, Maderanii, Hoffmannici, & post eos exorti Circumcisi: fortassis & Adamitae ad Anabaptistarum sectam pertinent.
So it is clear from this that Hosius grouped all re-baptising sects together under the heading Anabaptists. This is very important to note, for it destroys conclusively any notion that the Baptists of today can trace their lineage back to the time of Augustine.
d) A quote from letter CLVII Carolo Archiduci Austriae (from Opera Omnia, Liber Epistolarum)
Nonne videmus a Lutheranismo ad Calvinismum, a Calvinismo ad Anabaptismum, ab Anabaptismo ad Trideismum, a Trideismi ad Atheism iam esse ventum?
(Do we not already see the wind to be from Lutheranism to Calvinism, from Calvinism to Anabaptism, from Anabaptism to Trideism, from Trideism to Atheism?).
Proof again, if it were needed, that Cardinal Hosius certainly didnt see the Anabaptists of his time being in any way descended from the groups at the time of Augustine.
e) Letter CL Alberto Bavariae Duci (ibid.): in this letter we do have a reference to Anabaptists from 1,200 years earlier , (quos ante mille ducentos annes haeretisos), however as we have seen, this refers to sects such as the Donatists, who did not reject infant baptism or baptism by sprinkling, they merely insisted that apostates should be re-baptized, hence their status as ana-baptists.
Nam & alterius Principis edictum non ita pridem legi, qui vicem Anabaptistarum dolens, quos ante mille ducentos annes haeretisos, capitalique supplicio dignos esse pronunciatos legimus, vult, ut audiantur omnino, nec indicta causa pro condemnatis habeantur.
f) Finally note the following reference. Again Hosius is goruping the Donatists as anabaptists:
Page 436 Liber Primus De Haeresibus Nostri Temporis (ibid.)
Neque vero tantum Augustini seculo tales fuerunt: Ante quadringentos etia annos, quibus Bernardus vixit, fuerunt Anabaptistae non minus vitae prodigi, quam Donatistae.
(Not only in the time of Augustine were they as such. 400 years ago, during which Bernard lived, there have been anabaptists no less prodigious of life than the Donatists.)
(Refs Augustus epist. 50 Donatistae mortis oppetendae cupidi; Bernardus. sermo 66 in cantic.)
Once again, there is absolutely no connection in Hosius' mind between the groups of the time of Augustine and those of the sixteenth century.
We have shown that (i) it is almost certain that Cardinal Hosius never made that remark which is attributed to him, for reasons given in section I above, and (ii) that Cardinal Hosius certainly did not regard the Anabaptists of his time as being in any way descended from the sects of the time of Augustine.
An understanding of the general nature of the term anabaptist as simply meaning re-baptizer will clarify why Hosius says they existed as early as Augustine`s time. Note that in contrast, the term Catholic has always meant something quite specific, union with the See of Peter in the universal Church. For this reason, the Catholic Church of today CAN and DOES claim continuity from the time of the Apostles.
As a final comment, it is well to note that the Catholic Church has much more ancient testimony than anything the Baptists can come up with. Just read the Early Church Fathers on Baptism, the Eucharist, the Primacy of Peter etc. See for example www.catholic.com or www.newadvent.org
The Baptists cannot provide any kind of support of this kind for their position.
Catholic Encyclopedia Links:
The following are some links to Catholic Encyclopedia articles relating to pre-reformation heretical sects. The casual reader will note that the teachings of these groups vary widely and can in no way be seen to be doctrinally consistent with modern-day Baptists!
The Landmark Independent Baptist Church website cites the following quotation:
"If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and boldness of which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinion and persuasion of no sect can be truer and surer than that of the Anabaptist since there have been none for these twelve hundred years past, that have been more generally punished or that have more cheerfully and steadfastly undergone, and even offered themselves to the most cruel sorts of punishment than these people. (Cardinal Hosius, Letters, Apud Opera, 112-113)." Baptist Magazine CVIII, 278. May, 1826)
Obviously, this is very different quote from the one quoted earlier. Yet they both have the same reference (Letters, Apud Opera, 112-113).
The list of contents for Cardinal Hosius Complete Works (Colonia, 1584 edition) reads as follows:
Operum Tomi Primi
Confessio catholica fidei Christiana folio 1
Confutation Prolegomenon Brentij. 419
De expresso Dei verbo libellus 611
Dialogues de communione sub utraq. specie
Operum Tomi Secundi
De oppresso Dei verbo libellus 1
De Actis cum diversis Haereticis 61
Liber Epistelarum 145
Examen siue exiussio Confederationis Hareticorum 454
Altera exiussio eiusdem Confederationis 459
Orationes funebres duae, in Exequijs duorum Regum Poloniae Sigismundi primi & secundi recitatae 462.469
Eiusdem auctoris Testamentum ex manuscriptus adversarijs excerptum 483
Epistola Stanislai Rescij, de transitu Cardinalis Hosij 485
Eiusdem Ode lugubris 495.
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Copyright © 2001 Sean Hyland. This text may be reproduced in its entirety provided the copyright notice is included, but may not be sold or exchanged for profit.
Question from A Reader:
Hello!!!! My question is, what is the begining point for the ana-baptist faith and then later the baptist. Some say 350 A.D. some say earlier. When did they begin and where can I find some more information on this topic?? Another thing, doesn't the Council of Trent mention the "persecutions of the Anabaptists 1200 years earlier ?"
Though the Baptists like to claim ancestry in the early Church, in fact nothing like the Baptist religion is found in history until the 13th century, when groups such as the Waldensians and the "Spiritual Franciscans" began to develop doctrines similar to theirs. I am unaware of anything in the Council of Trent that specifically refers to persecution of Baptists more than a thousand years before, though it may have referred to other heresies of that period. There is no reliable book of history that finds any significant part of the Baptist religion before 1200. - Dr. Carroll
Question from Art Kelly on 07-28-1998:
The Council of Trent certainly does NOT make ANY mention of persecution of Anabaptists 1,200 years earlier. If anyone asserts that it does, please indicate in which session of Trent such a statement can be found.
Anabaptists are today?s Amish and Mennonites and do NOT claim ancient lineage.
Baptists were founded in 1609 and are NOT related to Anabaptists.
First of all, Anabaptists believed, as Catholics do, in salvation by grace through BOTH faith AND works. Since Baptists have always strongly believed in the (anti-Biblical) view of salvation by faith ALONE, with nothing else required, it would be hard to imagine a more fundamental Second, Anabaptists practiced baptism by affusion, rather than immersion. For Baptists, that ranks almost as important.
Third, a look at history will reveal that ties to the Anabaptists were continually DISAVOWED by early Baptists, while at the same time they all claimed the closest of ties with the so-called Protestant Reformation.
For verification of this, I would direct Mr. Dreher to several BAPTIST sources:
Phil Johnson?s Hall of Church History with separate sections on the Anabaptists and the Baptists
A Primer on Baptist History: The True Baptist Trail by Chris Traffansted
Baptists , by Pastor Fred Zaspel of the Word of Life Baptist Church, Pottsville, Pennsylvania
[and, finally] Baptist Successionism: A Critical Question in Baptist History by James Edward McGoldrick, a scholarly book which can be obtained through interlibrary loan.
Mr. Dreher should know that the claims of "ancient Baptists" by the likes of the Landmark Baptists and Dr. J. M. Carroll?s 1931 booklet, A Trail of Blood, have been examined by Baptist scholars and found to be without any merit whatsoever. .
Answer by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D on 07-28-1998:
Very well said! Thank you particularly for the references. - Dr. Carroll
"Ancient Baptists" and Other Myths
Nicea, August 24, A.D. 325, 7:41 p.m. "That was powerful preaching, Brother Athanasius. Powerful! Amen! I want to invite any of you folks in the back to approach the altar here and receive the Lord into your hearts. Just come on up. We've got brothers and sisters up here who can lead you through the Sinner's Prayer. Amen! And as this Council of Nicea comes to an end, I want to remind Brother Eusebius to bring the grape juice for tomorrow's closing communion service . . ."
Ah yes, the Baptists at the Council of Nicea. Sound rather silly? It certainly does. And yet, there are those who claim the Church of Nicea was more Protestant in belief and practice than Catholic. I recently read an article in The Christian Research Journal, written by a Reformed Baptist apologist, who argued this very point. No, I'm not making this up. The article, "What Really Happened at Nicea?" actually claimed the Fathers of the Council were essentially Evangelical Protestants.
As a trained patristics scholar, I always feel a great deal of sadness and frustration when I encounter shoddy historical "scholarship," whether it be in the pages of The Watchtower, a digest of Mormon "archaeology," or a popular and usually well-produced Evangelical Protestant apologetics journal. But this article was so error-laden, so amateurishly "researched," and so filled with historical and theological fallacies, that I simply couldn't let it stand without response.
All the classical Protestant confessions of faith expressing the beliefs of the various Reformation branches include the doctrinal proclamations of the ancient Catholic Council of Nicea, whereby Christ is professed to be "of one essence" with the Father. The original Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1531, for example, and the later Formula of Concord of 1576-1584, each begin with the mention of the doctrine of the Nicene Council.
Calvin's French Confession of Faith of 1559 states, "And we confess that which has been established by the ancient councils, and we detest all sects and heresies which were rejected by the holy doctors, such as St. Hilary, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose and St. Cyril." The Scotch Confession of 1560 deals with general councils in its 20th chapter. The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, both the original of 1562-1571 and the American version of 1801, explicitly accept the Nicene Creed in article 7.
Even when the particular Protestant confessional formula does not mention the Nicene Council or its creed, its doctrine is nonetheless always asserted, as, for example, in the Calvinist Scotch Confession just mentioned, or in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of 1647.
At first glance, this all seems rather odd to the Catholic reader. After all, every branch of Protestantism professes the absolute and sole sufficiency of Sacred Scripture for establishing the fundamental points of doctrine. Why, then, do these various Protestant confessions bother to bring up the early councils (or any councils) when establishing their core teachings? Well, we shouldn't be too quick to accuse them of inconsistency just yet, for all of these confessions make it abundantly clear that the councils of the Church have no authority of their own, but only insofar as they teach things which have a clear warrant in the written Word of God.
For a Protestant, then, the general councils of the ancient Church and their creeds provide useful historical references for the expression of orthodox, biblical doctrine. They don't have any particular infallible status as councils of the Church. Even less are the doctrines of the early councils proposed as sound because they reflect the Church's Tradition as a source of knowledge of revealed truth.
So far so good. A Catholic may not agree with it, but such a view at least isn't internally inconsistent. Classical Protestants accept the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation as scriptural, and so refer to the early councils which taught these dogmas. They pick and choose from the riches of Christian teaching, and sometimes they get it right. A Catholic can only be content that they do; we are not stingy with the good things we enjoy. As Pope Pius XI said of the various Protestant groups, "Stones cut from gold-bearing rock themselves bear gold."
But there's a bigger problem here. The words of Calvin quoted above give us an example of it. He refers to "the sects and heresies rejected by the holy doctors, such as St. Hilary, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose and St. Cyril." Protestant apologists want to claim for themselves the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as well as the early councils. Some even go so far as to claim that the Fathers held to the principle of sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)! A brief look into the events surrounding the great Nicene Council should suffice to dispel this foolishness.
Things were hard for the Church in A.D. 325. A certain Arius, a wildly popular presbyter in Egypt, was publicly denying the full divinity of Christ. In his view, Jesus was godlike, but not God Almighty (Jehovah's Witnesses are the modern day purveyors of this position). A charismatic figure, Arius gathered about himself a school of followers, and his influence spread. The local Catholic bishops condemned him, yet his activities continued. Finally, fearing that perhaps a split in Christendom would lead to disruption in the empire, the Emperor Constantine called a general council of bishops. There is some question as to whether the emperor acted on his own, or in concert with Pope Sylvester. While the accounts contemporary to the event mention only Constantine, a statement made in the Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680) indicates Nicea was called by both the emperor and the Pope. It is interesting to note this statement was made during the general session, and was received as true without question or objection. Surely they would have known better, were it not true.
Most of the Nicene Council's 318 episcopal attendees were representatives of eastern churches, like Ephesus, Jerusalem and Antioch. Pope Sylvester, too ill to make the journey himself, sent two legates. According to the ancient historian Gelasius, the Roman Church was represented by Hosius, bishop of Cordova (Spain) and the leading proponent of the orthodox position regarding Christ's divinity. Not only was Hosius representing Rome, but it seems he also presided over the council after Constantine's introduction. St. Athanasius, an attendee and tireless defender of orthodoxy, wrote admiringly about Hosius, "What council can be mentioned in which he did not preside?" (Apologia de Fuga, 5).
So the Council proceeded, led by a bishop officially representing the Church of Rome. The debate was heated, but the outcome was clear: Christ is not some kind of minor deity, but He is one in Being with the Father God, in the fullest sense of the term. An important question, then, arises: Just how did the Council arrive at this position?
The Reformed Baptist author of the Christian Research Journal article claims, "The council had no idea that they (sic), by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority." This statement, though brief, is littered with errors.
First, even if the proceedings of the Council were nothing more than a debate on Scripture, it is thunderingly clear that the participants believed they had the authority to give the definitive interpretation of the data. According to the position of the Protestant apologist, the Church had no final interpretive authority; if an individual Christian believed the conciliar arguments to be unbiblical, he could reject them. How different this is from the position of the Council itself. The very end of the original Nicene Creed reads: "And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before He was begotten He was not, or that He was made of things that were not, or that He is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that He is a creature, or subject to change or conversion all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them."
Again, recall that the real issue is whether or not the Council believed itself to be the final authority in interpreting the data regarding Christ's deity. Clearly, the Church that anathematizes (cuts off) those who disagree with its findings is a Church that believes itself to have the last word.
But there is another problem with the claim that the authority of Nicea rests solely on biblical authority. The Council did not declare that the doctrine it proposed was simply a restatement or clarification of the Scriptures, but that "the Catholic and Apostolic Church" believes it, and condemns the contrary. The Scriptures are not cited even once in the Fathers' definition, hardly a likely thing had they been adherents of some "Bible only" ideology. To be sure, the Fathers of Nicea were certain that the orthodox doctrine was found in Scripture, but because they most assuredly did not hold to sola scriptura, it never occurred to them to separate the Church's authority from the interpretation of Scripture. Rather, if anyone at that time held to a view akin to the "Bible only," it was the heretical Arians, who rejected the Church's definition because it used terms not found in Sacred Scripture, but rather taken from Greek philosophy.
The absurd, and the outrageously absurd.
In trying to make his argument that the Council attendees were Protestant, our apologist makes the outrageous claim that, "Convinced that Scripture is 'sufficient above all things,' Athanasius acted as a true 'Protestant' in his day." Oh really? Did Athanasius hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura? Everywhere in his writings, St. Athanasius takes the Church's faith as the rule whereby the Scriptures are to be rightly interpreted. This rule of ecclesiastical faith (Greek: ho skopos tes ekklesiatikes pisteos) he adopts as a canon for rightly establishing the sense of the sacred text. The Arian heretics, on the other hand, use their private opinion (Greek: ho idios nous) as their rule or canon of interpretation.
Glancing through St. Athanasius' Discourses Against the Arians, one will quickly see how classically Catholic his use of Scripture is: "[S]ince they allege the divine oracles and force on them a misinterpretation according to their private sense, it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense" (Discourse 1, 37).
"This then I consider the sense of this passage, and that a very ecclesiastical sense" (Discourse 1, 44).
"This then is what happens to God's enemies the Arians; for looking at what is human in the Savior, they have judged Him a creature . . . But for them, learn they, however tardily, that 'the Word became flesh;' and let us, retaining the scope of the faith, acknowledge that what they interpret ill, has a right interpretation" (Discourse 3, 35).
"Had Christ's enemies thus dwelt on these thoughts, and recognized the ecclesiastical scope as an anchor for the faith, they would not have made shipwreck of the faith" (Discourse 3, 58).
And these are just snippets. Repeatedly throughout his discourses, St. Athanasius gives the Church's rule of faith, and then applies it to the passages of Scripture misinterpreted by the Arians. There is simply no other way to understand his defense of the Faith against them.
In his Letter to Serapion on the Death of Arius, St. Athanasius distinguishes the orthodox Faith from widely held opinion, not by reason of its Scriptural basis solely, as a Protestant would, but because it is the teaching of the Church. Thus, the dictum "Athanasius against the world" points out his defense of the Nicene Faith against those who reject the Church's interpretation of Scripture, not his defense of Scripture against the "established church" (as our Protestant friend claims in his article).
Athanasius declared: "For the Lord Himself judging between the threats of Eusebius and his fellows, and the prayer of Alexander, condemned the Arian heresy, showing it to be unworthy of communion with the Church, and making manifest to all, that although it receive the support of the Emperor and of all mankind, yet it was condemned by the Church herself" (Letter to Serapion, 4).
Perhaps our Protestant apologist is a bit disappointed that I have not yet engaged him in any quibbling about Greek. Well, he's offered me a beauty of an instance; in fact, it's his very favorite quotation from Athanasius, the one in which he pretends that Athanasius professes the doctrine of sola scriptura over and against Church councils. Speaking of the Arians, St. Athanasius says:
"Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a council is needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in the divine Scriptures" (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, 6).
Does St. Athanasius' original Greek really say that Scripture is "sufficient above all things"? No. In a very simple sentence which a first-year Greek student should be able to translate correctly, St. Athanasius declares "For divine Scripture is more sufficient than all [other writings, councils, etc.]." The sentence in transliterated Greek reads Esti men gar hikanotera panton he theia graphe. Here we do not have an absolute statement, but a comparative one. To say that Scripture is the primary source of doctrine is not to say that it is the sole source of doctrine. I do not know of any Catholic theologian, doctor, or council of prelates of any period in the Church's history who would not view arguments from Sacred Scripture as the more authoritative among various sources of doctrine. This quotation gives absolutely no support to the Protestant error of sola scriptura. The issue here in the Greek is subtle, yes, but seemingly too subtle for the Protestant apologist to have caught.
Athanasius' entire anti-Arian corpus is nothing if not a scriptural refutation of heresy. The heretics claim Scripture as their guide. Fine, then let's show them how they err from Scripture itself. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, all the doctors of the Church, patristic and scholastic, prefer scriptural authority. In doing so, they do not reject, but rather assert, the teaching of the Church.
But there's more. The very context of this alleged Athanasian "Bible-only" proof-text (which just went "poof" as a proof) shows that even with the mistranslating, it demonstrates the exact opposite of the Protestant apologist's thesis. Immediately preceding the passage cited, and in the very same paragraph, St. Athanasius rejects the Arians' call for new councils based on the already sufficient expression of the Church's authority. He writes: "What need is there of Councils when the Nicene is sufficient, as against the Arian heresy, so against the rest, which has condemned one and all by means of the sound faith?" (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, 6).
In other words, the Council of Nicea has decided the matter; the authoritative interpretation of the data has been given. The progression of the holy doctor's reasoning is clear: "Why do the Arians call for further councils when the Church's definition at Nicea suffices? Indeed, why do they want a council at all since Scripture, on which they claim to base their teaching, is so clear on this point? In any case, Nicea is enough for clarifying the true faith found in the Scriptures. Nicea is sufficient, and Scripture is more sufficient still, but either one would be enough." This, ladies and gentlemen, is a traditional Catholic argument through and through.
St. Athanasius wrote the famous Life of Antony, the semi-biography of the patriarch of monks a work that later spurred St. Augustine on to his full conversion to Catholicism. In it, Athanasius gives St. Antony's dying words, a fine summary of the Catholic attitude toward Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Church in the face of heresy: "Have nothing to do with the Arians, for the irreligion of these is plain to everyone . . . Therefore keep yourselves clean from these and watch over the tradition of the Fathers, and above all, the orthodox faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, as you have learned it from the Scriptures, and as you have often been put in mind of by me" (Life of Antony, 89).
So was St. Athanasius a "true Protestant," as the Baptist apologist claims? The Athanasius who believed that a Christian could lose his salvation through mortal sin (cf. Discourses Against the Arians 3, 25)? The Athanasius who venerated Mary as "the Mother of God" (Greek: theotokos; cf. Treatise on the Incarnation of the Word, 8)? The Athanasius who believed in Mary's perpetual virginity (cf. Discourses Against the Arians II, 70)? The Athanasius who believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Sermon to the Newly Baptized)? If indeed Athanasius can be called a Protestant, then the word "Protestant" has no meaning at all.
But what about the other Fathers of Nicea? Did they give evidence of any Protestant leanings? Not even remotely. The Council of Nicea was a Catholic Council in the fullest sense, Catholic in the sense commonly understood today. If someone were handed the canons of this council for examination, he would immediately recognize the things treated there as matters of Catholic Church order, and not applying to any recognizable Protestant group.
The Council of Nicea dealt with many of the same canonical issues in 325 that are dealt with in the Church's current canon law, both Eastern and Western. Its decrees concern the qualifications, precedence and jurisdiction of bishops and priests (canons 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 19), the proper role of deacons at the celebration of the Eucharist (canon 18), measures to ensure the validity of the ordination of bishops (canon 4), uniformity in the celebration of the Church's Eucharistic Liturgy (canon 20), the preservation of the celibacy of the clergy (canon 3) and the treatment of penitents and their reconciliation (canons 11, 12, 13, 14). It's worth quoting a few of these canons that show the Council's Catholic character quite unambiguously.
Canon 3 states: "The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion."
In this way, the Council forbade any woman to dwell in the house of a member of the clergy, except mothers, aunts, sisters or those "beyond all suspicion." It's interesting that there is no mention of wives here. Obviously, the clergy was by this time largely celibate. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the description of the sacrament of holy orders being divided into three levels of ordained ministry: bishop, presbyter (priest) and deacon. The Church of the Council of Nicea had all three, just like the Catholic Church today. The Baptist apologist who wrote the article we're critiquing does not agree with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of holy orders (ie. bishops, priests, and deacons). In this, he is typical of most Evangelical Protestants, who likewise reject this sacrament.
Canon 18 states: "It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them . . . And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate."
Let's think this through. Does it seem likely that a council of "Evangelical Protestants" (which, remember, is exactly what the Baptist writer of that article in the Journal was arguing they were) would issue a canon laying out the liturgical order for the distribution of the Eucharist? Not likely. Of course, one would expect such a thing at a Catholic council. And that is precisely why we see this and similar canons emanating from this council: It was a Catholic assembly, not a Protestant one.
Another revealing canon is the 13th. In regard to the granting of Holy Communion to penitents at the point of death, it says: "Concerning those about to die, the ancient canon law is still to be maintained, namely that those who are departing are not to be deprived of their last, most necessary viaticum . . . As a general rule, in the case of anyone who is departing and seeks to share in the Eucharist, the bishop upon examining the matter shall give him a share in the sacrifice."
Is there any Protestant who would view the Holy Eucharist as "most necessary viaticum" at the hour of death? Would the Baptist apologist recognize the Eucharist as a "sacrifice" or oblation in which he shares? Do Protestants, for that matter, concern themselves with episcopal jurisdiction, the dates of feasts and the proper posture for liturgical prayer? When was the last time you heard of a Protestant pastor giving absolution and holy viaticum to a repentant excommunicate in order to ensure his eternal salvation?
No Protestant apologist attending the Council of Nicea would recognize it as an organ of his denomination or as anything resembling his version of "biblical" Christianity. The issues discussed and the conclusions reached are common only to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course none of the 318 council Fathers would be familiar with the expression "Roman" Catholic, since this pejorative expression was invented by the Protestants of the 16th century, and later humbly adopted by orthodox Christianity in the West. Nevertheless, the Council of Nicea bears the unmistakable mark of Catholicism. Not surprising, since the Council was Catholic.
"But wait," a Protestant might respond. "What about Canon 6 of the Council of Nicea? Doesn't that demonstrate there was no papal primacy in the early centuries of the Church?" This claim is always presented in polemical discussions of the Nicene Council.
Canon 6 reads: "Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail."
Are we to understand from this that the bishop of Rome is no greater in authority than the bishop of Alexandria? Indeed, our Baptist apologist writes, "This canon is significant because it demonstrates that at this time there was no concept of a single universal head of the church with jurisdiction over everyone else." Is this true? Not at all. The first thing one must do is note the context. What is the nature of the "jurisdiction" mentioned here? It is, primarily, the authority to ordain bishops. Notice that after laying out the territory for each of the metropolitans, the canon explains what is to take place within those limits: the selection and ordination of bishops. This point also fits the context of the preceding canons, paraphrased here:
Canon 4: Bishops are to be chosen by bishops of their province, and their choice is then to be ratified by the metropolitan having jurisdiction over that area.
Canon 5: Those excommunicated by one bishop are not to be re-instituted by a bishop of a different territory. Every province should have regular synods to decide these issues.
Canon 6: The metropolitans have jurisdiction over their respective territories. No one is to be made a bishop without their final approval.
Notice the function of canon 6 in context with the preceding two canons: It sets out territorial boundaries for more efficient administration. Recall that the pope is also the bishop of the city of Rome. He has a special administrative jurisdiction over Rome, whereas the bishop of New York has the same jurisdiction over New York, the bishop of Alexandria over Alexandria, etc. But this is not to say the Roman bishop has no authority over the Church; these are two different kinds of jurisdiction. So a plain reading of canon 6 in context shows it is hardly a blow against Roman primacy.
In the end, there is no way to avoid the inescapable fact that the Council of Nicea was Catholic in every sense of the term. Unfortunately for the Protestant author of the Journal article, no amount of cut-and-paste patristic work, no feats of "scholarly" gymnastics, no grotesque historical contortions can change that.
"Brothers and sisters, I want to announce to you all that we've just had 23 people saved up here. Keep on coming! I see some more folks in the back. Let them through. Sister Pearl, can you make your way to the piano and do 'Onward Christian Soldiers'? It's the Emperor Constantine's favorite, you know . . ."
Evangelical Protestants at the Council of Nicea? The idea would be funny, if it weren't so sad that some people actually believe it.
More importantly for me was learning the actual teachings of the Church as opposed to the misconceptions I was exposed to in my fundamental background. Understanding the sacraments was the key.
Pope as Anti-Christ, idol worshiping, cannibalism, etc. I was familiar with these and other outrageous charges, but it was actually a minor bias that I recalled from working with a puppet ministry in a Baptist Church that sticks in mind. I had found a picture of Jesus on the cross to use in one of the performances. Some of the parents complained about it, considering it blasphemy. They claimed that showing our Savior on the cross is a denial of his resurrection (???) and that only an empty cross is acceptable. If that is the case, says I, isn't an empty cross a denial of his sacrifice? They looked at me as if I were from another planet.
Anyway, my point is, that Anti-catholic bigots should be aware that their hysterical ranting and slandering of the Catholic Church is as likely to push people into the Church as it is to keep them out.
The *Catholic list that Proud2brc pinged above is not the same as the bump list I keep. It's simply a marker that people who want to search for articles relevant to Catholics can use to do that searching. It doesn't place a bump in anyone's self search. My bump list is an old fashioned type of thing that does place a bump in.
And I want to bump this thread back to the top -- it is a most excellent post.
Millie in Michigan
P.S. I don't understand how the "pings" work, but I'd like to be included for your RC posts.
I don't want to change the subject, so could one of you kind people tell me via "Freep-mail" how to create a "Bump list" for myself? (I'm also a little unsure about how to "bookmark." ...well, 'unsure' isn't quite the right word... ignorant would be a better one!) Thanks, in advance!
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