REBUTTAL #2 : WHAT DID THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS REALLY TEACH ?
(Catholic) In my first rebuttal, I dealt with the issue of Peter and the Papacy, using mostly Scriptural references to show there is evidence of not only a primacy of Peter, but also a hierarchical structure in New Testament times. This rebuttal will concentrate on what the early Church Fathers taught on this all important issue. This is the Catholic response to an article called Early Post-Apostolic Denials of a Papacy.
his first paragraph, the Protestant apologist opens with the
claim to be the "successors" of the apostle Peter, which
supposedly gives them authority over all Christians on earth.
That the New Testament says nothing of a papacy, and even denies the concept of Petrine supremacy (Luke 22:24, John
21:21-22, Acts 15:6-29, 2 Corinthians 12:11), should be enough to settle the issue of whether the papacy actually was
established by Christ and the apostles. An institution as powerful and as popular as the Roman Catholic Church is not likely to
give up its claims to authority, though, no matter how much evidence there is against those claims. What Catholic apologists
cannot establish from the plain teaching of the New Testament they attempt to establish instead by reading assumptions into
passages like Matthew 16:18 and Luke 22:32, as well as appealing to the beliefs of men who lived after the apostles. However,
if even the early post-apostolic Christians deny the concept of a papacy in their words and actions, then there can be no
reasonable doubt that Christ and the apostles did not establish a papacy. Catholic apologists can speculate all they want that
the apostles believed in a papacy, but just didn't write about it in the New Testament, even though they dealt with issues of
church government over and over again (Acts 15, Galatians 2, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, Revelation 2-3, etc.). But if the earliest
post-apostolic Christians reflect no knowledge of an "oral tradition" of a papal office, then there is no reason to believe in a
papacy. And without the papacy, Roman Catholicism collapses.
(Catholic) To his credit, the Protestant apologist recognizes the importance of studying the earliest Christian writings of the first few centuries to aid us in our understanding of how the Church "worked" after the death of the last apostle. We hope to prove in this treatise that the early Church Fathers believed in, and supported the chair of Peter. We will do this byqouting extensively from various fathers, and by destroying the quotes offered by the Protestant apologist by showing them in their rightful context.
One thing we need to understand, even IF the fathers did not speak of a doctrine often or clearly, it doesn't mean they didn't believe in that doctrine. We have to realize that often we, as human beings, take much for granted. For instance, when dialoging with a Protestant, I needn't say anything about Christ's Resurrection and Ascension, or even the Virgin Birth, I would assume he believed it,unless he would make statements that might cause me to question his belief in these. This is an important truth when reading the Scriptures, the early Fathers, or any writing for that matter. We have to study what is being said, what seemingly is being assumed by the writer, before we can come to an accurate interpretation of what is being said. For instance, because I don't mention my belief in Purgatory to my Catholic friends, are you going to assume I don't believe it? On the contrary, all my statements are made with the assumption that they know I believe it.
With that being said, let's move into the realm of the Early Church Fathers and what they had to say about Peter and the Papacy:
The first section of the Protestant apologist article attempts to show that the fathers denied Peter's primacy. Here are some of those texts:"Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he [Paul] wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you. But that inclination for one above another entailed less guilt upon you, inasmuch as your partialities were then shown towards apostles, already of high reputation, and towards a man whom they had approved [Apollos]." (47) In his analysis of the passage, the apologist writes "To begin with, notice that First Clement shows no signs of viewing Peter as being above the other apostles. Peter is referred to only as one of the apostles, not as a Pope. Even more important, though, is First Clement's explanation of the sin the Corinthians had been guilty of in 1 Corinthians 1:12. According to First Clement, they were guilty of showing partiality toward apostles and Apollos, an associate of the apostles. Peter is actually named in this passage. Obviously, the papacy is all about showing partiality toward one of the apostles. First Clement accuses the Corinthians of sinning by showing partiality among the apostles, a practice that the Roman Catholic Church actually encourages today."
What needs to be recognized, as I explained in my first rebuttal, is that the office (of bishop) IS the same amongst the Apostles. As any one who has read 1 Corinthians will tell you, Paul was condemning them for their partiality inasmuch as they were saying they were of these Apostles, and NOT of Christ. That is a big difference than what the apologist is teaching here. I also want to note the continual reference to the word "pope" used by this apologist. As he seems to have a grasp of history, he should well know that the title "pope" (pope=Italian for 'papa') did not really become popular until the 4th century. But by using this term in the way he does, he is trying to draw the readers attention away from the real facts, and as such, is being decieving in the way he operates.
Now here is a quote from the same Pope St. Clement : "Owing to the sudden and repeated calamities and misfortunes which have befallen us, we must acknowledge that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the matters in dispute among you, beloved, and especially that abominable and unholy sedition, alien and foreign to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-willed persons have inflamed." This is the quote I used in my previous rebuttal. The important thing to note here is that while the apologist claims that Clement, who was bishop of Rome, knew nothing of the authority he had, this quote proves otherwise. He says, first of all, that he apologizes for being so slow to respond to their problems. Why would he have to apologize if his church has no more importance than any others? I'm sure since he was so slow to respond, he would have recognized that another bishop had already addressed this problem. Besides, why didn't the bishop of Corinth simply handle the matter himself? These are difficult questions for our apologist friend because he believes that all bishops have the same authority. In fact, if the apologist is correct by saying the Corinthians were sinning by favoring one apostle over another, then Clement participated in their sin by responding to their letter (as they apparently favored him over other bishops). After all, even if Corinth didn't have a bishop, there were many other bishops in closer proximity to them than Rome. But also note what Clement says later in the same Epistle (chap 39) "If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; but we shall be innocent of this sin." Here Clement speaks with an authority that is above all the other bishops. There is no allusion to proclamations by other bishops in the area, only this letter. And he warns the Corinthians that they must obey him, or else!
Point number two is the fact that the Corinthians, as alluded to above, asked for the bishop of Rome's help in this matter. If this is true, then who sent the letter to Rome? If our apologist friend is right and there is a 'board of directors' type of authority set up over each community, then it must have been this 'boards decision tio seek Rome's help. Again we ask why would they do that if they are supposed to handle everything in house? Clement goes on to say "If anyone disobey the things which have been said by him [God] through us [i.e., that you must reinstate your leaders], let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger." "You will afford us joy and gladness if being obedient to the things which we have written through the Holy Spirit, you will root out the wicked passion of jealousy" (Letter to the Corinthians 1:1, 58:2-59:1, 63:2 [A.D. 80]). Notice the boldness of Clement in saying it is the Holy Spirit speaking through him. Notice to the threat he levels at the Corinthian church by saying if you don't obey us, you will be "in no small danger." How can he speak with that kind of authority if he didn't believe he had it?
Ahh, but the apologist responds"The letter mentions nothing of a papacy, though, but instead is a letter of advice from one sister church to another. Similar letters were written by other church leaders, such as Ignatius' letter to Polycarp and Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. It was common practice for churches and church leaders to write to one another with advise, rebuke, requests, etc. This wasn't something that only the Roman church did. Only by taking the letter out of this context, and by reading assumptions into it, can it be portrayed as evidence of a papacy." The first thing that needs to be noted is the tone of the letters spoken of. Ignatius never lays claim to any great authority, whereas as we have seen, Clement does. It is true that church leaders wrote each other often, my argument is the authority Clement felt he had to address the Corinthians. It wasn't advice in the pure sense of the word, but a command!
The apologist then throws in this statement "Not only does First Clement not mention a papal office, but it even contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine. It teaches salvation through faith alone." The apologist throws this out, and then doesn't produce the evidence! This charge is a gross distortion of Clement's writing. This apologist who is fond of saying Catholic's quote the fathers out of context, is doing the same with himself. I've seen other apologist use a statement from Clement trying to convince people he believed in faith alone, but it is discounted when the whole chapter is read (since he didn't provide evidence, I must assume he is referring to this passage). ’ “They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen (Clement of Rome, 32).”
Yes, it does appear that Clement teaches 'sola fide,' till we read the rest of the chapter; "“What then shall we do, brothers? Shall we idly abstain from doing good and forsake love? May the Master never allow this to happen, at least to us; but let us hasten with earnestness and zeal to accomplish every good work. For the Creator and Master of the universe Himself rejoices in his works... We have seen that all the righteous have been adorned with good works. Indeed the Lord himself having adorned himself with good works, rejoiced. So, since we have this pattern, let us unhesitatingly conform ourselves to his will; let us with all our strength do the work of righteousness.: The good worker receives the bread of his labor confidently, but the lazy and careless dares not look his employer in the face. It is therefore necessary that we should be zealous to do good, for all things come from him. For he forewarns us: "Behold, the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work." He exhorts us, therefore, who believe in him with our whole heart, not to be idle or careless about any good work. Let our boasting and our confidence be in him; let us submit ourselves to his will; let us consider the whole host of his angels how they stand by and serve his will... Let us therefore make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts. But how shall this be, dear friends? If our mind is fixed on God through faith; if we seek out those things which are well-pleasing and acceptable to him; if we accomplish those things which are in harmony with his faultless will, and follow the way of truth, casting off from ourselves all unrighteousness and lawlessness, covetousness, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, pride and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality. For those who do these things are hateful to God and not only those who do them, but also those who approve of them....”( Pope St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 95 AD) CASE CLOSED!!!
The next father brought forward is Ignatius and his Epistle to the Romans. We could argue opinions here but I think the writhings of Ignatius show forth many things clearly. The authority of the bishops "where the bishop is there is Jesus Christ," the hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons. "be careful to be subject to the bishop, and the presbyters and the deacons" (to the Ephesians ch 6), and "He that is within the altar is pure, but(2) he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons,(4) such a man is not pure in his conscience..(to the Trallions)" the latter two both clear alusions to a hierarchy in early Christendom. If there is a hierarchy, then it only stands to reason that there is one bishop who has the final say.
Now here is documentation from the early Church to show just who this bishop was (collected fromCatholic Answers):
"[T]he blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid thetribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? `Behold, we have left all and havefollowed you'" [Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28] (Who Is the Rich Man That is Saved? 21:3-5 [A.D. 200]).
"For though you think that heaven is still shut up, remember that the Lord left the keys of it to Peter here, and through him to theChurch, which keys everyone will carry with him if he has been questioned and made a confession [of faith]" (Antidote Against
the Scorpion 10 [A.D. 211]).
"[T]he Lord said to Peter, 'On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [and]
whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven' [Matt. 16:18-19] . . . Upon you, he says,
I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church; and whatever you shall have bound or you shall have
loosed, not what they shall have bound or they shall have loosed" (Modesty 21:9-10 [A.D. 220]).
Letter of Clement to James
"Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his
doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus Himself, with His truthful mouth,
named Peter, the first-fruits of our Lord, the first of the apostles; to whom first the Father revealed the Son; whom the Christ,
with good reason, blessed; the called, and elect" (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221])
these quotes could be multiplied. I refer you to The
Catholic Answers Topical Index page
Now let us look at quotes dealing with Peter and his successors:
"The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the
episcopate to Linus" (Against Heresies 3:3:3 [A.D. 189]).
"[T]his is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrneans , which records that
Polycarp was placed there by John, like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter" (Demurrer
Against the Heretics 32:2 [A.D. 200]).
"Victor . . . was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter" (The Little Labyrinth [A.D. 211], in Eusebius, Church History
"The Lord says to Peter: 'I say to you,' he says, 'that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of
hell will not overcome it. . . . ' [Matt. 16:18] On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the
sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he
established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. . . . If someone [today] does not hold fast to this
unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was
built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; first edition [A.D. 251]).
"Cornelius was made bishop by the decision of God and of his Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause
of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men, at a time when no one had been made [bishop]
before him--when the place of [Pope] Fabian, which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair, was vacant. Since
it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever now wishes to become bishop
must do so outside. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church" (Letters 55:):8
"With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and
blasphemers to the Chair of Peter and to the principal church [at Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source" (ibid., 59:14).
I want to finish out this essay by dealing directly with a quote from St. Iranaeus (190 ad);
“we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere” (Against Heresies Book 3 chap. 3 190 ad).
This quote has such clear teaching into the primacy of the Roman church that it shouldn't need an interpretation. Yet our apologist friend has found his way clear to try to obscure this simple message by means of trickery and outright deceit.
(Protestant) So while Irenaeus does say in his Against Heresies that all churches must agree with the Roman church for various practical reasons, he obviously didn't believe in a papacy, and he didn't believe in an absolute Roman or papal supremacy. As his letter to Victor proves, Irenaeus believed that the Roman church could err, and did not have to be followed by other churches. There's a tremendous difference between appealing to the Roman church as the best example of pure apostolic doctrine in a work intended to refute Gnosticism (Against Heresies) and believing that the Roman church and its bishop are the supreme rulers of every Christian on earth throughout history. Irenaeus' comments about the Roman church in Against Heresies are a snapshot, an appeal to the Roman church's doctrinal purity at that time. Only by quoting some of his comments in Against Heresies out of context can Irenaeus be portrayed as a believer in the papacy.
would Iranaeus say to agree for "practical reasons."
What does that mean? The apologist refers to a letter by
Iranaeus to Pope Victor in discussing the date for the celebration of
Easter. The apologist trumps this up as an absolute denial of
Papal infalliblity and authority. He downplays the fact that
everbody was beseeching Pope Victor to listen to them and adhere to
their side. Why would they all do this if Pope Victor was just
another bishop, one among equals. Why would there be such a
controversy if the Bishop of Rome wasn't looked to as one with
authority. It is ridiculous to blow it off as some sort of play
in the secular world, as many Protestant apologist do, that is, say
the bishop of Rome was powerful because Rome was powerful. Our
apologist friend tries to make his case by stressing that the eastern
bishops spurned a threat of excommunication by Pope Victor, and
maintained their tradition. First thing to note, is how
could Pope Victor threaten excommunication if he didn't have that
authority? Secondly, after a long battle, the Church (Pope St.
Victor) makes the right decision by saying this is not a dogma of the
faith, but a practice. It matters little when you celebrate the
Resurrection, as long as you celebrate it. Therefore,
those in the east can celebrate Easter as they please, those in the
west, as they please, and peace was brought to Christendom.
Now,our apologist tries this instance :"And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points, they were at once well inclined towards each other with regard to the matter in hand, not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this head."
The apologists says the following:Not only could Anicetus, the bishop of Rome at the time, not convince Polycarp to change his stance on this particular issue,but Polycarp disagreed with the Roman bishop on other issues as well! How can this be, if the Roman bishop was viewed asthe "Vicar of Christ" on earth, who had to be obeyed upon threat of loss of salvation, as claimed by the First Vatican Council?Although Polycarp and the bishop of Rome at the time (Anicetus) disagreed peacefully, the truth remains that they disagreed.Even when the Roman bishop tried to persuade Polycarp to change his stance, he couldn't.
The problem with this thinking, and really the thinking for the rest of his article, is that he seems to think if you disagree with the Pope on ANYTHING, you are outside the Church and excommunicated. This is utterly ridiculous. The story of St. Catherine of Sienna is a beautiful illustration. How she went to the popes residence and remonstrated with him, told him what he ought to be doing. The pope finally acquiesced. This story no more disproves papal infallibilty than the ones offerred by our friend here.
Note, in the quote above, we don't know what they disagreed about. But also note that they came to an agreement! Our apologist will lead you to believe that the pope lost in this encounter, but if any one has ever read into a text, he has. How can he say that the pope didn't change his mind? I can't see that in the text. It says they were well-inclined towards one another, could that not mean they came to an agreement? And note, it was "at once," or immediately. If the bishop of Rome was just another bishop, then this issue would not even have been recorded, but being that the bishop of Rome does hold a primacy, this became an important issue in the early church. Remember what I told you at the outset, there are certain things taken for granted in everybodys writings?
The other thing to note is that the bishop of Rome needn't be "obeyed" in everything he says. As I showed your from the illustration above, many great saints have disagreed with the Pope. But when the pope speaks from the chair of Peter on matters of faith and morals, then he must be obeyed.
Now back to the Iranaeus quote. St. Iranaeus says that it is "apostolic tradition" that we have a "succesion of bishops down to our time." And no matter how badly you wish to deny it, or throw smokescreens up against it, you cannot mistake his words when he says "For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere” That is every church, every where in the world. Iraneaus says the church of Rome must be obeyed because she was "founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul." There is no hint that this obedience is anything other than the truth would shine from Rome.
Now let us look at some of these quotes dealing with Peter (and his successors) authority:
"Therefore shall you [Hermas] write two little books and send one to Clement [Bishop of Rome] and one to Grapte. Clement
shall then send it to the cities abroad, because that is his duty" (The Shepherd 2:4:3 [A.D. 80]).
"Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God,
worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the
presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father" (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).
"You have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain
in force" (ibid., 3:1).
"For from the beginning it has been your custom to do good to all the brethren in various ways and to send contributions to all
the churches in every city . . . This custom your blessed Bishop Soter has not only preserved, but is augmenting, by furnishing
an abundance of supplies to the saints and by urging with consoling words, as a loving father his children, the brethren who are
journeying" (Letter to Pope Soter in Eusebius Church History 4:23:9 [A.D. 170]).
"Today we have observed the Lord's holy day, in which we have read your letter [Pope Soter]. Whenever we do read it [in
church], we shall be able to profit thereby, as also we do when we read the earlier letter written to us by Clement" (ibid.,
Martyrs of Lyons
"And when a dissension arose about these said people [the Montanists], the brethren in Gaul once more . . . [sent letters] to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia and, moreover to Eleutherus, who was then [A.D. 175] bishop of the Romans, negotiating for the
peace of the churches" (Eusebius, Church History 5:3:4 [A.D. 312])
Martyrs of Lyons
"And the same martyrs too commended Irenaeus, already at that time [A.D. 175] a presbyter of the community of Lyons, to
the said bishop of Rome, rendering abundant testimony to the man, as the following expressions show: 'Once more and always
we pray that you may rejoice in God, Pope Eleutherus. This letter we have charged our brother and companion Irenaeus to
convey to you, and we beg you to receive him as zealous for the covenant of Christ'" (ibid., 5:4:1-2).
As our apologist continues his article, he shows how it is possible that one could deduce Paul as the pope of the early church. Using Scripture and tradition, he makes an interesting case. Yet, that is another proof why God didn't leave us just as book to guide us in so important an issue (our salvation). No, God left us a church. An infallible teaching Church that will always be with us, till Christ comes again. This Church that teaches the angels the mystery of God (Eph 3), also teaches us the truth. And so, the prophecy of Isaiah comes true " Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you." Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:4-10 (RSV)
"highway to heaven cannot possibly be the Bible. For
Isaiah says "the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools
shall not err therein." Does not Peter say of the
Scriptures "There are some things in them hard to understand,
which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as
they do the other scriptures." So if Isaiah prophesies a
holy way to heaven that the ignorant cannot go astray, and Peter says
the ignorant CAN go astray reading the Scriptures, then the 'Bible
only' theory goes out the door. All praise be to our Lord Jesus
Christ, you don't have to be a learned theologian to know what you
need do to be saved. It is the Church instituted by Jesus
Christ that will guide you in the path of righteousness..