As many of you surely know, I am a convert to the Catholic Church. One of the things which most impressed on my mind and heart the necessity of being Catholic was a study of, and love and respect for, the Church Fathers. I remember having been warned, in my earlier evangelical days, about reading the Church Fathers. I often heard people warn me that they were not infallible, that they were prone to errors and so forth, to which I naively responded by arguing that the same could be said about C.S. Lewis, a favorite apologist among many Christians of the English speaking world – but that wasn’t a good reason not to read him. In fact, it was a terrible reason not to read him! I, thus justified, continued to read and fall in love with Justin Martyr, Eusebius Pamphili, Tertullian, Origen, Irenaeus of Lyons, and a host of others. In my mind, I kept company with these great minds, completely unaware, even unsuspecting, of their ‘Catholicism’.
However, when the concept of the “Catholic Church” really dawned on me, I began immediately to recognize this concept as that which was the assumption of the Fathers. It dawned on me that the Church Fathers see the Church in a way I had never even conceived of her before. Not simply as an invisible body comprised of living saints, but as a living organism, a Mater et Magistra, a beautiful gift of Christ to the world. When this happened, Catholicism became for me a real live intellectual option in the William James-ian sense. I no longer mistook ‘Catholicism’ for a denomination among other Christian denominations, but I understood it properly to be one Church. To put it in the words of the creed: “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” became actually intelligible to me.
Much to my chagrin, protestants (and I can see this much more clearly now) constantly try to claim for themselves the name ‘catholic’ by presenting a pretty lame etymological argument. The word ‘catholic’ means universal, and since protestants are part of the universal church by reason of their Baptism (or, some of them would argue, by reason of their belief in Christ) they satisfy the symbol of faith (the Nicene creed).
When I was becoming a Catholic, and exploring the implications personally and intellectually, I took on the task of studying the Church Fathers to find whether this new vision of “The Church” I was exploring was shared by them. I had always supposed, as an evangelical, that the early Church looked very much like my Baptist church – that it was simply about the people of God getting together, singing songs, having food, and all the rest. However, one Catholic philosopher who I came to admire, Peter Kreeft, was explaining that part of his conversion to Catholicism was due to a careful study of what the Church had looked like. He had asked his professor of Church history at Calvin College – “sir, do you mean to tell me that if my Catholic neighbor and I found a time machine and went back to the first century, that I as a protestant would feel more at home in that Church than he as a Catholic?” and the professor exclaimed – “Exactly!” However, when Kreeft decided to simply read the early Church Fathers to prove to himself that they were all calvinists, he found to his surprise that they were all unambiguously Catholic.
My experience was very much the same. Although I should maybe compose a post on Liturgy, and that will surely be forthcoming, that is not my intention here. What I intend to do in this post is simply present my findings; direct people to the Church Fathers own witness. I will post quote after quote from them in order to demonstrate clearly that their concept of “the Church” was simply the Catholic Church. I would like people to pay special attention to the way the Church fathers used, defined, and intended the word ‘Catholic’. As will be no doubt recognized, what the Fathers meant by the word ‘Catholic’ was, far from being an inclusive term, meant to exclude heretics such as Gnostics or schismatics. Their definition of the term ‘Catholic’, which is the precise meaning of the word as it appears in the creed (according to the witness of the Fathers who wrote the creed!), is simply the Catholic Church’s definition of the word Catholic. By the way, etymologically the word ‘Catholic’ also means ‘whole’ or ‘fullness’, and this is why Catholics call the Catholic faith the ‘fullness of the Christian faith’. It is the whole thing, not part, not divided up, but whole and full.
Of course we should begin by saying a word about the ecclesiology implicit in Jesus and St. Paul. First, Jesus did not use the term ‘Church’ in a vacuum, but rather used a word which easily elicited provocative imagery and implications for his hearers. The word, ἐκκλησία (Ecclesia) meant a people or a gathering, a communion, who were ‘called out’ or ‘called apart’. It can still today be translated as ‘Church’ or ‘Assembly’. This term was provocative because this is what Israel is called in the Old Testament – Israel is the Ecclesia. Of course, the word is ‘Kahal’ in Aramaic, and the Old Testament wasn’t written in Greek, but when it was translated by Jewish scribes in Alexandria around 280 BC the word ‘Ecclesia’ is the one they chose to use. So, this word certainly struck a chord for the first century Jewish audience of Jesus. Jesus was starting a ‘new Israel’. This, Jesus said, was the whole purpose of his having explicitly chosen 12 apostles, so that they would represent the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; Revelation 21:12; Revelation 12:1) or more properly that they would fulfill what was previously prefigured by the twelve tribes. This is so clear in the mind of the early Church that the entire Apostolic Church was very quickly designated by the shorthand expression ‘twelve tribes’, such as we see even in the New Testament:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. ~James 1:1
Therefore, to get an adequate idea of Jesus’ ecclesiology we have only to look to Israel by analogy. There is perhaps too much to be said here, but I cannot help but notice that Israel has a prescribed liturgy, a distinct priesthood (even though the entire people of Israel were a priestly nation as is seen in Exodus 19:6 [compare 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6]), along with a system which was analogous to the sacramental system in the Catholic Church and which I believe it prefigured. It is not unthinkable nor unreasonable to suppose that the community Jesus envisioned would involve these elements, even from the perspective of secular scholarship.
The question of St. Paul is in one sense a more difficult one, but only because of the current state of secular scholarship. Many times St. Paul’s authorship of various epistles, especially Ephesians, is brought into question precisely because it seems to imply a ‘high’ ecclesiology. I believe that St. Paul actually wrote all the epistles attributed to him – though I won’t make an argument for this currently, the following will advance with this assumption in mind.
St. Paul’s vision of the Church was Catholic. Not only did it involve suffrages which were meritorious for the entire mystical body (Colossians 1:24), but it involved an authoritative magisterium.
Probably the passage which most struck me from St. Paul was the following one:
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth. ~ 1 Timothy 3:15
The Church is the Pillar and the Ground of Truth. Think about that image. The Church is the ‘Foundation’ (ἑδραίωμα) of the Truth. It acts as the support, the foundation, the ‘ground’ of the Truth. The Pillar is that which holds the edifice together, that by reason of which it remains standing. The Ground is that upon which it is ‘built-up’.
In what follows I will present what I have compiled of the Fathers. Most of these are my findings, but some are quotes I compiled from various other sources. The Ante-Nicene quotes, with very very few exceptions, are all from my personal study.
The Apostolic Fathers, the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers, and some Nicene or Post-Nicene early Fathers
“This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints. furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful. giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over. Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. For whatever things we are moved to utter by the will of the Word commanding us, we communicate to you with pains, and from a love of the things that have been revealed to us.”
~Mathetes, Epistle to Diognetus, Chap. 11
Shepherd of Hermas
This book was at one time considered for a place in the New Testament Canon. It comes from Apostolic times and reflects the Christian faith of the first century believers. It is comprised of many visions, many eschatological. In the following, Hermas actually encounters and has a conversation with a ‘lady’ who is ‘the Church’.
“Now a revelation was given to me, my brethren, while I slept, by a young man of comely appearance, who said to me, “Who do you think that old woman is from whom you received the book?” And I said, “The Sibyl.” “You are in a mistake,” says he; “it is not the Sibyl.” “Who is it then?” say I. And he said, “It is the Church.” And I said to him, “Why then is she an old woman?” “Because,” said he, “she was created first of all. On this account is she old. And for her sake was the world made.”
~Shepherd of Hermas, Vision second Chapter IV
“The tower which you see building is myself, the Church, who have appeared to you now and on the former occasion. Ask, then, whatever you like in regard to the tower, and I will reveal it to you, that you may rejoice with the saints.”… I asked her, saying, “Lady, I should like to know what became of the stones, and what was meant by the various kinds of stones?”… “Hear now with regard to the stones which are in the building. Those square white stones which fitted exactly into each other, are apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons, who have lived in godly purity, and have acted as bishops and teachers and deacons chastely and reverently to the elect of God. Some of them have fallen asleep, and some still remain alive.”
~Shepherd of Hermas, Vision Third Chapter III-V
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch is an Apostolic-Father, which is to say that he personally knew the Apostles and was appointed Presbyter or Episcope (Bishop) of Antioch by them. It seems he was rather close to Polycarp, who was the immediate pupil of the Apostle John, and he was likely tutored by John as well. However, Peter is the one who ordained him to his office as bishop of Antioch. Ignatius was writing at around 110 AD, on his way to be martyred. These letters we have from him are literally his last pastoral words to the churches of his day.
“In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.”
~Ignatius Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 3, Shorter Version
“And do ye reverence them as Christ Jesus, of whose place they are the keepers, even as the bishop is the representative of the Father of all things, and the presbyters are the Sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles of Christ. Apart from these there is no elect Church, no congregation of holy ones, no assembly of saints. ”
~Ignatius Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 3, Longer Version
“For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature — how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Mat_18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud.” (Pro_3:34; Jam_4:6; 1Pe_5:5) Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.”
~Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch. 5
Clement of Rome
Clement of Rome, also an Apostolic Father, is mentioned in the New Testament (Philippians 4:3), but he wasn’t yet the Bishop of Rome. However, soon after Peter died, there was Linus, then Anacletus and then Clement took the position of the Bishop of Rome, thus becoming the fourth Pope. In a famous letter written to the Corinthian Church (not technically his jurisdiction, though he addresses them as though he is directly in charge) he says the following about Apostolic succession, ordination, and the way the Apostles intentionally, and by the will of God, set up the Church. He begins first by talking about Liturgy in the Church (the calendar of the Church for celebrations, much like the calendar of Israel’s liturgy).
Chap. XL. — Let Us Preserve in the Church the Order Appointed by God.
These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.
Chap. XLI. — Continuation of the Same Subject.
Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death. Ye see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed.
Chap. XLII. — The Order of Ministers in the Church.
The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.” [Isa_60:17, Sept. ; but the text is here altered by Clement. The LXX. have “I will give thy rulers in peace, and thy overseers in righteousness.”]
Chap. XLIII. — Moses of Old Stilled the Contention Which Arose Concerning the Priestly Dignity.
And what wonder is it if those in Christ who were entrusted with such a duty by God, appointed those [ministers] before mentioned, when the blessed Moses also, “a faithful servant in all his house,” (Num_12:10; Heb_3:5) noted down in the sacred books all the injunctions which were given him, and when the other prophets also followed him, bearing witness with one consent to the ordinances which he had appointed? For, when rivalry arose concerning the priesthood, and the tribes were contending among themselves as to which of them should be adorned with that glorious title, he commanded the twelve princes of the tribes to bring him their rods, each one being inscribed with the name of the tribe. And he took them and bound them [together], and sealed them with the rings of the princes of the tribes, and laid them up in the tabernacle of witness on the table of God. And having shut the doors of the tabernacle, he sealed the keys, as he had done the rods, and said to them, Men and brethren, the tribe whose rod shall blossom has God chosen to fulfil the office of the priesthood, and to minister unto Him. And when the morning was come, he assembled all Israel, six hundred thousand men, and showed the seals to the princes of the tribes, and opened the tabernacle of witness, and brought forth the rods. And the rod of Aaron was found not only to have blossomed, but to bear fruit upon it. (See Num_17:1-13) What think ye, beloved? Did not Moses know beforehand that this would happen? Undoubtedly he knew; but he acted thus, that there might be no sedition in Israel, and that the name of the true and only God might be glorified; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Chap. XLIV. — The Ordinances of the Apostles, That There Might Be No Contention Respecting the Priestly Office.
Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them.
~Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapters 40-44
One of the great apologists of the Church, he was perhaps the first philosopher and apologist of Christianity after St. Paul. His concern was showing that Christianity was virtuous, and often he defended Christianity and tried to offer everyone manifest reasons for Christianity’s truth. His famous ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ records his account of a conversation he had with a Jewish philosopher who, prior to meeting Justin, was dismissive of Christianity as a foolish view.
“Therefore these words testify explicitly that He is witnessed to by Him who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ. Moreover, that the word of God speaks to those who believe in Him as being one soul, and one synagogue, and one church, as to a daughter; that it thus addresses the Church which has sprung from His name and partakes of His name (for we are all called Christians), is distinctly proclaimed in like manner”
~Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 63 (commentary on Psalm 45:6-11)
Irenaeus of Lyons
Irenaeus is remembered, rightly, as the first great champion of orthodoxy in the early Church. His principal opponents were the Gnostic Christians who wished to be recognized as Christian. His arguments against them are telling – he points to the Apostolic Succession, particularly of the Roman Pontiff, along with the unity of faith in the Catholic Church, as Catholics everywhere believe in such things as the Eucharist. His great work “Against Heresies” is a brilliant exposition of Gnosticism, as well as a head spinning attack on anything which isn’t ‘Catholic’.
“ 1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” (Eph_1:10) and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven” and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” (Phi_2:10, Phi_2:11) to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” (Eph_6:12) and 331 the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 10
“It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, ch. 3
“But since what may prove a finishing-stroke to this exhibition is wanting, so that any one, on following out their farce to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it, we have judged it well to point out, first of all, in what respects the very fathers of this fable differ among themselves, as if they were inspired by different spirits of error. For this very fact forms an a priori proof that the truth proclaimed by the Church is immoveable, and that the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1 Ch. 9
“The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, ch. 3
“Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the 417 water of life. (Rev_22:17) For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, ch. 4
“For she [the Church] is the synagogue of God, which God — that is, the Son Himself — has gathered by Himself.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 6
“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 1 (compare 1 Timothy 3:15)
“ According to them, therefore, Peter was imperfect, and the rest of the apostles were imperfect; and so it would be fitting that they, coming to life again, should become disciples of these men, in order that they too might be made perfect. But this is truly ridiculous. These men, in fact, are proved to be not disciples of the apostles, but of their own wicked notions. To this cause also are due the various opinions which exist among them, inasmuch as each one adopted error just as he was capable [of embracing it]. But the Church throughout all the world, having its origin firm from the apostles, perseveres in one and the same opinion with regard to God and His Son.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 12
“For when the bishops and presbyters who came from Ephesus and the other cities adjoining had assembled in Miletus, since he [Paul] was himself hastening to Jerusalem to observe Pentecost, after testifying many things to them, and declaring what must happen to him at Jerusalem, he added: “I know that ye shall see my face no more. Therefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed, therefore, both to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost has placed you as bishops, to rule the Church of the Lord, which He has acquired for Himself through His own blood.” (Compare Acts 20:25) ”
~ Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 14
“For error is plausible, and bears a 440 resemblance to the truth, but requires to be disguised; while truth is without disguise, and therefore has been entrusted to children.”
~ Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 15
“But in every respect, too, He is man, the formation of God; and thus He took up man into Himself, the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering, and the Word being made man, thus summing up all things in Himself: so that as in super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible things, the Word of God is supreme, so also in things visible and corporeal He might possess the supremacy, and, taking to Himself the pre-eminence, as well as constituting Himself Head of the Church, He might draw all things to Himself at the proper time.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 16
“But [it has, on the other hand, been shown], that the preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles, and all the disciples — as I have proved — through [those in] the beginning, the middle, and the end, and through the entire dispensation of God, and that well-grounded system which tends to man’s salvation, namely, our faith; which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. For this gift of God has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man, for this purpose, that all the members receiving it may be vivified; and the [means of] communion with Christ has been distributed throughout it, that is, the Holy Spirit, the earnest of incorruption, the means of confirming our faith, and the ladder of ascent to God. “For in the Church,” it is said, “God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,” (1Co_12:28) and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behaviour. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth. Those, therefore, who do not partake of Him, are neither nourished into life from the mother’s breasts, nor do they enjoy that most limpid fountain which issues from the body of Christ; but they dig for themselves broken cisterns (Jer_2:13) out of earthly trenches, and drink putrid water out of the mire, fleeing from the faith of the Church lest they be convicted; and rejecting the Spirit, that they may not be instructed.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 24
“And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.”
~Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Ch. 32
“And in the wilderness Moses received the Law from God, the Ten Words on tables of stone, written with the finger of God (now the finger of God is that which is stretched forth from the Father in the Holy Spirit); and the commandments and ordinances which he delivered to the children of Israel to observe. And the tabernacle of witness he constructed by the command of God, the visible form on earth of those things which are spiritual and invisible in the heavens, and a figure of the form of the Church, and a prophecy of things to come: in which also were the vessels and the altars of sacrifice and the ark in which he placed the tables (of the Law). And he appointed as priests Aaron and his sons, assigning the priesthood to all their tribe: and they were of the seed of Levi. Moreover this whole tribe he summoned by the word of God to accomplish the work of service in the temple of God, and gave them the Levitical law, (to shew) what and what manner of men they ought to be who are continually employed in performing the service of the temple of God.”
~ Irenaeus, the proof of the apostolic preaching, p.26
This, beloved, is the preaching of the truth, and this is the manner of our redemption, and this is the way of life, which the prophets proclaimed, and Christ established, and the apostles delivered, and the Church in all the world hands on to her children. This must we keep with all certainty, with a sound will and pleasing to God, with good works and right-willed disposition.
~ Irenaeus, the proof of the apostolic preaching, p.98
“It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles; those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion”
~Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:26:2
[The spiritual man] shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, destroy it — men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For they can bring about no “reformation” of enough importance to compensate for the evil arising from their schism. . . . True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place [i.e., the Catholic Church]
~Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:33:7-8
Tertullian was a hard guy to like. Near the beginning of his career he was a zealous champion of orthodoxy, comparable with Irenaeus. He is also the first of the Latin Fathers of the Church, and, though he isn’t canonized, he is the only person explicitly called a “Church Father” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church today. He later became a montanist because of the scandal of the Pope granting an indulgence to forgive certain Christians for having defected from the faith under the Roman persecution, and Tertullian, using scriptural arguments from the book of Hebrews, argued that it was impossible for them to be forgiven. What I found in Tertullian when I looked for what he taught about the Church, though, is presented as compiled in what follows.
“ For “the Lord of Sabaoth hath taken away, among the Jews from Jerusalem,” among the other things named, “the wise architect” too, who builds The Church, God’s temple, and the holy city, and the house of the Lord.”
~ Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Ch. 13
“But the one of them, begirt with scarlet, amid cursing and universal spitting, and tearing, and piercing, was cast away by the People outside the city into perdition, marked with manifest tokens of Christ’s passion; who, after being begirt with scarlet garment, and subjected to universal spitting, and afflicted with all contumelies, was crucified outside the city. The other, however: offered for sins, and given as food to the priests merely of the temple, gave signal evidences of the second appearance; in so far as, after the expiation of all sins, the priests of the spiritual temple, that is, of The Church, were to enjoy a spiritual public distribution (as it were) of the Lord’s grace, while all others are fasting from salvation.”
~ Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Ch. 14
“For as Adam was a figure of Christ, Adam’s sleep shadowed out the death of Christ, who was to sleep a mortal slumber, that from the wound inflicted on His side might, in like manner (as Eve was formed), be typified The Church, the true mother of the living. ”
~ Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, Ch. 43
“From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for “no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” (Mat_11:27) Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach – that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached – in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them – can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles rounded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both rivet race, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches – those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God.”
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 21
“Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called “the rock on which the church should be built,” who also obtained “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” with the power of “loosing and binding in heaven and on earth?””
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 22
“Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? 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, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 30
“Afterwards, it is true, Marcion professed repentance, and agreed to the conditions granted to him – that he should receive reconciliation if he restored to the Church all the others whom he had been training for perdition: he was prevented, however, by death.”
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 30
“Let me return, however, from this digression to discuss the priority of truth, and the comparative lateness of falsehood, deriving support for my argument even from that parable which puts in the first place the sowing by the Lord of the good seed of the wheat, but introduces at a later stage the adulteration of the crop by its enemy the devil with the useless weed of the wild oats. For herein is figuratively described the difference of doctrines, since in other passages also the word of God is likened unto seed. From the actual order, therefore, it becomes clear, that that which was first delivered is of the Lord and is true, whilst that is strange and false which was afterwards introduced. This sentence will keep its ground in opposition to all later heresies, which have no consistent quality of kindred knowledge inherent in them – to claim the truth as on their side.”
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 31
“But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst Of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, – a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the Church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the Church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)?”
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 32
“Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally. Achaia is very near you, (in which) you find Corinth. Since you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi; (and there too) you have the Thessalonians. Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus. Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). (compare our Anti-Marcion, iv. 5, p. 186) How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s! where Paul wins his crown in a death like John’s where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile! See what she has learned, what taught, what fellowship has had with even (our) churches in Africa! One Lord God does she acknowledge, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus (born) of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God the Creator; and the Resurrection of the flesh; the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith. This she seals with the water (of baptism), arrays with the Holy 261 Ghost, feeds with the Eucharist, cheers with martyrdom, and against such a discipline thus (maintained) she admits no gainsayer.”
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 36
“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, “as many as walk according to the rule,” which the Church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, “Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine? Indeed, Marcion, by what right do you hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting the streams of my fountain? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? This is my property. Why are you, the rest, sowing and feeding here at your own pleasure? This (I say) is my property. I have long possessed it; I possessed it before you. I hold sure title-deeds from the original owners themselves, to whom the estate belonged. I am the heir of the apostles. Just as they carefully prepared their will and testament, and committed it to a trust, and adjured (the trustees to be faithful to their charge), (compare 1Ti_5:21, 1Ti_6:13; 2Ti_2:14, 2Ti_4:1-4) even so do I hold it. As for you, they have, it is certain, always held you as disinherited, and rejected you as strangers – as enemies. But on what ground are heretics strangers and enemies to the apostles, if it be not from the difference of their teaching, which each individual of his own mere will has either advanced or received in opposition to the apostles?””
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 37
“For our one Father, God, lives, and our mother, the Church; and neither are we dead who live to God, nor do we bury our dead, inasmuch as they too are living in Christ”
~Tertullian, on Monogamy, Ch. 7
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria, like Justin Martyr, was a wandering philosopher who found satisfaction in Christianity, where he discovered it in the school at Alexandria. He later became the master of that same school, and champion of Christianity, being a philosopher and an apologist. It is a shame that, as is the case with many of the Fathers, we have lost most of his writings. One in particular was called “On the Unity and Excellence of the Church” which likely, if we ever found it, would be a fascinating read.
“Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel”
~Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 6:13:107:2
After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back again to Ephesus from the Island of Patmos; and, upon being invited, he went even to the neighboring cities of the pagans, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, and there to ordain to the clerical estate such as were designated by the Spirit
~Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that is Saved?42:2
Without a doubt, the greatest Theologian in Christianity until Augustine. He was a champion of Christianity in Alexandria, coming after Clement of Alexandria. Unparalleled, unprecedented, his intellect is massive, and we have lost most of his writings today, though we have plenty to go around, which indicates just how prolific he was. Although Origen later got into trouble for his views, such as his tendency to interpret scriptures allegorically, his view of the resurrected bodies as perfect spheres, the Neo-platonic position that angels have bodies which are more subtle than mans and universalism (the idea that all will be saved), still he only ‘got into trouble’ hundreds of years after he was dead, and mostly because of his disciples, who were probably more dogmatic about defending his positions than he would have been. Origen was the first to try his hand at answering some of the deepest questions of Christian Theology, and if he got a few things wrong, he probably should not be blamed. He was so revered in the early Church that people often said they would rather be wrong with him than right with anyone else.
“But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation – that is, the Church – rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy. And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God – for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all – of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.”
~Origen, Against Celsus, Book 8, Ch. 75
“ For as we ceased to seek for truth (notwithstanding the professions of many among Greeks and Barbarians to make it known) among all who claimed it for erroneous opinions, after we had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God, and were persuaded that we must learn it from Himself; so, seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of The Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolical tradition.”
~Origen, De Princiipus, Book 1, Ch. 1
“ And this is further confirmed by the language of the Apostle Paul: “Until we all come in the unity of the faith to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph_4:13) And in keeping with this is the declaration of the same apostle, when he exhorts us, who even in the present life are placed in the Church, in which is the form of that kingdom which is to come, to this same similitude of unity: “That ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1Co_1:10)”
~Origen, De Princiipus, Book 1, ch. 6
“If someone from this people wants to be saved, let him come into this house so that he may be able to attain his salvation. . . . Let no one, then, be persuaded otherwise, nor let anyone deceive himself: Outside of this house, that is, outside of the Church, no one is saved; for, if anyone should go out of it, he is guilty of his own death.”
~Origen, Homilies on Joshua 3:5
“Thou art become a penitent; pray night and day; yet from thy Mother the Church do not far depart, and the Highest will be able to be merciful to thee.”
~Commodianus, Ch. 49
Fun fact: Hyppolytus was the first anti-pope and is also a canonized saint. The back story behind that if pretty fascinating, but regardless, Hippolytus is an excellent witness to the Ante-Nicene faith.
“But we who hope for the Son of God are persecuted and trodden down by those unbelievers. For the wings of the vessels are the churches; and the sea is the world, in which the Church is set, like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed; for she has with her the skilled Pilot, Christ. And she bears in her midst also the trophy (which is erected) over death; for she carries with her the cross of the Lord. For her prow is the east, and her stern is the west, and her hold is the south, and her tillers are the two Testaments; and the ropes that stretch around her are the love of Christ, which binds the Church; and the net which she bears with her is the laver of the regeneration which renews the believing, whence too are these glories. As the wind the Spirit from heaven is present, by whom those who believe are sealed: she has also anchors of iron accompanying her, viz., the holy commandments of Christ Himself, which are strong as iron. She has also mariners on the right and on the left, assessors like the holy angels, by whom the Church is always governed and defended. The ladder in her leading up to the sailyard is an emblem of the passion of Christ, which brings the faithful to the ascent of heaven. And the top-sails aloft upon the yard are the company of prophets, martyrs, and apostles, who have entered into their rest in the kingdom of Christ.”
~Hippolytus, Fragments – Part 2.2
“You have undertaken the office of a Bishop, and now, seated in the stern of the Church, you are steering it in the teeth of the waves. Hold fast the rudder of faith, that you may not be shaken by the heavy storms of this world. The sea indeed is vast and deep, but fear not, for He hath founded it upon the seas, and prepared it upon the floods. Rightly then the Church of the Lord, amid all the seas of the world, stands immoveable, built as it were, upon the Apostolic rock; and her foundation remains unshaken by all the force of the raging surge. The waves lash but do not shake it; and although this world’s elements often break against it with a mighty sound, still it offers a secure harbour of safety to receive the distressed.”
~St. Ambrose, to Constantius
St. Vincent of Lerins
St. Vincent wrote a famous work called the ‘Commonitory’ in which he explains and expounds the Catholic rule of orthodoxy. He dedicates the whole thing to the question of what Christians are to do when faced with schisms, divisions, and so forth. I take only a few samplings here, but I highly recommend to everyone who is interested to read the entire work.
“What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty”
“This being the case, he is the true and genuine Catholic who loves the truth of God, who loves the Church, who loves the Body of Christ, who esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above every thing, above the authority, above the regard, above the genius, above the eloquence, above the philosophy, of every man whatsoever; who sets light by all of these, and continuing steadfast and established in the faith, resolves that he will believe that, and that only, which he is sure the Catholic Church has held universally and from ancient time;”
“The foregoing would be enough and very much more than enough, to crush and annihilate every profane novelty. But yet that nothing might be wanting to such completeness of proof, we added, at the close, the twofold authority of the Apostolic See, first, that of holy Pope Sixtus, the venerable prelate who now adorns the Roman Church; and secondly that of his predecessor, Pope Celestine of blessed memory, which same we think it necessary to insert here also. Holy Pope Sixtus then says in an Epistle which he wrote on Nestorius’s matter to the bishop of Antioch, “Therefore, because, as the Apostle says, the faith is one,—evidently the faith which has obtained hitherto,—let us believe the things that are to be said, and say the things that are to be held.” What are the things that are to be believed and to be said? He goes on: “Let no license be allowed to novelty, because it is not fit that any addition should be made to antiquity. Let not the clear faith and belief of our forefathers be fouled by any muddy admixture.” A truly apostolic sentiment! He enhances the belief of the Fathers by the epithet of clearness; profane novelties he calls muddy. Holy Pope Celestine also expresses himself in like manner and to the same effect. For in the Epistle which he wrote to the priests of Gaul, charging them with connivance with error, in that by their silence they failed in their duty to the ancient faith, and allowed profane novelties to spring up, he says: “We are deservedly to blame if we encourage error by silence. Therefore rebuke these people. Restrain their liberty of preaching.”
“Whoever then gainsays these Apostolic and Catholic determinations, first of all necessarily insults . . . the decisions of the holy bishops of almost the whole East, who decreed, under divine guidance, that nothing ought to be believed by posterity save what the sacred antiquity of the holy Fathers, consentient in Christ, had held, who with one voice, and with loud acclaim, testified that these were the words of all . . .it is incumbent on all Catholics who are anxious to approve themselves genuine sons of Mother Church, to adhere henceforward to the holy faith of the holy Fathers, to be wedded to it, to die in it; but as to the profane novelties of profane men—to detest them, abhor them, oppose them, give them no quarter.”
“But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s…”
” For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole? On the other hand, if what is new begins to be mingled with what is old, foreign with domestic, profane with sacred, the custom will of necessity creep on universally, till at last the Church will have nothing left untampered with, nothing unadulterated, nothing sound, nothing pure; but where formerly there was a sanctuary of chaste and undefiled truth, thenceforward there will be a brothel of impious and base errors.”
“But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.”
~ St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory
A fourth century apologist, sometimes mistaken for an Italian, but he was actually, like Augustine, an African. He wrote the ‘Divine Institutes’ which is a work which continues to impress me, and it’s not as well recognized as I think it should be. In it, I found the following:
“From which things it is evident that all the prophets declared concerning Christ, that it should come to pass at some time, that being born with a body of the race of David, He should build an eternal temple in honour of God, which is called the Church, and assemble all nations to the true worship of God. This is the faithful house, this is the everlasting temple; and if any one hath not sacrificed in this, he will not have the reward of immortality.”
~Lactantius, Divine Institutes 4, Ch. 14
“But since many heresies have existed, and the people of God have been rent into divisions at the instigation of demons, the truth must be briefly marked out by us, and placed in its own peculiar dwelling-place, that if any one shall desire to draw the water of life, he may not be borne to broken cisterns which hold no water, but may know the abundant fountain of God, watered by which he may enjoy perpetual light.”
~Lactantius, Divine Institutes 4, Ch. 30
“It is, therefore, the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth; this, the domicile of faith; this, the temple of God. Whoever does not enter there or whoever does not go out from there, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. . . . Because, however, all the various groups of heretics are confident that they are the Christians and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, let it be known that this is the true Church, in which there is confession and penance and which takes a health-promoting care of the sins and wounds to which the weak flesh is subject”
~Lactantius, Divine Institutes 4:30:11–13 [A.D. 307]
Firmilion of Caesarea
“But what is his error, and how great his blindness, who says that the remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of the heretics, and who does not remain on the foundation of the one Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone: “Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven;” and by this, again in the gospel, when Christ breathed upon the Apostles alone, saying to them; “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven; and if you retain any mans sins, they shall be retained.” Therefore, the power of forgiving sins was given to the Apostles and to the Churches which these men, sent by Christ, established; and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place
~Firmilion, Letter to Cyprian 75:16
“And lest their raging boldness should ever cease, they are striving here also to distract the members of Christ into schismatical parties, and to cut and tear the one body of the Catholic Church, so that, running about from door to door, through the houses of many, or from city to city, through certain districts, they seek for companions in their obstinacy and error to join to themselves in their schism. To whom we have once given this reply, nor shall we cease to command them to lay aside their pernicious dissensions and disputes, and to be aware that it is an impiety to forsake their Mother; and to acknowledge and understand that when a bishop is once made and approved by the testimony and judgment of his colleagues and the people, another can by no means be appointed. Thus, if they consult their own interest peaceably and faithfully, if they confess themselves to be maintainers of the Gospel of Christ, they must return to the Church.”
~Cyprian, Epistle 40, Epistle to Cornelius
“For we are not ignorant that there is one God; that there is one Christ the Lord whom we have confessed, and one Holy Spirit; and that in the Catholic Church there ought to be one bishop.””
~Cyprian, Epistle 45
“Wherefore, dearest brother, we ought both firmly to maintain the faith and truth of the Catholic Church, and to teach, and by all the evangelical and apostolical precepts to set forth, the plan of the divine dispensation and unity.”
~Cyprian, Epistle 72
“For when they say, “Dost thou believe the remission of sins and life eternal through the holy Church?” they lie in their interrogatory, since they have not the Church. Then, besides, with their own voice they themselves confess that remission of sins cannot be given except by the holy Church; and not having this, they show that sins cannot be remitted among them.”
~ Cyprian, Epistle 75
“Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress [a schismatic church] is separated from the promises of the Church, nor will he that forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is an alien, a worldling, and an enemy. He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother”
~Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church 6, 1st ed.
“Let them not think that the way of life or salvation exists for them, if they have refused to obey the bishops and priests, since the Lord says in the book of Deuteronomy: “And any man who has the insolence to refuse to listen to the priest or judge, whoever he may be in those days, that man shall die” [Deut. 17:12-13]. And then, indeed, they were killed with the sword . . . but now the proud and insolent are killed with the sword of the Spirit, when they are cast out from the Church. For they cannot live outside, since there is only one house of God, and there can be no salvation for anyone except in the Church.”
~Cyprian, (Letters 61:4
Cyril of Jerusalem
“”And if ever thou art sojourning in any city, inquire not simply where the Lord’s house is–for the 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 the holy body the mother of us all.”
~Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Discourses – Section 26
Heretics bring sentence upon themselves since they by their own choice withdraw from the Church, a withdrawal which, since they are aware of it, constitutes damnation. Between heresy and schism there is this difference: that heresy involves perverse doctrine, while schism separates one from the Church on account of disagreement with the bishop. Nevertheless, there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church.
~St. Jerome, Commentary on Titus 3:10-11
Among the greatest authorities for protestants was the one Church Father which most commanded the attention of the reformers and, though confusedly, was held by them to be their principal authority and inspiration for the doctrine of Justification. Of course, Augustine, it is widely admitted now, clearly did not believe in Luther’s doctrine of Justification (or the ‘reformed’ or ‘protestant’ doctrine, which is the cornerstone of Protestant Christianity). However, what of Augustine’s Catholicism? Was the famous Bishop of Hippo a ‘Catholic’? Necessary background: he had been a Manichean, which was a denomination of Christianity, but not Catholic, before he converted to Catholicism. Manicheanism doesn’t exist anymore today, and it looks rather strange to Christians, Catholic or protestant, today, but it was huge in Augustine’s day. Also, Augustine dealt with the Donatist heretics who taught that priests lost the power to exercise their priesthood if they sinned so seriously as to defect from the faith, whereas the Catholic Church taught that this wasn’t true, but that their priesthood was an ontological fact that didn’t depend on the faithfulness of the priest. The Donatists broke rank with the Catholic Church and began electing their own Bishops. Augustine in his day was the only Catholic to do them the courtesy of calling them Christians, but Augustine also wrote the most compelling arguments against them, trying to prove that the only consistent way to be a Christian is to be a Catholic…. And GO:
“If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement . . . In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found” (Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).
“[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called ‘The Foundation’ 4:5 [A.D. 397]).
“Lastly there holds me the very name of Catholic which not without reason so closely attaches to the Church amid the heresies which surround it, that although all heretics would fain be called Catholics, still if any stranger should ask where the Catholic service is held, not one of these heretics would dare to point to his own conventicle””
~St. Augustine (Corpus Scrip. Eccles. Lat., XXV, Pt. I, 196)
“If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you [Mani] answer him when he says, ‘I do not believe’? Indeed, I would not believe in the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so” (Against the Letter of Mani Called ‘The Foundation’ 5:6).
“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” (The True Religion 7:12 [A.D. 390]).
About Purgatory: “We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3 [A.D. 421]).
We believe also in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church. For heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently; neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church, not heretics, because the Church loves God, and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor (Faith and the Creed 10:21 [A.D. 393]).
When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body. . . All who are within [the Church] in heart are saved in the unity of the ark (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:28 [A.D. 400]).
Thus ends my survey of the Fathers. Though it isn’t exhaustive, this study led me to explore the Fathers more seriously, and to recognize in them an unmistakably ‘Catholic’ orientation. Perhaps now some of you can understand my frustration when I hear protestants (well intention-ed I’m sure) saying that they can confess the same Nicene Creed since ‘Catholic’ meant only ‘universal’. The definition of the word ‘Catholic’ for the Fathers of the Church, who wrote the creed, did not mean merely universal, and beyond that maybe something vague about an invisible body of believers. Rather, the term involved clear implications; It implied things about submission to bishops, apostolic succession, the commitment to catholic tradition, unity of formal faith, unity of Liturgy as the expression of that faith, agreement about and celebration of the Eucharist. It was not meant to be an inclusive term, but an exclusive term, differentiating the true faithful from the heretical sects.
An interesting thought for reflection, I read about a conversation once between an Anglican and an Eastern Orthodox Christian. The Anglican was trying to persuade the Eastern Orthodox Christian that he could confess the creed just as well as anyone else. The Eastern Orthodox Christian then responded by asking whether it was important to intend the same thing by the creed as the Fathers intended. The Anglican thought about it, realized the trouble he’d be in if he said that, and responded that it was not essential to agree with what the creed meant, but only to agree with what it ‘says’. This conversation reveals a fundamental disagreement in approach. Were we to repeat the words of any other part of the creed, such as “I believe in the resurrection from the dead” and yet mean something entirely different from what these words signify, our hypocrisy would not long go unnoticed or unchallenged. However, Protestants continue to say that they can confess the creed, without realizing that they have simply radically redefined the creed to suit their theological prejudice. If a Protestant and a Catholic took a time machine and went back to the Ecumenical councils, and if they were called to give an explanation of the creed they confessed, which one would the Fathers recognize, and which one would the Fathers raise their eyebrows at in disbelief? Or perhaps, think of the assembled saints, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Augustine and all the rest, and think about what they would have to say about what the Protestant believes about being completely united to the ‘catholic’ church.
This isn’t meant to be wildly polemic, it is simply an explanation I am providing for why I am so completely compelled, convicted, about the Catholic Church being the pillar and foundation of truth St. Paul talked about. I am also hoping that this may help explain my frustration when protestants continue to suggest to me that they confess the same creed, because they have been, by no fault of their own, fooled. I get angry when I encounter protestants who should know better, or worse who do know better!
Perhaps this short survey of the Church Fathers will help people understand in part what informed my convictions in converting. Although what I found pleasantly surprised me, I had not begun my search by diligent study. It is more accurate to say that I had clumsily stumbled into what Chesterton called the Romance of Orthodoxy – I had fallen in Love with the Catholic Church as soon as I had the epiphany about her. It was this Romance that inspired my study those few years ago, and my findings simply bolstered the strength of my convictions.
I hope you have found this compilation helpful. I will end with a quote from Theodoret:
I have ever kept the faith of the Apostles undefiled… So have I learnt not only from the Apostles and the Prophets but also from the interpreters of their writings, Ignatius, Eustathius, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, John, and the rest of the lights of the world; and before these from the holy Fathers in council at Nicaea, whose confession of the faith I preserve in its integrity, like an ancestral inheritance [styling corrupt and enemies of the truth all who dare to transgress its decrees]
~Theodoret, Letters no. 89