Sunday, September 16, 2007

Nothing New Under the Sun

Listen as Eusebius quotes from the writings of an unknown Christian author (see if you notice any similarities between the heretics of the early Church and the heretics of the Reformation):

"For they say that all the early teachers and the apostles received and taught what they now declare, and that the truth of the Gospel was preserved until the times of Victor, who was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter, but that from his successor, Zephyrinus, the truth had been corrupted.
Also notice how he (unknown second century author) pins orthodoxy on the bishop of Rome. He clearly takes for granted that the faithfulness of the Church's doctrine is centered on the bishop of Rome (specifically because he is succeeded from Peter). The heretics are teaching a false doctrine (the heresy of Artemon - Jesus was an ordinary man) and to give credence to their doctrine, they try to show that the ancient Church found in the New Testament preserved this doctrine even up until very recently (Pope Victor).

It's interesting to note that they hinge the teaching authority of the Church on the pope (surprise surprise) but the point of interest which grabs my attention is that they are trying to validate their claims by pretending they are ancient. This is precisely what Protestants tend to do by trying to show that the early fathers were Protestants or that Paul was a semi-rebellious apostle - forging his new brand of gentile-friendly, faith-alone Christianity. They claim that the Church preserved this faithfulness for a while, but eventually went astray. (Exactly what the heretics in the second century were claiming). If we forget the fact that all currently known written history contradicts this, we still have another big problem. I love what Eusebius says next:
And what they say might be plausible, if first of all the Divine Scriptures did not contradict them.
Bingo. I started thinking about this the other day. Many Protestants say they reject the Catholic Church (at least in part) because the Catholic Church contradicts Scripture. Now, if in my estimation, I came across a 'church' that contradicted Scripture, I too would reject it. But the Church doesn't. And even if I thought it did, here's the problem again; who decides who's contradicting Scripture? It's really only my own personal interpretation of Scripture that they reject. So what if I'm wrong? It is an objective fact and not even worth arguing that universally-accepted Protestant readings of certain Scriptures are more contradictory than any Catholic interpretation of any verse.

James 2:24 - NIV - "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."

Protestants: "A person is justified by faith alone"

Mark 12:26-27 - NIV - "Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"

Protestants: "Asking dead saints to pray for you is wrong because it amounts to necromancy"

Just two quick examples to which Protestants have no good answer for. And the verses that they allege the Catholic Church to be in contradiction with can be and have been easily refuted.

When I studied the Scriptures on my own, I came up with some real problems with what I read in Scripture and what my Protestant leaders had taught me. Their interpretations simply didn't fit with the text. When I found that the Catholic Church answered all of these problems seamlessly - it was a no-brainer. But what if I had some really dumb ways of interpreting Scripture and by this defect painlessly came to agree with the 2000 year old Church? Perhaps the Protestants got it right - the Church did contradict Scripture and I'm just not able to see it...Not likely... In fact, the very opposite is true. Those who hold to "Scripture alone" consistently contradict Scripture.

So I again need to point out - it's not about contradicting Scripture - never has been never will be. Protestants do not have a higher view of Scripture than Catholics (if anything a lower) but use the "Bible alone" card to justify their personal authoritative interpretation on doctrinal issues over the bishop of Rome.

Even if some newly re-worked version of 'sola scriptura' was true, the Catholic Church would be the only body with legitimate claim on authoritative interpretation - certainly not myself.


Thos said...

The "first of all" of "if first of all the Scriptures did not contradict" is interesting on its own. Beyond the preceding discussion of which Pope finally went wrong, he wouldn't have written "first of all" if the Scriptures were the one true ultimate and final word on the matter. No? What's second of all to them?


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Good point. This is all from Church History book 5 ch 28 if you want to read it in context.

Eusebius continues on with arguments that you might expect from a 21st century Catholic apologist:

"if first of all the Divine Scriptures did not contradict them. And there are writings of certain brethren older than the times of Victor, which they wrote in behalf of the truth against the heathen, and against the heresies which existed in their day. I refer to Justin and Miltiades and Tatian and Clement and many others, in all of whose works Christ is spoken of as God."

So he points back and says "look, the Church Fathers have always taught this" just like us Catholics say on other issues.

You asked me some time ago about Eusebius and Rome's primacy. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you. Things are starting to cool down now. Mike Aquilina recommended a book to me on the primacy of Rome in Eusebius' work in this post.

I haven't read the book myself though. (I still haven't even finished reading Eusebius). Eusebius tracks the bishops of Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria but much more attention is given to Rome than all the others combined.

I have come to believe that the reason that the doctrine of the primacy of Rome isn't spelled out clearly in an undeniable way before the 4th century is because a) the writers of those times took it for granted and b) they were wrestling with more pressing issues at the time - (was Jesus God?) and not dealing with people denying the primacy of Peter's successor.

Thos said...

Well, while we're at it, he goes further in verse 6 (thanks for the link):

"How then since the opinion held by the Church has been preached for so many years, can its preaching have been delayed as they affirm, until the times of Victor? And how is it that they are not ashamed to speak thus falsely of Victor, knowing well that he cut off from communion Theodotus, the cobbler, the leader and father of this God-denying apostasy, and the first to declare that Christ is mere man? For if Victor agreed with their opinions, as their slander affirms, how came he to cast out Theodotus, the inventor of this heresy?"

So they thought the Papacy tanked right at the same time as it (he, the Pope) excommunicated their idea's founder. And how can true preaching be delayed until a certain later time indeed (say, uh, the 16th C.)?

And given the lack of clear Primacy teaching before the 4th C., it is possibly that, because of comity between Bishops and respeect for Rome, it was as rigorized a notion as it is today?

Peace in Christ,

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yes I think so. The detractors from the Catholic Church in the early Church weren't saying

"the Catholic Church isn't truly the Church founded by Christ"


"the bishop of Rome is just another bishop"


"the real Church is the invisible body of truly saved Christians"

But rather were saying

"we have secret knowledge that Jesus wasn't really God"


"the Law and the prophets are not part of God's word"


"the Hebrew God is the Demiurge - the evil creator of matter. The true God sent Jesus Christ" etc...

It should come as no surprise that although yes, they were Catholic apologists, they weren't debating Protestants and consequently, their arguments weren't typically Catholic Vs Protestant ones. This also helps explain the supposed "late development" in writing of certain aspects of Mariology.

There were simply more critical issues at hand in the early Church and many issues were clearly taken for granted.

When the great saints do start writing about Mary and about the Pope (Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome etc...), they come out with some very strong words that would leave a bitter taste in a Protestant's mouth. Did they just arbitrarily create new doctrines, or were they merely putting into writing the deposit of faith which had been handed to them and which seemed obvious to Christians at the time?

Interesting discussion!