6 Early Christian Controversies That Protestantism Can’t Explain

Nuremberg chronicles f 145v 4.jpg
Woodcut of St. Patrick, Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

In an article entitled Saint Patrick the Baptist?, Stephen R. Button tries to claim St. Patrick for Evangelical Protestantism… or at least disassociate him from Roman Catholicism. Button is hardly alone: you can find similar attempts by Don Boys and others, some of them dating back several decades.

The argument tends to work like this. From Patrick, we have (in Button’s words) only the “84 short paragraphs that make up both his Confession and his ‘Letter to Coroticus.’” Baptist authors then mine these texts for any doctrines that Patrick doesn’t mention explicitly, and then claim that he must have held the Baptist view. So, for example, since Patrick doesn’t say who ordained him a bishop, Button concludes that Patrick must have believed that ordination came directly from God, rather than through the Church:

Patrick claimed to have served as a deacon, presbyter, and bishop. In his “Letter to Coroticus,” he wrote, “I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. . . . Most assuredly I believe that what I am I have received from God” (in R. P. C. Hanson, The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick). While this may simply be a way of giving God all the glory, Patrick was silent regarding any formal education, ordination, appointment, or support by Rome or any other church, suggesting instead that his ordination came directly from God.

This position requires ignoring that Patrick is a Nicene Christian who quotes from the Latin Vulgate, speaks of the Romans as his countrymen, and is the son of a Roman Catholic deacon. It also means ignoring, or being ignorant of, the Mission of St. Palladius, the fourth-century Catholic mission to Ireland. More to the point, it requires ignoring the description of ordination given by Patrick himself:

What is more, when I baptized so many thousands of people, did I hope for even half a jot from any of them? [If so] Tell me, and I will give it back to you. And when the Lord ordained clergy everywhere by my humble means, and I freely conferred office on them, if I asked any of them anywhere even for the price of one shoe, say so to my face and I will give it back.

More, I spent for you so that they would receive me. And I went about among you, and everywhere for your sake, in danger, and as far as the outermost regions beyond which no one lived, and where no one had ever penetrated before, to baptize or to ordain clergy or to confirm people. Conscientiously and gladly I did all this work by God’s gift for your salvation.

The rest of Button’s arguments proceed just like this: Patrick doesn’t tell us if he baptized infants or not, so he must not have; he doesn’t tell us how he baptized, so it must have been by full immersion only. His favorite color must have been orange, too, since he doesn’t say otherwise. Meanwhile, inconvenient details like Patrick’s performing the Sacrament of Confirmation are passed over.

This odd Baptist St. Patrick argument highlights a very real problem within Evangelical Protestantism: its radical disconnect from the early Christianity that it wants to emulate.

In virtually every dispute in early Christianity, Evangelicals believe that (a) the Catholic party, the party in communion with and headed by the Bishop of Rome, was right; or (b) nobody was right. The way that (a) points towards Catholicism is clear enough: how likely is it that it was just a string of good luck that Catholics got all of these right? And if this points to the protection of the Holy Spirit, why would we assume that the Spirit suddenly switched teams in the 16th century?

But (b) is actually what I want to focus on today: those times in Christian history in which Evangelical Protestantism is an outsider, an alien party for whom the dispute doesn’t make sense, or who views all parties as wrong.

To illustrate my point, I’ve chosen 6 early Christian controversies, each of them originating before the Council of Nicea, before Constantine, and before any of the other fourth century events that allegedly corrupted the Christian Church (and before St. Patrick, by the way). In each case, the Evangelical is left without a side — either the whole debate is alien to his belief system, or he’s left concluding that everybody is wrong:.

1. The Easter Dating Controversy
What happened: Most of the Church followed the Roman calendar, so that Easter always fell on a Sunday. The churches in Asia Minor, founded by the Apostle John, followed the Hebrew calendar, so that Easter always fell three days after the start of Passover. Pope St. Victor (189-99) ordered the Asian churches to get with the universal Church calendar. They initially refused, since the Apostle John, St. Polycarp, and others had used this calendar. Eventually, they switched to the Roman calendar.

What’s required to understand the dispute: the debate is not over whether to use a liturgical calendar, but which liturgical calendar.  This points to an orderly, liturgical Church in the second century. As I’ve argued before, this dispute always shows the centrality of the papacy extremely early on: this is a second-century pope who feels comfortable intervening in Asia Minor to tell the Christians there to stop using a liturgical calendar set up by an Apostle.

What we don’t hear: Anybody rejecting liturgical calendars as unbiblical, contrary to Apostolic practice, or otherwise unnecessary or undesirable.

2. The Diocletian Persecution
Bust of Diocletian

What happened: The Roman Emperor Diocletian was a pagan, but was not particularly hostile to Christians at the outset of his reign. In fact, he even had Christians in his retinue. All of this changed in 299 A.D. when Diocletian visited the pagan haruspices to divine the future. One of the Christians in Diocletian’s retinue made the Sign of the Cross. Lactantius recounts: “At this the demons were chased away, and the holy rites interrupted.” The haruspices were rendered powerless. A furious Diocletian ordered both the haruspices and Christians punished, and ordered that all Roman soldiers be forced to offer pagan sacrifices. This quickly escalated into the bloodiest persecution of Christians in Roman history.

What’s required to understand the dispute: the importance of the Sign of the Cross. On one side, you have the Roman pagans, or more accurately, the forces of evil that they’re messing around with: “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). On the other side, you have the Catholic who use “the immortal sign,” the Sign of the Cross, to vanquish demons.

What we don’t hear: Christians siding with the pagans in denouncing Catholics for using the Sign of the Cross, or claiming that it’s a pagan ritual dating to the time of Constantine (a particularly ironic claim, given that we’ve just seen that these pre-Constantinian pagans ruthlessly persecuted the Catholics for the Sign of the Cross).

3. Fasting and the Eucharist
What happened: A question arose about whether or not to receive the Eucharist on fasting days (called “station” days). Tertullian, in On Prayer, written between 200-206 A.D. approaches question this way:
Similarly, too, touching the days of Stations, most think that they must not be present at the sacrificial prayers, on the ground that the Station must be dissolved by reception of the Lord’s Body. Does, then, the Eucharist cancel a service devoted to God, or bind it more to God? Will not your Station be more solemn if you have withal stood at God’s altar? When the Lord’s Body has been received and reserved each point is secured, both the participation of the sacrifice and the discharge of duty.

What’s required to understand the dispute: the question is whether receiving the Lord’s Body at the Eucharistic Sacrifice breaks the fast. For this question even to make sense, you must acknowledge that there are days of fasting, the Eucharist is the Lord’s Body, and the Eucharistic Liturgy is a Sacrifice.

What we don’t hear: Either side rejecting fasting, the Eucharist, or the sacrificial nature of the Mass.

4. Donatism on the Sacraments

What happened: During the Diocletian persecution (see #2), some Christians – including bishops and priests – renounced the faith, or offered pagan sacrifice. This lead to a Sacramental crisis: were the Sacraments performed by these lapsed priest still valid? The Donatists said no, arguing “that Catholic sacraments, including baptism and ordination, were powerless because they were performed by morally lax priests.” 

In contrast, the Catholics held that the Sacraments work ex opere operato (“from the work worked”), depending upon the grace of God rather than the priest’s holiness. St. Augustine explained that this is why the Apostles rebaptized those who had received only John the Baptist’s non-sacramental baptism (Acts 19:3-5), but didn’t rebaptize those baptized by Judas:

You give the baptism of Christ, therefore baptism is not administered after you: after John it was administered, because he gave not the baptism of Christ, but his own; for he had in such manner received it that it was his own. You are then not better than John: but the baptism given through you is better than that of John; for the one is Christ’s, but the other is that of John. And that which was given by Paul, and that which was given by Peter, is Christ’s; and if baptism was given by Judas it was Christ’s. Judas gave baptism and after Judas baptism was not repeated; John gave baptism, and baptism was repeated after John: because if baptism was given by Judas, it was the baptism of Christ; but that which was given by John, was John’s baptism.

What’s required to understand the dispute: the efficacious nature of the Sacraments (particularly the regenerative nature of Baptism), the necessity of valid Sacraments for Holy Orders, and the nature of the priesthood.

What we don’t hear: that the Sacraments are just symbols, or that the Sacraments are unnecessary for salvation. 

5. Gnosticism and the Eucharist
Bernardino Campi, Holy Communion of Mary Magdalene (detail) (1580)

What happened: St. Ignatius of Antioch, a student of the Apostle John, wrote a series of seven letters on his way to martyrdom. In one of them, his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, he denounces the Gnostics for disbelieving in the Eucharist:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Ignatius’ letter shows that in the earliest days of Christianity, one had to believe that the Eucharist was actually the flesh of Christ. The Gnostics didn’t believe this, and were cut off from the Church.

What’s required to understand the dispute: the Real Presence of the Eucharist and the Oneness of the Church. The two sides of the dispute are the Catholics, who believe that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior; and the Gnostics, who deny this on the grounds that Jesus didn’t actually have flesh. The Apostle John, St. Ignatius’ mentor, denounced the Gnostics for their position in 2 John 1:7, labelling them deceivers and Antichrist.

What we don’t see: Christians siding with the Catholics on the Incarnation, and with the Gnostics against the Eucharist.

6. The Donatist Anti-Popes
Paolo Emilio Besenzi, Saint Peter (17th c.)

What happened: Although Donatism (see #4) was a schismatic movement largely confined to North Africa, they sought to establish their credibility by establishing their own Bishop of Rome. St. Optatus of Milevis, commenting some decades later, compares Catholicism and Donatism on this point. First, he establishes that the Catholic Church can trace a continual lineage of popes, from St. Peter down to the present age (in his case, Pope Siricius):

You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim—-each for himself—-separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner.

To Peter succeeded Linus, to Linus succeeded Clement, to Clement Anacletus, to Anacletus Evaristus, to [….] Siricius, who to-day is our colleague, with whom ‘the whole world,’ through the intercourse of letters of peace, agrees with us in one bond of communion. Now do you show the origin of your Cathedra, you who wish to claim the Holy Church for yourselves!

Optatus then contrast this with the Donatist lineage of antipopes:

But you allege that you too have some sort of a party in the City of Rome. It is a branch of your error growing out of a lie, not from the root of truth. [….]

How do you explain that your party has not been able to possess a Roman citizen as Bishop in Rome? How is it that in that City they were all Africans and strangers who are known to have succeeded one another? Is not craft here manifest? Is this not the spirit of faction—-the mother of schism?

This Victor of Garba was sent first, I will not say as a stone into a fountain (for he could not ruffle the pure waters of the Catholic people), but because some Africans who belonged to your party, having gone to Rome, and wishing to live there, begged that someone should be sent from Africa to preside over their public worship. So Victor was sent to them. He was there as a son without a father, as a beginner without a master, as a disciple without a teacher, as a follower without a predecessor, as a lodger without a home, as a guest without a guest-house, as a shepherd without a flock, as a Bishop without a people.

Every subsequent Donatist Bishop of Rome could trace his lineage to Victor of Garba, but no further, thus disproving their pretense at being Apostolic in origin:

Since then, Claudian has succeeded to Lucian, Lucian to Macrobius, Macrobius to Encolpius, Encolpius to Boniface, Boniface to Victor. Victor would not have been able, had he been asked where he sat, to show that anyone had been there before him, nor could he have pointed out that he possessed any Cathedra save the Cathedra of pestilence; for pestilence sends down its victims, destroyed by diseases, to the regions of Hell which are known to have their gates—-gates against which we read that Peter received the saving Keys—-Peter, that is to say, the first of our line, to whom it was said by Christ: ‘To thee will I give the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ and these keys ‘the gates of Hell shall not overcome.’ How is it, then, that you strive to usurp for yourselves the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, you who, with your arguments, and audacious sacrilege, war against the Chair of Peter?

What’s required to understand the dispute: The necessity of being in union with the Bishop of Rome, papal possession of the Keys of the Kingdom, and the importance of Apostolic Succession. The dispute was not over whether there was a pope, but who the pope was.

What we don’t hear: Anyone treating the papacy as itself heretical, or even unnecessary. You also don’t hear anyone defending the idea that you can simply declare yourself a bishop, which is one reason why the Baptist St. Patrick idea is so ahistorical.

Evangelicals tend to believe that Scripture is self-attesting and perspicuous (an unclear way of saying “clear”). In other words, you can pick up a Bible and understand what it means without needing a Magisterium to clarify its meaning for you. Therefore, they’re putting themselves in a particularly untenable position when they proceed to say that all of the early Christians got Christianity fundamentally wrong in regards to the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, the Liturgy and liturgical calendar, the Sign of the Cross, the pope, Apostolic Succession, etc., etc.

On the one hand, they’re saying that Scripture is so clear that anyone can grasp its meaning. But then their view of history requires believing that nobody grasped its meaning: that even in the midst of theological disputes over Scriptural questions, nobody figured out what Scripture was trying to teach. Even if you don’t believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, that’s an odd thing to believe: the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and but left us without any way of correctly understanding them until … when, exactly?

For this reason, even if you are inclined to give zero weight to Tradition (contra 2 Thes. 2:15), you simply can’t write off Christian history. If the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture to be understood in every age, history should evidence people correctly understanding Scripture in every age. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be folks who get Scripture wrong; it just means that we’ll never be left with only people who get Scripture wrong. It’s the difference between saying that Christ entrusted us to shepherds after His own heart, who have to fend off wolves in every age (Jeremiah 3:15; Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29), and saying that Christ abandoned us to the wolves.

All of this points strongly to the Catholic claim. Unlike Baptists or other Evangelical Protestants, we see Catholics in every age. And that’s exactly what we should expect to see from orthodox Christianity.

50 Comments

  1. Obviously you are forgetting that the memebers of the true Remnant Church (i.e., the Baptists) were in hiding during these controversies. All evidence of their existence was subsequently supressed by the Vatican (or the Illuminati – potato, potatoe) so that the Catholic Church could pretend it was the true Church!

    Christian History 101 my friend. 😉

    1. How could you say that there were evidence if in the first place the evidence were destroyed? Take note. Even the false Gospels of the early centuries were kept locked in the Vatican libraries.

    2. Which Baptist Church? According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America there are more than 50 different Baptist traditions in the USA alone that are so diverse in doctrine they aren’t all in communion with one and other.

  2. Interesting article, but the title is misleading. As you wrote on facebook, it should be called “Evangelical Protestants.” Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and other such Protestants can be fine with the early church on these issues. We all come from the same trunk of the church history tree, and that trunk is firmly grounded and strong in this time. That is all. Peace!

    1. So are Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and other such Protestants all fine with the early Church’s acceptance of the Pope as successor of St Peter and with the sacrifice and Real Presence of Christ in the mass?

    2. Matthew, try not to get too bent out shape with your handling of history. Protestants share a common history as part of the Western church through this period. Luther pointed out the various issues that the medieval church, which is after these controversies, had with the Avignon Papacy and other later abuses in the church. We still believe in the Real Presence in the mass. Yes, Lutherans and other Protestant churches can call it a mass.

    3. Rev. Hans, I wasn’t aware that the Lutherans (or any other Protestants) believed that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. I was raised in the ELCA, and I was taught consubstantiation, not transubstantiation.

      Can you point me to a source that verifies your claim?

    4. Rev. Dark Hans, you mentioned more than just Lutherans in your comment. Plenty of Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists are a lot less favourably disposed to the Papacy and the Real Presence doctrine.

    5. Joanna, I would encourage you to take a look at the ELCA document called “The Use of the Means of Grace.” It is found at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/The_Use_Of_The_Means_Of_Grace.pdf . This is the best teaching of the ELCA in very clear and simple language. Page 37 describes the Real Presence. The labels of consubstantiation and transubstantiation are not very helpful when actually articulating what our various faith traditions believe. Luther believed in the Real Presence, but he understood the method to be a mystery. The Roman church believes in the Real Presence, but they understood the method as articulated by Aristotelian logic. Thank you Thomas Aquinas!

      Matthew, you are right in pointing out that my blanket statement may have some holes in it concerning the various churches. There are Methodists and Presbyterians who are vehemently anti-Pope and reject the Real Presence. Both of those churches have been in dialogue with the Roman church since Vatican II. Both of those churches represent a wide opinion. I would not recommend telling an Anglican that they do not believe in the Real Presence because you may end up with a black eye. ha ha ha!

      Finally,Jovan-Marya, your attempt to dismiss my point by pure semantics is less than impressive. You seem less interested in hearing another view as much as Trolling with some drivel spoon fed to you. As a lay Carmelite, I would hope that you have a Bible. Please read Hebrews 10. The best scholarship that I have seen points to the term “Mass” as being derived from the dismissal at the end of the service or the sending of the meal to those who are absent. If you have other scholarship that shows the Mass is only tied to the “Sacrificing Priesthood,” then I would love to be wrong.

    6. I read it, Rev. Hans, but I’m seeing key differences in what is stated in that document vs what the Early Church Fathers taught (and what the Catholic Church teaches). The document you linked to says that Christ “is present…under the form of bread and wine.” It does not say, as the ECFs did and the Catholic Church does, that the bread and wine BECOME the body and blood of Christ. Also, this document does not cite any ECFs to back up its claims. My original question stands.

    7. Joanna, forgive me for giving you a light read when you are clearly wanted some meatier truths. Your original question was about Lutherans believing in the Real Presence. Yes, Lutherans believe in the Real Presence. Even that Vatican has acknowledge this.

      The following is a long and unedited quote from the document “From Conflict to Communion” and can be found at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/lutheran-fed-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_2013_dal-conflitto-alla-comunione_en.html#Eucharist_

      “Lutheran–Catholic dialogue on the eucharist

      153. The question of the reality of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper is not a matter of controversy between Catholics and Lutherans. The Lutheran–Catholic dialogue on the eucharist was able to state: “The Lutheran tradition affirms the Catholic tradition that the consecrated elements do not simply remain bread and wine but rather by the power of the creative word are given as the body and blood of Christ. In this sense Lutherans also could occasionally speak, as does the Greek tradition, of a change” (Eucharist 51).(50) Both Catholics and Lutherans “have in common a rejection of a spatial or natural manner of presence, and a rejection of an understanding of the sacrament as only commemorative or figurative” (Eucharist 16).(51)

      Common understanding of the real presence of Christ

      154. Lutherans and Catholics can together affirm the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper: “In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper Jesus Christ true God and true man, is present wholly and entirely, in his Body and Blood, under the signs of bread and wine” (Eucharist 16). This common statement affirms all the essential elements of faith in the eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ without adopting the conceptual terminology of transubstantiation. Thus Catholics and Lutherans understand that “the exalted Lord is present in the Lord’s Supper in the body and blood he gave with his divinity and his humanity through the word of promise in the gifts of bread and wine in the power of the Holy Spirit for reception through the congregation.”(52)”

      Your original question has thus been answered by the Vatican.

    8. Yes, I’ve read this too. But it’s the same language as before. Absolutely, Lutherans and Catholics agree that Christ is *present* in the Eucharist. But can Lutherans go one step farther and agree with the Church – and the ECFs – that the Eucharist BECOMES Christ? That the bread becomes the literal flesh of Jesus, and the wine becomes the literal blood?

      The Vatican says that Catholics and Lutherans agree on a particular aspects of the Eucharist. She does not say that Lutheran theology is correct regarding ALL aspects of the Eucharist. As an analogy, Catholics and Baptists can agree that baptism is salvific – but that doesn’t mean that their respective theologies regarding baptism are identical or in agreement (quite the contrary). So this document does not claim what you seem to think it claims.

      It also begs the question, why don’t Lutherans adore the Eucharist as Catholics do, if they (allegedly) have the same beliefs?

    9. Rev Hans did not Ignatius of Antioch say Christians should not celebrate the Mass with out the bishop or one he appoints? A bishop back then valued the succession from the apostles and thus was part of the “sacrificing priesthood” or ministerial priesthood that were ordained by a successor of the apostles. — Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast;”

    10. Joanna, your original question was answered. You clearly are not happy with the answer, even though the answer came from the Vatican. I have noticed that several other commentators on here have not been satisfied even after the answer is given from Catholic sources, so they will try to refine the question ad nauseam or bring in peripheral issues in an attempt to avoid the original question. You clearly believe that the Roman view of communion is the only right one and every other church is wrong.

      Your attempt to relate this issue with Baptists and Catholics’ view of baptism is not a fitting analogy. Baptists and Catholics are worlds apart on baptism, but this shared document from the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation shows how close we are on our understanding of communion.

      Do you mean that my comment “raises the question” or are you stating that I am using a logical fallacy? My comments may plead, argue, and annoy, but trust me when I state that my comments do not beg questions!

    11. No, Rev. Hans, you’re claiming the Vatican is saying something that She isn’t. She isn’t saying, as you claim, that Catholics and Lutherans have identical theology and beliefs regarding the Eucharist. She is saying that Catholics and Lutherans have some *elements* of belief in the Eucharist are in common.

      But there are many differences. For example, as I asked, if Lutherans truly believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist, why don’t they adore the Eucharist? Why do they allow anyone to receive despite St. Paul’s warning about eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood unworthily? Etc.

    12. Wow! ~Facepalm~ You succeeded in muddying this conversation so much in your own mind that you have forgotten what it was all about. I made the comment that Lutherans (and some other Protestants) believe in the Real Presence. You were shocked by this. I showed you a document from the Vatican clearly showing that Lutherans and Catholics believe in the Real Presence. I never claimed that we have the exact same theology on communion, and this document from the Vatican goes into some differences. You keep bringing up other aspects to sacramental theology and the adoration of the Eucharist. That was not what this was about. You have clearly constructed many criteria for what you think “proper” Eucharist is. You may still reply with plenty more criteria for “proper” Eucharist if that makes you feel better. I pray that God will grant you peace!

      1. Actually, you were trying to claim theologies were the same. I have read all of your comments, but you were backed in a corner and retreated trying to double talk and confuse. All you would have had to say was, yes, we believe in consubstantiation, or better yet I do not understand what you mean and humble yourself. At times we must all humble ourselves, double talk just leads to lying, and lying takes on various forms. This not an attack, just a clarification, with much respect.

    13. I think I see the problem, Rev. Hans. You and I have two very different definitions of “Real Presence.” For you, “Real Presence” has the Lutheran definition, which is, “Christ is present in the Eucharist.” But for me, given that I never heard the term “Real Presence” until I became Catholic, it has the Catholic meaning, which is: “the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

      So, when you say “Lutherans believe in the Real Presence,” you mean “Lutherans believe in THEIR DEFINITION of the Real Presence.” My argument is that Lutherans have an incorrect definition of what constitutes the Real Presence.

  3. 1. Easter dating controversy: “…the debate is not over whether to use a liturgical calendar, but which liturgical calendar.”
    Not exactly. How many days were set aside in this second century “liturgical calendar.” Was there really an issue over there being a calendar, or rather dating being that a presumption in the Scripture is that the “Lord’s Day” is locked on a Sunday for a reason. Being that Eastern churches claimed that their practice came from Apostolic tradition, what really settles the matter? Roman Primacy is one theory. Another would be that the preponderance of Christian’s hold to the Lord’s Day and that there are issues in which making Easter any other day than the Lord’s Day.

    5. Gnosticism and the Eucharist. “Ignatius’ letter shows that in the earliest days of Christianity, one had to believe that the Eucharist was actually the flesh of Christ. The Gnostics didn’t believe this, and were cut off from the Church.”
    Personally, I believe in the Real Presence (it is the simplest, most literal explanation and it was taught by every single ECF.) However, the Gnostics were not cut off because they rejected the Real Presence. They were rejected because they did not accept Christ came in the flesh. If you do not believe Christ came in the flesh, then how can you take part in the Lord’s Supper when even, if it were to be just a memorial, Christ says “this IS my body” and “this IS my blood.” It pretty much disproves Gnosticism and Docetism.

    6. The Donatist Anti-Popes. “What we don’t hear: Anyone treating the papacy as itself heretical, or even unnecessary. “
    You also do not see the word “Pope” used once, so some of the import of the term would be anachronistic.

    1. 6. Craig the word “Pope” isn’t that important when we have the entire list of Popes:

      Remember, now, that Optatus is a bishop in North Africa. By making this argument, he’s conceding that he’s not the head of the Church, or an equal partner in Church governance. He then proceeds to give a list of popes from Peter until the time of his writing (in the middle 360s — see the second comment below). When he updated his book in the 380s, he updated the list of popes as well. What makes this more remarkable is that this is the exact same thing that St. Irenaeus of Lyons did in Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, back in about 180 A.D.

      http://catholicdefense.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/early-church-father-worth-knowing.html

    2. I don’t mean any disrespect as I am not on home turf here, but the article in question claims that no one treated “the papacy as itself heretical, or even unnecessary.” However, none of the ancient thinkers in question even said the words “Pope” or “Papacy.” So, the whole issue is viewed anachronistically if we view it purely from a Roman Primacy viewpoint.

      For example, I believe that Eastern Orthodox would not debate that traditionally the Roman Pontiff is pre-eminent. I would not deny this traditionally, either. However, there is a difference between pre-eminence and the literal Papacy and the ramifications of such.

      So, I am historically unsure if the Donatists were trying to usurp the Roman Bishopric for reasons of lending more legitimacy to their faction, or if they were literally trying to usurp the Church Catholic. I simply am not convinced from the information as found in the article is even suggestive of the latter, let alone proving the matter conclusively.

      God bless,
      Craig

    3. One reason for the difficulties for some to understand the role and nature of a pre-eminent bishop, or ‘Pope’, in the Church is found in the way that Jesus’ established His Church on Earth, which is very different from other governing bodies, kingdoms, etc.. found in world history. Jesus changed everything when He explained to His Apostles:

      “You know that they who seem to rule over the Gentiles, lord it over them: and their princes have power over them. [43] But it is not so among you: but whosoever will be greater, shall be your minister. [44] And whosoever will be first among you, shall be the servant of all. [45] For the Son of man also is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.”

      So when we think of pre-eminency, we really need to think of “Servant of the servants of God”. If we look at Church leadership in any other way, we will never come to understand correctly the true nature of the Papacy, as there is an overwhelming ‘pastoral’ element attached to it. This is why the First Letter of Clement is so important in analyzing the Papacy. It’s not necessarily what He says in the letter, but HOW he says it. That is, in an exceedly humble and loving way, and demonstrating very little of his pre-eminence and authority. He is truly showing himself to be a ‘Servant of the Servants of God’ in addressing the Corinthians from his position as third Bishop of Rome, and successor to St. Peter’s ‘See’.

      But does this mean that he does indeed have NO actual authority, just because he doesn’t highlight it by ‘lording it over others’?

      If Jesus Himself did not do this, do we really think that Peter, or any other apostle or bishop, should or would, even though they did actually have the authority to do so? In fact, this subdued and humble method of exercising authority in the early Church is a very good witness to the great fidelity of these early Apostles, Bishops and Popes to the Lord’s teachings, showing how they not only taught about the Lord, but also ‘practiced what they preached’ by actually putting into practice what the Lord had taught them.

    1. Put simply, it’s a slow process. However, if enough knowledgeable Catholics wanted to try to teach this Church history it would make a huge dent in the problem. But how can we possibly teach so many people? Isn’t it impossible?

      It’s in no way impossible. First, we can use the many great Catholic resources that we already have readily available to us. Promotion of local EWTN Catholic Radio is one, and promotion of this, and other excellent, wisdom filled, Catholic websites, is another.

      And where might we find these Protestants? The answer is…. practically everywhere! Just contact your local Catholic Radio Station in your part of the country, and ask them to send you some free ‘radio station cards’ and bumper stickers. You can take these cards out on the streets to what ever location attracts a lot of people. The best places are ‘Farmers Markets’ and cultural festivals. Super Markets are good if you’re brave enough to stand outside of them. If you have a bumper sticker for the same station you can stick it on a shoe type box, and everyone will easily know what you’re promoting. Then you just say to them “Hi, I’m promoting Catholic Radio”, and they almost always take the cards, no matter if they are Catholic, or not. At the same time you can try to talk with anyone who seems open to it. Then you can tell them about all of the great history available on the web, sites such as New Advent .org, and also Shameless Popery. If they’re nice people you can tell them to put the sites on their cell phones at the same time that you are talking to them. I’ve done this many times, and they don’t have a problem with it.

      I have personally put out about 1000 Immaculate Heart Radio 1260 AM cards per week for the last 2 years in this same manner described above, and I usually only spend about 2-3 hours per week doing this work. I do it for the Legion of Mary which in my area has thousands of ‘bulk’ cards printed for this very purpose. We order about 160,000 at a time at about a penny each. So, doing the math, you might reach 1 listener when you distribute 100 cards. Or, put in another way, one soul might be taught for about a dollar. For the price of a Big Mac, you might bring 5 people closer to the Catholic faith. Anyway, this reasoning is what keeps me putting out the Catholic radio cards. Through the radio, while they listen in their cars during their daily commute, they will certainly come in contact with a lot of Christian history. Sooner, or later, they will come to know the Catholic faith if they listen frequently while driving to work.

      Anyway, in my opinion, this is the quickest way to teach both Protestants and Catholics the great truths of the Catholic faith, and for the least amount of time and money. I encourage everyone to try it out, as it is actually very fun.

    2. I prefer the ‘Catholic-style’ better. 🙂 And most of the people I meet at my various locations seem to, also. At one location we have a very militant group, dressed in similar colors, who yell and scream and try to intimidate those who pass by. They have Bibles in their hands, but have their own wild theology, relating almost everything in the Bible to Africa, in one way or the other. I talked with them for about half an hour, one time, and when I decided to continue with my own work, they followed me around aggressively trying to get some more crazy points across. I had to almost beg them to just ‘let it go’ and let me concentrate on my own radio card distribution. I think they might have joined ISIS by now?

      Other Evangelicals, on occasion, come out and stand within 10 – 20 feet of me holding a bible and yelling the same Christian cliches over and over again as if everyone there were complete idiots’s and have never heard of Jesus before. But I use them as a bad example to the people I talk to, and say things like “Don’t worry, they don’t yell at Catholic Radio” and “Catholics prefer to be NICE” . Or, “Catholics really like to include intelligence in religion….you need brains to be on Catholic Radio”…etc..

      And to prove that Catholic Radio REALLY DOES have ‘brainy’ people on it, you should try to find, on-line, the Joe Heschmeyer interview(s) that were on-air last year.

      Anyway, as stated before, this type of evangelization is actually quite a good time!

      Best to you.

    3. Craig,

      I know you an avid student of the writing of the Early Church Fathers. I’m just giving you a heads up on one particular work that you might not have read yet, but which is a real gem. It is St. Cyprian’s (A.D. 200? – 258) “The Unity of the Catholic Church”. He is an exceptionally beautiful writer, and this treatise should not be missed by any Christian interested in the early Church.

      If interested, you can find it in a simple form (with minor typeset errors here: https://www.ewtn.com/library/sources/unity.txt

      Otherwise, there are many other editions with more sophisticated format available. This link above is an edition that is easy to read, though.

    4. Will Do. Enjoy Cyprian. If you have more time, also check out his “Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer”. In it he is pretty critical of modern ‘Charismatic type’ prayer as is experienced in many Churches, both Catholic and Protestant, today. Both Augustine and Ambrose were impressed by the treatise, and for this reason did not write their own on the same subject.

  4. I enjoyed Cyprian’s letter (62?) on the Lord’s Supper, so I’ll check it out. I have not read that much on him, I do know he was critical of those who wanted to wait to the eighth day to baptize, because he did not view baptism as the replacement of circumcision (which it isn’t, but I digress.)

    God bless,
    Craig

  5. Thanks for the reference to Epistle 62. I hadn’t read that before. Cyprian is turning out to be one of my favorite ‘Fathers’.

    Best to you.

  6. I read the epistle, and chapters 8, 10, and 12 stick out to me. I think Chapter 12 sums up his htoughts: “How can two or three be assembled together in Christ’s name, who, it is evident, are separated from Christ and from His Gospel? For we have not withdrawn from them, but they from us; and since heresies and schisms have risen subsequently, from their establishment for themselves of diverse places of worship, they have forsaken the Head and Source of the truth.”

    The question that taunts me is what is the “Church.” I know that, obviously, Eastern Orthodox believe that they are the legitimate Church, the Catholics think that they are, that Anglicans think that they are, and that other Protestants think that they are.

    During my study, I have found that Cyprian was at odds with Rome concerning the re-baptism of schismatics. We have the judgement of 87 Bishops in a North African Council called On the Baptism of Heretics (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0508.htm). In it he declared, “For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another.”

    So, what I wonder is who is the true schismatic? Those who believe there is a bishop of bishops? Those who reject this? Cyprian writes in Unity:

    These, doubtless, they imitate and follow, who, despising God’s tradition, seek after strange doctrines, and bring in teachings of human appointment, whom the Lord rebukes and reproves in His Gospel, saying, You reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition. Mark 7:9 This is a worse crime than that which the lapsed seem to have fallen into, who nevertheless, standing as penitents for their crime, beseech God with full satisfactions” (Chapter 19).

    Could Cyprian anticipate in 1300 years, the development in doctrine in Catholicism? Would he consider it “strange?”

    Perhaps we should email chat on this, I don’t mind speculating here, but I do not have fully formulated ideas on this matter.

    God bless,
    Craig

    1. OK Craig, that’s probably the best idea, to carry on via e-mail. You can reach me, when convenient, at: awlms447 @gmail.com

      I’m not an expert in theology, either, but I do recognize excellent spiritual writings when I read them. Both Cyprian and Prosper are of this category of writers. They are both highly edifying in both their style, as well as the content of their writings.

      Anyway, get in touch via e-mail and maybe we can discuss some of these items that you mentioned above.

      Best to you,

      – Al

    2. Klaus Schatz [Jesuit Father theologian, professor of church history at the St. George’s Philosophical and Theological School in Frankfurt] in his work, “Papal Primacy ,” pp. 1-4, finds:

      “New Testament scholars agree…, The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter’s lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative.

      That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the authority of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter’s death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably ‘no.”

      “….that does not mean that the figure and the commission of the Peter of the New Testament did not encompass the possibility, if it is projected into a Church enduring for centuries and concerned in some way to to secure its ties to its apostolic origins and to Jesus himself.

      If we ask in addition whether the primitive church was aware, after Peter’s death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church’s rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer.” (page 1-2) More .

    1. Anthony,

      I’d be happy to. Here’s the account that Lactantius (c. 250-325) gave of the origins of the persecution, which occurred during his lifetime:

      “Diocletian, as being of a timorous disposition, was a searcher into futurity, and during his abode in the East he began to slay victims, that from their livers he might obtain a prognostic of events; and while he sacrificed, some attendants of his, who were Christians, stood by, and they put the immortal sign on their foreheads. At this the demons were chased away, and the holy rites interrupted. The soothsayers trembled, unable to investigate the wonted marks on the entrails of the victims. They frequently repeated the sacrifices, as if the former had been unpropitious; but the victims, slain from time to time, afforded no tokens for divination. At length Tages, the chief of the soothsayers, either from guess or from his own observation, said, “There are profane persons here, who obstruct the rites.”

      “Then Diocletian, in furious passion, ordered not only all who were assisting at the holy ceremonies, but also all who resided within the palace, to sacrifice, and, in case of their refusal, to be scourged. And further, by letters to the commanding officers, he enjoined that all soldiers should be forced to the like impiety, under pain of being dismissed the service. Thus far his rage proceeded; but at that season he did nothing more against the law and religion of God. After an interval of some time he went to winter in Bithynia; and presently Galerius Cæsar came thither, inflamed with furious resentment, and purposing to excite the inconsiderate old man to carry on that persecution which he had begun against the Christians.”

      And here’s a post that I wrote about it.

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