Testing the Catholic Claim

Yesterday, I responded to Brian Simmons on the issue of Tradition. In his post, he addresses a number of specific points I raised previously here and elsewhere. He’s divided his response into five sections, and so I’ve done likewise.

A few things to consider before I begin, though. Brian doesn’t refute any of the substance of my original argument: that on the issues of “first, Apostolic Succession with Roman Primacy; second, the Eucharist; third, Mary; and fourth, Baptism by immersion,” we find Ignatius, Papias, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Tertullian, Lactantius, and the Didache adopting explicitly Catholic positions. He does two things, instead: (A) he tries to show how a certain reading of Scripture would lead to a contrary conclusion, and (B) he tries to show that other early Christians disagreed. Before testing the weight of these arguments, let’s assume them to be correct. Is it reasonable to say (A) that if my interpretation of the Bible disagrees with Tradition, I’m right and the Church is wrong? and (B) that if the Fathers disagree, I get to decide who’s right? Obviously, I think that the answer on both of these is a resounding negative.

(A) Irenaeus mentions throughout Against Heresies that the Valentinians made use of Scriptural texts to advance their crazy religion (Book I, Chapters 3 and 8, e.g.); that the Marcosians do the same thing (Book I, Chapters 19 and 20, e.g.); and so forth. In Book III, Chapter 2, Irenaeus says that when the heretics “are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.” But that “when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.” So Irenaeus’ complaint is that the heretics have a handful of verses which they’re running with, leading them to ignore appeals both to other parts of Scripture, and to Sacred Tradition, a Tradition preserved, he’s quick to note, through Apostolic Succession.

(B) The Church Fathers do disagree about certain things. For example, the Apostles didn’t clearly dictate which books were canonical, and which weren’t. The appropriate Body to settle this, of course, isn’t the individual (that has resulted only in yet more canons, like the Protestant Bible, Jefferson’s Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the “translations” done by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Joseph Smith, etc.). It’s the Church. And the fourth-century Church did settle the issue of the canon, for what’s that worth. So if there’s a seeming disagreement with the Church Fathers, we should: make sure there really is a disagreement; determine if both camps involve otherwise orthodox Christians (the Gnostics and Catholics disagreed on numerous issues, for example, but there’s no question who was right); determine if one or both are simply putting forth personal theories instead of the Faith; and see how the Church responded to the two camps. In virtually every case, you’ll find a clear answer.

Frankly, I think that if the two points above are true, there’s no further debate. There’s no question that the Fathers I mentioned took the Catholic view, and no question that the Church came down on their side on the questions at hand. It’s settled, and we’re not given the authority to overrule the Church. But let’s go point by point anyways:

1. Whether the Church is Visible or Invisible.
The kingdom of heaven parables of Matthew 13 deal with the sphere of professing Christendom. Christ clearly said that at the end of the age, the tares will be gathered and burnt. These do not constitute the bride, because the bride is composed only of saved believers. Read Romans 7: 4. Only they who have the “Spirit of Christ” are reckoned as being betrothed to Christ. The tares are “none of His.” See Romans 8: 9. Joe is confusing the visible church with the invisible bride of Christ.

Brian introduces here a distinction which the Bible doesn’t contain: one Church visible, one Church invisible. Rather, the distinction which Jesus does make (and most clearly, in Matthew 13) is the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth now, and the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of time. The Catholic Church uses the terms Church Militant and Church Triumphant to distinguish the two. Right now, there are unsaved members within the Church. Those individuals will either “get saved” or get damned.

Again, look at the example of Judas. He’s clearly a member of the Church on Earth. He’s called by Christ, which Christ acknowledges specifically in John 6:70-71. In John 6:71, John also describes him as “one of the Twelve.” And Peter expressly acknowledges that Judas held “office” in the Church in Acts 1:20. That doesn’t just mean that Judas was a nominal member of possessing Christendom. It means that the very same Church which Paul tells Timothy to look to in 1 Timothy 3:15 includes prominent members such as Judas Iscariot. I’m not saying that individuals like Judas are saved simply by being members of the Church.

In Hebrews 11, the apostle Paul treats as one general class true believers of both the old and new dispensations. All the saints enumerated were remarkable for the faith which they possessed, distinguishing them from mere religionists. Israel embraced the nation en masse – both believers and unbelievers. But within the nation there was always a remnant of true worshippers, who would receive the promises made to the fathers. So the church, which comes under the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2: 12; Gen. 9: 27), includes both believers and unbelievers.

This is exactly my point. Under the Old Covenant, you could say that “Israel believes x” (e.g., “Israel is monotheistic”), even if at times, a great number (even the majority) of Israelites didn’t hold the beliefs which the nation Israel purported to believe, and covenanted upon. If you wanted to know what Israel believed, there was a body you could literally see. It wasn’t necessary to interview each probably-saved Israelite and compare notes. There was both Sacred Scripture and Tradition, as well as some sort of imperfect teaching office (see Matthew 23:1-3). The Old Covenant foreshadowed the New: Scripture grew to include a New Testament; Tradition was fulfilled, and replaced with Apostolic Tradition; and the imperfect teaching office, the “seat of Moses,” was replaced with the infallible teaching office, the seat of Peter; and imperfect Israel gave way to the perfect Church. When Paul says to look to the Church, we should expect a visible Church to look to. And we find one, and always have: the Catholic Church.

Brian then claims that the Body of Christ is only the invisible Church, but his previous points have already disproven this. So, too, has Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 6:15, St. Paul refers to members of the Body of Christ polluting the Body by visiting prostitutes. And yet more clearly, in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, he says that within the Body of Christ, there are offices, such as Apostle. So Judas, as an Apostle, was a member of the Body of Christ. Again, being a member of the Body of Christ isn’t the same as saying that one is ultimately saved.

2. Schaff and Infant Baptism
In an earlier post, Brian quoted Schaff on the Didache. Schaff’s actual quote was that, “In the Apostolic and whole ante-Nicene age to the time of Constantine, baptism of believing converts was the rule, and is to this day on every missionary field. Hence in the New Testament the baptized are addressed as those who have died and risen with Christ, and who have put on Christ. Baptism and conversion are almost used as synonymous terms.”

Brian understood this to mean that the Apostles were against infant Baptism, but that’s not Schaff’s point at all. I might also say that in the early days of American history, the vast majority of new citizens were adults, not infants, and that as a rule, this was the pattern in every “mission field,” or new territory which the US acquired. By appealing to mission fields, Schaff is suggesting why infant Baptism doesn’t play a big role in the early Church. Rather than being against the Faith, it’s because to Baptize an infant, you must first have believing parents, and those didn’t exist in the earliest days of the Church. So you’ve gotta Baptize mom and dad before you get to baptizing Junior.

Brian insists that he hasn’t misunderstood Schaff, so he quotes more from him. He emphasizes a different part, though: “Nothing is said [in the Didache] of Infant Baptism. The reference to instruction and the direction of fasting show that the writer has in view only the Baptism of catechumens, or adult believers. Christianity always begins by preaching the gospel to such as can hear, understand and believe. Baptism follows as a solemn act of introduction into fellowship with Christ and the privileges and duties of church-membership. Infant Baptism has no sense and would be worse than useless where there is no Christian family or Christian congregation to fulfil the conditions of Baptism and to guarantee a Christian nurture.”

Of course, this is exactly what the Catholic Church believes. I even heard this in the homily on Sunday, where the priest compared baptizing the infants of unbelieving parents as owning a bank account for a kid and never telling them about it: it does no good… “where there is no Christian family or Christian congregation to fulfill the conditions of Baptism and to guarantee a Christian nurture.” This, of course, implies that Christian families and congregations can fulfill those conditions. In other words, Schaff is explaining that the lack of emphasis on infant Baptism is because it’s harmful to baptize Junior if mom and dad aren’t already baptized.

But to put this whole question to rest, here’s what Schaff says in History of the Christian Church. I apologize in advance to the length, but I wanted to make it extremely clear exactly what his views are:

3. As to the Subjects of baptism: the apostolic origin of infant baptism is denied not only by the Baptists, but also by many paedobaptist divines. The Baptists assert that infant baptism is contrary to the idea of the sacrament itself, and accordingly, an unscriptural corruption. For baptism, say they, necessarily presupposes the preaching of the gospel on the part of the church, and repentance and faith on the part of the candidate for the ordinance; and as infants can neither understand preaching, nor repent and believe, they are not proper subjects for baptism, which is intended only for adult converts. It is true, the apostolic church was a missionary church, and had first to establish a mother community, in the bosom of which alone the grace of baptism can be improved by a Christian education. So even under the old covenant circumcision was first performed on the adult Abraham; and so all Christian missionaries in heathen lands now begin with preaching, and baptizing adults. True, the New Testament contains no express command to baptize infants; such a command would not agree with the free spirit of the gospel. Nor was there any compulsory or general infant baptism before the union of church and state; Constantine, the first Christian emperor, delayed his baptism till his deathbed (as many now delay their repentance); and even after Constantine there were examples of eminent teachers, as Gregory Nazianzen, Augustin, Chrysostom, who were not baptized before their conversion in early manhood, although they had Christian mothers.

But still less does the New Testament forbid infant baptism; as it might be expected to do in view of the universal custom of the Jews, to admit their children by circumcision on the eighth day after birth into the fellowship of the old covenant.

On the contrary, we have presumptive and positive arguments for the apostolic origin and character of infant baptism, first, in the fact that circumcision as truly prefigured baptism, as the passover the holy Supper; then in the organic relation between Christian parents and children; in the nature of the new covenant, which is even more comprehensive than the old; in the universal virtue of Christ, as the Redeemer of all sexes, classes, and ages, and especially in the import of his own infancy, which has redeemed and sanctified the infantile age; in his express invitation to children, whom he assures of a title to the kingdom of heaven, and whom, therefore, he certainly would not leave without the sign and seal of such membership; in the words, of institution, which plainly look to the Christianizing, not merely of individuals, but of whole nations, including, of course, the children; in the express declaration of Peter at the first administration of the ordinance, that this promise of forgiveness of sins and of the Holy Spirit was to the Jews “and to their children;” in the five instances in the New Testament of the baptism of whole families, where the presence of children in most of the cases is far more probable than the absence of children in all; and finally, in the universal practice of the early church, against which the isolated protest of Tertullian proves no more, than his other eccentricities and Montanistic peculiarities; on the contrary, his violent protest implies the prevailing practice of infant baptism. He advised delay of baptism as a measure of prudence, lest the baptized by sinning again might forever forfeit the benefit of this ordinance; but he nowhere denies the apostolic origin or right of early baptism.

We must add, however, that infant baptism is unmeaning, and its practice a profanation, except on the condition of Christian parentage or guardianship, and under the guarantee of a Christian education. And it needs to be completed by an act of personal consecration, in which the child, after due instruction in the gospel, intelligently and freely confesses Christ, devotes himself to his service, and is thereupon solemnly admitted to the full communion of the church and to the sacrament of the holy Supper. The earliest traces of confirmation are supposed to be found in the apostolic practice of laying on hands, or symbolically imparting the Holy Spirit after baptism (Acts 8:15; 19:6; Heb. 6:2).

Schaff’s views are, then, exactly what I’ve said from the start. Baptize the parents, then baptize the baby. And Schaff cites to both Scripture and Tradition in support of infant Baptism for those cases where there are believing parents. While Schaff is wrong on some thing, he’s both right, and abundantly clear, on this one. In the rest of #2, Brian just argues that Tertullian is a “purist” who is right on this. But I think Schaff answered this beautifully.

3. Rome was not the Universally Recognized Seat of the Visible Church
Brian claims that the Roman See wasn’t recognized as the central earthly authority in the pre-Nicene Church, and to prove it, he quotes from the Nicene Council. First off, if the Nicene Council is on-limits, then the Nicene Fathers ought to be, as well. But second, what he’s quoting is a mix of both the actual Canon VI of the Nicene Council and some anti-Catholic commentary in one block quote. Here’s what the relevant language of Canon VI, sans commentary:

LET the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop.

This, then, isn’t a repudiation of Roman primacy at all. It’s an acknowledgment of the power of a Metropolitan. The Metropolitan bishop here is Archbishop Wuerl, and Bishop Loverde isn’t capable of doing certain things without his permission. On the issue of the appointment of new bishops (which is what the canon deals with), the Metropolitan has a large role. The precise mode for selecting bishops has changed throughout Christian history, and in an era in which the Church in Rome had little knowledge of an individual Christian’s character in somewhere, like, say, Hippo, it made lots of sense to give extensive authority in appointing bishops to the Metropolitan. The Catholic Church still relies heavily on the Metropolitan Bishop to appoint new Bishops. The Baptists don’t have an office of bishop, elect and don’t appoint their leaders, and (needless to say) don’t have Metropolitans. So if we’re using Canon VI of the Nicene Council as a mark of the true Church, let’s use it.

Brian then notes in passing that Pope Sylvester I was not even present at the first ecumenical council. But to get there, he has to acknowledge that there is a Pope Sylvester I at the time of the Nicene Council. That’s true: he was too weak to go, so he sent a legate, Bishop Hosius of Cordova. Since an ecumenical council can include the pope or a legate, I’m not sure what this establishes. Legates are frequently used, as this list demonstrates. The list also debunks Brian’s other claims, like that Nestorius was received in good standing (he’s expressly condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431, the very Council Brian claims he was received in good standing at). Or that Pope Damasus I wasn’t at the second Ecumenical Council. He was.

Next, Brian gets to Lactantius. Brian says “Lactantius’s statement regarding the church did not mean that he considered the Roman see the seat of Christendom. Romanists have twisted his writings, just as they have most of the Ante-Nicene writers. Joe needs to go back to the link I provided and read the statement again, with the notes of the American editor. Lactantius believed that worship was to be spiritual. I’ve addressed previously on this blog how unreliable those same editors are: when one of Calvin College’s other “Ethereal Library” editors grossly misrepresented St. Clement’s views on Mary, for example. Brian too readily, I think, takes the interpretation of the Fathers provided in these footnotes, and they’re frequently wrong.
But he quotes Lactantius anyways, where he refers to the Church as the Temple established by Christ, saying “and there can be no approach to the shrine of the temple, and to the sight of God, except through Him who built the temple.”

Brian claims that Lactantius views the Church as “spiritual worship in a spiritual Temple.” And I believe the same. But spiritual and visible aren’t mutually exclusive. The question isn’t, “is the Church spiritual?” but “is the Church visible?”

Brian encouraged me to go back to see what Lactantius said in Divine Institutes, so I did. Here’s what Lactantius says of non-Catholic Christians in Book IV, Chapter 30:

But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets, concerning whom both the true prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition. But all of these, ensnared by frauds of demons, which they ought to have foreseen and guarded against, by their carelessness lost the name and worship of God. For when they are called Phrygians, or Novatians, or Valentinians, or Marcionites, or Anthropians, or Arians, or by any other name, they have ceased to be Christians, who have lost the name of Christ, and assumed human and external names. Therefore it is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship.

This is the fountain of truth, this is the abode of the faith, this is the temple of God; into which if any one shall not enter, or from which if any shall go out, he is estranged from the hope of life and eternal salvation. No one ought to flatter himself with persevering strife. For the contest is respecting life and salvation, which, unless it is carefully and diligently kept in view, will be lost and extinguished. But, however, because all the separate assemblies of heretics call themselves Christians in preference to others, and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, it must be known that the true Catholic Church is that in which there is confession and repentance, which treats in a wholesome manner the sins and wounds to which the weakness of the flesh is liable.

So Lactantius explicitly says that the Catholic Church is the temple of God. This, I think, answers wholly Brian’s claim that Lactantius views the Church as invisible. No, he thinks it’s as visible as the “Phrygians, or Novatians, or Valentinians, or Marcionites, or Anthropians, or Arians.” And he contrasts the Catholic Church with “separate assemblies of heretics.” As for the bit about treating sins in a wholesome manner, the heretics in question (as I mentioned last week, coincidentally, in an aside about Novatianism) were angry that the pope permitted the sacrament of reconciliation to the lapsi, those Christians who renounced the Faith during persecution. So Lactantius is referring to a visible Institution, the Church, and even rejecting any Christians other than Catholics.

The Catholic Church doesn’t go so far as Lactantius does here, in pronouncing sure damnation on all those who aren’t members of the visible Church, but it’s pretty obvious, I think, that Lactantius isn’t saying that all the saved, whether they call themselves Catholics or Phrygians, or Novatians, or Valentinians, or Marcionites, or Anthropians, or Arians, are part of the same Church. That’s the argument he angrily refutes. He even suggests that anyone who is part of a denomination which isn’t the Catholic Church is damned because they’ve called themselves something other than Catholic Christians. Is it credible to claim that if he were alive today, he’d look fondly on the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Methodists, the Lutherans, and so forth?

4. Mary
Brian says, “Concerning Mariolatry, the Romanists corrupted Genesis 3: 15, by translating “it” (the seed) as “she.” The whole superstructure of Mariolatry was laid on the foundation of a faulty translation.” No way. First, Irenaeus is who I quoted for the Marian views in question. He’s writing a couple centuries prior to the translation of the New Testament into the Latin Vulgate. Second, neither Christ (the Seed of Mary) nor Mary are an “it,” so the gender-neutral term “it” has to be gendered one way or the other. It’s genuinely ambiguous. Third, Jerome translates it “she” because of the Church’s views on Mary. Fourth, even if it more properly refers to Jesus, the verse still reads: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” to use the KJV. So the devil still battles Mary (“Woman”: see John 2:4; John 19:26) no matter how the second half is interpreted.

5. Images
Brian quotes Lactantius as an opponent of images. In fact, the chapter is called “Of the worship of images and earthly objects.” So he’s not denouncing the existence of images, he’s denouncing the worship of images.

6. The Eucharist
(There are two number 5s on Brian’s, list, so I’m proactively renumbering.)
Brian notes that strictly speaking, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 is a hypocatastasis, not a metaphor. Fair enough. He then claims that “The sacraments are visible symbols of the believer’s inner experience. They have no efficacy in and of themselves.” There’s no support – Biblical, Traditional, or even logical, for this proposition. The Bible quite clearly doesn’t take that position: 1 Peter 3:21 speaks of the sacrament of Baptism as doing something. Circumcision, which prefigured Baptism, actually entered the boy into the Jewish nation, the Old Covenant, and rendered him eligible to eat the Passover lamb, which prefigured the Eucharist.

I suppose that by Joe’s reasoning, the Jewish passover also had efficacy in and of itself to save Israelites from their sins.” The sacraments derive their power from Christ. Consider Hebrews 9:19-22,

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

In verse 21, the author of Hebrews blends Exodus 24:8 with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. That’s powerful, especially given the next verse. So without actual blood, Moses would have been wasting his time. What shall we say then of Jesus, at the Last Supper? The Old Testament prefigurement was efficacious, according to Hebrews. Shall we assume that the Last Supper, which Moses was prefiguring, is less powerful?

But – 1): whatever efficacy the Jewish sacrifices had derived their value from the one “perfect sacrifice” of Jesus Christ, Who is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world;
Exactly. Christ is the reason the sacraments work.

2): Unless religious ordinances are accompanied by a true and lively faith, they mean nothing. Read Isaiah 1: 11-14. Religious ordinances are always subservient to true religious devotion. They are now, just as they were under the Old Covenant. See 2 Chronicles 30: 18-20.
Sure. Paul’s pretty clear about what happens if you take the Eucharist unworthily. So, incidentally, are the Church Fathers, who are the subject of this conversation. Fr. James O’Connor has the last word on this with a great collection of the Fathers’ writings on the Eucharist called The Hidden Manna. Check it out. It settles the whole debate over what effect the sacraments have, as long as we’re willing to defer to the Fathers on these issues.

7. The Papacy
Brian first says, Hippolytus’s rejection of the primacy of Callistus and Zephyrinus rather demonstrates that the popes may be fallible.” How? Does Brian’s rejection of the primacy of Benedict automatically demonstrate that popes are fallible? But anyways, Hippolytus was reconciled to the Church, and ended his heresy. He died in union with the Church and his feast day is celebrated still.

Brian then claims that the “papacy as it exists today is a product of the 5th century and later. The real papacy may be traced from Pope Leo the Great (early 5th century) and his successors.” Was Leo’s immediate predecessor, St. Sixtus III, a valid authority within the Church, then? Was he still a bishop of the Christian Church? Or had it become a separate Church already? Was obedience owed to Leo? To Sixtus? Sixtus, after all, battled the Nestorians on their refusal to honor Mary as Mother of God, or “God-bearer.” Is that too much like Brian’s “Mariolatry” to be Christian? And once more, who gets to decide? Who, by the way, decided that Leo was the first pope? And how? Pope Marcellinus described himself as pope nearly two hundred years earlier (and pre-Nicene Council, by the way). Should we discard that?

The rest of Brian’s point is related to the title “universal bishop,” which has been debunked thoroughly and repeatedly.

8. On the heretic Vigilantius
Brian quotes Dr. George Duffield, some 19th century church historian:

Baronius has preserved a letter of Julian the apostate, emperor of Rome, and nephew of Constantine, in which he sneers against the belief of those Christians of his day, who expected the kingdom of Heaven. Jerome teems with abuse and ridicule in relation to it, and by his abuse and silencing of Vigilantius, a religious reformer, who opposed the corruptions and superstitions of popery, then widely spread, and his general character for fierceness, acrimony, and ribaldry, toward all who differed from him, has forfeited all claims upon our respect..” (Dissertations On The Prophecies Relative To The Second Coming Of Jesus Christ, pg. 241).

So Duffield doesn’t like that Jerome preserved the Faith against a would-be Reformer. Of course. Duffield agrees with Vigilantius, but note: Jerome isn’t proposing anything new. Vigilantius is. Duffield even acknowledges this. Which, of course, is my point. Brian then suggests that Jerome is wrong on various things, and not reliable. I’m going to avoid getting into the weeds of defending Jerome’s reputation. Suffice it to say, he was recognized after his death as a saint. Vigilantius was not. Vigilantius’ views died out completely for centuries, so if Vigilantius represented the true Church, She disappeared.

9. Augustine, etc.
Brian writes, “In consideration of the vast number of persons who have written against the teaching and practices of Roman Catholicism, throughout all epochs of her history, it is at least conceivable that she has made gross errors in judgment.” Jesus says, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household!” (Matthew 19:25). The True Church will be spoken against, but will persevere forever.

In one of his strangest historical claims, Brian then writes,Some of the greatest church fathers (Augustine, for example) were not even in communion with the church of Rome! This is a strange claim, based apparently off of the fact that Augustine didn’t write about Rome in his book on Christian unity. As a historical matter, there’s literally no question that Augustine was in communion with the pope.

So let me go ahead and quote St. Augustine from Contra Julian:

I think that you ought to be satisfied with that part of the world in which our Lord willed to crown the chief (primus) of His apostles (Peter) with a glorious martyrdom. If you had been willing to hear blessed Innocent, the president of that Church, you would have long ago disengaged your perilous youth from the nets of the Pelagians. For what could that holy man answer to the African Councils, except what from of old the Apostolic See and the Roman Church with all others perseveringly holds? And yet you accuse his successor Zosimus of prevarication, because he would not allow the apostolic doctrine and the decision of his successor to be rescinded. But I say no more of this, that I may not, by the praise of him who condemned you, irritate your mind, which I desire rather to heal than to wound. See what you can reply to St. Innocent, who has no other view than have those into whose council I have introduced you (viz. the Fathers whom he had quoted); with these he sits also, though after them in time, before them in rank (etsi posterior tempore prior loco)….answer him, or rather our Lord Himself, whose words he alleges….What will you say? What can you answer? For it you should call blessed Innocent a Manichean, surely you will not dare to say it of Christ?

So St. Augustine not only was in Communion with Rome, he felt it was vital, and that the Bishop of Rome was head of the Church.

Brian concludes by saying, “Since I follow the teachings of 2,000 years of historic Christianity, I do not set aside what the early church believed as to the true worship and the true church. In fact, I stick very closely to the faith as held by Papias, Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Lactantius! Ironically, my Christianity is actually more ancient and venerable than Joe’s. Yet the post preceding this triumphant conclusion is based upon Brian’s personal interpretation of select Bible passages, coupled with what I feel is an over-reliance upon secondary (and mightily anti-Catholic) commentators on the Early Church Fathers. There’s hardly any recourse to any of the names he mentions in that quote, and indeed, on the issues in question, there’s little doubt as to where they stand.


  1. Yet the post preceding this triumphant conclusion is based upon Brian’s personal interpretation of select Bible passages, coupled with what I feel is an over-reliance upon secondary (and mightily anti-Catholic) commentators on the Early Church Fathers.

    Yep. It seems that almost every time I come across someone who believes the Church Fathers were not Catholic, they got that idea from Webster and King’s self-published Holy Scriptures trilogy or some other such nonsense, NOT from the unedited writings of the Fathers themselves. It’s worth getting the books, just to see what version of events Protestants are getting.

  2. Believing parents didn’t exist in the earliest days of the Church? On the contrary! We have repeated mention of the Apostles baptizing entire households.

    As for Tertullian, let’s quote him
    “Why, indeed, is it necessary — if it be not a case of necessity — that the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? “

    He concedes that in “necessity” — presumably danger of death — that of course you baptize the baby.

  3. Great response, Joe. I’m glad you’re here to do the heavy lifting (so that I might avoid lifting at all)!

    Mary, I can see where you are concerned with that sentence. However, I don’t think Joe is denying the household baptisms you mention. He was merely pointing out the necessity of having baptized parents before baptizing their children (of course that could be done at the same time as Scripture testifies). You have a really interesting blog by the way!

  4. Mary,

    You’re right: I worded that carelessly. Fr. Andrew’s interpretation is on-point.

    There certainly were some believing parents in the early Church: any convert with kids, basically. St. Peter is married, and way well have had kids, in which case he was a “believing parent.” And Paul’s companion St. Timothy had a Christian mother (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois) – see 2 Timothy 1:5.

    So infants were baptized either after, or at the same time as, their parents. As you note, entire households were often baptized: Acts 10:24-48, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, 1 Corinthians 1:16, etc. What you *don’t* see is Christians going out and baptizing random babies without first converting their parents.

    Given all of that, we should expect to see in the early Church: mostly non-infant Baptisms (since you have plenty of baptized adults without infants, but few or no baptized infants without baptized parents); and household Baptisms (since the parents were responsible for the Faith of their children). Of course, we see both of these.

    Finally, Tertullian’s opposition is directly based on his heretical views, as Schaff notes. His heresy was a belief that some post-baptismal sins were so bad that they were literally unforgivable. As a result of this heretical belief, he feared Baptism (as you note, in all but the most extreme situations) not because Baptism didn’t do anything, but *because it does.* Tertullian believed that a pagan could get away with certain things a Christian can’t (like denying Christ), and so he feared the responsibilities which came with Christian Baptism. This is actually an affirmation of the efficaciousness of Baptism; but even if it weren’t, Tertullian seems singly unqualified to treat the subject with authority.

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