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Earliest Interpretations of Peter as the “Rock” in Mt 16:18

Posted by Tony Listi on March 22, 2014

Protestants offer a slew of rationalizations for why Peter is not the “rock” upon which Jesus built His Church in Matthew 16:18.

But how did the earliest Christians and Christian leaders (East and West) interpret this verse of Scripture? They interpreted it the way Catholics do. Peter is the Rock.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the church should be built,’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’….” (On the Prescription Against the Heretics, 22; ANF, Vol. III, 253)

“If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock will I build My Church,’ ‘to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On you,’ He says, ‘will I build My Church;’ and, ‘I will give to you the keys,’ not to the Church; and, ‘Whatsoever you shall have loosed or bound,’ not what they shall have loosed or bound. For so withal the result teaches. In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what (key): ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which (kingdom) are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation; and Ananias he ‘bound’ with the bond of death, and the weak in his feet he ‘absolved’ from his defect of health. Moreover, in that dispute about the observance or non-observance of the Law, Peter was the first of all to be endued with the Spirit, and, after making preface touching the calling of the nations, to say, ‘And now why are you tempting the Lord, concerning the imposition upon the brethren of a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to support? But however, through the grace of Jesus we believe that we shall be saved in the same way as they.’ This sentence both ‘loosed’ those parts of the law which were abandoned, and ‘bound’ those which were reserved. Hence the power of loosing and of binding committed to Peter….” (On Modesty, 21; ANF, Vol. IV)

Hippolytus (d.c. 236)
By this Spirit, Peter spoke that blessed word, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ By this Spirit, the rock of the Church was established.” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany, 9, ANF, Vol. V, 237)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)
“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Commentary on John, 5:3; ANF, Vol. X, 347; cf. Jurgens, I, 202)
“Look at [Peter] the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church. And what does our Lord say to him? ‘O you of little faith,’ he says, ‘why do you doubt?’ [Mt 14:31]” (Homilies on Exodus, 5, 4; Jurgens, I, 205)

Cyprian (210-258)
“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, ‘Feed my sheep.’ And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;’ yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity.” (The Unity of the Church [Treatise IV]; ANF, Vol. V)

“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Upon one He builds His Church, and to the same He says after His resurrection, ‘feed My sheep’. And though to all His Apostles He gave an equal power yet did He set up one chair, and disposed the origin and manner of unity by his authority. The other Apostles were indeed what Peter was, but the primacy is given to Peter, and the Church and the chair is shown to be one. And all are pastors, but the flock is shown to be one, which is fed by all the Apostles with one mind and heart. He that holds not this unity of the Church, does he think that he holds the faith? He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded, is he confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Church [Treatise IV]; ANF, Vol. V) (Click here for discussion of two different versions of Treatise IV.)

“Nevertheless, Peter, upon whom by the same Lord the Church had been built, speaking one for all, and answering with the voice of the Church, says, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe, and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God:’ signifying, doubtless, and showing that those who departed from Christ perished by their own fault, yet that the Church which believes on Christ, and holds that which it has once learned, never departs from Him at all, and that those are the Church who remain in the house of God…. After such things as these, moreover, they still dare—a false bishop having been appointed for them by heretics—to set sail and to bear letters from schismatic and profane persons to the throne of Peter, and to the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source; and not to consider that these were the Romans whose faith was praised in the preaching of the apostle, to whom faithlessness could have no access.” (Epistle LIV [LIX], To Cornelius, Concerning Fortunatus and Felicissimus, 7, 14; ANF, Vol. V)

“They who have not peace themselves now offer peace to others. They who have withdrawn from the Church promise to lead back and to recall the lapsed to the Church. There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering.” (Letter 43 [40], To All His People, 5; Jurgens, I, 229)

“There speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is One and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another.” (Letter 66 [69], 8; To Florentius Pupianus; Jurgens, I, 233-234)

Firmilian of Caesarea (c. 255)
“But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says…and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’… Stephen…boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid…. Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter….” (quoted in St. Cyprian’s letters 74:16-17)

Eusebius of Caesaria [Church historian] (c. 265-c. 340)
“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail’….” (Ecclesiastical History, 6, 25; NPNF 2, Vol. I, 273)

Aphraates (c. 280-c. 345)
“[T]he chief of the disciples…the Lord accepted him, set him up as the foundation, called him the rock and structure of the church.” (De Paenitentibus, Homily 7:15; Winter, 58)

Letter of Clement to James (c. 290)
“Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon, who for the sake of the truth faith, and the sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was, by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter.” (2)

Clementine Homilies (c. 290)
“[Simon Peter to Simon Magus:] For in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church, you now stand.” (17:19)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)
“[B]lessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery, was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom….” (On the Trinity, 6, 20; NPNF 2, Vol. IX, 105)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)
Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples…. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!” (Homilies, 4, 1; Jurgens, I, 311)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)
Peter upon which rock the Lord promised that he would build his church.” (In Isaias, 2, 66; Winter, 55)

Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330-c. 390)
“Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were exalted and deserving of choice, one is called rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the church.” (Oration 32, 18; Winter, 56)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 394)
“Peter, who is the head of the apostles…he is the firm and most solid rock, on which the savior built his Church. (Panegyric on St. Stephen, 3; Winter, 56)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)
“[T]he first of the apostles, the solid rock on which the Church was built. (In Ancorato, 9, 6; Winter, 57)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)
“[H]e [Peter] became a foundation of the Church.” (Homily 3 on Matthew; NPNF 1, Vol. X, 19)
“[T]o exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him….” (Homily 54 on Matthew; NPNF 1, Vol. X, 334)
Peter, the coryphaeus of the choir of apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the foundation of the faith, the base of the confession, the fisherman of the world, who brought back our race from the depth of error to heaven….” (Hom. de decem mille talentis; Chapman, 74)
“Peter, that the head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received the revelation not from man but from the Father…this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean the unbroken rock, the unshaken foundation, the great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called, the first to obey.” (Almsgiving 3:4; Chapman, 74)

Optatus of Milevis (c.367)
“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.” (Schism of the Donatists 2:2)

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Priest’s Blessing or Approval Necessary to Get Married in Early Christianity (with political sidenote)

Posted by Tony Listi on January 22, 2014

Many people incorrectly believe that it was in the 16th century at the Council of Trent that the Catholic Church first began to require a priest’s or bishop’s approval to get married.

Actually, the need for a priest or bishop to bless the union of a man and woman in marriage (when one of them is Christian) goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

Here are two quotes from two early Church fathers that demonstrate this historical fact:

“But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch (died around 98-117 AD)

“Since the contracting of marriage must be sanctified by the veiling and the blessing of the priest, how can there be any mention of a marriage, when unity of faith is wanting?” -St. Ambrose (340-397 AD)

At the Council of Trent in 1563, the Catholic Church merely reaffirmed what was taught by the earliest Christian leaders: “the approval of the bishop” and/or “the blessing of the priest” is necessary for marriage, at least for a sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians. The council did not declare anything new; it merely reaffirmed early Christian doctrine on marriage because Protestant heresiarchs were contradicting and rejecting such apostolic doctrines.

Political Sidenote:
With the cultural and political ascendancy of Christianity in the 4th century, the State began to recognize as valid civil marriages only those marriages blessed by the Catholic Church. The State did not define marriage ultimately but merely recognized in civil law the definition of marriage in ecclesial canon law.

It was only after the Protestant Revolution that the State began to arrogantly presume the authority to define marriage however it wanted (cf. Henry VIII in England). Almost 500 years later, the State now presumes to call a same-sex sexual relationship a “marriage.”

Posted in Christian Apologetics, Christianity and Politics, Church Fathers, Church History, Government and Politics, Marriage, Politics and Religion, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Most Catholic Quotes of Earliest Church Fathers on Papacy & Eucharist

Posted by Tony Listi on September 14, 2013

Pope Clement of Rome (d. c. 101)
“But if certain people should disobey what has been said by him [God] through us [the Church at Rome], let them understand that they will entangle themselves in no small sin and danger…. Right is it, therefore, to approach examples so good and so many, and submit the neck and fulfill the part of obedience, in order that, undisturbed by vain sedition, we may attain unto the goal set before us in truth wholly free from blame. Joy and gladness will you afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter. (Letter to the Corinthians 59:1)

Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110)
“They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they [heretics] refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6:2)

Justin Martyr (100-165)
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, ‘This do in remembrance of Me, (Luke 22:19) this is My body;’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, ‘This is My blood;’ and gave it to them alone.” (First Apology, chapter 65 & 66)

Irenaeus (130-202)
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” (Against Heresies, 3, 3, 2)

“Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” (Against Heresies, IV, 18, 5)

“When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?—even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that ‘we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.’ He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup, which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread, which is His body.” (Against Heresies, V, 2, 3)

“Moreover, how could the Lord, with any justice, if He belonged to another father, have acknowledged the bread to be His body, while He took it from that creation to which we belong, and affirmed the mixed cup to be His blood?” (Against Heresies, IV, 33, 2)

“But vain in every respect are they [heretics] who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, ‘In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.’ And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills ). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time….” (Against Heresies, V, 2, 2)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)
“…the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Savior paid tribute (Matthew 17:27)….” (Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? 21)

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Peeling Away Lies: The True History of the Spanish Inquisition

Posted by Tony Listi on June 3, 2011

“…historians are now discovering that the common notion of the Spanish Inquisition as some horrible, fanatical, all-encompassing bloodthirsty monster could not be further from the truth. Their conclusions come from the first-time ever study of the actual cases taken from the archives of the Inquisition itself…. Studying the archives of the Inquisition demolished the previous image that all of us had.” (BBC documentary “The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition”)

“The reason why accurate information about the Inquisition fails to penetrate the popular mind is not such a mystery at all. Numerous people have a vested interest in keeping the traditional image alive…. Those who resent the Church’s claim to moral authority use as their most effective weapon the allegation of hypocrisy….” -James Hitchcock, Professor of History at St. Louis University

There are so many myths, lies, and half-truths surrounding the history of the Inquisition. In this post, I’m going to set aside the philosophical, moral, and prudential considerations surrounding the issue. Let’s focus on the historical facts first, shall we? Some historical accuracy and perspective should be enough to defuse much of the hatred and animosity aimed at the Catholic Church.

First, some general historical facts:

The Inquisition technically had jurisdiction only over those professing to be Christians (i.e. Catholics). It did not have jurisdiction over those who did not claim to be Christian like Jews and Muslims.

States and kingdoms of the time explicitly and officially endorsed and embraced the Christian faith as the foundation of their own authority and the peace of civil society. Thus they saw an attack on the unity and purity of the Christian faith as an attack on them, their authority, and the public peace. This was not a new or unique idea in the previous history of the relationship between religion and politics. Furthermore, even by some imperfect modern standards, in point of fact, these heretical sects were indeed in many cases violent and destructive of civil society.

The Inquisition was a response to statist encroachment into doctrinal territory and overzealousness of the State and mobs of people in executing heretics. In the early 13th century, the Inquisition was born most likely in response to popular mobs’ and the State’s aggressive prosecution and punishment of heretics, especially the Cathari, a sect that taught that sexual intercourse and marriage was evil and that suicide was good under certain circumstances. The Church likely saw these secular tribunals as an encroachment on its authority with regard to what is true doctrine and what is heresy. So it decided to create its own body of judges that would exercise doctrinal authority and judgment in the name of the pope.

The Inquisition was not an all-powerful institution with unlimited power and supreme authority. Rather, it was under the authority of the pope and diocesan bishops and competed with the State and the local aristocracy in many instances. It was often overshadowed in the city and powerless in the country.

This rest of this post is going to focus on the Spanish Inquisition.

My primary source of historical information is going to be a TV program that the BBC that aired in 1995 called The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition (see videos below). Why? Because this TV documentary presents the views of scholars who actually examined the original and detailed achival records of the cases that came before the Spanish Inquisition. These internal records were never intended for public viewing. The documentary draws primarily upon the work of Professors Henry Kamen and Stephen Haliczer. There is also a Wikipedia article devoted to the new historical findings.

You can watch the documentary yourself, starting with the first YouTube video below (of five videos):

The documentary is no more than an hour long and well worth the watch. For those who don’t want to watch it or don’t have the time to, I’m going to highlight some key facts that it brings to light.

Read the rest of this entry »

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St. Irenaeus’ Confirmation All Catholic Doctrines (2nd c. AD)

Posted by Tony Listi on May 23, 2010

St. Irenaeus (b. ca. 115-142), in his Against Heresies, confirms almost every core Catholic doctrine: Roman/papal supremacy, the sacrifice of the Mass, transubstantiation in the Eucharist, the continuation of the earthly priesthood, the crucial mission and authority of the institutional Church, Church authority over Scriptural interpretations, the existence and authority of unchangeable and unbroken apostolic Tradition and succession through bishops, the necessity of obedience (as well as repentance and forgiveness) for salvation, denunciations of schismatics, Mary as the new Eve and as a cause of our salvation, prayers for the dead, the activity of the saints, etc.

Moreover, his work is filled with citations of Scripture.

He begins the work by acknowledging the plausibility of the heresies:

Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, “minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,” and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations.] These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation…. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting the Demiurge; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.

How do these heretics rationalize their heresy? Like all heretics, they use Scripture and claim superior understanding or mystical assistance in its interpretation:

They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Saviour through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it.

Protestants have all these “experts” in exegesis for rationalizing their interpretations. When “reason” fails (as it always does, for there are endless plausible interpretations in isolation from Church tradition/history), the mystical and arbitrary support of the “Holy Spirit” supplies certainty for them.

Such, then, is the account which they all give of their Pleroma, and of the formation of the universe, striving, as they do, to adapt the good words of revelation to their own wicked inventions. And it is not only from the writings of the evangelists and the apostles that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions: they deal in the same way with the law and the prophets, which contain many parables and allegories that can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected. And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a steadfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Heretics by no means avoid or flee from Scripture. They are eager to make Scripture fit within their preconceived, dogmatic, heretical theology and worldview. And it’s easily done by those of creative imagination and “craftiness.” For Scripture passages “can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected.”

How does St. Irenaeus know with certainty that the doctrines in question are heresy? He tells us the apostles did not “deliver” such doctrines to the Church:

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions…. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.

All heretics know they have to find support within Scripture, otherwise they would have no support whatsoever for their errors and/or lies, for the authority and unchanging tradition of the Church always stand firmly against them.

Irenaeus condemns the heretics and offers a conclusive coup de grace which proves they are heretics:

You see, my friend, the method which these men employ to deceive themselves, while they abuse the Scriptures by endeavouring to support their own system out of them. For this reason, I have brought forward their modes of expressing themselves, that thus you might understand the deceitfulness of their procedure, and the wickedness of their error….

But since what may prove a finishing-stroke to this exhibition is wanting, so that any one, on following out their farce to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it, we have judged it well to point out, first of all, in what respects the very fathers of this fable differ among themselves, as if they were inspired by different spirits of error. For this very fact forms an a priori proof that the truth proclaimed by the Church is immoveable, and that the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods.

The clearest indication that a certain denomination is heretical is that their leaders keep dividing and schisming among themselves. At first there was only Luther; then came Calvin, Zwingli, and a horde of others. Now there are innumerable heretical sects that have sprung from the seed of Luther’s Revolution. There are now many different synods or conventions within mainstream Protestant lines. In many cases, Christianity has been degraded into a private, individual religion, cut off from any resemblance to the original apostolic faith that proclaims the true Church is of one Mind and one Body.

So how is the Christian to know which exegesis of and approach to Scripture is correct? Irenaus tells us that Holy Tradition, handed down unchanged historically from the apostles and universally throughout the world, is our assurance:

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: … [Irenaeus gives a creed]

…but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. 

The true faith is received from the Church, not mystically or rationally divined from Scripture by individual believers. Notice also that immortality and salvation are given to those who are obedient to God’s commandments, which is perseverance in His love. “Faith alone” in some purely abstract/mental sense is not enough.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

Truth does not change. The Christian faith could not change in the 2nd century AD. It was already complete and perfect. Moreover, the true Church preserves the faith in its purity and hands it on, nothing more or less. Thus any later deviations from the Holy Tradition of the Church are by definition heretical, including the man-made traditions of the Protestant Revolution which popped into existence in the 16th century.

It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides Him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe, (as if He were not sufficient for them), or of another Christ, or another Only-begotten. But the fact referred to simply implies this, that one may [more accurately than another] bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith….

God never intended for individual intelligence or reason in and of itself to determine doctrine authoritatively, not to mention change it.

…as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.

It is the catholic, the universal, Church that possesses the true faith.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Pope Clement, Papal Exhortation & Authority, and Catholic Doctrines (1st c. AD!)

Posted by Tony Listi on April 11, 2010

Pope St. Clement I (d. ca. 100 AD) wrote a letter to the Church at Corinth, which had fallen into grave sin and disarray (not heresy specifically), despite its original planting and cultivation by St. Paul. 

Though it is mostly an exhortatory letter, one must keep in mind that no specific doctrinal issue is being disputed. It was not an occasion for doctrinal correction and denunciation of heresy. Rather, Pope Clement fulfills the duty that he received from St. Peter and that St. Peter received from Our Lord: “Strengthen your brothers” and “Feed and tend my sheep” (Lk 22:32; Jn 21:15-17). Nevertheless, the letter has an overall tone of authority, especially toward the end.

Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us….

Notice that the Church at Corinth went to the Roman Church for help to address its problems.

… For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you….

Pope Clement praises the church for its previous obedience to God, to its earthly rulers, and to its presbyters (priests).

… Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighbours: their deficiencies you deemed your own…. Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, you did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts….

Pope Clement continues his praise for the previous beliefs and practices of the Corinthian Christians. Notice the implicit denunciation of “every kind of faction and schism.” Notice there’s a common sense of transgression when one person sins, with the implication of a common work of penance and salvation. Also, fear of God was expected even among the baptized, for salvation was not assured with certainty in the sense that many Protestants today erroneously have.

… For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and has become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world….

Pope Clement then turns to criticize the then current sins of the Christians at Corinth. He says they abandoned the “fear of God,” became “blind” to the faith they had, disobeyed the “ordinances” of God, acted like a non-Christian, followed their “own wicked lusts,” and generally resumed their former ungodly and envious practices that claimed them for death instead of eternal life.

… Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned….

After having related the various instances of envy in the Old Testament, Pope Clement turns to the evil that envy unleashed upon St. Peter and St. Paul, who were martyred in Rome and of whom Clement is heir in authority as the bishop of Rome.

… Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircæ, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with steadfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward….

Pope Clement goes on to praise other martyrs, victims of envy. Salvation comes from steadfastness in the faith, running “the course” to the end with perseverance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pope Siricius, Papal Authority, and Catholic Doctrines (4th c. AD)

Posted by Tony Listi on April 10, 2010

In 385 Pope Siricius responded back to a letter from Bishop Himerius of Tarragona (Spain) with regard to clerical discipline (Directa decretal). He clearly exercises papal authority according to Catholic doctrine. This is just one of several ecclesiastical letters that popes sent to bishops, exercising their Petrine authority.

The account which you, brother, directed to our predecessor of holy memory Damasus, found me now installed in his see because the Lord thus ordained.

Papal authority is passed down in a line of succession.

When we read that [account] more carefully in an assembly of brethren, we found to the degree we had hoped to recognize things which ought to be praised and much which was worthy of reprimand and correction.

The Church of Rome gives “reprimand and correction” to this other church.

And since it is necessary for us to succeed to the labors and responsibilities of him whom, through the grace of God, we succeeded in honor, having first given notice, as was necessary, of my promotion, we do not refuse, as the Lord deigns to inspire, a proper response to your inquiry in every point.

Again, there is a succession. One of  the “labors and responsibilities” of the Church of Rome is to give a “proper response” to all doctrinal questions. The very fact that another bishop wrote to the bishop of Rome for guidance is significant. Notice it is the office that is important here. Pope Siricius felt obliged to respond back, even though it was addressed to his predecessor.

For in view of our office there is no freedom for us, on whom a zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent greater than on all others, to dissimulate or to be silent.

Again, the Church of Rome cannot “dissimulate” or “be silent” on doctrinal issues important “for the Christian religion.” In fact, it has a “greater” responsibility “than…all others,” all other churches.

We bear the burdens of all who are oppressed, or rather the blessed apostle Peter, who in all things protects and preserves us, the heirs, as we trust, of his administration, bears them in us.

The responsibilities and “burdens” of the Church of Rome, including response to doctrinal questions, is attributed to St. Peter, of whom Pope Siricius and his ministers claim to be the “heirs.” Moreover, it is St. Peter himself and “his administration” which “protects and preserves” the Church of Rome. He continues to bear the burdens of the Church even after death.

On the first page of your letter, therefore, you indicated that multitudes who were baptized by the impious Arians were hastening to the catholic faith, and that certain of our brothers wished to baptize these same people again.

Notice “catholic faith.” There was only one universal faith, not several, despite the presence of heresies like Arianism.

This is not allowed, since both the Apostle forbids and the canons oppose doing it; and after the Council of Rimini was annulled, the general decrees sent to the provinces by my predecessor of venerable memory Liberius prohibit it.

The Apostle? I believe this to be a title for St. Paul. The canons are Church law. Notice that the previous pope sent “general decrees…to the provinces” prohibiting a certain practice. Seems demonstrate that the bishop of Rome had authority over other churches in the Roman Empire. Pope Siricius appeals to past tradition to justify his judgment, not Scripture or any arbitrary, egocentric whims.

We unite these people, and the Novatianists and other heretics, to the assembly of catholics, just as it was constituted in the synod, solely through invocation of the sevenfold Spirit by imposition of the bishop’s hand. Indeed all the East and the West preserves this practice, and it is also inappropriate henceforth for you to deviate from that path, if you do not wish to be separated from our company by synodal sentence.

Notice that true Christian are called “catholics,” those who adhere to the catholic (universal) faith throughout the Church. Also, Pope Siricius threatens this church of Tarragona with excommunication if they do not adhere to this universal practice for readmitting certain heretics into the Church.

Then follows objectionable confusion, in need of correction, about those who are about to be baptized just as it pleases each and every one of them.

Pope Siricius goes on to discuss more “objectionable confusion, in need of correction” with regard to when new members of the Church should be baptized.

Our fellow priests–we speak in indignation–not by reason of any authority but by temerity alone presume this, so that throngs of people, as you report, attain the mystery of baptism randomly and freely at Christmas, or Epiphany, and also on the feasts of the apostles or martyrs, although both with us and in all churches the Lord’s Resurrection and Pentecost claim this privilege specially for themselves. On these days alone through the year is it proper for the complete rites of baptism to be bestowed on those coming to the faith, but only on those select people who applied forty or more days earlier, and were cleansed by exorcisms, daily prayers, and fasts, so that the precept of the Apostle is fulfilled that with old leaven having been driven out, new dough comes into being.

Notice that “priests” perform the baptism. Notice that the Church of Rome speaks “in indignation” against these priests who, without “any authority” but rather with defiant “temerity,” perform baptisms “randomly and freely” at different times of the year. Pope Siricius informs the bishop that “with us and in all churches the Lord’s Resurrection and Pentecost” are the only “proper” days for this sacrament.

But just as we say that sacred Paschal reverence in no way ought to be diminished, so we wish for the waters of sacred baptism to be of assistance with all speed to infants, who because of age are not yet able to speak, and to those for whom in any emergency it is needed, lest the destruction of our souls be at stake if, the salutary font being denied to those seeking it, someone departing from the world loses both the kingdom and life….

Infant baptism is clearly upheld as sound doctrine. Also, the “waters” are necessary for the sacrament. Baptism is not merely mental acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Enough error on this matter! All priests who do not wish to be torn from the solidity of the apostolic rock, upon which Christ built the universal Church, should now hold the aforementioned rule.

This is quite a strong passage! Pope Siricius declares what is in error and demands that it stop. Otherwise, those deviant priests and churches will be removed from the steadfast Rock of the Apostle Peter “upon which Christ built the universal Church” (Mt 16:18). Lacking the “solidity of the apostolic rock,” their souls will then be in danger to the floods of evil and sin. Read the rest of this entry »

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Papal Authority and Early Heresies in the 1st Millennium AD

Posted by Tony Listi on March 21, 2010

The Church was institutionally united (allowing for some temporary schisms) up to 1054, under the supreme jurisdiction of the papacy. The Roman See, with its bishop, the pope, was the supreme arbiter of orthodoxy in the Church universal in the early centuries. If Rome had this supreme role for the first 1000 years or so of Church history, why should one believe that it hasn’t always held this supremacy according to the teachings of the apostles (esp. St. Peter and St. Paul, who were martyred in Rome)?

There is abundant historical evidence for papal supremacy, especially in Rome’s relation to the Eastern Church, which was very frequently plagued with heresies that virtually every Christian today acknowledges as heresy, perhaps unconsciously so, thanks to Rome (Where’s the gratitude, non-Catholics??):

Marcionism rejected the Old Testament and its God, said to be different from the God of love in the New Testament, and made a complete dichotomy between law and grace. Marcion (d.c.160) came from northeastern Turkey and migrated to Rome but was promptly excommunicated in 144. The heresy was checked by 200 in Rome but lasted for several centuries in the East.

Montanism was an apocalyptic sect that denied the divinely-established nature of the Church. Montanus, who began prophesying in 172, came from central Turkey (which became the heresy’s center of operations). Opposition to Montanism was spearheaded by Pope Eleutherus (175-89), and it was condemned by Pope Zephyrinus (198-217).

Modalism (also known as Sabellianism) denied the full Personhood of all three Persons of the Trinity, and believed that God operated through mere “modes” or the transferral of power. Theodotus (2nd cent.) came from Byzantium to Rome, only to be excommunicated by Pope Victor (c.189-98). His disciple, also named Theodotus (early 3rd century) was condemned by Pope Zephyrinus (198-217). Artemon (3rd century) was teaching in Rome, c.235, but was excommunicated. Sabellius (fl.. 215) was excommunicated by Pope Callistus I.

Novatianism was a rigorist schism, stating that persons who fell away under persecution or who were guilty of serious sin could not be absolved. Its theology was otherwise orthodox. Novatian (d.258), a Roman presbyter, started the schism in 250. In 251 it was condemned by a Roman Synod and Pope Cornelius, and Novatian became an “antipope.” His views were approved at Antioch.

Donatism held that sacraments administered by unworthy priests were invalid, and practiced re-baptism. The sect flourished in Africa, around Carthage. It began in 311 and was condemned by Pope Miltiades (311-14), who also came from Africa, in 313.

Arianism held that Jesus was created by the Father. In trinitarian Christianity, Christ and the Holy Spirit are both equal to, uncreated, and co-eternal with God the Father. Arius (c.256-336), the heresiarch, was based in Alexandria and died in Constantinople. In a Council at Antioch in 341, the majority of 97 Eastern bishops subscribed to a form of semi-Arianism, whereas in a Council at Rome in the same year, under Pope Julius I, the trinitarian St. Athanasius was vindicated by over 50 Italian bishops. The western-dominated Council of Sardica (Sofia) in 343 again upheld Athanasius’ orthodoxy, whereas the eastern Council of Sirmium in 351 espoused Arianism, which in turn was rejected by the western Councils of Arles (353) and Milan (355). Learn more about St. Athanasius’ appeal to Rome by clicking here.

Pelagianism is the heretical doctrine that man can make steps toward salvation by his own efforts, without Divine Grace. Pelagius cleared himself at a Synod at Jerusalem around 416, but was condemned at Carthage and Milevis in 416 and excommunicated by Pope Innocent I in the same year. Pope Zosimus reaffirmed this judgment in 418, as did the ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431.

Nestorianism contends that there are two persons in Christ (Divine and human) and denies that Mary is the Mother of God incarnate. Orthodox, Catholic Christianity holds to one Divine Person — a Godman. Nestorius (d. c.451) studied at a monastery at Antioch and became Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431, having been condemned by Pope Celestine I in the Council at Rome in 430 (after both sides of the controversy appealed to Rome). The ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 repeated the Roman condemnation, after which Eastern bishops predominantly from Syria, Persia and Assyria withdrew from the Catholic Church.

Monophysitism was a heresy which held that Christ had one Divine Nature, as opposed to the orthodox and Catholic belief in two Natures (Divine and human). The Henoticon, a semi-Monophysite document was widely acknowledged in the East, but never at Rome. The cowriters of the Henoticon are thought to be Acacius, Patriarch of Constantinople (471-89), and Peter Mongo, Patriarch of Alexandria (477-90). Both were Monophysites who rejected the Council of Chalcedon. Monophysitism was an advanced type of Alexandrian theology. Pope Leo the Great dominated the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, which repudiated Monophysitism.

Monothelitism is the heretical belief that Christ had one will (Divine), whereas in orthodox, Catholic Christian dogma, Christ has both Divine and human wills. Sergius (d.638), Patriarch of Constantinople from 610 to 638, was the most influential exponent of Monotheletism. The Ecthesis, a Monothelite statement issued by Emperor Heraclius, was accepted by Councils at Constantinople in 638 and 639, but was finally rejected at the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 680, which confirmed the decisions of Pope Agatho and the Synod at Rome in 679.

The Iconoclastic Controversy, a great upheaval of the 8th and 9th centuries, was spurred on notably by Monophysitism and influenced by Islam. This heresy held that images in worship were idolatrous and evil. It was initiated by Eastern Emperors Leo II (717-41), who deposed Germanus (c.634-c.733), Patriarch of Constantinople (715-30) — who appealed to Pope Gregory III. Gregory held two Synods at Rome condemning Leo’s supporters in 731. In 784 Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, initiated negotiations with Pope Adrian I. The Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 787 condemned the Iconoclasts. The Iconoclast Controversy was a major contributor towards the enduring schism between East and West.

Rome never succumbed to any of these heresies. Rather, it was the popes and local synods who vigorously attacked and denounced these heresies, often resorting to excommunication.

In the first millennium of Christianity’s existence,  the Roman See and the papacy were absolutely necessary for the purpose of upholding Christian orthodoxy (literally, correct doctrine) and preserving apostolic Tradition. It still is and always will be.

(This post was adapted from Dave Armstrong’s Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison)

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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. His letter to the Ephesians is one of the earliest and most explicitly Catholic writings of the fathers that I’ve ever read.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia….

As with virtually all letters of Scripture and the early fathers, only one Church is affirmed; it just happens to be at different places physically on the earth.

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him.

This is perhaps the same Onesimus who was a slave of Philemon and whom St. Paul converted. Ignatius prays that the Ephesians will love and imitate Onesimus.

After praise for Onesimus and his subordinate ministers, he continues:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience “you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10), and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified…. But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that you would all run together in accordance with the will of God. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ. Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do.

Ignatius exhorts the Ephesians to “unanimous obedience” to the doctrinal teachings of their bishop, not to rely on Scripture alone (there was no New Testament anyway then). Through this obedience to the bishop and his ministers, the flock is sanctified in all respects. It is not up to the individual believer to decide what true, correct doctrine is. Unity of mind, judgment, action, and speech are necessary. Moreover and strikingly, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God. The necessity and authority of the bishops is “so by the will of Jesus Christ.”

It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God. For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature— how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!

Unity, unity, unity. This is a constant theme of this letter and other letters by Ignatius.

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.

This is a reference to the Eucharist. Those outside of the Church are not part of the Body of Christ and thus do not receive the Body of Christ at the altar.

For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Matthew 18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resists the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.

Again, authority and power rests with the bishop and the Church universal (the catholic Church). Those who separate themselves from the catholic Church out of pride condemn themselves. Again, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God.

For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Matthew 24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth.

Again, the bishop is identified with “the Lord Himself,” as an overseer designated by “the Master” who must be obeyed. The bishop creates “good order in God” so that Christians may “live according to the truth” and that no denomination/sect disobedient to the bishop is tolerated among them. Sects do not arise if there is “unanimous obedience” to the bishop, but when the disobedient cannot be reconciled, they must be expelled from the communion in which the one, true Church dwells. Thus Martin Luther and other heretics sealed their own fate with regard to the Church.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom you must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured.

There are many wicked people who call themselves “Christian” but who are not worthy of the Name. The true Christian must be on guard against them and avoid them.

Let not then any one deceive you, as indeed you are not deceived, inasmuch as you are wholly devoted to God. For since there is no strife raging among you which might distress you, you are certainly living in accordance with God’s will. I am far inferior to you, and require to be sanctified by your Church of Ephesus, so renowned throughout the world. They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But even those things which you do according to the flesh are spiritual; for you do all things in Jesus Christ.

The faithful can be deceived and fall away. Strife in a church is caused by false, deceitful teachers and is a sign that God’s will is not being done. Ignatius also powerfully expresses the Catholic position that faith and works are intimately and inseparably joined together. If you “do the works of  unbelief,” then you do not have faith or salvation.

The last times have come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed— one of two things. Only [in one way or another] let us be found in Christ Jesus unto the true life. Apart from Him, let nothing attract you, for whom I bear about these bonds, these spiritual jewels, by which may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.

We should fear God. Notice that Ignatius does not discount the possibility of any Christian’s condemnation by God. He does not speak as one assured of his own salvation. One does not “get saved”; one is “found in Christ Jesus unto the true life.” Salvation comes from always being “of the same mind with the apostles.”

Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

This is a reference to the Eucharist (Greek eucharistia, thanksgiving). Again, “unity of faith” destroys the powers of Satan. Schisms empower Satan.

No man [truly] making a profession of faith sins; (1 John 3:7) nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; (Matthew 12:33) so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

Real faith is evident from sinlessness, obedience, and good works. “Mere profession” is not enough to be saved; one must continue “in the power of faith to the end.” And the power of faith is the power to avoid all mortal sin and bear good fruit.

Do not err, my brethren (James 1:16). Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.

Error and consequent sin effect death, not salvation. Just as those who corrupt their bodies in sins of the flesh (and don’t receive forgiveness) suffer death in hell, so those who wickedly corrupt the “faith of God” and listen to these corrupters “shall go away into everlasting fire.”

Be not anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Again, Christians can fall away from the faith and be damned; they can be led away from the Christian life like a captive in war. Knowledge of the truth is not enough to keep the Christian from perishing foolishly; discipline of the will is necessary to tame the body and evil desires of the heart.

Especially [will I do this ] if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Again and in conclusion, another reemphasis that there is only “one faith,” that one must “obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind,” and that one must break “one and the same bread.” The faith (body of true doctrines), the Church leadership, and the Eucharist together all proclaim the oneness and unity of the Body of Christ. Moreover, the Eucharistic “bread” is not merely memorial but effective as “the medicine of immortality,” “the antidote” to death, and the cause of eternal life in Jesus.

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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to St. Polycarp

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. He wrote a letter to St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

Having obtained good proof that your mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock, I loudly glorify [His name] that I have been thought worthy [to behold] your blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat you, by the grace with which you are clothed, to press forward in your course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain your position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity, than which nothing is better…. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labour is great, the gain is all the more.

Salvation is not guaranteed. One’s mind must be “fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock.” Exhortation to holy conduct is required from clergy for the benefit of the flock that they may be saved. What does Ignatius mean by “maintain your position”? Maintain the state of grace in which Polycarp is clothed? Maintain his office as bishop of Smyrna? Without recourse to the original language of the text, I think the former interpretation seems more reasonable. Is it possible for Polycarp to lose the office of bishop through neglect of body or spirit? No. But we can all lose the state of grace.

Schism is condemned; preservation of unity of doctrine and institution is affirmed.

Lastly, differential rewards in heaven are affirmed; those who labor greatly for the Lord gain greatly.

The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both you [and those under your care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded.

Bishop Polycarp is the leader of the flock whose eternal fate rests partly with him. Like St. Paul, Ignatius refers to salvation as a prize, something not yet attained until the race is run till the end.

Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3, 1 Timothy 6:3) fill you with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. 

It is the responsibility of the bishop to “stand firm” in the face of  “strange doctrines,” i.e. heresy. It is not up to the individual believer to say what true, correct Christian doctrine is. Rather, as St. Paul writes to fellow bishops Timothy and Titus, the bishop is the guardian of true doctrine and authoritatively teaches the rest of the flock. Moreover, it does not matter if heretics are good people “who seem worthy of credit.” Good works alone are not proof of truth, though truth in action does bear fruit in good works.

Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.

God is timeless, outside of time, transcending time. There are interesting implications of this truth for the topics of prayer, what heaven is like, interpretation of the creation story in Genesis, and many other esoteric Christian doctrines and traditions.

Let not widows be neglected. Be, after the Lord, their protector and friend. Let nothing be done without your consent; neither do anything without the approval of God, which indeed you do not, inasmuch as you are steadfast.

Women in ancient times were totally dependent on their husbands for their livelihood. To lose your husband was to become destitute oftentimes. In our times, single mothers are widows. They should not be wards of the state but rather assisted by the Church. And no mother should be able to claim an excuse to choose infanticide because of a lack of material support.

The supreme authority of the bishop is reemphasized here. His consent is necessary for everything concerning the church under his care.

Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better liberty. Let them not long to be set free [from slavery] at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.

There has been a lot of slander and defamation of the Church with regard to slavery. This passage succinctly expresses some major Christian points with regard to slavery:

  1. Slaves are not to be despised as if they were sub-human.
  2. Slavery, as practiced in the ancient world, was not evil in itself.
  3. Slavery of the soul to sin is the chief concern of the Church, not slavery of the body to the will of another human being. True liberty, liberty from sin and worldly “desires,” comes from God alone.

It  is interesting to note that Ignatius recognizes the obvious universal fact that slaves set free tend to become dependent upon the state just as they were dependent upon their masters before. Somehow this fact seems to have been lost on Americans during the late 19th century. The manumission of black slaves and their future welfare could have been better managed.

Flee evil arts; but all the more discourse in public regarding them.

We must flee all evil but not speech regarding what is evil. What is evil must be talked about publicly. Evil is most powerful when it is ignored and not confronted  refuted, and denounced.

If any one can continue in a state of purity, to the honour of Him who is Lord of the flesh, let him so remain without boasting. If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.

As St. Paul urges, Ignatius also urges virginity for those who can attain it. Virgins are held in so high regard in the early Church that the temptation to pride for them was apparently quite high then. Notice how pride is what leads one to think one is greater in authority than the bishop. And this pride spells the doom of the Christian, even of the virgin.

With regard to marriage, the bishop is involved as well, approving the union of the man and woman. The sacred character of marriage is governed by the bishop, not the urges and desires of the man and woman.

Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!

Again, the authority of the bishop is reaffirmed. Obedience is due to him and the other ministers.

Please Him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that you may receive a worthy recompense.

The unmistakable war-like imagery presents Christian life as a struggle for salvation. God is compared to an employer and commander of soldiers. Notice that salvation is not guaranteed. The promise and grace of baptism may not endure, for one may desert God after one has joined his legion and thus lose salvation. We are assigned by God to do certain good works. Our salvation depends on obedience to these assignments; our recompense in heaven depends on how well we carry them out.

Seeing that the Church which is at Antioch in Syria is, as report has informed me, at peace, through your prayers, I also am the more encouraged, resting without anxiety in God, if indeed by means of suffering I may attain to God, so that, through your prayers, I may be found a disciple [of Christ]. It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honour that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ.

There is only one Church; it just happens to be at many places physically on the earth.

Notice that Ignatius does not presume to be saved and that he sees the prayers of others as playing a role in his salvation.

Bishops have the authority to convene local councils for various purposes.

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