Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category

Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans

Posted by Tony Listi on February 16, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. It appears that he was arrested and taken to Rome for a trial and/or his execution. He writes the following letter “to the Church.”

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

Ignatius gives an extraordinary amount of praise to this 6-times “worthy” Church, which seemingly only parenthetically “also presides  in the place of the region of the Romans.” This Church is also “beloved and enlightened by the will of [God].” Very interesting. He does not pour out such praise in his letters to other churches. He speaks as if it were the entire universal Church itself. I see this as evidence for the primacy of the Church of Rome even by the late 1st or early 2nd century AD.

Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if you spare me. For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also you please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will you, if you shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if you are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared….

In general, it seems that Ignatius is afraid that the Church of Rome will save him from martyrdom and perhaps make less certain his eternal salvation. He hopes for the grace to cling to his path of martyrdom until the end. Such uncertainty about his eternal fate is very un-Protestant.

You have never envied any one; you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions you enjoin [on others].

Ignatius says that this Church at Rome teaches, instructs, and enjoins others. He implies that this Church has authority.

Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world.

He also asks for the prayers of this Church for himself, prayers for strength to continue down the path to martyrdom. Notice that he does not believe mere faith, mental assent, to be sufficient to be “deemed faithful” or to “really be found to be [a Christian].” To be a Christian is not something one claims for oneself verbally but rather is something another judges and finds.

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God.

Here Ignatius distinguishes between “[all] the Churches” and the Church of Rome, which apparently has either the authority to “hinder” him from writing to every individual church or the ability to “hinder” him from going through with his martyrdom. The context suggests the latter is meant.

I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.

How very interesting that he compares his body to “wheat” that when ground in martyrdom becomes “the pure bread of Christ.” This is a Eucharistic reference. Through the death of Jesus, ordinary bread becomes the Body of Christ, “the pure bread of Christ.” So also, the deaths of the martyrs unite them to Christ, once and for all.

Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.

Again, martyrdom seals and confirm his discipleship and thus his salvation.

Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God].

Christians are called to sacrifice, to be a living sacrifice but also a literal sacrifice for the faith if need be. Sacrifices do not end with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross; our sacrifices are united to His.

I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him.

Apparently, St. Peter and St. Paul issued commandments to those to whom Ignatius is writing. Ignatius implicitly recognizes the authority of Peter and Paul and their successors to whom he now writes (one does not give commandments to a superior). He makes it crystal clear that he is not commanding the Church but making a request.

But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified.” [1 Corinthians 4:4]… Now I begin to be a disciple.

Ignatius quotes Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, implying that he has not yet attained salvation, even under the abuse of his Roman captors. Only now does he feel that he is truly a disciple of Jesus.

Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

Again, a plea to the Church of Rome not to prevent his martrydom and asking pardon perhaps for the boldness of his strong request. Ignatius wants to imitate Christ in suffering. He says he is “straitened,” meaning he is under some difficulty or distress. The next line explains further:

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world.

Ignatius fears the Devil and his attacks to foil Ignatius’ salvation.

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

Another Eucharistic reference. Of course, he’s talking specifically about the Eucharist of heaven, not of earth, though the two are united as one. The Eucharist in heaven has no and needs no transformation of bread and wine, for the Body and Blood itself is present in heaven in the most literal, direct, and real sense possible.

I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if you consent. Be willing, then, that you also may have your desires fulfilled. I entreat you in this brief letter; give credit to me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, [so that you shall know] that I speak truly. He is the mouth altogether free from falsehood, by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me, that I may attain [the object of my desire]. I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, you have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, you have hated me.

Again, Ignatius seeks the “consent,” prayers, and well-wishes of the Church of Rome for his forthcoming martyrdom. He claims to speak “according to the will of God.” And that last line seems to imply that the Church is intimately involved in his fate.

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it].

St. Ignatius, who will die soon, seems to leave responsibility for his church congregation in the hands of Jesus and the Church of Rome.

Advertisements

Posted in Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Church Fathers, Church History, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Were the early Church fathers corrupted by paganism?

Posted by Tony Listi on February 16, 2010

What former evangelical Protestant and apologist Mark Shea calls the “Pagan Creep Theory” is the standard Protestant retort (if any) that rationalizes away at will anything the early Church fathers say about Scripture that the Protestant wants to reject.

But this theory is unreasonable and can be reduced to absurdity. This theory only begs another question: you must really think Our Lord Jesus and the Twelve (and the Holy Spirit) were terribly incompetent in accurately spreading the gospel to these earliest Christian leaders, no?

As Shea correctly puts it, this theory means:

believing that everywhere the apostles went they–all of them–appointed successors who perverted their teaching on a dozen subjects as badly as modernism said that the apostles had perverted Christ’s. It meant that for sixty years of blood, sweat, and toil, the apostles made thousands of disciples so stupid that they could not grasp the most elementary teachings of their faith. It meant believing that their churches–all of them in north, south, east, and west– paganized Christianity (and paganized it everywhere in the same way) the instant the apostles died. It meant that these churches, together with their overseers who had been handpicked by the apostles, were constantly engaged in a schizophrenic campaign of deliberate pagan perversion of the Faith while simultaneously dying in droves for the purity of that Faith. It meant believing that the immediate successors to the apostles (and the flocks they shepherded) were both martyrs against all pagan compromise and punctillious observers of Scripture, and yet simultaneously secret devotees of  Mithra, Isis, and the mystery cults. It meant believing that in some fantastic fashion quite unparalleled in history, this outburst of amnesia, heresy, and schizophrenia (beginning well before the death of the Apostle John and spanning the length of the Roman Empire) managed to completely pervert the Faith once given to the saints without one of those saints taking notice at all–the very same saints who were willing to be burned alive for Christ rather than offer a tiny pinch to Caesar.

If we can’t trust the beliefs and practices of the Christians whom the original apostles taught and laid hands on (conferring the Spirit), then we can trust no one’s supposedly Christian beliefs and practices!

Posted in Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Church Fathers, Church History, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Earliest Church Fathers on Transubstantiation of Bread and Wine

Posted by Tony Listi on January 13, 2010

Why the heck should any Christian believe that Jesus was only speaking symbolically in Scripture about his body and blood in John 6 and Luke 22 when the earliest Church leaders (bishops) believed and acted otherwise?

It doesn’t get any clearer or earlier than St. Ignatius’ (died by 117 AD) denunciation of the Docetic heretics in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

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

More evidence from Ignatius’ letter to the Romans:

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterward of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life. (emphasis mine)

This last citation of St. Ignatius in his letter to the Philadephians is less explicit but still supportive:

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God. (emphasis mine)

St. Justin Martyr (died circa 165 AD) is also very explicit in his First Apology:

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία  [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, 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. (emphasis mine)

St. Irenaeus (died circa 200 AD) is also very clear in upholding transubstantiation in his rebuke of heretics:

But how can they be consistent with themselves, [when they say] that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord,  and the cup His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” 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. (emphasis mine)

The Didache (written 100 AD) says:

But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. (emphasis mine)

Posted in Catholicism, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Church Fathers, Church History, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Church, Not State: The Christian Approach to Health Care

Posted by Tony Listi on December 1, 2009

St. Luke, the physician

Christians cannot and should not try to separate their religious beliefs from their political beliefs. Faith must inform our morals, and morality must inform our politics. So what does the Christian faith have to say about health care? Quite a bit actually.

Christianity is fully embodied in Catholicism, and Catholicism uniquely reveres, embraces, and is founded upon the authoritative traditions of the early Church. So the answer to “What does the Christian faith have to say about health care” is another question: how did the early Church traditionally approach health care? (Scripturally, some important information on early Christian charitable work in general can be found in the Book of Acts and some of St. Paul’s letters but very little specific to health care aside from miraculous healings and the institution of the Sacrament of the Sick through the letter of St. James, 5:14-15.)

The history of institutionalized health care is so intimately intertwined with the history of Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity, that it is no exaggeration to say that the latter gave rise to the former.

But for the purposes of the current American health care debate, two main questions stand out: Did the early Church relinquish all responsibility for care of the sick to the state (the Roman Empire)? Did it demand the state tax the rich heavily to pay for health care for everyone?

On both counts, no, it didn’t. And it is so frustrating that the leadership of Christian churches, but especially that of the Catholic Church, as well as many lay Christians have ignored the history of the Church with regard to this issue.

Even before the persecution of Christianity stopped, the early Church assumed full responsibility for the sick (including their pagan persecutors) and financed their hospitals through private charity.

According to a Christianity Today article, reviewing the book Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity:

As early as A.D. 251, according to letters from the time, the church in Rome cared for 1,500 widows and those who were distressed. A hundred years later, Antioch supported 3,000 widows, virgins, sick, poor, and travelers. This care was organized by the church and delivered through deacons and volunteer societies…. When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.

Outside their close family and perhaps friends, most pagans cared nothing for their fellow human beings, whom they did not consider to be brothers made in the image and likeness of God, as Christians did. We should expect nothing less with health care under the neo-pagan political left in America today. Ideas have consequences; indeed they have already occurred in de-Christianized Europe. Just as the pagans before them, leftists are willing and even eager to kill the weakest among us, i.e. the unborn (or even born) child, the elderly, and the mentally or physically disabled.

According to sociologist Alvin J. Schmidt in How Christianity Changed the World:

Charity hospitals for the poor and indigent public did not exist until Christianity introduced them…. [T]he first ecumenical council of the Christian church at Nicaea in 325 directed bishops to establish a hospice in every city that had a cathedral…. The first hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea in Cappadocia about A.D. 369…. After St. Basil’s hospital was built in the East and another in Edessa in 375, Fabiola, a wealthy widow and an associate of St. Jerome, built the first hospital in the West, a nosocomium, in the city of Rome in about 390. According to Jerome, Fabiola donated all of her wealth (which was considerable) to construct this hospital, to which she brought the sick from off the streets in Rome….

The building of hospitals continued. St. Chrysostom (d. 407), the patriarch of the Eastern church, had hospitals built in Constantinople in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, and St. Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, was instrumental in adding hospitals in the West. By the sixth century, hospitals also had become a common part of monasteries. Hence, by the middle of the sixth century in most of Christendom, in the East and the West, ‘hospitals were securely established.’ Also in the sixth century, hospitals received an additional boost when the Council of Orleans (France) passed canons assuring their protection, and in the last quarter of the same century, Pope Gregory the Great did much to advance the importance of hospitals….

By 750 the growth of Christian hospitals, either as separate units or attached to monasteries, had spread from Continental Europe to England…. And by the mid-1500s there were 37,000 Benedictine monasteries that cared for the sick….

The Crusaders also founded healthcare orders, providing health care to all, Christian and Muslim alike. The Order of Hospitallers recruited women for nursing the sick. The Hospitallers of St. Lazarus, founded in the East in the twelfth century, devoted themselves primarily to nursing. This order spread to Europe, where it founded many more hospitals and treated people with various diseases. The Knights of the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) not only operated and maintained hospitals, but also admitted the insane. They founded a Christian insane asylum in 1409 in Valencia, Spain.

According to historian Gary Ferngren in Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity:

The experience gained by the congregation-centered care of the sick over several centuries gave early Christians the ability to create rapidly in the late fourth century a network of efficiently functioning institutions that offered charitable medical care, first in monastic infirmaries and later in the hospital.

The Protestant Revolution, the Endarkenment, the French Revolution, and its intellectual descendants have brought abrupt and sometimes violent disruptions, if not a complete end, to this vast charitable network in many places. Yes, “evil” religion and “papism” had to be smashed and replaced by the “humanitarian” Animal Farm of the Leviathan state. Ha, how “compassionate.” But I digress….

Now, am I suggesting that the U.S. return to the exact health care system of the early Church? Of course not! This straw man entirely misses the point that I’m trying to communicate here. I’m not suggesting a structure and system in itself but rather an approach and a set of principles that need to be incorporated into the American health care system. And the Christian churches, esp. the Catholic Church, need to recommit themselves to their obligation to care for the indigent sick and need to take an active role in articulating and promoting these Christian principles to everyone.

What are those principles?

  1. Generally and most importantly, care for the physical needs of human beings do NOT override Christian moral imperatives not to steal and commit violence, even from and against the rich. Spiritual needs override any physical needs.
  2. The health of the poor in one’s local community must be a pressing concern of all Christians.
  3. Care for the sick is an essential duty of local churches that should not be relinquished to the nation-state.
  4. In general, care for the sick is not to be financed by state-coerced wealth redistribution but by the patients themselves or charity.
  5. However, to whom much is given, much is expected. The rich are morally obligated to voluntarily direct their wealth to the health care of the poor, starting in their local communities.
  6. If the state is to assist in financing health care in any way (which I doubt is necessary), it should be done as locally as possible, according to the Catholic moral principle of subsidiarity.

Medicine today is vastly more accurate, comprehensive, sophisticated, technological, and effective. That also means that, aside from higher costs caused by government interference in the industry,  health care is naturally more expensive now because it is so much more valuable than it was centuries ago. But none of these facts change or undermine the Christian principles I’ve laid out above. Politics itself has shown that more than enough money can be raised through a well-organized solicitation of voluntary donations.

The fact that modern medicine can treat so many maladies naturally and psychologically creates more pressure to assure every sick person receives treatment. But again, that pressure should not tempt us to stifle charity through state-enforced plunder. That pressure belongs on us as individuals, esp.  the rich, who must care for modern-day Lazarus or face an eternal punishment.

It is an inverse relationship and a zero sum game between government control and Christian charity. The former stifles the latter. Even if socialized medicine did work better (it never does), it would do no good for us to gain all the bodily health in the world yet become mortally and spiritually sick in the process.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity and Politics, Church History, Government and Politics, Health Care, Moral Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Religion and Theology, Science and Religion, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »